LIBE 477 Inquiry Project Reflection
For the past eight weeks I have been working on an inquiry project into at least six web tools of my choice. Being that I am a complete novice when it comes to web tools, I had to be careful in choosing what to explore and then if I came across a tool that felt way out of my league I had to recognize this and then change the plan. This ended up happening with two of the web tools; one that I had planned on exploring from the beginning (creating a Podcast) and one that I became interested in part way through the course (Pinterest). Also, I am quite opposed to social networking through avenues such as Facebook, so anything related to this was also out for me. In my initial plan, my goal was to gain some personal experience with photosharing through Flickr, Wikis, RSS feeds, Skype, Podcasts for personal or professional listening, and creating a Podcast. Being aware that I am a novice, I felt that just gaining some personal experience at this point would be my goal as I realized that it would take some time and confidence building with these tools before I would be comfortable introducing them into my professional world, but I was able to imagine and comment on my Blog on how I might want to include them in my teaching in the future. On that note, my Blog became one the tools that required inquiry and exploration as I had no previous experience with Blogs or Blogging, and each tool I explored was to be documented on my Blog, hopefully showing some Blogging ability.
As my inquiry project unfolded, it changed slightly. I gained knowledge and experience in Flickr, Wikis, RSS feeds, Skype and listening to Podcasts, and along the way I became interested in learning about both Avatars and Vokis, so the creation of both were added to my inquiry project. My journey through this project is documented on my Blog which like all the web tools definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone. For me, the biggest goal of my Blog was to create a step by step resource of tool inquiries and steps to success in the tools I explored, so that others could refer to it to learn them, and or I could refer back to them as needed. Throughout the course I took part in all the discussions and current events assignments and read both text books prior to starting any of my inquiries. In learning the tools I found myself referring back to the texts (particularly Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms) and going directly to a site i.e. http://www.voki.com/create.php in order to learn about the tool and learn the steps of creating the Voki. I found that this reading and rereading and experimenting consumed such a chunk of clock time and brain space that I didn't look for further readings to supplement my learning as I felt very maxed out in my ability to learn all of this soley based on what I just listed.
Summary of Learning, Connections to Sources, and Integration of Tools Into Professional and Personal Life:
At the start of this course, my technology skills were next to none. I emailed, used the automated library computer system at my school, and looked up information on the internet, often just through google. I had created one Wiki in my previous library course, as my assignments needed to be posted to it, but my exploration of this tool really didn't go beyond posting my assignments to it. I think it is fair to say I have somewhat of an aversion to techology, yet I recognize that it's going to grow and grow and not go away, so I need to start to embrace it, or at least become more comfortable with it. As Williaim Kist states in his book, The Socially Networked Classroom, "Social networking is here to stay." (Pg. 2). I realize that not only social networking but technology in general is here to stay so I am using this course to move forward, and I have managed to do that. I was hoping as I worked through the projects that I would become less intimidated by technology, although that didn't really happen. In some ways I became more overwhelmed as this course made me realize just how much information and how many tools there are out there and how far behind I feel. Even after I successfully learned about new web tools and the basics of how to create and work with them, I am still having trouble agreeing with the statement in Kist's forward saying "We hesitate to go forward, and yet once there, we would not go backward." I wish I could whole heartedly agree with this, but I don't yet. I agree with parts of it, but that refers to the basics of technology as opposed to all the different tools out there.
Although I did not achieve the attitude shift I was hoping for, my skills have definitely advanced from that of a complete novice, to one with some knowledge of web tools that I previously didn't know anything about. Therefore, I can leave this course knowing that I have accomplished new learning that definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone. Also, as I worked through each tool, I could definitely see some of the benefits that could be provided to many teaching environments, and I'm sure that as my teaching career continues and new assignemts arise I will reflect more and more on this course and how I can include my new knowledge into my teaching. Prior to my contract this year and last year, I have primarily been a k-3 teacher, where I still believe that computers should not yet play a paramount role in learning. Therefore, when I look for the benefits the tools can provide I am thinking more of older students than the primary grades. Perhaps that is another reason why I am slower to embrace technology, as prior to starting as a Librarian one and a half years ago, there was very little technology included in the grades I was teaching, and I notice in my present school, the belief is that technology is not the priority for these primary ages and stages yet.
