Thursday, January 31, 2008

Instant or Nothing

Educators need to realize that while young people today do not understand how to make effective use of all evolving technologies, the one thing young people really do understand is the effectiveness of 'instant communication'.

Attracted to e-tools that instantly link them with their peers, youth of today are embracing instant messaging via MSN; cell phones; text messaging; and visiting with friends 'in real time' on Facebook.

At the same time, teachers seem by and large to have embraced e-mail as their preferred form of electronic communication. Usually asynchronous, email is something young people seem to be shunning in favour of instant communication tools.

The next big thing may well be 'instant group communication'. With the exception of 'Blackberry' addicts, I think society at large has yet to latch onto this, but tools like Twitter for group texting, and Foonz for group cell phone calls, will soon be the norm rather than the cool cutting edge way to communicate... at least with young people!

Teachers, are you not tweating yet? Head on over to Twitter and get your free account. Maybe you can latch on to a technology before your students do! 'Follow' the actions of colleagues and friends and classrooms around the world. If you're short on network nodes, you can always find 'thecleversheep'!

ScreenSteps Review

As a user of many different types of applications, I've discovered many time-savers in the past dozen years or so.  The newest member of my toolkit allows me to create shareable documents that would take 2-5 times as long to create in a simple word processor.

ScreenSteps by Blue Mango Learning Systems has made great strides in a short time! Not enough people know about this niche tool for creating tutorials that can be published as PDF docs, or as HTML pages, so I'm going to provide you with a window into the latest version of this application, released at the recent MacWorld Conference.  If you create software tutorials, 'how to' documents, or technical manuals, the latest version is well worth a test drive.

How it Works

Users take screen captures (or other images) and combine them with text to create multi-step documents.  Each step consists of one title, one image, and one block of text.  The layout is straightforward with a few simple commands and an intuitive interface.  The best way to get your head around how the tool works is to watch this screencast.

Great Adaptations
  • Editing the images right within the document (adding numbers, arrows, highlights...), is a great little time-saver.  Although I didn't mind the separate window that was used to add these touches in version one, the automatically adapting graphic menu is a treat.  Simply click on an image to see the menu of visual elements that can be added to any screen grab.
  • A library of documents now means that all images and related text are just a click away.  In version one, tutorials were saved as separate files, each with its own companion images folders.  Since I was familiar with this organizational format from my web design days, I could manage it, but it is far easier to manage with everything neatly packed within a single program file.
  • The importing of other ScreenSteps documents was seemless!
  • Searching document is vastly improved with a keyword search window, and the opportunity to attach and search by keyword tags.
  • Documents have a common look and feel with chapter markers automatically created any time you title a subsection.  The default layouts are crisp and easy to read.

Notes for the Development Team

There are a few characteristics that can be modified to make this an even more useful tool:

1] When you click on a library item, you don't get any feedback to tell you that the document is 'opening' and will soon be ready for edit.  Because the files contain multiple screen grabs, I can understand that they take a few seconds to open on screen, but there should be some way for the user to know a] that they have clicked on the file (a small click sound?); and b] that the file is opening (a 'document loading' message?).

2] Creating a new document by using one from the library as a template should be more easily accomplished.  As it stands I've had to copy multiple steps to new documents, but it would be far easier to create custom documents for unique audiences if I could simply save older work under new names.

3] I was surprised that I was only able to access one template when printing to PDF.  With a few colours available when exporting to HTML, it shouldn't be difficult to create a few new document templates. 

ScreenSteps is an easy-to-use tool that has no true competition.  It has only been around a short while, but it is already a tool that I've already identified as one of my top ten tech tools. If you teach, and your time is nearly as valuable as mine, you're sure to find that the productivity gains made possible through the use of this tool make it well worth the price. (Academic pricing starts under $32 CDN).

Blogged with Flock

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

You Call 'This' a Normal Day?!

I was just reflecting back on the different applications I've used today... pretty much a normal day, and I'm coming to the realization that there are many tools that are a normal part of my workflow.  Consider the following rough timeline:

Midnight: Access my bookmarks to find the name of the 'wakeup call' website I'd recently bookmarked.

12:02 a.m.
: Set up a 7 a.m. wakeup call at

7:00 a.m.: Awake to the sound of my cell phone ringing... Upon answer, a mechanized voice reads back to me the message I'd posted 7 hours earlier.

7:10 a.m.: Load Camino web browser and with one click, open my 'Daily' bookmarks folder to read the news of the day. 

7:20 a.m.: Quick check on Twitter to see who was up to what last evening...

8:00 a.m.: Early arrival at the workshop site provides me with time to a few recent skating photos from iPhoto to my Keynote presentation

8:10 a.m.: My district e-learning contact is not yet on site, so I decided to select a topic from my Xpad notebook and to record a quick little Podcast using Garageband

8:18 a.m.: Convert podcast to MP3 format in iTunes.

8:20 a.m.: Upload podcast to Libsyn and ping the iTunes server.

9:00 a.m.: Share Keynote presentation with workshop attendees (various 'photos of ice-skating', zamboni, shovel man... as a metaphor for e-learning).

9:15 a.m.: Open multiple tabs in Camino to highlight e-Learning tools in Ontario.  Work with participants on course customization in their browser of choice: MS Explorer (yuck!)

