#BIT15Reads: Motivating and Retaining Online Students by Rosemary Lehman and Simone Conceicao

Motivating and Retaining Online Students: Research-Based Strategies That WorkMotivating and Retaining Online Students: Research-Based Strategies That Work by Rosemary M. Lehman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This little book packs a whallop in terms of professional development for online teachers. As a grade 12 online English teacher, and a teacher-librarian, I found Lehman and Conceicao’s research to be precisely focused on my needs as a teacher to help my students stay motivated and to retain students in the course.

Immediately, the authors set up a common lexicon for the reader to discuss different types of learning and this format of precise language continues throughout the book when talking about phases of engagement, learning strategies, and design strategies. I learned that if we only measure attrition in online learning, then we aren’t truly measuring or acting with the problem of why a student does or does not persist in online learning. I was also interested to learn through the authors’ research that contact with faculty is more important than contact with other students. After just completing my M.Ed. thesis on transliteracy, the transfer of literacy across modes and mediums, Lehman’s research also confirmed that the struggles between user and reader are separate and yet deeply impactful on the success of all students, but especially those working in online classes. In this environment of receiving and giving messages, the limits of self-reliance, problem-solving and collaboration are truly tested.

The authors review the four design strategies that best help students in the LMS which include: consistency, variety, relevance and content (p. 20-23) and offer many specific strategies. One strategy that I will revisit as I enter my 4th online teaching experience is to facilitate ice breakers and ease into multiple social groupings. I also now know that my feedback needs to be more timely and focused on the learning process, not the product. The most meaningful message from this book is actually to help students achieve self-care strategies through metacognition, and explicit teaching about goal setting and rewards. I will be adapting the online resources mentioned in the book into practical checklists to engage my students with their own learning process. Even things like giving a clear syllabus of readings, skills, technology and evaluation is something that I need to more precisely express to my students.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone teaching online in the K-12 environment and beyond.

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Posted by on September 2, 2015 in Uncategorized


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#BIT15Reads: Joining the club and choosing a book

Can you believe that we have 53 members already signed up for #BIT15Reads?  We’ve been alive for 1 week now and this blog post is a response to some of the FAQs I’ve received.

Firstly:  Anyone, anywhere can join the #BIT15Reads book club but the happening-est place to be is inside Goodreads at

What is Goodreads?

Goodreads is a social media platform dedicated to reading!  I got started using it so that I could keep track of what I’m reading and what I wanted to read.  As a teacher-librarian, I use it to build lists in when I’m focusing on a particular part of our collection.  I invite anyone on staff to see my lists as I make them, and because it’s live, they can also see my updates.  The reason I chose it for our book club is because of my two goals for the #BIT15Reads book club:  community and longevity.  Too much of my own professional development happens in the tiny bubble of a workshop or conference and it can be years before I revisit that idea again.  Research tells us us that the best professional development is chosen by teachers, has a research component and is embedded in the workplace.  So the #BIT15Reads book club is my action research on building and sustaining the wonderful community that ECOO and the BIT15 conference have brought me for 3 days each year.  It gives us a private place to say what we really feel without the repercussions of being truly public.  Members must be approved by moderators but once you’re a member you can start any discussion you like.

Inside the book club you’ll find:

  • a list of the books that we are currently reading on the Currently Reading bookshelf
  • some other bookshelves for past and future #BIT15Reads ideas
  • discussion boards ….places to sound off, ask questions and a discussion board for each book in the Currently Reading bookshelf
  • events….will come as people engage.  I’m hoping to include Twitter chats, videoconferences, extreme voting, etc.
  • a list of all current members (53 members and counting!!)

Why these books?

As all good librarians do, I’ve been researching which books to add to our list since Andrew and I submitted a proposal for the #BIT15Reads book club in the spring.  These books had to fulfill certain criteria and they are:

  1. They had to somehow relate to education and technology
  2. They have to be current….nothing older than 2014 for the 2015 voting.
  3. The list has to include many perspectives.
  4. The books have to be written by ‘experts’ because the participants of #BIT15 are smart cookies, and we appreciate arguments well-based in research and other evidence.

I have asked the publishers of 21 books in total to send me review copies of the books so that we can review them online.  Most of the publishers have responded very positively and the books are arriving.  As they arrive, I will post them in the Currently Reading bookshelf and tweet about them using #BIT15Reads.  Haymarket Books has offered us a significant discount on their book on our list, but you have to be in the club to see the details.  I’m approaching book wholesalers as we speak about getting involved to get our group access to all the books at a good price.  Many of the books are released in multiple formats so you can enjoy your reading in your preferred mode.  At the moment though, each Goodreads listing of the book leads you to the other formats or retailers of the book.

So how do you get started?

I would recommend that you

a) Join the #BIT15Reads book club on Goodreads.

b)  Join Twitter and follow the hashtag #BIT15Reads

c) Pick any book from the Currently Reading bookshelf and dive into it.

d) As you read it (or when you’re done) please thoughtfully respond to the questions here:

What’s next for #BIT15Reads?

