Friday, December 28, 2007

Fear of Flying

Tomorrow, I have to get on an airplane, and lucky for me it looks like we'll have a winter storm to fly through (written with sarcasm), hopefully to warmer weather on the other side! I'm sure there will be nervousness and trepidation for many of the passengers traveling this holiday season; and this has me thinking about how our fears sometimes restrict our personal and professional growth.

Recently, I had the opportunity to read "Helping Users Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway"
"Reduce my fear or guilt, and I'll be grateful. Help me do something that really IS scary, and I'll be grateful and exhilarated."

While succeeding (or failing) at something that is frightening, challenging, or with unknown consequences, may not be life-altering; there is little doubt that such emotionally-charged experiences, provide plenty of self-knowledge and enrich our lives regarless of the outcome. Providing opportunities for risk and reward in a safe environment is what much of teaching should be about. In the best of cases, educators take the occasional leap themselves and model learning through risk-taking, celebrating both success and failure at their attempts.

While many of the educational projects I've undertaken have been novel and unique, they've always been done within the relative safety of the classroom, or in front of a controlled audience of teachers. This blog on the other hand, is the forcing me to think, to reflect, to share, and above all, to take significant risks in front of a potentially global audience!

I just read Scott McLeod's Dangerously Irrelevant post "Blogs that Deserve a Bigger Audience", and I'm reassured knowing that those first to take the leap are working to soften the landing for those that follow. As an educator who has only recently been inspired to take the leap in ruminating publicly (talk about a YouTube moment!), this type of support cannot be under-rated.

Fear of Flying isn't just about the airplane... In the case of blogging, it's about the fear of what others might think of your ideas and about how effectively you engage others in the discussion. In the case of this blog, I'll go on... knowing that this type of risk-taking and learning is what education is all about. I love the metaphor provided in the EDS advertsement: "Building Airplanes in the Sky".

Knowing that educators are constantly flying without a net in implementing new curriculum; in attempting and adopting new strategies; and in making connections with new students, my hope is that educators will see themselves as model learners in taking personal and professional attempts at flight.

Maybe in the time I'm away, a few readers will take a risk in adding their comments to a blog that catches their attention and makes them think. I'll be back in a week or so... provided the plane makes it!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

New Conversations for a New Year

Many forward thinking educators find themselves teaching with their classroom doors closed in order to avoid conflict with their colleagues who are teaching in more 'traditional' ways. If you are a teacher who would rather have the students speak, than have your own voice be heard; If you are a teacher who would rather have students work on engaging cross-curricular projects, than turn pages in textbooks; If you are a teacher who would rather provide access to a real world audience for student work, than grade and return student assignments, then there is a high probability that you are in need of opportunities to connect with like-minded educators!

The reality in the many schools I've taught in, and visited, is that teachers who strive to engage their students in engaging projects, often run the risk of being seen by their teaching collagues as 'rebels' or worse yet, teachers who lack 'discipline'. The fact that a teacher might have students up and out of their desks, speaking with other students, and demonstrating learning with tools other than pencils, pens and books, must be threatening to those who have only experienced working with compliant students sitting in rows and following the lead of the 'sage on the stage'.

Rather than engaging in meaningful collaborative learning with neighbouring teachers (whose doors might also be closed... if only to keep their students from seeing your active learners), educators on their way to becoming 'Teacher 2.0', might be better to open discussions with peers whose classrooms are undertaking similar transformations: moving from the teacher-directed model to more constructivist, project-based learning approaches. Luckily, many of these teachers have opened virtual doorways to their classrooms via the World Wide Web.

While you may or may not have your students use read/write tools like Wikis, Blogs, and Podcasts, you might well find inspiration from seeing the work of others who are leveraging these tools to engage in global conversations. I know that many of these classrooms/teachers are looking to network with other classrooms from around the world, so by all means, consider participating in the discussion!

