Jul 282012
 

Smack dab in the middle of my summer break, a disturbing thought came to me the other day. Actually it wasn’t the thought so much as the thinking part that was disturbing. Sitting pool side dozing in and out of lucidity, I thought to myself… “Kids need Personal Learning Networks as much as teachers or any other professionals do”

With a shake of the head, that brief but disturbing thought scampered away and I quickly settled in for a nap, only to be rudely awakened 30 minutes later by a drippy teenager, begging for money to go chase the ice cream truck.

All squinty eyed and muddled, my wily money-grubbing thirteen year old instantly sensed disorientation and robbed me of every last cent I had and booked it out down the street. Before I realized what had happened, that horrible thinking thing happened again. “If we want kids to effectively use technology for academic purposes, they need a Personal Learning Network”

As hard as I tried, I couldn’t stop thinking. This mid summer mental malady could only mean one thing! My red meat and beer levels had gotten too low and for that there is only one solution, so I gathered my things and headed back to the house to fire up the barbeque.

Unfortunately, even after a 12 ounce porterhouse and an undisclosed number of beer, the thinking didn’t stop. I realized that the only way I am going to be rid of this nagging brain activity, is by hammering out a blog post to cleanse out the thought hopper. After which, I will pour concrete in there so nothing else can slip in.

So here goes… My mid summer blog post on Personal Learning Networks.

Personal Learning Networks or PLN’s are another one of those hip and happening thingies that has recently taken the educational world by storm. Actually there has always been PLN’s, just that they were usually school or district based and required seeing the whites of someones eyes. Certainly, the face to face PLN is still important but with the advent of twitter and other social media, ones PLN has the potential to be global.

Over this past year, I have grown my own digital PLN by leaps and bounds through this very blog and the use of twitter and quite frankly, it has quickly become far more valuable to me then my face to face PLN. This is not because my colleagues aren’t fabulous, brilliant people but because in the digital world, I am free of the institutionalized hierarchies and protocol which can hinder ones professional growth. But I digress…

My thinking is thus… If a digital PLN has been so good for me, then it might be something we should be encouraging our students to create. I thought I might have an original idea here! I might become famous or something but alas… Others had beaten me to the punch. I did a little research expecting to find nothing on the notion of a digital PLN for students but unfortunately, there have been people saying this very thing since 2008 but in my humble opinion, not as well as me. ūüėČ

See what others say

The idea of a digital Personal Learning Network actually goes hand in hand with a recent post I did on the importance of creating a Personal Digital Learning Space. It is all part and parcel of a creating a positive digital footprint and using the technology to enhance our learning opportunities. Over the past couple of school years, I have stumbled upon a couple of kids who are way ahead of the curve and have done an outstanding job creating a PLN for themselves (Check out Joey Ahmadi and see how he has crafted his own digital identity and PLN) but by in large, kids make poor use of technology as a social learning tool. There are a couple of reasons for this but I will reserve comment for now.

Keep in mind, I am looking at the digital PLN from a high school perspective. When we look at this idea from what it means for primary and intermediate grades, there are some very different considerations to be taken into account. I am also making the assumption that high school students, have the maturity to begin creating a digital PLN which will be a positive representation of who they are and what they are all about.

Digital PLN Starter kit

In my opinion the following three items are must haves for a digital Personal Learning Network

  • Information source – We all need a source of information which meets our academic and professional needs. For generations of learners, this source of information has been the teacher, textbooks and classmates. Although these are still valid and important sources of ideas, opinion and yes even answers, in today’s world this is sometimes not sufficient and quite frankly rather static.

Personally, I still use traditional sources of information such as texts, talking to colleagues and on occasion attending a lecture but for my day-to-day professional development and information gathering, I have come to rely rather heavily on RSS feeds. Ever changing and dynamic, I have access to a wealth of information from reliable sources delivered to me on my digital device. Every morning I grab a coffee, fire up the ipad and peruse the latest in #edtech #education #politics #cycling

I currently favour an app called Zite which is infinitely customizable and more often than not delivers reliable content. When I find something I like, I can share it with my PLN, ponder what it means to me and my teaching practice, use it in my classroom… Sometimes it triggers a new thought which then turns into a blog post. The possibilities of how I use this information for my own professional development is endless and I see no reason to think a student’s experience would be any different.

  • Personal Blog – This is your home base, the place where you present your ideas to the world and where the world can share their opinion of those ideas. It is a representation of your interests and skills and it is the way you attract people to your PLN. It is amazing how a single blog post on a topic you feel passionate about, will bring out like-minded folks who are more than happy to help you further your academic or professional goals.

A blog is the foundation of your digital identity and its power for both good and evil is immeasurable.

  • Twitter account – I have to admit, I didn’t get twitter in the beginning. A site where you could share nothing but drivel in 140 characters or less… Wat Up Wit Dat? It wasn’t until I turned a class of 30 grade 10’s loose on the BCPSEA conference (A meeting of all the educational big wigs in the Province of British Columbia) that I came to understand the power of twitter. Thirty 15 year olds, engaging our provinces most powerful educational leaders in 140 characters. It was magic! Some of these kids took it to the suits and hammered them with smart relevant questions about their education and the big wigs answered back.

