Thursday, August 20, 2009

Blogs & Aggregators

My apologies for the delays in posting, I've been caught up experiencing the technology, and neglecting recording my experiences.

I've been using my Google Reader for about a month now and I'm still amazed that I'd never heard about RSS before then. I've subscribed to science news, education news, even what's now showing at the cinemas - it saves so much time. To be able to scroll through all the new topics and simply just click on any that interest me. It has got me thinking though, about how blogs and aggregators could be used for communication between students, parents and teachers.

I'd love to have a teacher's blog, where I could outline what has been happening in the classes, or even put out a week's advanced organiser. One prominent issue in school is that parents are often unaware of what is happening in their son or daughter's classroom. Australian Scholars Group (2009) published a guide for parents on supporting teachers and improving their child's schooling experience. In "Rule 5: Communication goes both ways", the guide outlines how many parents fear parent-teacher interviews because of fear. I think having a regular, general line of communication with parents (such as a blog) would help to encourage parents to approach their child's teacher and to keep abreast of their child's progress.

By posting to a blog, teachers can provide information for parents and students alike about what is happening in the classroom at the moment - what topics are being covered, what homework there is, when assignments or tests are due. Not only are parents able to keep updated with their son or daughter's class, but if students for some reason miss a lesson, they know exactly what they need to catch up.

There are some issues with the idea. Firstly, a decision on how (and if) commenting would be made available on the blog. Certainly, I believe that there would need to be a review of the comments before they could be posted, to ensure student security and privacy. Perhaps just a contact email address where questions could be posed would be an acceptable alternative?

Another issue is that not all parents are competent internet users; some may not even have access to the internet. While this is problematic for these parents, it may be resolved acceptably if a hardcopy of the blog content was posted weekly.

I'm not suggesting this as the only means of communicating with parents. Meetings, phone calls and other forms of contact are still necessary, but it is a way to provide parents with information, without cluttering their emails, letterboxes or answering machines. It's a way to stay in contact with parents when everything is going well in their child's life, rather than only when things are negative.

Australian Scholars Group (2009) Parent-Teacher Partnerships. Accessed 17 August, 2009 from

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Adventuring with Avatars

I've spent a couple of weeks trying lots of different Web 2.0 technologies and now it is time to start reviewing what I've learnt.

A couple of years ago I did a course that asked us to consider how educational environments would change in the next fifty years. My group decided to focus on the prominence of virtual reality in the new classroom. We believed that this change in the environment would provide a more interactive and engaging approach to education, compared with the typical classroom settings. I still believe these things to be true; I think we just overestimated the time it would take. Virtual reality in education is becoming… well, a reality. The research regarding avatars and virtual realities is becoming more abundant and it looks promising.

Last year, ScienceDaily published an article reviewing a Keio University experiment to couple the latest brain science with the Internet and allow a man with a muscular disorder to walk through a virtual world using brainwave detection (Keio University, 2008). While this advanced use of virtual worlds is unlikely to reach our education system anytime soon, it does give a strong indication for the potential of this technology.

Kemp, Livingstone & Broomfield (2009) review the emerging platform SLOODLE (Simulation Linked Object Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment) which is an attempt to couple Virtual Learning Environments with the more socially interactivity virtual world Second Life. While they admit that support for tutors and students is currently lacking, they believe that there is great potential for such 3D settings, particularly in distance education.

My own experience with avatars is less advanced, but still has potential within the classroom. The website Voki allows you to create short avatar communications for free. It’s certainly something different – you can use everything from pigs to politicians, in a variety of locations, to say whatever it is you would like them to say. I chose to use the text-to-talk feature, but I must admit the voices do irritate me after a certain time period. I haven’t tested the voice-recording feature yet, but I would be tempted to do this if I were to use avatars regularly in my classroom. Not necessarily my voice, however, I would be encouraging my students to help with the presentations by creating their own avatar characters and voice recordings. I think that these short avatars (see below) would be great in my science and mathematics classes to review important definitions and formula.

Get a Voki now!

Keio University (2008). Using Brainwaves To Chat And Stroll Through Second Life: World's First. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 6, 2009, from

Kemp, J. Livingstone, D. & Bloomfield, P. (2009) SLOODLE: Connecting VLE tools with emergent teaching practice in Second Life. British Journal of Educational Technology. Retrieved August 6, 2009, from