November 2006


As an educational professional, it is a given that collaboration has a very important role to play in your everyday activities. Whether it be between colleagues, your students or even across schools and institutions, having the right collaboration software can make your tasks a whole lot easier, speeding up mundane processes and allocating your time for more important tasks at hand.

So see if my post over at the Technopreneur blog, can relate to you and your institution. If your institution has yet to implement some form of collaboration software, why not? Try proposing this to the management team to streamline your institution’s collaboration process. You could be doing them a favour.

Read this at The Office 2.0: Trading Cubicles For Smarter Collaboration.

P.S. if you’d like to share your thoughts or questions on this topic, please do so in this post, in the comments section, so that other like-minded educational professionals can benefit from your feedback within this blog. Thanks.

Just added a new post over at my Technopreneur blog. And it very much concerns you.

I share information about how to go about making a safe transaction online, whether it be making a bill payment to a bank, or buying a product from an e-commerce site like Amazon.  

Phishing is becoming a real threat to everyday netizens like us, so a certain amount of precaution must be exercised in order to protect ourselves from being victims of stolen identity.

Read on to find out, How To Transact Safely Online While Fly Phishing In A Tank.

I thought I’d done a fairly thorough job of demonstrating the use of Bloglines. But Preetam Rai has gone the full monty on this one by teaching you how to keep track of blogs, news feeds, podcasts, Yahoo! Group messages, Flickr photos…yeah, all with Bloglines.

Check out his in-depth tutorial here.

 Related Posts

I had been contemplating creating a 10-page manual for those interested in getting started with Moodle, but I shoved that idea down the idea shredder as soon as I came across this resource:

Moodle

Moodle E-Learning Course Development is a 256-page tome on getting the best out of Moodle for successful learning. So, what has this got to do with shoving my intended plan down the idea shredder?

Well, because you’re about to get an added 63 pages for free. A free preview of the above mentioned book has been made available at no cost and covers a whole lot more than my intended mini-manual (where can I hang my head in shame?).

You can download the sample e-book here (It’s a PDF download and you’re going to need Adobe’s Acrobat Reader to open this file).

Related Posts

One of the last things you ever expect in life, is to witness a company made famous for its database software, getting involved in a social networking project for kids. But that’s just what Oracle has done, with its creation of Think.com.

 Oracle's Think.com

An online social networking and collaborative platform with a diverse range of applications, Think.com is a sheltered environment for primary and secondary students to get engaged in social activities and collaborative projects on a global scale. I say ‘sheltered environment’ because Think.com has enforced a stringent authentication process, which ensures that students are interacting within a controlled environment.

A school interested in using Think.com has to review Oracle’s Administrative guide before submitting an application, which, by the looks of it, is fairly thorough. It has more stipulated conditions than probably a tax return form, but you don’t expect anything less from a database giant. And I guess, it’s well worth the effort since after all, Think.com is free, and Internet safety is ensured for the kids.

From what I understand, Nanyang Girls’ High School has plans to use Think.com as part of their students’ learning journey. This is a step forward in embracing what is already the inevitable. Because believe it or not, your students are going to be using the Internet, if not in school, outside of it. So why not just let them use the Internet in school, in an environment where the teacher facilitates proper use of it?

A controlled environment does not have to be a boring one. Oracle has integrated the ThinkQuest library with Think.com, to encourage students to work in teams, competing intellectually to build their own learning environments. Teachers can set up activities to stimulate creativity, expose students to global cultures, encourage intellectual debates, etc. I remember reading somewhere that a poem was written in Think.com. No big deal right? But here’s why I mentioned it. Each line of that poem was contributed from a student from another part of the world. How’s that for ingenuity?

