Over the last few weeks of reading ETMOOC posts I’ve noticed that sometimes I leave a post open in a browser tab for days.  These posts-to-return-to-when-I-have-more-time exhibit a common feature – many of them contain infographics or interesting visual representations. In an activity like ETMOOC numerous open tabs is not a viable solution, so I decided to curate.

I could have bundled the posts together with bookmarks and tags, but decided to focus on the visuals themselves as they are what I want to explore in detail and perhaps what I will want to share outside of ETMOOC in the future. Though I’m a fairly regular user delicious and, I decided to work with a curation tool that is also very visual – Pinterest.  (To this point my use of Pinterest has been largely materialistic, though I have seen many using it to collect educational resources.) I like the way the board is coming together, though Pinterest really should listen to user feedback and make it possible to re-arrange pins within a board.

In the process of pinning these resources I swerved and ran smack dab into learning! I’ve spent considerable time exploring curation as a skill and have learned it is significantly more  than collecting resources. Curation also requires reflection and sense-making. A key resource I explored was this presentation by Robin Good “Content Curation for Education and Learning, Emerge 2012” (note – it will take considerable time to digest, but it is worth the investment). For a shorter resource see Beth Kanters piece “Content Curation Primer“.

So as valuable as Pinterest, or Delicious are for collecting and sharing ideas and resources having a space (blog) to reflect on and converse about the content is more important to learning – certainly to my ETMOOC learning. Jumping from seek to share isn’t enough – a good curator makes sense of the ideas presented.

I intend to follow-up this post with a few that delve into the sense-making part. But in the meantime I will to add to these great visuals as I explore the hundreds of blog posts in ETMOOC and the thousands of links contributed by this great sharing community. If you are interested in seeing the infographics I’ve gathered so far click the icon below.




When reading about 21st century learning I often come across the term “curation”.  Beth Kanter defines content curation as  “the organizing, filtering and “making sense of” information on the web and sharing the very best pieces of content that you’ve cherry picked with your network” (be sure to read the whole post).

As more and more information is published on the web, we need tools to help us find, filter and organize that information.  Students need to learn that not all information is created equally and that learning requires us to evaluate and edit information constantly.

I use quite a few tools that help me with these activities:

twitter – a continuous rich stream of links come to me from my PLN through twitter

delicious – a great way to bookmark sites, research papers and other sources of information to refer back to

google alerts – an easy way to automate searches that you perform on a regular basis

rss reader – a “dashboard” for bringing all the blogs, news sources, and other things together in one place for catching up

Increasingly there are tools that bring disparate sources together and present them in a visually appealing way – almost like a magazine – and it is one of these that I’ve been playing around with lately. is a tool that helps you to explore your favourite topic by bringing content (sites, posts, videos, etc) together in an online exhibit. will even crawl the web looking for links that might be of interest to you. You can follow topics and other posters and easily pull links that appeal to you into your own curation page.

I’m just getting started with this project, so far I’ve pulled together some of my all-time favourites and will add new things as I come across them.  I’m hoping this will be an effective way to pull together information to engage people (in particular parents) who aren’t necessarily tuned in to the latest web tools.

Asking people to jump right into twitter or blogging or social bookmarking can be a bit overwhelming. My hope is that by exploring topics of interest through they will see the power of curation tools for their children and might even try it for themselves.

What I’m scooping right now:

Leading and Learning in 21C

Family and Community Engagement in Education

A New Approach

The new year brings a new direction for Tools of Engagement.  I want to write more about my own use of technology and social networks and explore how to encourage others to be a part of this movement.  While I enjoy exploring how parents can be more involved in public education by using web tools, I haven’t been able to sustain my writing on this one topic.  So I plan to open things up, get more personal, and push my own thinking in new directions.

One of my first new things to try is a “photo a day” project on Flickr.  Last year I caught glimpses of these projects from some of the edtech bloggers I enjoy.  Over the past week I’ve had the chance to catch some of their retrospectives.  (For inspiration please see: Dean Shareski, Alec Couros, D’Arcy Norman or Stephen Downes. Warning: viewing 366 photos takes time, so get yourself a cup of tea and choose one to enjoy).  It is amazing how you pick up on the change of seasons, the growth of children, the passage of time and the essence of love.

There are various 365 projects on Flickr, but I’ve joined the 2009/365 photos group as it has many members I already consider part of my personal learning network.  Plus, I like the rules they’ve established:

It doesn’t matter what you shoot, or what equipment you use – just that you shoot one photograph each and every day. You don’t have to post them all here – it’s not meant to be a report card or audit tool – but please feel free to share them here.

While I haven’t been able to write a blog post everyday, I hope to manage to click a picture.  I know from the experience of others that it’s not as easy as it sounds, but I believe forcing myself to find something to capture everyday will help me to focus on those small things in each and everday to be thankful for. Pictures can be of anything – big, small, poignant or simply pleasant.  I’ve got my kids permission to occassionally use photos of them as long as I don’t use anything they don’t like.  They don’t yet understand the “why” of this project, but I hope they will “get it” by the end of the year.  Of course I always have my cats to turn to when the kids get shy! (Click here for a link to my photostream.)


Finch and Boo

2009 will be a year devoted to personal learning: learning to be a better photographer, learning more about WordPress (*sigh* i.e. embedding widgets so that they work), learning how to blog “well”, learning how to use a Mac, you get the idea.  I plan to use our 21C tools to engage myself and hopefully learn how to engage others as well.  Most of all, 2009 will be about learning to live more consciously, conscientiously and connected. 


vision in a cloud

Recently I had the opportunity to briefly address around 900 teachers in the school District where I serve as an Education Council member.  The primary purpose of District Councils in New Brunswick is to set the overall vision and goals that are in turn operationalized by District Staff.  We are beginning a new 4 year term and will be undertaking a great deal of strategic planning in the next few months – finding a common focus, revisiting mission statements, goals and strategies, and reinvigorating our education plan. 

While I was officially at the event to bring greetings on behalf of the Council, I decided to take the opportunity to invite teachers to get involved in our strategic planning. I thought it best to give them an example of what the future could look like.  I described for them one vision of the future referenced in the OECD’s excellent document Schooling for Tomorrow, which I referenced in the post “The school is dead…Long live the school“. (Hence the prevalence of the word “scenario” in the above cloud). 

I’ve played around with various Wordle clouds since finding this tool several months ago, and I’ve read some interesting points of view as edtech bloggers have played with the tool and debated the educational value of it. This is the first time I’ve used it to really analyze a piece of my writing for content and I have the following observations:

  • Wordle is a lot of fun. I enjoy playing with the fonts, colours and other alterable aspects.
  • But it can be more than fun.  Finding the right combinations to convey the message you want is a good exercise. I chose the above cloud for the separation it created for the word “learning” – it was the central focus of my remarks and I like how it floats on its own.
  • It is amazing how many different words one can say in a few minutes. Too many words can be distracting from the message so I cut this cloud down to the top 100 words.
  • I created this wordle cloud after the fact, but there is great potential to use the tool ahead of time to help me shape the message I want to convey. 
  • I use the word “really” much too often. 

There are a lot of people playing around with Wordle – try it for yourself and check out the gallery.  It is a great little tool – for work and for play.

How much is too much?

Recently Cindy Seibel wrote a post asking the question “Can there be too much information for parents?” (you can read her post “Is it ever too much?” here and read the original story in the NY Times “I know what you did in Math Classhere)

As a parent interested in engaging other parents in our education system I wondered if these web service companies would go beyond what a parent would need to assess their own child’s performance – could they be used to increase the involvement of parents in schools, and ultimately to engage parents in school improvement planning? I decided to explore a few of these commercial school data systems and as in everything I found there is a wide variety of services – some simply offer parents access to information on grades, homework, and attendance, while others go much further and provide tools for multi-level communication and collaboration.   

Those of us involved in education governance often discuss the role of communication in increasing parent involvement/engagement, we talk about the processof communication.  Some of us see great potential in using web technology to improve this process – to reach more people where they are, when they want and how they want. Web tools such as blogs, wikis, nings and webcasts provide us with a lot of options for reaching parents (and many of them are free!). So in the absence of an integrated school community management system accessible to parents these tools could be quite useful.

But what kind of information should we be sharing to improve collaboration? What do parents need to know and discuss in order to be engaged in schools?

In my province we are a long way from finding that tipping point from enough information to too much.  A large number of parents I talk to do not feel really connected to what is happening with their child in the classroom, and fewer are aware of what is happening educationally on a school wide basis. They want to have more frequent contact with classroom teachers as well as school administrators. Until parents feel there is adequate communication with teachers and principals can we really expect them to feel comfortable in a open, collaborative school improvement process?


Over the past few days I’ve spent several hours reading 8 blog posts at The Faculty Room debating the pros and cons of homework.  So many opinions, so many comments ! (100+ across the posts). If you’re interested in the debate I suggest starting with the wrap up post and then going back to the beginning if you want more detail (If you can’t read them all, don’t miss the post by Alfie Kohn). 