Conversation Starters:

View some Teacher/Classroom Blogs:
EduBlog Award Nominees:
Educational Podcast Network:

A few Folks you might want to meet/read:

Wesley Fryer:
Will Richardson:
Bob Sprankle:

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Darker Shade of Grey: Cheating in Digital Times

Recent news articles lead me to the conclusion that cheating is the norm. My experience in the classroom tells me that educators can use these stories to generate discussion on 'Cheating in these times of Digital Media'.

Whether you consider the confessed drug use of Marion Jones, the denials of Floyd Landis, the reporting of Major League steroid users, or the 'spygate' controversy of the New England Patriots, the issue of cheating in high stakes athletics becomes less surprising by the day. Once out of the ordinary, cheating seems to be accepted (at least by co-conspirators) until someone gets caught. Then it's a few weeks of denials before tearful 'coming clean' press conferences.

This wave of reporting on cheaters in athletics, has prompted me to think about how 'normal' cheating seems to be in everyday life.

Consider the ways global citizens make use of technology in order to get 'something for nothing':

* bootlegged DVDs
* music downloading
* video game cheat codes
* iPhone hacks
* identity theft

While the consequences of getting caught doing these things varies greatly, the acceptability of digital theft has become common to many and disconcerting to a few. In David Pogue's recent post for the New York Times, The Generational Divide in Copyright Morality, he chronicles his experience in discovering how his readers and audience members sometimes fail to differentiate 'shades of grey' in digital copyright, and concludes "I do know, though, that the TV, movie and record companies’ problems have only just begun. Right now, the customers who can’t even *see* why file sharing might be wrong are still young. But 10, 20, 30 years from now, that crowd will be *everybody*. What will happen then?"

So, what does this have to do with education? Ethics in this digital age are something educators need to model if nothing else. Consider the teacher, young or old, who sometimes teaches with tools of a darker shade of grey:

* decides to play 'pirated' music from their iPod for dramatic effect;
* who 'shares' a home-burned DVD movie that dovetails with a current novel study;
* who embeds uncredited text into a PowerPoint presentation;
* who freely photocopies a published work for classroom reading;
* who uses images trawled from Google on a classroom website.

The responsibilities of modeling lawful use of creative works at the very least should require teachers to identify their sources prior to sharing them with a given class; and at best, would highlight the need for students to copyright and license their own creative works. Lawrence Lessig's recent TED talk, "How Technology is Being Strangled by the Law" highlights the fact that digital natives regularly mash media in creating new works, and that the laws governing copyright, help make us a society of law-breakers. Thanks to Wesley Fryer I've learned that a YouTube version of the talk is now available:

With cheating becoming the norm in society, and the 'find it in your hearts to forgive me' speeches filling the airwaves, educators have a golden opportunity to open classroom discussions on ethics in our time. Provided the classroom teacher is able to model and lead students in the creation of original 'non-infringing' content, the best way to move forward, may be for students to experience copyright first hand, in granting license to the non-commercial use of their own work through Creative Commons licensing.

Access an audio briefing on the Teacher 2.0 Podcast.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

From Me to We

From Networked Learning in a Networked World (courtesy of Weblogg-ed) "The problem of the edublogasphere (and actually the whole blogasphere) in the context of learning is that people in the sphere do not - at least often - form any groups (an entity of individuals with an objective)."

It seems to me that formalized 'group network learning' and 'online collaboration' only happen when something is a stake. A larger purpose or project is needed as a focus to draw people together.

I've experienced this reality in more than one way:

1] In working with students and mentors with David Neils at, one of the realities that came to light was that mentor-protege relationships are most effective when a project acts as the focus for the interactions. Diverse experiences and ideas necessarily contended with one another, and constructed with one another.

2] In leading teachers through an online course, focus questions were indispensable in launching meaningful discussions. Our online work was narrowly focused. Questions that encourage variable viewpoints are not always easy to come by. (Individual bloggers often align with like minds, missing out on such challenging interactions.)

3] In collaborating to develop common approaches to lead teachers to the use of e-learning tools in Ontario, my regional colleagues and I found great traction in developing sharable resources through Wiki documents. Our online work had a clear purpose.

