Blogging – Revisiting VicPLN Course tools and support

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When you’ve been connected online for some time, it’s possible to lose sight of the perspective of staff new to the professional online environment.  Library staff in particular can come into the profession via a route that hasn’t involved interacting online other than in the personal social media apps such as Facebook and Instagram. In joining the school library workforce, however, they must be, or become, digitally literate.  Every member of staff in a school library must be actively digital, it’s the very nature of today’s libraries.

Being ‘digitally literate’ involves knowing how to use digital tools and, most specifically, knowing how to apply them to a specific task.  In recent years hundreds of people have participated in and completed, to various degrees, the VicPLN Course  (Personal Learning Network) conducted by the State Library of Victoria learning team in conjunction with the School Library Assoc of Victoria.  It’s amazing, however, that I constantly encounter people who ‘never really got their head around the PLN tools’, ‘don’t have a use for them’ or feel, ‘they don’t apply to the library role’.

If you work in a school library today you need to be using social media, blogging, curating resources and actively building your own Personal Learning Network (PLN).  Building a PLN according to personal interests, fosters enthusiasm and reveals relevance as you increase your involvement.  This doesn’t mean that everyone must be tweeting, skyping and Google+ing, however, it does mean that they must be looking outside the walls of their library for ideas and inspiration.

Blogging is a good place to start.  Read other people’s blogs, comment and contribute where possible.  The emphasis on blogging has changed since the introduction of curation tools such as ScoopIT and Flipboard but they’re for another post.  Today we’re talking blogging because blogs are a powerful tool in schools, both at the learning and resourcing levels.

Blogging tools recommended:

The VicPLN Team at the State Library created a fabulous resource to support participants of the online VicPLN Web 2.0 Course.  The course material was refined over a number of years and VicPLN Unit 1: Start your blog is the recommended place to start your blogging journey.  In addition to finding recommended resources and blogs to follow, you’ll find tips, tutorials and a wealth of support material.

A note to Library Managers:  Creating a blog for library staff use only is a great place to start.  Use it as a communication and professional ‘sandpit’ learning tool within the library team.  Use your library blog to:

  • Share library staff news and events
  • Record meeting notes, ideas and suggestions
  • Link to professional learning
  • Learn by actively participating

Once confidence is built, start blogging:

  • Book reviews and recommended reading blog
  • Travel blogs for school trips, camps etc
  • Support classroom teachers in using blogs
  • Library news and updates blog

The message cannot be overstated.  Library staff build your skills.  Review your practices, put aside the time-consuming busy work, book displays etc and become an indispensable, digitally skilled workforce.  Blogging is a good place to start.

Bright Ideas will revisit the tutorials and support resources of the VicPLN Team in future posts.  You’re invited to come on board with a commitment to personal skills growth and the development of your own Personal Learning Network (doc will download).

Comments and feedback is welcome as always.

 

 

 

Google Forms – new look, versatile tool

Google-Apps-640x350Forms are one of the most useful tools in the Google toolkit. For some time, however, users have been looking for more functionality and an improved appearance in the product.  It’s finally here with the recent announcement that Google Forms has a range of new themes and options, including the ability to customise the theme with your own image.  These changes have really lifted the appearance and make them a great deal more appealing.

New to Google Forms?  This Tour of Google Forms is prior to the themes upgrade but gives a clear introduction of the main features for the uninitiated.

Forms have a multitude of uses from data gathering, questionnaires, competitions, analysis of an embedded video, surveys, self-graded tests, short story competitions … the list is endless.  Google educator Molly Schroeder’s examples of Using Google Forms is a source of inspiration, although once you start using them you won’t be short of ideas yourself.

At the recent Melbourne Google Summit the professional conversations around the use of Google tools was inspiring.  With so many schools now using Google Apps for Education, the Summit was an ideal place to pick up practical tips that could immediately be applied to the classroom.   In this video Chris Betcher, another leading Google educator and generous sharer of knowledge, explains some of the lesser known, innovative features in Google Forms.  Chris’s Google Summit resources site is packed with ideas and assistance.

A colleague who attended the Google Summit with me has been ‘set on fire’ with the functionality of Chrome extensions Doctopus and Goobric, using them to manage the workload of senior Maths and Accounting classes. It is certainly worth exploring Google Apps for Education and tapping into the resources of the many knowledgeable educators associated with it.

Put the Google Drive Blog in your RSS feed reader to keep posted on the constant improvements.  The Google Educast podcast on the Edreach Network is also a favourite of mine for keeping in touch with Google Apps for Education news, ideas and application to the classroom.  So much to learn, thank goodness for our Personal Learning Networks!