It was fantastic! In that 80 minute period, I immediately saw that twitter was a window to the world for these kids. Real people answering real questions in real-time and from that point on, I began using twitter to engage real people, with real questions, in real-time about my profession and interests.

Digital PLN’s are definitely not just for adults. In fact, I believe that in order for a digital revolution to occur in our schools, it will be imperative that we encourage and teach kids how to create a learning network that extends beyond the walls of our schools. In today’s world, information is ubiquitous and learning opportunities are but a click away. Lets help kids create and use a Personal Learning Network which will be with them through life.

Now back to my regularly scheduled barbecue induced oblivion.

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 РGraham 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

Jun 242012
 

Well the year has come to a close and I guess it is time to start reflecting on how things went with our little iPads in the classroom pilot. If you have been reading my blog, you are well aware that things have not been perfect but I am comfortable in saying that more good came of it then bad. Both teachers and students managed to learn a few things from this experience and we will be able to move forward and improve on how we teach and learn using digital devices.

In addition to what was going on in my iPad classroom, I also was able to experiment at home with my child. Up until this year she hasn’t really had very much access to digital technology for work or play, at least on the home front. This gave me the opportunity to work with a kid who was pretty close to a base line of digital exposure and allowed me to really control how the iPad was used for an educational purpose.

The most important lessons I learned this year however, have nothing to do with the iPad. These lessons were beyond the utilitarian business of learning and teaching with a digital device. Sure I learned what  apps work best or how best to demonstrate learning using the iPad but what this year REALLY solidified for me was that all digital all the time is not necessarily good, appropriate, best practice or even needed.

After this year, there is no longer any doubt in my mind that we need to teach our kids to be competent in the real world before immersing them in a digital one. Again this might seem like common sense BUT if you are a casual onlooker, you could not be blamed for thinking that all digital, all the time, is all good.

So without further adieu, here is a short but long-winded list of things I have come to believe after this years iPads in the Classroom project.

There is no replacement for good old-fashioned reading and writing skills. Although I am sure that I’m stating the obvious here, people seem to always forget or perhaps hope that technology can compensate for weaknesses in basic academic skills. Unfortunately, those who are hoping that the iPad can do that miraculous task, will be sorely disappointed. What digital technology seems to be able to do best, is amplify good academic skills. Kids who have strong foundational skills are able to use technology to leverage their abilities and push themselves even further ahead of their peers who have weak or average academic skills. I saw this both at home and in the classroom and I am certain this will probably continue to be the case for many generations to come.

Pen & Paper are still useful learning tools. I know this is akin to the point above but this is more about the process of creating digital content. During the school year, I quickly discovered that simply turning kids loose to work in a digital environment, is a hit and miss endeavor. This was especially true with my own 13-year-old daughter. It seemed that their ability to organize their thoughts and do a thorough job of the work at hand, suffered in a purely digital environment.  Quality of work was instantly improved when I required my students and my daughter to begin their work with a pencil and paper first. I would seem that, brain storming and outlining on paper first, especially in group situations,  was a far better way of organizing your work.

Now whether working in a purely digital environment is just a “new” skill that needs to be learned or whether pen & paper is simply superior for some tasks, I am not sure but time will certainly tell. For now, I will be requiring both my students and my own children to produce at least some of their work with pen and paper as part of a comprehensive learning process.

Self Regulation is this years¬†pedagogical¬†catch phrase. Everywhere you turn someone is using it. You see it in blog posts, hear it in staff meetings, on news reports… As much as I like the science behind it, the term has already become tiresome. If you run in education circles, it is one of those words you could use for a drinking game at one of those crazy off the hook teacher parties. Every time¬†someone uses “self-regulation” in conversation, you take a shot of Petrone.

Although I jest, when it comes to digital devices, the ability to self regulate is absolutely imperative when it comes to classroom success. Students HAVE to be able too put down their device and direct their attention to something other than what is on their device screen. This could be during a group discussion, direct instruction, a presentation or just for a 10 second question and answer session.

Again it seems like common sense but as we all know, sense in not all that common. Everyone needs to learn to self regulate when it comes to their digital addictions. Of course there are examples of this everywhere. Texting while driving  is a perfect example of a lack of self-regulation . We need to be able to detach from the device to attend to real world situations when the needed. While texting and driving distracts you from doing the important task of driving safely, digital distraction in the classroom causes the learner to miss the opportunity to participate in their learning environment.

This leads to my next point and what people really seem to struggle with.

A new culture of learning needs to evolve in our schools, which accounts for the presence of digital devices in the classroom. One where students, parents and teachers recognize and respect that there is a time and a place for the use of digital tools. As I started formulating this post, I found a great blog post by¬†Lisa Velmer Nielsen who suggests that all schools need to establish a Social media or BYOD policy. Although I agree with what Nielson has to say, I would argue we need to get beyond the notion of “policy” ¬†and toward a universally accepted understanding around appropriate use of digital devices. It is most commonly¬†referred¬†to as being a good digital citizen¬†but the question is how do we accomplish this?¬†Currently the device seems to control the person rather than the person controlling the device and we need to flip this relationship between user and device.

