Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Classrooms of the Future are Already Here

I don't relish long car rides, but they are a fact of life in my current teaching position. As an educator working to assist school boards in leveraging a variety of e-learning tools, I often find myself in my car, many kilometers from home. With podcasts and audio books to keep my mind humming, I'm able to engage in conversations inside my head, with authors and independent broadcasters from around the world.

My most recent brain food, was Seth Godin's nutrient-packed "Tribes: We Need You to Lead" which fit perfectly in a recent two way trip to the extreme southwest part of Ontario. The book is very much an invitation to listeners to stop waiting and to start leading.

While anyone's tribe can be characterized as a group of like-minded people, getting these similarly motivated individuals to pull in a common direction, can be a challenging task.

Grab onto the rope...
The toughest test facing educators passionate for change, is to envision the schools we'd like our children to attend.

The classrooms of the future already exist! It's just that they're widely scattered and remain unknown to the majority.

In order to publicize what's happening through the daily efforts of highly engaged educators like you, I'm making plans to tell your stories. If you have ever thought "I should just start my own school", you probably have at least one story to contribute to our tribe's vision for the future of education.

While each of us has a limited sphere of influence, the sharing of our stories cannot help but lead others to envision what is possible. My hope is that classrooms like yours will become the norm, rather than the exception, but for that to happen, your story must be told.

Our tribe's first story, "Going Mobile!" tells the story of how cell phones have been leveraged for learning on an Australian field trip. I hope that your story will follow...

Photo Credit: Dan Maudsley

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Halloween Treats (and one Trick)

I thought I'd take a few minutes to share a few links for a hauntingly fun week.

Pumpkinizer: Change a photo into a detailed jack-o-lantern

Virtual Pumpkin Carver: Practice your pumpkin carving with this no mess interactive Flash-based tool.

PumpkinGutter: The gallery of 3D carvings is incredible.

Extreme Pumpkins: Many unique pumpkin carving ideas are shared on this site.

Christopher Walken Mask: Instead of "Trick or Treat" just demand "I Need More Cowbell"!

Scary Stories: There is still a few cool and windy late October evenings to do some reading...

The Real Story of Halloween: Among a number of highlights on this site is Hidden Spirits an interactive role playing game.

The Ghost and Mr. Chicken: Of all the movies I own, this has to be my favourite! If you're lucky enough to find it, this is the perfect week to watch it. If you can't find this one, The Nightmare Before Christmas is another Halloween gem.

Those with a strong constitution may be interested in a ghost story that is too disturbing for me to include in this space. After watching Nicolas Cage briefly describe his ownership of the Lalaurie Mansion of New Orleans, I unwittingly came across one of the most deeply disturbing stories I've ever read.

If you take the time to find the story that David Letterman was wise enough NOT to pursue... know that I share your regrets.

Happy Halloween!

Photo Credit: Paul Sapiano

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Let's Teach Them to Cheat!

Earlier this week, I had a rare opportunity to have lunch with my identical twin brother. Even though we've taken different paths in our lives, we've each managed to make use of the tools of the evolving web in order to connect with colleagues.

With this common interest, it's no surprise that our conversation consistently returns to the use of the Internet, and a wide range of teaching and learning applications. While waiting for our meals to arrive at our table, I suggested that traditional tests might be rendered useful, if we were to teach students how to cheat in completing them.

While it may sound radical to encourage cheating, students today have grown up in a culture that generally accepts a variety of unsavoury behaviours:
* finding and sharing 'cheat' codes for video games;
* bypassing digital rights management on CD and DVD media;
* using proxy servers to access filtered/blocked/banned web content;
* downloading applications from the web and using 'cracks' to gain access;
* accessing private networks, whether open or password protected;
* cracking digital devices to expand their functionality beyond licensing agreements;
* creating unique works by appropriating the unlicensed photographic or musical expertise of others;

It's no secret that I am on unfriendly terms with the traditional test, so if I had to give students a test today, I think I'd challenge them to respond with limited restrictions. I might allow them to talk to one another; to copy from one another; or to access the internet or outside experts.

What skills might students develop in sanctioned cheating?

