Tuesday, January 29, 2008

EduCon Conversations were NOT about Technology

Friday morning I found myself standing in a starkly naked room filled with empty desk and chairs that replicated those that the Founding Fathers of the United States Government sat in as they deliberated the future of their new nation. Two centuries ago, a brilliant group of passionate men came together to craft a document that would lay the foundation for a vision that would shape the future of their country. These men were so committed to crafting a document that reflected the best of their deep thinking and strong convictions that they gave up on the tasks of ‘tweaking’ the Articles of Confederations and created a brand new document – The U.S. Constitution .

As I listened to the Independence Hall guide, I thought back to the recent conversation responding to Will Richardson’s Some New Year's Dreaming post, debating whether whether a change in education could come about by evolution, or whether revolution was the only hope for transforming our schools.

These thoughts were the perfect launching point for what was to be 2 and ½ days of conversation amongst some of the most passionate, caring, and thoughtful educators I’ve had the privilege of meeting. Two days of conversations about the possibilities for education when the right combination of passion and pedagogy are supported by transformative tools left participants of EduCon 2.0 emotional and inspired as they returned home to continue the work of transforming our 21st century schools.

Emotions, reflection, call to action, manifesto’s, and yes… more conversation continue far beyond the weekend, and extend way beyond the walls of the Science Leadership Academy, where Chris Lehman (visionary Principal and leader extradonaire) and his learning network hosted this fabulous Un-Conference. If every participant finds themselves able to channel the emotion, energy, and inspiration from Educon 2.0 to "just win more than three" colleagues as Kevin Jarret's Educon reflection suggest … than the weekend was truly an agent of change.

But the change agents, were not just those who attended, it was also each of you who participated in the conversation remotely through U-Stream modeling the power of transformative tools in learning. As many of us stated over and over again this weekend – it was not about the technology. The transformative part was not that we were using U-Streams to record or wikis to post our notes. The transformative part was that the sessions were set up as CONVERSATIONS not presentations. And these conversations would not have been the same without the hundreds of remote participants contributing through the backchannel chat; nor would they have been the same without the collaborative features of wikis to dynamically share knowledge throughout the weekend and beyond; nor would they have been the same had they not been extension of many prior conversations happening throughout the edublogosphere.

For those of you who missed the event – it’s not too late to participate. The hundreds of pictures already on Flickr will provide visual cues to the energy level that was present. My favorite was the photos of the MAC Lab noticeably void of computers adjacent to the photos displaying the white Apple branded laptops visible throughout the school, in the hands the students whose job it was to care for and use the tools in the service of learning. But more symbolic to me than the laptops in those photos were the white lab coats worn by the students at SLA – the uniform of inquiry.

While some of these bright and inquiring minds brought the voices of students in the conversations, others offered a wonderful service to the community unable to attend by operating video cameras that made the conversations available through U-Stream. Each of the wiki pages that accompanied the 6 strands of “conversations”, not only contain notes, digital handouts, and links, but also contain an archived U-Stream video when possible. And for those who prefer their conversatoins in a 3-D space, check out the space Konrad Glogowski created for Virtual EduCon in Second Life. The richness doesn’t stop there; hundreds of blog posts tagged EduCon provide insights, reflections, and opportunities for the conversations to continue. So whether you were in Philadelphia this weekend, or elsewhere, transformative technologies coupled with thoughtful, pedagogically sound format for a “conference “ -- or “unconference” has provided you with an entry point into the conversation. May you join the conversation! Thank you to all who contributed to Educon and the learning that is extending from it.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Fostering the Spirit of Innovation

I’ve been “green” with envy as some of my colleagues who ordered an XO laptop unpack their little GREEN machines. Mine has not arrived yet. But as I listen to their first impression comments , I’m reminded of the VISION of the OLPC (one laptop per child) project and that the nature of children to explore, express, and learn were key in the design of this tool that would find itself in the hands of children all over the world. I hear questions like:

"Why doesn’t it come with a spreadsheet?”
“Where’s the productivity suite?”
“Would this be a tool I could use in my classroom with my students?”

Suddenly I realize that we are thinking like teachers. This tool was not designed for us. According to the OLPC website, the XO laptop was intended to give children

“…tools for writing, composing, simulating, expressing, constructing, designing, modeling, imagining, creating, critiquing, debugging, and collaborating."

