Author: Harvey Phillips (page 1 of 2)

4 must-have cat toys and accessories for your cat

Having a pet is a full-time responsibility. However, like any person with a huge responsibility to take care of, pet owners also need a break from time to time. Anything that makes people’s lives easier will be welcome, and if they make their pets happy while they are at it, then even better. The animal care industry has progressed enough to know exactly what pets like and how they can get entertained. Yes, they have deciphered this big secret even for the most temperamental of house pets: the cat. Below, we will go over four of the most essential toys and accessories you need to get for your cat in order to make both of your lives easier and better.

Cat collar and tag

If you have ever had a cat and you live in a house, then you have also had your cat get lost for a day or two. Hell, even cat owners who live in apartments can have their cats escape in a split second of distraction. We all know cats are independent animals and like to go on adventures, particularly at night. Save yourself some trouble and get your cat a collar and a tag with your information on it so people know it’s not a stray cat when they see your furball hanging out on its own.

Cat tree

Cats like scratching and filing their claws, and even when they do have a designated place to do it, they can drive you crazy by doing it to your bed, your furniture, your walls, your doors, and more. To avoid these scenarios from happening as much as possible, a cat tree is something you should definitely get for your cat. The best cat trees double as castles where cats can climb and play so they don’t get bored of them as quickly. For a list of the best cat trees for your purring one, make sure to check out this page.

Automatic cat feeder

A hungry cat is a dangerous cat. Let’s be honest, it can even be an annoying cat. However, it’s only logical that they get more and more hungry if we as owners give in to their every demand (I mean, how could we say no to that face?). To save yourself some time and trouble in the long term, an automatic cat feeder can do wonders. You will rid yourself of the pressure of constantly giving treats to your cat, while also making your cat gets used to a regular feeding schedule. Everyone wins, so if you’re interested in one, you can look at automatic cat feeders here.

Cat bed

Last but not least, a cat bed is a great accessory to get for your cat if you want to get them their own space (although they basically own the house). It’s good that your cat has its own resting place, particularly if they share the house with another pet. These animals can be moody and territorial, so having a safe retreat place gives them a well-deserved break. Cats can get stressed easily too, so beds are also great for them to knead on instead of your bed or precious furniture.

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Rebuilding a Reader

When I first started getting serious about learning from a lot of smart people about edtech, one of the most important things that I did was fill an RSS reader with blog feeds. First of all, I couldn’t believe the time that I saved by logging in to one site and having all of the things I wanted to read in one place, and second of all, filling a reader with feeds that I was interested in was like having access to a gold mine of smart people from around the world who were thinking deeply about issues that I cared about.

Rebuilding a Reader

Over time, two things happened. The first thing that changed was the time bomb of twitter. While applications like skype had given the edtech community some immediacy in the past, twitter changed things completely. My log in now became a real time conversation with all of those smart people I had been reading. I also found that people started posting links to things they were publishing on their blogs on their twitter account.

My visits to my reader began to fade….

When Google declared war on RSS and the open web by killing off their reader it was a heavy blow for deep thinking and for blogging. At first, I didn’t miss it. I still had twitter after all. But over time, I began to realize that relying on twitter only for what I was going to read and learn was like relying on the remote control of my TV. It put me too much at the whim of other people and things I just happened to see. I had a great form of synchronous communication, but I had lost the intentionality of using asynchronous tools.

So I’m starting to rebuild a reader.

I started with feedly, but I just wasn’t comfortable with it as a tool. And then, strangely enough, I ran into Netvibes. For me, this was like finding a dinosaur out in the bush someplace. Netvibes was one of the original web 2.0 tools that I had used a decade ago. But it wasn’t the old Netvibes; it was new, fast, light and easy to use. I made an account and quickly found that I could use some of their pre loaded apps (like igoogle used to give us) and I could add RSS feeds that I wanted to read. I could switch between a number of layouts that looked like a customized homepage or I could have a more Google reader look.