It is easy to simply slide into creating a list of ¬†thou shall not’s but the goal here is not to create a book of punitive measures for those who break the rules. We need to figure out how to create a culture, where everyone knows when to be immersed in the real world and when it is ok to slip into the digital one.

Access to information does not an education make. Again this is not rocket science but a far to common rationalization for not bothering to “learn the material” or “understand a concept” is that the answer is¬†immediately¬†available on your digital device. If you can Search it… why remember or understand it?

This past week, I saw a reprint of a blog post by Larry Cuban in the Washington Post  The technology mistake: Confusing access to information with becoming educated. It takes my original thoughts far beyond what I intended and is well worth the read.

Regardless of who is saying it… The simple message is that WE MUST NOT equate easy access to information, with learning or becoming educated.

Finally, I realize that this post isn’t what some people were hoping for and I apologize for not writing a RahRah SisBoomBa¬†feel good post about the iPad but everyone already knows that the iPad is cool and holds¬†incredible¬†potential as a learning tool. I feel what we need more than anything else is to hear the voice of the common old, run of the mill teacher, slogging it out in the trenches trying to make technology work in the classroom.

At some point, I will post something in the next couple of weeks about all the AMAZING and FANTASTIC things I did in the classroom with the iPad but for now, I leave you with these bigger observations, which are perhaps more important than the  nuts and bolts of using iPads in the classroom.

Happy Summer all!

May 042012
 

Well I am back. I have finally summoned enough energy to drag myself off the couch and over to my laptop in an effort to put together a bit of reflection on how last term’s iPad documentary project went. Despite what the title of this post might suggest, everyone is still alive and all in all, the entire project was a complete and unmitigated, fair to middling success. For those of you who prefer ed-speak, I feel all curricular objectives were met but the process by which we came to meet these objectives, is in need of some pedagogical realignment.

For anyone who is just joining us, the iDoc project was a little experiment where I had the kids create a 10 – 15 minute documentary on a teen health issue, using their iPads. At the end of the term, what I received from the kids was 6 documentaries on four different topics.

  • Eating Disorders
  • Gaming Addiction
  • Mental heath and the teen
  • Drug and Alcohol addiction
Since I let the kids choose their topic, I had some duplication but that was fine with me. What I was more concerned about was getting kids vested in a topic so they would have the interest to carry the project through to the end.

The way I set the project up was that all the documentaries were anchored by the research each group did prior to filming. This research was then supplemented with information I provided through direct instruction over the term and finally the students rounded out their information gathering by conducting interviews with students, teachers and “experts” on the topic they were documenting.

Because all the curricular content was still being covered during class time, the documentaries didn’t have to be the means by which the kids learned the content. This allowed the groups to concentrate on the production of the film rather than focusing on “learning” curriculum as they went along. This is not to say the kids were not learning anything but they were able to put their efforts into creating the documentary rather than learning the material.

Although I planned and delivered the curriculum over the course of the term as usual. When it came to producing the documentary, I purposely left the “how to” VERY unstructured. I provided the kids some basic criteria and showed a number of samples of what a documentary looks like but beyond that, it was left up to them. My reasoning for this was that I wanted a baseline. I wanted to see what the kids could create with only a topic, some research and a couple of iPads in hand.

The result was an interesting mix of inspired creativity and brilliance, connected by a fair bit of “WHAT THE ……. Was that?”

I laughed, I cried and frequently said to myself… “I gotta change that for next year!” but when all was said and done. the kids had learned something, I learned something and we all seemed to all have fun.

So what is next? Well from my pedagogical post-mortem, I now have a far better idea of how best to do this sort of thing in the future. I think most of the issues that could be¬†encountered, were¬†reveal¬†and now the only place to go is onward and upward. For more info on how I will go about it… Read on!

The Unseemly Details 

Although most of the items listed below were discussed in class, they were not part of any sort of criteria students HAD to meet. The result is that some or all of these issues appeared in each of the documentaries. For the most part they were small niggly little things but they quickly added up to spoil at least a portion of each of the documentaries.

When using an iPad to film

  • Always film in landscape
  • Make sure your hand isn’t covering the mic
  • Make sure there isn’t much background noise while filming
  • Make sure you are filming just the torso of the person being interviewed
Text Slides
  • Use text slides to transition into new points you are trying to get across to viewers.
  • Text slides need to be timed so people can actually read what they say.
  • Don’t put too much information on a text slide.
Interviews
  • Maximum length of each video clip should be no more than 2 – 3 minutes
  • Break up your interview clips with a text slide or image supporting what you are discussing
Use of supplemental video
  • Supplemental video should not be the core of your documentary
  • Supplemental video clips should be 15 to 30 seconds maximum
  • GIVE CREDIT to the producers of your supplemental video.