10:30 a.m.
: Highlight for participants how Flickr and Audacity can be used to create more memorable communications in the online course environment.

11:00 a.m.
: Tweak 'how to' documents in ScreenSteps and send PDF versions to participants via First Class

11:45 a.m.: Check on my work mail for urgent messages via First Class

1:00 p.m.: Assist district ICT consultant in mini-workshop to tame Google Documents, and Wet Paint wikis as places to host online course materials.  My take is that these tools can be leveraged by students for electronic portfolios.

1:30 p.m.
: Assist district e-learning contact in enrolling students in courses by using an Excel spreadsheet (csv format)

1:45 p.m.: Phone Desire2Learn to investigate internal email issues in the learning management system.

2:00 p.m.
: Partner with district ICT consultant to highlight how Google Analytics tracks web traffic (my RPT site has hits from 162 countries to date!)

2:30 p.m.
: Review evening ice skating in Komoka movie created in iMovie and uploaded to to complete the metaphor: "If you build it, they will come."

2:45 p.m.
: Time to drive home... Catching up on my favourite CBC podcasts on the 2 hour drive

7:00 p.m.: Visit the recording of an Adobe Connect e-learning session on 'course customization' that I missed while driving home

7:20 p.m.: Open Flock to check on my 'network' of education bloggers, twitterers,  and social learning networkers

7:40 p.m.
: upload new links to my my bookmarks

7:45 p.m.
: type this blog entry in Flock

8:20 p.m.: upload blog entry to Blogger

There is nothing exceptional about this day... in most ways it is a mirror of my 'normal' working day. My exposure to multiple applications the past ten years or so make this seem all so natural and seemless.  I'm sure that this is far from a 'normal' day for a teacher, but with the way my day flows, I rarely reflect on the apps I'm using.  Then again, maybe I'm just a 'geek'?

Does anyone else think about their daily workflow in terms like these?

Blogged with Flock

Monday, January 28, 2008

Square Pegs and Soapboxes

Clarence Fisher in an open letter to Gary Stager writes:

"We are a new type of teacher working in new and changing learning environments. We are willing to experiment and drive towards new forms of learning. We fit into the education system like square pegs in round holes."

Bang on!

One of the main reasons that the pace of change in education is soooo frustratingly slow, is that as square pegs, we remain the minority.   It is only recently, thanks to a variety of Web 2.0 tools, that we've been able to find one another, and to positively reinforce our collective works to engage learners.  Events such as Educon 2.0 result in positive energy simply because so many are gathered with the same motivation.   The square pegs come to realize that they are on the right path in spite of the opposition they sometimes face in their local communities. Too bad for all of us, that so few round pegs even know that such events are taking place.

On our own, each of us may have to teach with doors closed so as not to offend the rest of the herd; it is only when clever sheep like Clarence Fisher find one another, that they can institute change that is noticeable on a grand scale.  By being on top of our virtual soapboxes, we are able to publish ideas that may just lead a few roundish pegs to gain sharp corners, and, over time, may result in large scale educational reform.
Courtesy of Ewan McIntosh comes this BBC news item: What Makes a Good Teacher?

"The big question now is whether - after 20 years of being told exactly what and how to teach - there are enough teachers ready to be "creatively subversive"?

If we were the majority, then Gary would notice changes in classroom environments... In order to get there, our voices, our ideas, our words have to be from high enough to be heard by as many teachers as possible.  Please don't come down off of your box yet Clarence, the movement towards Classroom 2.0 needs you!

Blogged with Flock

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Educon is Classroom 2.0

Kudos to Chris Lehmann and the organizing team at Educon! As a group of like-minded educators, this weekend in Philadelphia, you've actually created Classroom 2.0... perhaps without realizing it?!

If learning in the classroom of the future is truly going to harness technology of the day, and to use it to engage student and teacher alike in meaningful learning, then the interactive nature of the sessions and the participatory response of attendees (both physical and virtual), may one day be seen as a significant educational tipping point.

The fact that educators from around the world could 'in real time', see, hear and participate in presentations and discussions, represents a radical departure from the traditional conference, which is usually modeled on old educational paradigms where the audience sits and listens to a learned expert.

In turning the working sessions into discussions and public thinking, participants at Educon are modeling what classrooms around the world can be: places where student voices and teacher voices co-mingle in learning activities that are rooted in real world problems... problems such as: "What does Classroom 2.0 Look Like?"

It was great to see photos, to hear panel discussions, to read responses from participants, to witness recorded workshops, and to participate in live streamed sessions. It would have been great to be there in person, but the next best thing was having the opportunity to engage in online dialogue with like-minded educators from across North America.

Through the anticipatory posts of David Warlick; the live tweets ofSyvlia Martinez; on site reflections ofWill Richardson; and live blogging of Gary Stager, it was easy to feel included. Thanks to organizers and participants alike for opening the doors to this event. Courtesy of Flickr, Ustream, Twitter, and other Web 2.0 tools, distant educators were able to experience the conference from afar. Here's hoping the optimism generated at this event will ripple through many school districts in the coming weeks and months.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Can Google Find My Keys?

My keys always go into the same drawer with my wallet, my cell phone and my iPod. Always that is, until I change clothes mid-day and have keys in my pocket. On these occasions, my keys might end up on the dresser, in my other pants, on the floor...

And a question came to mind: "What if Google could find my keys?"