Very importantly for me as a teacher, I could make pages of feeds on any topic and then share that entire page and all of its feeds with students in my class. We can build our own custom textbook on any topic.

Rebuilding a Reader

So I’m slowly rebuilding a reader for myself and with my class. RSS is an important technology.

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Our Day Project

I don’t usually post links any more. That’s what I’ve got a twitter account for.

But I thought this one was worthy of its own post.

The 26 minute video below was produced in Australia by ChildFundAustralia. It is the result of what happens when you give 300 kids in 4 different countries video cameras and tell them to shoot footage of their days.

It’s worth your time to watch. I plan on watching it with the kids in my class.

But more than that, I think it is something that we could reproduce. What are the lives of our kids like? There are so many of us that live in all of the corners of the globe.

So I’m putting the invitation out there.

Anyone interested in doing something like this with other classes? You don’t need a lot of kids or equipment. You could simply give a camera to one or two students, get them to shoot their video, upload to a certain spot (my Dropbox?) and then it could be mixed in with the footage that is shot in other places. It would be even more interesting if we left the raw footage in my dropbox and teachers and classrooms who are involved with the project and interested could take that video and make their own version, all of us using the same footage. It would be interesting to see how they would be similar or different from each other.

Anyone interested? No big time commitment. One or two basic cameras. One or two kids (more if you want). A few minutes of footage of their day.

Get in touch with me at: glassbeed at gmail dot com  or leave a comment on this post if you’re interested. If we can collect a few people, I’ll email you and we’ll make some plans to move ahead.

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25 000 iPads? I have a few Questions…..

I don’t usually jump at this stuff when it’s posted online, but this one I just couldn’t let pass by.

This morning a link to this article was posted on twitter. A district rolling out 25 000 ipads this fall to students and staff. I’m interested. Sounds like a major initiative. My first questions are about training, sustainability and the inevitable “what are you going to do 4 years from now when all of those machines are outdated,” but that’s not what really caught me. I’ve got questions.

The very first piece of the article (which is a set of questions and answers):

ipads

Margo Pierce: Given the popular notion that technology is only for play, how and why did you decide to so thoroughly incorporate technology into the educational process?”

Since when is it a popular notion that technology is only for play? Why would an interviewer ask this? Does this interviewer not understand what technology makes possible? I’m troubled.

Unfortunately, I find the beginning of the answer to this question just as poor:

“Pat Karr Jr.: Students today are digital natives…….”

Really? Have we not moved past the digital natives argument? Is there not a better justification for spending the enormous number of budget dollars needed for 25 000 ipads?

The answer to this same first question continues:

“This is our business–our students are our product, similar to any other business.”

I thought we were past this as well….. “our students are our product” First of all, students aren’t a product. They are humans. They are not manufactured, standardized or produced. They are individuals who need a learning space that is customized and fit to their needs. Second, while all enterprises have some similarities, education is not like “any other business.” Our first concern is the people in our classrooms, their families and their lives. We are about people first and their relationship with, and knowledge of, the world around them. We are not about profit margins. We are already too often, too much about numbers. This kind of rhetoric needs to disappear.

The next one I run upon is more of a question, and it may come from inaccurate wording. The quote from the article is:

“Website filtering is performed through a Cisco AnyConnect client, so students are not allowed to visit unauthorized websites.”

I’m troubled by the last part of that. To me, it sounds like students will only be able to visit white listed websites. Is that true? Are they closing off the entire web except for certain places?

“Further, we enable blacklisting to ensure students and teachers do not install unauthorized applications that do not contribute to the educational process (for example, Angry Birds).”

I would love to see a definition of “unauthorized applications that do not contribute to the educational process.” People can learn something new from almost any material they access or experience they take part in. While certainly there are apps that we could probably agree on as being fairly close to useless, this is a slippery slope to be on. Who decides what gets approved? Can I get around that process as a teacher if there is something that the kids (or even one single kid) in my classroom would benefit from?