In a group or class test:
In copying content from other students, each learner would have to apply critical thinking skills in validating responses. If a class or group had to submit one complete test for the entire group, you'd really be able to assess the collaborative skills possessed by a group or sub-groups. Without a doubt, an observant teacher would be able to see which students had the greatest sharable 'capital', and which had the most effective leadership skills.

In an open book test:
Students would have to condense material into it's most important elements, and would have to organize their resources so that appropriate content could be efficiently accessed.

In a test to design a cheating tool:
Students would highlight their varied abilities to innovate in creating unique uses for personal digital devices; or they might demonstrate their creativity in re-purposing common backpack or lunchbox objects.

In an open computer test:
Beyond exhibiting their search skills, students would be challenged to assess the validity of their sources. Another important skill might be embedded in this activity, were a teacher to require students to provide more than one reference for any test response.

In an open phone test:

Students might have to budget a limited number of text messages or phone-a-friend calls, meaning they'd have to assess their areas of greatest need. Could metacognition skills actually be testable?!

Here's your test question... Use any source you like, but in posting your response below, reference your source(s), and try to provide a level of confidence in your answer.

"How many different times have human beings been to the moon?"

C'mon, you can answer that one can't you? Go ahead and cheat if you like!

Photo Credit: Mr. Stein; Billaday

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Top 20 Uses for Wordle

Wordle Wordle is a free 'word art' tool that crunches any chunk of text in the production of a visual representation of the content. The resulting graphic emphasizes the most common words by amplifying their size based on frequency. Originally designed to give pleasure, Wordle is being used in interesting ways to provide compelling summaries of political speeches, blog posts, twitter feeds, news articles and more, but there are additional educational uses worth considering.

A few ideas:

1] Convert a sonnet or Shakespearean play; or children's book (Dr. Seuss anyone?);

2] Paste the contents of an online discussion to coalesce the main ideas;

3] Combine student 'Who Are You?' introductions, or 'Superhero
' to develop a class composite;

4] Condense survey data by dumping content of questionnaire responses into the Wordle engine;

5] Combine news articles or RSS feeds on a given topic;

6] Turn an essay into a poster;

7] Combine blog posts over time into a simplified represetation or use it to compare the ideas of competing ideas;

8] Use font, colour and arrangement strategies to appropriately represent content;

9] Automate the creation of word poetry;

10] As an introduction to a unit or course, combine key words; themes; curriculum expectations to provide learners with a visual overview of content;

11] Convert nutritional content of one's weekly diet or of a group's menu preferences;

12] Condense a Wikipedia article into it's essence;

13] Paste the results of a Google search (Can you guess the keywords I used?);

14] Convert social bookmark tags;

15] Enter keywords from weekly weather reports to obtain a seasonal picture;

16] Distill song lyrics like "Stairway to Heaven";

17] Find out what you've been up to by summarizing To-Do lists;

18] Represent the results of a brainstorming session or the minutes of a meeting visually;

19] Show "Today in History" stories in a new way;

20] Convert past or current email messages into a composite of your correspondence;

Do you use Wordle? Have you considered using Wordle with students? If so, what other strategies would you recommend?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

CCK08: Six down; Six to go

This fall at school has been a blur both as a teacher and as a student. At reaching the mid-point in the CCK08 course, I'd like to share a number of observations, each of which might have become a blog post would time have been available.

1] Where is everyone? The number of 'active' course participants has settled to the point where receiving Moodle updates via email is a reasonable expectation. Beyond RSS feeds, I'm left wondering whether or not there is a mechanism to track continued involvement; and whether or not an exit survey would provide insight as to where/why so many have disappeared...

2] Just another online course? It's only in recent weeks when the 'noise' of the Moodle discussions has calmed down to the point that I'm willing to notice that learners are connecting their ideas to one another. Even though the 'Moodlers' are finally connecting, responses are still infrequently attached to the range of blog posts in the connect-osphere. Based on my own online teaching/learning experience, the CCK08 course is more and more feeling like a traditional online course.

3] Past Connectivist Life on the Back Burner! In order to keep up with selected readings, the Daily, and posts from my peers, I've lost touch with other aggregated feeds. (i.e., I haven't been reading many posts from outside of the course).

4] The Fourth 'R'! It took a while, but frequent posters finally seem to be building relationships and networks. In my own experience, I've found this feeling of 'knowing your classmates' to be a critical component in building an online community. While the random (chaotic?) grouping of participants has allowed for individual exploration, intentional grouping might have led more learners to engage more deeply. Early on, it was challenging to build relationships with so many disparate participants, and though the number of voices has dwindled recently, I believe this has actually benefitted those who continue to read/think/respond.

5] Differentiation... Not so much. Although classroom teachers have in recent years, embraced this concept to varying degrees, the assignments in this course have for the most part resulted in traditional responses (e.g., reflections; links to personal/professional practice). While the freedom to pursue areas of personal interest has been announced, 'similar-ation' has trumped 'differentiation'. Only the metaphors and blog titles seem to be unique.

6] A Daily Lifeline! With a real job, and a real family life, it's been challenging to reconcile the many CCK08 channels. The 'Daily' digest has let me keep in touch even on days when I couldn't read, listen to, or think about course content. I consider this document to be the glue that has been holding this course together.

7] Looking to Forge Links... I signed up for this course, in large part to experience connectivist learning first hand, but I've found time to reach out to only a limited number of colleagues. I think that making a more concerted effort to post to the Moodle would be a logical next step.

8] Synchronicity Works! With the participation of guest panelists, these discussions have been my favourite way to connect with learners. Whether live or recorded, these interactive sessions have provided opportunities for interaction among all present learners, be they instructors or 'back-channel' participants. Often beginning with semi-traditional lectures, participant questions and comments have sometimes led these discussions to interesting territory. Gladly, the Eastern Standard Time zone allows for my occasional live participation.

9] Pre-requisite Expertise Recommended. While such courses can remain open, it wouldn't hurt to recommended specific prior experience:
* Know first-hand, how to use of read/write tools like wikis, blogs, microblogs, social bookmarks, e-conference tools...
* Model Stephen's "7 Habits of Highly Connective People" prior to course participation.

10] Engage Real World Colleagues... I would encourage attendees to augment their online activity with discussions in the real world. Although it may not be easy to find interested colleagues, or for course facilitators to track such participation, the ability to work with known peers would definitely enhance one's understanding of course content, and could lead small groups of educators to enhance their own professional learning communities.

Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds

Friday, October 17, 2008

Design and the Plastic Mind

I wish I'd been able to see Design and the Plastic Mind at the Museum of Modern Art. At least now I can now have my brain stretched thanks to TED.

Monday, October 13, 2008

CCK08: 'Group' Semantics

Groups emphasize sameness;
Networks emphasize diversity;

Groups emphasize order and control;
Networks emphasize autonomy;

Groups emphasize borders and membership;
Networks emphasize openness;

Groups emphasize additive, cumulative knowledge;
Networks emphasize emergent knowledge.

In reaching consensus around the connectivist definitions of these terms, I find myself wishing that we had more examples of networking in nature. Even so, the animal kingdom offers us many parallel words that can be translated into characteristics of 'groups':

School (fish): Whether fish or students, most schools consist of cohorts or classes who are destined to swim in unision... rogue fish or learners are less likely to thrive or survive in such an environment.

Hive (bees): Look for evidence of abundant activity, all for a common purpose.

Herd (caribou): A group driven to act in a common way for the benefit of the entire group.

Cast (crabs): When a collective takes on a large production, the organized group can achieve maximal benefits by having individual members specialize in the completion of distinct tasks.

Team (cattle): A group that works collaboratively to achieve a common goal will sometimes have members take on common roles, but might also assign distinct responsibilities based on individual expertise.

Gang (elk): Coming together intermittently, this is a disorganized group that acts reactively without need for a pre-determined purpose.

Pack (rats): Rather than acting constructively, this group attempts to 'bring down' others, rather than to contribute for the benefit of the group.

Mob (kangaroos): At times, a large group that is not formally organized, will coalesce in response to a specific catalyst.

