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My first avatar! February 17, 2010

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Don’t you think it looks just like me?

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Digital Storytelling February 17, 2010

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Over the last few years I have been exposed to digital storytelling projects at conferences and each time been impressed by student work and intrigued by the possibililties for my own students.  I maintain dozens of sets of photos on Facebook from my personal life and always caption the photos to convey the high points of vacations, parties, etc. I was already engaging in a form of digital storytelling.

However, it seemed to me that I would have to make a large investment in new equipment and training, so let’s just say I was postponing my first foray into digital storytelling in the classroom.

Then yesterday I was exposed to Voicethread.com at a meeting of Project ELITE. We were asked to bring photos of our libraries to the meeting and assigned to create a story about our libraries.

So check this out!   

http://voicethread.com/share/918094/

This product took about 90 minutes to complete. The basic Voicethread service is free (and can be expanded in terms of options and storage space for K-12 schools for $10.00 a month). The site can be accessed from anywhere, and students’ work is easily saved and stored for future edits and sharing. This may not be my final destination for digital storytelling, but I can begin using it immediately with students. It’s that simple.

And I already have collaborateors lined up! The 6th grade English teacher at my school has been eager to collaborate. The social studies/Spanish teacher has collaborated with me and the tech teacher on a series of projects over the last two years, and her grade-level colleague is eager to get on board the collaborative project train. The proposed project is still in the idea phase, but it will basically be a biography project focusing on famous women in history. The students will seek and explore information and images from print and online resources. Based on their research, they will craft scripts in the voice of their subjects (in the first person). They will have the option to create the images for their Voicethread stories in PowerPoint. That way they can enhance images with graphics of their chooseing (later saving them as JPEG’s ready to upload into Voicethread). They can write their story scripts in the “notes” section of the corresponding PowerPoint slides. They will create bibliographies in PowerPoint and then display them at the end of their digital stories, appropriately crediting their sources of information and images.

Among the concepts and skills included in this project include the following: famous women in history, perspective, script writing, reading/listening/speaking/writing, the Big6, ethical use of information (citations, bibliographies), storyboarding,  online publishing, online sharing, various presentation software functions, and use of cameras, microphones, etc.

I definitely anticipate using digital storytelling to provide students a mechanism for telling personal stories or sharing information about issues about which they feel passionate. But at this point it’s providing a new information product option for 6th graders who have grown a little tired of creating and giving PowerPoint presentations to share research findings. It’s occurred to me that some students are more comfortable than others giving live presentations. Perhaps the opportunity to record presentation comments (video and audio recordings, etc.) ahead of time will provide some students the chance to shine in a way that was not possible for them in a live presentation.

Some reading from the last few days… February 16, 2010

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I read a few noteworthy articles this week. The first from the New York Times asks the question, “Do School Libraries Need Books?” Several librarians and others weigh in on the subject.

http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/10/do-school-libraries-need-books/

Among the experts who comment on the future of books in libraries was Nicholas Carr, the author of The Big Switch: Rewiring the World from Edison to Google. His new book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, is expected to come out in June. I have subscribed to Mr. Carr’s “Rough Type” blog: http://www.roughtype.com/  

The most interesting article I read all week was also written by Mr. Carr. It’s from the July/August 2008 edition of The Atlantic and its title is, “Is Google Making Us Stupid.”   http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200807/google 

The article proposes that the instant gratification and “small bites” of information provided by many online information tools is rendering it more difficult for many people of all ages to sustain their attention long enough to read and process larger chunks of information – such as the large chunks of information stored in what we call books. The arguments are plausible, and frighteningly, I identify with the voices of those who report that their long-term engagement with information tools renders them too impatient or simply too tired to read books. As a book lover I fully understand that many stories and concepts just can’t be conveyed well unless a reader chews on the hundreds of pages it takes to fully communicate those stories or concepts.

What does this mean for me as I plunge forward into dedicating more of my time to understanding and using more information tools? LIMITS! I have to set limits for myself to avoid exhausting my time and energy. I must leave time for books. I am a librarian, and I became a librarian because I accurately predicted that an inevitable result of being surrounded by books is that I would read more of them!

What does this mean for me as an educator? I suppose it means that teachers, parents, and other caregivers must be made aware of the importance of setting limits for their students (and themselves!) when it comes to information tools. This might be tough to pull off. After all, I spend much of my time promoting the efficient, ethical use of information tools. How do I convey my concerns and suggest precautions without sending a mixed message? Further, gadgets have surpassed the television as the best babysitter ever! Just cutting the cord is not a realistic or advisable option. But setting and enforcing limits and/or providing close supervision is a lot of work! And a lot of work, is, well, a lot work!

WHEW! My first “online meeting.” February 10, 2010

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For a long time I wondered what a “virtual meeting” was like. Tonight I found out. In short, it’ s like being in a chat room with the benefits of leadership and an agenda. Did I enjoy it? Yes. Am I exhausted after only one hour? YES! I suppose I will build endurance with practice.

I always have to get my two cents in – even at a “virtual meeting,” so I was busy typing away and trying to keep up with the entire discussion flow (or at times, the various strands going on simultaneously on top of each other). But I managed!

Numerous times I felt the impulse to immediately explore a suggested resource or tool mentioned in the discussion. I quickly concluded that it wasn’t worthwhile to stray from the conversation long enough to explore those new resources. When I tried to multi-task in this way I  struggled to catch up with the discussion and ran the risk of offering a comment about a topic from which the group had already moved on! I began copying the posts including those suggestions and pasting them into a Word document for later reference. About 2 minutes after I began copying and pasting another participant made the suggestion to do exactly the same thing. Great minds think alike? Fortunately I don’t consider the ability to multi-task as valuable or desirable for me. So I will just stick with the discussion at these “virtual meetings.”

