Social Bookmarking or Social Networking or Both?

March 27, 2008 at 6:29 pm (social networking) and Shelfari are websites dedicated to books.  If someone is so inclined they could keep track of the books they read, would like to read or books they own and tag, annotate, share or comment.  In a way, it is a way of bookmarking what you have read, want to read, own or any combination of the three.  It is also a way to share and discuss and collaborate with like-minded individuals.  Is it simply social bookmarking?  Or does it also have elements of social networking as well?  Or is a hybrid?  I can’t decide so I will just call it LibraryThing!  Incidentally, LibraryThing now links with Google Books (LibraryThing Blog, March 13, 2008)

My test search was for Stephanie Meyer as her Twilight series is very popular right now.  I also searched Gordon Korman who is also a favorite.  When I “stopped by” I felt like I was dropping in on a book club discussion!  This could replace a hand written student reading log or even a reading response journal and would help students connect to others reading the same book, suggest titles and share what they are reading with a wider audience outside of school which could include family, friends and peers from near and far. 


Permalink Leave a Comment

Social Networking in Schools

March 27, 2008 at 6:28 pm (social networking)

How are social network sites being used in schools, in teaching and in learning?  Here are a few of my favorite examples that I came across that I chose to highlight. 

For Libraries, Librarians and Library Users

YALSA has a whole page dedicated to Web 2.0 & Libraries, the first link of which is examples of libraries using social networking technologies to connect with teens including blogs, MySpace, Flickr, podcasts, and YouTube.  Despite its public libraries focus it does provide ideas and a place to start.

Yale University Science Libraries maintains a page that connects students via Facebook, messaging, Flickr, Twitter and a blog.  I think this one does a good job of exemplifying what is possible.       

Robin the Teen Librarian maintains a MySpaceprofile.  Such authors as Tanya Lee Stone, Sonya Sones, Rachel Cohn, Stephanie Hale and others have dropped in and commented.  What a way to get kids excited about reading, having the authors of the books you are suggesting to them comment on YourSpace.  I know many students who would be very excited if it was my page the authors were popping in on. 

Youth Adult Library Services Association (yalsa) created Teens & Social Networking in School and Public Libraries: A Toolkit for Librarians & Library Workers (pdf), updated and expanded March 2007.  Some of my favorite ideas that it outlines are

  • A student created MySpace account as an author study – to gather information and enter it into the profile (an updated version of a hockey card?).  The blog function could be used to respond to reading or analyze poems.  Others could comment and join in the discussion.
  • When schools and libraries help teens use social networking tools safely and smartly, they are also helping teens to: develop boundaries and expectations, use the tools in a way that demonstrates a commitment to learning, develop social and cultural competence and empower them
  • Have teens collaborate in building a library MySpace – having discussions about how to decide whether or not to accept someone as a friend, who will be responsible for different parts
  • The reading and writing connection; in order to participate you must do both (this was also mentioned at quoteflections, “Before email most people never wrote anything.  Now most do, through email, social networking sites….The written medium has enjoyed exponential growth.”

yalsa also created 30 Positive Uses of Social Networking (pdf).  This includes ideas for social software (blogs, wikis, podcasts) as well as social network sites like MySpace.  One of my favorite lines in it is,

“How effective are libraries going to be to empower teens in making good online choices if the tools to do so can’t be used, accessed, or played with in a library” (p. 4).

Some of the benefits of MySpace for libraries is visual appeal and ease of use because knowledge of HTML is not required.  “Although kids do not look at our website, they DO look at our MySpace.”

These are my top picks from 30 Positive Uses of Social Networking:

  • “Put something on there that is interesting to them, and ask them to help you do it….every six months, they create a new profile (p. 5).”
  • “Have middle or high school students create a MySpace style page for an artist, writer, scientist, etc. 
    • What would Honest Abe’s page look like?
    • Who would be in his friends list? 
    • What kind of music was popular in his era? 
    • What were his interests? 
    • What would his blog of daily life look like? 
    • And, of course, sources for all info would have to be cited, and music and photos and quotes would have to be used in accordance with fair use…
    • Such an assignment would meet our teens where they are and create an opportunity to discuss
      • ‘what does it mean to have someone on your friends list?’
      • ‘how does one obtain permission to add a song or photo?’ (p. 6).” 

I believe these quotes provide an appropriate summation: 

“Social networking software that promotes collaboration has special significance in the school setting.  Students who learn collaboration skills in school are likely to be more valuable contributors to today’s workplace, which generally values collaboration and teamwork” (p. 17).”[S]ocial networking is intrinsically connected to content creation….Social networking breeds ideas and ideas breed innovation” (p. 19).

For Students

Mixxer is a free educational community for language learners to find a language partner for language exchange.  The language partner is someone who speaks the language you study as their native language and is studying your native language.  The partners then meet online to help each other practice and learn a foreign language.  I learned about this one through Educause.  I would worry about using this with younger students but can see the benefits for older students. 

YALSA has created a one page brochure (pdf) geared towards teens that discusses what social networking is, some adult assumptions and how to participate safely.  I thought it gave a good student-friendly general overview of the social software in general and how it relates to social networking.

Julie Lindsay suggests the advertisement free Ning for student collaboration such as the flat classroom Ning.  I can’t believe how collaboration, discussion and reflection are combined using a variety of media (text, video) representing process and product.  Lindsay also pointed out the Horizon Project Ning – “a networking space for teachers and students of the Horizon Project.”  This takes me back to what Richardson said when I first started exploring social networking.  We need to teach the literacies of networking, of collaborating and contributing and ask thought provoking questions.  What better way to do it than to participate in it yourself and be a role model for positive and productive social networking that contributes to life-long learning. 

For Teachers

Classroom 2.0 dubs itself as “the social networking site for those interested in Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies in education.” For example, there is a group dedicated to Educon 2.0.  Up to this point, I’ve seen limited potential for a social network site, such as Facebook, to provide collegial connections.  For me it is used for personal rather than professional networking.  Classroom 2.0 would be a way for a one-person department or someone with out-of-the-box thinking to engage in discussion with like-minded individuals.  This would be an instance where you could be “meeting” individuals whose blogs you follow or meeting educators from across the continent and around the world.  I see this one having lots of potential, particularly if attending a conference.  If an online space such is this is established before the conference, one could meet the participants and presenters, pose questions before hand, post to the social network in real time and continue the conversation after. 

I have see Elgg come up in several places.  It is “an open source social platform based on choices, flexibility and openness: a system that firmly places individuals at the centre of their activities.  Your users have the freedom to incorporate all their favorite tools within one environment and showcase their content with as many or as few people as they choose, all within a social networking site that you control.”  What I really wanted to see was an example in action.  Much to my delight, there was a Canadian example based in Ontario, Communi-IT.  I plan to come back to this one and explore it more.  I like how it combines social software tools such as blogs and wikis into the elgg social network site. 

Permalink 4 Comments

The Horizon Report on Social Networking

March 27, 2008 at 6:28 pm (social networking)

In the Horizon Report 2007, it identifies the power of social network websites.

The websites that draw people back again and again are those that connect them with friends, colleagues, or even total strangers who have a shared interest.  Social networking may represent a key way to increase student access to and participation in course activities.  It is more than just a friends list; truly engaging social networking offers an opportunity to contribute, share, communicate and collaborate [my emphasis]. 

I can’t help but think about the last statement in the context of my constructivist exploration of these social software tools.  Through my blog, and addition of tagged social bookmarks to my Furl account, I am contributing and sharing, commenting on my blog comments and collaborating via class wikis. 

In its more detailed discussion the Horizon Report points out that

… social networking sites facilitate introduction and communicaton by providing a space for people to connect around a topic of common interest.  These sites are fundamentally about community–communities of practice as well as social communities [my emphasis again]. 

Rather than limiting social networking to designated social network sites, I would argue that my blog reader allows me to follow the edublogger and edtech community, learning about practices that are shared and discussed.  I also contribute and discuss via my blog.   

Undoubtedly the most pervasive aspect of Web 2.0, social networking is all about making connections and bringing people together.  Conversations that take place in social networking contexts are inherently social, and often revolve around shared activities and interests.  The heart of social networking is fostering the kinds of deep connections that occur when common pursuits are shared and discussed. 

I can’t help but relate this to my most recent blog comment where Bill Ferriter speaks very elequently about the power of making these social networking connections around shared activities and interests (in this case it began with VoiceThread), challenging each others notions and encouraging revision and/or refinement of ideas.  The growth of my edtech social networking is a result of contributing my thoughts, ideas and reflections to the knowledge pool for others to use and discuss.  As Julie Lindsay points out, creations or outputs of what she refers to as Global Collaboration 3.0 include input from from others.

The Horizon Report 2007 also suggests that  

Students are tremendously interested in social networking sites because of the community, the content, and the activities they can do there.  They can share information about themselves, find out what their peers think about topics of interest to them, share music and playlists, and exchange messages with their friends.  Two of the best-known examples, MySpace and Facebook, have thousands of members who connect daily or hourly….These sites are frequently customizable and user-controlled….

Researchers note that online spaces…give students a safe place to gather….Not all social networking sites are aimed at students….LinkedIn is designed for professionals, and Flickr is used by people of all ages….Sites like these, though popular, are not the driving force behind the adoption of social networking education….It is the intense interest shown by students that is bringing social networking into academia. 

Social networking is already second nature to many students; our challenge is to apply it to education.  Social networking sites not only attract people but also hold their attention, impel them to contribute, and bring them back time and again–all desireable qualities for educational materials. 

The Horizon Report 2008 identifies social operating systems as “the essential ingredient of next generation social networking.”

[T]hey will base the organization of the network around people, rather than around content.  This simple conceptual shift promises profound implications for academy, and for the ways in which we think about knowledge and learning.  Social operating systems will support whole new categories of applications that weave through the implicit connections and clues we leave everywhere as we go about our lives, and use them to organize our work and our thinking around the people we know. 

Social networking systems have led us to a new understanding of how people connect.  Relationships are the currency of these systems, but we are only beginning to realize how valuable a currency they truly are.  The next generation of social networking sytems–social operating systems–will change the way we search for, work with, and understand information by placing people at the center of the network.  The first social operating system tools, only just emerging now, understand who we know, how we know them, and how deep our relationshops actually are.  They can lead us to connections we would otherwise have missed.  As they develp further, these tools will transform the academy in sigificant ways we can only begin to imagine. 

More simply put, Charles Hudson describes the future or social networking in three steps.  “First, ‘Friending up’ your network was a necessary evil….Phase II, which is I think where we are today, is really about adding some context to the nature of the relationships” in sites like Facebook.  The last phase will be machine driven, identifying communication patterns through passive profiling, analyzing who you email, how often and where there are located, to name one example.

Do I think this is possible?  In looking at past Horizon Reports, they are fairly accurate in anticipating what the up and coming technology will be.  In looking at some of the mashups that are already available incorporating Google Earth, I think that analysis of our interactions is probably already happening but we as the users are not made explicitly aware of it as those who mine that data. 

Permalink Leave a Comment

Creating & Connecting – National School Boards Association

March 27, 2008 at 6:27 pm (social networking)

Part of the benefit for me of ubiquitous computing and wi-fi internet is “hitchiking” with David Warlick as he live blogs (also called mobile blogging or moblogging) while at Educon 2.0, attending a session that referred to a National School Boards Association study Creating & Connecting//Research and Guidelines on Online Social–and Educational–Networking (pdf).  Of course, I checked it out.  These are some of the points that stood out for me. 

  • 9-17-year olds spend almost as much time using social networking services & websites as watching TV
  • 96% of students report having used social networking technologies (eg. chatting, texting, blogging and visiting online communities such as Facebook, MySpace or Webkinz.) 
  • 60% talk about education topics online; 50% talk specifically about school work
  • 21% post comments on message boards everyday; 41% once per week

This actually left me with a number of questions:

  • Aren’t they on the computer and watching TV simultaneously?  I thought they were multi-tasking?  (or is it, as Jenn mentioned early in the course, continuous partial attention, a term coined by Linda Stone, a former Microsoft VP, found in Social Machines)
  • The use of 28 social networking technologies were surveyed – Wow!  This is a really broad definition of social networking, one that David Warlick prefers as it is far less limiting than the likes of Facebook.  What were the 28 different social networking technologies surveyed?
  • Did the 50 or 60% who talked about education online do so exclusively?  I doubt it.  They’re multi-tasking.
  • Of those who posted messages, what tool were they using – blogs, wikis, IM, etc?

Most interesting to me was the discussion surrounding non-conformists

[S]tudents who step outside of online safety and behavior rules–are on the cutting edge of social networking, with online behaviors and skills that indicate leadership among their peers.  About one in five (22%) of all students…and one in three teens (31%), are nonconformists, students who report breaking one or more online safety or behavior rules, such as inappropriate language, posting inappropriate pictures, sharing personal information with strangers or pretending to be someone they are not. 

Nonconformists are significantly heavier users of social networking sites than other students, participating in every single type of social networking activity surveyed (28 in all) significantly more frequently than other students both at home and at school–which likely means that they break school rules to do so. 

I can’t help but think of non-conformists as early adopters instead of in the negative rule-breaker sense identified above.  Are they considered to be non-conformists because they are following the old rules of the digital immigrants?  Like the teachers who find and download YouTube videos to memory sticks and bring them to class to initiate discussion, is that the kind of rule-breaking that we are talking about?  I can’t help but think of one of the slides in one of Valenza’s PowerPoints where she says “We are working ahead of the rules.”   

If we’re talking about some of the more risky online behaviors of sharing personal information or images, those are topics that need to be addressed in school so that students understand online safety.  Although, my feeling from this report and from Frontline’s Growing Up Online, students are more internet wise and savvy than they used to be.  I could be wrong in this assumption.  

Most interesting to me was this part:

These students seem to have an extraordinary set of traditional and 21st century skills, including communication, creativity, collaboration and leadership skills and technology proficiency.  Yet they are significantly more likely than other students to have lower grades, which they report as “a mix of Bs and Cs” or lower, than other students.

This leads to the conclusion that:

“…schools need to find ways to engage nonconformists in more creative activities for academic learning.” 

Are the grades of the non-conformists lower because their skills are not valued?  Not assessed?  Not understood?  All three combined?  Constructivist, student-centred, technology infused, inquiry based learning can serve to engage all students including non-conformists.

Back at his blog, Warlick (Jan. 27) identifies some of the questions being asked in the conversation surrounding the National School Boards Association Creating and Connecting document, social networks and social networking:

  • What are social networks and social networking?
  • Do we need to integrate social networks(ing) into our classes?
  • Do we need to create assignments or work for out students that demands them to use social networking?
  • How do we bring in the technology and protect kids?

The Horizon Report 2007 answers some of these questions.   

Permalink 1 Comment

Social Networking

March 27, 2008 at 6:27 pm (social networking)

I actually started exploring social networking back in the middle of January as an online debate was taking place at The Economist and a flurry of blog posts were coming across my Bloglines related to social networking within the first week I started using it.  This is what I wrote then…   

I would have never thought before a week ago that I would be spending Saturday evening catching up on my blog reading through Bloglines. 

And there is an interesting conversation unfolding related to social networking.   This particular discussion started at the Economist website in the fall.  Will Richardson got in on the discussion on his blog in response to danah boyd’s post.  Then, David Warlick made this post, in it referring to one of his previous posts

Even better, Will Richardson, Joyce Valenza, David Jakes (whom I discovered yesterday) and others are exploring this topic and others right now at Educon 2.0.

Now that I know a bit about what web 2.0 tools are (Flickr, video sharing, podcasts, virtual libraries, wikis, VoiceThread), what they have to offer and how they relate to social networking. 

But, I still want to take it back to where I started following the social networking debate.  In discussing platform, David Warlick (Jan. 13) sees three areas, e-portfolios, course management systems and social networks, overlapping like a Venn diagram.  In the overlap, he sees student-centred, technology infused, constructivist, inquiry-based learning happening as a matter of course rather than by design. 

Will Richardson (Jan. 16) says we must acknowledge the importance of Facebook in the lives of our students.  We can’t pretend it doesn’t exist.  With this I agree whole-heartedly.  To use a cliche, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.  And so I did last summer or fall – I can’t remember exactly.  I had been hearing about Facebook repeatedly on CBC radio.  I had visited the homepage on several occasions but couldn’t find the nerve to sign up.  One day, I just decided to jump in.  Out of my circle of friends, I was first to join.  They joined because I invited them.  My circle of friends has remained very small because I don’t use the word “friends” lightly, like some of the requests that I have received from former students who have amassed lists of over 500 “friends.”  As boyd suggests, the term “friend” can be misleading as the use of the word does not necessarily mean a friendship. 

Richardson says this doesn’t mean that we teach with sites like Facebook.  Instead, we need to teach the literacies of networking, the “ability to create and find and connect the dots.”  With this I also agree.  He more explicity says,

“Social networks as they are currently defined and delivered aren’t for schools.  But using social tools to teach our students to build their own network, networks that go beyond simply socializing with people they already know has to be.” 

I readily admit that I don’t know enough about the use of Facebook in schools to be able to decide one way or  the other.  In some of my other classes, spouses of my peers were using Facebook to connect with high school students.  I do agree with Richardson that we need to start using social networking tools such as wikis and blogs; one could be used to scaffold to the other in helping students build those connections based on curricular content rather than just socializing. 

Will Richardson pointed me to a post by danah boyd (Jan. 15), one he said he read four times and was probably the most important one he’d read so far this year.  While she stipulates the importance of social network sites (SNSs) because they allow students to congregate and socialize in a way that they aren’t able to do publically in an unsupervised fashion, on the flip side, 

“SNSs do not make youth engaged educationally; they allow educationally-motivated youth with a structure to engage educationally.” 


“[T]heir value is about the kinds of informal social learning that is required for maturation – understanding community, learning [to] communicate with others, working through status games, building and maintaining friendships, working through personal values, etc.  All too often we underestimate these processes because, traditionally, they happened so naturally.”

I wonder what has happened that kids don’t get together to socialize outside of school?  Or at least not as much as they used to?  This is something that I first questioned at Katie and Cindy’s getyourgameon wiki where I said,

I remember a friend telling me about how their circle of friends used to play outside for hours and hours. Now the parks are empty as kids retreat to the their game consoles attached to their TV or computer gaming. Which caused which? Did the decrease in safety force kids inside or did the games draw them in?

Granted, kids don’t hang out at the roller rink, burger joints (and haven’t for a really long time) and seem to spend less and less time at the mall (which to me seem to be increasingly scary places) or in arcades (I never realized that the ones at the mall even closed until now!), but they do get together in other places and spaces, both online and off.  As boyd points out, informal online socializing does have its place and is valuable.  I also agree that it is the students who are motivated to do well in school who will use the online version of their offline social network to multi-task and seek out homework help from friends while IMing, using the pre-established network to assist them with school work.  Yes, they connect with the people in their classes, they expand their “friends” lists, a form of status in itself (boyd, 2007) but not for the sole purpose of discussing the next essay topic.  I don’t see, and can’t see, students independently creating a social network on Facebook to help them with their school work…at least not yet. 

Back to David Warlick (Jan. 17), who says, what I believe to be, two important things:

  1. “There is a difference (right now) between social networks (or social network sites), and social networking.  In my mind, a social network is a single site with features that facilitate social experiences.  Social networking, on the other hand, is what is done in social networks, but can also be done with smaller and personally combined tools, such as blogs, wikis, podcasting, aggregators, twitter, etc.  Neither (at this time) fully encompasses the other.”  [A visual of this is available at his blog.]
  2. “Facebook is an example of a social network site.  They are not synonymous.  What frustrates me about Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn, is that their feature sets are way [too] limiting.  I think a social network has enormous potential, especially to education.  But not in its current form.  I’m afraid that if we are limiting our notions of social networks to what’s already been developed in FB, MS, and even Ning, and dismiss them as a result, then we may just miss a wonderful opportunity.”

I like Warlick’s simple explanation of the distinction between social networking and a social network or a social network site such as Facebook or MySpace, both of which I have accounts. 

When I first started using Facebook, I found it much more addicting, particularly for the status updates, a service that is replicated by Twitter.  Now, I rarely check in.  Part of what has turned me off is

  • the lack of privacy controls (I thought I had set my profile to private only to find out that it was public)
  • the fact that it is a money making scheme of which I am the target of an obscene amount of advertising (no, I don’t want to send someone a $1 virtual baby gift)
  • the disparity between what my friends and I believe to be appropriate content (boyd put it this way: “privacy options offered by SNSs do not provide users with the flexibility they need to handle conflicts with Friends who have different conceptions of privacy”
  • all the gimmick time wasters – I have 13 pending requests right now including snowman, acquarium, jackpot and movie gift.  Who has time for these things?!

I signed up for a MySpace account the same week I set up my blog.  It never hooked me.  I never felt compelled to fill in yet another profile, “Yet Another Social Networking Service” (YASNS), a term coined by Clay Shirky (boyd, 2007).  After creating only one profile at Facebook, I was already a victim of “consumer fatigue.”  I was burned out recreating my social life on another new network. 

Because I was accustomed to the Facebook interface, I didn’t find MySpace user friendly and couldn’t figure out the privacy controls so that my birthdate/sign didn’t appear on my profile.  This frustrated me.  If it’s not easy to use I’m not interested in using it.  However, having said that, there are many users and maybe I just didn’t give it a chance.  I did learn of a C.S. Lewis widget for the new Prince Caspian movie, one that I wasn’t able to add to my blog but easily added to MySpace.     

Will Richardson commented on Warlick’s two points saying,

“SNSs are being used differently as we get older, that the exclusively social use of SNS occurs in adolescents.” 

From my own observations of lurking while my “friends” message back and forth in the public Facebook space, all I have seen is the social side of Facebook.   

Over at Ewan McIntosh’s blog (Jan 17), he elaborates on his proponent position in The Economist Debate Series,

“social tools without any networks to use them with is like turning up to a party where no-one else was invited….The tools need a network which needs the user to know how to network in the first place.”

McIntosh goes on to say whether you choose one social network like Facebook or a combination of blog and reader (which he refers to as social media at large or what I have referred to in a previous post as social software which falls under the umbrella of social computing – see Words of Wiki) it doesn’t matter because they get you to the same end result.

I disagree.  My use of a combination of social media, as McIntosh calls it, which Warlick describes using as well – my blog, Bloglines, searches of the social bookmarking sites Furl and, collaboration on a wiki – is much more beneficial to my own learning, more fruitful academically and more engaging for me than any Facebook discussion I have ever had.  Is that just because the right people aren’t my “friends” in Facebook?  Even if they were, as Warlick mentioned, the combination of smaller tools give the user options which simply are not available in Facebook.  I have joined the Facebook groups CANSCAIP, Young Alberta Book Society and Librarians and Web 2.0 but their membership is relatively small and there isn’t a space to contemplate ideas extensively like with a blog or collaborate like in a wiki.  The social part of using the combination of tools that I do occurs when I receive blog comments that spur my thinking and lead me to respond, negotiate wiki content or share or benefit from tagged bookmarks.   

In the end, Warlick, boyd, Richarson and McIntosh are all in agreement, as am I, that the use of technology must be student centred and not technology centred, something that Michael Bugeja, who argued for the opposition in The Economist debate, doesn’t see as possible. 

boyd (Jan. 18) did delve more into the terminology than Warlick, referring to an article co-authored with Nicole Ellison where they define social networks as:

web-based services that allow individuals to

  1. construct a public or semi-public profie within a bounded system
  2. articulate a list of other uses with whom they share a connection, and 
  3. view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others with the system.  The name and nomenclature of these connections may vary from site to site.

While we use the term “social network site” to describe this phenomenon, the term “social networking sites” also appears in public discourse, and the two terms are often used interchangeably.  We choose not to employ the term “networking” for two reasons: emphasis and scope.  “Networking” emphasizes relationship initiation, often between strangers.  While networking is possible on these sites, it is not the primary practice….

What makes social network sites unique is not that they allow individuals to meet strangers, but rather they enable users to articulate and make visible their social networks. 

It has been my experience that social network sites support offline networks by making them visible.  My Facebook “friends” do not particpate in it for the purposes of making new friends.  (In fact, one person I know had to be out right rude to someone who wouldn’t leave her alone.)  Rather, Facebook, as a social network in boyd’s and Warlick’s  definition of the term, is a way to “bridge” weak ties with a friend of a friend for example, “bond” already close relationships between friends and family, and “maintain social capital” with peers from high school, former colleagues or in other locales after a move or meeting on a vacation (Ellison, Steinfield and Lampe, 2007).  Even though I socialize on a personal level with former colleagues through Facebook, we engage in professional dialogue over email, over the phone and in person.

For the purpose of this blog theme, I will explore social networks focusing on MySpace, and social networking, social networking tools and social computing through a critical lens of a junior high school and junior high library setting. 

Permalink 3 Comments

My Vision for VoiceThread Part 2

March 23, 2008 at 11:00 am (voicethread)

I can’t believe that in just over a day I have received three comments on this blog topic from people I don’t know, people who are part of the web 2.0 network.  I must admit, this is not something to which I am accustomed.  I feel that this is another instance where I must retrain myself or unlearn things.  Getting unsolicited email usually means it is spam and, as I have learned, there is blog spam, too.  But comments from an interested and engaged audience is part of the benefit of social software, social computing and Web 2.0, of which VoiceThread is yet another example.

When I received my first couple unsolicited comments from someone unrelated to my class it was actually a bit unnerving.  One of my colleagues asked how they found me.  At first I thought it was through a blog search such as Technorati but then I realized that I had linked to them.  It is only natural that you would want to know what someone is saying about you and ensure that it is accurate.  I thought I was being quite conscious of my audience, however, the more comments I receive the more conscious of my audience I become.  I can’t help but feel that my increasing awareness of this “global audience” has left me with a bit of “blog block.”  It’s not like writer’s block where I have nothing to say.  Rather, realizing just how big the potential blog audience is a little scary.

Bill Ferriter suggested  In it’s introduction the teacher gives very detailed and specific instructions of what he wants contributors to do.  On each page of the VoiceThread a different political cartoon related to Darfur is displayed.  The first couple comments are typed and parts of the political cartoon are circled to support the explanation.  Political cartoons are often very challenging for students.  VoiceThread provides visual, audio, social and doodle interaction to differentiate for individual student learning styles and preferences to assist in deconstructing the cartoon.  This way students can use the mode with which they are comfortable and excel and perhaps challenge themselves to try one of the other modes of communication and become more comfortable and fluent using it.  By hearing others thoughts, students can build on what someone else says, which the teacher suggested, or sythesize and build on the ideas of several people.

Colette Cassinelli also let me know about a wiki she has created at where she is collecting VoiceThread exemplars divided by division.  When I first visited a couple days ago, the wiki had just been created.  Now it contains ideas on each page.   

One of my colleagues emailed me about her plans for VoiceThread, having students create a new verse for Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” including content from the history they study this year.  Students could type or record the audio of their new lyrics that are supported by a literal or figurative/conceptual image interpretations.

Lastly, Tim Fahlberg provided me with a detailed explanation and examples to support the higher level thinking and motivation of students involved in creating Mathcasts. 

I am greatful to everyone who has commented on my blog and contributed to my learning.

I forgot about another idea that I had for VoiceThread.  In September, one of my colleagues and I often take students on virtual fieldtrips of the trips that we take during the summer.  As VoiceThreads, these could be archived for present and future students to revisit, comment or add content to based on their personal experiences having visited or lived in those locations, research they have completed, connections to current events, movies, or reading be it fiction or non-fiction.  In particular, I have images related to Japan (Social 8), the Industrial Revolution in Britain and The Former U.S.S.R. (Social 9) which serve to bring curriculum to life and stir discussions about life and culture in different countries. 

I listened to Teachers Teaching Teachers, from October 31, 2007, on EdTechTalk today.  Joyce Valenza was on along with the co-creators of VoiceThread.  The creators of VoiceThread said that there goal was to remove anything that could get in the way of people doing what they want to do.  They want the technology to empower rather than inhibit sharing different stories spurred by the same image.  They wanted everyone to have the shared joy such as the one in the now classic example of each member of a family sharing their perspective on what led up to the family photo. 

Valenza said that in addition to using VoiceThread for authentic practice for second language learners, they are looking at converting their student art gallery into VoiceThread.  That way artists can make a statement and students, parents, community can contribute to the virtual gallery walk.  This does not have to be limited to student art but can also include other student work. 

As one of the creators commented, VoiceThread is a vehicle for participation.  It removes constraints from collaborating with people from different geographic regions or time zones because it is asynchronous group conversation.  It is not limited to audio annotation.  If this were the only thing that it could do then it wouldn’t be much different than PowerPoint which would allow you to do the same thing.  How is it different from a slideshow or a screencast?  One of the creators said that it is different because it is a slideshow that asks a question.  It provides the opportunity for groups to broadcast as an invitation for participation.  Because people are so accustomed to PowerPoint where they weren’t asked to participate, creators of VoiceThreads must make their intentions clear of how and when and what they want participants to say.  This should be one of the first things that a person hears on the VoiceThread.  Students and their teachers must think about how they want people to contribute, collaborate, and co-create content within the VoiceThread and how they can includes spaces for this. 

VoiceThread demonstrates the power of the group (the network?) to create something that an individual could never create alone.  Like a wiki, VoiceThread is another Web 2.0 tool that validates the social nature of learning.

Another feature of VoiceThread that I hadn’t realized existed is RSS feeds.  Changes to MyVoice can be subscribed through an aggregator.  In the EdTechTalk program someone suggested that this has very interesting potential, particularly as VoiceThread works toward incorporating tagging and the capability to subscribe to individual VoiceThreads.  A student who is researching climate change could subcribe to blogs, wikis, podcasts and VoiceThread.  What a powerful diversity of media and perspectives for inquiry.

What about the bigger picture? 

I can’t help but think back to my own experience taking a face-to-face storytelling class and the oral power of words to bring people together and unite them around common experiences.  If I combine that experience with what I learned about the power of podcasting (see Podcasting Update – One Week Later) and our discussion about the changing nature of literacy to encompass digital, technological, visual, information and global literacies, VoiceThread has the potential to be a very powerful tool.  I don’t just see VoiceThread as a tool for collaboration or co-construction.  I see it as a tool for social action and social change, particularly after visiting the International Day for Sharing Life Stories Blog

Julie Lindsay discusses her vision for global collaboration as guest blogger at Dangerously Irrelevant.  Lindsay ran Learning Circles (see Margaret Riel article in Topic 1) as part of iEARN, and is co-founder of the Flat Classroom Project and the Horizon Project.  With these new projects, she identifies that collaboration has taken on a whole new dimension, which she refers to as Global Collaboaration 3.0, that provides a new focus for online collaborative projects.  Its characteristics include

  • a social network of likeminded people sharing ideas
  • working as a team with others from around the world
  • facing failure due to a non-traditional approach
  • trust and risk-taking and inquiring
  • bringing the world into your classroom
  • embracing differences and making a difference
  • student-centered where students share responsibility, solve problems and become self-reliant

Lindsay goes on to distinguish between Global Collaboration 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0, the last of which

  • teachers are fully engaged and communicate with all participants
  • Web 2.0 tools are used for communication, interaction (networking) and creation
  • classes from around the world work together as one on common objectives
  • high expectations for connectivity and collaboration
  • includes community partners (eg. experts)
  • output (individual or collective) includes input of others
  • multimedia output aims to make a difference locally or globally
  • teacher and/or student initiated, student-centered learning

As with all Web 2.0 tools, the tool can only reach its potential if the teacher using it has a student-centred view of integration of technology where the technology is used to mediate experiences that are liberating and allow the student to explore, discover and construct their own knowledge in a partnership with peers and teachers (Subramaniam, 2007) from near and far. 

Because VoiceThread uses voice, or text that represents that voice, it seems more naturally to come from the heart.  This speaks to the affective or reflective centre that infuses every process of the inquiry model, a voice that is very convincing when inhibitions are over come and vulnerability is evident.  VoiceThread could be a stepping stone towards more extensive social networking and social action.  In either students not only contribute to the global body of knowledge but also assist others in articulating, modifying and/or clarifying their global perspective and mobilizing others to take action. 

Permalink 6 Comments

My VoiceThread Vision

March 20, 2008 at 3:43 pm (voicethread)

As I read about the many suggestions for uses of VoiceThread in teaching and learning lightbulbs started going off in my head! 

VoiceThread provides a new dimension to student fieldtrips beyond the capability of Flicker or podcasting.  The ability to collaboarate and engage the community in commenting or contributing content through text, audio or video takes VoiceThread to a whole new level not offered by the other web 2.0 tools. 

The new Alberta Social Studies curriculum is inquiry based.  A way to get students thinking as historians and historical thinkers is through primary sources. Students could display an image in a VoiceThread, being sure to respect copyright, describe what they see along with their interpretation of it, ask their peers to present their interpretations and invite experts outside the school to contribute as well – either from a local high school, post-secondary institution located in another city or on the other side of the world.  Youth Source: Youth and Heritage Learning Source, pictured above, has great resources on how to read a primary source, oral histories  and others.

Examination of images does not have to be limited to primary sources.  It could be used to analyze the quality of presentation, layout, point of view or bias in print ads or video media or other elements of visual literacy.  VoiceThread could be used as a tool for students to convey their exploration and demonstrate their developing visual literacy.  The VoiceThread could be a digital portfolio of this or any other topic made more powerful by the ability of the learner to “doodle” as they narrate their thinking and others to contribute or comment on the learning.


Some of our students have taken some fabulous extreme close up (ECU) or macros images of common objects.  The image could be presented in VoiceThread and others could guess what it is.  The object could be revealed at a set date perhaps also declaring a winner that correctly identified the object.  This could be a way to build excitement and help others learn how to use the tool.  An online gallery of student digital photography could also be created.  One obstacle is the necessity of an account to be able to contribute or comment.  I will have to think more about that one.

Image Citation:
“3D 2x shot of my toothbrush.” syvwich. 2 Nov 2006. 20 Mar 2008 <>

Permalink 2 Comments

VoiceThread as Digital Storytelling

March 20, 2008 at 3:43 pm (voicethread)

web 2.0: new tools, new schools, Soloman & Schrum (released Oct 15, 2007 according to Amazon) was the only print resource I have been consulting for this course that made reference to VoiceThread.  This speaks to how new this tool is.  Valenza discovered it in June, 2007 and the education version only became live in January, 2008.  It has not yet been widely explored in print resources.  Yet, digital storytelling has been around for a while in other forms using other tools. 

In web 2.0, David Jakes is quoted describing digital storytelling this way

“The process of digital storytelling provides a voice rich in multimedia that has the potential to resonate deeply with an audience.  As a result, digital storytelling has become one of the most powerful 21st-century learning processes available to teahers and students. 