Biggest blunder on my part

One thing I totally dropped the ball on with this project, is that I should of had the groups create a story board before they even started filming anything. Story boarding is a basic precept of film making and leaving it out of the process was a colossal blunder on my part. This would have made the production of the documentaries easier and the end product much more focused.

Solution to all our problems But I can’t manipulate it to do what I want.

While we were working on this project the new iMovie app came out with their fantastic trailer templates which have story board built right into them. When I saw these, I immediately thought this is precisely what we needed for this project. It would be GREAT if I could create a template with which the kids could create their first documentary with. Built right into the template is the story board, transitions, timing … all the things that the kids struggled with in this project, could be easily managed with a template. IF apple ever makes this possible, mini documentaries will be flowing out my classroom door on a weekly basis.

In the end

I am really quite pleased with the results. Although things¬†weren’t¬†perfect and I¬†wasn’t¬†really breaking any “new ground”, as creating videos as a demonstration of learning is not new. What this little project served to do, is prove that using video has become as accessible¬†as creating a¬†power point or a poster board.

What once was a major undertaking has become a daily classroom tool. There are still skills that we need to develop to use it effectively but it is now possible to make video a staple in the classroom.

Final word

It is undeniable that the iPad is a pretty nifty gadget and it will evolve as a teaching and learning tool as time goes by but we must keep reminding ourselves of this single truth. The iPad in and of itself does not necessarily make the process of learning any easier for student or teacher, it just makes it different. Once again, this project has proven to me that there is more to skool then a cool tool.

iDoc Sample

[youtube_sc url=OURRFs0_sEc width=430]

Mar 312012
 

You may remember a little while ago, I wrote a post called Whoa Nellie – Are we getting ahead of ourselves?“, where I took a brief look at three problems I have encountered recently in my efforts to move toward a Twenty First Century Learning environment.¬†Following that post I tossed up a second called Whoa Nellie‚Ķ Now what?Where I discussed how creating personal digital learning spaces could be a solution to some of the hurdles we are encountering as we move toward a Twenty First Century Learning model. Now¬†that I am done with my Union Rabble Rousing for this year, I have some time to do a follow-up post and expand my thoughts on Personal Digital Spaces or PDS’s.

A PDS is simply a place where you can store “stuff” in a digital environment. It could be a piece of writing, video, drawing, presentation… Anything that you can record digitally can be put in this space. The most common of these types of spaces are Blogs but there are all sorts of different platforms you can use to create a PDS. My personal favourite is a blog, simply because you can do so many things with it. Once you create one, the only limitation as to what you can create is your imagination and your willingness to learn.

This very blog is an example of a PDS. I write and share what I have learned over my career and what I am learning on a day-to-day basis. I am proud of it and I go to great lengths to ensure that what I put up is a genuine reflection of who I am as a person and a professional. Sure, somethings I put up are complete nonsensical drivel but for the most part, I feel that I share some pretty decent stuff. Stuff that I want people to see, which leads to an other important point about Digital Spaces.

This blog is a part of my digital footprint. It is the first thing that comes up when people Google my name. It is my digital persona and therefore it is critical that I take great care in ensuring that I am putting my best foot forward when creating this digital footprint. This space is mine, it represents me and I want it to be as close to perfect as possible.

So why is this important?

If you are creating a digital space that is a quality representation of yourself, it takes effort, it takes thought and you cannot cheat the system. The act of creating this space and creating content for it, goes beyond the simple memorization of meaningless facts, theories or ideas. It forces the individual to be engaged with the topic or material they are sharing AND they have to learn to use the technology they are presenting it with.

How does this translate when we are discussing the three “problems”¬†mentioned in the first of this series of posts? Well lets take a look.

Problem 1: Students who just wanted to know “what to study for?”

If we use PDS as a place to showcase what we have learned or perhaps share some opinions about what we have learned OR god forbid, come up with an original thought about the topic du jour. ¬†The simple act of ¬†creating the content for our digital space and sharing it with the world, in and of itself… ¬†Is studying. Assuming the content is original, well presented and shows an understanding of the curriculum, perhaps a test is not¬†necessary.

What is more, when a parent wants to see where their child is at or what they have done. The PDS will speak for itself. There is no more hiding behind artificial test results, garnered from the efforts of an all night study session. Theoretically the PDS is an accurate representation of how the student is doing is school and considering it is a public representation of what the student knows or is capable of, you would hope it is an individuals best work.

Finally, a PDS is a GREAT way to present yourself to the world beyond the hallowed halls of high school. In today’s world, grades are becoming less and less significant. Sure good grades are important, but the attitude of “just tell me what is going to be on the test” no longer cuts it. A student NEEDS to create an online presence that they can market to prospective¬†post secondary¬†schools and employers. Raw numbers from test results no longer make the grade.

Problem 2: A general resistance toward accepting digital devices as legitimate learning tools.