A few moments later, it hit me: Google will be able to find my keys in the not too distant future! Not only will Google be able to find my keys, but it will be able to track just about any physical object on the planet... at least those 'infected' with RFID tags at the point of sale.

You know the technology, a microchip with a micro-antenna that broadcasts information to a reader. It's the technology that Wal-Mart uses to track every sale and to automatically order replacement stock.

Since every tag has a unique 'signature', you could theoretically locate any tagged object... whether on a store shelf, buried underground, or in the case of my keys, under my bed!

The world where scanners can tell so much about me might be very scary. As I enter a tech store, they might ID me as a Mac fan by noticing the RFID tag embedded in my iPod; or entering a clothing store, they might know my sizes and brand preferences from the tags in the lining of my clothes; a garbage truck might be able to scan my trash and know that I've thrown out any of a number of 'products'.

I know that this technology has many unknowns and since my Wired magazine subscription has only recently been renewed, I'll have to get refresh my thoughts on the use of this technology. But maybe, just maybe, the fact I will be able to Google my keys, will make RFID a bit more palatable?

More in depth ramblings recently added to the Teacher 2.0 podcast.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

5 Cloud Technologies to Consider

It is wireless technology that put Thomas Friedman's 'earth flatteners' on steroids. Will cloud technologies have a significant impact on education? For this to happen, school districts will have to consider what roles will be played by the following puzzle pieces:

1] WiFi Networks: For the past 5 years or so, these networks have slowly moved from dream towards reality in blanketing cities across North America and Europe (Montreal, San Francisco, London...). Will school districts seriously consider the potential of wireless, especially in light of the following realities.

2] Sub-Notebooks: These'air'computers currently include the recently released Asus EEE, and Macbook Air. These computers begin the migration from powerful adaptable hardware, to micro-machines that can take advantage of wireless technologies to do online work. These 'windows to the web' may lead the change from shrink-wrapped software purchase to online software subscription.

3] Palm technology: From cell phones to iPods to PDA's and their many hybrid cousins, these powerful networking devices offer the chance for individuals (and classrooms) to network with people and with information, anytime, anywhere.

4] Tag Clouds: Millions of taggers are teaching the machine by tagging everything with keywords. The relationships among photos, hyperlinks, blog posts, and more are becoming 'understood' by the machines that govern the world wide web.

5] Digital Publishing: Anyone can publish for a global audience via text, images, or video; and they can access pixels at low or no cost.

These are not 'future' technologies, but present day realities. It's time to think seriously about how we will leverage these tools, not only from the grassroots, but from the technologically superior offices and boardrooms that oversee our classrooms.

If You Freeze it; They Will Come

Did you catch "Growing up Online"... I'm thinking we could do a followup expose in any North American community: Teachers: Growing up OFFLINE".

If you freeze everything in education the way it is now, and promise not to change it for a time, educators may well feel safe enough to explore current communications tools. Maybe this 'hard freeze' is what is needed to embolden teachers to learn new skills.

In the park across the street from my house, the ice-makers have been transforming the tennis courts into a hockey rink. In my one-minute documentary: "If You Freeze it; They Will Come" ("Field of Dreams: Canada" is my alternate title), you'll notice that freezing things really can bring people together.

YOU get it, and you are learning every day, but beyond keeping yourself informed, what can you do to assist those who don't 'get it'? Far too many students enter 'historic classrooms', stepping back in time whenever they pass through school doors. How do you bring more people on board so that students can be exposed to modern day learning tools. If YOU don't help to bring about necessary change, who will?

We know that new tools will continue to evolve, and will draw users who will demand the ability to create, customize, edit, and share with others. What is needed now more than ever is a way to scaffold the professional development of new and existing teachers, so that as a community of learners, we can learn about new communications tools rather than blocking them because young people 'get it' and we don't.

Remember when teens used to speak in coded language (piglatin, valley-speak...) so that adults wouldn't understand... The reality is that the Internet is now their language, and they feel safe saying or doing anything, because they know that adults in general, don't understand the language. We need to find ways of helping our colleagues learn the language.

So much has to change; before schools become totally irrelevant. Hoping to expand the discussion, I've posted an audio commentary on the Teacher 2.0 Podcast.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Pupil and the Pendulum

With thanks to Clarence Fisher:

Taken verbatim from the Students 2.0 blog:

"Twenty-first century education won’t be defined by any new technology. It won’t be defined by 1:1 laptop programs or tech-intensive projects. Twenty-first century education will, however, be defined by a fundamental shift in what we are teaching—a shift towards learner-centered education and creating creative thinkers. Today’s world is no longer content with students who can simply apply the knowledge they learned in school: our generation will be asked to think and operate in ways that traditional education has not, and can not, prepare us for."  Anthony Chivetta

It's not about the tools, but about the approach. How far we will have come...

I can't help but agree with Sylvia Martinez:

"But the voices of students are telling us that project-based learning isn’t just a pedagogical luxury, something to try out only in the most comfortable circumstances. It’s an imperative for the future of the world."

Monday, January 21, 2008

Something New...

"... and Now for something Completely Different!"
Monty Python news announcer

That frigid temperature embracing much of North America is emblematic of the cold clutch that has allowed written exams to hold on as the preeminent measure of student learning in this part of the world.

