Tuesday, December 20, 2005

My students in print!

Okay, I suppose this has happened to the more high profile blogs-in-education types before, but being quoted in a national article is new to me.

It's fun to see my name in print alongside Tim Wilson, Anne Davis, and Will Richardson. All three of these people have been wonderful guides down the tech integration path.

What is even more fun, though, is seeing my students get recognition for their hard work and willingness to try something new by using blogs in the classroom.

Enough giggling, now back to work.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Life 2.0

Doug Johnson was cleaning up odd-n-ends over at Blue Skunk Blog when he threw out this little bit:
Relationship advice for guys: If your wife accuses you of being uncommunicative, do NOT say "Just read my blog." Trust me on this.

Certainly sound advice. My wife wouldn't find such a comment helpful, either.

But I wonder how long this will be the case. MySpace, and similar social networks, are growing in popularity. Today's teens are tomorrow's married couples; how will web 2.0 shape life 2.0? A good marriage is all about communication, afterall. Will children check in via the family wiki, updating their after school plans so Dad knows when to pick them up after soccer practice?

Friday, December 02, 2005

Student Ownership

I was being interviewed today for an article on using blogs in the classroom (my first interview, very exciting) when the reporter asked whether or not I felt having students identified by only their initials hurt their sense of ownership or voice. I hadn't considered that aspect of the identification issue before.

Upon reflection, I don't think using initials instead of first names makes a difference for my students. At least, I see their personalities, their voices, in their blog enteries, but I do have the advantage of working with them every day. As for ownership, I'm still not sure. I need to ask them.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

131 Gbps

SlashDot has a pointer to an article describing a bandwidth contest. The winners, a CalTech partnership, acheived an average transfer rate of 131 Gigabits per second.
Transferring this amount of data in 24 hours, is equivalent to a transfer rate of 3.8 (DVD) movies per second, assuming an average size of 3.5 GB per movie.

3.8 movies per second!

There are still a number of technical hurdles to be overcome, including hardware and software that can take advantage of such high data speeds, before this becomes commonplace. But even if it takes ten years, and it would surprise me if it took that long, schools need to start planning now.

What happens to education when the entire class can be present without everyone being in the same room? or even in the same country? Do teachers become private contractors, competing for students from around the world, in an education open market? Do schools and libraries fade away? or do they transform themselves into information hubs?

Web 2.0 is the crack in the dam, and whether we are plugging the hole or drinking freely from the leak, the dam is about to burst.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


My original purpose for this blog was to reflect on the use of the tool in my classroom. But as I have explored and learned about the wealth of web-based resources and their potentials in the classroom, the nature of this blog has changed. The title is a small thing, but renaming this space is part of the reflection.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Collaborative word processing

Will Richardson brought my attention to a web-based resource today, writely.com. He just mentions it in passing, but there is something about this WBR that simply clicks for me.

Writely is a web-based word processing application that at first blush does the basics very well. I'm typing this entry on writely and it feels like I am working in Word. Once I finish, I will try out the blog tab at the top and see how well it works.

The real power of the tool, however, comes from the ability to collaborate on writing projects in real time. I can email an invitation to collaborate to one of my co-workers. She can then follow the link to see the document I have started. If we are both working on the document at the same time, writely will update the page in what seems to be near real time so we can see each others changes as they occur!

Distance educators take note. Imagine a student in an on line course completing a rough draft of a paper, emailing the teacher for collaboration, and then working with the teacher in real time on the revision of the paper. Pair this with chat or skype and instant writing conference.

Students in different classrooms, or different countries, could work together on a project.

On an amusing note, writely's spell checker doesn't think writely is spelled correctly.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

New Tools Coming My Way

The administrative rep on the district tech committee has tapped me to try using a wireless, Tablet PC setup in my classroom.