When it came time to start making plans for next years iPad integration cohort, I was shocked that we were having difficulties recruiting individuals to participate. I figured that we would have at least one additional group of kids in a school of 1500, who wanted to participate. I was at a loss for words but really it isn’t all that surprising.

It became crystal clear why this is the case when I gave my Work Experience & Graduation Transitions students the task of creating a digital space of their own to represent what they have accomplished in their first 12 years in the education system. Only 1 student out of 26, had a web site & understood what it was I wanted. Of the remaining 25, only 3 managed to put together a site that had any kind of evidence that they were  involved or interested in anything. The problem is that I know that this is not the case for these students. They are all amazing in their own right but they have never been directed to collect or create something which represents what they are all about in a digital format.

By incorporating the use of PDS’s into the learning environment as a part of the learning experience, we create a situation where the use of digital tools as a way to¬†demonstrate¬†learning is part and parcel¬†of the school experience. There would be no question as to whether a student should be carrying a digital device, they would be as common as a binder or pencil crayons. Recruitment would no longer be an issue because carrying a Digital Device would be common place.

Problem 3: Use of digital spaces are restricted to the geeky minority.

When I was given the¬†privilege¬†of doing 3 guest lectures at my old¬†Alma matter about iPads in the classroom, I went in assuming that the new and up and coming teachers would be on par if not¬†beyond¬†what I had to share with them. I was genuinely nervous because I figured they would be part of the digital¬†elite and might expose me for the fraud I am but it wasn’t the case.

I was, in every way, more versed with digital technology in the classroom than they were. I quickly realized¬†that a 45-year-old dinosaur such as myself,¬†knew more about digital spaces then new teachers just entering the profession were. Once I¬†completed¬†my three lectures, ¬†I¬†immediately¬†went to do some research on some of these students and none of them had a significant Digital Footprint. I was astonished! People who we assume are “digital natives” have no significant presence in the digital world, yet we are expecting them to teach our children to be good digital¬†citizens. This is not to say Universities are not trying. The¬†professor¬†who asked me to speak to her classes is trying desperately to get new teachers up to speed, but the use of digital spaces is simply not seen as something “we” do as teachers.

As for my colleagues, who are actively teaching in the system today. I work with amazing people, one of which just got accepted at Oxford to do a PhD, but using Digital Spaces is not part of what she does. If we want teachers to use digital spaces and digital tools, we need to make them available and provide the  TIME to do it. Personally I LOVE the stuff and getting the likes of me to bring digital spaces into their teaching is easy but not everyone has bought into the digital frenzy.

If you want teachers to use digital tools to create digital spaces, you have to make it accessible for them. You need to encourage & FUND the use of digital spaces by the professionals you employ. Once teachers are using them for themselves, they are far more able to include them in their curriculum AND advise their students on how to create them for themselves.

Personally I am out-of-pocket in the¬†neighborhood¬†of $2000.00 a year hosting my own blogs and blogs of other teachers FOR FREE in an effort to help teachers create their PDS’s. In a sense I subsidize our school system so that we (as a profession) can move toward the “ideal” 21Century Learning Model.¬†Unfortunately¬†for my pocketbook, I think it is important enough so I take the financial hit but it¬†shouldn’t¬†be that way. If the school system want teachers to use digital spaces as a learning tool, they need to facilitate its use.

To conclude

PDS’s are the learning space of the future. They can be so much more than they currently are AND they are woefully under utilized as a legitimate learning tool. It is obvious that I LOVE the medium for many reasons but from a practical and professional perspective, Personal Digital Spaces are so important for our students.¬†The medium is so powerful, that I¬†believe it is short-sighted of us to not teach our children how to create their own Personal Digital Space and use these spaces as evidence of learning.

Life is no longer simply about grades or the reputation you have, it is also about the rock solid, concrete digital space you create.

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…¬†

Jan 312012
 

Happy New Year my friends ( I am going by the lunar calendar ) It has been a while but I really haven’t had much to write about, or at least there hasn’t been anything √ľber exciting to share. Winter blah’s seem to have set in and it seems like me and the iPad cohort are just simmering like a pork roast in a slow cooker.

Actually we have been doing stuff but I think there just isn’t as much NEW stuff to share. What we did launch in the new year is the¬†iDoc project I was talking about before Christmas and the kids have been working diligently on their documentaries.

The assignment was to take a teen health issue and create a 15 minute documentary on the topic. See Assignment Here Rubric is Here

I really didn’t want to restrict what it was they did but I had to give some guidance in how they should set up the iDoc so the assignment reads a bit like a step by step but I hope it is open enough for some liberal interpretation. Sometimes we give kids too much guidance and provide too much hand holding, so I tried to leave things up to some application of creative licence.

The single most important element of this¬†iDoc¬†is the 10 questions which the kids are researching and asking others for the video clips. These will be what guide the production and ultimately achieve the “Purpose” of the video. That being, sharing relevant information which teens should be aware of.

During this process, I am learning some things myself.

