Introduction

Our group explored how blogs can be used within the educational context, in particular in distance education. We decided to use WordPress as the platform to talk about how blogs can be used for teaching and learning. Our blog has been organized around eight objectives, each accessible from the navigation bar at the top of the page. Each objective has an initial post from one of our group members, followed by additional posts on the same topic from other group members, thus displaying the power of “discussion” of blogging. As you are reading each post, we encourage you to provide feedback by liking a post or leaving a comment under “Group 1 Feedback.” Hopefully our presentation will inspire you to think about how you can incorporate blogs into you own teaching and learning context.

James Cantafio
Heather Farmer
Francine Kalogris
Leann Nicholson
Pam Perry
Jennifer Rausch

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Accessibility and the Web

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 were developed in order to provide guidance for publishing content for the web that is easier to be read and accessible to all members of the internet.  Ultimately the internet affords a freedom to communicate and interact in ways previously not available to many with physical and cognitive disabilities. This freedom is felt however by more than the disabled or disadvantaged. Consider the following scenarios:

  • A father has his two children, one in a stroller the other meandering away plus an armload of bags from the grocery store.  He wants to stop in to a local bookstore with all of this bags and children, however there is no ramp into the store.
  • You are out shopping with your friend in the mall, and you want to point something out to her in a busy store. There are several extra blinking sign advertisements, and a video commercial playing on a Television on the wall. Your friend is a bit overwhelmed and confused as to what it is that she is supposed to be looking at in the shop.
  • Before work, you went in for your eye checkup, and your doctor did a glaucoma test which has left your pupils dilated and sensitive.  You have returned to work to your computer to read an important document for a meeting but it is displayed in light gray text on a white background and you are finding it difficult to focus in order to read it.

Barriers to access may be permanent or temporary. Regardless it is important to recognize that some users may be challenged to “view” the material in the same way that it was initially developed. The WCAG 2.0 guidelines help those developing material for the web or to be received digitally to ensure that materials are Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, Robust.

Perceivable – “Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.” (W3C, 2014)

It may be possible that someone with a visual impairment may be trying to review your website or document. In this case, ensuring that images, tables and diagrams have a text alternative in order for assistive reading devices to be able to interpret those images for the user. This guideline also touches upon the ability for content to be viewable across platforms, such as computers, laptops and mobile phones.

Operable – “User interface components and navigation must be operable.” (W3C, 2014)

This guideline focuses on providing the users control over the pace and speed at which they move through the material, and ensuring that the navigation can be done through a keyboard.  Many Flash objects are not possible to read or navigate unless the user is using their mouse, and for some this is not an option.

Understandable – “Make text content readable and understandable.” (W3C, 2014)

There are many web conventions that have surfaced and evolved over the last couple decades that the Internet has been around. As such both navigation and narrative should be easy to use and decipher. This includes descriptive titles, and articulate writing. Creative and abstract titles may seem fun and interesting, however if your favourite band uses obscure titles for the sections of their website, they may be confusing and frustrating some of their fans when they call the tab for tour dates “orange” or “chesterfield”

Robust – “Maximize compatibility with current and future user agents, including assistive technologies.” (W3C, 2014)

By applying universal design principles the general format and navigation of documents and websites can be standardized.  This does not mean content must all look the same, however certain principles such as tagging headers, and using alternative text not only improves the user experience but also provides essential code for linking internally and navigating the document or website.

How does this affect us as faculty and administrators? Academic Institutions are expected to be complaint to WGAC 2.0 AA standards, I have been told in training sessions at the college that fines can be hefty.  While these are just an overview of the general guidelines, the complete Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 can be found on the W3C organization website.

 

References:

W3C Organization (2014) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. Retrieved from website: http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20

 

– Heather Farmer

Security and Access

Defining Security

Security can be defined at as the feeling of safety and the freedom from worry or concern. That one feels safe and protected. As a result, security online would mean that the various levels of user feels at ease using the site and that the information being transmitted and collected is safe.

 

Digital vs Physical Security

There are two kinds of security or controls, physical access controls and digital access controls. (Trites, 2006)

Physical Controls are what an enterprise would do to protect access to certain resources by restricting access to that physical space.  For instance servers in rooms with only key card access.

Digital controls take the form of passwords, biometrics and other forms of authentication for access.

 

Permissions and Access

In our previous post about Roles and Users there are 5 main categories of participants in a blog: Author, Contributor, Editor/Administrator, Followers/Readers and Power Users/Influencers.   Within the development of a blog only Authors, Contributors and Editor/Admins are able to access and see the operational or “back end” of a blog website. Depending upon the configuration of the permissions for these kinds of users there may be some limitations to each of these roles.

Contributor – In a contributor role, often times articles are written and “submitted for publication” but not published until viewed by the editor.  This ensures that the Editor remains in control of the content of the blog, and that certain quality levels are being maintained.  The Editor also has a tendency to have a better grasp of the tags and categories being used within the blog and can help aggregate the article posting with like material this way.

Author – An Author much like a contributor will be writing articles for the blog, however they may have full permission to post their article for the public with out needing to be vetted by an additional layer of an editor.

Editor/Administrator – In some configurations authors and contributors can only edit and revise the postings that they have made originally. An Editor or Administrator however would have access to review, revise and post all articles within the blog.  They also are often the architects for the navigation and would create or remove categories and tags are deemed appropriate.

 

Follower Access (Member vs Non-Member)

Also dependent up on the settings for the individual blog, it is possible to make it such that only members can view a full blog post and that non members would only see it’s summary or abstract. This helps encourage membership, from which you may develop a clearer view of the following and reader base, as well as be able to do push notification to followers each time there is a new article. Another model is similar to how several newspapers and magazines only provide full access immediately to members, and a few days later the rest of the community may view the content.

