Sep 272013
 

iStock_000009965178XSmallWell it was ProD day for me today. No I didn’t sleep in, play golf or catch a movie… Like all teachers I know, I came to work, sat down with colleagues and learned a thing or two. The shape of the day was nothing extraordinary. To start off we had an all in staff session where we addressed some standard operational issues and then we were released to pursue a our own professional interests.

For the second portion of the day, I was asked to head up a session on blogging for the classroom. Originally it was going to be a simple little 1 0n 1 tutorial but it bloomed into a full on multi person information session. Even though the numbers had unexpectedly increased, I didn’t want to pull the sage on the stage thing where I stood and delivered my wisdom upon people who are far more gifted pedagogues than I. Instead what we did was sit around a large table and I opened with “Why am I here?” and it went from there.

What resulted was something that went in a completely different direction than it would have if I had done the one on one session or taken the sage on the stage approach. It was a perfect example of Edcamp ProD where we all had the opportunity to share what we know on a common topic and ultimately come up with a solution that meets everyone’s individual needs.

What is even more significant, is that the solution most people ended up turning to, wasn’t even something I had planned to share with them. Imagine… Me! The “expert” being subverted by a bunch of luddites! Actually to be fair, there were some pretty tech savvy people in the room but the key here was that I wasn’t standing and delivering. Instead everyone had the opportunity to share what their needs were, explain what they wanted to achieve and contributed what they already knew. My role was simply to act as someone to bounce ideas off of. My opinion was of value but not the end all or be all of the discussion.

What today illustrated to me was that when it comes to Ed Tech, the know-it-all approach alienates and isolates teachers. Even the most traditional teachers in today’s session recognized the learning opportunities blogging offers them and their students. What they wanted was someone to listen to their needs and then together, come up with a solution.

What I also realized is that what I have to offer my colleagues in the world of Ed Tech is only as useful as its adaptability to their individual needs. Broad stroke Ed Tech solutions cannot work in a system that still involves teachers. The notion of a single device or platform that will serve everyone’s Ed Tech needs is grievously flawed and if we ever come to this place in education, we are in serious trouble.

Have a good weekend!

Sep 202013
 

I sold out. I am finally doing a master’s degree. I know, I said I would never do one but here I am, reading and writing and being all academic like. For a guy who barely graduated from high school, I suppose it is something to write home about, so when I call my mom this evening I will tell her the news. The risk is that she keels over in shock that I was accepted into university again, and at 84 that isn’t a good thing.

So why did I do it you ask? What changed your mind? Well I had always refused to do a Master’s degree for the sole purpose of a bump in pay. I needed a higher purpose, a reason that transcended the tawdriness of money and over the past couple of years this blog has provided me with my masters muse.

My goal is to reinforce my reputation of being the voice of reason in the wacky world of Ed Tech, which can sometimes look like a flock of magpies chasing shiny objects. I want to be the wise old crow who rules the Ed Tech aviary.

To kick things off, I offer you my first assignment. Certainly not perfect, there are 3 spelling errors, a verbal error and some of the timing is wee bit off but I refuse to render this thing again. It will however, give you an idea of where I am headed.

Jun 062013
 

iStock_000016696029XSmallAs hard as it is to believe… The school year is rapidly coming to a close and this means it’s time to reflect on the year that was and give you my #EdTech year in review. As usual, I will be assuming my role as the Eeyore of EdTech and focusing on the gloomier side of things but it is all well intended. As my loyal readers know, I am not a “Rah Rah, Sis Boom Bah!!” kinda guy, so without further adue, I give you my #EdTech year in review.

Adios to the iPad cohort

Gasp! I know, as implausible as it may seem, our iPads in the classroom experiment came to an unceremonious end this year. Knowing the iPads in the classroom community as I do, I already know what they are all thinking but NO!… we did not “do it wrong”. We just came to the conclusion that a one device model was not workable in our situation.

IMHO… The reason the cohort failed to thrive is that we have a dynamic school with kids of all stripes and configurations and as such, we quickly learned that a single device in the hands of a specified group of students, is a very difficult thing to engineer.

As much as the school system likes to categorize, rank and pigeonhole kids into groups, things just don’t work that way in a comprehensive high school like ours. Right out of the gate, we discovered that the diverse scheduling needs of our students, simply didn’t lend itself to a one group, one device model.

The first year we managed to keep the cohort together because we targeted kids who’s scheduling would be (mostly) the same but this year we opened things up and we immediately found that we could not keep the cohort together but that is ok. Like I said, we are a comprehensive school, we don’t want to schedule kids into a single track and as such the cohort model just didn’t work like we had hoped.

The other thing that happened along the way, is that our school quietly and unceremoniously hit the ever so elusive #EdTech tipping point (I think) and adopted a BYOD policy right under our noses. There is no longer a need to try and engineer a classroom where every kid has a device in hand, it just happened au natruel.