Each of these online interactions was meaningful because something was at stake, amplifying motivation for all participants.

When Will Richardson shares "My learning has a general focus and direction, to be sure, but it’s trajectory is determined by whatever is in my aggregator or on my screen at the moment."

This thought affirms for me my discovery that independent learning and exploration through chosen feeds/channels is effective for creative tangential discovery; but not for 'product'ivity. For a product to result, a team has to come together with a common goal (be it a conference, presentation, paper, resource...).

'Individual network learning' may not be an oxymoron... it may simply be the way individual online voices seek content from their networks: downloading for incentive to upload. (e.g., the Blogger whose livliehood depends on individual posts/presentations; the student trying to complete a research paper.)

'Group network learning' on the other hand, has many contributing via upload, so that in the end, the group has something worth sharing with the world via downloading! (e.g., The Future of Learning in a Networked World conference; Open Source software development; Wikipedia).

My four year old at his first soccer game had the wisdom to network before moving towards a common 'goal'. I wonder how many of the individual voices in the blogosphere are yearning like I am, for collaborative projects in which to vest their mutual interests... Project-Based Learning anyone?!

Google Holiday Map

The Google Blog has just posted a radical idea for bringing the world together in a compelling way over the next week or so. My Maps are Our Maps invites people to post stories, traditions and more in the form of photographs embedded into a Google Map. (Photos, or YouTube videos can be embedded; but content must be present on the World Wide Web prior to adding it to a Google map.)

The entry includes a link to a Google Map user guide. It will be very interesting to see how this map develops as the personal stories of global celebrations of Christmas, Chanukah and the New Year are added. This is one terrific example of Digital Storytelling!

If only educators had known about this before the end of school for the holiday break...? Certainly there are other classroom and community applications for such a project. It is an engaging idea that can be scaled from classroom, to school, to community, to city, to state/province, to country, to the global community. I'm guessing we'll soon see more than few educational adaptations of this idea... A few of my own ideas are on today's Teacher 2.0 Podcast.

Found one! A local holiday Christmas lights map! This map highlights outstanding light displays in Lakeland Florida, spring home of the Detroit Tigers:

Friday, December 21, 2007

Linear Brains and Soft Returns

One autumn morning in 1999, I had the opportunity to attend a hands-on workshop to learn how to use Microsoft Office. I walked away learning only one new skill, but it has saved me innumerable frustrations with aligning text in a wide range of computer programs. The skill, was the soft return. You may already know that using the return/enter key, along with the shift key, ensures that text wraps onto the next line (as opposed to beginning a new paragraph), but you may be surprised at how many keyboarders are unaware of this command. That one tip, made the 90 minute workshop worthwhile for me. Since that day, I've used the 'soft return' as a gauge for the usefulness of a professional development workshop.

Uh Oh! Students are learning on their own every day! Whether learning to use MS Office, or producing content for a social networking site, independent learners often live in ignorance of their own learning gaps. Consider this fact amidst the reality that many young people are learning online skills before their teachers have even heard of the technologies, and we have a problem not easily rectified!

How can educators provide thoughtful advice to digital natives in this reality? We can't... Unless we get learning ourselves! Teachers need to experience the tools over time in order to understand their appeal, and to consider ways of harnessing these tools for educational purposes.

But first, what hurdles must be overcome? I can think of a few:

Hurdle #1: Training on the use of Web 2.0 tools, needs to be done in an environment that suits the 'linear brains' of experienced teachers.

Hurdle #2: Techno-literate teachers are hard to come by! With few educators (and fewer administrators?) having the skills to lead such training, it will be challenging to move forward.

Hurdle #3: Late to the party, teachers will struggle to gain the respect of more experienced students.

With support from Mike Wesch and his students at Kansas State University, consider this soft return on how writing is different in the world of the Web:

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Let's Meet Them on the Hills

I'd like to share with you a metaphor for Web 2.0 and other e-Learning tools:

The story begins in my hometown of Windsor, Ontario, where late in the summer of 2007, city workers saw the need to remove the lone hill in Memorial Park. Those unfamiliar with the geography of southern Ontario, might be interested to know that the extreme southern leg of the province is FLAT. Thanks to the same glaciation that fed the great lakes thousands of years ago, the land is flat, but fertile.