I wrote about ePortfolios and Helen Barrett in an earlier post. Here’s what she said about using Think.com to create electronic portfolios:

I am impressed by the ease of entering data. All URLs are automatically converted to weblinks that open in a new window. The tool allowed me to reconstruct my portfolio in less than an hour, copying the information from various online portfolios, including my Mozilla portfolio, where I had the URLs on the page (not just links). I easily uploaded my only file artifacts (on the Portfolio-at-a-Glance page).This is the first tool that I have used that adds Interactivity to the portfolio (other than the blog tools). The software allows these forms of Interactivity:

  • Message Board – Invite people to post a message on a page
  • Ask Me – Answer questions (about anything)
  • Debate – Pick a topic and have a debate with others
  • Vote – Have an election or poll on a page
  • Brainstorm – Invite others to share their ideas on a page

I am very impressed with this interactivity, since it makes an electronic portfolio a socially-constructed document. The tool also allows the addition of “Stickies” that can be added by anyone and deleted by the page owner. The Stickie can be used for providing formative feedback as a portfolio and its artifacts are developed.There are also five types of “Media and More” that you can add to a page:

  • Pictures – Upload your favorite GIFs and JPEGs
  • List – Make a list of assignments or other things
  • Mini Pics – Add artwork to a page from the Mini Pics gallery
  • Multimedia – Upload Music, Movies and Animations
  • Files – Upload files from Word, Claris Works and other programs

To read her full post, click here.

Once students garner positive experiences in social networking and intellectual collaboration using Internet technologies, they’ll be the wiser when they step out into the real world. Yes, I am seriously convinced that the real world today constitutes the digital domain as well. Just ask fanatical users of MySpace (I’ve still got my reservations about Second Life though, when it comes to what’s real and what’s not, but more on that in another post).

Really, your school has no reason not to jump on the bandwagon, if it hasn’t already, leveraging Internet technologies to further students’ intellectual growth. Think.com has eradicated all possible excuses for not getting started. If your school has done the impossible and managed to squeeze out another excuse, post it here. I’m sure one of you intelligent readers will have something to say about it. Now, that’s collaboration.

Thought you should know that I’ve just posted a new blog entry about Podcasting, over at my other blog.

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of podcasting, I strongly suggest you hop over for a read.

Though it might have a slight business slant to it, you’ll instantly grasp the power of podcasting and what it offers to educational professionals like you. There are so many possibilities for using podcasting in education, that it’s almost mind-blowing! You can be sure that I’ll be writing lots more on this subject here on ChalkTalk.

But right now, hop on over to Technopreneur and get geeky!

You know what a portfolio is. Artists usually maintain one or more. Astute investors maintain one or more. And for the rest of us, portfolios double as a glorified resume; documenting qualifications, skills, abilities and achievements, stuff that can make or break a job interview, or just send you spiraling down (or up, whichever way you look at it) an ego trip. 

But used in the context of education, portfolios can be a valuable assessment and learning tool, both, for educators and students alike. I’m sure your school or learning institution is already using portfolios for such a purpose. There are very few negative aspects to using portfolios as a lifelong learning experience. In fact, used intelligently, rather than just posing as an archives of sorts, portfolios make for a very authoritative reference for individual assessment. And with easy access to the Internet, portfolios have mutated into something even more alluring – webfolios, or what is more popularly known as electronic portfolios/ePortfolios. There is a distinction however, between ePortfolios and webfolios, as some academic researchers explain:

we make a distinction between hard-copy portfolios, e-portfolios, and ePortfolios. A hard-copy portfolio usually consists of paper artifacts in a binder. An e-portfolio resides on disk, CD-ROM, or similar physical transportable media and is not accessible from the Web. A ePortfolio resides on the Web and “is a tightly integrated collection of Web-based multimedia documents that [could include] curricular standards, course assignments, student artifacts in response to assignments, and reviewer feedback of students’ work.””