My more northern colleague and fellow Canadian, Clarence Fisher opened the door to the archane practice of assessing student learning by formal examination:
"How to design a test for each of the four subject areas that I am required to host exams for (Language Arts, Social Studies, Science and Math) that is fair and that encapsulates a lot of what we have done to this point in the school year?"

While not overtly considered by many in the blogosphere, the widespread understanding that students need to be doing work that is relevant, and that employs a wide variety of communications technologies, assures me that many of today's educators understand the importance of creating rich learning experiences. What is less clear, is how effective teachers can be in assessing the learning that takes place in light of the differentiated products many of todays students have the liberty to create.

Exam 2.0 should be unrecognizable from exams today (and exams yesterday). The idea that students can demonstrate their learning of course content by recording what they can recall, is antiquated at best and fails to recognize the world inhabited by present and future citizens.

When exams become authentic responses to real world problems or scenarios that allow students to use a wide range of tools, educators will be able to assess not only student learning, but will gain great insight into the relevance of the course(s) taught.

If teachers are interested in exploring assessment alternatives, the range of possibilities offered in the WebQuest model are highly recommended. Just as an employer should be able to provide feedback to members of a team, an attentive teacher can use WebQuests or other rich performance tasks to gauge student learning... especially when such tasks call for students to develop products through the application of previously taught essential skills.

I'll have more to say on this topic on Tuesday morning's Teacher 2.0 podcast.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

New DVD Controller

Why is it that the designs simplest of designs are so often ignored?

With the apparent success of Blu-Ray DVD in gaining a few more friends in the HD-DVD format race, I thought it might be worth incorporating an idea for DVDs and DVD players that viewers really want: A way to simply/automatically start to play the movie by default!

Maybe the HD-DVD people could gain back some of their slowly leaching support by embedding this 'advanced' technology?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

PowerPoint: More than Electronic Chalk!

When PowerPoint first came on the scene, those who created slideshows for public presentations were seen as 'magicians' in some respects. Since educators first began using this tool, we've followed in the steps of corporate users, and have failed to use it effectively. When used poorly (which is most of the time!) the worst part of PowerPoint presentations is having to sit through them! The problem is that many presenters use the PowerPoint file as 'electronic chalk'. Let's fix that!

DO use high quality graphics... Use carefully chosen photos instead of clipart!

DO use minimal text!
No one is reading your many bullet points or 'shiver' paragraphs of text anyways! A presentation is much more memorable if you use only one keyword or one bullet point per slide! This gives you room for a quality image, and allows you to be a part of the presentation by expanding on the visual minimalist slide. Getting past the Mac/PC debate, this comparison this 2005 post on Presentation Zen is still relevant!

DO NOT read your slides to your audience! Just don't!

DO tell stories!
Use your slides as introductions to Real stories that demonstrate your point, or stories that can act as apt metaphors will make your presentation more memorable.

DO learn from effective presenters! Merlin Mann is a terrific 'organizational guru', who is clearly comfortable when presenting. When time allows, check out this talk he gave at Google last summer (once the awkward intro is over... you can gain some great tips for managing your email. If you like the style of this presentation, you'll be able to make effective use of Merlin's presentation tips.

DO remember that YOU are the most important part of the presentation!
Darren Barefoot is another presenter who has great suggestions on making presentations in this post "Everything I Know about Presentations, I Learned in Theatre School". The presentation should be much more than the electronic chalk notes you provide...

DO engage other tools along with or in place of PowerPoint. The best presenters in using communications technology are very comfortable jumping from application to application, or from site to site within a presentation. If you have live access to the Internet during a presentation, you might want to hyperlink to a wiki, a blog post, or any of a number of relevant websites or online tools.

DO preload content and websites you plan to use in your presentation. Use of a tabbed browsing tool (just about anything but MS Explorer) will allow you to pre-load sites that you'd like to visit.

DO become familiar with the presenter's layout.
Both PowerPoint and Keynote allow you to project your presentation while having your notes appear on your local computer/notebook screen. (You might also want to employ a teleprompter.) You'll have to practice this with a data projector as most tools will not make use of this option unless a projector is attached.

DO become very familiar with your slide arrangement. The best presenters can adapt their presentations on the fly depending on audience response and interaction. If you race to show all of your wonderful slides, you may be missing opportunities to make deeper, more meaningful connections with your audience. Being prepared to skip forward/backwards in your presentation.

The slideshow is not the presentation. If it was, you could just hand it out and be done with it. If you are wondering why so many attendees are checking email, or doodling, or talking during your presentations, you'll have to do your part: Engage the audience by making effective use of your favourite presentation tool!

A few weeks later, I've added a few white space exemplars:

For an audio version of this content, visit the Teacher 2.0 Podcast.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Old Style Networking

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of receiving a phone call from Bryon, a Faculty of Education candidate at the University of Toronto. The call came out-of-the-blue regarding one of many Rich Performance Tasks that my colleagues and I have written over the past few years. This call triggered some old-style networking to assist a young teacher in preparing to engage students in a rich cross-curricular task.

The story of the task being completed actually began two years ago, when I invited a number of forward thinking teachers to join me in writing performance tasks that would be modeled on the WebQuest format. Since having written the tasks, one colleague, Bill (the most talented hands-on technology educator I've ever met) has relocated to the mountains of British Columbia; others (like Todd, who wrote the Future City task) continue to work within the district; and I've moved on to a regional position representing the e-learning needs of regional school boards. While I'd lost touch with these folks, I'm thankful that Bryon's phone call, nudged me to reconnect with these talented colleagues.