At this point, these machines and their connectivity are starting to sound pretty locked down to me.

 Pierce: You have data showing that productivity has increased 300 percent during non-school hours. How are you measuring productivity?

Karr: We measure non-school-hours productivity by the amount of bandwidth being utilized by the device during those hours. We have seen bandwidth on our servers increase by 300 percent during non-school hours. We are absolutely seeing more productivity and engagement during school hours through bandwidth usage, as well.

How do productivity and engagement fit together here? Is the amount of bandwidth being used a measure of engagement? While certainly this might be one clue about what is going on, there needs to be a larger picture looked at. For example, if students are doing writing assignments now digitally and before they used to do them on paper, they are obviously using bandwidth which they didn’t in the past. But this isn’t a measure of increased productivity. It’s a simple change from a paper based activity to something that now needs bandwidth. Have the assignments changed to reflect the change in technology? Are kids now required to do different things than in the past? These are important questions.

The article closes with Mr. Karr making a statement about technology:

“Our children need access to resources that they feel most comfortable with so that they can excel. If we don’t create, implement, maintain, and sustain a functional, easy-to-use, and manageable environment, we will be depriving them of their greatest tools: creativity and resourcefulness.”

I absolutely agree with this. I’ve got a magazine article coming out this fall that pushes down this same path. Technology is great, lets make sure that our kids are using it to be creative and see all of the possibilities it can bring to learning. But I wonder how this fits in to the rest of this article. I’m not seeing a space that emphasizes “creativity and resourcefulness,” but instead one that focuses on the “manageable environment.” I don’t see anything in this article that emphasizes a vision for learning. There is nothing here about professional learning, possible assignments and projects, communities for teachers needing to learn how to best use these expensive tools in their classrooms. I hope that is part of the plan that is being put in place.

I get it. I really do. This is a huge rollout. A massive investment. It is important to do it well and correctly. But to me this seems to be either an article does this project injustice or is a planned rollout that is thinking about how we did things five years ago when you really need to be planning for five years from now.

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Building Trust in Your Online Community

I found a great post on the Social Media Today blog that applies as much to teachers who build online communities in their classrooms as it does to companies and brands that build these same networks. So here are there tips they have given, with my spin on them for education:

1.) Lead by Example – As a teacher, our jobs are to instruct students, no matter whether they are present in a physical classroom or in an online space. It is an essential part of our jobs to model what we would like to see. This means we need to be present in our networks writing, taking pictures, making videos or doing whatever it is that we expect our students to do. This is especially important in education as we often are beginning new communities each year.

Building Trust in Your Online Community

2.) Get Personal – Online communities are unique, privileged spaces in education. They often give us an opportunity to get to know each and everyone of our students in ways that would not have been possible just in a classroom. This is often especially true of those quiet students who want to sit in our classrooms and not share of themselves. These are the students that often blossom the most in these communities. Be willing to share of yourself. Share your stories and your life. This doesn’t mean that you need to share every detail of your life, but be willing to be open.

3.) Be Honest -Honesty goes along with openness. Be willing to share your opinions about things. This doesn’t mean that you need to be openly political or openly controversial, but it does mean that you need to be willing to share your thoughts and opinions about things.

4.) Accept that You’re Human – Teachers work a lot of hours and yet we cannot be everywhere at once. Despite our best efforts, we cannot see everything and be everywhere in our communities. We need to put in our best efforts, but we will do things wrong. Learn for mistakes and move on.

5.) Be Knowledgeable and Share: Think about the content that you actually post on your classroom blog or in your communities. Is it interesting? Is it things that you  find online that you think the students in your class might find interesting? Your communities need to be so much more than spaces to simply post homework and assignments for your class. Share the things you find online. Share of yourself and of your passions. Make your presence in a space one that has personality and share what you have.

6.) Maintain Consistency – This is true in all ways. The community discussion standards that you build in your communities need to be enforced for everyone present. Maintaining consistency will allow your students to be comfortable in your space, understanding what happens there and able to concentrate on what they are being asked to do.