“The laptop takes learners beyond instruction. They are actively engaged in a process of learning through doing. …. “

“The laptop helps children build upon their active interest in the world around them to engage with powerful ideas”

The XO laptop was even designed to be taken apart and repaired by kids. No, This Does No Void the Warranty! ;-)

I’m not going to predict the impact of the OLPC, nor argue its merit. But this event certainly has me revisiting thoughts about the impact on society of not providing children with enough opportunity to “explore, express, and learn” . A re we continuing towards the “perfect storm” that Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson warns of if we ignore the “quiet crisis” of not growing the next generation of scientist and engineers?

While educators have become tuned into the fact that more and more kids are coming to school without book sense and are developing researched based programs to address this, a kindergarten teacher in Tennessee worries “about the number of kids coming into my classroom who don’t know how scissors work.” Educational consultant, Jim Moulton, ponders the impact of this and asserts that

the mastery of scissors is even one of the early steps on the road to Advanced Placement physics or chemistry. I believe that the kinesthetic experience they provide around equilibrium, experience gained in struggling to master this simple tool so as to be able to cut construction paper smoothly, lays a foundation for future complex conceptual understandings.”

It was exactly this type of need that lead Gever Tuller to create the Tinkering School. Despite the provocative title of his Ted Talk “Five Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do”, the message is really about allowing kids the freedom to explore to make them stronger, smarter, and safer.

Children receiving the XO laptops have not lacked the opportunity to explore the principles of physics in their natural environments, but now have access to a new tool equipped to support their desire to learn, express, and explore. But what about places, where children currently have access to such tools? Do they have access to the opportunity to use these tools the way the XO laptops will be able to be used? Or will the access to these tools continue to be stifled by “teacher think” and “school restrictions” or “lawsuit fears” ?

Having spent many of my teaching years reconciling the need to report on a ‘checklist’ of foundational skills that every student must know about a subject area with my project based learning approach, I understand the struggle. Accountability that is based on reporting what we can measure, doesn’t leave much time for the type exploring, expressing and learning that grows innovators and scientists.

But as I watch the excitement in my “grown up” friends as they explore their little green machines, I have a renewed interest in finding ways to bring back learning by exploration to today’s students. And I’m not talking about waiting for the availability of the XO laptops in your country; I’m talking about reaching for tools that are currently available that will promote this type of learning.

  • Let’s dig out our old version of Incredible Machine or look for new games like Crayon Physics that stimulate innovative thinking in our students.

  • Let’s get rid of the obstacles that prevent tools like the many WEB 2.0 applications from being fully deployed in schools. Ning, Wikispaces, and Voice Threads are leading the way by adding features that make it possible to safely deploy these excting tools thus supporting this type of learning in schools.

  • Let’s share the resouces we find with our fellow educators and support a network of educators who are committed to give this generation of “incredible thinking machines” -- our students—the resources, the permission, the encouragement, the guidance they need to use technology in the spirit of innovation.

I invite readers to share some of the games, tools, web 2.0 apps, etc. that they feel have this type of potential. I’d love to do a followup post filled with these resources.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Social Networking in Education

There's an interesting change afoot, and it relates to the use of social networking in education.

MySpace and Facebook are just two examples of social networking sites, but unfortunately, their early prominence has created a stigma around social networking that the technology itself doesn't deserve. The understandable concerns created by these early and popular networks have overshadowed some amazing changes that are taking place in educational environments when the tools of social networking are being used with students and teachers.

“Social Networks” are really just collections of Web 2.0 technologies combined in a way that help to build online communities. In December, Classroom 2.0, the social network I started for educators interested in Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies, won the 2007 EduBlog Award for “best use of a social network for educational purposes” and now has nearly 5,000 members. The twist here, of course, is that Classroom 2.0 is a network for teachers (yes, adults, those sometimes called "digital immigrants!) who are interested in the use of Web 2.0 in the classroom and who are using the site for personal professional development. The ability to have productive, engaging dialog with others in a community is a natural fit for all ages in education.