I can really only comment on what I see happening at the elementary grades as that is where my children are. I would definitely be on the “no homework, please” side of the debate.  I would much prefer to use home time for other activities or for relaxation.  So far we’ve been lucky in that homework really has been light enough that it has not interfered with our other pursuits.

So why a post about homework in this blog? Because I can’t help but wonder if  what “pro-homework” parents are really looking for is a connection to what is happening in the classroom. I wonder if the desire for homework is really a desire for some sort of accountability…it is “proof” that our teachers are teaching and our children are learning.

If what we are really looking for is connection then communication is key. How can we use technology to fill this need for a connection to what is happening in the classroom? 

  • What if teachers took the time used for preparation and marking of homework to provide parents with communication specific to the progress of their child?  A once-a-week email hi-lighting progress toward outcomes with information on how parents can help their child if they are falling behind, or challenge them if they are working ahead of the class.  
  • How about using blogs and wikis for language arts and encouraging parents to read and comment?
  • What if teachers could use a learning management system that provides controlled access to assignments, grades, messages, even audio and video clips? (here is one example)

I know there are lots of ways to use web tools for homework, but what if we used those tools for what we really want during the early years – connection and communication – instead?

All the world's a Twitter,

and all the men and women are avid players.

It seems one of the most popular social networking tools around is Twitter – a microblogging application that asks people “what are you doing right now”.  The personal learning networks of many people I follow in RSS have embraced Twitter as an important participatory tool, and for some people tweeting has replaced blogging.

When I began writing this post yesterday I was firmly convinced that I should master the art of blogging before becoming at Twitterer. Reading Will Richardson’s  recent post I doubted Twitter’s claim  that “It puts you in control and becomes a modern antidote to information overload”. Will asked the question:

Are we getting too distracted, too connected, too participatory for our own good?

My 20C skills kept telling me to not get distracted – take these applications 1 at a time. Alas Lorna Costantini’s opinion that some parents who may not have/take the time to blog may still communicate on Twitter by posting links, etc made me reconsider my views. 

I’ve realized that embracing 21C tools means giving up some of my 20C mindset – these tools aren’t hieracrchical and sometimes you have to go wide before you can go deep. 

Certainly I have benefitted already from those who tweet – much of the early traffic to Tools of Engagement is thanks to Jeff Whipple who let people know about my blog. Thanks Jeff, and thank you to all who have left encouraging comments.

Engaging Parents

The number of bloggers writing about education, in particular technology in education, is huge.  I have more than 30 in my feed-reader that I try to keep up with everyday and I’ve visited hundreds more over the last year.  Teachers and technology leaders are definitely engaged in the conversation of learning in the 21 century.

But where are the parents?  I’ve seen a few blog commentators that look at things from the perspective of a parent, and of course many teachers/tech leaders are parents too, but it is rare to find people outside the school involved in the conversations. 

There is one group of people I’ve found trying to change that.  Lorna Costantini, Matt Montagne and Rhoda Cipparone host a webcast called “Parents as Partners” at EdTechTalk. They are using webcasts and associated chat rooms to bring parents together to discuss parent involvement and how social networking tools can help parents support education. (Lorna’s blog found at has more information on past and future guests and some great links too.)

This webcast truly is a means of  using “tools of engagement” when you want, where you want, and how you want. You can listen live or later on, you can chat in the back channel or not, and you can follow the links that are provided to learn more if you choose. 

The next webcast is scheduled for March 17 – I’ll be there, will you?

Participatory Media

Thinking about what might be covered in Prof.  Barney’s lecture March 14 led me to re-visit some links I’ve kept while lurking on the edtech blogosphere. I re-discovered a source that excited me greatly when I first found it…and reading again now has confirmed why it is time for me to join the conversation.

The work of Howard Rheingold is quite inspirational. In particular the keynote (audio) lecture he gave on participatory media in Australia provides so much food for thought. One thing that stood out as I re-read the summary notes was:

Learning to use participatory media to learn and speak and organize about issues might well be the most important citizenship skill that digital natives need to learn if they’re going to maintain, or revive, democratic governance.

Governance, public voice, community wide collaboration – all things that I’ve personally exercised in my life, but I’m one of the few. Why is that? Absent web tools, it took a lot of time and effort (not to mention confidence) to express one’s views of education,  and the “system” seemed able to  discourage progress.

NOT ANYMORE. Our new tech tools mean that we can find others with the same ideas and encourage each other, we can find people with different ideas and try to influence each other and we can collectively act to make any “system” take note of our concerns.

Conversation and collaboration can happen when you want, where you want, how you want – the only barriers are learning to use the tools. Rather than “teach” our children how to have a voice in society, we need to let them see us learn how to use participatory media and be real examples for change.