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* Sunday, May 21, 2006

A Gaggle of Schools

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of giving a presentation for a ton o'media specialists in Michigan. The topic was using technology in media centers, specifically blogs, RSS, and wikis, with a little gaming thrown in. It was fun, and everyone seemed pumped afterwards to try something new.

However, as always happens when I do these kinds of presentations, the best part was that I learned something great that I could bring back to MPOW (my place of work as Karen says). When we talked about blogging, Ted Brindle from Grand Rapids Public Schools spoke up about some great things he's doing with a site called Gaggle.net. This site provides a safe blogging environment plus email for students, safe chat rooms, and secure message boards, almost like a closed MySpace for schools (more here). It has a tiered approach to access, letting you as administrator set up blogs fot students and restrict access on a blog-by-blog basis to either the district, the school, the class, the teacher (for those kids that don't turn in parental release forms), or not at all (open to the whole world).

Even better, you can try out Gaggle for free (you can always upgrade and pay a fee if it's working really well for you). The free version gives you 2.5 MB of space per user, provides blogging and email for each student and teacher, and allows (email?) messages to remain live for 65 days. The one caveat is that free means your students will see ads, but Ted wisely uses these to teach the students about advertising on the web and how to recognize and evaluate it. Talk about making the most of a situation and using a free resource to its ultimate potential!

So I'm going to show Gaggle to our youth services consultant to talk about how she could introduce it to our school libraries this fall. In addition, Ted is looking for other Gaggling schools to collaborate with on student blogs, so if you're on or get on the service, please email him to discuss the potential for working together (he also requests that you put "interest in gaggle.net collaboration" in the subject line). Hopefully we can connect him with some of our own school librarians and get some interstate conversation going!

Addendum: I wanted to add that Ted has really thought through a lot of the issues that schools face with getting students motivated to blog. He's got lots of great ideas, motivations, and policies, so he's a great resource. He's also given me permission to post a little more about how blogging has helped his students.

"On May 9, I only had one student that had posted to a blog. Now I have several more. Look at Uziel's post at http://www.gaggle.net/blog/uziel.

Uziel is new to our country. He has learned to speak English in a short period of time. Reading books and participating in projects in our library have helped him progress. He has made so many improvements over the past several months. Technology can be such a powerful instrument for learning. I expect that he will refine these posts over the next several weeks....

My students come from a very diverse background. They are urban youth, some but not all are bilingual, learning disabled, confident, and gifted. Most of them are unsure of their writing, but they all enjoy reading. They are posting to a blog since it is required for our class, and they all need a word of encouragement.

I'm trying to make this a safe experience so all comments made to their blogs are approved by me before they are posted. If a student blog does not work, he or she is either behind or their parents did not approve the blog for viewing to the public."

He also provided links to more of his students' blogs, with a couple of notes:

** http://www.gaggle.net/blog/alimasi
http://www.gaggle.net/blog/keanna
http://www.gaggle.net/blog/imari
*** http://www.gaggle.net/blog/dominique
http://www.gaggle.net/blog/felicia
http://www.gaggle.net/blog/greg
http://www.gaggle.net/blog/jeffrey
http://www.gaggle.net/blog/stacia
http://www.gaggle.net/blog/cassondra
http://www.gaggle.net/blog/robert
http://www.gaggle.net/blog/tomas
http://www.gaggle.net/blog/cjblog
http://www.gaggle.net/blog/brittney
http://www.gaggle.net/blog/ericablog
http://www.gaggle.net/blog/mariahblog
http://www.gaggle.net/blog/miesha
http://www.gaggle.net/blog/ryanblog

** very creative, likes to write
*** writes well, has a great vocabulary

Like I said - Ted is a great resource!

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