Wednesday, September 19, 2007

News Flash!

Kristin Hokanson is a technology integration mentor in Upper Merion, Pennsylvania, and she recently introduced me to a great Flash-based videoconferencing tool called Flashmeeting. Flashmeeting is very easy to use from both meeting attendee and meeting booker perspectives. The interface allows for one person at time to speak using audio and video. Other meeting attendees can text chat at the same time. Link and file sharing, voting and virtual whiteboards are some of Flashmeeting's other features. Meetings are recorded and can be viewed again at a later time. These replays are editable, and meeting minutes containing the chat log, voting records, files and URLs. These can also be saved PDFs.

To book a Flashmeeting, you must jump through a few hoops and fit certain criteria as Flashmeeting is part of a research initiative at the Centre for New Media within the Knowledge Media Institute at The Open University in the United Kingdom. Data from meetings are used for research, so you must agree to having events recorded.

A week or so ago, I booked my first Flashmeeting as a meeting space for a Ning I
created, the Global Education Collaborative. Sunday night's meeting was a trial run for me. I thought I had booked a meeting for Sunday, September 16th, at 8PM CST, but I actually had booked it a day earlier as FlashMeeting's server is on UK time. Of course, they caution users about this, but I obviously didn't quite get it. Just prior to the announced meeting time, I scrambled to schedule another meeting for the correct time, and shot off the new meeting URL to potential attendees. Fortunately, about 10 or so people popped into our conference over the next two hours and great connections and conversations ensued.

Sharon Peters of LEARN was one of the first people to join the conference, and this Canadian is a treasure trove of knowledge. She has experience to back up her ideas about global education, and she cited many resources of which I had not previously been aware (view the replay to find out her recommendations). I was multitasking during our Flashmeeting, and I noticed Kim Cofino, the Elementary 21st Century Literacy Specialist at the International School Bangkok in Thailand, submit a message via Twitter, a sort of group instant messaging service. I sent her a direct twit with the link to our meeting and she subsequently joined us, fresh with ideas from the Learning 2.0 conference in Shanghai, China. I also noticed my friend, Westley Field, from Sydney, Australia, online via iChat and quickly sent him the link to our meeting. He joined the conference and told us all about his work at the MLC School and with Teen Second Life.

Early in the meeting, Sharon said that global collaborations happen when people
develop personal connections. If that is a criterion for successful projects, then I think Flashmeeting definitely can facilitate the necessary relationship building.  It was a truly invigorating online meeting, and you can see for yourself by watching this edited replay. Check out the meeting notes,too, for a flurry of URLS that were shared. I look forward to holding more Flashmeetings and connecting with educators world-wide. Let me know of your interest by stopping by the Global Education Collaborative ning site and leaving a message!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Tech Savvy Learning Communities (a la Moodle)

"The daily working life of most teachers is one of unrelieved time pressure and isolation; they work, largely alone, in a classroom of 25-30 children or adolescents for hours every day." Prisoners of Time. National Education Commission on Time and Learning. April 1994

Since this publication was released over a decade ago, many technological tools have emerged that have potential to relieve the isolation and combat the lack of mutual time to plan, converse, and reflect that teachers so desperately need. In her article "Professional Development Through Learning Communities", Kathleen Fulton talks about how the same forces that drive us to use technology to create learning communities for students, "offer the opportunity for new models for the professional growth of teachers. Learning communities share a way of knowing, a set of practices, and shared value of the knowledge that comes from these procedures. These learning communities, with expanded human and technological resources, bring together students, teachers, and community members in directing the course of education in new ways."

Tools like Tapped In, Second Life, Google Groups, and Ning communities such as Classroom 2.0 provide innovative ways to create virtual places for professional development, collegiality, collaboration, and social interaction. But one tool, that may be overlooked to help teachers form learning communities is Moodle

Moodle is most known as an Open Source LMS (Learning Management System) (similar to Blackboard and WebCT). Many schools are using it to either offer online or hybrid courses or as a digital space for a face to face class where students can use Moodle to submit homework, view online resources, or have online conversations with their classmates. Moodle also has modules that allow students to take quizes, surveys, or participate in a classroom wiki.