Header image: http://frankbennett.co.uk/

 

Mindmap integration in Google Docs

thinking Many schools, including my own, use Google Apps for Education (GAFE).  As such, I was interested to discover the new partnership between one of my favourite mindmapping tools Mindmeister and GAFE.  With the new MindMeister add-on, (accessible via the add-on tab within a Google Doc) users can turn any bullet-point list into a MindMeister mindmap and automatically inserts it into their document. The mindmap adopts the exact hierarchical structure used in the list and adds a visually appealing graphic to the document.  It’s free and doesn’t require a MindMeister account.  The map created is not editable so students need to do the thinking and planning before they convert it to a mindmap.  Nothing lost however, as they can always delete and re-do if they need more details.  As we are basically visual learners, this is a useful, easily accessible learning support tool. There are many, many online, collaborative mindmapping tools available.  A couple of other favourites are:

  • Bubble .us – ‘Freemium’ model also with full access but limit of 3 maps.  Good collaborative interface.
  • Wisemapping – Free, open source, collaborative and able to be embedded into websites.
  • iThoughts – very popular IOS tool for iPad and iPhone

Comments and suggestions for other recommended options are welcome.

Blogging in the classroom – resources by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano

If you have ever thought about introducing blogs into your classroom or school library, it’s well worth looking at Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano’s blog Langwitches (@langwitches on Twitter).

Recent posts look at how blogging is fundamentally different to simply writing using a computer and how visible thinking routines can get students to reflect and develop metacognitive skills.

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Here are a few posts providing strategies and resources for using blogs with students:

To read more great posts about engaging students in blogging, follow the tag ‘Blogging’ on her site.

What was there – historical photos and Google Maps

What was there uses historical images and Google Maps to look at how places have changed overtime. You can add photos to specific locations and then using Google Street View, overlay images from the past and present.

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A particularly nice feature of the interface is the option to fade between photographs and the street view image. Anyone over 13 can register with the service and add images, tag by location and year, save locations, and position images to overlay with street view.

There are some great examples of cities that have thousands of photographs pinned to different locations, including New York which has around 2000 images. Closer to home, the Victorian regional town of Bairnsdale has around 60 historical images pinned to shops and community buildings.

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With so many cultural institutions digitising collections and making images freely available online, tools like What Was There give students and teachers the opportunity to connect to local history in new ways. The State Library of Victoria has thousands of out of copyright images of regional towns around Victoria that can be used freely for educational purposes.

Imagine students finding images of their town or suburb’s main street a hundred years ago and comparing it to today? Or even their own house or school? Try searching for your town or suburb name in the SLV catalogue and see what you can find.

Library tours on Historypin

We recently came a across a great application of Historypin, a tool which lets you attach media to specific locations on a map.

Judith Way has created a virtual tour of Australian (and a few international) school libraries showcasing different approaches to library design and function. It’s a great example of how we can use tools like Historypin to share our learning and expertise with colleagues.

Tools like Pinterest could also be used to showcase library spaces and displays online.

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You can look at individual libraries, view by location or follow the tour.

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Labrary – experimental library makerspace

Labrary was a 37 day experiment that trialled the idea of a community makerspace that extended beyond traditional library walls. The project was developed by a team of students and staff from Harvard University’s School of Design in collaboration with the Librarian/Assistant Dean for Information Services, Anne Whiteside.

While based on key principles that underpin any library – ideas, information and culture – Labrary encouraged collaborative activities, experimentation and sharing. Labrary, as the name suggests, was a ‘lab’ and a library at the same time. It was designed to be a place where you could explore, experiment and test ideas and where failure was accepted as part of the creative process. More importantly, it gave people the opportunity to develop new themes, and to share interests – providing meaningful projects for the community. Labrary was also community driven so anyone could  walk in off the street and do whatever they wanted, rather than being something procured by an organisation or institution from the top down.

Some of the activities in Labrary included:

Inflatable reading room – A portable bubble for group discussions or a quiet space to chill out. A space within a space designed to transcend and take you to other worlds.

Time/Slice – A crowd-sourced digital bulletin board that opened the library up to different users, letting them discuss, collaborate, extend their personal research and include others’ resources organically. It’s also a way library sanctioned events could appear on a calendar alongside informal meetups and pop-up events.

There were also a series of discussions labelled Library Futures that explored how libraries could work in the future.

Libraries are well known for their role as transactional entities – people come to libraries to find information, then off they go to make sense of it. Labrary gave people a chance to work together to make information meaningful together. This didn’t eliminate the space for quiet solitary thought, but rather, was an additional resource – rich knowledge curation evolving in real time in a networked community.

In terms of how we work in our own libraries, the idea of having a space for experimentation in a library makes good sense because there’s access to information, and space to put that information to use. Working in groups to problem solve, create, and discuss changes the dynamic of work and progress, creating one that collectively builds on our passionate energy, becoming a reserve for everyone involved.  Experimentation encourages risk in learning, with rewards for new ways of doing things, learning and creating that we couldn’t have imagined before.

For more information about the project, you can read an Library Journal article on the Labrary project here.

PLN Plus reflection – community in the making

In this guest post from Sue Osborne, Head of Library Service, Haileybury College, Brighton, she shares her experience of the recent PLN Plus course.

I was interested to do the PLN+ because I had participated in several PLN courses (two 23 things, PLN research tool kit) and I was interested in taking the things I had learned the next level. I was also interested in the idea of project work and finding other library professionals who were interested in developing similar ideas in their schools.

I found the course to be quite different from my past experience of the PLN. Firstly, it was a shorter course – only four weeks long, but it was filled with new ideas, so in terms of content it still delivered. There was also a less formal approach, with four stages rather than particular products or apps to focus on. It was more about the process of starting and growing networks, rather than specific, measurable outcomes. I found this approach disconcerting at first, but once we all started talking about our areas of interest, I took to it well.

I enjoyed the relaxed approach, self-driven learning, connecting with like-minded colleagues who wanted to be instruments of change within their organisations as well as a huge pool of ideas and tools to think about and try. I will be exploring the tools for at least the next month or so! I’ve listed my three favourite tools below.

1/ Mightybell – the platform the PLN was based in has been fantastic. It is easy to use, looks great and has greatly enhanced the learning and sharing for this course. Far superior to Edmodo, which was used in the last course. I love it. Not sure how I might use it in my work, except perhaps to set up a project group of my own down the track (not on the cards just yet)

2/ Shadow Puppet – this iPad app allowed me to take photographs and then record a narration track over a slide show. I decide when each photo comes up. It is intuitive and dead easy to use (as easy as Animoto, which I use almost constantly at work now). I am planning to use Shadow Puppet with my newly formed Middle School Library Committee. We are going to make short how-to presentations about the library catalogue, searching and so on for classes to view before they come to the Library to do research

3/ Padlet – this product let’s you set up a wall, send the link to people you want to have participate in the project/discussion and you all post ideas (a bit like post-it notes) so you can collaborate and brainstorm together. I am already using this regularly with other staff to talk about planning information literacy sessions and trying to develop a reading culture within the school

I guess the number one thing I am taking from the course is a sense of community – that we are all part of something bigger, something that can help us achieve great (or small) things. The openness of the participants has been fantastic and I think many of us will stay in touch by following each other on Twitter, or continuing to build on our Padlets or other collaborative tools.

I will also take a renewed sense of purpose in what I do, and the knowledge that I have skills and experience that other people appreciate and value, just as I value their experience and skills. The rise in my professional (and as a result, personal) self-esteem was an unexpected bonus.

Finally I plan to implement some programs in my school and document them, with the objective of sharing them via Bright Ideas, or perhaps even FYI, so that others can see what I am doing, and perhaps be inspired to try something different. I have the confidence to push myself forward and try harder, which is probably the most valuable thing of all.

Image credit: Toban Black on flickr

You can follow Sue on Twitter at @LibraryMonitor and her reviewing blog Worth Reading, Worth Sharing.

 

Stormboard – brainstorming with post-its online

Stormboard is a tool which lets you create online post-it pin up boards that an unlimited number of contributors can share. Educators can join Stormboard for free until July 31 so it’s well worth having a look.

Chances are if you’ve done any professional learning or whole school planning in the past few years, you’ve used post-its for collaborative planning. Many of you would be using similar techniques with your students. Stormboard provides a simple online environment where you can brainstorm or plan with groups, where ever they are. This means students can collaborate on projects from home or on their own devices via the web. It would also be useful if you’re collaborating with other educators or students at different schools.

Stormboard let’s you collaborate on boards and share your work via a link. You can add text, videos, images and links to post-its and also create stacks which link to other boards you’ve made. As an avid Evernote user, I must admit the interface all seemed quite familiar

If you like post-its and use them in class or with colleagues, Stormboard is a great way to record your planning and ideas more effectively than sticky bits of paper on the wall!

Hemingway – like the author, like the app

Hemingway is an easy to use editing site which helps make your writing simpler and more direct. Much like its namesake, author Ernest Hemingway, the site champions simple verbs, short sentences and no adverbs at all.

Cut and paste the text you want to edit into the website home page and hit the edit button to see your work highlighted in different colours. Yellow for hard to read, red for very hard to read, blue for adverbs, pink for complex verbs (with suggested simpler options) and green for passive phrases.

Although it can be frustrating when your best efforts don’t remove the highlighting, the app shows you what to look for when you’re editing. It would be a great tool to use with groups of students to model the editing process and how decisions about language can change the impact of your writing.

At this stage, the app doesn’t let you save and seems designed to gauge interest in a paid desktop app. But in the meantime, Hemingway is an interesting tool for writers at any level.