So flat is the area, that the city council had more calls in sadness and frustration at the loss of the hill, than had been experienced by elected officials in recent memory... Which is why, in the fall of 2007, the hill was rebuilt!

To me, the interesting thing about this hill, is that it drew people to the area. It is no coincidence that this photo taken shortly after the hill was rebuilt, has been christened with a picnic table (no doubt by energetic teens in the neighbourhood).

FACT #1: E-learning tools, Social Networking sites and Web 2.0 products draw people to use the World Wide Web. Whether out of curiousity, or as a meeting place, these 'virtual hills' serve important purposes, and as soon as they are built, people find them, and begin using them! It's a fact that the first reaction of 'supervisors' to new technologies is to block access; but eventually, (too often after a number of years!) the value of the tool seems to win out.

Hills seem to draw attention and people no matter how large or small. in August of 2007, the pile of dirt pictured below was added to the park across the street from my home. Within hours, young people from the neighbourhood had built a motocross challenge area. Taking the picnic table and spare planks from garages nearby, the park had a new, 'most popular spot'. Even though this park boasts a soccer field, a baseball diamond, a soccer pitch, a child's playground and tennis courts, the final weeks of summer saw young people gravitate to the small pile of dirt in far greater numbers than any of the other attractions.

FACT #2: No matter how insignificant technological learning tools appear to adult educators, young people will enthusiastically join in using these tools... Often to the point of ignoring all types of traditional learning resources.

Now that winter has come to Canada in the form of great amounts of snow, the community toboggan hill has become the recreation centre for the community. Now that the patches of dirt can no longer accommodate bicycles, the 'X-games' fans decided that hills could benefit from the addition of some creative accents.

Fact #3: The use of the Read/Write Web can be hazardous! One should not dive into using evolving e-learning tools until he/she has taken the time to use the tools... and perhaps the more basic tools that might lead one to consider newer tools. Beyond the risks teachers need to take in trying new 'tricks', these new Web tools pose perils of which we need to be aware. These hazards are often the ones that grab the most headlines, even though the rich learning opportunities afforded by these tools are worthy of their own attention.

Hills and e-Hills were both meant to be climbed. When new hills or e-hills pop up on the horizon, they will draw the attention of young people in particular. Educators need to be prepared to meet the students who attempt to scale these hills. Now that I think of it, maybe it was a teacher who chose to put that picnic table on top of the hill in Memorial Park...

The Podcast version of this story is now available in iTunes! You can also click here to access the Teacher 2.0... the audio version!

Teacher 2.0

It's about time... We've heard the phrase Web 2.0 for next generation software for the past few years and in 2007 more and more people began using the term School 2.0. I particularly like David Warlick's take on the differences between this 'new' school and School 1.0: "School 2.0’s greatest affect on teaching and learning is that it empowers both roles with a Yin and Yang affect. Teacher’s become learners and learners become teachers, and each side is empower with conversation, control over their information landscape, and connections with each other — with almost no constraints of hierarchy."

So as the year winds down, maybe this is the best time for 'individual teachers' to consider where they fit into the new paradigm... What is Teacher 2.0?

I really think that the many changes taking place revolve around how willing and able teachers are to make use of the e-learning tools at their disposal. After all, knowledge creation is no longer about learning for oneself, but rather, it is about moving communities of learners forward, and sharing the experience with 'outsiders'.

As classrooms continue to evolve, I believe that the changing of the blackboard has the greatest potential for engaging learners. Although interactivity is important, I'm not speaking of the use of SmartBoard technology, or even as Will Richardson reports: the evolving Wii-Mote controlled screen as created by Johnny Lee

Rather, I'm thinking about any technology that brings the world wide web to the blackboard. Tradition might say that the 'Web on the Wall' is equivalent to putting global knowledge on the wall, considering Web 1.0; but putting the Web on the Wall to me, means providing a large shared window through which your learners can interact with others around the world; and through which other global students can have virtual 'window-seats' in your classroom. Once the Web is on the wall, the interactivity and networking among global classrooms becomes the dynamic by which teaching and learning have no choice but to change.

