Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Outsourced Brain & Educational Change

socrates vrHere's another post that might be filed under the heading, "Educational Change: Oxymoron?"

David Brooks' Op-Ed piece "The Outsourced Brain" in the New York Times is a must read for educators. Beginning with a GPS goddess that gently steers the author in the right direction, Brooks goes on to invoke his use of calculators for math (a given), iTunes for musical selection, search engines for memory of spot knowledge, smart phones for all the personal details we used to memorize, and finally syncing it all together with the wisdom of crowds that actually makes such "choices" with more validity than most of our own decisions.

It's a fresh look with a bit of tongue in cheek, but what I love is that there's plenty of common sense that's obvious for any who live much of life "enhanced" by the New WWW (90% of those between 12 and 25?). What I find interesting is that many teachers object on something like moral grounds: "it's just not natural," "not the way it should be," "isn't what was good enough for us," etc. These comments remind me of two anecdotes related to change. First, we know that Socrates objected to writing as it would diminish the power of the brain and oratory. The fact that what this wisest of men said was true didn't alter the outcome: tablets, papyrus, scribes, Gutenberg, newsprint, paperbacks, Webpages, etc. "Digging in" against change "on principle" is no more valid than excusing ones self due to skill deficits or technophobia. Professionals work within reality to continuously improve what they do.

The second anecdote I'm reminded of springs from the complaints made by the parents of many of today's veteran teachers during the last Generation Gap. The complaints could have been about Rock 'n' Roll or cohabitation. Even though parents in the 60s didn't like these seismic shifts, they are now mainstream: The Beatles are Muzak and living together the norm. The point of this minor rant is that many in education have to get over the "liking it" delusion. Not liking the firestorm doesn't dampen the flames, but turning your back on it is likely to get you burned and place our children at risk. Maybe part of the trick is learning to live in a reality that seems so unreal?

cross-posted at tommarch.com

Monday, October 22, 2007

A 14-year-old Talks Educational Technology

"Arthus" is the web name of a 14-year-old student in Vermont who has recently become actively involved in the online dialog about educational technology. I find his voice an interesting--maybe a critically important--addition to the discussion. To me, Arthus is not representative of most 14-year-olds, but is representative of the kind of independent, engaged, proactive, and self-directed learner we often think will thrive in the flattened and connected world of the Internet.

Now the big question: will the use of Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies do more than just highlight intellectually mature youth, and actually help to promote, encourage, and support this learning style? If so, are we ready for it? Some of what he says is going to be very hard to hear for teachers, and will feel threatening--maybe especially because of its accuracy. It's one thing to hear a teacher say some of these things, it's quite another to hear them from a freshman in high school. How would the learning environment of 9th grade, for example, have to change when you have a classroom full of youth this intellectually independent?

