Student Centred Blogging

Student centred learning is an theory that seems to have gained popularity in education communities over the years.

Wikipedia defines this type of learning as “putting students first … focused on the student’s needs, abilities, interests, and learning styles with the teacher as a facilitator of learning. Teacher-centred learning has the teacher at its centre in an active role and students in a passive, receptive role. Student-centred learning requires students to be active, responsible participants in their own learning.”

I would describe the blogging program that occurs in my classroom as largely student centred. Many students are very active on the 4KM and 4KJ blog both at home and school. Their enthusiasm for learning and connecting through the class blog is high.

I’ve had many teachers comment on the way that the students in my class respond to blogging. I’ve also seen many teachers set up class blogs assuming that the blog will motivate students to become active participants in their own learning. Some teachers believe that they can set up a blog and the students will drive it to success. This is not the case.

I believe the success I have with student centred blogging occurs because our program begins as teacher centred.

Kelly Jordan and I team teach. From Day One we are blogging cheerleaders. A day doesn’t go by when we’re not exploring blogs and celebrating the wonderful connections and learning that can occur through blogging. We present ourselves as role models in the blogging community; demonstrating quality commenting and safe internet use. We acknowledge and promote students as they too generate excitement for blogging by commenting and getting to know their blogging buddies.

When we were teaching Grade Two, Kelly and I exhausted ourselves by replying to all the comments on the class blog for the first few weeks of the school year. It didn’t take long, however, until we were no longer needed. Students began replying to comments without being asked and from then on, we could let them take charge of that aspect of our class blog.

I see my role as a teacher to get the wheel spinning. Slowly the students can jump on the wheel and, as they generate momentum, I can begin to decrease my central role. I’ll always be a cheerleader but I can steer the blog from more of a distance while making way for students.

Many of the successful blogs that I follow also adopt this approach. I’m yet to find a regularly maintained blog with a large community of followers and high quality posts and comments that doesn’t have an enthusiastic teacher behind it. That teacher may now be in the back seat somewhat, but they were certainly in the driver’s seat to get the blog going.

What do you think?

A Life Our Students Will Never Know

Over the holidays, while attempting to be less “connected”, I’ve been thinking about how much technology seems to be increasingly infused into our day-to-day lives. With laptops, smart phones, iPads, iPods and other portable devices becoming so common place, gadgets are no longer something we go to, they come with us.

This clearly brings about many pros and cons. Technology lets us connect and access information more easily, however, being hyperconnected can compromise our health and wellbeing. Like many things in life, striking a balance is key.

Sometimes it’s fun to think back and remember how you did things pre internet/mobile/computer. These are experiences our students will never know.

  • Meeting someone for lunch/a movie/a walk/any event outside the house and not being able to let them know if you’re running late, lost or if your plans have changed.
  • Researching a holiday destination by reading a book. Booking accommodation by reading and trusting a small advertisement in a travel guide. Possibly going by recommendations of a small number of friends or family rather than millions of anonymous world travellers. Putting holiday planning in the hands of a travel agent.
  • Keeping up to date with news or weather by purchasing an outdated newspaper or waiting for the television or radio to tell you.
  • Learning almost anything from a valued encyclopedia set. If it wasn’t in there or in a book from the library then sometimes you just didn’t learn it! Maybe you would change the topic of a school project in line with what information you had access to.
  • Keeping in touch with friends or family who lived far away by writing letters and waiting patiently for replies.
  • Taking photos and then waiting perhaps a week or more until you had them processed at a shop. If your photo didn’t turn out well, you wouldn’t know. It was always a blind gamble.
While these tasks seem inefficient now, I don’t remember questioning them. Perhaps we had more time on our hands or didn’t desire a faster paced way of living. Perhaps we didn’t consider what would be possible.

This article reminds us that “there are some major downsides to relying on the Internet as our ‘external brain,’ including the desire for instant gratification, and the increased chances of making ‘quick, shallow choices.’ But researchers also say we networked young people are nimble, quick-acting multitaskers who will do good in the world.”

If the pace of the world is fast, connected and dynamic, then surely the networked, nimble, multitaskers will be those who will succeed now and in the future? Or will they?

