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.

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?


The Norwegian daily Aftenposten writes that the Norwegian school is catching up on the digital revolution. Exemplified by VLEs (Virtual Learning Environments) like It’s Learning and Fronter (along with minor platforms (in Norway) such as Moodle, PedIT and Microsoft Learning Gateway) teachers, students and parents alike can keep up to date on assignments, projects, events, grades and feedback. Still, VLEs are mostly common in high schools and middle schools. In elementary schools communication still finds its way home to parents through the students’ backpacks.

When I taught at Horten VGS a couple of years back we used It’s Learning in a very easy and meaningful fashion. Assigments were turned in, corrected and returned within the digital learning environment. Communication with students was supplemented with the digital arena where other information like upcoming tests, teaching material, my lecture notes (available for downloading) as well as attendance records for students were available.

Now I teach at a small private school and we do not use any VLEs, but maybe in the future? I have previously blogged using blog as a teaching tool for the students and the teacher’s communication through Yahoo Groups. We’re still adapting as a team to find the best way to keep up to date on information, and personally I find that Yahoo Groups suffice, but it would be beneficial for our future students and teachers to facilitate a VLE in our working environment.

However, it does not eliminate the need for human interaction in the classroom or staff room of course, but helps with the workflow for students and teachers as well as giving the school a digital fundament for communication in a thriving learning environment.

Net safety, netiquette, online safety, websmartness etc. It has many names, but they all attempt to describe one thing: rules to go by when navigating the information highway (an ancient pre-2000 description of the internet..?). As I work in a school and work with kids a striking reality hits me when asked questions from the kids like: “Did you have a radio when you were young?” or “Is it true that you didn’t have a mobile phone when you were at school?”

This generation grew up with the web around them, most of their parents didn’t. Most of their parents use the web to check the tabloids, real estate prices and perhaps book a plane ticket, while a selected few use the web in a more extensive way, either through work or by personal interest.

This week we invited all parents to come to a information meeting on net safety run by Redd Barna, a Norwegian interest group working for children’s rights. The meeting would address the concerns regarding children and net use as well as help the parents to gain a larger understanding of what their kids do online.

Out of 400 parents 8 showed up.

This is part of the problem. Generally parents tend to think they have control over what their kids do online. Kids and their parents have rules they say. Truth is that rules made by children and grown-ups together might not apply when peer pressure and friends’ loyalty becomes more important. A great responsibility lies with both the school and with the parents. We have to acknowledge that children grow up with an unparalleled parallel world, sort of speak, to the physical one, namely the digital world. And as one parent put it:

“When I send my kids out to play I worry. I worry about wether they’ll fall on the ice, wether they get run over by a car, get kidnapped, raped or if they get in a fight with friends or if they have had enough to eat. But I cannot worry about all these things, I have to pick my worries and prioritize them. Accordingly I feel good about sending them out because they get fresh air, they socialize and learn new things about the world.”

The same thing could be said about children online. They play online games, they chat, they post pictures and videos and they do schoolwork. All of these activities have positive effects for the child’s upbringing. Nevertheless, there are many dangers, as there are in the physical world. What we as parents and teachers need to do is to acknowledge our responsibility and dare to be advisors to our kids. We have to get engaged in our children’s activities. It should become innate to ask our children over dinner how things went online today in the same way as we ask about their school day and their training.


We have to get engaged in order to see the dangers, but also the immense possibilities. We have to teach them that all actions have consequences, as they do in the physical world. Furthermore, we have to walk the walk and not only talk the talk. If we post pictures of friends and foes on Facebook without permission then we cannot expect our children to not do the same.

Lately I have found myself moving my workflow increasingly from my desktop to the web. I find Google Docs very handy. I work in two places, one of them has wireless internet access while the other one does not. At the latter I find it hard to do word processing like creating weekly plans, homework assignments and other necessary digital related work. Earlier I would make the weekly plans at home and then print it out. This year I am challenged with acquiring information from several subject teachers, usually Tuesday night. This does not always happen, and it needs to get done at school on Wednesday when plans have to go out.

Enter Google Docs: I have a weekly plan template online which I use a copy of for every week. This way I create an accessible library of weekly plans for future reference and an instant access to my work wherever I am. Coming to school on Wednesday I get the info I need from colleagues and put it into the document I prepared the night before at home online in the computer lab (without the wireless access). This makes the hassle of handwritten jumble on neat weekly plans unnecessary and my workflow easier.

When a colleague in the administration saw this he asked if this would be possible for the whole staff to create a pool of templates, forms, plans and other useful documents for everyone to edit, copy, paste and access. Now that would help everyone’s workflow if people were keen on participating and sharing. I wonder.

Google Apps Team Edition aims to facilitate this. Questions do remain though, and a returning one from co-workers in particular, boils down to this: Is it safe? And how much do I want to be on Google’s servers..?

Last semester I experimented with digital learning tools in my Norwegian lessons and made some interesting discoveries. I set out to spur a greater initiative in the students’ writing abilities and I sought out Blogger for this purpose. As of 2007 Kunnskapsløftet, a recent school reform (one of many in recent decades I might add…), five basic skills are embodied within all subjects. Writing, reading, listening, speaking are all obvious ones, but two new skills for the 21st century have been added: mathematical skills (in all subjects) and digital.

Being able to use digital tools in the Norwegian subject curriculum is necessary to master new text forms and ways of expressing oneself. This opens up new learning arenas and allows new possibilities in teaching reading and writing, as well as the production, composition and editing of texts. In this context it is vital to develop the ability to critically assess and use sources. Using digital tools may support and develop the pupils’ communication and presentation skills.

Kunnskapsløftet, Norwegian curriculum

Most of the students thrived in the blogging environment, or web-publishing. Within a secured and closed network we opened for creative writing in a totally new and interactive way. And it gave me, as a teacher, a genuine access to their writing process and development of their writing skills. And not to forget, the students acquired new digital skills in simple html and blog editing through links and photo publishing.

Enter January and I embarked upon yet a digital challenge. By the means of digital cameras, multi-purpose mobile phones, Macs and PCs alike, iMovie and Movie Maker, Bluetooth and a small amount of paper and scissors the students made their own commercials. What the students ended up making was quite impressive. Through the process they had to learn one of the many unused programs on their shiny Macs like simple iMovie in the iLife suite and also use the curricular knowledge of denotations and connotations in order to explain their train of thought when planning an advertisement campaign.

With the kind permission from two of the students I have posted one of the commercials for Coca Cola Zero.

For Norwegian readers, or any possible readers at all, I’d like to recommend the eminent blog tenketing.net on interaction, peer-powered content, design and technology.