                   (Love, McKean, and Gathercoal, 2004)

“You may have heard of the term ePortfolios. There is a difference however, between eportfolios and ePortfolios. Since the mid-90s, the term eportfolio has been used to describe collections of student work at a Web site. Within the field of composition studies, the term “ePortfolio” has also been used. In this portal, we are using the current, general meaning of the term, which is a dynamic web site that interfaces with a database of student work artifacts. EPortfolios are static Web sites where functionality derives from HTML links. ePortfolio therefore, now refers to database-driven, dynamic web sites, not static, HTML-driven sites.”

                                   (Batson, 2002)

ePortfolios have unfurled a dizzying array of possibilities in education (please note that ePortfolios are not confined to higher education. Elizabeth A. Herbert has produced a book explaining the power of portfolios for assessing children’s learning). It has (though not single-handedly) broadened the learning landscape by empowering the use of portfolios for personal development, deep learning, presentations, future employment, assessment and accreditation. An ePortfolio becomes a digital identity for the owner. It acts as an extension to the owner’s experience and provides a platform for his or her own personal reflection. It adds the ability to form a connection with other learners and educators, sharing resources with similar minded learning communities, morphing into a collaboration tool, rather than just a rigid depository of artifacts.

Here are some features that an ePortfolio can embody:

·  Personal information

·  Education history

·  Personal stories

·  Personal commentary and reflections

·  Research information – such as documentation and references supporting specific research

·  Annotated bibliographies

·  Books lists

·  Coursework – assignment, projects

·  Instructor comments

·  Academic and professional achievements

·  Persistent web searches

·  Newsradars (custom filtered highly thematic news feeds)

·  OPML / reading lists (lists of RSS resources)

·  Timelines

·  Calendars

·  Timeplans

·  PowerPoint presentations

·  Digital photographs (annotated)

·  Video clips

·  Audio recordings – Podcasts

·  Goals, plans

·  Personal goals and objectives

·  Personal values and interests

·  Recommendation letters and references

(Source: Electronic Portfolios: What Are They?)

Such features seem too good to be true for just an ePortfolio, but it’s these very features that challenge students to develop creativity and think more critically as they develop their own ePortfolios. Because of the wide array of possibilities that ePortfolios offer to education, it becomes necessary to set a focus for its implementation. In a paper by Helen C. Barrett, she wrote:

Barton and Collins (1993) stated, “the first and most significant act of portfolio preparation is the decision of the purposes for the portfolio” (p. 203). What are your purposes in creating anelectronic portfolio? To support ongoing learning/professional development? To supportformative and summative assessment? To support marketing and employment? These are three major purposes for electronic portfolios… and they are all different and require different types of technology tools. A learning portfolio can be supported very nicely with a web log environment (“blogs”), whereas an assessment portfolio that ties artifacts to a set of standards, with feedback or validation, is best implemented through a relational database structure. A marketing or employment portfolio only needs an authoring environment that supports formatting and hyperlinking on a web-based server.”

Helen Barrett goes on to say:

Portfolios should support an environment of reflection and collaboration. It is a rare system that supports those multiple needs. That is why I often advocate for three interconnected systems: an archive of student work, an assessment management system to document achievement of standards, and an authoring environment where students can construct their own electronic portfolios and reflective, digital stories of learning (see earlier discussion about this balanced model). I believe the use of technology can be a motivating factor for portfolios, especially if we can make it engaging for the learners, and give them an opportunity to express their own voice in their portfolios.”

(Source:  Researching Electronic Portfolios and Learner Engagement)

By the way, if you’re serious about incorporating ePortfolios into your teaching methodologies, you can’t go wrong with Helen Barrett, a leading authority in this field. I strongly suggest reading her online publications to get intimately familiar with ePortfolios as a teaching aid.

Going back to what Helen Barrett mentioned (see above) about students constructing their own portfolios, I think, this deserves deeper consideration. If you were to examine your own institution’s methodology of managing portfolios, how many of them are actually done by students’ themselves? And do these portfolios include students’ needs, concerns and viewpoints? Yes, scaffolding experiences to induce reflection and assessing and forging accountability are all part of the deeper purpose of portfolios, but; this should not be at the expense of marginalizing opinions and concerns of students.