Will successful teachers need to be networked, nimble and multitasking too? How do we ensure that we have balance in our fast paced lives and how to do we help students with this?

Many children don’t seem overly interested in hearing about days-gone-by, just as we were sometimes bored by stories of our grandparents as children.

The interesting question will be what stories from the year 2012 will our students take with them when they remind their children and grandchildren about the “ways we used to do things”? What will seem primitive about the way we live our lives now?

What do you think?

How has technology changed your life?

Students Learning From Their Blogging Buddies

I seem to be continually uncovering more and more benefits to educational blogging. Aside from the advantages that I’ve shared here and here, having your class involved in the educational blogging community allows students to learn from and with their peers from all around the world.

In my class we often use our blogging buddies’ posts as inspiration for classroom activities, and as role models for high standards of work.

One such example was the readers’ theatre activities that we were doing last week as part of our CAFE reading program.

Throughout the week, we read a range of readers’ theatre scripts and used the posts on Mr Salsich’s Classroom Blog and 4T’s Classroom Blog as inspiring models.

We published one of our own performances on our class blog here which hopefully continues the cycle of sharing.

There have been many other instances when my students have learnt from their blogging buddies. Just a few that spring to mind are:

When using ideas from other people’s blogs, we like to acknowledge where our idea came from. I believe this is good blogging etiquette to model to the students.

Being part of the blogging community not only enriches my students’ education but assists me to create authentic and interesting classroom activities. Everyone wins!

How have blog posts inspired your class activities?

Quality over Quantity

I’ve been thinking about how important quality over quantity often is when it comes to effective teaching and learning with blogging, global collaboration and technology.

Here are some thoughts…

It’s not about how many blogging buddies your class has but about having deep and ongoing connections with classes that you can learn with and from.

It’s not about how many Twitter followers you have but about forming connections with educators who inspire you, challenge you, share ideas and are interested in getting to know you.

It’s not about how many different web 2.0 tools you use but about using tools well that meet your students learning needs and your learning intentions.

It’s not about how many student blogs you have but about developing student bloggers who are responsible, supported by families and progressively creating high quality content.

It’s not about how many computers and devices you have in your classroom but about how well you’re using them to amplify your teaching and increase student learning.

It’s not about how many blog comments students write but about how they use comments to reflect, question, offer feedback, make a connection or develop a relationship.

It’s not about keeping up with the plethora of information flying around the internet but about finding the important, reliable and useful information that you need.

Some of these things I have definitely realised over time. Enthusiasm and quantity can sometimes go hand in hand and mask the need for high quality teaching and learning. I have sometimes found that when I take time to reflect I realise the power of quality.

Image: ‘There goes the neighborhood’
http://www.flickr.com/photos/27109792@N00/2475530616

Where else do you think quality over quantity is important in education?

Sometimes quantity has a place too. Can you think of any examples?

Quality Blogging and Commenting Meme

If you are interested in educational blogging, Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano has written an outstanding series of posts on her Langwitches Blog.

It is called Learning About Blogs FOR Your Students and covers seven areas:

Part I: Reading
Part II A: Writing
Part II B: Student Writing
Part III: Commenting
Part IV: Connecting
Part V: Reciprocating
Part VI: Consistency
Part VII: Quality

This guide is ideal for both beginners and those more advanced with blogging. Silvia really articulates my beliefs about blogging so well. I wish I had have read this series four or five years ago instead of finding out the long way that this is the best way to blog! Click here to find links to the whole guide.

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TEACHING AND ASSESSING QUALITY

In Silvia’s latest post, she is requesting more samples of blog posts and comments for teachers to practice recognizing, evaluating and assessing various levels of quality work. She invited me to take part in a meme. If you haven’t heard of a meme before, you can read more about it here on Wikipedia. It is basically just an idea that spreads from blog to blog.

Last year, I wrote a guest post for the Edublogs Teacher Challenge about how I teach quality commenting. Teacher and blogger, Linda Yollis gets full credit for mentoring and inspiring me to instil a culture of quality commenting in my class.

I tend to use a process for classroom blogging as outlined in the diagram below. I start the year by doing a lot of working on explicitly teaching quality commenting skills. From there, students become more involved in writing blogs posts until they earn the right to have their own blog. This post explains my system for earning student blogs – another idea from Linda Yollis!

