Wednesday, November 30, 2005 

Starting from Scratch

Being part of building a new school district is pretty exciting. Our director has made it very clear that we are building something from scratch and that new ideas are welcomed and expected.

With Christmas coming up, my kids have submitted their lists and we have the duty to examine these lists and determine which requests are feasible and which may have to wait. So in the spirit of Christmas and a new division, here's my wish list for our new division in no particular order.

  • 1-1 computing. Be it a laptop, handheld or whatever until students stop having to make trips to the lab to access technology, we remain in the old world. Many of our schools have 5 computers in the room, this still isn't enough. We wouldn't expect kids to share pencils why computers? What about cost? Ever heard of the $100 laptop?
  • Connected students and teachers. Not only connected with technology but a sense of connection among each other. Technology enables us to connect with others in our classroom, school, district and the world. We know this but does it happen? Every teacher, administrator and student should have a learning space online. A weblog, a wiki, a podcast, whatever. Parts of everyone's learning needs to be public. If you want to get into the whole privacy issue, head over here. My point is students need an audience for their work, we're obligated to give them that much.
  • No more teachers. What? Teachers need to be replaced by directors or faciliators. In short this means transforming classrooms from silos of knowledge distribution to horizontal collaboration and exploration.
  • Blended learning environments. Our district has some major geographical challenges and declining enrollment. The possibility of school closures is real. We need to provide students of all ages the opportunity to learn independently at home. This may not be the solution for everyone but combined with some face to face schooling, this may offer those living in rural areas and even in the urban centres an option never before available.
  • Increased time for teacher reflection and collaboration. The advent of Professional Learning Communities has sparked some great conversations about learning. The potential is huge. However, unless teachers are given ample time to reflect and examine new ideas, this may only appear as an add on. I'm not sure exactly what it looks like, but teachers need time every day to step away from the students and develop learning strategies.
  • Balance Assessment and Creativity and Innovation. Assessment is an important issue for teachers and students. Using assessment correctly has proven to be a powerful factor in improving achievement. My concern is that at times, assessment attracts the lowest common denominator and we return to rote learning models in order to pump out data. Creativity is not always possible or necessary to measure. Innovation requires time to explore and fail. Establishing environments where these three concepts are at work is critical in the flat world.
  • Seamless Learning. If we truly believe in the idea of life long learning, we need to demonstrate that learning that happens outside the school day is valuable. Offering credit for activities such as music lessons, participation on sports teams and self directed learning should be recognized by our schools.
  • Relevant, Engaging and Ownership. This is my new mantra. Not mine but remixed from others. These three criteria should be at the heart of every classroom.
Okay, that's the start of my list. I realize that some of these wishes will require wholesale changes from various agencies but I think it's time to start thinking big. Our director told me today she wants to create a vision and figure out how we might get there. This is my vision.

Monday, November 28, 2005 

The Tablet PC Project Podcast 11

On my journey through the new Prairie South School Division, I spent some time in Evelyn Sillers Grade 5/6 class. They've embarked on a Tablet PC project. Evelyn has a great attitude and has placed herself in the vulnerable position of creating a new learning environment. Evelyn's in her 29th year of teaching so don't tell me technology isn't for our veteran teachers. Listen to Evelyn's story.


avonlea tablet 3

Sunday, November 27, 2005 

Posse Talk with Stephen Downes part 1

Rob has posted part one of our conversation with Stephen Downes. Grab a coffee, order up some bacon and eggs and give it a listen!

Friday, November 25, 2005 

Confessions of a New Edublogger

One of the teachers who attended my workshop last week has written a great piece on her barriers to blogging.

After spending a day with her and others, it was easy to see she would be considered a teacher with a high level of technical skills. But her honesty in explaining why she hasn't implemented the tools of social learning illustrate a real problem with today's educators. Technology was not the issue for Lona, it was largely her fear of risk taking and transparency.
As much as we talk about risk taking for our students, as adults we are pretty fearful of making mistakes. In order to get students to take risks they have to be in an environment that encourages that and offers a sense of community trust. I'm realizing that when I take time to build relationships with others, they are better able to forgive my shortcomings...and believe me I've got short comings, just ask my wife!

I know we all read way more than we write and certainly more than we comment and that's natural and understandable. But we do have to make a point of commenting on each other's work. That's how we learn.

So let's continue to model the idea of public learning and encourage each other with our ideas and thoughts. Let Lona know she's on the right track.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005 

Podcast #10

On my way home from work I took advantage of the time to record my thoughts on privacy and the idea of public learning.