Flock (gulls): Just as the movement in the stars/seasons caused a group of birds to migrate together, so too are distributed members of a group sometimes influenced by memes.

Huddle (penguins): This group would rather find answers from its own members rather than seek assistance or expertise from the outside.

Posse (turkeys): A group whose members have forged lasting connections over a period of time, gathers on an ad hoc basis as needs arise. Such groups are able to respond more quickly than many other groups, thanks in part to pre-existing familiarity among members.

Crowd (porpoises): A group that finds itself wanting to act after participating in a common experience such as a symposium, workshop, or presentation.

Pod (seals): Although the benefits to all members of the group are very similar, membership in a pod might be seen as more flexible, allowing an individual to be a member of more than one group.

Although I've discovered many examples of groups harnessing sameness and order to achieve collective benefits, similar parallels to the openness and autonomy of a network are more challenging to isolate. Maybe 'networking' is new to the animal kingdom; or perhaps such behaviors are learned and are indicative of higher level thinking?

I like to think that my online persona "The Clever Sheep" is an apt metaphor for the networked learner. I prefer to follow my own path, while leading others in new directions; to harness the expertise of my online peers, while contributing to the professional learning of like-minded colleagues.

Photo Credit: Yeimaya

Learning Then and Now

A conversational lesson from Stephen Heppel courtesy of the K-12 Online Conference.

I can't help but think that so much of education today, is a history lesson, with students and teachers stepping back into classroom 'museums', learning with 20th century tools, and decades-old strategies. What we need more than 21st century classrooms, is a willingness to recognize the need for a continuous evolution in learning.

How agile, adaptable and flexible is your neighbourhood school?

What artifacts are you leaving behind as evidence of the work you've done... either in teaching or in learning?

Old Rules: New Tools... a podcast reflection.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

All the Tech You Need to Know, You Learned in Kindergarten

The original book "All I Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten" was compiled by Robert Fulghum back when I began teaching in the late 1980's. Written to give life's lessons to adults, it was published before the World Wide Web even had a name. Taking time to reconsider Fulgham's ideas, his mini-essays are still quite relevant in the world of educational technology.

Share everything. License your work and then make it available to others. Share your passions, your ideas, your opinions, your work...

Play fair. Let others have a say, and let them contribute.

Don't hit people.
Spammers should read that one! C'mon, use your nicest voice even if you disagree with others.

Put things back where you found them. Well, how about telling others where you found things? Take time to share you bookmarks in Delicious or Diigo or another social bookmarking site. If you don't do that, at least send us a tweet when you find a gem.

Clean up your own mess.
Some might say "Read the ____ Manual"; I suggest trying to work yourself out of a jam before begging for assistance.

Don't take things that aren't yours. If you borrow or build on material produced by others, then attribute the original material.

Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody. If you err, admit your mistake and publish a correction, clarification, or retraction.

Wash your hands before you eat. And wash them after you eat; especially if you plan on using my keyboard!

Flush. Right, flush... your cache! Depending on your computer's settings, you might be holding on to gigabytes of unnecessary files. Who knows, your computer might just run a little more smoothly.

Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Well, cookies do remind websites that you've visited before, and it helps them recognize you. Too many unsavoury cookies aare not good for you or your computer, so be sure that the cookies are the right kind.

Live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some. Translation: Turn the computer off every once in a while! There is a world out there waiting for you!

When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together. Collaborate with team members, colleagues and members of your wider network. If we engage evolving tools together, we're more likely to use them safely, productively and purposefully.

Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that. We don't all have the answers; take pleasure in being a learner! The read/write web has plenty of magical finds to share, but we don't have to worry about knowing how or why everything is the way it is.

Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die. So do we.
But your work on the world wide web will live on... make it worthy of near immortality.

And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - LOOK.
Take time to read the ideas of others. Use RSS to ensure that you have a regular diet of good things to LOOK at; and if you collect podcasts, to LISTEN to!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

So Much to EMBED, So Little Time...

Many creative elements on the read/write web can readily be embedded within blogs, wikis, homepages, and online courses. Here are just a few examples of what you can do with embed code:

Embed a Video: Create a video in minutes with Animoto, or grab a favourite video from the TED conference or from YouTube, TeacherTube or;

Stream a Live Event
: Use video with or Live Blog with Cover-it-Live.

Invite a Response
: Video, audio or text responses are possible. Consider using Seesmic, or VoiceThread. Each requires an account to harness it's two-way channel, but the potential is great.

Share Lessons: Digital lessons from slideshows on Slideshare or SlideRocket, to Jing screen capture demos on, and timelines at are suitable to 'click-copy-embed'.

Gravitate to Google: Embed a Google Map or satellite image (just click the word 'link' above any map for the code); launch a survey with Google Docs (use the share tab); automate an RSS feed to appear on your site from Google Reader (from 'manage subscriptions', select the 'folders and tags' tab, and select 'add a clip to your site'). The expert user will automate content appearing on a site, by applying (and deleting) specific tags to subscribed posts, podcasts, photos...

If you'd like to learn more, you may be interested in "The Magic of Embed Code" on the Teacher 2.0 Podcast.

Photo Credit: liamngls

Monday, October 6, 2008

CCK08: A Unifying Theory of Learning

Writing is such a ‘School 1.0’ tool, yet as a vehicle for communicating information from one person to another, it continues to stand the test of time. In providing evidence of my understanding of connectivism, these characters on the page are as much reflective of the idea of connectivism, as they are a coalescent artifact that demonstrates my current understanding.

In order for my thoughts to hit this hypertext page, a vast amount of information has had to move between and within a great number of distinct networks. Documents shared within the course have been in audio, text and video formats. Those bits have been transferred around the world by hyperlinks where they’ve been taken up by course participants. Learners have then attempted to process the connections among these ideas and to reflect their individual understandings back to the others, and in so doing have led others to incorporate this new information into their own processes of understanding. And now, we’re attempting to pause in summarizing what we’ve observed from all of these connectivist transfers. In a very real way, all of these transfers of information are changing the way in which each of us perceives the content of this course. Extrapolating, one can conclude that such interactions have a significant impact upon the ways all types of learners see the world.

As important as the interactions are, the networking within the course has not been always been natural; it has often been a forced relationship. Connecting to the ideas of others, has been an expectation that has led many to seek personal links that they might not otherwise make. Forging networks with people whose only obvious similarities are the inclination to participate in this course; and doing so in what is for some a foreign learning environment, has at times created a ‘disconnect’ from the connectivist potential of this course. In the struggle to make meaning from all that has been shared, many have failed to recognize the importance of those classmate connections.

Nonetheless, a far greater disconnect exists within the school system today. With so many resources in education, set in place measure the learning done by students, isn’t it about time that we reach some consensus on the question “What does it mean, to learn?”?

With so many theories struggling to hold the attention of classroom teachers, I see connectivism as a unifying lens through which to observe the process of learning. Rather than being a new theory or previously unknown phenomenon, connectivism identifies the mechanism by which information moves within any learning system. Whether students are learning from methods and strategies whose roots are in constructivism, or collaborative learning, or project-based learning, or from models of inquiry, said learning is amplified through the network channels harnessed by teacher and student alike. Whether using evolving technologies to enhance and expand networks, or relying on past practices that engage students in individual or group learning, connectivism can be used to explain how ideas and skills are shared among participants.

With most attempts to measure learning, relying on a limited selection of performances, usually by the individual, and usually in writing, the revised recognition of learning as the movement of ideas among nodes in networks, provides opportunities for competing learning strategies, to find common ground in the use of a wider variety of learning exhibitions. As a connector itself, the theory of connectivism can offer support to other theories that ask learners and teachers to engage rich performances to demonstrate their understanding.

Although I’m not convinced that connectivism helps to explain the generation of spontaneous ideas, I hold out hope that creativity can also be addressed within learning networks. As much as I find myself re-considering the words I’ve used to show my current understanding of what connectivism is, I suspect that this traditional authoring task is very familiar and comfortable territory for course participants. In a world where relatively few teachers provide students open creative opportunities to show what they know, I find myself looking forward to the more open culminating task for the CCK08 course.