Regardless of how things shook down, we learned a lot from this little experiment. All the teachers involved came away with a greater knowledge and understanding of how best to utilize digital tools in the classroom and will continue to apply and expand their skills for the rest of their careers. Perhaps more importantly however, is that the group of teachers who were a part of the iPads in the classroom experiment are now sharing what they learned with colleagues both near and far. The iPads in the classroom pilot WAS a success, just not in the way we were expecting.

Bandwidth issues

As I had mentioned in the previous section, It would seem that we may have hit the #EdTech tipping point and what better measure to determine this than bandwidth use.

This year was a definite struggle with getting connected with the outside world, from within our schools. It was like we hit a wall this year and when I say “We” I mean the Royal “We”. Schools everywhere were discovering that a building full of people using the internet all at the same time, can pose a wee bit of a problem.

It has become painfully obvious that infrastructure upgrades are becoming an immediate need for schools that are going digital. The problem now, is figuring out how to pay for it. With shrinking education budgets, it becomes very difficult to justify spending money on improving connectivity when you are looking at cutting back on teaching staff and educational programs.

My prediction is that, we (public education) will be looking at corporate sponsored funding for these types of upgrades very soon. It is a Pandora’s box waiting to be opened but it is coming… mark my words.

Note: The bandwidth issues we were experiencing in my school this past year were recently addressed and access is much improved. 

Plight of the naysayer

Ok perhaps “naysayer” is a bit misleading, so lets use contentious practitioner, or constructive criticizer or at worst contentious objector…

This year was an interesting one as the #EdTech movement, gained some significant momentum and began pushing hard for greater use of technology in classrooms. Along with this has been a growing expectation that teachers embrace the digitization of their professional development and to some extent their professional identity. The Personal Learning Network or PLN, was the topic du jour at many a staff meeting, blog post and twitter chat.

Now if you recall, I am a bit of advocate for the integration of digital tools in the classroom and I am a REALLY BIG fan of the digital PLN but things are starting to get a little ugly out there.

You see it at staff meetings, on twitter, in blogs and in main stream media. Those who are not on the #EdTech train are getting hammered with criticism. I even got attacked on twitter a couple of months back for questioning a “EdTech GuRu”. It was really quite astonishing how quickly this individual and her disciples piled on in an attempt to marginalize my critique. My questions weren’t even addressed as they immediately labelled me as a #EdTech heretic and proceeded to try to discredit me through the medium of twitter.

I have to plead guilty of being an #EdTech bully myself. During a staff meeting, I disrespectfully responding to a colleague when he questioned the usefulness of social media as a professional development tool. Although I eventually tried to answer his question respectfully, I started off with a dismissive smart assed comment, which had no place in the discussion.

Beyond personal attacks, there seems to be a concerted effort to silence and marginalize anyone who questions the #EdTech movement and this isn’t just a personal observation. In the past two weeks alone, I have been DM’d on twitter, received emails and was even approached at a social function, about how to deal with a subtle and sometimes not so subtle message of “You are either with us or against us, pick your side!”

I never thought the #EdTech discussion between the Pro and Whoa camps, would ever degrade to a showdown but I am afraid we are heading down a path toward greater conflict. Lines are being drawn and they seem to be more ideological rather than pedagogical.

To Wrap Up

All in all it has been a good year. I certainly haven’t been as active in the #EdTech community as I was last year but I just couldn’t keep up the previous years pace. Next doesn’t look good either as I hope to begin my Masters in Education Technology (if I am accepted) and will probably have even less time to share my insight and opinion. One positive however, is that when I do show up, I might actually know what I am talking about since I will be all lerned up reel good.

Have a great summer all… Cheers!

Some 2012/2013 Articles about #EdTech

Little gain from technology in the classroom

Outdated education model opens doors for tech companies

Technology changing how students learn, teachers say

 Teacher knows if you have done the E Reading

Feb 032013
 

Got my hands on a new Surface RT this week. Found it just sitting there on my Principal’s desk doing nothing, so I absconded with it. Actually, being a charitable fellow, Le Grand Fromage let me have it so I could give it a good going over. So I present to you, the Microsoft Surface – Ed Tech Smack down. I will have it for about a week, during which time, me and my cracker jack team of digital device experts will put the device through its paces.

The Testing Team

SONY DSC

Grumpy old dad Seasoned Educational Technology Expert with a keen eye for innovative design and application

Crazy 14-year-old Emerging Ed Tech aficionado who has a knack for finding practical Ed Tech solutions for herself and classmates.

Tenacious 10-year-old Ready willing and able to lay thumpin on the 14-year-old to get equal time on the household digital devices. Budding Blogger and Ed Tech neophyte

The First 24 hours

Grumpy Old Dad

Really like the look and feel of the surface. Doesn’t feel cheap and has some heft to it. The iPad… Well it is the iPad what more is there to say that hasn’t already been said

After trying to set up my user profile on the surface, I thought to myself “Man the iPad is Fisher Price Simple” but here is the thing. The iPad is a one person device. You set it up the way you like it quick and easy and it is a reflection of that one user. The surface on the other hand, might not be Fisher Price Simple BUT you can set up multiple users on one device.

