Dec 132013
 
Screen Shot 2013-12-13 at 6.53.53 PM

image from code.org

Well the Hour of Code week is over and I have to say it seemed to be a rousing success. Vendors and organizations from around the world created all sorts of cool coding activities for school kids to do online and boy did they ever. By weeks end 14,866,302 kids had sat down and typed a line or two of code.

For those who weren’t aware, this past week Code.org declared December 10th, 2013 Hour of Code Day. It was a coordinated effort to introduce school kids to coding in the hopes of spawning a new generation of Wazniacks. The incredible thing was that, what was supposed to be an hour of code turned into a week of coding for many. At least a half-dozen teachers I know participated on the 10th and just kept rolling with it because the kids loved it.

By any measure, Code.org’s plans hit the mark and then some.

My own ICT kids have been actually coding since September using Code Academy. Some are already digi-weary veterans and just eat the stuff up, while others are just starting out and myself well… As I have mentioned in other posts I am a hack but I figured there was enough open learning resources out there to have kids doing some self-directed coding.

I know some people will be saying “THAT IS THE PROBLEM WITH TODAYS SCHOOL SYSTEM!!! Teachers who don’t know what they are doing teaching our kids!” and I say to them… “Is that any reason not to make it available to kids to try?” Besides, if you look at all the famous coders out there, they are all self-directed learners. Just listen to their stories of how they did what they did. Virtually all of the Codestein (new word) out there that I am aware of, didn’t have anyone holding their hand. They just got the opportunity to code and sat down and did it.

In my defence however, I have to say I am no Luddite. I do know a thing or two.  I am a wiz at SEO, I am a WordPress master and I know my way around most Adobe products, so I have something to contribute. When it comes to coding, I liken my understanding of it to my grasp of the French language. As a Canadian, I have acquired some basics because that is part of being Canadian and as a web master, I have acquired some coding basics because that is just part of being a web master. Sure I am no Zuckerberg but who cares! I am willing to learn and learning I am.

As I mentioned in my last post, I have decided to start using a learn to code platform from Grok Learning for next term. They use Python as their feature coding platform and they have put together a skookum little learn to code interface. I have been hacking around on it for the past week and I have to say… I have caught the code virus. Any free time I get I am coding away, trying to get a good enough grasp on the fundamentals so that when we get back from the Christmas break, I can be at least one step up on those kids. At least those who are not coding savants.

It is a very cool thing to be able to sit down and learn to code on your own and feel like you are making significant progress. It leads me think that in many ways, coding is meant to be a solitary learning experience. This is not to say people who code should work in isolation. Coders in the real world work collaboratively on crazy complex problems all the time but there is a solitary aspect to coding. I just wish I had more time to sit and play.

I am excited about this coding thing… I think it might catch on with the youngins. By no means do I think every kid needs to become a coding maniac but after this week, I am convinced that having a rudimentary understanding of how coding works is a good thing. Sorta like knowing how to fix fantom toilet noises or make Kraft dinner. You just need to know how to do it.

Dec 032013
 

I picked up a new class this year. Actually I was cajoled into taking a ICT class in exchange for one of my Planning 10’s. “Come on Keith your will be great! Besides you love techy stuff don’t yah?” Although I couldn’t argue the point, it was still a new course and I didn’t really know what was involved.

As any wily teaching veteran would do, I held off on committing to take the class until I checked out the IRP. (Integrated Resource Package) Once I had ferreted out a dusty old copy from the depths of the Tech office, I was perturbed to find that it was a 2003 version so I did what I should have done in the first place and went to the net and looked for something that had been written post Windows XP. As you have probably already guessed, the most recent version IS the 2003 version. In tech years, 2003 was a millennia ago. Essentially were still pounding out school work on stone tablets back then.

Taking a quick look through I wasn’t very inspired.

  • Microsoft Office (my grandmother uses Microsoft Office)
  • Web publishing tools (Could you be a bit more specific?)
  • Video editing (I thought that was film and TV)

However, I did see some mention of programming, some image editing and a few other snippets that lent me hope. I knew if I stuck with all the Prescribed learning outcomes, it would be a PAINFUL year for everyone involved, so I went down to talk to the all mighty and powerful people and said… “Sure, I will take ICT IF I don’t have to follow that IRP to the letter!” To which they said… “Giddy up!” 

Now you may be wondering what qualifications do I have to be teaching ICT and my answer is… None! Sure I am a tech geek but I haven’t taken any formal training in anything. Actually that is not true. I did take 4 weeks of first year computer science before I dropped it but that was in 1990 and in tech years, we were still killing wooly mammoths with our bare hands back then.

What I am familiar with is how to build websites for personal and retail purposes, how to optimize websites to be search engine friendly and I have a great deal of experience using and hacking the appearance of WordPress Sites. I also have been using Adobe Photoshop, Dream Weaver & Fireworks for a number of years as well. How this makes me worthy of being an ICT teacher, well that may be up for debate but it gave me enough of a leg up to say “YES! I will teach ICT” 

Although I felt confident to take on the class, I realized that the kids I would be getting were going to be light years ahead of me in many respects, in one area especially. Coding!

Regardless of my inadequacies in this area, I still wanted to make coding a major part of the course because coding is all the rage these days and all the cool geeks are doing it. This is where Open Learning comes in.

The only way I could provide kids with any sort of learning experience around coding was to utilize the wealth of Open Learning resources available on how to code. I realized from the get go that there was no way I could learn this stuff and turn around a try to teach it day in day out, so I resolved to just set them loose.

For me this was unnerving. This would be the first time in 17 years where I have not been dishing out the information the kids needed to know and god help me if things went sideways.

Now, three months into the year, my role has become more of a director of resources. If a kid needs help and I can’t answer the questions, I find another kid who can. I find and present to the kids learning resources and opportunities which they can utilize to enhance their own self-directed learning. At times it feels like we are moving a little fast and loose but the kids always seem to be on task, get things done and enjoy what they are doing. I have yet to have any eye rolling or groaning, I never have any absentees, they are all in class on time… It is a remarkably efficient classroom. Having said that, I am sure things will now go to hell in a hand basket.

What I do find myself doing as a “teacher” is trying to get the kids to think about what it is they are doing. What are the ramifications of the app you want to develop, the image you have created or the digital footprint you have made? So many of these kids view what they are doing with or on a computer as isolated events. Rarely do they think about the social ramifications of their digital creations or actions. To combat this blinder effect, I will take a class every couple of weeks and look at the social consequences of what we create using technology.

This little experiment has made me realize that I may no longer have control of the content but I do have control of the context. The traditional sage on the stage approach gives the teacher the power / responsibility to deliver content and context all at once but with open learning, context can be glossed over by the learner or is missing entirely from the content. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the teacher to frame the individual learning within the appropriate context.

These past three months have reinforced with me that Open Education in the absence of a living breathing teacher will be doomed to failure or at least can’t be considered “education” because without the teacher it is just information. As I come to the end of this post and this course, I leave you with an article that appeared in the Washington Post by Larry Cuban, that makes this point very well: The technology mistake: Confusing access to information with becoming educated

 

Cheers,

Keith Rispin

 

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.