My belief that the best technology professional development is embedded in the process of participation in authentic meaningful tasks for teachers and not as a separate activity lead me to create an opportunity for teachers to gain skills and confidence using a tool like Moodle by turning it into a technology tool that could be used to help our teachers save time, increase collaboration, and relieve isolation. If you have access to Moodle, try setting up a Moodle "course" in topic mode (instead of the weekly mode) and hiding the modules that say "grade" and "assignment". Give it a cool name that identifies it as a "teachers space" for your school, then:

  1. Add a forum called "Teachers Room" for general dialogue between staff.

  2. Create another forum called Staff Meetings. Post all agendas and minutes as a discussion topic to this Forum and encourage teachers to continue the staff meeting dialogues online.
  3. Add all Staff Meetings, Inservice, Early Releases dates, or other important dates to the "course" calendar.

  4. Add handy staff resources such as PDF copies of parent or staff handbooks and frequently used forms.

  5. Create a quick poll to gather staff input about an important topic in your school.

These 5 simple ways to use Moodle with your staff will provide an authentic opportunity for learning to use a 21st century tool, generate ideas, build confience, and start dialogues that encourage teachers to start using a tool like Moodle to build learning communities with their students.

The fact that Moodle can be set up as an Intranet might make some teachers feel more comfortable participating. If you don't have the school resources to set it up on your school server (did I mention it was free?), there are many resonably priced hosting solutions for Moodle such as that will do all the legwork for you. Teachers can also reserve free Moodle classroom through Global Classroom, which also includes a free skillbuilder course.

Peter Senge was asked (O'Neil, 1995) what he would do, if he were a principal of
a school, to transform the school into a learning organization. Senge
replied that initially he would find the teachers who were interested in doing
things differently, who have 'some real commitment and passion to do it,' and
get them to talking to each other. Pulling a core group together is a strategy
frequently used for mobilizing and moving people in an organization.
~Dr. Shirely M. Hord

One of the biggest obstacles to doing this in schools is the lack of common time. Why not try one of the many technology tools available to start collaborating online about practical issues, then move into the ongoing visioning process of a real learning community.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Big Questions About Web 2.0 in Education

Thursday, September 6th, at the Office 2.0 Conference in San Francisco, there will be a panel discussion on "Classroom 2.0" and the use of Web 2.0 software in education. A wiki with the panel members and more information is here.

As preparation for the panel, an Office 2.0 Conference group in our Classroom 2.0 social network has been formed to allow for the discussion of ten possible panel topics. We will be encouraging the Office 2.0 Conference attendees to join the group and participate in the discussions during and after the conference. We believe that some in the edublogosphere will be interested as well, and hope you will contribute your wisdom! The discussions have been placed in a group in order not to overwhelm the regular Classroom 2.0 dialog.

Here are links to the forum discussions in that group:
1. Is Web 2.0 a good fit for education?
2. Is Web 2.0 significant to future student achievement, workplace skills, information literacy, and digital citizenship?
3. Do we need to start teaching "digital citizenship?"
4. Are the formal structure of education changing because of online learning, and what roles can Web 2.0 software play in those changes?
5. Technology decision-making in schools: The divide between IT and the classroom, and why is it so hard to implement new technologies in education?
6. How much commercialization should be allowed in the classroom and in the school?
7. The conflict between school security issues and the innovative technologies of Web 2.0
8. Publicly shared lives: how transparent should students lives be, and is it appropriate for students to be "clickable?"
9. The training gap: professional development and rapid technological change. How do we train a huge workforce in skills that are just being understood?
10. How important is equitable access to technology, and do the tools of Web 2.0 change that?

(cross-posted from