 

References:

Trites, G., Boritz, J. E., & Pugsley, D. (2006). E-Business: A Canadian perspective for a networked world. Pearson Prentice Hall.

 

– Heather Farmer

Blogs related to teaching English as a Second Language (ESL)

Using blogs to teach is not a new idea, especially in the area of teaching English as a Second Language (ESL). There are many blogs available on the Internet that serve as excellent resources on ESL. Some ESL related blogs focus on sharing experiences. Some focus on actually presenting information on ESL to help students learn.

One example of an ESL blog is written by Ms. Lori Wolfe at, http://esleld.blogspot.ca Her blog provides a wide collection of interesting information on ESL. There are posts on advice about different instructional methodologies, ESL evaluation, and links to ESL teaching aids.

One link within Ms Wolfe’s blog was the link to the Whittier City School District (WCSD) website: (http://web.whittiercity.k12.ca.us/~eld/ELD/Welcome_Page.html). This website offers their own bog on ESL and a number of tools, including picture cards, videos, and examples of ESL learning objectives.

– James Cantafio

 

 

Benefits of Blogging in Education

There are several references available on the Internet that discuss the benefits of using blogs for teaching. According to The Educators Technology and Mobile Learning (http://www.educatorstechnology.com/2012/06/ultimate-guide-to-use-of-blogs-in.html), students enjoy blogging for the following reasons:

  • “Blogging enhances literacy skills
  • Using a blog makes learning independent of time  and place
  • It gets students engaged and boost their motivation
  • It promotes their communication skill
  • Just like other asynchronous media, blogs give time to students to reflect
  • It makes teaching students oriented
  • It emphasizes the ” test and learn” and ” learning by doing” strategies instead of ” plan and execute ” ones
  • It fosters the learning bonds between teachers and students
  • It gives a chance to shy students to participate with their peers and get their voice heard
  • It keeps parents updated about their kids progress
  • It enhances home-school links
  • It gives students a genuine and potentially worldwide audience for their work.
  • Blogging gives students ownership over their own learning and an authentic voice allowing them to articulate their needs and inform their learning.
  • It contributes to identity-formation in students
  • Blogging  helps teachers develop professionally
  • It fosters the development of writing and research skills as well as digital skills”.

Reference:

The Educators Technology and Mobile Learning (http://www.educatorstechnology.com/2012/06/ultimate-guide-to-use-of-blogs-in.html), retrieved on March 28, 2014.

– James Cantafio

Common Challenges with Blogs

Some challenges to consider when using blogs include:

  1. Ineffective contextualization: Students are unsure of the relevance of using technology to learn the course content.
  2. Unclear learning outcomes: Students are unclear as to what they are supposed to be learning in the blog.
  3. Misuse of the environment: Blogs are used as syllabi or a collection of links rather than as an introspective, individual reflective writing activity.
  4. Illusive grading practices: Students contributions improve with clear and transparent grading
  5. Inadequate time allocation: Expectations of student’s blog contributions exceed reasonable expectations for out of class learning.

References:

Reynard, R. (2008). Avoiding the 5 most common mistakes in using blogs with students. Campus Technology. Retrieved on Mar, 2014 from http://campustechnology.com/articles/2008/10/avoiding-the-5-most-common-mistakes-in-using-blogs-with-students.aspx

– Jennifer Rausch

 

Application to Learning & Education

As one of the first social media web tools, blogs have been applied in educational settings since the mid-1990s.  Different from forum/discussion boards, websites and wikis, blogs have evolved into a dynamic web-based vehicle for self-expression and creativity.  Blogs do not require advanced technical skills, which have made them popular for teaching and learning in K-12 learning environments.  Blogs offer an interactive presentation of learning material where the content can be offered as text or include multimedia applications such as video, audio, or graphics.  As a web-based application, blogs are optimal for computer-mediated communication (CMC) in distance education (Lai & Chen, 2011).

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Moderating a blog

I think it is important to recognize the importance of moderating a blog.  Whether blogs are restricted or not, there is still a need for a moderator.  Posts can contain inappropriate language or be mean spirited that should not be posted publicly.  Moderators must perform the following tasks:
  • Keep posts clean and move off-topic posts to appropriate categories
  • Communicate with unruly members and advise them of the consequences of disruptive behavior
  • Edit postings when necessary so that they conform to the forum’s content guidelines
  • Delete or move single posts or entire threads when necessary
References:
Proboards. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.proboards.com/free-forum-articles/forum-building-tips-moderating.
-Pam Perry

History of Blogs

The actual history of blogs in quite interesting.  It is remarkable that blogs have a relatively short history with the first blog, Links.net being created in 1994.  At that time the blog wasn’t referred to as a blog but rather a personal homepage.  It wasn’t until 1997 that the term weblog was created to reflect the process of “logging the web”.  Weblog was then shortened to blog in 1999 with the term being added to the Merriam-Webster five years later as word of the year.

The early 2000s were a period of growth for blogs – in 1999 there were 23 blogs in the internet, whereas by the middle of 2006 there were 50 million blogs.  It is amazing to see such a growth rate in the use of blogs to help understand where something that is now so common-place originated.

-Pam Perry

References:

A Brief History of Blogging. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2011/03/a-brief-history-of-blogging/

Demonstration of Technology

The following short video will demonstrate how easy it is to set-up and use a blog for educational purposes. In the video, I will briefly explain what a blog is. I will show you how we used WordPress to construct a blog that teaches other people about blogs using Camtasia. Camtasia is a popular audio-visual software that records sessions.  As you can see, our blog talks about the advantages and disadvantages of blogs, how to set-up a blog using WordPress, and the current and future uses of blogs, amongst other things.

– Jennifer Rausch