This makes me think the surface would be a better device for a school, which might have dozens of different users, especially districts that are running on a Microsoft Network. With the surface you can set up workgroups and other useful multi user functions, especially if your organization is running a Share Point Network. (SPN) This leads me to the second important distinction between the iPad & Surface.

Historically, Share Point did not to play nice with Apple products. It would drive me nuts when kids using an Apple product couldn’t access my online classroom. With the most recent version of Share Point however, Apple users can navigate through an SP site without too much trouble BUT with that said. The iPad still has some annoying issues with scrolling and rendering a SP site. The Surface on the other hand has full functionality in a SP environment.

Once I set up my profile and visited my Share Point classroom, I figured I would grab Google Chrome and load it onto the Surface. Unfortunately Chrome does not have a Windows Surface RT version… I assume it is coming but for now I am stuck with Windows Exploder.

After I mucked about trying to get Chrome loaded on the surface, I had to get to an Online meeting so I tried to load the Blackboard Collaborate applet and lo and behold… No applet for the Windows Surface RT operating system.

I see a theme building here…

14 Year old

  • “COOL! Is that the new Windows thingy? Can I play on it!?”
  • “Keyboard is cool but it is weird”
  • “Too much moving around to get to stuff”
  • “The corners are too sharp”
  • “WHAT! Angry birds is $4.99?”

10 Year old

  • “What is that?… Oh cool!… Where is the iPad?”

48 Hours

I am a little less pleased with the surface at the moment. It is almost like the Surface tries to be too much, both a tablet and a computer. As such, it is not Fisher Price simple like the iPad. Perhaps it will just take some time to unlearn Apple and get the functions of the Surface burned into my thick skull.

A couple other negatives I discovered in the past 2 days. I haven’t found a decent twitter app and Internet Explorer wants to render everything in compatibility mode. Both are little things but very annoying, sorta like a thorn in your sock that you can’t track down.

What I do like about the Surface is that I can upload documents into Edmodo with it, something that has been a Royal Pain in my backside with the iPad since I started using it in the classroom. As user-friendly as the iPad may be up front, it is far too restrictive when it comes to moving YOUR OWN FLIPPING FILES! around. The old “Apple way or the highway” thing gets a bit wearing when you are trying to get work done. This is something that the Surface does not do to you. Need to put a file someplace, no Problem! Just like a regular computer.

I also found that I liked the sound quality of the Surface when the kids discovered the live streaming radio feature. It is part of the Xbox live integration on the device. I have a deluxe Xbox live membership, so all the cool features available to me on the TV, are now available on the surface. Kinda nifty!

The last thing on today’s list is the keyboard cover combo. I like the ergonomics of it but I don’t really like the feel of the keyboard but with that said, it is better than having to pack around a bluetooth keyboard for the iPad. My dislike of the touch and feel of it is probably more a function of 30 years of using real keys. I don’t even like my Macbook keyboard. I like big, stiff, noisy keys like those on an old Hewlett Packard electric typewriter. The kind that you can actually feel the mechanical parts clicking and clacking under your fingertips. Ahhh Those were the good old days.

14 Year old

  • “I still can’t believe that angry birds is $4.99!”
  • “I like how Google Docs is exactly like it is on the computer, using the surface. I hate trying to work on Google docs with the iPad, it doesn’t work right!”
  • “I don’t like the onscreen keyboard, getting to the numbers is stupid! Why can’ they all be lined up on the top like the iPad keyboard?”

10 Year old

  • “It works good with my classroom blog but I didn’t type anything in so I don’t know if that works or not”
  • “I like the music streaming! I can listen while I play Cut The Rope.”
  • “I don’t like how the on-screen number pad works, it is weird that you have to change keyboards to get to the numbers”
Dec 222012
 

Christmas tree on streetWow! Another year has come and gone and I am still employed. Not that I shouldn’t be, just that this blogging thing puts you under a bit of a microscope. One wrong word and BAM! You are collecting unemployment and rummaging through people’s road side recycling, while the kids are at school and the wife is at work.

This year has certainly been eventful and rewarding but I am definitely not on the same track I was last year at this time. Last year’s Christmas reflection was all about the student, the device and the classroom. This year, my iPad cohort went to hell in a handbasket and thus my attentions are not quite so focused on iPads In The Classroom so much as they are Technology and the Classroom Teacher.

As a result of this shift in focus, this years reflection has a more teacher centered slant… and defies the laws of physics apparently. :-P So here goes this years moments that make you say “hmmmmmmmmm?”