Because I do consulting work for the social networking company Ning (as part of which I run their http://education.ning.com site), I thought it would be interesting to try to find out the different ways in social networks are being used in education. So I started a single-purpose wiki for educators to link to and describe their social networking sites. I'm including a snapshot of the list as it is today, but it keeps growing and as it does so provides an interesting insight into the variety of ways that social networks are being put to productive educational uses. You'll have to forgive the length, but it helps to make the point. Personally, I think as the tools of online social networking and course management inevitably merge, we'll find more and more compelling educational uses for them.

Today's snapshot of "Social Networking in Education:"



  • 12SCR - the greatest tutor group in GCUS, UK - A social networking area especially for 12SCR Tutor Group at GCUS, UK.
  • Alabama Educator's Network- For teachers living in Alabama (Please join if you live in AL.)
  • AsiaTeach.ning.com - Teaching and Education in Asia: Communities of Hope - Asian Educators discover and discuss common and unique challenges and experiences in Asian teaching contexts.
  • Classroom 2.0 - Web 2.0 in the Classroom
  • College 2.0 - Higher Education, Online Education and Web 2.0
  • Comenius Programme Network A network for teachers accross Europe to seek support, share ideas and experiences to help ensure successful Projects
  • Coming of Age - The Book on Web 2.0 in the Classroom
  • eLatin eGreek eLearn - Helping Classics teachers (Latin and Greek) understand and incorporate technology into the classroom.
  • EduBloggerWorld - International Edubloggers
  • Fielfindr A portal to connect classrooms to the world: Global citizens can share talents and skills with students.
  • Fireside Learning (ning) - "Conversations about learning. Sit by the fireside and share your thoughts."
  • Gifted Education Ning space for parents and teachers started by Ginger Lewman to discuss gifted issues
  • The Global Education Collaborative - Promoting Global Awareness
  • International Collaboration - High school and university students worldwide collaborate and learn about each others' cultures and life styles
  • International Classroom - Social network created for classes around the world. Space where pupils can share, talk about themselves ,show pictures and videos etc,and get to know each other's culture.
  • ILTCE - Illinois Technology Conference for Educators - Learning Without Boundaries 2008
  • ISEnet - Independent School Educators Network for k-12 educators & students
  • Laptop Learning Community - Preparing Students with 21st Century Skills
  • Learning 2.0 - Creating Collaborative Learning
  • LITE - Leading Innovative Technology use in Education - Glenview School District 34
  • MACUL Space - Michigan Association of Computer Users in Learning. Educators Pre-K to 20.
  • Michigan Classroom 2.0 Michigan Classroom 2.0 is for Educators interested in integrating technology into the classroom. A collaborative site where"beginners" and pro's can find a comfortable place to start being part of the digital dialog.
  • Nanopaprika.eu - Network of NanoScience
  • New Teacher Resources (A Supportive Community for New Middle School Teachers)
  • Next Generation Teachers - Improving Teaching and Learning with New Technologies
  • Online Projects 4 Teachers - Linking Teachers Together
  • PBS Teachers - Using a private Ning network to Connect with our Teacher Advisory Group
  • ProjectsByJen - PreK - 6th Grade Teacher Collaboration
  • PSUCast PowerSchool users network.
  • RBG Worldwide 1 Nation (ning) Afrikan Centered Cultural Development and Education
  • School 2.0 - The Changing of Education
  • Schoolwork Together - Space for teens from Israel and Dutch school to meet and discuss ideas for a common project
  • SIGTE 2008 Book Discussion; Steering committee currently discussing book choices. Using NING as communication tool.
  • Smallsteps - a class based network set up to support 14yr old design students with a design and make project centred around the topic of waste reduction.
  • SPLICE - this is part of a JISC funded project run by CETIS at Bolton University to explore social networking for creative industries students, teachers and practitioners. SPLICE = social practices, learning and interoperability in connected environments.
  • teachustech.ning.com - A network of teachers using technology
  • We Are Teachers IMAGINE Network- Online Knowledge Marketplace
  • WorkForce Educators - Distance Learning and Teaching
  • World Englishes Project- Blended Learning Course about World Englishes in collaboration with Waseda University, Japan.
  • WEBTAS (Web Teaching and Academic Support Learning Community)
  • Web2learning (For Teachers interested in using Web 2.0 technology’ to enhance online teaching and learning activities)


  • Art Snacks- Teaching Art
  • Arteda.net Art Education in the Digital Age - lots of videos of Exhibits/Lectures/Artist from Boston and a Web 2.0 Hybrid Drawing class.
  • Comic Art School Open community with resources for drawing and making comics.
  • Drawing Faces - Course for drawing faces, portraits, cartoon heads and caricatures.
  • Museums and Students - A network for museums and students to interact and learnAg
  • UTA Film and Video Network - for art (film) students and faculty of the University of Texas, Arlington
  • UTA Animation Network - for animation students and faculty of the University of Texas, Arlington

Classroom Networks:

  • Across Generations Homework help, resources, projects from students, resources for students and parents.
  • Big Dog Science - eighth grade science class network for student collaboration on chemistry projects
  • CCM Music - a network to connect students and staff across music courses at City College Manchester, an FE and HE college in the UK. This is a closed network but a video tour is here.
  • The Connected Classroom - Private network connecting 7 grade 4 classes in international and public schools around the world (looking for members in Japan, Australia and China).
  • Creative Media Classroom - Private network for 11th-12th grade students taking Creative Media (an evolution from Creative Writing) as an elective at a college preparatory school.
  • Dio Digital Learning Lab Classroom based interactive network at Diocesan School for Girls in New Zealand (Private)
  • Flat Classroom Project - Planning, communication and collaboration Ning for the Flat Classroom Project
  • The French Connection - Private network connecting 2 grade 6-7 classes in the US and France for communication, language practice.
  • GCHS Theater Arts Online reflection space for GCHS theater arts students (closed)
  • The Global Cooling Collective - Planning World Concerts, Creating World Change, Empowering Global Youths
  • historycentral.net A networks for 7th grade history students in a small K-8
  • Hurricane Maine - Network for my students but hope to open it up for collaboration
  • IntroTV/Video - 9-12th grade TV/Video students use this as a place to upload their work (closed - due to copyright issues)
  • Kerr Honors - 9th grade English Network for Reading Reflection (closed - could open up)
  • Kingswear Network - a private UK primary (ages 5-11) classroom network but main page is public
  • McCorrmick31 - 11th grade English Network for reflection on independent reading projects. (closed - could open up)
  • Mr. Edge's English I Space at edgespace.ning.com
  • newentenglishsixth - private Ning for 6th Form students of English Literature at Newent Community School, UK (closed)
  • Odyssey of the Mind - A closed network for students at Odyssey Charter HS in Nevada. There are three teachers participating with about 30 students currently in the network.
  • Readin' Writin' Techin' - Closed network run by four teachers in Southern NJ as part of a study group looking at ways Web 2.0 technologies can be used to generate interest in reading and enhance writing skills. Network has 14 members (four adults and ten students).
  • Reading Revolution - This network is to promote student interest in reading books. The network is between a class in an inner city school in California and a class in rural Iowa. Students are encouraged to be social and talk about the books they are reading or want to read. Students make and post videos and podcast about their favorite books, authors and their communities.
  • Second Grade - Private network for a 2nd grade class students and parents to share multimedia, to communicate and practice writing in an informal environment.
  • TLGplace - Taking Learning Global, a place for students 15+ and their teachers to share inter-cultural experiences while learning.
  • Truss2YPI - one of several private Gr. 10 class networks, "Learning about grassroots organizations in our community." see YPI
  • WellesleyHigh - High School Faculty/Staff Network (closed)
  • World Village - Private network connecting 3 grade 2 classes in Thailand and the US to learn about different cultures.
  • Xtreme Learning - Private network connecting highly able students in 9 grade 5 classes in international and public schools around the world - focus on reading and literature.
  • Learning Options Social Network - A private social network of students in a very small high school in northwestern Wisconsin, who are taking online classes through a variety of vendors for enrichment or credit recovery.


  • CUE Community - Conference website for CUE.org and 2008 CUE Conference (with individual forum threads for every session and speaker pages).
  • The Illinois Technology Conference for Educators- A social networking site for conference attendees, vendors and speakers. Educators following the conference from afar as also encouraged to join this ning. Stay tuned for handouts, pictures, and video of our 2008 event!
  • Learning 2.008 Shanghai - Educational Technology Conference held in Shanghai in September for international teachers in the Asia region.
  • MACUL Space - The Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning

Course Material:

English as a Foreign Language:

English as a Second Language:

  • CSWE 3 Werribee - An adult ESL network for my class of new refugees and immigrants to Melbourne, Australia (closed - may open up)

English Education (Pre- and In-Service):


Language Learning:

  • Talkabout Primary MFL- for those teaching (or considering teaching) foreign languages in Primary schools (ages 3-11)


  • Education Leadership - A community for educators to discuss effective leadership, to share best practices, and work toward - lead - a culture of positive change in education.
  • SMS 5 Year Program Collaboration - A collaboration network for all preservice teachers at Suncrest Middle School in Morgantown, WV. Members are in the 5 year teacher education program, host teachers and associated administrators.


Professional Development:

  • Digital Citizenship resources for educators.
  • DuBois and Beyond: Private local Network for PD
  • E2T2 Tech Mentor Grant
  • Literacy Coach Network - best practices in literacy coaching
  • OnlineProjects4Teachers - Linking Teachers Together
  • PassionateTeachers A group of those teachers/educators who are passionate about teaching-learning new strategies to make learning a joyful experience.
  • Pixels, Please collaborate and share resources, ideas, lesson plans, etc. amongst educators about how to use Digital Images in the classroom.
  • Professional Development 2.0 - Educators Learn the 2.0 Way
  • Readin' Writin' Techin' - Closed network run by four teachers in Southern NJ as part of a study group looking at ways Web 2.0 technologies can be used to generate interest in reading and enhance writing skills. Network has 14 members (four adults and ten students).
  • Teachers 2.0 - Teaching in the digital age.
  • The Teacher Collaborative - A social network of teachers and educators attempting to integrate technology into current curriculum practices by developing global project ideas and classroom partnerships.
  • teacher/tearner: minds of our own - A private network of independent interdependent teachers learning. The goal for this network in 2008 is to become an even more valuable professional learning network. We are also accepting membership by educators who are interested in using and sharing the use of Web 2.0.
  • Teachers as Writers - This is a place where teachers who are writers or wannabe writers can share their enthusiasm for whatever it is they have put on paper or want to put on paper. It's about encouraging people to write and "carve their niches in the edifice of time."
  • Tech Camp for Educators-With literacy as a focus, technology will be infused across the curriculum as a tool for teaching and learning. This is a hands-on, practical class. This is a face to ce week long tech camp taught by Meg Ormiston.
  • University of Chicago Charter Schools
  • Virginia Independent School Teachers
  • Web 2.0 4 Teachers - This network is for teachers and administrators who have attended my workshops and conference presentations that highlight the use of Web 2.0 tools. It provides a place for them to engage during and after the sessions.
  • Western New York Powerful Learning Practices: A social network where teachers and administrators from various school districts explore and learn Web 2.0 tools.
  • Vidsnacks: Video training for teachers wishing to incorporate video into their lessons.


Second Life:

Spanish as a Foreign Language:

  • Profesores ELE en Holanda - for Teachers of Spanish as a Foreign Language working in the Netherlands (in progress) | Profesores de Español como Lengua Extranjera (ELE) que trabajan en los Países Bajos.

Student Organizations:

  • EARCOS Global Issues Network - Earth’s Hope is the theme of the EARCOS Global Issues Network Conference to be held in Beijing April 4, 5 & 6 at Western Academy of Beijing. The Global Issues Network is based on the ideas in Jean Francois Rischard’s book “Twenty Global Problems, Twenty Years to Solve Them.” Rischard identifies 20 urgent global problems and encourages the formation of small groups around the world to help solve them


  • Blended Learning and Instruction - Engaging students and teachers in active learning by using technology and combining online with face-to-face instruction. Members will share various 2.0 tools and ways of integrating technology effectively.
  • Online Instruction - Teachers need ongoing support and information to facilitate online classes. Online Instruction caters to instructors who wish to discuss ways of developing, implementing, and providing learners with the most effective means of online instruction.
  • Teaching 'N Technology - A brand new network designed for teachers and technology specialists to share strategies, ideas, and tools regarding technology integration.
  • Technology Integration - Gathering perspectives and best practices from teachers, administrators, students, parents, Board of Education members, support personnel, vendors and others regarding technology integration in education. Site also available by visiting TechnologyIntegration.org.
  • Video production and multimedia - Video is the language of the 21st century. Learn how to do it here.


Non-Ning Based:


  • me.edu.au - A social network for educators with an interest in Australia
  • YouFig - Custom Collaboration Communities for Academia


  • e-Learning in developing and developed countries - for AcademiaThe challenge facing e-learning in developing countries is an on going process that requires everyone's attention. Global learning and cultural exchange via e-learning can unite and contribute to co-existence and world peace.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

NCTI Technology Innovators Conference

Recently Lucy Gray and I were invited to the 2007 NCTI Technology Innovators Conference. The focus of this conference is building solutions to make technology and information more accessible, especially for young people with disabilities. Check out this slideshow of the conference highlights!

An important part of this conference is connecting researchers, innovators, entrepreneurs and policy makers. It was inspiring to hear from innovators and social entrepreneurs like Jim Fruchterman from the nonprofit technology company, Benetech. Recently, Benetech was selected by the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education to provide access for every student with a print disability in the United States via Bookshare.org. Lucy spoke on a panel with Jim and Chuck Hitchcock from CAST on NIMAS legislation, an significant law that guides the production and electronic distribution of digital versions of textbooks and other instructional materials so they can be more easily converted into accessible formats. Lucy's main question was: Why can't services like Bookshare be made available to allow all students access to digital textbooks?

In his recent ITM post Steve Hargadon encouraged the use of open source to create exciting collaborations and provide solutions. So, at the NCTI conference, it was exciting to meet developers who shared open source assistive technology initiatives that offer free tools. This included Steve Jacobs from the IDEAL Group. Steve shared about his colleague Charles Chen (a Google technologist) who developed Fire Vox.

Fire Vox is an open source, freely available talking browser extension for the Firefox web browser, essentially a screen reader designed especially for Firefox. In addition to the basic features, such as providing navigation assistance that are expected of screen readers, Fire Vox provides support for MathML and CSS speech module properties. Imagine how students would benefit to have dense text read aloud to them! Steve Jacobs and his colleagues (including Chen) have also repackaged Fire Vox so that it (and other open source applications) can run off of a standard, portable flash drive equipped with a fully-accessible talking menu. I spoke with Steve, and if you want to learn more about portable open source assistive technology, take a look at his NCTI presentation and/or contact him directly. (Talking about making applications accessible - check out the features of the new Google Toolbar (5) which supports applets used by assistive technologies like screen readers etc. and enables keyboard navigation and access. )

An underlying theme of the conference this year was ensuring that the “participatory culture” of social networking also includes young people with disabilities. For example, there was a session titled “Second Life for Students With Special Needs.” Topics during this session included how 3D environments such as Second Life can be made accessible for people with other disabilities such as low vision. Everett Harper, director of community initiatives at Linden Lab, also mentioned Brigadoon Island, an area in Second Life devoted to people with Asperger's syndrome (for more info on Second Life, check out a February 2007 ITM blog post, where I highlighted Amanda Baggs, an adult with autism who participates in Second Life.)

Conference face to face sharing was done via various theme events. One such event was the Innovations Marketplace which allowed innovators to share ideas with venture capitalists and grant makers gave presentations. At the Techology Expo an opportunity was provided for key leaders in assistive and learning technology to showcase their work. This year's Peer Awards for the Brightest Idea was given to SMART Brain Technology. Smart Brain Home System uses technology to improve the behaviors of individuals with autism, language disorders and attention deficits. The equipment is being tested through an NCTI grant with adolescents with ADD. The large picture posted here shows Domenic Greco of "Smart Brain Home System", with Julie Duffield of WestEd at the Technology Expo. Julie is pictured about to wear a visor with sensors attached to a Sony PlayStation. This device tracked her brain activity and gave neurofeedback on her attention levels while playing a racing game.

To keep important discussions like this going after the conference, the folks at NCTI have issued a brief titled “Using the Power of Social Media to Promote Assistive and Learning Technologies ” and invite all of us to give our input to this document. These issues and people at this conference provided much food for thought about diversity, access and innovation. View the NCTI conference sessions materials to learn more.

Also if you want to find out more information or resources related to this event please feel free to contact - Julie &/or Lucy.