I am pleased that I am leaving this course having a background and understanding of eight web tools(includinig my Blog) I had very little knowledge or understanding of. The following paragraphs on each tool will highlight what I learned and my thoughts on each tool, as well as my ideas of how I could use the tools both personally and professionally.
My favourite web tool I learned in my technology journey was Flickr. In order to teach myself how Flickr works, I consulted Will Richardson's text (pgs. 101-110) and spent time reading about Flickr on the following URL: http://www.flickr.com/. I have been wanting to have a way to organize digital photos for quite some time, yet I have never taken the time to do it until now. Not only will I use this tool at home, I can see using it with my students too, whether in a classroom teaching environment or as the Librarian. For instance, at the next author visit, I could take photographs and then create a Flickr slide show for the school website. Or if I go back to classroom teaching next year, I could document different projects or fieldtrips using Flickr. I am always looking for things that are practical and to me, Flickr meets that criteria while being straighforward to learn and if need be teach. Will Richardson spoke of Flickr as being an easy way of allowing one to create different sets of pictures and having a slideshow function. I found all of this to be very true.
Wikis were another area of inquiry that I enjoyed becoming more competent at. I definitely felt that I gained an overall understanding of a Wiki and now understand why it is described in Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for the Classroom as having the ability to easily add subpages and layers to a site. (pg. 66). The following URL was where I learned specifics about how to set up and manage a Wiki: http://educationalwikis.wikispaces.com/Articles+and+Resources. I liked that I became competent in setting up a table of contents, with separate pages for each subtopic and the ability to easily add links and photos. This may all seem very basic, but for me it is a huge step forward. Personally and professionally I'm not sure that I would necessarily use a Wiki in the way it's inteneded as a collaborative writing tool, rather I would probably use a Wiki with topics of my choice at home to organize information, and at work to create somewhat of a basic web page for the library. In terms of teaching library skills I could see teaching the intermediate students at my school about what a Wiki is, and how to create one. I know that they are aware of Wikipedia, so through their knowledge of this it would not be difficult to teach/remind them that Wikis are intended for collaborative writing on a topic and then as I stated above, lead them through the steps of creating one. One challenge we have at our school is that only one of the classes has individual email addresses as set up by their teacher (the" techy" in our school), but perhaps I could talk to him about setting up email addresses for the kids in the other classes so that they could learn this skill too.
Prior to this course I had never heard of an RSS feed. Once I looked into it through both Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms (pgs. 71-83) and the following URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RSS, I thought it would make a lot of sense to become familiar with this tool both for personal use and professional use. In particular, the paragraph in Will Richardson's book on pg. 79 about RSS search feeds whereby they can be used for search terms that would bring news about a topic 24/7 with the RSS feed doing all the work, had great appeal. Upon learning how to set up this tool I learned that unless a "hot topic" is entered as the search topic, new information is slow to arrive. In some ways this was good for a novice like me, as if too much information had started to show up, I may have been overwhelmed with the results. I could see this being a great tool to teach at the late middle school and high school level, once reading levels have advanced to a level that matches written news. Also, in the future if I'm collecting information about a topic in my professional life, this tools will be extremely useful.
I have been aware that Skype exists for quite some time, and that it acts as a free way to call people, but I had never had any direct experience with it prior to this course. So this inquiry assignment made me push out of my wanting to try Skype to actually trying it. Once I looked into how to download it to my computer and register with it by following the directions at the URL:http://about.skype.com/product.html I got over my hurdle of being nervous to download new stuff to my computer upon successfully doing it. Again, I'm sure this seems like a really simple thing, but for me, it was new and therefore unknown and therefore not totally comfortable. I really liked being able to connect with my sister's family this way, but there was something I didn't love about it. I found the conversation slightly disjointed, but perhaps with some practice, I will get used to this. Also I can see how great a tool this would be to connect students visually and orally worldwide. That notion I do find quite exciting in that it sure can accomplish one of the greatest benefits of technology being to create classrooms that go far beyond the walls of the school. As well, in Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms the idea of using Skype to record interviews with people from around the world (pg. 119) is suggested. I can imagine many great ways to use this feautre. For example, at work if we were focusing on an author who was not local, an interview could be done using Skype providing the students with both a visual and audio experience.