I am rather excited to bring in this new, interactive tool. I have been weighing interactive white boards v. tablet pcs, and I think the tablet pc will better fit how I would use it. One of the presenters at T+L2 discussed the "event" of a student going to the interactive white board. There are days when it is hard enough to get students talking, let alone going to the board. With a tablet, I can hand the technology (either the tablet or a wireless keyboard/mouse) to students and have them doing. This implementation feels much more organic.

I have already started hitting up my colleagues for ideas, getting them excited, too. Once the equipment comes in, I plan on taking a few days to learn and experiment with it before using it with my classes. But then I want to show the other teachers how it all works and hand it off to them, giving them each a few days to use it, too.

At the December tech committee meeting, I need to present my findings, and I want to bring in ideas from as many curricular areas as possible to demonstrate the power and flexibility of interactive tools like a tablet pc. My hope is that this will spur more innovative thinking about how to integrate even more technology into our school and the curriculum as a whole.

They're Listening

Last.fm is an interesting, social web-based resource that tracks what users listen to on their computers, connects them to other users who like the same kinds of music, and even provides for creating personalized web-radio stations.

Part of me gets a real kick out of this. I like other-than-mainstream music, and I'm always looking for new bands. Last.fm lets me see what other people who listen to what I like are listening to. Great idea. A quick peek at the site has already shown me a few new bands I need to check out. But I haven't created an account.

The idea of the site keeping an ear on my listening habits at my computer makes me uneasy. Call it Big Brother Lite, the masses slowly giving up their privacy, slowly revealing more and more of themselves online. With other web-based resources, I choose which pieces I keep public or private. From my admittedly quick look, last.fm takes it all and puts it out there for everyone to see.

Privacy aside, the homogenization of listening tastes is also bothersome. I worry about the flattening of experiences that may come from connections and recommendations based on my favorite music. Ideally, the social aspects will lead to tangental discoveries that help people stretch beyond their comfort zones, but the lure of the comfortable is strong. What is lost by not having a good DJ, either on the airwaves or streaming across the internet, mixing up the music and bringing strange new experiences to our ears.

Pulling the pieces back together

I just stumbled across SuprGlu, a web-based resource that pulls all the content a person creates into one spot. My blog, furled articles, flickr pics, and many other bits flung out onto the web come flying back, hence my SuprGlu space A Gathering of Boomerangs.

I have just scratched the surface of this site, but already the idea of a class creating content in a variety of ways and using SuprGlu to keep it all in one, easy to access space is very appealing.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Reflections on NSBA T+L2 2005

I just got back from a wonderful four days in Denver, CO at this year's National School Board Association's Teaching and Learning convention, and I have finally found a little time to slow down and think about all the ideas presented. Some initial thoughts...

Many of the sessions I attended centered on the key notion that the teaching of technology in isolation is becoming irrelevant. Students know how/will figure out the physical use of any given piece of hardware/software. They live in this world and are, for the most part, very comfortable with its tools.

But the technology can't be ignored. Instead, educators need to focus on seamless integration of the technology into a curriculum of information literacy. We can't teach in the old ways, in the ways that worked just fine for us because they represented the world we would be entering after high school. That world does not exist anymore; the younger the child, the more true this is. What will twelve years bring for today's kindergarten students?

Some quotes I found interesting (with apologies for not having many attributions).

  • "Technology means change. Schools need to step out of their comfort areas." --John Canuel

  • "Each generation assumes they are different than the following generation yet educates them in the same way."

  • "Email is something to talk to old people."

  • "Technology is anything invented after you were born."

  • "Technology may be the thing that saves the arts in schools." --Gary Stager

  • "The fundamental barriers to employing new technologies effectively for learning are not technical or economic, but psychological, organizational, political and cultural." --Chris Dade and Timothy E. Wirth, Prof. of Learning Technologies, Harvard Grad. School of Education

This last quote really sums up my current frustration. I am attending technology in education conferences, working on my Master's Degree in Technology in Education, and exploring the various resources available on my own; however, I am consistently stymied by the bureaucracy in the way of change. The more frustrating issue is I'm not sure what to do about this. I am on the building and district technology committees, but school districts, like many institutions, change slowly.

