Sunday, December 30, 2007

'Tis the Season

It has been an exciting holiday week:

  • My mother was ecstatic about her iPod Nano-video. I felt cheap for not getting her the touch screen!

  • My mother-in-law was not. She wasn't sure it was compatible with her wmv books on tape and didn't want to take the time for me to show her how to import. It did take her over a year to take her new computer out of the box. . .
  • My husband is home from Saudi. We've been together for 10 straight days with another week to come!

  • Mom's house is wireless. One trip to Best Buy, and my husband and I are emailing URL's for "you gotta see this" things

  • I bonded with my 16 mo. old nephew. He cuddles with me, and sits on my lap for fingerplay songs.

  • One niece added me to her facebook account. Two others accepted my request. We're planning a girls' weekend in NYC for 2008.

  • I'm increasingly aware of what an integrated part of our lives modern technology and the internet are. What prohibits it from being an embedded part of curriculum design, teaching, and learning?
I also wonder what goals I should set for the next year. A pep talk from a brother-in-law focused me toward Plato's Republic; I turned him toward Moore's Utopia. I only want to make the world a better place.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A New Educational Life in Second Life

Wow. I finally gained access to second life by reverting back to my Windows XP system and gaming computer with the ATI video card recommended. Irony is that my husband bought this 17" computer for me to play The Sims2 when my older laptop was ready for the rubbish.

I browsed around the University of Cincinnati site, as my Professor shared that my soon-t0-be Alma Mater was developing a "presence" there.

I was led to an open-source research sharing by Boise State University. This led me to sloodle and a wealth of information about building "social persistence" in virtual learning communities.

Now I'm at the in-laws, basking in holiday glow, and anxious to explore more. Did I mention my nieces and I are planning our trip to NYC via facebook? In a six hour visit, I walked through their world of youtube videos, xbox, Wii, and art - so different from the holidays of my youth where batteries are replaced with SD disks and the college novice brags about her prowess in getting required courses by pre-saving registration online.
And I'm proud that I use my blog to track information I may want at a later date. At least I'll know where my links are, if I can't keep up with the nieces and nephews. At least they needed me to help assemble the airhockey table that held their interest for two full games. . .

How do I return the gift of virtual knowledge to a friend who shares so freely?

"Pass it on," the voice echoes in my mind.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Reflections on Teaching and Learning in a Networked Classroom

What started as a substitution course turned into a new way of viewing the possibilities of the web in instruction. Enjoying the embedding of technology doesn’t begin to scratch the surface. I’m living in a different world which will is rapidly becoming the only reality current students know. My mind swims, I can’t keep up with my RSS feeds, answering a question usually leaves me with ten windows or tabs open forgetting the original source of inquiry. In this world, we still expect students to sit in desks, listening to lectures and doing writing assignments? Do we expect teachers and staff members to do the same as we train them to think as students think?

The possibilities, even in professional development for educators are endless. Podcasts, Second Life, Wikis are just a few of the tools available. It was most meaningful in this course not to just learn about them, but to be responsible for creating them. The most difficult was reading about these possibilities. At least I’ve discovered that what used to be ADD is now just connected learning.

My regret was not assuming a more regular pace through the course. The typical final cramming didn’t afford the best understanding of blogs. For instance, during the last week, I discovered ways to edit code that would have customized my blogger template. Had I done the challenging podcasting assignment earlier, I would have – scratch that - might have come across the tutorial blog that links to customizing other features. I say might, because one thing this course has reinforced is how difficult it can be to retrace research steps. That is the value of a blog – linking to the pages at the time of thought so that they’re only a few clicks away.

As I was writing my blog on Wikis, I thought it might have been fun to collaborate with classmates on a project, but my timing probably would have been the weakest link. It was clever to begin the course by becoming course editors through the WetPaint wiki; at least I understand how it works. Setting it up for others will be a larger challenge.

I'm pumped that my Senior Partner extended an invitation to discuss ideas for the coming year. He has demonstrated a desire not only to keep apace with Web 2.0, but to revolutionize the way we do business. I would enjoy using these tools to teach teachers, to facilitate discussions about learning, and incorporate it into the processes attached to mapping.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

One to One Learning Environments

I have the fondest memories of both of my grandfathers. With each, I was afforded the opportunity for meaningful time alone with them. Every animal, every radio program, every person that walked past the porch became a lesson, usually based on a life experience to help me avoid some of the crueler pitfalls in life. I cherish our one on one time. It had to be the most meaningful lessons, immersed in our mutual love for eachother.

What does this have to do with one laptop per child, or other one-to-one learning environments? Let me play a paternal grandfather role and share a story:
When I was in Grade 8 in the Detroit Public School system, we had to share books with a partner during class. Taking them home for continued reading or further investigation involved a rather tedioius check out process that meant precious time away from the seven minutes allotted to see friends and to make it on time to the next class. I shared a microscope with eight other lab table partners and they came out so rarely, there wasn't a direct connection to labs and science.

When I transferred to the suburbs, the first thing I received was a stack of books - checked out to me for the entire year. I was assigned a microscope and my own personal lab station. We were always cutting things, picking things and looking at them in microscopes, and, when the teacher wasn't looking, creating our own little science experiments. We worked in diads and triads in our home ec kitchenettes complete with its own fridge, stove, and cupboard space. All of a sudden, there was a value placed on education by what was available to each individual, and I started taking it seriously. I was "tracked" as a low performing student upon arrival, but by the time I was in the ninth grade, my Biology teacher pulled me into the hall and shared that someone had made an awful mistake putting me in her class and that she would make sure that I was "in the right classes" by the new quarter.

One-to-one supplies. One-teacher to one-student communication. Why should it be any different for the tools of modern education? What message do we send students when there aren't enough computers (or labs) to do the projects or research needed?

Virtual Learning Environments from Blackboards to SMARTboards

Online learning is an interesting phenomena. As I've learned of endless possibilities of teaching and learning through this course and good old blackboard now seems so stilted and artificial. There is no interaction and it takes a series of clicks to find resources related to projects or activities. In spite of being version 7.0, it is very Web 1.0 - ish (I often wonder if people think the same of other internet software platforms that I know well).

A meaningful virtual learning environment puts the learner in control. Rather than going through a series of prescribed activities, chats that are graded based on "asking meaningful questions", inserting a certain number of quotes from the reading, or writing at a graduate level, why not turn the course loose to exploration and discovery through networked communities that share common interests? Why keep students limited to one course over a prescribed time period rather than letting them jump about as their desires to discover and learn grow? Instead of a facilitator lurking in the shadows just to add a grade to discovery, why not ask leading questions that will help the learner reach his/her learning goals?

When teachers and administrators have the luxury of learning this way, leaving behind the ivory tower of inaccesible kings and queens, the classrooms and schools they lead will become dynamic, personalized networks of learning. Instead of dividing learning by catgorized subjects, these inspired educational leaders will integrate inquiry-based learning, answering and asking questions the same inquisitive way that started and fed a Renaissance in Europe. Students will not have to choose between music and athletics; rather they will see both as integral parts of their lives and cultural traditions that define their learning goals.

And while I'm dreaming, I fit into a size six dress this morning as well You'll notice that the Santa made of condoms underwent a virtual diet as well). The beauty of dreams is that they only require action-based faith - that work that is motivated as if the dream has already come true.

Interstingly, Mohamed Amine Chatti doesn't percieve a need for a top-down integrated system, rather that users understand how to blend the various resources out their for their own use. Works for me! It starts with a 3-tabbed home pages, one which is iGoogle, in Internet Explorer; it broadens to a different homepage in firefox to distinguish between personal and work-based projects. A day end ususally finds at least 5 different windows with any range of tabs in each; a track record of a schiozphrenic working and learning pattern.

David Delgado uses this visual representation to show his virtual learning environment, joined by Elgg:

I hope I have the unrelenting courage to speak to this need with my colleagues. We are in a position that approximates the influence of an educational institution. Time to put the end user/learner in the driver's seat and help them discover the tools that keep them intrigued.

No Fear of Flying

I began my teaching career in the bush of Alaska. The North Slope Borough School District is the northernmost district in the US, above the arctic circle, above any semblance of the city life I had known. However, living there for two years, you think I would have come prepared for a visit to the water-networked village.

It had been too long.

I had to borrow a pair of fishing boots from the partner of one of the teachers in the big city - Bethel. Someone only showed up with her patent leather flats and pumps. . . what WAS she thinking? Good thing my friend's partner is a man's man who subsistence fishes: there are no sidewalks - only boards above the marshy tundra.

I took the shortest ever flight - 14 minutes from door closing to door opening, wobbling a fearful 1/4 mile above the tundra. Had a chance to see a truck that had tried to cross on the ice nine years ago, but didn't make it. It sits there, in the marsh, rusting. Too bad the camera was in the cargo holder - also known as the tail of the plane and the back seat.

The all time best response when I inquired about a restaurant or store for dinner was, "You have to go to the village on the other side". That meant swimming across freezing waters. NOT going to happen. Fortunately, two zealous teachers invited me over for hamburgers and Kraft Mac & Cheese. They were right out of college - could you tell?

Water taxis aren't only in Venice! I did get a wonderful hour-long taxi ride to the next site. Yes, all that luggage is mine, including the sleeping bag that I wrote off as a lodging expense, considering I had to use it for sleep in the Principal's office and on mats of the gym floor.

The beauty of this trip? By using an internet-based tool, we are able to connect teachers in remote villages to collaborate with and communicate about their instruction and kids' learning. While they might only see central office staff through distance learning courses, they have at their fingertips the district prescribed and researched best practicies in education, working to ensure that each child in each village is exposed to the same curricular opportunities. Some are more keen to use the internet (computer) than others, but at least the tool is at their disposal!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Virtual Learning Environments

Here's a news flash: I work for a company that supports virtual learning environments. On the surface, I would question this. We manage curriculum. But we also support learners, adult learners, in the process of managing their curriculum. How much and to what extent depends on the desire of the learners.

Wonderfully, I have the opportunity to learn of other associations that are providing these tools to educators. For instance, the ever (in)f amous College Board of AP course fame has an incredible system called SpringBoard through which teachers receive curricululm, instructional strategies correlated to that curriculum, can design tests, and have those tests graded. On one hand, I wish I had known about it during my teaching days, even though it targests the "core" subjects. On the other hand, I enjoyed the creativity of designing my own learning environment and adding the virtual aspects to it.

Virtual learning environments aren't restricted to the internet. Some are site-managed, for commercial reasons. Immediately, I think of Sylvan learning centers and test preparation centers. I appreciate how the tests are sensitive to areas of digitally perceived weaknesses and the tests/exercises modified to lower or raise the bar according to the responsiveness of the student. Isn't this what strong educators do instinctively?

The most important factor of a real-time or virtual learning environment is that a student learns under the facilitation of a qualified and knowledgable educator. As George Siemens says, "Our tools are extensions of ourselves. We desire to extend our competence by creating tools that cover our weaker attributes" (Knowing Knowledge, pg. 110). Embedded technology then should be an extension of a teacher who realizes s/he doesn't have all the knowledge, but a key competency is understanding what teaching and learning is all about.

What is admirable about the SpringBoard program is that they piloted with school districts in real need, took their suggestions and implementations under strong consideration and merged it with their years of knowledge through data collected on various tests. The result is a virtual learning environment built on best practices from people in the field. It uses technology as a tool for both teacher and student learning, but not as the focal point of instruction or learning.

I hope that others who have been working with Atlas Rubicon feel the same way, because I can see a similar behind-the-scenes process, but have lost the perspective from in the field.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Media Sharing

A former music teacher sees infinite possibilities of media sharing over the web. How much simpler to upload sound files for auditions or competitions rather than sending tapes (yes, that was the 2003 expectation!) or CD's.

I love the thought of my former grade 6 video project being off of the school server and onto the net where distant families can download it (rather than 60+ people asking one teacher for a copy).

However, the most significant use of media sharing came from leaving my family in Michigan after Thanksgiving. You won't know these faces, but I am grateful for what Picasa enabled me to do: to send them reminders a week later, of how blessed we are to be the family we are. I was able to send a link to family that didn't fly in, and to relive learning "Soulja Boy" from my nieces. Too bad I didn't reset my camera's clock after putting in the new battery! (Yes, Jeff, this is the camera you picked out for us in Jeddah - Andy has the new one!)

Solja Boy is a recording company 2.0 story - a young man who wanted to make his own dance, produced it using just FL Studio, put it out on YouTube, and had his album released 10/2/2007. It made #1 on Billboard and the top of the charts in other countries. I think that's Ludacris making a cameo.

The School of Tomorrow

The most comforting aspect of the school of tomorrow, School 2.0, was in the upper right hand corner.

Amid the excitement and cartoon bubble text reflecting our classrooms without walls was a web of advice to:

Parents, Teachers, Students, Administrators, Community Members, Technologists

Even policymakers were included. The one group I wanted to see listed was Educator Training Facilities. I don't doubt that Professors are in fact teachers and included in the encouragement to see "the world is your classroom - know that you don't have to have all the answers". My experience with college, particularly at a university, is one of self-teaching and discovery learning (mostly through texts and journals). However, for meaningful and lasting progress to take place in the mindset of educators, it must begin prior to their induction, as they're learning the theories and history of their craft.

There is no doubt that meaningful professional development can and does occur on site, in learning communities, and naturally, through online conferencing and continuing education. It is also fortunate that novice teachers leaving the universities are digital natives familiar if not intimate with the technologies availble for teaching and learning.

My concern is: if educators are being trained for instruction in classrooms with tables and chairs and (hopefully) integration of technology, when will they learn the pedagogy of embedded technology that can differentiate across multiple learning styles and intelligences. When will trained administrators be prepared for positions that do not support basic computer skills, rather have the expectation of innovative uses to improve teaching and learning.

I look forward to seeing University 2.0, not about financial planning, not about internal systems, but about teacher preparation, very soon.