Expanded


As I head into Day 2 of the OTF “Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century” session, I thought that I would take a look back at what happened about nine months ago at the first time that Ontario educators got together to learn together about the use of Web 2.0 technologies in the classroom.

I had made three blog posts at that time talking about the excitement going into and exiting the original event.

The same excitement permeats those in attendance as the various elements of classroom use are explored.  One of the differences this year involved the greater inclusion of the outside world into our learning.  Last year, we had a backchannel of sorts that used Chatzy as the electronic facilitator.  This year, and undoubtedly as a result of a year’s worth of sophistication of the tools, we took the conversation to Twitter, using the hashtag #otf2009.  The use of Twitter has become more mature during this time with better tracking and searching features and more people online interested in finding and following people and tags on the micro-blogging service.

Exciting things are happening.  We were treated to some success stories from Avon Maitland, Ottawa-Carleton, Grand Erie, and Hamilton-Wentworth.  We can see the power of using these sort of tools in the classroom in order to make great things happen.

A couple of things haven’t changed though and they come through formally through big group discussion and smaller group commiserating.  Internet content filtering still prohibits the access to some of these resources in some boards and the other concerns is the age old question of where do you find the time to learn about this.

If we are truly going to expand our boundaries and make changes to teaching practice for the 21 Century, both of these challenges have to be addressed.  They are serious issues, require a serious approach and a serious implementation to any proposed solution.  In the case of access, this is a challenge to master as not all classrooms are prepared to use all of the tools purposefully, at the same time.  As with so many things, there are folks who are ready to fly with the technology and there are others who have focussed their learnings in different directions.  A successful solution in this case may be accomplished by using local tools like the Ministry of Education’s Net Support School which allows for classroom or group access to various resources.

In terms of time, this is changing as well.  As the discussions continue about the value of online tools, professional educators and exploring and learning about the best way to incorporate these.  When I compare the discussions, it’s amazing how it has changed in nine months.  Even better though, the tools themselves have become a great deal better.  As with most things, they are evolving and are easier to use.  In the hands of students, they are becoming just another tool that empower rather than frustrate.

There is a sense of enhanced implementation and success when you talk to folks around the room.  We have expanded our horizons from the original concept.  Kudos go to OTF and ECOO for taking the initiative on this learning opportunity to push the province.  The challenge to all of us in attendance is to reach out and influence those that we can to come along and use modern tools in Ontario classrooms for the benefit of all students.

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links for 2009-10-30


Like old friends


When @bruceetes asked if I would assist at the Ontario Teachers’ Federation event this weekend, I agreed immediately.  The event is a follow up to last February’s “Expanding Our Boundaries” event.  The focus is on social networking for education and personal professional development.  It really wasn’t much of a decision.  I want to know as much about this as I can and there are some colleagues from my district here so we can learn together.

Even though I’ve been using many of the tools for myself and my personal efforts, I’m really trying to learn, understand, and come to grips with the implications for the classroom.  There’s a big difference between immersing yourself into these technologies and taking students along for the ride.  Those of us who work with the tools and have been connected since the good old days of working with modems and dedicated phone lines have a healthy sense of trust and paranoia.  In fact, probably too much.  I have to deal constantly with that little voice in the back of my head.  I think that we are comfortable writing it off as one of those “better safe than sorry” things.

Deep down, I think that most educators know that we have to come to grips with this but the question becomes at what level and for what purpose?   At dinner last night, the conversation turned to this topic and one of our group noted that one of her colleagues had gone through the Ontario elementary school curriculum and reported that computer use or social media was not mentioned anywhere.  Well, a quick look at the Grade 8 Language Arts curriculum proves that statement wrong as there are indeed references for how you can use the output of computer use to address expectations.  i.e. computer-generated graphic organizers.  What really is missing is a listing of computer skills.  It’s somehow comforting to notice that pen and pencil skills are missing as well.

But, that’s OK.  It got us into a really good discussion about things.  What I found interesting was that I’d only physically talked to these people face to face maybe a couple of times.  Yet, online, I’m talking regularly.  In addition to @bruceetes, there was @kentmanning, @baded, @brendasherry, and @techguy1717 who I Twitter-met last night but have know him for a couple of years.

While we were meeting, just outside, @zbpipe and @aforgrave were trading war stories.  I took the opportunity to post a picture showing the @kentmanning hadn’t eaten all his vegetables and got a twitter message from @msjweir wanting to know where everyone was.  After our meeting, the group spilled out to form a bigger group and the conversation continued.

It was quite amazing, upon further reflection, to think of the moment.  I don’t work with any of these people.  While I talk and trade barbs online regularly  with @kentmanning, @zbpipe and @aforgrave, I’ve only been in the same physical space a couple of times.  One being last year’s event and the other at the Canadian Embassy in Washington.  Yet, we know way more about personal philosophies and educational leanings that would have been possible otherwise.

What really put it all into perspective was reading @pbeens‘ blog last night.  He was reflecting on his first year of teaching and the limited sharing of resources that he experienced.  That was actually quite a sad post that I indentified with at the beginning of my career.  As the only Computer Science teacher in a school, you sure don’t have a lot of people to collaborate with about anything related to your subject area.  It was @pbeens brainstorm during the Ministry of Education’s rollout of the new Computer Studies guidelines that we use the Delicious hashtag icsxx as we found web-based resources that could be used to address these new expectations.  It was sheer genious.  In this day and age, nobody should have to start from scratch.

With these technologies, the concept of being in the same place at the same time for productive work is just, well quaint.  I’m sure that my English teacher friend will correct me later this morning if I’ve used that term incorrectly.  With all of these technologies, properly enabled, we have huge power – certainly more than we would have had individually scraping along.  If and when you get a chance to meet face to face as we did last night, it’s just like old friends getting together.  The conversation just continues naturally from our online encounters.

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links for 2009-10-29


You are what you learn


I’ve been doing some thinking about this lately.  I’m in education and so I’m constantly learning. Probably even worse, I’m in educational technology and grass doesn’t grow under anyone’s feet in this area.  So, I find that I am constantly reading, researching, and learning.  As I create this blog entry, I’m actually having a little back and forth with @thecleversheep.  He’s looking at a resource that I found yesterday and bookmarked.  In fact, he just sent over this tweet…

rodd1

That was kind of cool.

rodd2

In his next breath, he posts about a resource that he had found which, of course, I felt compelled to learn about immediately.  I fired back…

rodd3

But, you know what?  The damage had already been done.  Based on my message, or Rodd’s, or a Delicious post, or a WordPress post, the learning had grown far beyond the two of us.

rodd4

This is but a sampling of the retweeting of the original message.  These are also only the ones that I’m seeing.  There will be other people who continue the learning by themselves and have branched off into different areas.

I think of the alternatives.  You know them; you probably were one yourself or maybe still are.  Find a great website and print it out and file it in a binder.  Or, get a good article from a book and head to the photocopier for your own personalized copy of it.  Gasp.

When I think about this, I think about a not-so-nice human attribute.  That’s one of selfishness.  For the person that’s making the photocopy, putting it in a binder, and then on a shelf, they’re taking a very selfish approach to their learning.  For that one moment in time, they may have a nugget of wisdom or a resource that will be helpful to them.  However, I’m looking at @thecleversheep’s approach.  He’s found the resource, learned from it, and then sent it out to his friends so that they could learn as well.  Consequently @teachernz and others now know about it.   They’re learning and sharing about the resource and the learning is really taking off.  Through their acts of unselfishness, others learn as well.  Now, those who are learning may well send the resource to a printer (highly unlikely since this particular resource is a YouTube video) but they’re part of the cycle and pushing the learning forward.  It might end up on a blog, in a Delicious account, in a Diigo account, or just tweeted about.

It really doesn’t matter.  The fact is that the learning and the sharing is happening.  Think back to the learner who selfishly printed the page and it’s now in a binder.  Where is that learning going?  Maybe it will be photocopied and shared or maybe it will just sit in the binder until shelf space is needed and then get dumped into a recycling bin.  Or, even more selfishly into a garbage pail.

Or, it might be used in PD session at some point.  Imagine, if you will, the two scenarios.  From the paper perspective, the first of the session could be the distribution of paper and the allotment of time to read about the article and then do a little reflection.  However, if those who are there have already read the article because it was tweeted or socially bookmarked, or blogged about, the focus of the session could be an immediate conversation about the implications of the resource.

Therein lies so much of the power behind these tools for academic reasons.  If you are what you learn, are you a paper dispenser?  Or, are you a conversation facilitator?  Where does the powerful learning lie?

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links for 2009-10-28


A Couple of Idiots


Fellow bloggers Paul C and Mark Carbone recently blogged about the new hands-free law in Ontario on Quoteflections and Mark’s Musings.  Now, just for the record, these two guys aren’t the couple of idiots that I’m referring to!  Their blogposts are well crafted and insightful.  In fact, I read Paul’s just this morning before I came into work.  It was Paul who taught me the word serendipity and now I see it everywhere.

Both of their blogs talk about the need to give your undivided attention to driving when you’re driving.  They’re right.

But, I had two relatively close calls this morning within moments of each.  These are the idiots that made the title for me.

I’m normally at work by 6:15 just to have some quiet time to myself and also to avoid a lot of the rush hour traffic.  It’s just a habit that I’ve got into and make it part of my life now.

On the way in, I pulled up to an intersection where I was about to make a right turn.  The light had long since turned amber and I was preparing to apply the brakes.  I checked the rear view mirror and there was a big truck behind me who had no intention of stopping.  In fact, he appeared to have no intention of even slowing down.  So, I completed a right turn on a very stale amber and looked to my left to see him go flying through the intersection on the now red light.  I could see the guy in the well lit intersection and guess what – cell phone pressed to his right ear.

Wow.

So, I’m now on the next street and go through one green light and the light is red at the next intersection.  There’s a car oncoming to me sitting at the red light.  And, guess what?  He’s on the phone too!  He’s very animated as his non-cell phone wielding hand is enjoying the conversation as well.  The cross street light had turned amber and he was off.  He made a left hand turn right in front of me.  His waving hand was now attached to the steering wheel but in this well lit intersection, I could see that he hadn’t missed a beat in his phone conversation.

Now, did both of these events happen because they were engaged in a cell phone conversation?  I don’t know, but had they not been on the phone, there was at least a chance that they might have been more aware of their surroundings.  (and the rules of the road!)

The Distracted Driving Law is now in place.  The nay-sayers are already talking about this as being another government tax grab.  Are they on their cell phones doing this nay saying?

Let’s hope that the enforcement of this law gets a grip on these things and make driving safer for everyone.

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links for 2009-10-27


Perfection


I spent a very productive day yesterday with the District eLearning Contacts at the DeLC forum in Mississauga.  We spent the entire day working, reflecting, and planning for the delivering of online courses, blended courses, credit recovery, and just access resources from the Ontario Educational Resource Bank.


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We were in the board office of one of Ontario’s biggest school districts where everything was first rate.  There were about 80 of us all with our laptops ready to learn and you could see all kinds of wireless networks for your use including the public network to which we would attach.  There was also a technician devoted to our happiness.

Even with all this, there were challenges.  People couldn’t get on the wireless network.  Laptop batteries ran low and people were scrambling for outlets.  In one session, there was an incredibly annoying feedback problem with the speakers, a couple of websites were unavailable, there was a content filter that blocked us from some sites, search engines randomly switched from English to French, and the list goes on and on.

I’m sure that, as the presenters practiced and prepared, it went flawlessly at home.  It always does.

What was great to see was the willingness to help with the challenges that people were having.  Nothing was insurmountable and after a second or third try, it either worked or the concept was given up on and we just moved on.  The day was really about ideas, planning, and networking and that aspect was handled very nicely.

On the drive home, I started to think about what a student would do in this environment.  Today’s connected students is used to a certain setup at home where she/he has total control over what they’re doing.  They may go to a friend’s house where they may get connected or do network things – but it might be in a different way.  Then, they go to school where setup is undoubtedly completely different.  They’ll have access to a subset of resources that they might have access to at home.

I’ve often said many times that all students should have to take at least one unit or one course online.  It’s a great learning experience and exposes them to a different situation entirely.  After yesterday, I’m going to amend my comment to think that all teachers should have to teach at least one unit or one course online.

I’m thinking also of the norms and the rules that we try to put into place with respect to the use of technology.  We have standards for documents, file formats, required plug-ins, etc., that go into the whole online experience.  What happens when things go wrong?  Chances are, marks are deducted or students asked to resave in a different format.  They don’t always have the option of skipping over topics or going to a Plan B or many of the things that I saw happening yesterday.

When the day was done, we left so much richer for the experience and most of what was planned came off well.  The goal was learning and collaboration and meeting up with folks and we did that.  I’ll give the organizers top marks for that.  Sometimes the technology and circumstances just don’t cooperate like they should.

As we move towards students being connected, we need to consider the environments to which they connect.  Is the goal the actual learning or is it to customize the product to the environment that the teacher works in?

I’m going to be doing some thinking about this over the next while.  In addition to the explicit agenda of yesterday, there were lots of other things that have my wheels spinning this morning.  In terms of assessment, what defines “perfection” in this world?  – the product produced, or the ability to work in the environment that’s laid on you?

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links for 2009-10-26