The PLN

This was the Acronym of the year and perhaps the single most important part of my professional development over the past year. The Personal Learning Network has gone digital and in doing so, has revolutionized how we communicate as professionals.

I have gone with a three-legged stool approach and have built my PLN on the following.

  • My Blog
  • My Twitter Account
  • An information source (Zite)

These three items have come together and have profoundly changed the way I do my job but more importantly, how I see my self as a teacher. The Digital PLN is a POWERFUL tool and I highly recommend it to any and all teachers.

See further resources below

Building Your Personal Learning Network

21 Century Literacies: An iPad Resource

Pinterest – Personal Learning Networks

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Time / ProD

It has become crystal clear, that if we expect teachers to make digital technology a more significant part of their teaching practice, they need more Professional Development. When I say “More ProD…” I don’t mean a series of rinky dink hour-long workshops on “using twitter in the classroom” or “The latest apps for teaching…” I mean purposeful hands-on experience with technology both in and out of the classroom.

In order to get an idea of just how much time the “experts” with educational technology have put in, I will use myself as a “Average Joe Blow Educational Tech Geek” example.

The very first day of my practicum in 1993, I was introduced to a program that made word searches and crosswords that you could print out for use in the classroom. Since that day, I have logged innumerable hours using technology to make my life in the classroom easier and hopefully my teaching practise better.

To get an idea of just how much time I have spent, assume that since that day in 1993, I averaged a single hour a day using technology for the purpose of improving my teaching practice. Multiply an hour a day by approximately 180 school days for 19 years and you get 3429 hrs of hands on time with educational technology. I am quite certain however, that number should be doubled if not quadrupled. In the past 12 years, I have easily met and far surpassed Malcome Gladwells magic 10,000 hour mark to becoming an “expert” in anything.

What is most important to keep in mind here, is that these 10,000+ hrs have been purposeful. It wasn’t just time sending emails, surfing the net, watching silly kitty videos or squandering time on some social network. What is also important to note here is that, until this year, the hardware used and the time spent has been almost entirely on my nickel. This time has been a HUGE investment for me and I did it because I love the stuff but other people have other areas of pedagogical interest; therefore, we can’t expect that everyone is willing to put in the hours on their own dime, like I have.

Finally, if we look at proficiency with Ed Tech from a purposeful time spent” perspective, it goes a long way in explaining why “digital literacy” is not all that common in the classroom. It also helps to dispel the digital native myth and explain why new teachers are not coming hard out of the gates, with the digital skills necessary for the 21 Century Classroom.

Technology in the classroom will always remain on the fringes if teachers are not provided the opportunity to play, practice and implement the technology they are being asked to use.

All in or All out

There are two sides in this Educational Technology debate and I have tried to situate myself squarely in the middle of them, not because I am afraid to take sides but because I firmly believe both sides have value and can coexist.

There are those however, who are hunkered down in their respective battlements and are preparing for the looming battle that lies ahead but like any war, little good will come of it.

This past week our director of Educational Technology in West Vancouver said to me, something along the lines of… “With my own kids, I just wish “we” (as in education system) would just decide to which world we are going to educate in” He then suggest that I read a book by Steve Johnson – “Future Perfect”. I have yet to crack the binding but my understanding is that the premise is that technology is changing the way we think and that going digital is just part of our evolution.

Although I can appreciate the premise, I cannot buy into it. As a classroom teacher and a parent, I watch the kids who straddle the two worlds (hardcopy and digital) and they are excelling. The ones who are all digital and in the rare case, all hardcopy, seem to me to be struggling.

At this point in the game, I don’t think all in or all out is wise. Kids need to be able to think and function in both, in order to be successful.

BYOD or Single OS

At the beginning of this year, I was much more Pro BYOD then I am now but I will go out on a limb and say it here and now. For instructional purposes, having a set of single platform devices in the classroom is far superior to having a rag-tag, hodgepodge, mix-in-match, dogs breakfast set of devices in the classroom.

I know that there are a number of people out there saying how wonderful BYOD is BUT! It is not a plug and play scenario. A single OS classroom makes things simple because it is easy to have everyone seeing and doing the same things on the same application at the same time. Yes we need to personalize education but there are times when uniformity kicks the stuffing out of diversity and instructional time is just one of those times.

Situations where BYOD works

  • Classes with highly digitally literate students.
  • When the applications you use are available across all platforms.
  • When you just feel like pulling your hair out in frustration.

For the past 2+ years, the iPad has been seen as the only single OS option worth considering because of its portability, functionality and moderate price but now with the new $250 Chromebook on the market, that should change. I am really quite excited about the Chromebook and think it will go a long way in making the single OS classroom, an easier task.

Access

This is a biggie. Access to digital tools and digital networks is simply a must have, in order for Educational Technology to be effective.