7.) Let it Go – Using social media in your classroom is not a magic bullet that will automatically engage every single student all of the time. Some students feel more comfortable with certain tools compared to others. While I believe that students need to experience all of the tools we can give them, I do not believe that they all need to be experts in all of them. Is there a possibility of platform choice being built in to assignments? Is it possible that some students need time off from some types of communication? Be prepared to see cycles between students and even within the contributions of single students.

8.) Don’t Give Up – Building an online community is not easy work. It is probably not something as teachers that we thought we would have to do. The skills are new and emerging and we all have plenty of learning to do. Don’t give up on yourself or your students. If you are having a tough time with students, step back and think about ways to re-engage them in your discussions. Do they need a different tool? A different timeline? More choices? How can we change what we are asking them to do in order for them to grow into their roles.

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A Challenging Tweet

Scott Leslie tweeted this out of his account the other day:

He followed this up by saying that he was looking for evidence or pushback about his idea that the field of edtech has remained largely unchanged over the last two years.

I have to admit that, first off, I was happy to see someone else write this. I’ve been struggling with edtech for a while, feeling that the field was stagnating. But I also often felt that this was just me. A lot of people still seem pretty excited about things so I thought I was just starting to pass into my middle aged, grouchy crumudgeon phase.

But I thought I would give this some honest thought. Here’s what I’m thinking about the last few years of edtech development:

1.) Edtech is not going away, it is, in fact, if anything, more pervasive in how classrooms operate then it was two years ago. Many people have found at least one tool or app they can latch on to and are using in their classrooms. Those people five or eight years ago who called this a passing fad need to find another excuse not to get on board.

2.) There is little doubt that edtech has become an industry that is worth big money. In the last few years we have seen billions of dollars invested in technology for education…

A Challenging Tweet

But…

3.) The majority of this money is going into building tools and apps and software that either reinforces what happens traditionally in classrooms (grade / attendance / behaviour trackers), or gives some classrooms (those who can afford it) access to higher quality content, or is aimed directly at teachers, principals, and central office staff providing no new learning opportunities for students.

So, overall, I would agree with Scott’s tweet. While there is big money flowing into edtech, and there seems to be a continual flow of new apps (just check the education category in the Mac app store for all the confirmation you need on this) and sites that are meant to change classrooms, there have been few new tools being released that are actually significantly changing learning for students.

I would add to Scott’s original thought by saying that I think edtech has splintered into several groups:

A.) Edtech “lite” for people who have have ipads (or what have you) in their classrooms and want to simply grab a few apps to give their kids better information about the body (or astronomy, or algebra, etc) or to help them master their multiplication tables. These are the people the startups love as they are always willing to invest a few dollars into the latest app, and who aren’t terribly concerned when their content isn’t updated regularly as they will move on to something else.

B.) Edtech “central” for administrators, consultants and central office staff who push certain pieces of software, apps or websites down into classrooms. These are generally grade, attendance and skill tracking software which are meant to “enhance accountability” in classrooms and keep senior staff “informed.” This category is loved by companies as this software can run into the thousands and tens of thousands of dollars.

C.) Edtech “DIY” this is the category which has emerged newly over the last few years. While not an app or specific piece of software, it has seen huge growth as a trend. This is the portion of edtech that has driven things such as coding, 3D printers, Arduino, robotics and makerspaces into schools. Incredibly hot and trendy right now, this is a movement to go past edtech lite and get some high tech hands on and brains on time for kids in new ways.

D.) Edtech “Connections” This is the category that I think many of the original edtech bloggers fell into. These people work with a lot of fairly simple platforms that were not necessarily originally developed for education  (WordPress, Flickr, Google docs, RSS, etc) and are used mainly to connect learners with new content, and, more importantly, new people who can supplement their in class learning.