  • Arthus started by seeing someone with a blog, and then starting his own. Was a technical interest, then moved to the subject of education. Started at age 11, HTML websites at 12, PHP at 13.
  • Really likes Twitter.
  • He thinks that schools teach students to "fear technology" and to really only use it for limited things and not for deeper conversations.
  • He doesn't feel that he is any danger in the web. The only precaution he takes is the pseudonym. Has never had anything weird happen to him on the web.
  • His school has a good number of computers, and is relatively well-funded, and even though they buy new computers every couple of years, the teachers don't engage with them or use them actively in the classroom. Would really like to see his school go to a 1:1 laptop program.
  • Outside of school he spends "quite a few hours" a day on the computer. He is not a gamer, though.
  • He feels that his life is in balance. He does school clubs. He feels comfortable turning off the computer to do other things. Believes that not using games (a "strict" rule he made for himself) has helped him not become "addicted." (Pretty self-disciplined!) Feels that one of the most important things is to have a "set task" when you get on the computer.
  • He was the one who decided to use a different name online to protect his privacy, but his mom is glad he did. Even though his mom doesn't personally use technology very much, she is very understanding of his interests.
  • Twitter is the "realization" of his network, since you can see what everyone is thinking and doing. You can also ask questions--almost like a "better Google." Twitter is not distracting to him. He feels he can ignore if he needs to, and he also purposely limits the number of people that he is going to follow. He's been blogging for a year, but once he got on Twitter it was amazing how interactive things became.
  • Doesn't like MySpace (interface is "shoddy"). Likes Facebook. Can easily eat up 30 - 60 minutes a day on Facebook. Uses Google Docs (formal things) and Zoho Notebook (planning). Uses Del.icio.us for social bookmarking. Hasn't used wikis very much. Uses Feedburner for tracking. Uses Quizlet.
  • Is considering doing a student-run session at the SLA EduCon.
  • Most of the people he knows who are older just use email and search, don't do any of the "pro-sumer" aspects of web. But same could be said of his own generation--many use social networking, but not other aspects.
  • He's interested in education because he is in the education system right now. Feels that when students come to school their (technology) "tentacles" are cut off. He knows that there is bad stuff out there, but the problem is that we are fearing the technology instead of the content.
  • If teachers are worried about the use of laptops in class for things that aren't related to class, then maybe teachers should be thinking about why students wouldn't be paying attention. Students should have an option of whether they want to pay attention. It's not a given that students will pay attention if you are not talking about something they care about. This whole technology is really good at bringing out the flaws that might be in the system.
  • The current learning system--one task, one person teaching--will just not be relevant in the future. And it's not reflective of what college or work life are like. The education system owes it to students to prepare them for that world. We shouldn't necessarily be teaching the tools, but teaching the thought processes that go into them. The teachers owe it to themselves and their students to be learning these new Web technologies.
  • If he had to pick one technology for an educator to start learning, it would be Twitter. It is the easiest one to use, and is so powerful. Also, if he had one message for his high school teachers for the next four years: they really need to stop being so disconnected from the technology. It's not about learning the knowledge, but the thinking.
  • He has a cell phone, but he doesn't text. Doesn't have a text plan, so it would be expensive. He doesn't watch TV, but watches some NBC shows online. He has an iPod video, but he's never bought a video--the screen is to small. He has 3,965 songs on his iPod--would be twelve straight days to listen to all of them. He listens to his iPod constantly, all day long, whenever he can. He doesn't feel that having the earphones in stops him from socializing. He values face-to-face speaking a lot.
  • He does worry about youth using technologies for "stupid" purposes: YouTube videos that shouldn't be public, that you wouldn't want a college administrator looking at. Has never seen an example of cyber-bullying. His computers at home are not filtered, and he runs the "networks" in his home.
Arthus blogs at http://myfla.ws/blog.

(It is important to note that I spoke with Arthus's mother prior to conducting the interview to make sure she was comfortable with this level of exposure. )

Cross-posted from www.stevehargadon.com

Listen to the the Interview in MP3 format
Listen to the Interview in Vorbis OGG format

Saturday, October 20, 2007

More Tips for New Classroom 2.0 Teachers

My last post provided practical tips to help teachers manage the integration of Web 2.0 tools in the classroom. An invitation to pioneering educators to share their strategies generated a wealth of resources for teachers aspiring to use these tools. Thank you Ms. Mercer for referring us to Scott McCleod’s Moving Forward Blog. Greg’s 10 steps to help teachers to use these tools themselves before asking kids and Clay’s 10 must have Web 2.0 accounts are a great complement to Andrew’s Web 2.0 Tutorial for teachers and Barbara’s prolific perspective as a school administrator on her Dare to Dream Blog.

I’d like to offer a very special thanks to Candace for turning me on to Teachers First –which not only offers some very practical tips for first time teachers but also maintains an incredible database and review of web 2.0 tools specifically aimed towards teachers who “want to try tools but cannot envision the how and why.” This one goes right at the TOP of my recommendations for all teachers starting their journey towards School 2.0.

As promised, here are just a couple more tips that I’ve found to help you proceed on this journey.

  1. Read the terms of service of the tools you would like to use. These terms are often difficult to sift through, and I’ve been guilty of reading them too quickly. When in doubt contact the company and ask for clarification. (Example: In some cases, where it is not acceptable for a 12 year old to create their own account on a system, it might be acceptable for them to use a teacher’s account within a supervised classroom environment.)

  2. Take some time to get familiar with the legal parameters that schools must comply with. Make sure someone in your school truly understands CIPA, COPPA, and FERPA and that the conversations that guide the development of policies, practices, and procedures in schools relating to Internet use is not based on fear and misconception. Much needed teacher voice is sometime lacking in this process. After reading this FAQ from SafeWiredSchools and similar information sources, I became more confident in my ability to make responsible professional decisions about classroom management strategies that used Web 2.0 tools.

    CIPA is the Children's Internet Protection Act, and was passed in late 2000. It requires schools and libraries receiving certain types of federal funding to filter or block Internet access to "visual depictions" of material that is obscene, child pornography, and when minors are using the computer, material that is harmful to minors.

    COPPA is the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, and was passed in 1998. It requires commercial Web sites oriented to minors to get parental permission to collect personally identifiable information from children under age 13.

    Your school’s legal advisor should be able to clarify ambiguity, and offer support and protection for educators seeking to use web 2.0 tools.