Get the a device in the hands of the learner piece, is a no brainer. No device, then no digital assisted learning. Although 1:1 seems to be the “ideal” scenario, lately I have been hearing noise that 2:1 is actually better. It creates a situation where kids have to work together because they actually have to talk to each other, share the device, their ideas and even plan how they can best accomplish the task at hand. In a 1:1 situation, you have kids so immersed in their device, nary a word is spoken.

The second piece is Access to a network that will give you access to the Web, without which, much is for not.

Late last summer, I was doing an iPad workshop at a school that didn’t have any wifi and from what the staff said, there didn’t seem to be any plans to have it installed. It was certainly a challenge, running a show and do workshop with no wifi but it wasn’t near as difficult as it was going to be for them, trying to implement iPads in the classroom with no wifi.

Wifi access is even an issue in a wired school district like West Vancouver. We have become victims of our own digital success. We are stretching our wifi capacity to its limits and using your digital device is frequently more of an exercise in frustration, then it is a learning experience. I have even had to used my phone as a wifi hot spot, just to get through a lesson. Not only is this an annoyance, it is costing me $$$ in data use.

The thing that makes the digital device so powerful as a learning too, is its ability to access and share information. Without network access, both you and your students are handcuffed.

Some Quick Thoughts

I will wrap up with a couple one liners I heard over the year that resonated with me and are worth sharing, as I think they are very important as we move ahead in the world of Technology in Education. All but one I agree with.

;

“Failure is inevitable but from this failure will come innovative teaching practice” – Tony Wagner

“Teachers who are using technology effectively in their classrooms, need to share” – ???

“I take offence to the notion that I cannot do my job without a digital crutch” – Spencer Capier

I’ve yet to have student tell me they can’t use technology in class because they haven’t received any PD on it.”Sean Junkins

“The B.E.S.T. conversations I have had with the people who know THE MOST about TECH has never been about TECH.” – Jen Wagner

“A notion of public education that’s anchored in technocratic values functionally inhibits the realization of democratic values.” – Toby Steeves

And so wraps up another year of iPads In The Classroom.

Stay Tuned for an exciting project my good friend and colleague @Scapier are working. We will release it in the new yearand hope to turn the teaching world on its ear!

Merry Christmas!

Jun 282012
 

This past week, a few of my colleagues and I moseyed on up to Kelowna for the #Canflip education conference, to check out what all the flipped classroom hubbub was about? I actually had done a wee bit of it myself already but I have by no means “flipped out” quite yet. I needed more information and as you all know, I am the Eeyore of Edtech. I am always looking for something to be negative about, so I happily moped my way on up to Kelowna looking for a reason to be a naysayer.

For those who are not familiar with the term Flipped Classroom, it simply refers to the practice of reducing or eliminating in-class lectures by making the information piece of the learning process available to students outside of class time. When the student come to class they are ready to work on relevant activities, labs or projects, rather than listening to a teacher drone on for hours on end. Homework becomes nothing more than accessing the “lecture” or information online and then coming to class ready to ask questions and get down to work. Essentially, what use to be done at the kitchen table, is now done in class and what use to be done in class in done at the kitchen table.

This conference was the doing of three teachers Carolyn Durley - Graham Johnson & Paul Janke  from Okanagan Mission High School in Kelowna BC. They have become quite the trio around these parts, gaining notoriety for their class flipping. Fortunately for the likes of me, they are now sharing their experience because going to Chicago for the mother of all Flipped Classroom conferences is simply not in the stars for a small town boy like me.

Now as the Eeyore of Edtech, I would love to sit here and write several bellyaching paragraphs about how bad the conference was but the good folks at Okanagan Mission High School put on a hell of a show. Well planned and chock-a-block full of good info, it was a fantastic springboard from which attendees could begin to plan their own classroom flipping. The whole program was second only to the pulled pork sandwiches they served for lunch on the first day. They were straight up awesome!

Attendees ranged from the skeptic, to the recent #Edtech devotee, to hardcore Techno Geek but everyone seemed to be open-minded about the concept. For myself, there wasn’t much new, other than a couple useful websites and some nifty activities to go along with them but what I the conference did do was got me thinking… Yah Yah Yah groan all you want. Here comes Eeyore!

As with everything Edtech, I don’t necessarily think about what this means for me so much as I think about what this means for students, my colleagues and my school. As a result, I spent the whole conference asking myself things like, Would this be a good thing for every kid? What about the teachers who are master story tellers and their lectures are what makes them great? How many teachers have the technical skills or the time to develop the technical skills to flip their classroom? How do we introduce the concept to staff and support those who want to try it? and I wrapped up my thoughts with the idea of creating a Camtasia studio where teachers could build their videos with the help of expert staff and student volunteers.

Although I didn’t come out  of the conference inspired to turn teaching on its head, I will continue move ahead with turning it on its ear. The reason my buy in won’t be whole hog is because I see flipping the classroom as new tool to add to my tickle trunk of tricks, rather than a methodology on which my teaching should be based. I enjoy standing and delivering my lessons and in my humble opinion some of them are gems. Based on the kids laughter (on occasion) my students like what I do in the front of the classroom too, so I won’t be eliminate all lectures anytime soon.