While tools and people may work in more than one category, most of them fit fairly cleanly into one space or another. The other thing that I believe is new (especially very recently) is that we are beginning to understand the effect that technology has on classrooms, teachers, and students more deeply and fully. All technology is not equal. It does not all support learners and learning in the same way. While some seek to revolutionize learning, others cement classrooms and schools into traditional modes of practice quite efficiently.

So I believe that edtech is changing. It is a moving target, a changing field. But I also believe that as educators we need to be careful about chasing shiny objects. Depth and good things are out there, but we need to be prepared to sift the dross from the real gold.

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Imagining A Classroom Without Blogs

I’m having a honest discussion with myself that a few years ago I never thought would have been possible.

I’m wondering about running my classroom without individual blogs for each students.

For me, and for the way I teach, this is a big deal.

In 2005, I started blogging with the kids in my class. I had started my own writing online earlier this same year, wanting to experiment with this new idea before I tried it out with the kids in my classroom. I wanted to see if there was any educational merit to it. I quickly found a voice and a home online and was motivated to keep writing. I connected with teachers around the world. I soon found myself talking to teachers in South America, England and Southeast Asia. There were relatively few of us online but people like Susan Sedro, Darren Kuropatwa, Will Richardson, Bud Hunt and Dean Shareski were some of my earliest connections.

Imagining A Classroom Without Blogs

When that new school year started, I knew I had to put my kids online. Cnet and the New York Times picked up the trend of blogs making inroads into classrooms. Articles were written, my kids connected with others and I began to see levels of motivation and engagement from them that I had rarely seen before. We talked and wrote with kids around the world. Over the next few years we worked with classes in Los Angeles, Peru, Malaysia, Australia, China and Columbia to name a few. We found work arounds for kids to exchange videos, photos and drawings at a time when the technology to do these things wasn’t easy to use or didn’t exist. The kids in my small town had the world suddenly opened to them. Adults from all different walks of life, occupations, and parts of the world were open and willing to share information with them. I developed a blogging rubric, met with teachers from across the world, learned to pull together learning resources and communities on a shoestring and proved to the world that kids could be onboard in an ever flattening globe.

But, as the years have drifted by, I’ve seen a change. I’m not sure if it’s with me, or with the kids I teach, but the excitement of blogging has worn off. Over time, fewer kids began connecting on their own time using their classroom blogs. Fewer kids were interested in going that extra mile. The blogs in my classroom have always been a space where a combination of things have been posted online. Sometimes my students were required to write, but often it was their choice. Over time, the majorities of these spaces have become filled with only required pieces of writing. Fewer kids are choosing to write and choosing to connect with others over their learning.

The lights in many spaces are simply going dim….

Not to be a COM (Cranky Old Man), but I believe that services like Facebook, tumblr, instagram and twitter are a major cause of this. When we first started blogging in 2005, many of these online commercial services didn’t exist. It wasn’t necessarily easy to have a webpage and publish your stuff. But as these services have taken a strong hold on our culture and become increasingly amazingly easy to use, kids are connecting with others online on their own, outside of school. It has become common place.

This is a good thing, Really it is. As many people do, I have significant problems with Facebook in terms of privacy, bullying, etc, but as far as connections and constructing a social graph and presence, it is the place to be. The size of its network brooks little competition (for the moment at least). My only regret is that when students first practiced being online in supervised blog spaces, before moving to open commercial spaces, it was an opportunity for them to develop good habits in a place where they knew someone was watching. Now, I don’t believe that this is happening as much.

The popularity and commanlity of commercial online spaces early in life for most students needs to push classrooms into new directions. Blogging was fun. It was interesting. It was a motivating place for kids to have a voice and share something of themselves in a safe space. Now, for the most part, most of my students simply see a classroom blog as another assignment. Another requirement. A hoop they need to jump through.