  3. Create a classroom set of logins for your favorite Web 2.0 tool that you as a teacher keeps control of for your class. Google Certified Teacher, Kyle Brumbaugh, sent me this video tutorial he found in Google Certified Teacher Forums that allows teachers to easily create classrooms sets of logins without creating new emails for most Web 2.0 tools. However, I can't see a way to avoid creating a new gmail account to access Google docs for a each member of my class. Yet, this method did allow me to create those student accounts quickly using my teacher gmail account as the "required" alternate email account. As a teacher, I consider myself to be the one entering into a partnership with Google (not the students) and I would only do this with a group of students where I was willing to accept the responsibility for supervising my students' behavior. I would also take the additional precaution of setting up a forward rule on each student gmail account, so that all mail gets forwarded to my teacher account. You can then use the "filter" method suggested in the video tutorial to keep this mail organized.

A big thanks to readers who came forth with such wonderful resources to encourage our colleagues who are almost ready to take the plunge. Keep those ideas coming; readers like J. Allen are particularly looking for those strategies that work for younger children.

P.S. In an upcoming post, I’d like to feature educators who have found Google Apps for Your Domain, the key to classroom management in a Web 2.0 world. Drop me a comment if this tool has worked well for you.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Create a Permeable Classroom - Part I: Google Docs Presentations

Over the past few weeks educators around the globe have discovered some powerful new tools. Google added presentations to their web-based office suite, which already had word processor and spreadsheet components. Also, a wide variety of services now allow users to create their own streaming video "channel" using just a webcam and an Internet connection. These tools make it easier than ever to give your students an authentic audience for their work - and to bring their peers or content area experts into the classroom. This post is the first of two. In this post I'll share about Google Docs presentations and in part II I'll share several services that allow you to create your own streaming video shows.

Google Docs Presentations

Google Docs (formerly Google Docs & Spreadsheets) now allows mulitple users to view or edit a presentation online. Users can create a presentation from scratch or import and then share an existing Powerpoint presentation. Surprisingly, these presentations are also a way to bring an international learning community into your classroom. Here are some of the benefits and limits of this new tool, followed by some early educational examples.

The Benefits
  • Web-based: File storage, editing, and even the final presentation happens right on the web. This means that your presentation (or a student's presentation) can be accessed at school, at home, or on any other internet connected computer. You can edit from anywhere, and even present anywhere. There is no need to worry about software versions or compatibility when you move from computer to computer - and no need to worry about paying for software or updates.
  • Collaborative: Users can edit or view presentations from multiple locations... simultaneously - or asynchronously. This means that students can complete group work from their own homes, and you can collaborate with other classes world wide, all without worrying about juggling multiple versions of a document via email. This also means that students, teachers, parents, or others around the globe can virtually "attend" a presentation online.
  • Backchannel Chat: During an online presentation, participants have a chat "room" to the right side of the presentation slides. This allows face-to-face participants the opportunity to interact with each other while the presenter is speaking. Presentations can now be interactive, and many more students can participate via text than they can via voice. More importantly, it allows peers and experts from around the world to interact with the class. These two things enable a shift of power (and authority) away from the presenter to the students and to other experts around the world. It is a compelling new sort of presentation experience, particularly if visitors are actively included as part of the presentation.
The Limits:
  • Computers and Google Accounts Needed: A presenter can project the presentation on a large screen as they would with powerpoint, but obviously for face-to-face students to take advantage of the chat room functionality they will need to have their own computers. Also, in order to participate in the chat students (and any virtual visitors) will need to login using a Google account. Naturally, anyone who wants to participate in collaboratively editing the presentation will also require a Google account. Google accounts are free, but do require an email account and a registration procedure.
  • No Archives & Limited Export: It is easy to get information into Google Docs, but not nearly as easy to get information out. The chat transcript is not (or at least no longer) archived, and it cannot be cut and pasted. (Screen capture programs can be used to save a chat as an image or video, though.) Also, although you can import PowerPoint presentations into Google Docs, it will not export PowerPoint presentations. It will only export a zipped html file that will allow you to run the presentation in a web browser when you are offline.
  • No Audio, Video, or Screencasting: If you are attending a presentation remotely via the web it is easy to follow the presenter through the slides, however you cannot see the presenter or hear what they are saying. Also, if the presenter shows other programs or sites to their face-to-face audience, you cannot see these remotely. In short, Google Docs does not provide any streaming audio or video and does not provide any screen sharing or screencasting features. This makes a Google Presentation of limited effectiveness for remote attendees... unless a third-party application is used to transmit audio, video, or the presenter's desktop. This is where several new streaming video services might come in useful.