Show notes:

Educational Techknowledge Conference
Mousing Around
Bud the Teacher
Darren Kuropatwa
Share Point

Sunday, November 20, 2005 

Flickr Nation

I've been subscribing to Thomas Hawk's photos for a while now and appreciate his quality and hopefully I'll become a better photographer as a result.

He's now begun podcasting on a site called Flickr Nation. He plans to do a weekly podcast updating new features and cool things to do with flickr. As a bonus, a 90 year old woman phones him via Skype during his podcast who's obviously called the wrong number. Thomas humors her for quite a while and works very hard to sway her to learn more about flickr.

Saturday, November 19, 2005 

Breakfast with Stephen

I was privileged to spend 2 hours with Stephen Downes and Rob Wall on Saturday. The talk ranged from education, DRM, politics and music. The interesting thing is that all of these topics ended up pointing back to concepts of distributed learning and the openness of the read/write web.

It's not often you get to sit down with a keynote for 2 hours and basically fire questions and ideas at him and listen to his responses. Not only did I feel privileged but guilty that I was getting this kind of time and other participants at the conference were not. Yet because of the technology and Rob's time, we'll be able to share the same ideas with everyone. You won't taste the eggs or smell the coffee but the ideas will be there. Hey Rob, why didn't one of us think to take a picture. Duh!

I listened to a podcast from Steve after he attended NECC and he questioned why every session of a technology conference wasn't recorded. This really isn't a difficult process. Stephen had his session that ended at 10:00 a.m. online before lunch. My recording was uploaded a few hours after it finished and it could have been sooner. I would ask conference committees to not only ask their participants to have a link to handouts but also create some type of recording of their session.

Maybe it's just too radical.

Friday, November 18, 2005 

Radical ideas and Useless Conferences

Two ideas have come together for me today. I'm in Regina, SK at the Educational Techknowledge E-Conference. This morning Stephen Downes talked about being Radical. The message being simply that since technology changes everything, we should be looking at ways to radically change the way learning happens.

Then I read a post on "How to Run a Useless Conference". I'd hate to infer that this is a useless conference and since I used to be on this conference committee, I know the challenge behind running a conference. The article talks about how conference tend to be safe...not radical. And since they are safe, they do little to change behaviour. This concept, I think applies to me since I do a lot of workshops and inservices. I've felt disappointed at times with my workshops when although I've presented to my best, it's done little to change behaviour. (i.e. Maximizing Microsoft Word last week. I only did it since it was requested but could not muster up enough passion to make it interesting...who could?)

The idea that emotion changes behaviour should drive conferences, presentations, workshops and teaching in general. Not a new concept but one that often is missed. My love of video/storytelling is something that touches emotion. It's an easy sell. I tried to include more of an emotional content in my RSS talk and would be thrilled to see some behaviour changes. I know many of the people at this conference. I wouldn't consider many of them average as the article says. So I'm hoping that in the next few months we will see some more Saskatchewan folks rummaging around the blogsphere, reading the good stuff, remixing ideas and learning more than ever. '

There were some radical ideas floating around this hotel and the challenge is to provide a forum for them to be explored. Stephen started it, hopefully the rest of the conference will continue it to become something useful.


My RSS talk

I've just completed my session on RSS to an audience of about 30. All in all, I think I was able to convey the message that RSS is not a geeky idea but a tool designed to connect to people and manage information.

me at sace

Here's a link to a screencast of the first 20 minutes. I used a modified "lessig" approach...very modified.

The audio quality is quite poor on the screencast since I used the built in mic on the laptop. So I've added an mp3 of the whole session. It's about 50 minutes and I'll call it my 9th Podcast

Two highlights
  1. Having Posse members Rob and Alec to "spur" me on.
  2. My brother-in-law Skyping me in the middle of my presentation. Got to remember to change mode to unavailable.

Thursday, November 17, 2005 

Social Software Workshop

I'm blogging from Regina and working with nine great teachers. It's kind of like preaching to the choir. These folks get it and are already asking how to get other teachers interested, connected with social software. Still don't have all the answers but am enjoying good conversations. The coffee arrived late but other than that, things are good.

As the day went on it was clear that:
  1. some were overwhelmed
  2. some couldn't get enough
  3. filtering came up several times (read Darren's thoughts)
  4. the real issue is not about these tools, it's about our beliefs about teaching and learning (read David's thoughts)
I've probably done a half dozen workshops on these things and this was the first time I had the whole day. As usual I tried to cram a bunch of stuff in one day. That's okay but I'm wondering about spending more time getting to understand the implications of teaching and learning. We did talk about this at various times but this kind of discussion needs time and work to get at the big issues. But I did suggest that they spend a good deal of their time in their bloglines reader to get to know some of the people writing the good stuff.