All of these things are coming together to cause me to reexamine blogging in my classroom. I’ve always considered blogs, wikis and flickr to be three cornerstones of technology in my classroom. While we’ve used and experimented  with many other services, these three have remained constant and in high use. Now I’m thinking that it is time to reexamine this practice and to look at changing. I often don’t feel that blogging in classrooms has really reached its full potential. Connecting kids and classrooms has always required a lot of extra effort by teachers to keep it moving and alive. I have rarely seen students in classrooms connect with the fluidity that open tech spaces enables and over time it has become a game of diminishing returns.

Where to from here?

I have absolutely no idea. It is one reason that I have hesitated to publish this post. I don’t have a solution or a road forward. I still believe that the benefits of networking students and their learning are powerful. I still believe that students benefit from global voices and perspectives in their lives. But I have no answer how to get them there.

Games?

Discussion forums?

Interest / passion based communities that exist outside of schools that we simply help them to locate and join?

Blogging is not a dying medium. I don’t believe that. But blogging in classrooms as a required space?

That may be something else all together.

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Do New Tools = New Learning?

The tools I’ve been using in my classroom have been mostly static for several years now. While this might seem like an eternity in internet time, we’ve been successful with our model.

Blogs, wikis, google docs and open internet service as cornerstones. Many others on the periphery such as audacity, igoogle, flickr, youtube and delicious. While my teaching has changed in this time (and I hope improved) using these tools, the tools themselves haven’t. I’ve learned to use them in new ways, digging deeper with my students, watching for patterns of use and learning how to help them to use these tools to see new issues.

While not resistant to using new things, I’ve been careful to not chase after every new online service or website that has emerged. I’ve thought of this as the “shiny object syndrome.”

This year however I am hoping to add a few tools to my cornerstones. I plan on working with both diigo and the online community I’ve set up using buddypress at Hive Thinking. I think that these tools will add capabilities that we currently don’t have in the classroom.

And this has got me thinking. Does using new tools allow for new learning? Are there new tools that change the landscape of information that is available? Are there tools that are so significant that they allow students to learn things in new ways that would not have access to without them?

A few different examples. Open internet service allows students access to information they simply could not have with out it. But does access to this information equal new learning? I would argue that it doesn’t. Simply having access does not guarantee anything. It is the same trouble that schools get in to when they go to 1:1 laptop programs. They believe that putting laptops into classrooms will improve test scores and lead to deeper learning and then are disappointed, blaming the laptops when things fail to change. In the same vein, blogging will not develop your classroom into a community and giving students access to Skype will not connect them with the globe.

new teaching tools

They need models to guide them, a curriculum that makes use of the tools and an assessment program that honours the learning they have accomplished.

These things being said, I believe that the capabilities of our tools add dimensions to our pedagogy. We need to choose our tools carefully to ensure we have a full battery of abilities to share with our students.

More examples.

Email might be the most basic one. If our students have an email address and we allow them to access it during the school day and show them how to make contact with others to gain new information, their learning can be changed. They have access to people and information they do not have without it. Diigo can function the same way. Using diigo, students can highlight online text and leave their thoughts and notes behind for others. This concept of marking up and sharing online text is a new literacy skill that has only emerged from this tool and others like it.

If the literacies, skills and information we can access depends on the tools we use, does this make tools that much more important? Are our students missing out on possible learnings if they are not using certain tools?

While many edtech companies would like for you to believe that, I don’t.

First of all, most tools (if not all) are redundant; there are multiple services out there that allow for the same capabilities. For example, many video sharing sites allow users to embed their content. Free blogging and wiki sites abound. Image editing sites like picnik can be used in place of aviary or even free offline equivalents like gimp.

Second of all, the tools simply cannot come first. We cannot choose tools and then find ways to use them. We must consider the skills and abilities that we want our students to have and then choose the paths to help them get there. Our students do not need to know everything. They do not need to know how to do everything either. However, they do need to know how to access knowledge and skills when they need them. It’s the whole “teach a man how to fish” thing once again. Making choices about vital skills and knowledge is well… vital. We need to ensure our students have skills that will stand the test of time, that will be transferrable between pieces of software and that will help them to deepen their knowledge.