Photo Credit: Felipe Morin, and Jonathan Jones

Note: In lieu of referencing course readings (and the writing of my peers), I decided to draw inspiration from the 'biggest idea' and to use this task as a forum to summarize my current thinking.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Same as it ever was...

Last week, I had the chance to join a few e-learning colleagues for a tour of Pelee Island School in support of teachers and students who are piloting an e-learning project. Even while technology is being used to address unique educational challenges, our trip was in many ways, like stepping back in time...

Get your bearings... Pancake flat in the middle of Lake Erie, Pelee Island is the southernmost land mass in Canada.

The island is populated almost exclusively along the coastline, with the Pelee Island Winery, bed and breakfast accommodations, estate homes and more, readily accessible by automobile or bicycle.

The MV Jiimaan is one of two ways to get to the island in good weather. Once winter weather sets in (November-April?), you'll need to book a flight to reach this jewel. With room for up to 40 vehicles and 400 passengers, you'd be wise to have a reservation.

Calm weather meant our 8 a.m. departure and 4 p.m. return could run right on schedule, with each trip taking 90 minutes to/from the Leamington dock.

You can't make this stuff up! Our hosts kindly left their vehicle waiting at port for us to drive out to the school. The Rolling Rock sign in the front windshield of our loaner van, boasted ""Same as it ever was...". You can imagine our response when the first lines we heard on the radio were: "Same as it ever was... Same as it ever was... Same as it ever was..." from "Once in a Lifetime" by the Talking Heads. We thought, nice, they left us a CD or audio tape... but no, it was playing on the radio!

Heading north from the ferry dock towards the school, we learned to return the waves of oncoming drivers before being greeted by the "shoe tree". Clearly we were in a different place!

The three room school house sits beside the now closed Pelee Island high school, and at the time of this photo, a rope in the entrance way was being pulled to ring the bell at the top of the photo, announcing a recess break for the 11 students.

Supported by teachers who live on the island, these multi-grade classrooms might sit anyplace in North America. One key difference, class size in this academic year is almost always less than 5.

A historic plaque commemorating the Battle of Pelee Island some 170 years ago stands on the school grounds in stark contrast to the recently added high speed wireless tower that makes it possible for grade 9 students to take their secondary school courses on the island. Historically, the only only alternative has been for high schoolers to billet with mainlanders in order to take classes at Leamington District Secondary School.

Great food, original music, and a colourful dining environment at the Anchor & Wheel Inn, hinted at the uniqueness of island accommodations.

An afternoon tour of the island, included a visit to Pelee Island Heritage Centre and the pheasant farm. The annual island pheasant hunt is a lucrative economic event for islanders.

Even our return to the mainland reminded us what a special day we'd had. While the uniqueness of this island is best experienced in person, travelers should consider bringing Tim Horton's coffee for themselves and for the islanders. Some things aren't readily available when you're living in another time and place...

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Academic Integrity in Online Learning

In a regional professional development session held earlier today, online teachers were asked to consider academic integrity through the lens of both student and teacher. Integral to our understanding of the issues related to honesty of networked learners, are a number of cultural and technological trends. Following a review of the realities of the remix generation, I shared my contention that teachers can 'cheat-proof' learning tasks through the use of freely available e-learning tools and differentiation.

Academic Integrity
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: 2.0 cheating)

Following on the heels of Alec Courosa's presentation at the University of Saskatchewan's Academic Integrity Awareness Week, I was happy to attribute the ideas in my presentation to those who have most influenced my thinking on this topic.

You may be interested in reviewing Michael Wesch's "Anthropological Introduction to YouTube"; Lawrence Lessig's TED talk on how modern creativity is being strangled by the law; the work of my colleague, Suzanne Riverin, who condensed key learnings of Bonk and Zhang's "Empowering Online Learning"; and the 'non-traditional' scripted "Late Night Learning with John Krutsch".

Thanks to a tweet from Clint Lalonde, I also had the opportunity to share a highly entertaining 'how-to cheat' video. Beyond highlighting the ingenuity that can be harnessed by motivated learners, this video models what a rich learning task might look like in a tech design or media production course!

The next few editions of the Teacher 2.0 Podcast will focus on Academic Integrity.