Blogging progression K Morris

During 2011, I focussed more on step one and four, than two and three, however, it still demonstrates a model that I have found to be effective.

In terms of what constitutes quality, Silvia published some useful blogging rubrics on her blog. As I have been teaching seven and eight year olds, I have found the poster below more useful as a simple guideline. Next year I am teaching grade four students so I might look into adopting a rubric for these older children, some of who have blogged before.

Commenting Poster 2011

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MY EVALUATIONS

One of the biggest points I’d like to make about quality is that higher quality comments and posts do not automatically come with age. Time and I time again, I have seen my grade two students write at a more advanced level, in terms of writing conventions, than students and adults who are much older.

Quality Writing K Morris

Every day in my class we look at some blog comments and talk about things that have been done well, as well as having “on the spot” mini lessons on a range of writing conventions. This depends on what comes up in comments.

In the images below, I have have annotated some comments from students who range in age, with some mini lesson ideas and some modelling points. Generally, when evaluating student comments, I like to give both positive feedback to reinforce and constructive feedback to help students improve.

Tip: click on images if you want to make them larger.

Grade Five

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Grade Three

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Grade One

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Grade Two

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Grade Four

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Obviously, there is tact involved in creating mini lessons based on student errors. We don’t focus on the same student all the time and we don’t focus on every mistake that a certain student has made. The discussion is started in a positive way and if the comment needs a lot of work, feedback would be provided privately, rather than in a whole class lesson.

You can also find some examples of how some of my individual students have progressed with their writing over ten months, here.

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YOUR TURN

I’d like to tag three teachers/bloggers to complete their own audit:

Sue Wyatt (aka Miss W, aka @tasteach). Read Sue’s post here.

Tracy Watanabe (@tracywatanabe). Read Tracy’s post here.

Stef Galvin (@stefgalvin). Read Stef’s post here.

Anyone else is very welcome to write their own post evaluating blog posts or comments. Check out the post on the Langwitches Blog here for more information.

Bec Spink (@MissB6_2) has written her audit here and Kathryn Trask (@KathrynTrask) has completed an audit here.

Leave a comment if you have some thoughts about teaching and assessing quality writing on blogs.

School is out for 2011

2011 has been a fabulous year! In true “Kathleen Morris style”, I have taken on a lot and juggled many different pursuits, but it is all worthwhile to reflect on what has been achieved.

Some of my 2011 highlights include:

  • Blogging – it goes without saying that blogging was a big highlight of my year. We published 112 posts and 4660+ comments on our class blog, and received nearly 25,000 visitors. Out of my 22 students in 2KM, nine students earnt their own blog which is quite an achievement for seven and eight year olds. They all say they will continue next year. I hope so!
  • Writing for BayFM – As author, Mem Fox, says, “we’re currently wasting a lot of time by giving unreal writing tasks in our classrooms….You and I don’t engage in meaningless writing exercises in real life—we’re far too busy doing the real thing”. Writing for a real media outlet was an incomparable experience for my grade twos! Read more about it here.
  • Edublog Awards – even though my class received some good results in the 2011 Edublog Awards, this is irrelevant. Seeing the students excited about nominating and reflecting on their choices was fabulous. They felt like they were a real part of the blogging community by participating in these awards. At the award ceremony, class morale was high as we cheered for people we did and didn’t know.  That is what blogging is all about – reflection, collaboration, creating and celebration!
  • Sharing and Encouraging Other Teachers – I have enjoyed presenting at various events this year, both online and face-to-face. It’s terrific to see teachers become excited about new possibilities! Teaching a unit to post-grad education students at Deakin University was also a source of rich professional growth and enlightenment for me.
  • Having a wonderful PLN – my professional learning network is wide and diverse. Each person in my PLN helps me to become a better teacher. Every day I am reflecting, brainstorming, questioning and chatting with a really inspirational bunch of educators via Twitter, email, Skype or blogs. I couldn’t teach without you!