Ability to share resources they have found? Important. How to get there? Not as important. They might blog. Post on a wiki. Save to delicious. Share on a diigo network. Post on twitter.

Share their thoughts with a global audience? Important. Write a blog post. Make a video. Record a podcast.

What is not important is the individual software dependent skill. Click here. Then do this. Then that. Etc.

New tools are important. New tools give us access to information we wouldn’t have without them. New tools give our students the ability to share, to network and learn in ways they wouldn’t have without them. Choose your classroom cornerstones carefully. Expand on them. But don’t get caught up by the SOS (shiny object syndrome).

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Education and Venture Capital Funding

This isn’t my usual kind of post. After all, I’m a classroom teacher. But as I’ve been writing about lately, I’m thinking more about the tools that we are using in our classrooms and the costs (economic, moral and privacy) of using them.

This has brought me back around with a sense of perspective to the industry of education. Lets make no mistake, education is a big business. There are are dozens of companies making millions (and possibly billions) of dollars from schools. This isn’t new. Textbook, desk and chalk companies used to make lots of money from the business of education as well.

I understand that and I am comfortable with that. Just as I, as a teacher, expect to get a pay cheque every two weeks for the hours that I work in my classroom, companies need to get paid for the work they do and for the supplies and resources that they deliver.

Capital Funding

But I’ve been thinking about the companies that choose to involve themselves with education. Of course there are major companies which have been involved with education for years: Apple, Microsoft and Pearson come to mind. These three multinationals have arms stretching in many directions and have involved themselves with education in areas as diverse as software, hardware, teacher training, online courses and textbooks. They each need to be seriously examined and held to account regarding their policies and products surrounding teaching and learning. But they aren’t who this post is about. This post is about the small companies, the start ups and what they are bringing to education.

When companies first start up, they are often a side project or a labour of love from someone’s garage. Over time however, when people want to expand their company, they often try to acquire venture capital (VC) funding. Venture capitalists are people who are willing to take a large risk on a new company, often in exchange for owning a portion of that company. High risks sometimes lead to big losses, but they can also lead to big payouts if companies do well.

As our industry has changed, there are many more small companies looking to acquire some of the dollars that schools and school divisions spend. A walk through the trade show floor of any major conference will bring you into contact with dozens or even hundreds of different companies. While some of these are large booths staffed by a dozen or more people who work for a major company, many of these companies are small and are trying to break in to the business.

This is where my curiosity lies. Who are the companies that have been receiving VC funding lately? How do they want to change and improve education? What is the value that they hope to add to the enterprise of education?

I did a number of Google searches as well as tracking down information in a few other places and here are a few examples of  what I’ve found:

Coursera – Acquires $43M in additional funding (July 10)

Brightbytes – $2.5M in new funding (July 15)

Desire2Learn – Opening a US Base in Boston after acquiring $80M in funding (July 15)

Engrade – Lands $5M in funding (July 3)

Top Hat Monocle – Closed an $8M round of funding (Sept. 2012)

Lumos Labs – Pulls in $31.5M in funding (Jan. 2013)

(the final link to the Lumos Labs story is well worth exploring as it contains,  among other things, a list of the biggest edtech deals of 2012)

There are dozens of news and financial stories regarding edtech companies out there. This is a miniscule sampling of them. There are other stories that outline mergers and new products coming online. There are many press releases outlining new educational apps that are available.

But from all of these stories, there is a trend. And it is a trend that worries me. Each of the companies covered in this small sampling of stories, with the exception of Coursera, are regarding companies who look at education in a specific way. Each of these companies creates a product (or products) which circle around helping students to learn basic skills. Now, before everyone jumps on me, I understand that basic skills are important. I believe that students need to read and write at higher levels at this point in history than they ever have in the past. What worries me is that the grand majority of new products and investment money in education is not going to companies looking at the “big picture” of education. Again, with the exception of Coursera, none of the companies in my small list are concerned with connecting students in new or better ways. None of them are helping students to become more engaged with the important problems that our society faces. None of them are helping students to become more passionate learners. None of them are focused on creativity. Instead, millions of dollars is being invested in companies who are offering products to help students learn old skills more efficiently.

We talk about changes in education. We talk about a renewed, responsive and changing industry to meet the needs of a globalized, diverse society; but where are the millions of dollars headed in educational technology? To better A, B, Cs and 1, 2, 3s.

Once again, I get it. I know all about the need for basics and the pressure that legislation such as NCLB creates. But with funding heading to these types of companies, technology is not gaining any opportunity to change education. You may be able to argue that these dollars are producing better schooled children, but they certainly aren’t going to companies that will allow children the opportunity to become better educated, more passionate, or more connected.

Are there companies out there that do create products that connect students around the world in new ways and with new and different empowering sources of information? I believe there are. I think that Discovery is doing this. I believe that Edmodo creates a platform which can be used effectively in these ways. I would argue that some of the basic tools we had almost a decade ago have yet to be surpassed: Skype, WordPress and wikis in all of their various forms offer teachers the tools they need to transform education.

Data is important. Better data that we have never had consistent access to in the past will help teachers to be more efficient and effective. But better data will not transform education, or schools, or classrooms. It will not help students to have a broader, more global understanding of world cultures. It will not make students more creative or help them to become better at finding and solving problems.

Our best opportunity for all of those things still lies with talented, connected teachers.

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Those Formerly Known as the Audience

(This post is a response, a build on, and my thoughts in response to reading this excellent piece of writing by Dean Shareski – I hope you have read what he has to say on this topic.)

In the five years I have been blogging in my classroom, I have seen a vast change in the students that I teach and in their experiences with technology, audience, and global communication.

When I first started, few of them had little experience even speaking with people from different parts of the world. When we first started blogging as a class and someone received a comment from a distant place on the globe, it was an event that was discussed and people often herded around the map to see where these places were. Even as our blogs became more popular thanks to some of the publicity we received, students were still very interested in the fact that people from other parts of the world were interested in what they had to say.

global communication

Now, through IM, Xbox Live, Facebook and a whole host of other things, most of the students I teach have at least some experience dealing with geography and timezones. It is no longer as novel to have spent time with people from different parts of the globe. The idea of global audience is no longer as motivating for many of them

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as I see it happening in my classroom. In the past, simply having an audience, knowing that people from somewhere else was reading their published material was enough to motivate students to do an excellent job. I’ve seen students revise and edit blog posts repeatedly in order for their work to be the best it possibly can before sharing it with their audience. Now, as students are becoming more used to user generated content being on the web, it doesn’t seem to have the same effect for all students. Many students still are motivated and interested in being global communicators and globally linked. Many students still are driven to do well with the knowledge that they have an audience. But this is changing. Now, as many students already have an account at a place like Facebook or YouTube before they come to my classroom, the idea of posting content of your own online is not as novel as it used to be. The idea of having an audience is not as appealing.

So why should we continue to do so? Why should we continue to drive students online to post their own content?

While the motivating factor of audience may be dropping off for some students, there are still many reasons to have students publish their work online. First of all, it gives students experience becoming multimedia creators. I believe that online communication skills in all of their forms are vital. I think that just as my teachers expected me to know how to craft a well written business letter, I need to teach my students how to communicate a message using the tools of this time. This means through written texts such as blogs, videos, and audio files. It is essential that students learn to use them all. I also think it is vital that students learn how to use these tools for learning and working in collaborative global groups. As many people have found in their classrooms, there is a vast difference between the technology skills that students have mastered at home, and those required to deeply investigate and learn about a topic. Third, I think that students must have holes pushed through their classroom walls in order for them to broaden their perspective on many issues. Most of us live insular lives, and having access to technology can open us up to global ideas and perspectives. The opinions from real people around the world posted online can push our thinking into new places and new directions like is possible no where else.

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