15.7.07 Starting Up Your Community Part 1 is an online collablorative learning tool I have been using with Key Stage 2 Students this year. Sponsored by Oracle, the service is free. Reassuringly and in the interests of safety and security, the service has a lengthy registration process and acceptable use agreement, so the early stages of set up can take some time. This however is far outweighed by the eventual benefits for students.
Registering for the service requires a visit to the website in the first instance, and the submission of school specific details. Once initial processing has taken place the school will be emailed, and your headteacher will be required to confirm agreement with terms and conditions of use in order for the registration process to be completed.
Initial set up of users can be long winded, as there is no bulk processing facility, so student and teacher users must be entered by hand. This is not unusual in setting up new systems, and perhaps this could be handled by administrative staff within the school. Once users are entered as either teachers or students, logins are generated for you by the system. These can then be printed out. I found it useful to copy and paste these from the page and to make seperate files for them, as these cannot be saved or reaccessed inside think. I also created an excel file where the details could be stored and held centrally for reference.
Before giving out logins and allowing student's access it is part of the agreement with oracle that parents, staff and students have read and agreed to the acceptable use statement. It is also part of your agreement with oracle that signed agreements or contracts be maintined on file in school. This is good esaftey practice, and will support the establishment of a catologue of acceptable use statements and digital permissions inline with BECTA guidance. We are seeking to integrate this agreement within our school's acceptable ICT use agreement, and eventually hoping that acceptable use agreements will become part of the enrollment process when new students arrive in school. This will enable a central register to be maintained and updated, perhaps through SIMS, when teachers recieve new class lists each year they will also be able to have a list which shows at a glance, students for whom we have permissions to use cameras and access to the community or our chosen VLE.

I found that the conditions of use statement, was extremely wordy, and not easily accessible by our learning community, so the first term of our school year last year was spent working with students from Y6 to unpick, practically what this document meant. The result was our school's Internet 3 Bees, Internet Safety Charter. This fits snuggly and builds on our school's behaviour policy, The 3 Bees, "Be Responsible, Be Respectful, Be Safe.

At the beginning of each year, in school we revisit our school behaviour guidelines with students, through classroom based activities developed to unpick what good classroom behaviour means and looks like in practice, and from these we create our individualised classroom contracts. Online learning communities require not disimilar practices to be carried out. E safety practices are largely common sense and not that remote from what we expect in physical spaces, we have elements associated with

  • Stranger Danger.. eg Protecting our personal information,
  • Looking after people's property and things... eg Data Protection, digital permissions.. Respect for Hardware.. Not downloading without permission, Intellectual Property rights
  • Showing respect for others.. eg netiquette, good manners, think before you click and so on.
As with the classroom many of these issues overlap, as can be seen by the repetition of certain agreement statements in our acceptable use contract. As with all behaviour contracts their must be sanctions as well as rewards. Within our think community, it was made very clear, that without parental permissions, and student agreement with our contract, they would not be allowed access. As a school we need this year to begin pulling these elements together, and embedding them within our school's good behaviour policy, child protection and anti bullying statements. In order to get us started, I have decided that since we are working on class contracts and community building activities in the first term, and establishing classroom routines, all students in Key Stage 2 should in parallel do the same thing with their think communities. In this way we are starting to establish the links between how we learn and think together in the classroom with the processes of how we learn and think together online. as a resource as well as a learning environment, has a collection of ready made lessons and resources to help with the establishment of and understanding of why we need community rules. But communities don't just establish themselves, they are diverse social structures, and so we need to engage with them and nurture them. As a teacher in Think, your role is like that in the classroom, to support the community, help them work together, monitor their activity, and to set up tasks and challenges you would like them to engage in.

I have described building a page with students as being like using LEGO, each element we want to include is like a brick. If we want to include text we add a text brick, if we want to add a picture gallery we are using media so we need to use a media/image brick, and so on. For basic guidance on using Think a starter comic strip guide is available from our website, or can be directly downloaded by right clicking and saving target as here.

Here are a couple of activities and strategies you might like to start off with.

On your home page:

Set up a welcome message to the students, and establish this as a starting off point on visits to their think spaces.

Underneath your welcome provide simple tasks/activities to do, which change once a week.
  • Based on something you are planning to develop over the week in class or in the Online Classroom eg a spelling challenge to find words with the xx sound picture in them, or to set up a page in preparation for the development of a report, Collecting images or maps around a topic they have located on the internet for a particular purpose.
  • Based on something you would like them to pursue in preparation for class, This could be a discussion board you set up where students submit story starts, or if you are doing persuasive writing perhaps a debate, where you make a statement, and the students have to respond, giving reasons why they think this, ready for a Big Write. Perhaps include a vote on an aspect of classroom activity from the previous week.
  • Something you might like them to do in their think spaces with each other. Perhaps they develop a poem in a writing frame, using a web based resource such as Instant Poetry Frames, which can then be copied and pasted for upload. Students are then required to add a discussion board for others to read and comment, or leave stickies in response.
Perhaps, as has been the case with some of my students, when they get used to this process and way of working, they will begin to suggest things that could be done as community activities in think. I haven't always used think as part of formal curriculum activities, so additional creative little side tasks can be included that encourage students to follow up points of interest.

Community Check In:

I have found it useful to have a community check in, a discussion board on my home page. In class we might do check in as a circle time activity, where we all greet each other, and let each other know how we are feeling, or share something exciting with our friends . In Think I have established a check in board, where students when they log in are encouraged to visit my page and leave a message. This performs a couple of functions.
  1. I know who has been on line recently and can visit their pages to see what they have been doing by following the link left behind
  2. I can monitor use, eg who is and who is not using the space, and begin to follow up on reasons why, perhaps offering opportunities in class if access to the internet is a problem.
  3. I can leave encouraging mesages or offer support and sudggestions about how work might be improved, or on my home page, keep a list of student pages where something exciting has happened and encourage students to visit, for a bit of creative copying.
A Few Starting Points For Students:

Log in and name your home page, choose an avatar or icon to represent you, from the list.

Home Page activities.

Introduce the environment, and how it works a step at a time, using the building brick analogy through focussed practical tasks. here is one example. I used with Y3 and 4

A few of my favourite things,

encourage students to search safely the internet for images of the things which interest them, or represent something special about them. favourite sports, hobbies, colours, foods etc. Save these to the computer,

Model how these are uploaded and labelled in think as a picture gallery.

Write about your favourite things,
Choose one and write an acrostic about how you feel when you touch, see, hear, smell, taste this thing or are doing an activity.
Make a list of your favourite things and rank them in order of preference.
Put up a vote showing your favourite things, and invite people from your class community to choose the things they like from your list.
Be an Expert Hotseat. Put up a question board and invite other students to come and ask questions about your favourite things or interests.
Leave a sticky which says something complementary about a friends page, (this could be progressively developed to encourage students to become involved in a nod and a wish. as they develop self assessment and review)

The possibilities for transferring classroom type collaborative tasks to Think are enormous and I think incredibly exciting. Some of the activities above may seem formal to some and not that disimilar to what we would do in the classroom, and this is intentionally so, as all communities have to start somewhere. many of our classrooms are more formal in September than they are in July, and this is because we work with our students to establish boundaries, expectations and routines. Working on line is no different, what we need to make a classroom community work is the same as we need to make an online community work. The only limiting factors in using think are our imaginations and creativity. Oh and persuading others that it does not need to mean extra work of course. I hope above that I have helped to allay some of these fears and concerns, by hopefully showing how the above activities have a less = more type of feel. I would very likely be doing something similar in class, but within these tasks I will seek to emphasise the e safety aspects, no where will we be using our names or personal details, only references to preferences, we will be asserting the positive initially, consolidating ownership and a sense of belonging, all of which will be familiar to colleagues from the early days of any classroom year.

As a school working together in Think for the first term, this I could be beneficial on a number of levels.
  • Firstly all students and all staff in Key Stage 2 will be working on similar things, which will ease access to provide support and guidance.
  • It gives me a chance to begin promoting the use of Think spaces as vehicles to embed classroom learning activities as integral to our curriculum, while acting as a whole school opportunity to begin thinking together and sharing ideas we have about how technologies like this might be used to begin changing views on ICT as learning tools.
  • It will also hopefully act as a catalyst to thinking about what we want from a VLE, and how we will integrate these into school life.
On a whole school level, we will be introducing revised esafety and acceptable use policies and agreements not only with students and carers, but also with staff. This will therefore mean the natural use of an assembly around esafety as part of a wider school community focus on why we have rules and routines.

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