So what are teachers to do? I contend that teachers need to commit themselves to becoming e-teachers by becoming familiar with one technology at a time. For a given school year, a teacher might focus on "How to engage presentation tools (PowerPoint; Keynote; Corel Presentations)"; or "How to leverage one of many available communication tools (e-mail; blogs; wikis...)"; or "How to have students produce content and products for a global audience (podcasting; video production; online publishing". Today's Teacher 2.0 Podcast is a brief call-to-action along this line of thinking.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Google... Now More than a Verb!

Everyone knows that Google is "The Search Engine that Became a Verb", but relatively few people are aware of the steps Google has taken to become a Webware company. Educators who have yet to discover the value of the Read/Write Web, need to become aware of Google's Tools. (That sounds funnier than I intended...) You may have heard of Blogger, YouTube, Google Maps and more, but have you actually used them. Google Documents is less well-known, but it has powerful literacy connections.

In today's Teacher 2.0 podcast-mini, I've highlighted one of these tools: Google Documents. But before educators can make effective use of these tools, they have to see their usefulness in their own work. Will Richardson's summer commentary hit the mark: "I’ve been trying of late to convince folks that until they understand the uses of these tools in their own learning practice they’ll be really hard pressed to deliver the different pedagogies that go along with them in compelling and effective ways."

In short, Google Documents is an online word processor that allows for the creation of documents (and spreadsheets, and slideshow presentations) that can be edited collaboratively. Google Docs tracks all changes to a given document over time, so a teacher can browse all draft versions of a document highlighting any one person's contributions. This is doable with paper and pen, but now it's a new RSS: Really Simple Supervision!

But wait... There's More!
Google documents also provides 'one click publishing'. This is the simplest way I know of, to publish any 'document' online. Your students can have global audiences for their written work if you can find a way to share the links to their work. Any document can be posted to the web. For an overview of how simple it is to do this publishing, view this really short tutorial (What can I say, it's simple!).

Search Skills are still needed! Even though these new tools are being harnessed by new users every day, there are many, many teachers who have yet to master basic online search skills. If educators knew that they could limit their searches to PowerPoint files; or PDF files (colouring pages anyone); or today's news articles... they'd feel empowered to use the web, and would truly be able to Google for Gold.

It's still just a constantly growing sea of information for too many... Little do we realize how this information is 'self-organizing' itself to be the a 'thinking machine'. If you have yet to see Robin Sloan and Matt Thomson's future vision: Epic 2015, this would be a good time!

Maybe the day will come when a user will identify him/herself as a student or teacher, and Google will intuitively provide the most relevant search results. Some search engines already provide personalized responses... but that's another story!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Teacher 2.0: The Podcast

This has been one interesting week!

With two of my brothers very much 'into' podcasting, it was only a matter of time before I got the bug. While the motivation hit me on a few consecutive 'very snowy evenings', I managed to record the first of what I hope to be a number of short conversation starters.

I've decided to post my content at (the liberation syndicate) and after learning a bit about hosting and linking, I've made an attempt to attach my introductory 'Teacher 2.0' podcast. You can also access the audio by clicking the title of this post. With any luck this podcast will make effective use of RSS and fingers crossed, will soon be available via iTunes.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Reading is Changing

No, the focus of this entry is not the 'Kindle', Yahoo's recently launched e-book reader. I firmly believe that if people have to bring something along for the ride, an actual book is a lot more convenient! No batteries, no worries about theft, no need to download anything... just bring it along.