In 2012 I am looking forward to:

  • Teaching Grade Four – I am teaming up with my teaching partner, Kelly Jordan, again and we hope to convert our two classrooms into one. I’m excited by the possibilities of working with older students!
  • ISTE – last week, L.A. teacher, Linda Yollis and I were accepted to present together on how our classes collaborate through blogging. ISTE is being held in San Diego in June. My class has been collaborating with Linda’s class for three years. We have become good friends and we have never met in person!
  • Technify Your Teaching in 2012 PD – I have been writing Tech Tools for Teachers for two years. Each fortnight Simon Collier, Matt Limb and I produce a how-to guide for an online tool. We decided to run a full day of hands-on professional learning to kickstart 2012. The response was overwhelming and we filled up all available spots in less than two weeks. I’m looking forward to the day and hope it will be the first of many Technify Your Teaching PDs.
  • Exploring New Technologies – blogging, global projects, iDevices, Skype and web 2.0 tools will continue to be a big part of my classroom. Next year I’m interested in trying Edmodo and I want to delve more into movie making. I’d love to get my students using Skype in ways other than whole class sessions. I’m always getting new ideas from my PLN and love trying new things!

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What were your highlights of 2011?

What are you looking forward to in 2012?

Start Your Own Global Project

Last week I blogged about Our World, Our Stories which is a new global project my class is involved in.

2008 was the year that I began blogging and also collaborating globally with my students. Since then, our experiences of collaboration have become more integrated, frequent, richer and self-initiated.

It is an amazing experience to see your young students communicating, conversing and learning with children from all corners of the globe.

What is a global project?

I define a global project as any sort of collaborative project that involves two or more classes from different schools/countries. There is usually a defined purpose and structure to the project. The learning is usually documented and shared on an online space such as a blog. Some global projects have a culminating event.

A common starting point

My first experiences with global projects involved my students joining pre-organised projects. When you’re first starting out, you don’t need to think of the project idea and find your own connections. There are agencies and groups that can do this for you. You might want to check out The Global Classroom Project, iEARN or ePals if you need a starting place.

When you and your students are familiar with the concept of working with other classes, you might want to think about starting your own global project. I have found this is very beneficial because you can customise the learning experience to meet your students’ precise needs and interests.

Here are 10 steps, based on my own experiences, to starting your own global project.

1. What do you want your students to get out of a project? As teachers, this is the question we’re always asking ourselves when planning new experiences. If you start with this question in mind, you will be more likely to help your students achieve their full potential. Clearly we all have systematic standards we need to be covering in our classrooms. Global projects don’t have to be an add-on. They can be an authentic and innovative way to teach and go beyond core standards.

2. Find teachers/classes to connect with. Twitter is my number one place to find a diverse range of educators to connect with. If you have a class blog, you might find this list of blogs around the world useful. It was compiled by Sue Waters to help teachers find other classes to connect with. When deciding how many classes to connect with, my suggestion is to start small and see how you go. I have found that the benefits from global connections comes from quality over quantity.

3. Decide on project outcomes. Discuss with the other teachers what you want your students to learn and document this somewhere (I use Google Docs when collaborating with other teachers). The learning outcomes may differ for different classes but of course would have a common thread. Sometimes the outcome might be based on making an impact in the world (such as our Ugandan Global Project) or simply based on student learning and development (such as Our World, Our Stories).

4. Come up with a timeline/structure. Once again, I use Google Docs to create a table that outlines each week that the project will run with ideas for activities/themes/milestones. Of course, this is just a guide and a working document.

5. Create an online space. I think of an online space, such as a blog, as a place where the classes can meet, collaborate, converse and learn together. Of course the online space doesn’t have to be a blog; it could be a wiki, YouTube channel, VoiceThread or any sort of web 2.0 tool. When using a blog for a global project, such as our Collaboration Corner blog, one teacher can start the blog and add the various teachers as administrators.

6. Regularly connect with the teachers. When working on a global project with other classes, I use Google+ Hangout, Skype, Twitter, email or Google Docs to stay in touch with the teachers. I find projects are generally more successful when the teachers are working harmoniously behind the scenes to steer the learning in a forward direction.

7. Involve the community. Publicise your project to parents, the school community and your PLN. A global project is a fabulous opportunity for students to work with a diverse range of individuals in their community near and far.

