Monday, December 20, 2010

The Greatest Gift

A few days ago, I had the good fortune of being 'found' by a former student. Since that time, I've engaged in email correspondence with 'Mark', that has led me to reflect on the critical role classroom teachers play in shepherding student self-discovery.

As our students struggle to find their place in our shared world, the implications of Mark's words offer important lessons for educators. Can we do anything more important than facilitate the exploration of individual passions? Is there an achievement more worthy of celebration than the discovery of one's self-worth?

With Mark's permission, I hope you'll see these words as the gift they were to me.


I've whited out sections of the note to keep Mark's identity private, but a side benefit, is that this anonymity will allow you to fill-in-the-blank with details from the lives of your own students. Is there a greater gift for a teacher to receive during this season of giving?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Lessons Learned in the Demise of Delicious

As the 'unofficial' news broke on Twitter and subsequently TechCrunch, social learners today discovered that Delicious might be going dark. Whether or not the story becomes mirrored in reality, there are a few lessons educators can take from the news.

Lesson #1 The Education Community is Resilient
Alec Couros has inspired the creation of Alternatives to Delicious, a Google Document that has been edited by at least 40 collaborators.

It will be a challenge to recreate the link-sharing network I've grown to love at Delicious, but whether it happens tomorrow; next year; or five years from now; there will one day be a need to relocate my links. In this case, it's a straightforward process to migrate bookmarks to Diigo, or another service.

Lesson #2 Free is Not Forever

We learned last spring, when Ning began to charge for what was formerly a free social network service, that it takes money, and real people to provide the services we often take for granted. In the case of Delicious, it now appears that the parent company, Yahoo, will be cutting the virtual service, in order to deal with financial realities.

Lesson #3 You Need a Backup Plan
It may not seem important when your digital life is firing on all cylinders, but users of cloud services (especially free services) should think about what they'll do if the unthinkable happens. Flickr is also managed by Yahoo; might it be jettisoned next? Could Twitter or Facebook one day be seen as financially unviable? Might Google decide one day, that Gmail or Google Docs makes more sense as a monthly subscription service?

Whatever you do in response to the possible demise of Delicious, it's always a good time to think about what you're doing to protect your ideas; your data; and your memories.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Skype in the Classroom: A Sneak Peak

It's been a few years since I first made the pitch for a long distance guest speaker directory. At the time, I had the thought that such a directory would make it easy for classrooms to connect with experts and co-learners in an increasingly flat world. Now comes the news that Skype and the development team at Made by Many, are about to make that dream come true, with the launch Skype in the Classroom!

Last week I had an opportunity to meet with Jacqueline Botterill of Skype, and Paul Sims of Made by Many. The two representatives provided me with a sneak peak at a service that is sure to inspire networked learners in classrooms that span our wired world.

The first half of the interview provides interesting insights into the design process, and may be of particular interest to computer science and business specialists. The latter segment (beginning at 12:00) provides a tour of the widely anticipated social learning network.

Global collaboration among learners young and old, will soon be scaled up significantly. Pre-registration for Skype in the Classroom is taking place now, with an anticipated launch in January 2011. See you there!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ontario Edu-Bloggers are Quote Worthy

As lifelong learners, educators are often quick to quote published authors, and keynote speakers, even though there are other, more local voices, worthy of attention and recognition. Take a moment to consider adding an Ontario educator to the mix of your daily reading, and I think you'll find many of my edu-blogging peers to be just as quote-worthy!

* These edu-bloggers produce content on their own time. Although I've referenced their home school boards, the work of these authors may not necessarily reflect the ideas or opinions of their employers.

Consultants & Special Assignment Teachers

Barbara McLaughlin Ottawa-Carleton DSB
Reflective Leadings community - connecting - curriculum

Susan Lister (on International Contracts)
Technology Enhanced Learning technology - enhanced - learning

Shelley Pike Greater Essex Catholic DSB
Math Coaching math - sharing - support

Kent Manning Hastings and Prince Edward DSB
Motivating Boy Writers boys - writing - motivating
The View From Here my - personal - blog
Manning's Message creating - media - texts screencasts - teachers - students

Colin Jagoe Kawartha Pine Ridge DSB education - science - technology

Ben Hazzard Lambton-Kent DSB
Learning , Together education - archive - digitalfootprint

Jaclyn Calder Simcoe County DSB
Ramblings change - learning - community

Zoe Branigan-Pipe Hamilton Wentworth DSB
Pipe Dreams education - leadership - reform

Aaron Puley Hamilton Wentworth DSB
Blogg'u'ca'tion 2 education - technology - innovation

K-12 Teachers

Aviva Dunsinger Hamilton-Wentworth DSB
A Primary Blog For The 21st Century technology - primary - education

Melanie McBride Toronto DSB
Melanie McBride researcher - critical - pedagogy

Heather Durnin Avon Maitland DSB
Mrs. D.'s Flight Plan collaboration - technology - middle school

Andrew Forgrave Hastings and Prince Edward DSB learning - change - technology

Danika Barker Thames Valley DSB
The Barker Blog literacy - technology - reflection

Dave Lanovaz Huron-Perth Catholic DSB
Sine of the Times math - math - math

Steve McCallum Near North DSB
Prosperos Desk community pd - reading - technology

Jean-Louis Bontront Greater Essex Catholic DSB
What's in my head, and sometimes bounces out collaboration - jokes - chemistry

Peter McAsh Avon Maitland DSB
Mr. McAsh's Blog web2.o - computers - innovation

Nathan Toft and Jane Smith Ottawa-Carleton DSB
Portable PD podcasting - conversation - PD