  • You must resist the urge to organize, control and supervise the kids every move
  • You cannot be a slave to the curriculum
  • Time is your friend
  • Patience is a must

In other words you have to roll with it. This is not the world of the standardized learning outcome. It is a learning environment of unpredictable learning outcomes and challenges but it is real learning, not that prescribed stuff that the ministry doles out in those must cover packages called IRP’s

Now for those of you who are reading this and saying BUT YOU HAVE TO FOLLOW THE CURRICULUM!!!!! Don’t worry, I am giving the kids a dose of boredom every 3 days, just so they will be all lerned¬†up reel good, by the end of the year. Lord knows, I don’t want to deprive the kids or some quality ministry approved learning about STI’s and Drug addiction.

Finally, what has become so incredibly clear in doing this iDoc¬†project, is that with the freedom that tools like the iPad provide us, comes a greater responsibility for learning. What might be surprising to some is that this shift in responsibility will not be¬†onto the backs of teachers. As teachers let go of their role as the one who knows” and embrace a role as the one who shows”, students will need to take on more responsibility for finding the information they need. The days of passively sitting in the classroom looking to teacher for the answers are dying a rapid death and as such, so will the traditional responsibilities for learning.

I am loving my new role as director, as the kids come to me and ask, what do you think? or what should we do with this? I just hope this is the way we are going and it isn’t an anomaly in our daily academic routine.

Dec 232011
 

I was kinda feeling left out this past week. I did my Christmas Reflection post and was going to leave it at that until the new year but then everyone started to release their Top 10 of 2011 lists or Ed Trends for 2012. I figured that since I am not doing anything anyhow, I should join the club.

My biggest problem was trying to figure out a title. First I came up with Keith’s Sexy Six of 2012 but there is nothing about me that is remotely sexy so then I thought how about Keith’s weighty wonders of 2012 but that didn’t work either, apropos or not.

After a several seconds of thinkin reel hard, I came up with Digital Learning in 2012 – My Predictions. None of them are all that sexy, weighty or even earth shattering but hey it got me out of bed this morning. I hope you enjoy them.

Proliferation of Personal Digital Devices

When I say proliferation of digital devices, I mean laptop, net book or tablet in K – 12 institutions. I was actually predicting this last year but it didn’t really come to fruition. Although I have a couple more kids packing their own device to class, there isn’t anywhere near the number I was predicting.

The reason I am still predicting this, isn’t because K – 12 learning environments require them, it is simply that the drop in the price of laptops and net books, makes it possible for more kids to own one. In fact, I would venture to say the clothing many kids wear on any given day, cost more than an entry-level laptop. Really, why wouldn’t a kid have one?

Edruminate Blog Post on Personal Devices in School

Use of Twitter as a classroom tool

Over the past year, Twitter has evolved rapidly as a tool for use in the classroom. It gives unprecedented real-time access to the outside world for research and information gathering. I used it for the first time last year, when I set my class loose on a group of unsuspecting superintendents and principals (back channelling using twitter) during their annual convention. It was a ton of fun and generated some great conversations between the Educational bigwigs and a motley group of grade 10’s.

Although we are far from any sort of tipping point, I think we turned the corner in 2011. More teachers are becoming curious about how they might use it in their classes and are willing to give it a go.

2012 will be the year when discussions around the staff room will transition from “why in god’s name would I use twitter” to “You should see what I got the kids to do on twitter today”

Mashable article on Twitter in the Classroom

On-line¬†Universities –¬†60 Ways to use Twitter

Flipping the Classroom… Light

Flipping the classroom is a great idea and there have been some outstanding reports of how well this new classroom dynamic works but not every teacher has the skills, time or desire to create digital lessons for preview from home. What almost every teacher CAN do, is use some of the fantastic resources already out there for flipping the odd lesson or two.

In 2012, I think we will see more teachers looking at the flipped classroom model and they will see some value there. As a result, more kids will be going home to prepare for assignments as homework, instead of completing assignments for homework.

¬†Aaron Sams’ Flipped Classroom Video (Inspiring)

Salman Kahn – Ted Talk on Flipping the Classroom

Edmodo Will Become # 1 Distributed Learning Platform

The rapid rise of Edmodo as the go to content management system for education will continue. The reasons for this are simple. It is Free, Easy to use and has multiple language support. It is also scalable so it is as useful and easy to use for an individual teacher as it is for big school district or institution.

Backed by Union Square Ventures, the people who funded web giants such as Twitter, Foursquare, Zanga, Boxee and dozens more, Edmodo is positioned to take over digital learning environments the world over in 2012.

Good little Post on ITBabble.com

News item on Edmodo’s 15 million dollar influx of cash

Concerns about wi-fi in schools will grow

In order for digital assisted learning to take off in our classrooms, we need access to all the good stuff web has to offer and if we are all using personal digital devices to access this information, we need WiFi. As a result schools have been installing WiFi in schools all over the country. This year however, the concerns about the health risks associated with WiFi in schools started to gain some traction and parents began to push back against WiFi in schools.

In 2012 we will see the movement to ban WiFi in schools gain momentum. As a result, more schools and school districts will outright ban WiFi in favour of wired web access only.

National Post Article on Ridding Classrooms of WiFi

Round One Google Vs Apple

Yes you heard it here first folks. Google will go toe to toe with Apple in 2012. It won’t be a knock down drag em out fight to the death or anything but the first round of many to come will happen this year but first one proviso.

Round one will only happen IF Google’s new Tablet comes out and starts to take away enough business from Apple. This is a real possibility, if Google makes its new device integrate flawlessly with Google docs, Google + network and allows easy access to the files saved on the device. Assuming Google’s new tablet will also have all the functionality of the iPad, I think one can safely say that the Google’s tablet will be a far superior device for education.

We know that Apple is more than happy to go to court to protect its intellectual property as it has with Samsung so there is no reason to believe it won’t happen with Google as well. I for one look forward to seeing these two digital titans clash. Apple might be forced to start to produce products that work in the real world not just in the Apple world.

Samsung Vs Apple

Google Intellectual Property Acquisitions 

So there are my predictions. Like I said, none of them are sexy, weighty, earth shattering or even unpredictable but that is the best I can do. We shall see how it all shakes down in the coming months.

 

Dec 152011
 

A student asked me last week if I was going to “do the iPad thing next year” and strangely I said yes without hesitation. You would think after all the frustrations I have had and all the bellyaching I have done over this little digital device, I would have at least gave him a five second “ummmmmm” before I answered.

When I think about it though, it is a no brainer. I have been given the opportunity by the powers that be, to break new ground in the brave new world of education. Plus, I love technology! God forbid a solar flare should knock out all electronics on earth, I would be doomed both in and out of the classroom. Whether this kind of digital dependence is a good thing for me or my students is another story but I digress…

As much as I would love to say that the iPad experience has been GREAT! So far it has been a mixed bag and to be brutally honest, I would have to say that everything that didn’t work, was all the kid’s fault!

Kidding! The collective gasp of horror by my superiors reading that, is almost audible. I am going to pay for that one tomorrow ūüėČ

We did do a number of good things this term and I will share at some point, I promise but it seems that people want to know about our difficulties so they can steer clear of them or fix them. The positives are there and we are building on them, we just need to clear the playing field of the pedagogical land mines first so more people can come and play.

With all that said, in keeping with the pointing out the negatives theme, here are my 3 biggest issues up until Christmas Break.

Me – I have to take some heat for this but then again, I am not sure that blame need be assigned but teaching strategies might need to be retooled.

As with any course, there is curriculum you need to plough through and every kid needs to have equal and measured access to it. This term the content I was doling out simply did not lend itself too much creativity, collaboration or individualized learning. The only difference between the iPad version of the course and my regular class is the way the information is dispensed, processed and ultimately presented.

This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing and we actually learned something from it:

  1. Traditional curriculum is no more engaging coming off an iPad, then is out of a book, handout or other traditional delivery method.
  2. When you have to plough through material which does not lend itself to individuality, the iPad is not necessarily the way to go.
  3. For cranking out work, a laptop is a far superior tool.

Now with all this said, after Christmas break, things are going to change as the curriculum lends itself to some very cool possibilities from this point on. I am looking forward to turning the kids loose on a project where they will be creating 15 minute documentaries on health and or social issues relating to teens, using only the iPad. There are just so many fantastic things that could come of this and I am really quite excited about it. Alternatively, it could be a complete unmitigated disaster but I am shooting for the fantastic option so stay tuned.

The iPad – Regardless of what Apple would have you believe, the iPad is not the end all and be all of learning tools.

It is my opinion that before the iPad can be considered education’s panacea, Apple needs to step up and address some of the functionality issues that I have discussed in previous posts. Whether they do or not, is anyone’s guess but as long as they continue to take the position of “the iPad way or the highway” then there will continue to be problems around functionality in the classroom.

At this very moment, (as I type the blog post on my PC) if I had to buy an Apple product for my child, I would choose the Macbook air. If I had to buy a tablet, I think it would be an Android device rather than an iPad. The reason being is that the file systems of both the Macbook and an Android tablet are not locked up like the iPad, giving you far greater freedom in how you use the device.

At the moment the iPad’s primary purpose is for dispensing media and it will remain as such until they give users access to the file system

The kids – Yes the kids have to take some of the heat too but I will be kind.

The intent of this little pilot was to see if the iPad would be a tool that engaged kids, made assignment completion easier and ultimately improved learning. What we were hoping for (but all knew better) was that the iPad alone would somehow be so engaging that no matter what we did, learning would take place. Now a little of that has been happening but not enough of it for us to jump up and yell “IT WORKED!”.

What we have discovered is that the ability of a student to self regulate, is imperative in order for the iPad to be a useful learning tool in a classroom. Kids need to be able to put the device down when the learning situation calls for their attention elsewhere. Kids need to be able to stay on task and not compulsively default to game play or other non productive activities when the teacher is not watching.

Certainly, the teacher needs to create a classroom environment where these things are expected but ultimately, the kids who can self regulate will thrive in an iPad classroom and those who cannot, will have greater difficulty succeeding without constant teacher intervention.

