Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Blogging: Why Aren't You Doing It?

Last week on Twitter, someone had asked what Web 2.0 tools were the most beneficial to classrooms. For me, there was only one answer: Blogging. What is so great about blogging, you ask? There are numerous educational benefits to blogging, both for students and teachers. In fact, the very first blog post that I wrote was about classroom blogging.

Blogging is about literacy, something as teachers we strive to impart on our students. As teachers we should also be modelling literacy so students have an example of where they should be heading.

Taking this idea further, blogging can be a way for students to demonstrate their learning by creating a product. For example, if students are learning about Japanese culture, they could create a series of blog posts demonstrating what they've learned. Within these posts could be not only text, but weblinks, images, videos, and slideshows that the students have created or found. Once the posts are published, other students, teachers and parents could then leave comments or feedback for them. The online conversation, post-publication, is where learning occurs on a larger scale. Readers have the opportunity to analyze and synthesize the information from the post and consider the viewpoints of others.

As a teacher, blogging can be used as not only an instructional tool, but also as a reflective tool. Teachers could create blog posts with their thoughts and feelings towards an idea, for example the Libya situation, and ask students to respond with their feelings. They could use a blog as a way to reflect on their teaching practice with other colleagues, by seeking their input and feedback.

Here are a number of links with ideas for utilizing blogs in your classroom:
33 Ways to Use Blogs in an Educational Setting
10 Great Ways to Use Blogs in the Classroom
Blogs in Education
Ways to use Weblogs in Education
Blogging Rules
10 Ways to Motivate Students to Blog

As for which blogging service to use, there are a number of different providers that I would recommend. First, with students I would recommend starting with You can sign up as a teacher and create student accounts underneath you. It has very easy settings to change who can view and comment on your blog, depending on your comfort levels. For teachers, I would recommend using either Blogger (which this blog is created on) or Wordpress. Both of these services are fairly easy to set up and maintain, however, I believe that Wordpress is more geared towards advanced users (don't quote me on that one though).

Here is a video created by students who are sharing the reasons that they like to use blogs as an educational tool.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Forget Long Distance: Use your Google Voice!

I feel like I'm writing a commercial here, but you really do need to try Google Voice. I was excited to see that Google Voice has finally been activated in Canada, after having working in various forms over the past couple of years in the US.
What is Google Voice? For us in Canada, it means that you can log into Gmail and make phone calls to any phone in North America for FREE. You can make international calls as well, and the rates are fairly good ($0.02 per minute to the UK). Being the cheap person that I am, my parents will be happy to hear that I'll be calling them more often now, rather than making them phone me. Now, for the moment, we cannot receive calls in Google Voice, only send them. Over time, we will most likely be able to get a Google number, just like they have in the US, but we'll just have to be patient and wait for those advanced features.

To set it up, you first need to have a Gmail account. If you haven't jumped on the Google bandwagon yet, I suggest you do by going here. Then head over to Google Voice here, sign in, and install Google Voice. Afterwards, you can head into Gmail and click on Call Phone, located down on the left-hand sidebar. 

This will create a telephone-like popup, allowing you to place a phone call to any phone. 

To utilize the service you will need some kind of microphone, whether it is built-in or through an external device (you can get microphones at the dollar store). Make sure you click on Settings in the top-right corner, select the Chat tab, and choose which device you want to use for your microphone.

Now what does this have to do with education? At first sight, very little. However, Google Voice has a few educational applications that I can think of, especially if you are utilizing the video call feature (didn't mention that part, did I?). 

You could use the service to connect experts with students that they normally wouldn't have access to. If students are learning about aquatic animals or habitats, connect with a marine biologist and broadcast the call through your computer speakers and Smartboard. Students will have the opportunity to ask the experts questions and make real-life connections. Connect with people local to your area to learn about your community's history, or with a new Canadian to hear about the differences between Canada and their homeland.

Do you have ideas? Add them in the comments section below: