Reflections on teaching about Web 2.0 tools

It's been a criminal amount of time since I last blogged. The standard excuse of being busy applies but seems lame as I write it.

Today I want to reflect on some teaching I did on Tuesday, 17th May at the Institute of Education (IOE). It was called 21st century learning: using web 2.0 tools. I usually call this session Web2.0Learning but our marketing people didn't like that and renamed it. This was the first time I've been on the LCLL core events calendar so this was quite a bit deal. By the way, the LCLL - London Centre for Leadership in Learning - is where I work in the IOE.

Web2.0Learning is a day's training that I conceived a couple of years ago to teach educators about the various types of tools freely available 'out there' on the internet. I describe them as 'outside your VLE' tools. I've now delivered it 5 times mostly at the Chartered Institute of Marketing and I've always found it a rewarding experience. Part of the satisfaction comes from the fact that it's inspired and dictated by what I read, learn and reflect about in my personal learning on the blogosphere. It's more of a personal interest than a work chore. Also, it allows me to be creative as I seek to make sense of the different tools and software I encounter and distill it down into coherent messages.

There's lots to reflect on. Firstly, this is the programme I arrived at. When I compare to the last time I did it in July, 2010 there is a much that has changed:

9:30 - 9:45 Welcome and Introductions
9:45 - 10:10 Web 2.0 technologies in education
10:10 - 10:30 Our site/Group creation sites*
10:30 - 10:45 Group notice boards*
10:45 – 11:00 tea/coffee
11:00 – 11:10 Knowledge Building
11:10 – 11:35 Mind mapping*
11:35 – 11:40 Drawing tools*
11:40 – 11:50 Word Clouds*
11:50 – 12:00 Tool exploration*
12:00 – 13:00 Lunch
13:00 – 13:10 Brainstorming
13:10 – 13:25 Which media?
13:25 – 13:45 Creating a narrative
13:45 – 14:00 Collaborative bookmarking*
14:00 – 14:10 Screencasting
14:10 – 14:15 Recording audio
14:15 – 14:30 Break
14:30 – 14:35 Creative commons and copyright
14:35 – 14:50 Blogs/discussions
14:50 – 15:10 Collaborative documents/wikis*
15:10 – 15:15 Selection criteria
15:15 – 15:30 Reflection and discussion

The timings seem precise and weren't kept to as we moved through things quicker than planned. It's difficult to judge but it was useful to plan in this way so I could be clear which tools I was covering and in what order. The * means that we did a hands on practice on an instance of that tool. The purpose was to give an overview of what a particular type of tool is for and how it could be used for teaching and learning. My broad plan from this time was to get more contextual examples of actual use and extract this information into templates which I could talk around. I wasn't able to do this extensively for every tool but there was still lots of ideas for educational use. It was really helpful this time to have assistance from a colleague, Isobel Bowditch. She did some valuable research into some of the tools as we made sense of what's out there and decided what's important.

The first reflection was that it went really well. A positive day with positive feedback - the best I've got so far. I wasn't sure about how school teachers would react to it. On reflection, it has more relevance in this context than in HE and FE as a lot of the more dynamic, creative and fun tools don't seem to appeal the older the context. One important structural point was that I house the weblinks and resources here:

We linked to each example from the site and there are extra links to explore after the day. It's good to have a hub of activity and it allows me to build a resource which I can use again. I've left it open so that they can share it with colleagues. My ethos of sharing knowledge comes from a belief that more good than bad comes from it. I had someone this morning request to use a prezi I've done which is gratifying. The success of the day meant that two more sessions have been pencilled in for the next academic year which means I'll get to update the session again.

The group was mostly ICT co-ordinators and classroom teachers. The ICT folk were really good participants as they sought to incorporate the tools into their thinking. But I'm pleased those less ICT minded found it useful. As I suspected some of the tools were familiar to some of the group but this turned out to be no problem as there was sufficient breadth and variety of topics. I think they liked being given context/explanation before being allowed to practice using a tool. The practice were carefully setup to minimise difficulties. I tried, where possible, not to endorse a particular service and explain why I had chosen what I'd chosen. Primarily I was going for tools which didn't require any account creation, was free to use and had good usability. for example, with mindmapping I chose There are better mindmapping tools out there but they require money and an account to be created so to practice in a controlled environment they are not suitable. BTW, never run a session like this and have them create an account which needs to be validated from an email - it's chaos!

From these principles, I ran the day. I have the following observations about some of the tools:

- Answergarden is a tool where you can ask a question, share the website and get quick feedback in a fun, dynamic way. I found this tool at the last minute, it seems to fit into a bit about brainstorming or generating quick feedback in a fun way so I included it. They liked it a lot and someone discovered that you could create word clouds out of the answers which I hadn't spotted.

- wallwisher and linoit are online noticeboard tools which also hit the spot. They are good tools where account creation is optional. It seems that this kind of quick, interaction, simple and visually impressive tool is right for the schools context. This is unsurprising when you think about it but useful learning for me. I'm sure there is more out there.

- I was almost apologetic in my inclusion of drawing tool, tagging them onto the end of mindmapping bit very briefly. However, they liked this as well which could be linked to the previous point about quick, easy and interactive.

- Collaborative bookmarking was also a winner. I prefer diigo as the educational account allows for bespoke groups to be created and the teacher to create accounts. This is a tool that I will always champion is I think it is under used in education.

- Collaborative documents/wikis - I put these together as they are similar in spirit. For the activity I chose a synchronous collaborative document tool - which worked well. I was right to have this at the end as people had got to know eachother a little bit so were ok with the ability to edit others' words. I nearly did this using a wikispace wiki but I'm glad I didn't now.

- I was unsure about whether to dedicate time to allowing them to explore different web 2.0 tools from the sites I'd linked to which had loads of them categorised, e.g. Best Online Collaboration tools, 2011 and Free Technology for Teachers but this worked well and we ended up giving more time for this.

- Word clouds went down surprisingly well. I've not included these before for some reason. I think I thought everyone already knows about them but I was wrong. Their potential for teaching and learning is perhaps limited but the ease with which they can be created make them worth a look.

- Finally, the section I called Creation a narrative. This is the section that Isobel helped me research. I knew I wanted to do something around cartooning/comic strip software and photo/video mashup stuff. We talked at length about how these tools related and what their educational potential was. What we found was not much of a track record for educational use or overt marketing in this direction. However, I felt there was suffificent potential to include them. I couldn't fashion a hands on activity as none of the tools fitted the criteria so I just did demos. At the time, I thought that it wasn't going down very well but afterwards some of the primary people said that they would think about this. The session suffered a little by having weak examples to show but I'm still glad I did it. Have a look on the website down the bottom of the page to see the tools that I decided to demo along with brief descriptions. Zimmer Twins and Xtra Normal are my favourites.

- As an afterthought to the creating a narrative section, I talked about and showed a couple of examples of glogster - the multimedia poster tool. I need to give this a higher profile to as they really liked the look of this. I can see why as there a lot of potential for homework activities with this. I need to look into this more.

Aside from the tools, I need to think of ways to engender more discussion. The computer room setup didn't help but I could have done more in this regard.

The biggest development I need to work on is getting better knowledge and understanding of the schools context. This session has potential if I can give it more contextual relevance. I'm not sure how best to do this so I need to have a think.

Finally, let me give thanks to the ICT gods for having all the technology work for me.