Research has shown that where effective partnerships exist, the quality of schooling improves, students enjoy more satisfying educational experiences, and communities are strengthened.(http://www.familyschool.org.au)

8. Be organised but flexible. The great thing about global projects is there is so much extra learning that is unexpected but powerful. I have found global projects work best when they they have a clear framework but also a large degree of flexibility to pursue student interest and curiosity.

9. Culminate the project. A culminating event can be a satisfying way for students to showcase and celebrate their learning. This could be a movie, fundraising event, song, Skype party, digital story, community event or art display. The possibilities are only limited by the imaginations of the teachers and students.

10. Review your project. Naturally you learn from every involvement in global projects. Be sure to discuss with your students what worked and what ideas they have for next time. A thorough debrief and reflection can lead to even more powerful outcomes next time!

What other questions or advice do you have about global projects?


Benefits of Educational Blogging Video

The benefits of educational blogging is something I have discussed many times on this blog.

Kelly Jordan and I regularly speak to teachers at our school and around the world about blogging. Rather than us always selling the benefits we decided to make this video with our students to highlight some of the advantages of having a class blog.

The video goes for 15 minutes. We hope you enjoy it.

Team Teaching

This post isn’t about technology but it is about something I am asked about often – team teaching.

This is the second year that Kelly Jordan and I have team taught and we find it to be hugely successful and rewarding. In this post I will explain how it works for us.

Physical Environment

We work in a large open classroom which is basically two classroom with folding doors that stay open. There are a small number of classrooms with this set up in our school.

2KM 2KJ classroom

We have a small withdrawal room which we use regularly for different groups and activities. We also have a number of special needs students who often require one-on-one support, so integration aides take advantage of this quiet space to work with these students.

DSC05871

Kelly and I are extremely lucky to have two interactive whiteboards (IWBs) – one in each classroom. We alternate which IWB we use for our introductions and usually have both in operation during small group work.

IWB

This year we were fortunate enough to acquire 20 netbooks and an iPad to add to our 10 desktop computers and four iPod Touches. It goes without saying, we use these tools constantly!

KJ iPad

Students

For administrative purposes, we have two separate classes (2KM and 2KJ) however we work together for every session except for two hours of the week when one class is at a specialist (eg. Art, Music, P.E. etc).

Like all classes, our students have a mixture of abilities, needs, interests and personalities.

There are 22 students in each class who are all aged seven or eight years old.

Planning

Kelly and I plan everything collaboratively. This usually (officially) begins early in the week when we sit down and discuss what we think our students need to work on and draft out a plan for the following week. During this planning time, we write down many of the things we have been discussing informally as we have been observing and working with our students.

From there, we often share out tasks and source different resources and activities separately. For example, I might look for some reading activities and Kelly might look for some maths resources. We then get together and discuss what we’ve found, tweak our ideas and finalise our planning.

We have three hours per week of specialist classes which also provides time release for teachers. 2KM and 2KJ has one of their specialist classes at the same time which allows Kelly and me one hour planning time. The rest of our planning is done before school, online at night, at lunchtimes etc.

The planning process never stops and we are continually teaching, assessing, reflecting, planning. It is an ongoing and efficient cycle.

Our Day

We begin each day by marking the roll separately with our classes. We then join together for blogging, then literacy and then the rest of our program. The first ten minutes of the day is the only time we work separately.

Kelly and I do all of our whole class teaching together. Our introductions and explanations bounce off each other and can almost seem scripted at times! Contrary to what some people have asked in the past, it is certainly not “tag-teaching” where one person teaches and the other person rests!

Following our whole class explanations, we teach small groups or individuals separately. This provides real advantages for meeting students’ needs as the children can be flexibly grouped together.

KM reading

Our Blog

Most readers will know that the 2KM and 2KJ blog is a huge part of our classroom. In 2010 we had two separate blogs however we find it much more efficient and effective to have one joint blog this year. This also has the advantage of cutting down the work load for Kelly and me.

Every day we start with 20 minutes of blogging and also work on the blog at other times during the day. A day without blogging would be unheard of. Read more about that here.

Our blog is a way for our students to improve their literacy skills, collaborate globally, connect with parents, learn about internet safety, work for an authentic audience and develop the classroom community, among other things.

In 2KM and 2KJ, we love blogging and it has opened up the world to our young students. Our students don’t just learn from their teachers and classmates, they have children and educators from all around the world who impact on their development daily.