So, what exacty is a digital story?  A digital story in its truest form is a personal experience represented in narrrative format.  A script, or the essence of the story, is extracted from the narrative and then amplifed by including video, music, still-frame imagery, and the author’s voice.  A digital story typically lasts between two and three minutes.  The inclusion of multimedia makes the story come alive and takes the story to a place that could not be achieved by writing alone. 

The process is rich in learning.  Digital storytelling makes students better writers through the multiple drafts, rewrites, and script preparation [or storyboarding as suggested by Robin, (ppt)] that is required and helps them build essential visual literacy skills through the selection of the imagery required to construct the story. . . .

The final component in the digital storytelling process is sharing the creation. . . . The result demonstrates to students that what they have to say is important and how they say it is critical.  They discover that they can be lifelong contributors to the new global conversation” (p. 43-44).

According to Jakes’ definition, my VoiceThread is not an example of digital storytelling.  While it is short, it does not describe my experiences in Bolivia as a story; I simply provided verbal captions for visual highlights of my stay in the country’s capital city, La Paz.  In my case, the VoiceThread is an online photo album.  I didn’t have multiple drafts of a script as I didn’t have a script! 

If students were to create their own digital stories, I would worry about the amount of time that they could spend trying to find images to represent the essence of their story.  I know from my own experience in finding an old fashioned radio for my blog on podcasting that I spend quite a bit of time searching for the perfect image.  This could be cut down as students could negotiate who will find images to represent different parts of the story so each student need only find one image.  Students could also take photos of the images they would like to include in their digital story VoiceThread.  As Valenza has suggested, we can move students away from supporting images that represent literal interpretations of text to figurative or conceptual images that are symbols or metaphors of text.  Valenza has a wiki page dedicated to Digital Storytelling and Reforming PowerPoint.

An invaluable resource is the Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling website.  It idenfities that there are many definitions of digital storytelling which encompass combining storytelling with a variety of multimedia including images, audio, video and web publishing.  Even though it may primarily be visual, it might also be a first person narrative, that incorporates previously recorded audio, text and interviews (Robin, ppt).  I like how it describes digital stories as a jigsaw puzzle telling invisible histories or stories.  The site identifies and accompanying PowerPoints (ppt) identify ten components of a digital story:

  1. purpose 
  2. point of view
  3. dramatic question(s)
  4. choice of content
  5. clarity of voice
  6. pacing
  7. meaningful soundtrack
  8. quality of images
  9. economy of detail
  10. conventions of grammar and language usage

The power of the soundtrack stood out for me in this list.  In Bolivia I often heard flutes and pan pipes.  An audio track such as this would have enhanced my VoiceThread. 

The Center for Digital Storytelling which includes many examples of digital storytelling, included a link to The International Day for Sharing Life Stories Blog.  I was simply blown away by the power of digital stories and people to share them with the world, even including people in Kenya

At the International Day blog I also learned about Hypercities which “connects geographical information on places with stories of those who live there in the present and in the past.”  I tried to visit the first example created in Berlin (followed by LA, Lima and Rome) but I could not navigate because the page size is set larger than my screen size!  (Time to buy a new monitor I think.)  Hypercities just won an award from Humanities, Arts Science Technology Advanced Collaboratory (HASTAC for short, pronounced haystack) Initiative Digital Media and Learning Competition supported by the MacArthur Foundation, of which I have refered to Confronting the Challenges of a Participatory Culture in a previous post.  It is interesting to see all 17 winners who will share a $2M purse.

Lastly, there was a post called “Putting Memory in Place.”  This was the most powerful example of all for me when it said:

“Regimes often sustain themselves through the eradication of memory and its substitution with “official history”. Sustaining community memory, then, becomes a form of resistance.” 

This reminds me of a powerful statement by Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and author of the autobiographical Night, to “bear witness.” 

The Elements of Digital Storytelling goes into even more depth about the nature of this medium should people be interested.  While I may decide to consult it at some point, I don’t feel that I require the detail offered at this time.  

In “Digital Storytelling,” Linda C. Joseph (2006) identifies that iMovie, Moviemaker, Photo Story 3 or BubbleShare can be used to create digital stories.  (This article was part of introductory topic Getting Started & Setting the Scene: Web 2.0 in Schools and Libraries.)  She suggests making a print version (if this is posssible with the media used as video would not allow for this option) and a backup digital file to preseve the digital story.  Alan Levine actually identifies 50 Web 2.0 Ways to Tell a Story, telling the same Dominoe story in each tool.  Bubbleshare is the first example.  

Permalink Leave a Comment

Voicethread in Action

March 20, 2008 at 3:42 pm (voicethread)

Silvia Tolisano provided these examples at the langwitches blog:   

Collaborative Projects
In the What Could It Mean? collaborative project, students share their ideas on why a four litre jug is sitting atop a car.  I love this one as students must make inferences from the image and synthesize those with their own personal experiences to predict why the jug is there.   

Math 247 / K-7 Mathcasts 500 Project  The first VoiceCast on this page demonstrates how to put a number into scientific notation.  This example falls under grade 7 in the table on this page in the wiki. 

Initially I wondered if this becomes another way of doing a worksheet.  I stand corrected.  Please see Tim Fahlberg’s detailed explanation of Mathcast in the comments at the end of this post that explain the student thinking and explanation that go into a Mathcast.  Thanks again, Tim, for taking the time to explain Mathcast to me.  Once again, web 2.0 exemplifies the power of the network to teach, explain and exemplify. 

Visit the Galapagos Island has students describe what they learned and enjoyed about their study of the Galapagos.  This Voicecast demonstrates that anyone can contribute – the shy and the not so shy.

Information Responsibility
In Fair Use, a group of four grade seven students describe what it is and why it is important.  They aren’t just learning by doing but also teaching others when sharing. 

Reading and Language Arts
When I searched VoiceThread in, I came across this pageflakes with links to VoiceThreads for different topics and grade levels, collaborative projects as well as voicethreads dedicated to professional development, some of which I have selected to share below.  This one is dedicated to the geography of Canada.  The teachers give a detailed overview of what students do in this project.  I’m always impressed when I find Canadian content.   