In part II of this post, which I'll share next week, I'll discuss the benefits and limits of new services that make it easy for anyone to stream video using a webcam. In the meantime, here are a few examples of pioneering early uses of Google Presentations in education.

  • Google Presentations - A presentation about Google presentations, originally created by Vicki Davis and forty (40) other educators around the world! This presentation actually serves as an introduction to using Google Presentations, including ideas for classroom and professional development uses.
  • ES PTA Presentation - A presentation about Web 2.0 tools for parents, including the benefits, concerns, and proactive strategies for safety (based on the Internet Awareness presentation which I created for the Laguna Beach USD under a Creative Commons Share-Alike license). Kim Cofino presented this to parents in Bankok, with an audience of educators from around the globe contributing in the backchannel chat.
  • BTC Interview - A presentation that Jennifer Jones used during a job interview - using the presentation she brought her online learning network to the job interview with her! She explicitly involved "the network" by including prompts in small text in the lower corner of most slides. This is a good model for being sure the online audience can participate and contribute to the presentation, even without streaming video or audio.

You can also read my personal reflections about these examples and about Google Docs presentations in general at Google Docs Presentations: Limits, Benefits, and Questions.

If you've tried Google Docs presentations with your students, or if your students have already used a Google presentation themselves, please leave a comment (and a link). We'd love to hear your story. If you've got other stories about your own learning with Google Docs, we'd love to hear those as well. Please leave a link to any blog posts you may have written on this topic yourself, too. And of course, feel free to leave questions or other comments about this post.

Check back next week for Create a Permeable Classroom - Part II: Live Web TV.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Tips for New Classroom 2.0 Teachers

Every veteran teacher knows that the first 6 weeks of school are the key to success for the rest of the year. The tone you set in your classroom and the practice of routines you establish with your students are key to creating a successful learning environment. Yet, despite 6 weeks of ‘practice”, classroom activities don’t always go as planned and when unplanned chaos takes over, teachers regroup, come at it from another approach, and often seek the advice of their peers. Thank goodness for veteran teachers who are willing to share tips like those found at Middle Web’s First Days of Middle School.

These wonderful ideas have been built from years of “experience” in Classroom 1.0. The educational technology world is filled with advocates for Classroom 2.0 who share the opportunities of Web 2.0. But some are starting to ask questions like “Why are more teachers not flocking to use Web 2.0 tools?”

Maybe, what teachers need is some really concrete tips and strategies on ‘management’ in a Classroom 2.0 learning space. Pioneers of Classroom 2.0 are ‘experimenting’ themselves; not all these experiments work exactly as planned. We need to remember that not all teachers or administrators work in an environment where they feel safe or supported to be pioneers in such a public arena as Web 2.0. This is much different than trying something new inside your own building or classroom. Fears of legal repercussions fuel environments that are not supportive of implementing a Classroom 2.0 model.

Perhaps those of us who do work in supportive environments should not only share our stories in terms of the opportunities that Web 2.0 bring us as a learning community, but we should start to put together a page filled with tips and strategies that teachers interested in using Web 2.0 tools could use to get started. These tips would also benefit IT Staff and School Administrators who would be more supportive of Web 2.0 tools in education if they could see a collective inventory of concrete classroom management (or risk management) strategies.

So in that spirit I’m going to start with three Classroom 2.0 management tips and invite other pioneering educators to comment with their own advice. Remember that what might be obvious to a seasoned Web 2.0 teacher might not always be obvious to a “first year” newbie interested in creating a Classroom 2.0 learning environment.

  • Create more than one email account using web based services like Gmail or Yahoo Mail that you can use to sign up for web 2.0 tools.

  • Start by limiting your use of Web 2.0 tools to inside your classroom until you feel comfortable that your students understand the rules for using these tools. Just like students need “practice” to learn what it looks like and sounds like to take a trip to the library, they will need your guidance to visit a virtual location such as a class wiki. And don’t give up if one of your students steps out of line, anymore than you would give up going to the library.

  • If your students are under 13, consider signing in using one of your alternate web based email to register for a “classroom” account to a Web 2.0. tool. You can then sign in “yourself” as the teacher to a tool (like a WIKI) that you want your students to contribute to OR you can give them the username and ‘password of the day’ to sign in and make it part of your daily routine to change the password at the end of the school day. Many Web 2.0 tools stay logged in once you have signed in, so you might only have to do this once a day.

I’ll post more ideas in my next post but for now let’s hear your tips

(Photo Credit)