It makes better educational sense if ePortfolios are made more learner-centric, empowering students to play a deeper role in constructing their own portfolios, owning and forging their own digital identity as I alluded to earlier. By gaining control of building their self-knowledge, students will adopt a keen sense for personal reflection, something, which can only be evoked if students themselves have a hands-on approach in building their own ePortfolios. This may also pave the way for you to teach from a more, constructivist paradigm, a theory I subscribe to whole-heartedly.

Having said that, ePortfolios require a few crucial considerations. Considerations that your institution’s or school’s administration can only answer. After all, managing your students’ portfolios on the Web will require a budget. Concerns such as database management, server costs, long-term storage, who has control over the portfolios and vendor support, tend to raise a few eyebrows. So the next obvious question is, “Are ePortfolios really necessary for your institution right now?” While it’s true that ePortfolios support learning, it’s also true that ePortfolios are not the fulcrum on which learning balances. Your institution can do without it, without trivializing the substantial role ePortfolios can play.

Perhaps, that’s where open source can make its grand entrance. As a firm believer in open source software (this reduces the burden of budget constraints considerably), I cannot resist the opportunity to point you towards an exciting, albeit an awkwardly named tool called Elgg.

Elgg is all about a learner-centred, learner-controlled space in which you choose the connections, the resources and the communities you want to participate in,” says David Tosh, one of its creators.

A new Elgg user starts by creating a digital identity: announcing who they are, and what they are interested in. Then any content published by the user (such as a blog entry or uploaded file) can be assigned freely chosen keywords (a process known as tagging). The software then uses these tags to help to connect the user to other learners with similar interests.

In addition, a user can start a community, which other learners can then join. For example, a course leader could start a subject-based community to highlight potential reading materials to a group of learners. Elgg also includes the ability to publish a podcast and a way for users to subscribe to content elsewhere on the web.The learner-centric approach and social networking aspect of Elgg make it very different from more traditional virtual learning environments (VLEs), which are usually structured around courses, timetables and assessment. “Whereas Elgg is learner-centred, the VLE systems tend to be centred around the requirements of an institution,” says Werdmuller.

Elgg offers learners more autonomy but is not intended to replace the VLE. “We think of it as more of an enhancement,” says Tosh.

Elgg encourages students “to develop an online presence” and writing for and commenting on blogs “requires a style of writing that is reflective, clear and concise. It helps students to find and develop a particular type of public ‘voice’ as well as communication and presentational skills.”

(Source: The Guardian, March 7th 2006)

Maybe, just maybe, Elgg could be the solution to accelerate the adoption of ePortfolios in your school or institution. But because, this is too important a point to overlook, I want to re-iterate the importance of getting your students to take charge of their own portfolios. This may be difficult for students at a lower primary level to grasp, but nevertheless, it can be done by stimulating their interests via methods such as digital storytelling; just one more way towards stimulating creativity and arousing excitement in students using today’s emerging technology.

Digital storytelling probably deserves a post of its own, but, just to give you an idea of how easy it can be; visit Microsoft’s Photo Story 3 ( which is a free download), and create your own digital story. It’s like composition writing without the boredom. For ideas on implementation in your classroom, try this resource page. For the more serious-minded, you might want to purchase a truly insightful book on this subject, DigiTales: The Art of Telling Digital Stories, by Bernajean Porter.

As a parting note with regards to problems in implementation of ePortfolios in your institution, try heeding George Siemens’ suggestion:

In situations where full-scale implementation of eportfolios is not possible, instructors can begin to foster a culture of digital documentation by encouraging learners to practice blogging, developing simple websites, or storing their content online (in a content management system like Plone). Encouraging learners to develop an online identity in recently developed (or soon to be released) systems like Elgg can also be an effective introduction to the process.”

(Source: ePortfolios, December 16, 2004)