Animation, Audio and Video, General, ICT, Literacy, Social Education and General Studies, Social Networking

Voki Characters Make Writing Fun

— Click the play button to hear me speak.—

http://vhss-d.oddcast.com/vhss_editors/voki_player.swf?doc=http%3A%2F%2Fvhss-d.oddcast.com%2Fphp%2Fvhss_editors%2Fgetvoki%2Fchsm=54d751b6f62f5f178f1546233d9b8154%26sc=8016828

The text to speech capabilities of Voki characters make them great motivators for student writing. Students enjoy having Voki characters read out their written assignments, stories and other pieces of writing on places like the Ultranet, websites and blogs. Here’s a video from 2011 of one of my year 4 students at Winters Flat Primary School in Castlemaine. He talks about his writing process and use of Google Docs, Voki Characters and Global2 for blogging.

The free version of Voki.com lets you create colorful characters who can replay your voice recordings or convert text to speech in a variety accents. These characters are easy to place on blogs and websites, and they each have their own unique URL. It’s possible to save the characters you create as HTML code in a text editor like Notepad or Word, but it’s easier and more convenient to save them directly on Voki.com using a free account. A 13+ age restriction makes this unsuitable for primary schools, though younger students can still use the free site legally provided they don’t create accounts and login. Voki Classroom ($29.95 per year) lets teachers add primary age classes and students who can then save their characters for future use. Classroom Voki also provides a significantly larger range of characters and lets teachers access additional resources and create lesson plans which can be shared with others. Regardless of which version you use you can still access sample lesson plans such as that shown on the screen below which came from a search for writing lessons for year 2.

I didn’t read the terms of service agreement when I first signed up for Voki, but having read it for the purposes of making this blog post, it seems that Oddcast, Voki’s owners, protect themselves no more or less than most free and paid-for service providers on the web. The use of Voki characters must be non-commercial, which excludes for profit schools, and the terms of service include the condition that “any material” submitted to Voki.com “shall become the sole property of Oddcast to the fullest extent permitted by applicable law.” The terms also state that “Oddcast reserves the right to limit or revoke your access to this Web Site, or any area thereunder, in its sole discretion, at any time…“ They also reserve the right to change the terms of service any time. Given the nature and pricing of the product, those conditions sound like reasonable commercial protections to me. The terms imply that a separate commercial understandings with Oddcast for uses otherwise prohibited by the terms of use are negotiable.

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Cyber Safety, General, Social Networking

Professional Networking – Learning from people I’ll never meet.

Social Networks and Online Communities

Learning through Social Networks and Online Communities is mostly about learning from people I’ll never meet. Occasionally, to my delight, the unexpected happens, and I get to meet a person I’ve interacted with extensively online. When that happens we greet like old friends.

I’ve learned a great deal from my direct teaching experience, from face to face PD sessions, from my students, from my teaching colleagues and from reading material they’ve recommended, but I’ve learned still more from connections online.

I’ve connected through Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn and online communities like the Google Teacher Academy, the PLP Network, and more recently, VicPLN. The sharing and discussion in the VicPLN and the Australian-e-Series Facebook groups illustrate just how useful online communities can be for discovering educational ideas and resources.

I’ve still much to learn about professional networking online, especially on Facebook, which I’ve used mostly to stay in touch with family and friends, and Pinterest, which I’ve used less frequently. I’m looking forward to learning how to better use Facebook professionally this year. I’ll continue exploring Pinterest too, though I’m less sure how active I’ll become there.

Google+ and Twitter

I do most of my networking on Google+ and Twitter which are now the second and third largest social networks respectively. They make it easy to read the thoughts of interesting people and to share my own thoughts with them. We can converse, argue, laugh, learn, engage, and, if we’re busy, ignore one another – something we can’t do face to face. Often the discussion revolves around a shared link to an online article or resource outside Google+ or Twitter, but it can also be a direct conversation with no external linking involved.

The key to success is making connections – to circle people on Google+ and to follow people on Twitter – the more the merrier. If you don’t do this, you’ll suffer the ‘ghost town’ syndrome or, if you’re a celebrity with many followers but minimal people you’re following, your ‘networking’ will be no more than advertising.

It’s also important to share, though you can start by ‘lurking’ as a follower or circler until you gain confidence. With Twitter it helps to use hashtags like #VicPLN or #edtech. They make it easier for people who don’t follow you to see your tweets. With Google+ it helps to join Communities which function like Facebook Groups.

Managing the Avalanche of Information

As I write this post I have more than 4000 people in my Google+ circles and more than 7000 people have circled me, so there’s too much information to show in readable form on screen. The flow is filtered automatically by Google and Twitter so that it’s possible to read, but it’s too rapid to digest. I use three strategies to manage the avalanche of information.

Firstly I use simple search. Both Google+ and Twitter allow me to enter searches that return posts or tweets relating to whatever search term I enter. If I want to read what people are saying about the Gonski education reforms, all I need to do is search for ‘Gonski’.

Secondly, I filter the stream to narrow the results. In Google+ I do this by switching from the full Google+ stream to circle streams or community streams. I might browse my ICT in Education circle’s stream or my Philosophy community’s stream. In Twitter I use TweetDeck to display separate columns for streams like the #vicpln hashtag and for individuals I find especially interesting.

Thirdly, I use automatic collation tools like Flipboard and Paper.li that present my streams in digital newspaper format. These provide a relaxing magazine like experience and, since I’ve only chosen to circle or follow people who share my interests, I invariably find interesting things to read.

Hanging Out

Google+ Hangouts also provide a great way to communicate more directly with others. Hangouts are similar to Skype except that you can have up to 10 people appearing on screen at one time and you can stream Hangouts to YouTube so that others can watch live or view a recording later. I’ve sometimes used hangouts to bring distant experts into discussion I’m having with teachers. The most impressive hangout recipe I’ve seen so far comes from Amanda Rablin and Roland Gesthuizen whose weekly ACCELN (Australian Council for Computers in Education Learning Network) Google Hangouts offer great value. You can read how they manage their hangouts here.

Google+ vs Twitter vs Facebook

Twitter and Google+ are very different tools. Twitter is better for discovering and discussing breaking news. Google+, like Facebook, is better for longer and more detailed discussion. I prefer the clean advertising free interface of Google+ and the ease of managing sharing compared to Facebook. Facebook’s advantage lies in its massive user base. If I want to find out about the next big family gathering, I go to Facebook, not Google+.

Google’s network began as a place for geeks, but that’s changing.  Already it has passed Twitter to become the second largest social network behind Facebook. I highly recommend it as a place for intelligent discussion. If you want to start Google+ with a bang, here’s my simple four step recipe for success.

Block or unblock? You can’t learn if you can’t do.

Facebook and Twitter are blocked at my primary school. I think that’s reasonable for students, but not for teachers. We expect to unblock Twitter and possibly Facebook this year after we’ve completed some staff PD on professional networking. If I was at a secondary school, I’d favour unblocking Twitter, Facebook and Google+. They all offer powerful educational potential and, to stay safe online, students need to learn how to use them safely and responsibly. We also need to teach them how to manage and control the distraction of social networking – no easy task, but an important one. When we teach students to ride bikes and drive cars we use real bikes and real cars. When we teach students to use social networks, we should use real social networks too.