Screenshots from

Screenshots from

This term my colleagues and me have tried out Engrade – an online assessment tool for teachers and educators to file and document grades. As we do not use any digital learning platform as of yet, which I regret, we are as the middle school branch trying out other ways to compile, collect and synchronize our assessment in a more useful and effective manner as well as keeping an easier way to file and search for past records.

Engrade has several features and one of them is to create student accounts and thereby create transparency for students and parents. We have not enabled this feature, and it won’t happen anytime soon before we know more about Engrade in use.

I find that transparency is important, but it should take place in a one-to-one situation and not in a format like Engrade. I do however find Engrade very helpful to stay organised in my grading as I teach several classes in several subjects. I have tried to find other alternatives, but haven’t found any as good as Engrade.

What I find to be one of the biggest challenges as a class teacher is constant reporting, documentation and grading of academic progress and personal developement. It’s very important, but often the systems in place are cumbersome and ineffective. There’s a lot of paper, printing and filing.

The great advantage of a site service like Engrade is to have an all-accessible (encrypted, login-based) place online to keep all your assignments, grades and comments. The built-in formulas for calculating grades are precise mathematically, but one should not leave out the human assessment factor such as behavior, personal progress, efforts etc. When I set my term grades I combine the features of Engrade with my own assessment.

See demo here.

My avatar Pip hanging outside of Diginalet.

My avatar Pip hanging outside of Diginalet.

Me outside Diginalet.

Me outside Diginalet.

Last night I signed up for an avatar in Second Life again. I recall having previous experience with it, but after the novelty of virtual flying wore off I did not quite see the value of it. After a tip from Arne Krokan I joined delogbruk this week, a great initiative by Ingunn, where teachers in Norway with interest and competence within ICT aim to share and use their experiences with digital literacy and tools in the classroom.

One of the users on the forum invited all interested to join SL for a dryrun and explore the opportunities within a virtual environment. I signed up and teleported myself to Diginaletdet digitale pennalet – on a pretty island. I, well more accurately, my avatar, found himself in a office environment, inside a building with desks and conference facilities. I met Rammen, another person from delogbruk, and then later Kita – who first invited teachers to come here. I had a nice chat with both of them about the the history of the place and, possibilities and the ideas they had for this place. I also got to know them a bit better.

Emotionally it was fascinating as I experienced many of the similar feelings I would have when meeting new people (albeit it would take some decades before I’ll get to meet them midair flying). I was a bit apprehensive and nervous as well as skeptical – not unlike a conference situation where you do not know anybody. I started the conversation in English – the universal language of the net, and trying to figure out the social code of the place. E.g. Should one fly down to the ground to talk or is it okay to hang up among the clouds and talk standing hanging with ones’ back to each other? What social code exists in a virtual environment like SL?

I have tried to read up a bit on Second Life and in this article – Second Life Improves Real-Life Skills – in Science Daily, I find it particularly interesting how one still needs the social skills to interact with others. But social disabilities such as fear and shyness might stop the person to interact with others in real life. It’s a fine balance here of course, but as the interviews resarcher Ms Grant points out:

“There are not many places we go in the world where we are guaranteed social contact, in real life it is harder and less likely that you will go up to a stranger and start a conversation,” said Ms Grant.

Since the SL experience I have been thinking about how it would be feasable and useful to use SL with students. Topics like identity, culture and communication comes to mind. First though I look forward to participate in discussions in SL with other people in Diginalet – learn and share – and then see where it will lead us.

Today we had a English Writing Day with ninthgraders. We have recently introduced them to the Gmail/Calendar/Docs environment by creating an account for each student. The tasks themselves were posted in a shared document. All they had to do was to create a new document themselves and start writing. They were free to use spellchecker, online dictionaries and other online resources as long as they cited their sources. I know this is possible with Google Footnote, but I haven’t explored it myself yet.

During the test students had problems or questions and they addressed me through the Chat app. This worked seamlessly. Of course, students can also chat with classmates and this can be distracting, but even though it did occur it did not seem to distract, but rather serve as another person to ask.

Taking questions during the test.

Taking questions during the test.

The texts they produced were two to three pages long and the benefits are they all are conform, they are available online (by invitation) and students don’t loose their work.

In terms of improvement I will look definitely continue using Google Docs for creative writing workshops, and even bring in the collaborative element which is the greatest asset of Google Docs.

Lot of ideas to be found over at Ted Barrett’s blog, especially this entry.

Time. I want to talk about time – and how to teach it. This term is coming to a close and I have had some good experiences with my 8th grade. In Social Studies we have worked on population distribution, migrational patterns and other aspects of globalization. The use of Gapminder when working on population and statistics was very rewarding. Next term I want to focus on history, timelines, cause-and-effect – and I aim to use interactive timeline utilities available online. I want students to use these resources to create their own timelines of historical events, add their own texts, but also resources from around the web.

The goal is to teach time sequencing, cause-and-effect as well as history. I haven’t still found exactly what I am looking for, but I have some ideas for sites I can use. Here’s a list of utilities I have come across. Other suggestions are welcome.

Dipity: Straightforward timeline utility for topics and events. Include photoes, videos, maps and links.

Timetoast: Simple interface, clarity and simplicity.

XTimeline: Seem to be popular, lots of other published timelines to be viewed.

Viewzi:I particularly like this one, it’s slick and fast – Timetoastand also several visual options to view other timelines.

Soundslides: This is a downloadable desktop application which does the same job. Slick and very intuitive.

Any other suggestions?

Today we conducted our national tests in English. These tests are the government’s attempt to monitor the qualitative progress of schools and their students. State of affairs. There are testing in three subjects; Maths, Norwegian and English. The latter is an online test with reading comprehension with point-and-click multiple choices as well as interactive texts accompanied by visual pictures.

The test in itself is okay, it aims to test the students’ ability to read, reflect and define. Since we are an international school we did fairly well, and the students thought it easy enough.

There has been much debate on these national tests in the media and among politicians in the past few years. Some have argued that it produces “winning” and “loosing” schools, others have added that results can be fixed and that the system is not reliable.

Safety does not mean bureaucracy. There is an excessive amount of paperwork coming out of the Utdanningsdirektoratet, Diractorate of Education and the Ministry of Knowledge (Kunnskapsdepartementet) and, to me, an unnecessary amount of passwords and usernames in order to conduct the test itself. Why is this? And why does not the Ministry of Knowledge, of all (along with Fornyings- og arbeidsdepartementet, earlier Moderniseringsdepartementet – the Ministry of Modernization… puh) have a user-friendly and easy to use website..?

There is an excess of information on these webpages, and it could easily be revitalized and revamped, make it more presentable and readability could be better, not to forget navigation, which is illogical and often looped and irrelevant. It’s simply not good enough.

So how can they be better? Look at what the innovative small companies are doing in terms of design and content, readability and usability. The national test in itself could also include moving images, podcasts, web search (even university students are struggling with research methods and ciatation standards) and generally more interactive challenges for the students. They live in a visual age where intertextuality is omnipresent, but increasinly harder for us to decipher. The Ministry of Knowledge can simultanously make it more visually user-friendly as well as more challenging in the digital age.

Kjærligheten er en ensom ting*
Originally uploaded by mortsan.

Agnar har vært kontroversiell en stund i denne byen. Først i år fikk han sin egen park oppkalt etter seg. Beliggende ved vakre Nidelven og med en park fyllt av hint til hans romaner og noveller. Dette var på tide. Fint er det der og.

Det er så vakkert at det er til å gråte av.

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