In the broader scope of things, the conference reinforced for me that teaching is becoming evermore dynamic and complex but we need to recognize that everyone cannot be all things. With this in mind, I have resolved to help any colleague who wants to flip all or parts of their teaching to do so. I think there might be some traction in my Camtasia studio idea, where teachers have the space and tools to produce their materials but this will take some planning and the techno geeks like me will need make this happen.

Wish me Luck!

Some Resources

Flipping Math

Flipper Teach

Flipped Classroom

The Flipped Class Network

Camtasia Studio

Feb 222012
 

Well I have to thank everyone for making Old Nellie the single most popular post of all time on my blog. It seemed to generate some good discussion around Digital learning, BCEDPLAN and 21st Century Learning. Most of it focused on the concerns everyone has but there was a thread of optimism throughout and everyone seemed to agree that the horse is out of the barn and there is no turning back but a simple question remains… “Now What?”

Now that I managed to reign in Old Nellie and have her tied up in front of the local saloon and I am inside buying the house a round to celebrate the roaring success of my last post, I suppose the next step is to answer that simple question. “Now What?…” Spose I shoulda expected that.

Rule #1 of blogging, never pretend like you know something if you are not prepared to deliver some insight. I am thinkin I am in trouble here.

So here is what I figure… Personalized learning in Digital learning environments is not going to go away anytime soon. BCEDPLAN is pushing it, 21st Century Learning advocates are trumpeting its value and I am hoping they are both right because I will continue to be useful to my superiors.

What I think we are missing in this movement however is that “we” (the digi-geeks) have failed to identify what will get people to enter the digital learning space and ultimately accept it as a viable medium for teaching and learning.

BCEDPLAN says we need to give the kids the skills so they can be 21st Century Learners, Teachers are saying we need Professional development so we can be leaders in the digital classroom and parents are saying we need the digital devices in the hands of their children. All of which is true but they are still missing the boat here. Chris Kennedy is perhaps the closest to the mark when he says the first step is getting kids, teachers, administrators… writing and putting personal ideas out there using blogs. In fact Chris is spot on but to date I don’t think he has spun it in a way that I am about to share with you.

Getting people to invest their time and energy in the digital learning space is not so much about skills, money or devices as it is about ownership. Simple ownership of a personal digital space naturally encourages people to become vested in using, sharing and producing within a digital environment. This in turn builds skills and gives the individual access to resources and content that can then be used for teaching and learning.

If you need proof of this, just take a look around. You will quickly discover that virtually anyone who you would consider digitally literate are the ones with their own personal digital space of which they are lord and master. What they do with that space may vary from person to person but it is theirs. The result is that most people take great pride in making sure that the content they put out for others to see, is of the best quality they can muster. The individual invests time and effort in into learning how to go about creating a quality personal digital space worthy of showing the world and therefore becomes a competent digital citizen

In my classes, I refer to this as creating a positive digital footprint and I go to great lengths in making sure that kids understand the concept and the importance of creating a space that they can proudly present to the world. I have been doing this with classes since the early days of Blogger and some of my students from back then still maintain the blogs I had them create. In that time I have had kids who write, share art and photography, create digital portfolios for school or careers and some have even spun their blogs into small businesses. Each and every success using a personal digital space has been because the students see the value in creating it and do a good job of it because it is their’s.

The Problem

Each and every one of the “Whoa!” moments I shared in my first post centered around traditional teacher centered learning environments. Whether it was my international student, the iPad kids or the teacher candidates. All of them are rooted in deeply ingrained ideas about what education is about. Teacher centered, controlled and driven. In none of these “whoa” moments do any of the individuals realize what is necessary to be successful in a personalized digital learning environment. As a society we want the teacher to be the center of the learning universe because it means we don’t have to take responsibility for our own learning but the personalized digital learning environment is going to demand that of both teachers and students.

The Solution

Learning skills, professionally developing and having the latest gadgets in our hands are meaningless if we do not have our own digital space. We need to be masters of our own www.domain.com . with which we participate, create and collaborate. It is only then that we can all communicate, learn  and educate in a personalized digital environment.

We can’t afford to keep Old Nellie tied up in front of the saloon with me inside buying rounds for too long. We need to keep moving ahead with all the great things we are doing but we need to understand that 21st Century learning isn’t about isolated technical skills, one off professional development opportunities and the latest digital gadgets. It is about taking personal responsibility for learning, creating, sharing both in the real and in the digital world. It is about creating a positive digital footprint that you can be proud of and is a true reflection of what you have learned, want to learn and can teach others.

