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a site for serious play


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The power of popplet!

Popplet is a graphic organising tool that can be used to create mind maps, discussion boards, timelines, and storyboards. It can be used at various stages in the research process to plan projects, curate resources (text, image, weblinks, and video), organise resources and deliver presentations. For the latter purpose, it’s a simple, clean alternative to PowerPoint and Prezi that puts the focus back onto content creation rather than on the  “bells and whistles” of delivery. Here’s a quick overview:

Registration with Popplet requires a username, password and email (although no email confirmation of account is required). It’s free (with a limit of 5 popplets per account at any one time), very easy to use, and can be shared for online viewing (via URL, Twitter or Facebook), or editing. A Popplet app is available for iPad and iPhone.

Popplet is a great tool for the classroom. Teachers might post stimulus material to a popplet and then invite students to post their answers or comments by creating popples (individual content boxes). The teacher can then provide feedback via a popple comment function. Teachers might also use popplets to post class notes/resources, subject overviews, or create galleries of student work.

Students can create individual or collaborative popplets, and are able to present their completed projects online as a slideshow, or export them as a jpg or pdf. Popplets can also be embedded into websites. These export options are a useful means to back-up popplets.

As with any online tool, issues of privacy must be considered when Popplet is used for teaching and learning. An advantage of popplet is that, unlike tools such as Facebook, the default privacy setting for Popplet is private, so teachers or students need to take deliberate action to make the popplet “semi-public” to collaborators(by sharing the URL) or “public” for all the world to see.

As well as being very user friendly, Popplet offers support to users via a popplet blog and Facebook. Both offer tips on using popplet, along with technical support. There are also some great examples on the blog of how popplet is being used in classrooms across all grades.

On the home page of the Popplet website there are links to ‘Terms of Service’ and ‘Privacy Policy.’ As can be expected when signing up for a free online service, Popplet users give site owners everything bar the shirts on their backs. That said, at least the ‘Terms of Use’ clearly state how user information will be used. Should a user want to terminate their popplet registration they must make an email request to popplet admin. Popplet is at least up front in saying that such requests will remove the user from future Popplet activity, but will not necessarily remove user information from the site archives.

I particularly like the guidelines provided by popplet that: emphasise the implications for users of making a popplet public; caution users about breaching copyright; advise users to behave ethically; and suggest that users question the authenticity of information provided in popplets.

Whilst Popplet seems such a wonderful tool for classroom use, the Terms of Use stipulate that Popplet administrators are committed to protect the privacy of children, and for that reason, site users must be at least 13 years old. Whilst this would seem to restrict Popplet use to secondary school students, Popplet offers ways around this restriction for teachers wanting to use popplet with younger students.  One such way includes upgrading to a paid “edu” plan.

If you haven’t looked at Popplet, certainly give it a go. I think it has great potential to be used in the classroom in so many different ways by teachers and students.  I’m particularly fond of its presentation mode, which makes a welcome change from Death by PowerPoint and the nausea-inducing nature of Prezi.

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Online communities: Two [or more] heads are better than one!

Telephone Exchange by PhotoAtelier (CCFlickr)

My great grandmother was a member of an online community. Well, maybe not of the type we have today, but one built around those party lines that ran through the telephone exchange in the “old days”. A party line, which enabled a group telephone call, connected people who didn’t have physical access to each other. Sure, the reception wasn’t all that great and the community was a relatively small one, but the benefits were similar to those gained today through membership of web-based communities. Party line participants could share ideas, ask advice and catch up on what was happening beyond their four walls. No doubt for my great grandmother stuck out there in fairly remote outback Queensland in the early 1900s, her online community was a valued part of her life… and so is mine.

My professional world revolves strongly around online communities. Whilst I’m blessed to work in a team environment where I have colleagues for support and advice, it’s not always easy to find a mutual time where we can sit down uninterrupted and talk things through.  Also, I think the more we work together, the more we tend to think the same, and the more we tend to only half-listen to what each other is saying–sounds like we’re married!!  Consequently, we lose the “diversity of opinions” that George Siemens (2005) advocates is so necessary for knowledge creation and learning. Instead of the sparks of creativity being fanned by collective discourse, they often flicker feebly and die through lack of fuel.

To add fuel to my fire I’m having an extra-marital affair with Twitter**(apologies to my colleagues, I hope they’ll forgive me). I rely heavily on my virtual tribe to challenge my thinking and, on a practical level, provide me with great tips, tricks and tools to enhance my professional knowledge and skills.

At a basic level, Twitter functions as my virtual help-desk. I can throw out a “How To” question at virtually any time and someone, somewhere is sure to help me out. It’s also my virtual library where professional readings are shared–no subscription needed! And what is more, these articles often come within the context of a blog post that allows for a discussion of the piece.

And then there’s the functionality of Twitter as a virtual news desk. If I want to pick up breaking news, then Twitter delivers via words, images and videos from many sources (which of course raises the issue of the validity of the info).  Interestingly, in the wake of Boston bombings yesterday, there was a segment on Today Tonight, The pros and cons of social media, that reported the way in which social media have changed the face of news reporting. Of particular interest were the comments surrounding the ability of social media to bypass censorship by the Fourth Estate.

Whilst my access to the above functions of Twitter is self-determined–I interact when it suits–I also use Twitter more formally as a virtual classroom by participating in organised, subject-specific Twitter chats. These chats are held at scheduled times and are usually scaffolded around a number of predetermined questions or topics. One person usually moderates the discussion to keep it focused. Two of my favourite chats are #ozengchat and #PhDchat. If I can’t make the chat, it’s easy enough to track the discussion by a search on the chat hashtag. Check out this list of weekly chat times compiled by @thomascmurray and @cevans5095 (we need the Australian version of this).

‘And then there were two’ by anujd89 (CCFlickr)

I like to leave my professional and personal footprints on different paths… it makes life easier if I’m using my social media with students and colleagues. So while Twitter is my preferred weapon of instruction, I use Facebook primarily to keep in touch with family and friends (although I have created a second FB account to use professionally for the PLN course).  I find Facebook’s layout makes it more suited as a journal or photo album in which to record memories. That’s not to say I wouldn’t use Facebook in the classroom… if only I could! Despite,however, the wonderful suggestions from David Herstein in How schools can use Facebook to build an online community, many schools, including my own, continue to block student access to social media.

Chubby Soapbox by daretoeatapeach (CCFlickr)

Chubby Soapbox by daretoeatapeach (CCFlickr)

And that prompts me to climb onto my soapbox! The minute we “ban” students from something/anything, we’re sending a message that we don’t value it as a teaching and learning tool. We’re also being condescending by signalling that we don’t think our students are mature enough to decide (or learn) what qualifies as appropriate use and what doesn’t. Well that’s easily fixed! Let’s give them the keys and some driving lessons so that they don’t crash their social media! Let students be social media “learners” in the safety of the classroom, where a driving instructor can help them learn the rules, navigate the twists and turns, and interact appropriately with other drivers. There’ll probably be some minor dings, but chances are driver training will help students avoid the high speed social media crashes which can cause permanent injury.

** My Twitter name is @dilaycock