The Books Go Global has grade four students from around the world sharing fiction and non-fiction voice thread booktalks via the wiki.  I visited The Diary of the Wimpy kid one as I just saw it on a best seller list from Publisher’s Weekly.  This could segway into a discussion of why books are or are not the same in different countries.  Brenda Dyck, in her article at Education World, pointed me to Great Book Stories wiki, another place to share VoiceThread booktalks with a larger audience.  Unlike Books Go Global, which embedded all the VoiceThreads and takes a very long time to load, Great Book Stories links to the VoiceThreads instead so you only load the ones that you wish to view.  Either of these could be linked to from a virtual library webpage.

Students could explore figurative language such as alliteration, onomatopoeia or the parts of speech.  One of these could serve as exemplar of what to do and what not to do when creating a VoiceThread so that students could brainstorm the assessment criteria, thereby taking ownership of the task. 

Professional Development
What is the Network Mean to You? VoiceThread is a collaborative project based in Regina where contributors share what “network” means to them.  I was pleasantly surprised when one of the contributors introduced themselves as I recognized the name from one of my previous classes!  People from all over have contributed.  This demonstrates the potential of VoiceThread to be a very valuable professional development tool particularly for one-person departments. 

This VoiceThread wiki was created after an EdTechTalk.  It is a place to learn how to create a VoiceThread and contains examples and resources for using VoiceThread in the classroom.  It is where I discovered the blog of Brenda Dyck, sessional instructor at U of A.   

Will Richardson pointed me to a VoiceThread made by Laura D’Elia after she attended the Building Learning Communities Summer Institute.  This is another way that I can hitch a ride to a conference, time-shifting and place-shifting to when and where it convenient for me.  In this one, I was able to see how the text comment feature and the doodle feature in VoiceThread work.  It was also a treat because Joyce Valenza popped in!  Presenters and participants alike contributed and collaborated on Laura’s VoiceThread.   

Permalink 2 Comments

Voicethread in Teaching and Learning

March 20, 2008 at 3:42 pm (voicethread)

Benefits of VoiceThread according to Valenza and others:

  • simple and easy
  • focus on the content instead of the tool; can serve as a form of free writing (Ferriter)
  • requires simple hardware and minimal memory requirements (Langhorst); minimal tech-barrier (Ferriter)
  • encourages collaborative storytelling
  • ability to use powerful images – one or many
  • users can zoom in to see detail and out to see big picture (haven’t figure that one out yet)
  • ability to add text
  • easy to capture voices
  • inspires ongoing conversation about each image (Ferriter)
  • build fluency, precision and voice in second language
  • new dimension for creative analysis of historical photographs, maps and artifacts
  • ability to give and receive feedback from peers, teachers [formative and summative assessment], parents and other relatives, local and global community (Fryer)
  • effective tutorials (although I didn’t find them or the website design as intuitive as some of the other web 2.0 tool tutorials)
  • can be used “as a storytelling tool, a deep thinking tool, a research tool, an expository communication tool, and even an asessment tool” (Dyck)
  • allows for differentiation to accomodate different learning needs and styles, another option for struggling or reluctant writers (Dyck)
  • allows the teachers to seamlessly integrate digital collaboration into the currciulum (Ferriter)
  • provides another opportunity to discuss copyright

In addition, at the Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling website, it identifies that digital storytelling, of which a VoiceThread can be a tool in creation:

  • capitalizes on creative talents
  • motivates digital generation
  • can suit many purposes: informative, quesitoning, historical, autobiographical, etc.

At the langwitches blog, Silvia Tolisano also adds that creating a storybook through Voicethread shows that

  • they are a learning community
  • learning is a lifelong process as teachers learn to use the VoiceThread tool
  • collaboration can take place across ages and grades

Valenza describes the power of VoiceThread like this:

“A single photograph, capturing a single moment, can represent multiple stories.  This site collects and invites participation in the telling.” 

Uses in Teaching and Learning as suggested by Valenza and others:

  • create or select images to accompany original poetry, poetic devices or research
  • record personal, family or community history, historic events or an oral history project (Langhorst); documentaries or essays (Robin (ppt))
  • create an photo album of your school (web2telegraph) or library narrated by students
  • share oral reports about research through digital story (Fryer)
  • opportunity for students to develop interview skills
    • interview techniques
    • build confidence with peers
    • asking open ended questions
    • providing interviewee time to elaborate
    • follow up questions (Langhorst)
  • develop editing skills – eliminate errors and pauses
  • collaborate with a school in another location (Fryer
  • illustrated booktalks
  • Ferriter suggests students record thoughts while previewing (doc) or draft comments from four different suggestion types (doc)
  • Joseph (2006) provides some other suggestions, based on the Olympus Envision Your World website, including a photo gallery to tell the story of municipal, provincial, national story (like America 24/7) or exploring science material to demonstrate their use in labs, innovation and space exploration (such as Marvels of Invention).

At the Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling it also identifies these possibilities for Digital Storytelling that revolve around a particular theme or viewpoint:

1. Personal Narratives

  • help students organize ideas as they learn to create stories for an audience (my emphasis, connects to Focus on Inquiry (pdf) and Revised Blooms Taxonomy)
  • create digital stories based on multicultural folktales
  • hold a digital storytelling festival (Robin & Pierson, ppt)

2. Examination of Historical Themes and Events that move beyond an encyclopedia entry

  • help students conduct research
  • synthesize large amounts of content
  • gain expertise in using digital communications and authoring tools

3. Stories that Inform or Instruct  

  • introduce new material
  • use as an anticipatory set or hook for a lesson
  • enhance current lessons
  • make difficult content more accessible

To Consider . . .

  • “Vision before application” (Robin & Pierson, ppt), meaningful vs. superficial storytelling (Robin, ppt)
  • Ask for signed consent from person interviewed to be able to share
  • Getting VoiceThread unblocked (Fryer)
  • Assessment – a rubric suggestion is provided at the Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling website

Permalink 1 Comment

Next page »