After showing them a myriad of things that Flickr can do, one person said, "How do you know all this stuff?"
My answer was that I don't but because of the good folks that help me out, they find much of the good stuff and just share it. That's a major concept I was trying to present.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005 

It's Winter

The view outside my office window. Winter is here. I don't like it but that's the way it is.

Monday, November 14, 2005 

Remix in action

Further to my "friends" post, this is a great example of remixing and relying on each other to construct ideas.

I had a somewhat frivilous post the other day on Weird Stuff. Didn't think much of it and really couldn't make much of an educational connection. A week later Steve Brooks over at edugadget spent some time with one of the "weird items" and remixed it and gave a very compelling idea for educational use.

None of us will have time to do everything but thankfully each of us have a little time to contribute and develop good ideas. This idea isn't even done, I'm waiting to hear from someone who will now follow Steve's idea and use it in the classroom.

Sunday, November 13, 2005 

Meet my Friends in my aggregator

I'll be doing 3 sessions in the next week on RSS. These are introductory sessions to 3 different audiences. I'll do the typical basics of feeds, XML, bloglines, search feeds, etc. but somehow it lacks the personal touch and doesn't get to the conversational aspect and connectivism that veteran bloggers enjoy.

So I'm going to try the analogy of a party to introduce folks to those people I've met and read over the past year. I'll group people in the folder they occupy in my bloglines account. We'll see how it works.

"Come on in, don't worry if you're late, you'll find most folks very friendly and helpful. Let's go into the living room. "

EDTECHS (don't ask me how I label and sort my folders, it's just the way I've organized them)
"Sitting on the couch is David and Will. They've been at this for a long time. David dabbles in a lot and always bring some unique items to the party. Will's kind of the center of attention but he's constantly pointing out the good stuff of others. Barbara doesn't speak as often as some but when she does, it leaves me with a lot to consider. I really got to know her the other day when she was talking with Jeff and Dave. Alan is also very innovative and sometimes is a bit over my head but talked about some stuff I've really enjoyed. George is a new friend of mine. I kind of enjoy that he's Canadian and will challenge you to think. Rob, Rick and Alec are friends I talk with fairly regularly. Then there's Stephen. He's got more to say that any of them. Never talks for long but talks about a lot of different stuff."

"Let's go into the kitchen"
"I'm amazed these people have time when they're so busy preparing. Yet I know they'll talk to you. Bud, Clarence and Konrad live in different countries but both are very transparent with what they do. Just watching them will show you a lot. If you want to know what's happening in the trenches, these are the people to talk to. Darren is another Canadian who can take a topic you might not think would be worthy of conversation but makes it engaging. Anne does some neat things as well. She's pretty busy. I've known Kathy for years and she will do whatever it takes to get the job done. Very adventurous and works with people you might not think can handle much. She makes it work. Oh Steve's just leaving the kitchen. He's a great guy to listen to who will make you feel like you've known him your whole life. I'm not sure exactly which room he's going into now.

"I actually have many more friends than this. These are just the ones you should start talking to first. Find out what they think and they'll also introduce you to others you might like as well. And when you meet someone you find interesting, let me know so I can talk with them as well."

"Enjoy the rest of the party."
To be clear, many of these people might not even know who I am but have shaped my thinking over the past year. This is part of the nature of the new web.

Saturday, November 12, 2005 

Videoblogging...still don't get it

I'm not sure about this whole videoblogging or videocasting trend. Podcasting was something that I got right away. Whether it was downloaded to my mp3 player or whether I listened to it on my computer, the best part was it meshed so well into my multitasking world. I could listen, keep working or walking, and it was another way to learn that mixed in nicely with my world.

Videoblogging is pretty new but now with the new ipod video, it's going to get pretty popular I imagine. Alan Levine wrote about this back in June and has the same questions I have.

I see David Warlick is testing it out as part of his Connected Learning Podcasts. I subscribe and enjoy his podcasts but I must say, the episode about the Marching Band, lost me. Partly because I felt compelled to watch and wasn't sure how much the video added to the message. Yes, it's nice to see the kids in action but given the time it takes to produce one, is it worth the time? Even the one from the conference in Minnesota, tended to be more of a talking head style. It's not a knock against David and I applaud him for being somewhat of a pioneer. I'm wondering if it's the same as podcasting.