There is no reason to think that students will wait.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Students blog

This semester, as part of my web design class, I am teaching students how to use the various web based resources available for creating and publishing content.

The class is a wide mix of honor role to self-described "haters" of reading and writing. Regardless of their place on this continuum, they are all blogging--reading, reflecting, and writing both in their own blogs and in comments on one another's blogs. The classroom is silent, save for the tapping of keys, when they have blog assignments. The entire class is engaged in ways I have never seen in other read/respond assignments. The answers are more thought out, and the students are more open to revision when I make suggestions.

Perhaps most notably, when I ask for feedback, the students respond that they like the blogging process and feel heard, as opposed to class discussions where the reluctant learners tend to remain silent.

There have been bumps, certainly, but today was a very good day. I am choosing to ride the wave. Deconstruction will just wait until later.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Tagging Google Maps

Tim Lauer has found a new use for Google Maps, MyGuestmap, a guest book that allows viewers to mark and comment upon locations.

I like the idea of tagging locations on a map. Could think of lots of ways that we could use this at school. Having student research the local neighborhood history and then use a map such as this to tag the locations. MyGuestmap allows for the inclusion of a message and a URL link. Students could write about neighborhood landmarks and then point to them using this tool...

My first unit this fall will center around family history, places or origin, and immigration/migration. Using MyGuestmap, there could be a class map where each student indicates where one of her families originated. Each student could then have her own map, using the different colors of pins to show various events in the family's immigration/migration.

These events could then be linked to blog entries where the student assumes the persona of one or more relatives and writes a first person account of the journey through that person's eyes.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

We're Not Afraid

We're Not Afraid is a photo gallery created in response to the London subway bombing. There you will find photos submitted from around the world stating that each is "not afraid".

This is a fundamental shift in response. People aren't content to let the authorities speak for them or wait for the celebrities to appear in PSAs. Now, through the read/write, user-created internet, the people are responding directly and powerfully. And the message...the message isn't one of military response, of lashing back in the heat of anger. Instead, the message is reasonable and peaceful, but firm.

As one girl's picture states,

"Dear terrorists, please let me eat my bread with jelly in peace and harmony."

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Empowering Students with Technology: Ch. 1

"Teaching and Learning the Structure of Information"

There is an Internet grammar that necessitates that students know what is the Internet's equivalent to, among other things, footnotes, indexes, and bibliographies.

One of the great frustrations I hear from colleagues with regard to researching on the internet is that students just grab whatever pops up in a search engine and view the information as reliable. November suggests teaching students how to break down the "meta-web information". Students need to be able to decipher web addresses, understanding not just the difference between .com and .net but also how the grammar of subdirectories works (ex. a path using /~name typically refers to a personal space on a server and not necessarily an "official" section of the sponsoring site).

Students should also be aware of the links both to and from a site/page they are using. Who the author links to is an indicator of issues of bias and authority, as are the links coming into the page from outside sites. How search engines decide which site is placed first in a list of results can also be directly tied to links to that site; students need to know the reasons behind the results they see.

What I am left wondering is how many of the teachers who are frustrated with their students use of the internet really know how to use the internet any better than their students. At least consciously. As educators, we have done our fair share of research, and we have gotten good at discriminating between the good and bad sources. But how good, as a group, is our knowledge of meta-web information. Can we begin the process of rejecting or reading further just based on the web address of the source at the top of the Google results?

So many of the issues November raises are circling back to the same underlying problem, there just aren't enough opportunities for teacher training. How fitting that a recurring theme of the M.Ed. classes is leadership. So there aren't enough training chances. Get the degree. Get the knowledge. Get teaching teachers.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Empowering Students with Technology: Introduction

Alan November's book is the assigned reading for my current Master's class, "Teaching and Learning with Multimedia". The introduction discusses Shoshana Zuboff's distinction between automating and informating as these terms apply to education (Zuboff was writing about business).

