Nov 292013
 

I love the little digital world I have built for myself. 1248 tweeps, a handful of blog followers who hang on every word I type and the odd mention in local media. It is enough to make a grown man puff up like a ruffed grouse and do a little cock-a-doodle doo! At the risk of coming off as an arrogant jerk, I would have to say that I am probably the single most knowledgeable Ed Tech expert within a two block radius of my home. There is no other way to put it than to just say, I am FREEKING AWESOME!

These days, anyone who wants and audience can have one. Slap up a blog, make a few posts and boom… You are a star. For better or worse, people like me are a dime a dozen in the Ed Tech world and when we get together in an Open Learning situation it can be rather comical. What starts out as a well-intentioned learning opportunity, sometimes slides into a battle for the title of digital kingpin. It is like watching bad episode of the Big Bang Theory unfolding before your eyes. (I’m Leonard in this scenario by the way)

Now this isn’t the norm for Open Education. The “Ethos” of this movement, is to work collaboratively with others and share what we know for the common good and there are lots of good open learning opportunities out there sans egomaniacs. However, I have found the egos come out to play on occasion in the odd MOOC, CEETBC Meet and once at an EdCamp I attended.

To answer the question you are now asking yourself, yes yours truly has been one of these pocket protector wearing egomaniacs. Shamefully I must admit to such self-serving behaviour but can you blame me? What I have to say is just so… awesome!

The answer as to why this is happening, is that in the past 3 or 4 years there has been a proliferation of “experts” in the world of 21 Century education and we all seem to gather in Open Education environments. Although the intention of Open Education or “Ethos” is not born of one-upmanship, some of us have tried to use the OE stage to jockey for the position as supreme leader of the Ed Tech geeks. I am just thankful it all occurs on-line. The aftermath of a face to face meeting would be messy. Torn and bloody corduroy, pocket protectors and broken glasses strewn about. It wouldn’t be pretty.

Although I have been thinking this for a while, I was hesitant to voice this observation for fear of retribution from the #EdTech Illuminati. Then a colleague of mine who has been broadening their 21 Century teaching skills expressed the same feelings about some of the Open Education situations they had encountered and thus, silent I could no longer be.

For the record, my intent here isn’t to try to diminish what people have to contribute to the world of education. Egomaniac or not, we all have some good stuff to share but we need to be able to identify when what we are doing is self-serving. The people who come to Open Learning environments are there to learn and broaden their knowledge not listen to self-proclaimed “experts” pontificate. They need us to listen and if we can’t get over ourselves, we will never hear them.

Even in today’s modern keyboard driven world, the old adage still applies. We are born with two eyes and two ears but only one tongue so just shut up and listen.

 

 

Jan 052013
 

2012 was once again an interesting year for Public Education. From Delaware to Chicago to British Columbia and back to Ontario, pundits and the politicians sold the story that all the struggles our youth encounter can be laid squarely on the shoulders of every teacher that has ever walked this earth. Just short of being the spawn of satan himself, teachers are source of all that is wrong in this world, especially as it pertains to today’s youth. unemployment, failure to launch, mental health issues, drug and alcohol problems… you name it, it is the education systems fault.

I however, would beg to differ. Yes I know, as one of satan’s classroom cronies, my objection is predictable but read on, I might actually make some sense by the end of this post.

I see education as being waaaaay down on the list of roadblocks the youth of today face. From the bedroom in which our kids are conceived, to the boardroom in which they are received, our children have more stacked against them than just what people perceive as an inadequate public education system. In fact, I would say there is simply one roadblock our youth face and that is, we have stolen their adulthood or at least postponed it indefinitely.

The obvious question then becomes, who is an adult? and I found a satisfactory answer in a Psychology Today article entitled Who is an “adult?” The path from adolescence into adulthood. March 3, 2010 by Jennifer L. Tanner, Ph.D.

…it became apparent that becoming adult was about, well, becoming. Across cultures, Arnett’s findings have been replicated. Accordingly, an adult is someone who-accepts responsibility, makes independent decisions, and becomes financially independent.

The article goes on to discuss the precise thing I am talking about here and what I refer to as the Abyss of Suspended Adulthood

The funny thing is, the evidence is all there right in front of us. Most of it already identified, researched and publicized. Anyone who isn’t seeking election or is remotely sober, should be able to see that education isn’t the biggest problem our youth face but alas society is myopic. Scapegoats are easier to understand then our own miserable misdeeds.

Although the central issue here is the deadultation (new word) of our youth, the process has three parts working in concert to sideline anyone under the age of 30.

  1. Post Secondary or Starve
  2. An Economy of dependence
  3. The Engineered Child

 

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 educatedIt 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 Rah-Rah Sis-Boom-Ba 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

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…