 

Stay tuned for examples of personal digital environments kids and teachers, K – 12 can begin building tomorrow… 

Feb 162012
 

Smiley with Ringeye Nellie

I have had three Whoa Nellie! Moments this past month, which made me realize that this BC ED PLAN world I live in is still pretty isolated from the main stream of educational thought. All the tech here and tech there and personalize this and personalize that talk, is lost on many. It is like no one has even invited them to jump on the bandwagon or perhaps, people might not want any part of the new and improved vision of education I have been immersing myself in.

These moments have by no means, dissuaded me from forging ahead and becoming more entrenched in the world of digital driven personalized learning movement but they have certainly made me stop and think about where I am at, in relation to where the real world resides in their thinking.

The first Whoa Nellie! moment was when a parent of one of my International students popped in to see me about their child’s first term mark. I had given “Johnny” an “I” because very few of his assignments were completed. The parent was puzzled because I had not given any tests and that, “where they come from”, the test is all that matters. Assignments are essentially ignored, seen as “extra” work if the student doesn’t understand. Johnny was waiting for me to tell him what to study for the test and had no intention of doing the assignments. It would have been nice if he had expressed his view of how learning is achieved during the term when I asked him “what is up?” but…

What I realized at that moment, is that there are still people who subscribe the old school ways of learning. Take notes – memorize material – take test. Up until that moment, I had naively thought everyone had at least moved past this very Old School view of education but apparently I was wrong.

The second Whoa Nellie! moment was when I popped my head into my school while on medical leave. I wanted to make sure that everything had gone to hell in a hand basket without me … Which of course it hadn’t. In fact, I think the kids enjoyed having a real teacher for a change.

When I popped my head into my office, Stewart Baker and Alex Kozak (co heads of the iPad cohort) told me that 6 students signed up for next years incarnation of the iPads In The Classroom project. Only 6 kids out of a student body of 1500+ had put their name down for our iPad cohort. I was gobsmacked! After all the work we had done getting this thing rolling and now, come course planning time for next year, we manage to scrounge up a paltry 6 kids? What in god’s name did we do wrong?

Once we look into things a little more, I am sure we will have a clearer picture of why kids have not signed up in droves. Undoubtedly there will be a long laundry list of things which brought about this overwhelming lack of enthusiasm for the project. What it does tell me right off the bat however, is that 1494 students and their parents have not bought into, what the likes of me are selling. The panacea of a digitally driven classroom is not a part of most people’s view of education, even when the opportunity is right there in front of them.

The Final Whoa Nellie! moment came from three guest lectures I did for an Educational Technology class at the University of Victoria. One secondary and two elementary cohorts of up and coming teachers, had to listen to me drone on about iPads in the classroom. I was thrilled to do it. I felt like I had made it to the big leagues, called up from the minors to take three short shifts for my old Alma Matter.

In the short time I spent with these new teachers. I quickly realized that although I was talking to an Educational Technology class, these young teachers were not as technologically savvy as one might think. Once again I fell for the false notion that under 20 = digital native. Now I freely admit, I didn’t spend enough time with these students to truly gauge their level of competency but they definitely were not operating at the level of competency and acceptance as seen at the BCEDSFU conference, held at the same time I was doing the lectures.

Together, these three Whoa Nellie! moments, brought me back to reality. They made me realize that those of us who are behind the move toward the digitally driven, Twenty First Century learning space, are living in our own little world.

Each of these moments made clear a single very important issue which needs to be addressed before Twenty First Century learning environments ever become a reality.

First issue is that, many people still view education in very traditional ways. A place where teachers are seen as the gatekeepers of information, rote memorization is central to “learning”, testing measures understanding & percentages are seen as the only measure that matters. These old school hallmarks of what education should be are still very much a part of the general public’s understanding of what good teaching and evaluation is all about.

As long as the traditional educational paradigm remains as part of what the majority believe in, the Twenty First Century learning model will continue to be a fringe educational concept

Second issue is that, digital tools have not been fully accepted as part of the learning environment. They are still seen primarily as a means of communicating and being entertained. If devices such as laptops and tablets were considered a critical part of the educational experience, we would not be having difficulty getting kids signed up for next years iPad cohort. Second to that, if digital tools were truly seen as essential for learning, we wouldn’t need to create a cohort at all. Kids would just simply have them in their back pack as commonly as kids carry binders or pencil cases.

We are slowly seeing more and more kids bringing laptops and tablets into the classroom on a regular basis but at this moment, digital tools are not seen as must have classroom accouterments. In time this will change but at this moment, we are struggling to make it a reality.

Third and final issue is that, if things like the BC ED PLAN are going to succeed, it can’t simply be a decree from above on a glossy image rich document. All levels of education need to be in on the changes necessary, to create the learning environments we are envisioning. It can’t simply be assumed that everyone is on board and everything will fall into place from Kindergarten to University. As it stands, the drivers behind the 21st CL movement are a small enthusiastic group of educators who think they have it right but most people are on the outside looking in.