The text (and the pictures of the participants accompanying each post) is small in the discussion box. I tried to increase the text size in my browser but that increased the text size of everything outside of the discussion box. It did not increase the text size in the discussion box or the size of the participant photos. I might need to put this concern in the suggestion box at ning.com!

I have to go rest my eyes!

Good times coming in the computer lab… February 7, 2010

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The Chicago Public Schools has provided each school with a laptop cart with 16 units for the primary purpose of use during standardized testing during the spring and fall. During the remainder of the school year they will be permanently installed in my library computer lab. The library program has been fortunate to have 12 laptops for two years, but there have been many problems with these computers during their time in my library.

From the outset the original 12 laptops were not equipped with software to prevent students from changing settings. So students discovered untold ways to change settings and to inconvenience others. My side of the school building is about 50 yards from the Center on Halsted,  a community center with free, unrestricted wifi. Several students quickly realized they could bypass the district’s Internet filter if they switched to the Center’s wifi. Each time they did this the Center’s wifi became the default setting for that unit.  Among the many problems this created was that computers off the school network were not able to send jobs to the printer. Frustrated students would send jobs to the printer over and over and over – and these jobs would come spilling out of the printer the next time those computers were restored to the school network. The waste of student and teacher time (not to mention the waste of paper and ink day in and day out) was becoming the bane of my existence. The district tech department has to this day failed to provide me a simple solution (which I am sure exists) to prevent students from changing computer networks. Various setting changes and other mischief have rendered the use of these units very frustrating, especially for younger students.

But it’s a new day! Now the older computers will be retooled by the tech teacher and redistributed throughout the building for teachers and classroom use.  And although I have still not been provided a mechanism to prevent students from changing settings, the new computers are loaded with a software called DEEP FREEZE which will automatically restore original default settings every time the computers are restarted. This is a giant step forward!! This past week I allowed students to use the new computers, and it was wonderful!!

This week I will finish preparing the new units and install them into their semi-permanent new locations.

I am also seizing the moment to revisit library policies related to student use, especially the discretionary use of the library computer lab during student lunch and recess periods. The introduction of the new units seems as good a time as any to implement policies and procedures to maximize the efficient sharing of these resources, to promote the considerate and ethical use of these resources, and to minimize damage to the units.
I am a very lucky librarian!

Pictures of my school library February 7, 2010

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Room 309

The end of my resistance… ? February 4, 2010

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Less than a year ago I was still a “resistor. ” I embraced certain types of technology but not some of the popular options. I have used what used to be known as “personal computers” since my freshman year of college in the fall of 1986. I jumped on the e-mail bandwagon and rode it hard fairly early at the dawn of the 90’s. I was late to acquire a cell phone. I did so in the winter of 2002 after other people’s cell phones averted disaster several times during a vacation. Since then I have held my cell phone close and only gone without it for a day or two during our annual camping trip.

But I drew my line in the sand at options including texting, social networking, blogging, and second life. I thought to myself, “I have enough difficulty managing my real life. Who has time for all this virtual experience?”

The end of my resistance came in three steps. First I accepted an invitation to join Facebook. Within a few months I had “friended” a few hundred of my “closest.” To this day I envision Facebook as a huge and powerful creature that bores down and identifies groupings and associations from every period of my life – bringing to the surface people and experiences which had not so much as entered my consciousness for years or even decades. I have been reunited with babysitters, people for whom I was the babysitter, school principals, fellow chorus members and cast members, first communion partners, college classmates, locker partners, colleagues from every job I have ever held, etc. These reunions often render long-forgotten experiences suddenly and powerfully present. I have often thought during this last year that these reunions and these powerful recollections would not have been possible even a few years ago. My human brain struggles to keep up with it all! Perhaps never before in human history have we had the tools to be present to so many individuals, experiences, and aspects of our lives simultaneously.

Step two was texting. I had turned off the text option of my phone many years ago. During a weekend ski trip last winter I felt that I needed a self-improvement project. So I called my phone service provider to have the text option switched back on and asked my hosts to teach me to text. We texted a lot that weekend, but it was mostly very short-distance texting – from one side of the sofa to the other! I began to actually use the text option but only in a limited way because my last cell phone had a number key pad but no true keyboard.

Which soon lead to step three – the iPhone. I had always saved and organized digital documents (including music, e-mails, photos, etc.) and maintained my Outlook contacts meticulously. Less than an hour after purchasing that phone I had all of these vastly different communication tools integrated in the palm of my hand: phone, text, all my different e-mail accounts, thousands of songs, photos, the Internet, contacts, Facebook. It was mind blowing. Easier? Yes! But all of a sudden I realized that I had arrived at a point with so many options that I would often have to think, “Who contacted me and through which mechanism?” Did that person text me or send me that info on Facebook? Or was it on Flickr? Did I hear about that on her blog? Is it in in voicemail? In my e-mail? Which e-mail? I have completely forgotten how to operate the voice machine on my landline!!

So here I am – embarking on the Technology ELITE journey. I was pleased to see that ELITE is an acronym and not just a declaration of our tech ambition and skill! During the course of the first meeting the instructor referred to a blog with the title, “Tame the Web.” Among my many expectations for this experience is to enrich my use, embrace, and understanding of the vast communication tools available to us; use my new skills to enrich the educational experiences of my students (of course!); and to achieve some sense of control in this ever changing digital landscape.