I believe the skill of reading is changing none-the-less. I know in my personal life, much of my reading is done reading text from my computer screen (PDFs, Web content, blogs...). My children also spend much of their time reading online text (albeit much of that written by their friends and classmates). With the sheer volume of text to be reviewed in a given day, it is proving to be necessary to be a different type of reader, than we were taught to be in school. With the explosion in content sure to continue, we need to prepare young people to be learners who are able to scan for keywords and topic sentences; to be researchers who are efficient at extracting key ideas; to be documentarians who can track their hyper-learning; to be judges, able to critically consider the validity and relevance of content.

While tools like 'Google Notebook' are available to help develop these skills, I'm not convinced that a wide cross-section of today's teachers is currently able to demonstrate these skills... Let alone, qualified to teach them. Although it's a number of years old already, Alan November's story "Teaching Zach to Think" is still very relevant, as is the November Learning "Websites to Validate" activity.

On the topic of Reading and Change:
Thanks to Wes Fryer (and others) for promoting the free e-books available from the MacArthur Foundation. From Moving at the Speed of Creativity: "If you’re looking for some holiday reading related to digital learning, check out this great set of free ebooks from MIT Press Journals and the MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning."

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Why "The Clever Sheep"

For starters, find Harold, the clever sheep at two minutes in to this Monty Python Sketch:

It's an easy metaphor to apply to schools. Many teachers and students take the easy route in complying to the demands of their 'keepers'. Rather than simply following, the 'clever sheep' is prone to ask "Why are we doing this?".

David Warlick in a recent post makes reference to the importance of discernment, which is rarely the focus of the flock: "I think that if we want our students to become discerning consumers, we need to make them discerning learners. ..and I do not think that we can do this simply by teaching lessons on evaluating content. I think that we have to work as discerning teachers. Put those textbooks and other packaged teaching materials away, and teach from the real world of content."

The clever sheep in the Python sketch knows his plight, and is 'set on the idea'r of escape'. I think our cleverest students are the ones who challenge us to ensure our lessons are relevant; while our cleverest teachers are those that challenge the status quo by engaging evolving technologies.

Whether teacher or student, all 'sheep' benefit by exposure to rich, relevant learning experiences. My hope is that this blog will expose educators to an ever-changing menu of e-learning tools, inspiring the 'cleverest sheep' among us to fly!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Networks over Nodes

A few hours with Will Richardson spread over the past few days in London, helped me feel for the first time in a long while that "I'm not alone!"

In my work as an e-learning teacher and consultant, I was already aware of, Twitter, WetPaint, blogs, wikis and the many GoogleTools we tabbed through to consider the salient points of building networks; New to me was the fact that these many tools could be networked themselves, drawing upon common content courtesy of RSS.

Even so, what stood out most powerfully for me, was the fact that so many present in the room had so few questions about the relevance of what we were doing. Even Will's 'wait time' failed to illicit many questons or comments, due in large part to the fact that so many of us were on the same wavelength. I was physically immersed in a community who not only 'got it', but seemed to agree that we had to do what we could to connect with one another, and to bring others along for the ride in harnessing the tools.

Will's blog post of today put it very well I think:

It’s different now, somehow, than it was a year ago. It’s more immersive. It all feels deeper, closer somehow. Even more important. Maybe it’s just the glow of the prospect of being home for a month. Or the buzz of spending a couple of days with some folks who seemed to, on some level, get the fact that this really is about more than learning the tools. It’s about creating connections, intellectual connections, for sure, but potentially more.

In a year that I've traveled a fair bit in promoting e-learning across southern Ontario, I appreciated the fact you took leave of those closest to you, to assist others in strengthening their own professional and personal networks. You may not have been the first to state that "The network is more powerful than the node." but you were the first in a long while to engage this learner in high level thinking about the collaborative use of the read-write web!

Will Richardson in London

Had a great learning opportunity today... The workshop was hosted on ustream. If you're available, join us!

School S___s

What could the title be??

Truth is, when kids used to say to me "School Sucks" I took it personally as a challenge on more than one level. One, the language was vulgar. Two the implication was that as a teacher, I was 'school', and so the student was making a comment about me!

Now that I've got over 20 years experience in education, I have come to agree that "School Sucks", but I've started this blog to expend the thought: "School Sucks: WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT !"