Discussion


Yesterday, a colleague of mine on the OSAPAC Committee indicated that a press release from OPSBA (Ontario Public School Board Association) was something that would be worth following.  I read the news release and found it very interesting and Twittered the link.  Within moments, I received a number of mentions back and a whack of re-tweets as word of this release was spread.

By the end of the day, references to the news release and the document itself was spreading like wildfire on Twitter.  The power of Twitter to connect people from all areas so quickly and readily demonstrated.

So, what’s in the document?

It’s a discussion document entitled “What If?” and invites stakeholders to discuss technology in the 21 Classroom.  As noted in the document:

THE PREMISE UNDERLYING THIS DISCUSSION PAPER is that the public education system is in danger of being left behind by the students it serves.

All that it takes is a quick look around any environment where you see young people and you realize the significance of this statement.  Kids are connected with the internet and their devices at a level that we’ve never seen before.  For years, education has seen the power of groupwork and collaboration,  but always on the terms of the classroom teacher.  With contemporary tools, students are demanding these tools, these collaborations, and they want it now and they want it 24/7.  This is huge in a traditional environment that runs from 9-3.

Have educators been hiding from this?  Some yes, some no.  How are school boards handling it?  Inconsistently.  With content blockers and filters, some elements of collaboration are headed off before they even get started.  But, you can’t block a cell phone!  You can write rules; you can try to enforce policies – but are you missing the point?

The point is about collaboration and the power that it gives those that know what to do with it.  The power certainly includes working online but it also requires elements of computer skills.  In Greater Essex County, we have a document that tries to identify the computer skills on a continuum in elementary schools.  While the use of computers, technology, and communication are obvious when looking at curriculum documents, the one element that is missing is a plan for how students learn and develop computer skills.  We created this document locally to help us define them.  It is revisited annually, but is that often enough?

So, what happens and what do you do when you move away from the local area network and try using the tools of the web.  How does blogging, wiki-ing, podcasting, and the lot figure into the mix?  To help frame the discussion, the Western Regional Computer Advisory Committee has invited some of the leaders in the field to address this at our annual Symposium.  Will Richardson, David Warlick, Amber MacArthur, Jeremy Gutsche are just a few of the presenters who have presented the possibilities to leaders in Western Ontario and, regularly, our friends from Central Ontario are invited to join us in this learning.  An extremely powerful tipping point for many occurred in 2008 when Will Richardson led a hands-on full-day event for technology leaders on the tools.  Since that time, Will has been invited back to Ontario on many occasions to share his message.  Recently, he joked that he may need to take up residency here.

So, the time is definitely right for this discussion.  We are getting it – I think – but at our own pace and with our own priorities.  Yesterday, at a CIESC (Computers in Education School Contact) meeting, one of the members indicated that every students from Grade 4-8 has his/her own wiki page for a collaboration space.  In my March newsletter, I identified a “Whack of Wikis” for readers.  I’m proud of the way that so many of our teachers realize the power of this one particular tool and are running with it.  What else is out there?  All year, we’ve been exploring “Web 2.0″ applications during our meetings.  The latest agenda appears here.

I really like the fact that we’re opening the discussion.  Provincially, we need to fully understand today’s learner.  We need to recognize that “today’s learner” includes the roles formerly known as “student”, “teacher”, “parent”, “guardian”, “administrator”, “superintendent”, “School Board”, “Trustee”, “Ministry”, …  None of this is going to go away and an attempt to get a provincial understanding of all sides of the issue should allow us to address the Ministry goal of reaching every student.

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links for 2009-04-29


Here we go again


In the recent past, Firefox has published another new Beta.  This time it’s version 3.5b4.  Slicker and seemingly faster, it is a perfect addition to anyone’s computer.

One of the intriguing features is the “Location Aware Browsing”.  I’m still trying to get a handle on what it means, it’s potential for better use of Firefox, and it’s impact on a user’s privacy.  My first instinct is that it will have the potential to provide more locally relevant results.  I think the concept is ingenious.

The other useful thing about an upgrade of this type is the maintenance of add-ons.  I’m an add-on junky and really like all of the extra functionality that they can provide to the browser experience.  But, the add-on needs to be compatible with the current release.  So, upon first run of the new browser, Firefox checks for compatibility with the new build.

If there are incompatibilities, then the add-on is disabled if it’s incompatibile and there is no upgrade currently available.


Image via CrunchBase

I use this as an opportunity to scan up and down the list that I’ve added to the browser.  It’s a nice opportunity to refresh my memory of the additional functionality that I’ve provided myself.  I find it’s also an opportunity to ask myself “Do I really need this?”

If the answer is no, then away it goes.

If the answer is yes, then I’ll start looking for an upgrade or, even better, alternatives to the original.  Often, what I’ll find is something even better than the originally installed add-on.

Case in point is an add-on called “Shareaholic“.

On one upgrade, my one tap Delicious bookmarks buttons became incompatible.  Now, this was a major strike against my browsing habits.  As I find resources, I use the awesome delicious service to bookmark it.  Delicious has become my “turn to first” search engine.  When I need a concept, rather than search the wild and woolly internet, I’ll look through Delicious first as I’ve already personally previewed a web site and determined that it’s worthy of hanging on to.

So, without the tools, I was ready to jump – or at least roll back to a previous service.  However, Shareaholic provides more than just access to Delicious and it was a keeper.  Even when the Delicious buttons were upgraded, I hang on to both of them as they both provide powerful functionality for whatever it is that I do.

I do like to think that I contribute back to folks that learn on the web with me by sharing some of the best resources that I’ve found.  Shareaholic allows me to do that at even higher levels.

Nothing is ever stationary in the web browsing world.  So, here we go again.  With 3.5b4, many of my add-ons are now disabled.  I’ll do some soul searching again about whether to keep them, let developers have some time to upgrade and then move on.

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links for 2009-04-28


Disconnected


His and Hers BlackBerries (BlackBerrys)
Image by SheepGuardingLlama via Flickr

It’s been a rough few days for me.  My Blackberry died.  It was a quick death and I’m grieving big-time!

Not that my life revolves around being connected and doing things, it’s a very hand tool to check in on email when time permits.  That might be the few minutes before waiting for a meeting, while waiting for my wife during a shopping excusion or even waiting for a haircut.

Now, that may sound a little obsessive, but it really isn’t.

The value comes and is really apparent when the service goes away.  There’s nobody there to magically take care of things when you’re not at the keyboard.  By staying on top of things during the waiting moments, it keeps the list of things to do when you get to a keyboard smaller.

Without this, things just accumulate.

I’ve been struggling to get caught up.  I didn’t realize how well I used the device to manage things until I had to go without it.  I’m waiting on pins and needs to get back connected with a new device.  I need to get control over my email life again.

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links for 2009-04-27


Tracking Swine


or rather, Swine Flu.

Over the weekend, an increase in report of locations that recorded incidences of people afflicted with Swine Flu kept pouring in.

In an attempt to visualize this information, a mashup of report of cases on Twitter and Google Earth has been created at this link.

It’s scary to hear the reports of locations as they come through.  It’s also scary to see the locations which originally reported in from Mexico City.

However, real time marking of this information is indeed possible with these tools.

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links for 2009-04-26


Baggage – But in a Good Way


At times, being a teacher can be embarrassing to my family.  One of the things that we do is judge and so things like finding public spelling mistakes can immediately grab my attention.  I realized last night that I have this other interest that carries its own baggage.  Computer related, of course.

My wife and I went to Caesars Windsor last night to see the Leann Rimes concert.  Of course, in a casino setting, you’re going to go there a little early to enjoy a little gaming in advance.  My wife enjoys playing the slot machines and I enjoy people watching.  It’s a great place for that combination.

Now, throughout the day, my friends from Muskegon had been Twittering weather reports.  Particularly with this past winter, we’ve determined that Southwest Ontario weather is pretty much predictable by what happens there.  It takes anywhere from 3-4 hours for weather systems to traverse Michigan and affect us.  All day, they had been reporting severe weather.

As we entered, there was a great deal of warmth and humidity but that’s about that.  Now, inside the casino there are all kinds of noises and certainly no windows.  You’re in this multi-sensory chamber for the duration.  My wife’s playing a slot machine and I’m guarding her back so that we can safely take home our millions.  (Hah!)  Over the din of the floor, I hear a rumble.  That’s particularly odd.  I hear a rumble again and then the lights go out.

Teacher mode kicks in.  I hope that everyone’s OK and that the emergency lighting comes on.  My mind immediately starts thinking about the emergency handbook that’s in my desk at work.  Lest I think too deeply, the lights come back on.  People start cheering.  Then, the realization that the slot machines had also lost power kicks in as they all start to power up.  Now, I think, that this could get interesting if everyone has lost their money.  I’ve never been in a riot before!

Slot machines in the Trump Taj Mahal
Image via Wikipedia

My mind starts to spin back a few years and to a discussion that I’d had with a local computer vendor who had won the contract for computing cabling the original casino.  “Each of the machines is a node on a token ring network.”  I distinctly recalled the conversation.  It makes sense.  If you’ve ever watched the television show “Las Vegas”, the management monitors everything.

When the power comes back on, there is a little wait and then the machines click right back to where they were before the power went off.  I was very impressed.  Then, a couple of minutes later another crack of thunder and the power goes off again.  Another big groan goes through the hall.  This time, the power was off for a little longer.  When it returns my secondary baggage of computer programmer kicks in.

I notice on the LED on my wife’s machine that it’s providing feedback on a memory check.  I look off to the right to a game that is obviously pure computer.  Players get their results on a video display.  I head over and watch and there’s a complete boot process happening right before my eyes.

You could see the machine bootstrapping right in front of me.  I realize that I’m witnessing something very unique.  In a casino that runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, you never get to see this sort of thing.  You just walk in and see the machines in action.  I wish I had my movie camera there to record the moment.  While the patrons were groaning and complaining, this computer geek was fascinated by the whole process.  I may never get the opportunity to witness this again.

The driving force behinds a slot machine is random number generation.  There are all kinds of opportunities to talk about random numbers in mathematics and algorithm development for that is an interesting Computer Science activity.  Algorithms like this are typically seeded to get started.  I’m wondering if all these machines are going to be reseeded after the power outage.  Maybe this is indeed the night for the millions to come through.  Afraid not!

To top it off, with the electricity problems over, the concert went as planned.  I can’t speak highly enough of the talents of Ms. Rimes.  What an incredible range and powerful entertainer she is.  Between her enormous abilities and the computer connection, it was a night to be remembered for sure.

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