Benefits

My opinion is that our team teaching is hugely successful. Kelly and I feel like our students’ learning outcomes are greater overall when compared to when we used to teach separately.

Most people would agree that in order to continually learn and improve, individuals need to engage in regular reflection. This includes teachers.

Team teaching allows for such rich reflection almost every hour of the day (and night!). When we’re not teaching, Kelly and I find ourselves talking non-stop about what our students need to work on, what ideas we could use and how our teaching is going. Our ideas just seem to bounce off each other proving that ‘two heads are better than one’!

I simply can’t compare how valuable team teaching is as opposed to teaching  individually and working in a grade level ‘team’. Discussing my students with someone who is never in my classroom rarely works for me – the inside knowledge and vested interest just isn’t there. Kelly and I are still part of a great team and it is fantastic for sharing general ideas and strategies etc, but for specific, individual professional dialogues, I prefer to talk to someone who is in my classroom.

Why it Works

I think the main reason our team teaching is so successful is our compatibility. I strongly believe that that two teachers cannot be just put together and told to team teach.

Kelly and I chose to embark on our collaborative teaching. We have almost identical views on discipline, organisation, work ethic, student expectations, teaching philosophies and even smaller things like noise tolerance and how we like our classroom to look. Our partnership is harmonious and productive.

Obviously we are not clones of each other and despite many similarities, our personal strengths in different areas also complement each other. I believe this helps to provide a rounded education for our students.

Student Response

Our students respond extremely well to our team teaching situation. 2KM and 2KJ has developed a great community atmosphere with students having the chance to work with a wide range of their peers. If Kelly or I are ever absent and the doors are closed, the students are very quick to complain!

At the end of 2010 we surveyed parents about having their student in a team teaching/open classroom. All parents responded positively and said that they felt it had benefited their child.

What Next?

Kelly and I would love to be able to teach the same cohort of students for two years and see where we can take them. As Chris Bradbeer said in his recent post

In setting up learning hubs where children stay with the teachers for certainly two years, there was a feeling that learners wouldn’t experience that ‘dip’ of lost learning that is always evidence post summer holidays, as teachers and children get to know one another.”

We just know we’d be able to help our students achieve even greater success if we had more time! We hope we are given the opportunity to try this at some stage.

KM, KJ and Leo

Have you been involved in a team teaching situation? How did you find it?

Do you have any other questions or thoughts on team teaching?

Looking Back 2004-2011

I finished university at the end of 2003 and started teaching in January 2004.

Like all graduate teachers, the beginning of my teaching career was a steep learning curve. Fortunately, I felt like I had a lot of role models around me on staff. As I embarked on my career, I remember thinking a lot about what makes a good teacher and what sort of teacher I’d like to be.

Lately I’ve been thinking about how much has changed in the past eight years. I know I’ve changed enormously since 2004 but have all teachers? Are those teachers who were role models for me in 2004 still roles models?

Sadly, in the majority of cases, the answer is no. The simple fact is, some teachers are teaching the same as they were in 2004 when the world was a different place.

There is no denying that technology has changed the way we live. So many of the tools I use now in my classroom, professional learning or administration have only come about in the last eight years.

Here are some examples:

  • Interactive whiteboards – I didn’t even see one until about 2007. Now most classrooms in our school are equipped with interactive whiteboards and I use mine for every lesson.
  • iPod Touch – Launched in 2007, I started using iPod Touches in 2008 and they’re regularly integrated into my curriculum.
  • iPad – Launched in 2010, I started using mine in the classroom this year.
  • Edublogs – Launched in 2005, I started blogging in 2008. Edublogs has now reached one million blogs.
  • YouTube – Launched 2005.
  • Twitter – Launched 2006.
  • Flickr – Launched 2004.
  • Facebook – Launched 2004.
  • Diigo – Launched 2006
  • Skype – Launched 2003.

The world had changed so much since I began. Who knows what the next eight years will bring. All I can say is I plan to ride the wave, embrace change, reflect and reinvent!

Image: 'The tube' http://www.flickr.com/photos/16932921@N08/2161046983

Image: 'The tube' http://www.flickr.com/photos/16932921@N08/2161046983

How has your teaching changed since you started in the profession?