Your ratings and comments on this form will determine which books move forward in the Reading Club.  Each book you rate gets a total out of /65 as determined by you, the book club member.  On October 1, I will announce the 10 books with the best scores and we will focus on these 10 books for the next month….again reading and rating.  Then on November 1, I will announce the 5 books with the best scores.  At the #BIT15Reads conference in Niagara Falls, Ontario, we will have an amazing session of discussion and debate about why these 5 books are the best in education technology non-fiction this year.

After the conference, we’ll start something new!  This format is just to launch the whole concept so after this year’s conference, we can adjust and tweak to everyone’s liking.

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Posted by on August 30, 2015 in Uncategorized


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A Game for Swallows and I Remember Beirut by Zeina Abirached

A Game for Swallows: To Die, to Leave, to ReturnA Game for Swallows: To Die, to Leave, to Return by Zeina Abirached
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is such an important book because the voice of young Zeina is so authentic. She doesn’t know that life inside Beirut in the 1980s is unusual as it is as it has always been. The richness of her black and white cartoon-style drawings reinforces the stark contrasts of home life and war. The chronicles of Zeina’s everyday life where city’s infrastructure works intermittently, is juxtaposed with the comic events of her family and neighbours. This book must be in every school library for its art and its voice.

I Remember BeirutI Remember Beirut by Zeina Abirached
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this follow-up to A Game for Swallows: To Die, To Leave, To Return, Zeina takes us into a non-sequential look at the details of her life growing up in Beirut. She isn’t always the young voice represented in A Game for Swallows as her teenage self is developing. She expresses a hunger for new music, and freedom and contrasts this with self-deprecation and humility. Zeina also talks about coming out of the war and realizing with shock that there is a ‘normal’ worth fighting for. Told in the same black and white cartoon style, this book is a great accompaniment to A Game for Swallows, but relies on the reader having read them in order for context.

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Posted by on August 30, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples

Saga, Volume 1Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I find it amazing how quickly Brian Vaughan’s characters can be developed in this short graphic novel. As usual, Vaughan’s visual aesthetic does not disappoint. However because there are about 4 pages of nudity and sexuality that are outside the limitations of my secondary school library’s audience, I cannot include it in my collection. Too bad because it’s a really good story and I look forward to reading the next volume.

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Posted by on August 30, 2015 in Uncategorized


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#UGIGnite15: the UGDSB leadership conference on Innovation

The UGDSB hosts its educators and leadership team at a 30 hour conference filled with keynotes, colleague workshops and of course, networking! This year the theme is to ignite our innovation in education.

Here is the full story told in the tweets of the conference.

Here is my presentation in full:
…and here is the tweet that the keynote speaker used in his presentation.  How embarrassing!  It isn’t the first time that my sense of humour has gotten me in trouble.
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Posted by on August 22, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Humble beginnings: launching #BIT15Reads

The first steps of #BIT15Reads Book Club

In 2014, a bold man took on the daunting task of discussing a book at an educational technology conference.  That session catapulted our quest for deeper meaning and so we bring to you the Bring IT Together book club (#BIT15Reads)

The aim of the book club is to

  • deepen the conference
  • build longevity in the learning that happens during the conference
  • to encourage the community of ECOO/OASBO-ICT members .

The 2014 conference session that inspired our current book club had about 80 attendees with a panel of educational speakers.  This year, conference participants will have

a) choice of up to 20 books to read as suits their own professional development and

b) the opportunity to engage with pre-conference discussion and events.

We’re going to blog, discuss, tweet and videoconference with club members, and….the authors!!  Many of them are already on board.

As the book club develops you can stay tuned here or join us in Goodreads. I will announce any new items here, on Twitter and in Goodreads in the book club.  The only rule of #BITReads15 book club is to talk about books, a lot, anywhere, anytime.

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Posted by on August 22, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Grasshopper JungleGrasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Andrew Smith ‘s book Grasshopper Jungle came highly recommended to me as a secondary school teacher-librarian as something that would connect with those elusive, hard-to-read teens. Scientifically it checks a number of those ‘should-I-buy-it’ boxes: involves issues of gender-identity, bullying, marginalized characters, and it’s all set in a dystopian crisis.

I am a lover of the bizarre, characters on the fringe, and science fiction but this book did not connect with me. For one, the language is more like poetry as the main character, Austin, speaks wildly and tangentially connecting present-day with military experiments, family history, and far beyond. The rhythm of the poetry is continually interrupted by the action scenes of escaping giant man-eating praying mantis, and vice versa. It’s a science-fiction novel that is continually interrupted by the sexual appetite of a 16 year old boy whose bisexual tendencies are causing major friendship fiction. There are really only 2 characters who develop: Austin and his boy/friend Robby who star in the action of having to save their families from certain doom. We are left wondering about Austin’s brother/parents who are in a Germany military hospital; and Austin’s girlfriend Shann who is sidelined by her own concern for her family and a surprise pregnancy. Smith’s description wants to be cinematic but never quite achieves this. The book is both bleak and hopeful and only a strong reader is going to ‘get it’ although many will enjoy the sex-filled, swearing-filled, action-packed nature of the book. This book is not for the faint of heart and I’ll need major convincing to pick up another of Smith’s books.

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Book trailer:

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Posted by on August 17, 2015 in Uncategorized


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