An 'antique' form of communication (the telephone), led me to use an 'aging technology' (email), to update the City of the Future task... and it all happened within 12 hours. Pretty quick, but it pales in comparison to the wiki networking project that was completed in a similar period of time, thanks to a Twitter request a day earlier from Will Richardson.

It's richly rewarding to know that educators are still accessing these learning materials, and more satisfying still, to know that our work is impacting teachers and students around the globe. In a given 10 day period, our site receives almost 3000 page views from upwards of 60 countries! What is less satisfying, is that I'm well aware that the work of my local team has been under-utilized within our own district.

Networking to update resources on the site gave me a chance to smile at a few of our more popular tasks... Those interested in project based learning whether web-based or not, may well be interested in reviewing the differentiated tasks still hosted at the London District Catholic School Board:

Find out more about the history of this project in this week's Teacher 2.0 Podcast.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

NOT Social Networks but Learning Networks

The phenomenon that is 'social networking', is not what forward thinking educators are doing. Most young people using My Space, Twitter, and Facebook are doing so only to continue conversations held in the real world. Many of the wall-postings and text messages that form the backbone of social networks, are simply attempts to see what people are up to 'socially' rather than to engage in conversations that lead to knowledge creation.

Teacher 2.0 on the other hand, is beginning to create networks of like-minded educators intent upon learning from one another. These 'learning networks' consist similarly of information exchanges, with at least one major exception: these networks are sharing information on a range of topics of definable topics of interest to the collective.

If indeed the issue of our use of social tools is as important as Will Richardson suggests , then we need to do a better job of describing what we do! It's possible that an appropriate moniker might address some of the issues highlighted by Danah Boyd in 'The Economist' debate.

What shall we call it?

There are a number of related terms that would be more appropriate than 'social networks' to describe this type of collaborative learning: 'social learning’; or ‘learning networks’; or even ’social learning networks’, would be more appropriate terms. Any which way you slice it, the term 'learning', is conspicuous by its absence when one is describing the phenomenonal sharing taking place via blogs, wikis, tweets and other read/write tools.

Is it even new?

Building social learning networks is something many educators have done for years via email/webpal programs. (I remember doing such a program working with ten classrooms scattered across North America via a 1200 baud modem via AT&T around 1990.) The difference is that we now have access to tools that give us instant access not only to text, but to video and audio as well.

It’s too easy in using the term ’social networking’, to focus on the everyday social communication that young people participate in via Web 2.0 tools. Absent a true learning purpose, such communications are simply social dialogue. Learning networks are different, let's begin highlighting the uniqueness of our dialogue by including, even highlighting, the word learning.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Ban Cell Phones (Until we can figure out how to make use of them!)

My school board is considering a ban on cell phones and other electronic gadgets. If the ban were to be implemented, it would include items such as ipods and blackberries, and teachers would be included (although the televised news report tonight suggested that staff would have the option of using these 'tools' in private areas).

Cell phone technology, while once a luxury (remember the original portable phone?)cell phone? A quick history lesson may be of interest. Now, they are ubiquitous, and very powerful, with many models incorporating video, text, web-browsing and GPS. Now, I'm not saying that it's a good thing that these devices are everywhere, but I'm suggesting that the reason's for a complete ban, don't hold water.

Here is a summary of the reasons for the proposed ban as I understand them:

1] Cell phones can be used to arrange gang gatherings.
In fact, that the vast majority of people use communications devices to arrange lunch dates, or to check in with friends and family. While I can't prove it, I suspect that gang activity will not cease with the ban on overt use of cell phones.

2] Kids can cheat on tests with text messages.
Ask students to anonymously tell you how they've cheated on tests, and you'll no doubt find greater innovation that that! If a teacher is giving a fact regurgitation test to students in order to assess learning, I support the use of cell phones not only to text messages to others, but to bank notes as text files for easy access. I'd have to root for the poor student in just about any written test. 'Open phone test' anyone! Now that would get students doing real world networking and authentic problem solving!

3] Mean messages are being sent via both spoken word and text messaging.
This is wrong. We need to teach about cyber-bullying of all types. Think back to when kids in class wrote mean notes about one another, or drew naughty photos... Did we ban pencils and paper?! I actually think a ban on paper and pens would do more to push education forward... but let's start with a ban on chalk!.

4] Students are distracted awaiting calls and text messages from friends.
OK, I agree that we should have phones off and out of site during class. But don't forget, teens are really distracted by other teens more than anything else, and until students are banned from classrooms, boys and girls will always be dealing with this diversion.

5] Bomb threats have reportedly arisen from cell phone use.
Back in my day, students had to arrange for false fire alarms to get out of exams. Then again, phones still existed...

6] Cell phones are a popularly stolen item.
Only when not allowed to be 'on their person'! If we demand they keep cell phones with them at all times, theft of cell phones will all but disappear.

7] Inappropriate cell-camera photos and video recordings have been posted on the web.
With the proliferation of such powerful tools in the hands of young people, I am embarrassed to say that I know of no teachers in my region who have found a practical use for these types of cell-phones. If we were to harness the potential in these tools and teach appropriate uses for cameras, we might discover students using cell phones for positive creative output. To date, educators have dropped the ball on this front.

Perhaps what is called for is a reverse ban, requiring that teachers dream up ways to integrate the use of the modern cell phone as a powerful multi-use computer. Looking for ideas? Simply invite your students to text message their suggestions for practical cell-phone projects. (I'm now wondering what percentage of teachers have never sent or received and instant text message?)Now I'm wondering how the network television gurus have figured out how to engage youth via text-messaging waaaaaay before teachers...

This fast-twitch, multi-tasking generation is one that has adopted technology in ways their teachers can barely comprehend. Has anyone else noticed that a large numbers of students don't wear wrist watches anymore?!

A ban on cell phones will not eliminate phones from schools... rather, it will create an environment where a large number of students will become 'rule-breakers'. Surely many are already making and receiving calls surreptitiously by way of mosquito ring tones that can be heard only by younger ears. Realistically, I'm guessing that far more phones (and ipods) are present in a given school than administrators and teachers realize.

Like it or not, students will find ways of hiding their phones to avoid detection, and the nudges and winks among students will create a culture of people who feel justified in opposing authority on this stand. One has to wonder whether or not cellphone disguises be shared via the social networking sites teachers have yet to discover! My hope is that students will teach their teachers and administrators what they know about democracy , and will demonstrate democratic skills in seeking a compromise to this locally proposed ban.

Smaller, more powerful computing, communicating and music playing devices are sure to evolve. What will happen when the cell phone implant becomes the norm? Let's go back in time... Bring back the tooth phone implant invented in the summer of 2002! Well, maybe it was a hoax... Even so, such a story could be used to open a cell phone curriculum; teaching and modeling critical thinking skills.

I remember when schools banned us from using calculators on tests... every new technology has to be banned at some point I guess. Today it's social networking and cell phones that are seen as 'distractions'. One day, we may treat such technologies as educational tools; but before we can, it's going to take some forward thinking educators to put these powerful tools to educational use!

More to follow in Wednesday's podcast "Mary had a little lamb... er cell phone", but until then, I should share with you that some good could come from a ban. A New York City moratorium on cell phones at school may have created a new industry!

Monday, January 14, 2008

MacWorld Game

This is hilarious.

The MacWorld conference in San Francisco is one that Mac addicts anticipate weeks in advance. What better way to prepare, than to explore the conference first hand... virtually that is.

Be Steve Jobs as he navigates through the Moscone Centre in search of items for his keynote presentation. Thanks to David Pogue for the link.

Blogged with Flock

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Let's Ban Chalk!

This weekend, I got to thinking about how history measures time periods. Knowing that the Three-Age System subdivided pre-history based on the material make-up of tools (the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age), I'd like to propose a system of 'ages' as a lens through which we can view classrooms in recent years.

In considering the 'tools' that have been mainstays in classrooms from the time when learning moved indoors in North America, we can frame education into three eras:

The Slate & Chalk Age (mid 1800's - present)
Characteristics: records are temporary; memory is necessary

The Paper & Pen Era (1900's to present)
Characteristics: records are semi-permanent; memory for homework is possible

The Web & Keyboard Period (2000's to present) Characteristics: records are of multimedia and may be historic; searchability makes memory less critical;

In looking for links to support these time periods, I stumbled across a wonderfully concise explanation courtesy of PBS.

In identifying the Web & Keyboard Period, I'm naming the period after the tools used to write, but the implication is that we have to consider this to be a period where students produce content in as many varied mediums as they experience. The true tools would include microphones, cameras, and other evolving input devices, well beyond the keyboard and mouse. Remember, in 2006, YOU were being named TIME's Person of the Year, not for your reading and writing, but as part of "a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before."

But many educators are still tied to both chalk/chalkboards; and paper/pen remain the preeminent classroom tool. In order to hasten the arrival of School 2.0, a time when the norm for classrooms is for the world wide web to be ever-present as the 'chalkboard', "I propose we Ban Chalk!"

While initially tongue in cheek, this proposal is one that would demand teachers change their practice. We may eventually want ban or put strict limits on paper, but I believe that the fist step is to change the blackboard. The physical space that makes up today's classroom, is reflective of rooms over 100 years ago. Changing the blackboard to a projection screen or SmartBoard, makes a dramatic statement to students and educators that the game has changed.

The day when it is 'normal' for classrooms to harness the power of global networking by using the read/write web along with a range of multimedia tools can only become a reality when the environment is reflective of the learning that takes place within the space.

The Stone age didn't end when we ran out of stone, it ended when people abandoned stone tools in favour of a better product. If teachers can teach this historic concept, surely we can live it!

"It's time to step away from the chalkboard and to step into the present!"

My "Down with Chalk!" mini-rant began on the Teacher 2.0 Podcast.

Who Has the Best Chocolate?

If you're more interested in the content than the layout and design, or prefer the chocolate to the wrapper, here are some folks whose voices and writings have provided the tastiest diversions in the realm of educational teach-nology:

2 Cents Worth with David Warlick

Crucial Thought with Chris Craft

Beyond School with Clay Burell

Dangerously Irrelevant with Scott McLeod

Moving at the Speed of Creativity with Wesley Fryer

Weblogg-ed with Will Richardson

Pogue's Posts with David Pogue (not so education-focused)

The Clever Sheep with Rodd Lucier (someone has to read my writing!)

There are other educational bloggers whose work I subscribe to, but these folks seem to be writing about ideas that resonate most consistently with my present personal/professional state of mind. What's interesting to me, is that there aren't too many voices in opposition to the fresh thinking that these folks are doing.

If anyone can direct me to voices proposing alternative points of view, I'd love to subscribe to some of the Devil's advocates out there... Maybe that explains my craving for some dark chocolate, something with a bitter bite to it!

Friday, January 11, 2008

RSS: Get inside the wrapper!

If RSS is 'Really Simple Syndication" why do so few people really understand it?

If you are reading this blog because you have subscribed to an appropriate feed, then you likely won't get anything out of this post. If, on the other hand, you came across this post randomly, then you might consider taking advantage of RSS to provide yourself with 'one-stop' reading.

The best analogy that I can come up with for Really Simple Syndication, is the chocolate bar. You might be attracted to the wonderful packaging, but really, what you want, is the candy that exists inside the wrapper!

Really Simple Syndication ensures that the CONTENT can be subscribed to, while the FORM is inconsequential. In the 'old days' of 5 or 10 or more years ago, web authors used to spend lots of time customizing the form of their content. Fonts, sizes, colours, and other attributes that adapted and augmented the content ('the wrappings') if you like, are becoming secondary to the content. RSS, allows the reader to focus solely on the content. You might want to view "RSS in Plain English".

A quick and entertaining explanation of RSS is included within The Machine is Us/ing Us:

In order to access the content, you need to select and get comfortable with a 'feed-reader'. These 'aggregators' are free and widely available. I prefer Google Reader because it has the same look and feel as my G-mail account, but there are many options available.

Once you have a feed-reader, you can subscribe to all kinds of syndicated content. Just look for the orange RSS symbol in any URL, and you can copy the entire URL from your address bar, to add a subscription to your feed-reader:

Now you can subscribe to all types of content, including:

Your friends Flickr images
A colleagues bookmarks:
Your favourite newspapers:
Any of a number of Blogs... like this one:
or Podcasts: E-learningDaily

I didn't mention this in today's Teacher 2.0 Podcast, but this is just the beginning of huge changes in the way we access information! As coders are coming to realize, you can also draw RSS information into other sites and programs, resulting in a wave of new 'mash-ups' that are turning the world wide web on its ear. What are you waiting for? After all, it is "REALLY SIMPLE SYNDICATION"!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

So, You Want to be a Teacher?

One of greatest things keeping education in a relative holding pattern for the past 100+ years, is the fact that those who become teachers, are by and large those who enjoyed school, and found it easy to be successful in 'school 1.0'. An individual may have a unique ability to connect with young people and may be intent on utilizing an array of engaging learning strategies, but if he/she lacks the 'excel-in-language-and-math-gene', local avenues into the teaching profession will be unavailable.

In my home province of Ontario, here in Canada, it is only by demonstrating academic excellence that one able to consider a career in teaching. In fact, if you are not an A student in university, one is unlikely to find a place in a faculty of education within the province.

While I'm not going to argue that we need more teachers with lower grades, I do think that we need more teachers who understand what it means to struggle with learning! As I see it, there is a real need for universities to consider a broad spectrum of characteristics and qualifications in potential teachers... far more than simply identifying the applicants with the highest grades.

So what characteristics must a teacher have, and how can these possibly be considered by faculties responsible for preparing the teachers of tomorrow? These are big questions... ones that would require careful planning; but just in case faculties out there might be open to a more time-consuming application process, here are two big ideas that would let universities know how committed their applicants were to joining the profession:

1] Include a face to face interview! Allow candidates equal footing in preparing by providing sample questions. This way potential teachers can demonstrate their ability to prepare a messages on specific topics for a specific audience. Jeff Utech's recent post on Interview Questions for International Job Fairs has a number of questions that once adapted, would ensure candidates were aware of expectations for future teachers to engage a range of technology tools.

2] Invite applicants to submit a learning portfolio that highlights their own learning styles and demonstrates a commitment to continued learning. Dr. Helen Barrett's Electronic Portfolio Resources provide a range of possibilities for experienced educators, but could reasonably be adapted for teacher candidates.

Now there may well be universities using similar strategies to ensure the acceptance of the most appropriate teacher candidates, but until more faculties of education open themselves to a more diverse population of students, our schools are destined to get what they've always got: Teachers who were good at school and liked it fine just the way it was!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Social Bookmarking in the Classroom

"So, What is this 'social bookmarking' thing all about anyways?"

This quote is attributed to my youngest brother: a worldly-wize techno-whiz who has published in many formats, but who has yet to understand the power of bookmarking when paired with RSS subscriptions. If I can teach him about social bookmarking, then it stands to reason that there are many, many people (including the majority of educators?!) who have yet to discover the value of sites such as

I sense a lesson coming on (with thanks to Common Craft)...

Social bookmarking is a practical educational tool that can be leveraged in a number of ways. So let me give you just a few reasons why you should be tagging sites:

1] Putting all of your bookmarks online and tagging them with keywords makes your favourites searchable.

2] You can access your bookmarks from any computer, using any browser... not just the one you have your 'favourites' on.

3] You can assess the popularity of any link you've bookmarked by taking note of the number of times a site has been saved by other users.

