Expanding Boundaries

Day 1 of our professional development event sponsored by OTF and ECOO is in the books.  Technically, there was a glitch or two as technology doesn’t always play nice at things like this but overall, participants left with their boundaries definitely expanded.

Unless napping, the folks in the room (100-200?) all have Twitter and Delicious accounts and a brand new blog to their name.  Will Richardson is the facilitator of this event designed to raise awareness of what the key issues are as we move educational environments forward to a destination unknown.  Even three years ago, we didn’t have this sense of empowerment that these tools provide.  The day was filled with a number of direct activities that guided the audience to success, and yet, had enough flexibility to differentiate based upon need.  Even though there was room for some showcases by teachers, Will’s overall message was that teachers had to come to grips and learn the tools themselves before taking the next step.  Wise advice.

Mid-morning, we had a presentation by Bob Fisher from OSSTF about advice for using these technologies with students.  I was really interesting in hearing this message because this has to be one of the bigger myths of our time.  We’re hearing that the advice from our Federations is that you should never use these technologies or email in the classroom, period.   Mr. Fisher’s message was considerably different.  He reminded us that one of our duties as teachers is to protect students and manage any risks appropriately.  In a day and age when we’re providing instruction of entire courses online through eLearning Ontario, you know that there has to be some sort of middle ground.  Of course, just like avoiding accidents by never driving your car, there are absolute ways but the Federations are mindful that things are changing.  As the talk proceeded, the words “Common Sense” kept rolling through my mind.  At this point, there is no formal policy document or direction for the province but the need for one was certainly made abundantly clear.  It really is needed.

Throughout the day, Will spoke with the passion for students that sends the message to all that we need can ignore this.  If we’re not teaching students about these technologies, who is?  Students are collaborative by nature, let’s give them good reasons for doing it.  I captured this video with my RCA Small Wonder when Will was talking about online writing.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Edublogs.tv Will Richardson at EXPB…”, posted with vodpod

It was a long day.  We did manage to share and find a whack of new friends on Twitter; we created networks of resource sharers on Delicious; we learned how to turn RSS into a productivity management system; and we hopefully will start to work the web smarter than before.

Then, comes the million dollar question – “Where do you find the time to do all this?”.  The answer is based in reality.   You need to stop doing some things to embrace the new things.  For example, don’t rely on Google to find things.  Use your network whether it be a plea on Twitter or through your Delicious network where you have folks working and researching for you.  Don’t rely on your one newspaper subscription to get all your news – aggregate it through your Reader.

As a group, we’re expanding our boundaries and thoughts.  On to Day Two…what a great way to spend a Saturday.

A reminder that a live backchannel is available at:  http://www.chatzy.com/837020922393

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Give a Day, Get a Day

How’s that for a title?  It could well describe what’s going to happen this Friday and Saturday.  OTF and ECOO have jointly sponsored a two-day workshop called “Expanding our Boundaries“.  The workshop is a full two days of activities designed to help Ontario educators embrace some of the new collaborative web technologies.

The session is facilitated by Will Richardson.  If you’re reading this blog, undoubtedly you know of Mr. Richardson’s stature within the online community.  Author of the book “Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms“, Will is a speaker of incredible knowledge and passion for using collaborative technologies in order to develop your own personal learning network and affording opportunities for students to do the same in the classroom.  It really strikes home when exhibit A is Will’s two children and his desire that we become the teacher that he would send his kids to.

The event is more than that though.  Success stories from online Ontario educators will be shared throughout the two day event and a portion of this morning is devoted to the union advice about keeping yourself and your students protected.  It appears to be a well thought through and complete agenda.

Will’s Ontario adventures started a couple of years ago as he keynoted the Western Regional Computer Advisory’s Symposium 2007.  We asked him to stick around for a second day and conduct a hands-on blogging and Read/Write Web session.  Both events had huge impact on a number of people helping them see the benefits of this technology and to this day you’ll find blogs that starts as a result of the workshop and continue to this day.

I kid Will that I should get finder’s fees.  Since he set the world on fire at our Symposium, he has been invited to do similar presentations in many locations throughout the province, including our Vision to Practice conference last summer.  He doesn’t beat you up with his message, but there’s no denying that he’s spot on when he encourages you to find your passion and build your professional network around that passion.  I know that advice has built me a terrific network in the online areas that I frequent and there doesn’t go a day where I don’t learn something new.  Can there be no better compliment for an educator?

One of the keys to success in an event like this is a lasting connection to someone of a similar mindset.  Beyond the inspiration and insights that Will provides, that’s what I hope I get as a take away from this event.

If you can’t join us, ECOO has set up a backchannel on Commun-it for the comments to flow.

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Inspiration from Kids

In preparation for my presentation tonight at the Ontario Educator’s Meetup, I decided to confirm that what I’ve been thinking actually works.  So, I set off to see what was happening at Gore Hill.  There were a lot of other things that all fell into place to require me to head to Leamington anyway.  One was to work with a kindergarten class, but that’s another story.

If you are not familiar with the area, Leamington, Ontario is definitely a place that you want to visit if you head to South Western Ontario.  One of the huge local employers is Heinz of ketchup, mustard, and pickles fame.  There is agriculture everywhere and lots of greenhouses.  This is also Point Pelee National Park which is spectacular.

Folks that live in the Leamington area are some of the nicest, honest, and most hard working that you’ll find.  The same thing can be said of the students there.  The teacher, Mrs. Snow, talks with great pride of the data wall documenting growth in this particular class all year.  It’s because of great teaching and learning and I’d like to think that the use of technology works as a motivator as well.  The class also has the added advantage of four students who are doing their practice teaching from the Faculty of Education at Gore Hill.

Leamington loves the fact that their students are online.  Like most towns, there are a number of fast food outlets and they let you know how proud as you head to Gore Hill from Windsor.

In a previous CIESC meeting, Mrs. Snow had been bragging about the projects this class was involved with and I happened to eavesdrop and it was the inspiration for a page in my February newsletter.  This wasn’t lost on the community either.  As you continue the drive…

I was introduced to the group and we chatted briefly about various things.  I noted that technical writing is among the hardest of writing there is.  It has to be precise, accurate, and complete.  We talked about the need for good writers.  Inspired by Erin’s success, quite a number of hands went up when Mrs. Snow asked if others had created instructions to do a particular task.  I’m going to try and get my hands on some of them for my March newsletter.  What a great group of budding authors.  I certainly hope that they keep at it.

While I was there, the lesson was about editing audio with Audacity.  Unlike so many podcasts where random thoughts are read, this was the ultimate publishing event for the writing process.  Each student had read at least one of the novels for the Forest of Reading and were creating trailers to publish to the class wiki.  As with writing, we need to strive for perfection in this arena as well.  While I was watching, they were working as a group around a projected image trying to seamlessly edit a cough from the middle of a production.  These potential disk jockeys wanted nothing but the best for their efforts.  After all, there is a massive audience just waiting.

I’m still wondering how they got those call letters.  Perhaps CGOR-FM was already taken?  We talked about how easy it was to create an edit these audio reviews.  Wouldn’t it be terrific if they spent five minutes after every book read to record their thoughts and even share with the author?

Then it was hands-on time.  Students worked in pairs with their laptops doing some research and recording.  In the library, they quickly dispersed to carve out their own creative learning space.  From what I observed, there were two rules important rules.  The computer screen always had to be visible and the laptop wasn’t allowed to be on a lap.  So, they were working on tables, on the floor, and sitting on the floor with the laptop on a chair.  But, the important thing was the level of engagement and the focus on the task.  Wow.

You can also note the level of sophistication of students by the amount of assistance that they require getting started.  In this case, none needed.  They went right to work and most were going to work through recess on various projects.

Only saddening comment came in an email from the teacher later that night.

Asked one of them (Ryan) if you were what he expected.
His comment was, “NO! I thought he’d have to be young because he knows so much about computers.”

Hey, bud, even us over-30’s can push our walker up to a keyboard and use a mouse…

Yes, I was right.  What I saw confirmed that there are web applications that put things over the top.  I’ll look forward to sharing some of them tonight.

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Sharing Vulnerability

It was with great interest that I read Jeff Pulver’s entry in his blog this morning.  It’s been making me spin on things since then.  I’m still not sure that I have it right in my mind but thought that I should at least jot down my current thoughts on this.

Whether it be online or face to face, you meet all kinds of folks with all kinds of personalities.  Such is the joy of the variety of people and it’s something that you can definitely celebrate.  Some people rub me the right way and some people rub me the wrong way.  Definitely face to face, you get more social clues about a person than you do online.

I find that my reaction is the same to both online and face to face acquaintances.

It is the person who knows everything, has no room for flexibility, when things fail blame someone else, talking in the abstract, never produces anything except opinion, … that rub me the wrong way.  Perhaps it’s because I know so little that I resent these overbearing personalities.  Ultimately, they will hit the wall or just run into someone more overbearing than they.

In Jeff’s post, he talks about sharing your vulnerabilities online and exposing what is probably the most human side of you online.  Now, I’m sure that we don’t want to get into the act of exposing everything but, if you truly believe that you’re a life-long learner, then consider it.  Think of your first day in a class in high school.  Chances are, you were a clean slate, about to embark on some serious learning.  Why can’t the same thing apply today, in whatever context you choose?

I believe that it’s the notion of shared learning that makes for the best of friends and relationships.  Knowing that you’re all in the same life raft rowing together towards knowledge creates the best possible learning group.  Perhaps leveraging each other’s vulnerabilities will yield the greatest return in terms of learning and satisfaction.

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In Your Backyard

If you missed all the excitement of using Google Earth the first time, you need to jump on it this time around.

The programmers at Google seem to be working overtime these days adding increased functionality to many of the Google offerings and certainly Google Earth is one of them.

With the release of Google Earth 5, you have the ability now to browse, not only the sky, but now Mars, and under the sea.  Your horizons just got expanded.  You need to download or upgrade Google Earth as soon as possible.  In addition to the application itself, there is a new plug-in that will let you run Google Earth content embedded in a web page.  Apparently, WordPress doesn’t like it so here’s just a picture.


Sometimes, though, we get so excited about the new features that we forget that there’s some great things in our own backyard.  When I do workshops, I point out some of the oddities that you’ll see in Google Earth from good ol’ Essex County.

Here are a few placemarks of some things that we talk about and discuss.  The ability to wander around your neighbourhood virtually with Google Earth is an exciting concept.

So, absolutely explore Mars.  It’s fascinating.  Checkout the locations of the Mars Landers.  But then, head home and look in your own backyard.

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