When an organization automates, the work remains the same, the locus of control remains the same, the time and place remains the same, and the relationships remain the same. The same processes solve the same problems.

So much of what we do with technology in education is automation. Whether with pencil or word processor, encyclopedia or internet, if the intent is for the student to write a paper and turn it in, the technology used is irrelevant. Nothing has fundamentally changed, and ultimately, the technology does little, if anything, to improve student learning--work gets done faster but quality does not improve.

What makes informating more powerful is a shift of control and empowerment. The organization fundamentally changes the flow and control of information. . . The same technology can be required for both informating and automating. What makes the difference is the flow and control of information and the change in the relationships. Automating reinforces the current relationship of control. Informating leads to empowerment.

How many teachers are fundamentally unprepared for, unwilling to engage in, or down-right afraid of this kind of shift? No matter how much discussion of teachers as facilitators occurs, the reality is that many, too many, teachers are still lecturing, still driving the bus down a well-paved, single lane road.

One of the fundamental issues raised in class tonight is that automating is easy. Districts throw technology into schools and expect teachers to do amazing things. But where is the leadership and support? Much of the training into 1) how to use the technology and 2) how to integrate the technology in transformative ways into the curriculum is completely missing. Moreover, what training is available is often surface level and voluntary. Despite the flood of equipment, teachers are not required to learn how to use it well, in ways that will truly shape student learning and extend that learning beyond the classroom. Never mind that, at least in the district I work for, the technology standards are cross-curricular. Every teacher is supposed to be helping students meet these standards, but there is no mandate that the teachers be able to meet the same standards. As a result of NCLB, my district is starting to take hesitant steps, but this current movement does little beyond getting teachers to know basic computer skills. There is no on-going, district-wide discussion of how to make a computer more than just "a $2000 pencil".

I am excited by the transformative power of technology, frustrated by the realities of making it happen, and encouraged to continue working on technology committees, taking classes, and challenging my students to be more than...

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Teacher Collaboration

I work in a small alternative program that is a satellite of the three mainstream high schools in the district. Our staff is amazing and highly collaborative, which is wonderful for bouncing ideas around (my previous post about PostSecret being a prime example). Unfortunately, being small, there aren't many of us in any one department, so conversations can't always achieve the full depth and breadth a larger group can generate.

So, when Will Richardson shared a teacher's excitement in his district, I sensed the real potential of that larger conversation. Then, my Dad (a media specialist) sent me "Blog On" by Catherine Poling. Poling is an assistant principal using blogs as part of the district's staff development. She co-facilitates a monthly study group that uses the blog to continue the conversations between meetings.

This is exactly the kind of use I would like to see in my district, and the greater connectivity, naturally, doesn't need to stop at the edge of the district. I imagine rural school teachers (of which there are many in Montana) feel even more of the isolation. A teacher development community built around blogs would create a powerful conversation; perhaps one strong enough to ease the burnout of our colleagues who, traditionally, don't have the same outlets for the frustrations of the work.

The strings are interweaving, setting up beautiful harmonics.

Characters' and Their Secrets

I was catching up on some reading today and came across PostSecret while at Ms. Frizzle's. PostSecret apparently started as an art project where people could anonymously send in a postcard exposing some secret of theirs. The postcards on the blog are all incredibly powerful. The first visible one reads "Sometimes I want to run away from home. (I'm 38, married with a child.)"

The question for me became how to harness this power for a classroom application. I showed Karen, my fellow English-teaching partner in crime, the site. Ah, synergy. "What about," she considered, "making the secret safe? Students could create post cards for characters in the stories they are reading."

Yes. That is the connection I was looking for. Students inspired by visual and print art creating visual and print art while deepening their understanding of character and story.