4] Your bookmarks are shareable by one simple URL. Friends, colleagues and students can visit your bookmarks by following a simple link. For example, my bookmarks are all online at

5] Friends can choose to access only bookmarks tagged with specific keywords either by searching them, or by visiting sites by taglist like 'Web2.0' or 'photos'. Now that I think about it, that would be a good way to gather links for tagging on your own account.

6] People can 'subscribe' to your bookmarks. By copying the RSS feed for a particular page within any users delicious bookmarks, you will be notified directly, any time a suitably tagged bookmark is added by that person. For example, if you want to be notified anytime Rodd Lucier finds a terrific video resource, you can copy the url: into your RSS reader (Google Reader or Bloglines or Technorati...).

7] Teachers can invent unique tags for each of their classes using the subject or course code as a tag. Students could then access any site deemed worthy... anyplace, anytime! Tags for a grade 11 science course might be found in a place like this: Better yet, if a teacher shares a really unique tagging code like 'luciersci3u' then students could add bookmarks to their own accounts, and since you can search bookmarks by any and all users at once in the root of, students would be able to conveniently access the bookmarks made by any and all members of the class.

8] If some of these strategies are taught to students, either by example or by formally leading students to tag their own favourite websites, it won't take long for students to realize the potential of link-sharing. I can see students inventing tags like 'ancientegypt'or 'electionproject' in order to leverage the power of along with their peers.

Do you know of other practical applications? If so, feel free to add a comment. Maybe someone will bookmark this post on and we'll all be able to search this list of bookmark ideas amongst other 'cleversheep' tags! For more on this topic, check out the Podcast feed: "Teacher 2.0".

Alternatives to

Then again, you could always check

Monday, January 7, 2008

Top Ten Tech Tools

In reviewing the year-end posts of some of my favourite bloggers, I have encountered a few folks reflecting on the most effective tech tools they've been using, and others like Gary Woodill thinking deeply about which tools are likely to be the most transformative in 2008. That's all the motivation I need to share my favourite tools for designing within e-learning environments.

Rodd Lucier's Top Ten Tech Tools (in no particular order):

ScreenSteps: This is superior and simple to use tutorial creation utility. Great for creating software 'how to' documents as either PDFs or HTML pages.

iShowU: A simple to use, customizeable screen capture utility. Great for creating movie-style demos and tutorials.

Keynote: Oooh-la-la! Stunning graphics, transitions and exports to clickable movie files, what more could you ask for in presentation software?

: Simple, reliable, sortable, with effective filters (including spam filters) and plenty of room for large files and archives.

Google Reader
: While I used to use Bloglines, I find the Google franchise provides a common look/feel for my daily work.

Picturesque: This Mac-simple graphic editing tool allows the user to quickly transform photos to round-cornered, 3-D reflective images.

Camino: As a browser on the Mac platform, it simply loads faster than any others... significantly so on my machine.

Hemera Photo-Objects: Now only available via eBay (thanks to the success of online subscription models), the 100,000 photos in versions I and II offer a fantastic variety for logo creation. (Version III is on a different interface)

Adobe Connect: This tool is provided to Ontario educators by the provincial Ministry of Education and is an amazingly flexible user-friendly tool for hosting collaborative meetings online.

iPhoto: I love creating photobooks... and this tool does an amazing job of it. (I had to include one tool for sheer expression and creativity!)

This is by no means a complete list, rather, these ten tools are ones that I enjoy using the most. I also collect links to a variety of Web 2.0 tools and keep them updated here: If you'd like to share your own top ten list, feel free to post below, or join a number of educators who are sharing their opinions at the UK Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies.

A more 'enthusiastic' podcast version of this post will soon be available at the Teacher 2.0 Podcast, now available on iTunes.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Community Learning in a New Year

A fresh start is never more than a number of weeks away if you work in a teaching & learning environment. A new school year, a new term, a new teacher... or in the case of tomorrow morning, the first day of school in the global 'New Year'. Over the holiday break, I had the opportunity to experience both good fortune and tragedy, but is was the latter that helped me to see this 2008 new year through new eyes.

The Kids are Alright. They may experience community differently than you and I, but their passions run deep, and their purposes are largely positive. With the Christmas Eve passing of a 15 year old friend of the family, I saw first hand how young people are leveraging Web 2.0 tools to share their grief. In fact, it was through the my 16 year old daughter's Facebook account that we came to know of the tragic loss of Michael whose family has grown up a few hours away. Michael will never be able to read the posts of his peers, but the tragedy of his loss is likely to be archived in the passionate posts of friends, classmates and relatives for a very long time.

It affirms for me that the youth of today, are by and large, responsible, compassionate and loving citizens; and the writings of 'random teens' reminds me that from within our evolving technological world, it is the people that matter the most. In the lives of netizens, the technology or the read/write web is a useful tool, but it is at its most powerful when it is used in the context of creating community.

So, here is a challenge for Teacher 2.0: Use available tools to broaden your learning communities. Make overt plans to involve others in your own professional work and in the work of your students. Reach out to the people that are important in the 'real world' lives of members of your learning community. Regardless of the stresses of school life in 2008, our humanity ties each of us to a number of communities of real people, whose impact on our lives is more significant than we realize. When we are engaged in learning that harnesses the power of these relationships, memorable, meaningful experiences can be the result for teachers and students alike!