I am sure most of this will all be ironed out as we move along. In time we will develop best practice around using these tools K to 12 but it wont happen over night. When you think about it, we are creating a new academic culture that will define the classroom etiquette by which kids conduct themselves in Twenty First Century learning environment. There is still some heavy lifting to do but we will get there.

So, as I settle in for a long winters nap and visions of sugar plumbs dance in my head. I think all of us who are involved in the iPad cohort can settle in for a great Christmas break knowing that we did good. Sure there is a TON of work ahead but it will be fun. I liken it to getting first tracks on the ski hill. You look down the slope and it is all yours to do with what you will and you just know it will be a great run.

Cheers!

Nov 202011
 

When we started the iPad cohort in my High School, we were not sure how things would work out. We knew we had a group of kids who were keen on stepping away from a more “traditional” classroom but outside of that we were treading into unknown¬†territory. I had been teaching most of my classes in a computer lab for years so I was ready to roll from the digital end of things but this was a wee bit different. 30 kids with their own personal digital devices with no controls over access or APPS, it was promising to be an adventure. With that as our launching pad, we were set loose to try to make the iPad work as a teaching and learning tool.

We have also been charged with by the powers that be to determine:

  1. Is the iPad a good learning tool?
  2. Is the iPad more engaging than paper and pencil?
  3. What new and innovative ways of teaching and learning can we come up with using the iPad?
  4. Should we move ahead with expanding the use of tablets in the classroom?
  5. What are the short comings of using iPads as a learning and teaching tool?

What we are discovering is that the iPad is more about the user then the device itself but not in the way you might think. As with anything, some kids are better than others at using the iPad but in our little cohort, the effectiveness of the iPad, seems to be less about ability and more about simply being able to assert some level of self-control.

Now I use the term “self-control” only because I was fortunate enough to see Dr. Stuart Shanker¬†this September, when he presented a Keynote address¬†during our School District’s opening day. He spoke about his work around academic success as it relates to self regulation and¬†ultimately¬†self-control. It was one of those AaaHa! presentations where everything you already know suddenly becomes more significant. Little did I know, what Dr. Shanker was talking about was going to rear its head in my iPad class.

As I said in an earlier post, I teach a course that does not have a standardized test at the end, so I have the luxury of being able to play a bit with the curriculum and how it is delivered. With this in mind, about 3 weeks ago, I decided to just let things be and not worry about who was doing what on the iPad. I wanted to see who could put aside their digital distractions and actually participate in the class without my direction to do so.

I prefaced almost every class with, “You are all big boys and girls now so you should be¬†able to put aside the iPads and listen without me forcing you to do so”.¬†In the beginning, virtually all the kids had the devices open and were mucking about on them as I tried to enlighten them with my wisdom. Eventually, one by one, most of the kids put away the device to listen or participate. Some do it¬†immediately¬†while others take as long as twenty minutes to engage but most kids eventually disconnect from the device. What remains is a small but significant group of kids who just can’t put the device down.

When I think back to that opening day¬†address¬†by Dr. Shanker, I think¬†that I have been¬†experiencing a perfect example of Dr.¬†Shanker’s¬†marshmallow¬†experiment¬†playing out in my classroom.¬†For some of these kids, the iPad is a digital¬†marshmallow¬†they just can’t resist. They cannot assert enough self-control to disconnect without physical intervention by me. As much as I would love to be able to simply turn the kids loose and trust that they can use the iPad for their own best interests, at this point, it just isn’t going to happen.

When we started this little project, I had visions of hard-wired computers labs quickly becoming extinct but I now see that there is still a need for having control over a set of networked devices. As archaic as it may sound, there are times when a teacher needs 5, 10 perhaps even 40 minutes of undivided attention from the students, especially those  kids who cannot resist the warm glow of a digital device. Until our use of digital devices becomes evolved enough, where we all know when to come off the grid and direct message with a human being, having the ability to disconnect 30 kids with the flick of a switch will continue to be useful.

This isn’t simply an issue of old school control in the classroom. Good teaching is about creating meaningful connections between the kids and the curriculum not just¬†dispensing¬†information. This is why a digital device could never replace a good teacher. As great as technology is, the information it¬†dispenses¬†is meaningless if ¬†you cannot create a human connection to it and that is the role of the teacher. The iPad is a powerful learning tool if used¬†appropriately¬†but it can also be a powerful distraction from meaningful human interaction in the classroom.

As Dr. Shanker pointed out in his keynote¬†address,¬†it is human interaction that leads to self-regulation and¬†ultimately¬†self-control. Although his research shows that this interaction is most critical in infancy, I don’t think we can afford to dismiss its importance in the K to 12 classroom. As we move toward more¬†digitally¬†oriented classrooms, we need to ensure that kids resist the lure of the device when required and interact with a real humanbeing on occasion.

Additional Reading 

The Screens That Are Stealing Childhood

Is modern technology creating a culture of distraction?