This is where I feel that the Fin’s have it right. Their education plan has involved everyone from the ground up.What is more is that the Government has clearly stated their plans and outline their commitment to students, to teachers and to the Nation. This is not to say every school jurisdiction needs to follow Finland’s lead but it would be wise to at least come to understand how it is they came to have the best education system in the world.

There is certainly much that can be learned and experienced as we move toward a new educational paradigm. Undoubtedly there will be some bumps along the way but those of us who are galloping fast and furious into unknown pedagogical pastures, might want to reign in good old Nellie and take a look around and see who is on board. If we keep riding Nellie full speed ahead, we might end up flogging a dead horse.

Sep 172011
 

Well, we are two weeks in and I have already come to an opinion about Edmodo, digital learning’s promising new upstart. I have to say, there is a lot to like about it and as a result teachers are flocking to this content management system to manage their classrooms and their curriculum.

Before I go any further, let me share bit of my background and what I am judging Edmodo to. Although I hesitate to call myself an expert, I have been in the distributed learning game for my whole 15(ish) year career. I cut my teeth on the Pathfinder learning system which morphed in to the failed Nautikos Learning system. I have used Plato, Web CT, dabbled in Share Point for Education and I even built my own online classroom before deciding to run Moodle as my content management system. For the past three school years, I ran a Moodle site for my online classrooms but unfortunately I had to abandon it because it became to costly to self host on a private server. When I stumbled upon Edmodo this summer, I was very hopeful that I had found an affordable solution for my online classroom needs.

Right out of the box there are eight things which Edmodo’s developers have done well.

  • Assignment distribution and submission is quick and easy
  • Similar appearance & function to Facebook allows kids to figure out classroom quickly.
  • It is is completely free so there is no out of pocket expense for teachers.
  • Easy to create classes
  • Simple to use grading system
  • Decent calendar but I wish you could sync it to google calander
  • There is an excellent networking function where teachers network with colleagues.
  • There is a mobile app for those teachers and students on the go.

Edmodo definitely has the basics in place but for a Distributed Learning System to really be useful, you need a few more functions or applications before you can truly create an effective online classroom environment. I find the following items to be crucial in running a digital classroom and they will have to be implemented by Edmodo before they can hope to become the go to online education solution.

Threaded Discussion – This is Old School Social Networking but it still serves an important purpose in an online classroom. Where things like twitter and instant messaging serve to share ideas quickly and in the moment. A threaded forum provides a place where students can share ideas over a day a week or even a semester. It gives students to time to think about what they have read and formulate a calculated response. This is especially important for students who are not quick of the mark with their thoughts, ESL or simply not good writers and need time to read through and edit what they post. This function is imperative in any online classroom environment.

Blog Module – I have been using blogs for years and I have ex students who are still posting in the same blog I had them create ten years ago. It is a great way to get kids to put down thoughts after a class discussion, presentation, video or other. I have used student blogs in parent teacher interviews as evidence of learning and when I need a kid to pull up their socks. A blog function is invaluable to any classroom virtual or bums in seats.

Instant Messaging – Now this is not a MUST HAVE but it is useful in a number of situations. Kids can discuss assignments, ideas they have, or simply socialize. They also find it handy at 11pm when they are doing their homework and can contact me instantly for help.

Mass Email Function – This function is a HUGE help in managing students. I currently use a third party vendor called constant contact for emailing students and parents about assignments due, special announcements or any other issues that warrant a mass email. This may be a bit of a long shot for Edmodo to put into place but it would be handy.

Testing Module – As much as I hate to say it, a testing module would be good to have. I know that the word “test” is the new baddy in the 4 letter word world but on occasion it is necessary to give the kids a test. It keeps them honest and heck, lets be honest. It is kinda fun seeing the panic in their eyes once or twice a term.

Web based Text Input – In my opinion this is another must have for kids to be able to submit things like question answers and minor assignments using a java based text box. It is a much easier way to submit answers then uploading a document file every time they complete their work. This is especially important for those who are using an ipad, since you cannot search to and find files for uploading on your ipad. The iPad situation is turning into a HUGE pain in the backside for the kids and I.

Now there is about another half dozen items I would like to see Edmodo implement but I am a realist. I can’t have everything but what we have here is a start. It is by no means a perfect online learning environment but it isn’t all that bad either. Edmodo has many advantages, especially for individual teacher the most significant of which are that it is simple, effective and FREE. Considering Edmodo is backed by Union Square Ventures, the same company which backed Twitter, LinkedIn, Formspring and Zynga, I can only assume that there is more to come for Edmodo. In the end only time will tell if we have a winner on our hands but I look forward to whatever comes down the line and I will be there to praise it or pan it.

Pie in the Sky Wish List

  • Wiki Space
  • White board for real time instruction
  • Ability to add twitter feeds
  • Collaborative space
  • Google Docs integration in lieu of collaborative space