Initially I had planned to become acquainted with Podcasts by reading about them in the text books and by listening to them for the bigger goal of then creating my own podcast. In the end, my journey with Podcasts didn't go beyond the listening phase, as after spending time findind and listening to Podcasts, when I started down the road of creating my own Podcast I really felt that I had "bitten off more than I could chew" for my present skills. In listening to Podcasts, it took some time to figure out how to access topics I wanted, and in that experimenting, I came across some interesting addresses for things like "ten top Podcasts" etc., that I posted on my Blog. Also, I found it a refreshing change to just listen as opposed to read through information. I must admit though, I don't know how much time I'd invest in listening to Podcasts for personal use, as I find they take up quite a bit of time both finding the ones I want and then listening to them. I can't say I'm really prepared to spend this time on something that at this point would be purely for entertainment. Professionally I could see using them more as it would be interesting for the students to gain alternate opinions on topics than I may be able to present. Although I would have loved being able to master creating a Podcast, I think it was probably the correct decision to leave this for when my technology skills have advanced more, or perhaps when someone more experienced can guide me through this process.
Creating both an Avatar and a Volki were the two web tools I explored purely for the fun of creating them rather than for a practical use personally or professionally. I became interested and informed about Avatars and Vokis by reading my small group members' blogs. Once I had an idea of what they were, I went to http://www.doppelme.com/create/ in order to create an Avatar and http://www.voki.com/create.php in order to learn about and create a Voki. Although I doubt I would use them for personal use, as stated in my Blog, I could see fun/educational uses for both web tools. For example, I suggested that if I were to start teaching French next year, the students could have fun creating an Avatar and labeling the body parts in French. As for the Voki, I thought that at the start of the year, students might have fun creating and introducing themselves to the other students in the class through a Voki. These are just two simple ideas of how I could see using these tools in teaching, and I know there are multiple ways these two tools could be used. In some ways I feel like I'm pushing to find how I would use them educationally in my teaching, but for some students, maybe just having a chance to do something like this would build their confidence with technology, as it has mine.
The final tool I would like to comment on is my Blog. As although I realize this was the format used to exhibit our learning, for me I came to see it as one of the web tools I was learning about in the course. In order to set up my Blog to begin with, I researched the different Blogs sites suggested in the text and then decided on Blogger as opposed to Wordpress. I think I felt that Blogger would somehow be more straighforward partly because I already had a gmail account (whether or not this creates simplicity I'm not really sure). I feel that my understanding of Blogs is growing from that of no understanding or experience to some, but I don't know that I really "nailed" Blogging by any means. I am a very literal and lateral thinker at times so I think in many ways this hindered me creating a Blog that represents a multitask type of thinking. On a positive note, going through the process of creating a Blog, documenting my inquiry, and adding links and visuals to personalize it to the best of my abilities, definitely got me out of my comfort zone and on my way towards being a Blogger. So at this time, I'm happy with that.
My Future Personal and Professional Learning:
As for my future personal and professional learning, I would like to see myself focus most on becoming very proficient in working with RSS feeds, Wikis, and Blogs, and I would like to see myself continue using Flickr as a photo organizer personallly, and eventually in my teaching. As I stated earlier on in my reflection and in my Blog, I would like to introduce these tools into my teaching once I have had further exposure and practice with the tools, so that I am confident teaching them. At this time, professionally I think I could confidently create a Wiki for my school library, and even teach intermediate students how to navigate through creating a Wiki, and allow them an opportunity to practice collaborative writing. Also, I would feel confident showing staff at my school who don't have experience with these tools, the basics of these tools and that was one of the things I was keeping in mind as I was creating my Blog. I wanted it to be very user friendly for others to refer to and myself to refer back to with regards to the basics of the web tools I explored.
My Big 'Aha'
Through working on my library courses, and this course in particular, I came to a very big 'aha' that I had not anticipated, but I think is a great realization. I have a new understanding that Librarians really need to be proficient in technology and I believe passionate about it in order to prepare their students in 21st century learning. I love being a teacher, but not through technoloy. I don't have the passion and confidence in technology that I now realize it takes to be an A+ Librarian, and teaching for me has been about being passionate about my teaching. Therefore, I have decided that at the end of this school year, I will work towards getting a contract back in a primary classrrom setting, as opposed to Library. I know that my joy of teaching and learning is felt by both myself and my students when I'm teaching from a place of passion and confidence so this will be the right decision for myself and my students. I am thankful for what I have learned about the tools, but more so about the direction the job of a Librarian is going, and that it is not my niche.
Kist, William.(2010). The Socially Networked Classroom. Corwin: California.
Richardson, Will.(2010). Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. Corwin: California.