Category: Teaching

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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