Probably not.

Podcasting is naturally mobile. That is its main advantage. It also allows for multi-tasking. I wonder if videocasting (not sure that's what its officially called but I'll go with that for now) will find a different identity. I think podcasting and blogging are distinctive and serve different purposes. Videocasting will likely do the same, I just don't see what it is yet. Since it involves the most combinations of media that is, audio, text, still and moving images, it requires much more attention that a single communication mode. Don't get me wrong, I love video and work hard to include it as part of instruction but since it's so time consuming to produce quality, coherent video, (you'll have to move down the page to see the video list) it doesn't seem well suited to the easy publishing, suscribeable nature of weblogs and podcasts.

As always, I welcome comments from those who see things differently.

PS. One major frustration I was having was the inability to keep either quicktime or itunes on top of all windows. Is there a way to do this? I couldn't find this in the settings. This made me feel compelled to focus on the video rather than continue with other tasks.

Friday, November 11, 2005 

Banning pencils and blogs

Safety on the internet is and always will be a huge issue.

While we definitely have to protect kids, we are much better off tackling much of the questionable content with the students as part of this discussion. Will's recent post on this presents it very well. This is an issue being dealt with in San Antoino, Colorado, New Jersey and right here in Moose Jaw.

Our school division has been reluctant to implement any policy on filtering content. At present we have a content filtering system that filters sites based on a numberical score. For example if a site contains certain words from a pre-populated list or custom list, the site will receive a score. If for example the word "breast" is in the site, it might get a -3. However if the word "cancer" is also in the site, it may get a +5 giving it an overall score of +2. All these settings are customizable. We're testing it over the next few months to see if/how we'd implement it.

We've got to stop trying to create a ban everytime a new technology comes along that causes disruptions. After all the internet itself is a major disruption. It's unorganized, full of inappropriate material, very little on it is directly related to curriculum or education. Let's go back to textbooks as our only source of information. That would be safe. Pencil and paper only. No wait! Doug Johnson's already figured out why pencils should be banned as well:
  1. A student might poke out the eye of another student.
  2. A student might write a dirty word with one. Or even write a whole harassing note and pass it to another student.
  3. One student might have a mechanical pencil making those with wooden ones feel bad.
  4. The pencil might get stolen or lost.
  5. Kids might be doodling instead of working on their assignments

So the issue for some teachers is not only is a site like Myspaces inappropriate but it's also a distraction. So let's address both these issues. Will's post address the first part and to the second part I'd say I hope that after dealing with part one, most students will begin to realize the danger of a site like myspaces and start to look at sites like Clarences' as examples of not only safe, but meaningful expression.

Again, if you didn't read Will's post, you should read it now.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005 

Posse Podcast #8

I thought this one might have been lost in the archive but Rob revived it. It may be a few weeks old but if I recall, we talked at least at one point about????? I can't even remember so why not just listen.


Tuesday, November 08, 2005 

The Flat World for Administrators

I've been given the opportunity at our district's administrator's meeting to take 20 minutes and provide some type of Professional Development. That's not a lot of time but understandable given their agendas.

I decided this week to present some ideas from Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat . I used these key sections from his MIT lecture:
  • 11:10-12:10 Comparison with Columbus
  • 15:30-18:25 Globalization 3.0
  • 35:34-42:00 Vertical to Horizontal
  • 46:00-47:39 The World our Kids will Grow up in
This isn't as powerful as the whole lecture or obviously the book but I hope it begins to challenge our thinking around an education system that is largely based on old world standards and hierarchy.

Those days are done. We do have a good number of teachers that realize this and have begun to change. But we need more. I hope that as leaders, we can provide the constant push to see change happen.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005 

Weird Stuff

Here's a collection of weird stuff I've come across over the past few days.

  1. Animated stereograms. Remember those 3-D pictures from 10 years ago where you had to look cross-eyed to see the image behind the pixels? Here's a video version of the same thing. You'll have to watch it a few times to see it. via Dave Weinberger
  2. Million Dollar Homepage. I only wish I thought of this one. Alex Lew, a college student thought he could sell a million pixels of webspace a dollar at a time. He started 2 months ago and now has over half a million dollars. I'd say his education is now paid for. via Alan Levine
  3. 250,000 Bouncy Balls. A new commercial for a plasma tv sees a quarter of a million bouncy balls relaesed in San Francisco.
  4. The Drive Home videoblog. I've done a podcast from my vehicle which makes sense when you commute. I don't, that's why I've only done it twice. This guy uses a video camera during his daily half hour commute in Massechussets.