Rodd Lucier London District Catholic SB
The Clever Sheep collaboration - creative commons - design

Principals, Vice-Principals and Administrators

Shannon Smith Ottawa-Carleton DSB
Shannon in Ottawa lead - learn - reflect

Lisa Neale Hamilton Wentworth DSB
Lisa Learning learning - leadership - technology

Mark Carbone Waterloo Region DSB
Mark's Musings ICT - learning - personal

Rob De Lorenzo Toronto Catholic DSB
The Mobile Learner mobile - devices - classroom

Trustees, Parents & Retired Educators

Robert Hunking Avon Maitland DSB
My Path of Learning community - trustee - learning

Doug Peterson Sessional Professor, University of Windsor
Off the Record personal - digital - footprint

When time allows, it would be great if you could support these reflective learners by leaving a comment on post that informs you; inspires you; or challenges you. If you know of other Ontario Edu-bloggers who should be included on this list, take the time to share details, and I'll do my best to update this post.

Photo Credit: torres21

Monday, December 6, 2010

Ontario Edu-Bloggers Please Stand Up

I recently discovered Chris Kennedy's blog, Culture of Yes, after watching his talk at TEDxVancouver. In his most recent post: Buy Local, Chris identifies edu-bloggers from his home province. In so doing, he can't help but wonder why so many voices seem to be centred in and around Coquitlam.

In the hope of inspiring more teacher-learners to share their opinions, experiences, and ideas, I feel compelled to do what I can, to introduce provincial colleagues to as many local teacher voices as I can. The first step, is finding Ontario teachers who blog:

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Bringing Infographics to Life

In a world that often finds itself awash in a sea of data, it's no surprise that readers can become entranced by tidy infographics. While most can recognize effective representations of data, it takes both a critical and creative thinker to condense data into a compelling visual model.

Even though infographics can help to clarify meaning, it takes a special teacher to bring data to life. In the exemplary presentation below, master teacher, Hans Rosling, condenses 200 years, and 120,000 pieces of data, into a compelling 4 minute history lesson. Part infographic, part animation, and part passionate explanation, Rosling's presentation is a model for how data can be used to tell a complelling story.

Exemplary Infographics
Infographic Designs: Overview, Examples & Best Practices
10 of My Favorite Infographics
50 Informative and Well-Designed Infographics
15 Beautifully Illustrated Infographics for Your Inspiration
30 Outstanding Examples of Data Visualization
When Information is Beautiful: 25 Useful and Well-Designed Infographics
50 Great Examples of Infographics
50 Years of Space Exploration
Good's Most Popular Infographics from 2010

Tools for Creating Infographics
How to Create Outstanding Modern Infographics
Periodic Table of Visualization Methods
Google Public Data Explorer
Lovely Charts
Many Eyes

Have you ever led students to create infographics to demonstrate their understanding of a concept?
Do you know of other exemplary infographics worth sharing?
Are there tools you would recommend for the design of infographics?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Expanding the PLN Playbook

I couldn't help but smile as I read George Siemens' 'most awesomest' commentary about PLNs. Exactly a year ago I wrote a shorter but similarly themed post, asking teacher-learners to see themselves as 'collaborators'.

As a learner who is passionate about leveraging the passion and expertise among a diverse population of connected educators, it's reassuring to see more and more evidence of collaboration among edu-tweeps.

While folks new to Twitter, often reference their interactions as the "greatest professional learning experience ever", we need to recognize this public sharing environment as a first step into transparent professional development.

Maybe Twitter can be seen as the entry drug to more significant network collaboration? In all likelihood, it will take leaders to create opportunities beyond synchronous Educhat conversations, in order to remind educators that professional learning can be amplified by reaching beyond 140 characters.

To that end, what are you doing to create the next EDUCON, MOOC, or TEDx? Are you modeling risk and reaching beyond your comfort zone? How are you contributing to the evolution of our professional learning playbook?

Me? I'm working with an incredible team to breathe life into an event that promises to model collaboration on a scale that's never before been attempted; but that's story for the new year. ;-)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Incubating Change

I've been in discussions with colleagues in my school about setting up a wing of our school to be a Teaching With Information Technology zone. Ideally, we'd begin with 3-5 teachers representing a range of subject disciplines, who would teach from classrooms equipped with mounted data projection; a bank of sharable notebook computers; a set of handheld devices; a few cameras; and wireless Internet access.

With my office being located just around the corner, I would act as a resource and team-teaching ally, assisting students and teachers in leveraging modern learning tools. We could have students host guest speakers via Skype; produce and publish multimedia content; participate in collaborative projects with international colleagues; and much more.

During this year of teaching and learning on TWIT lane, we would teach with open doors to model transparency for students, teachers, and visitors alike. Participating teachers would act as collaborative supporters for one another, and would benefit from regularly scheduled planning and debriefing sessions. The following year, a new cohort of teachers could set up shop, with the previous year's pilot teachers acting as mentors.

I'm rather excited about the prospect of working collaboratively with teacher-learners in modern classrooms, but I'm not so sure that TWIT corridor has much of a ring to it. Can you suggest a more apt name for our incubation zone? Do you know of similar projects that we might learn from? Might you be able to play an active role in supporting us?

--- Late Addition ---

We've settled on the name 'TEL-Wing' for the cluster of Technology Enhanced Learning classrooms now under development.

Photo Credits: shapeshift; Timothy K. Hamilton

Friday, November 19, 2010

Who Took the Easy Way Out?

Cheating... on an exam?!

After years of giving exams to students, an instructor at University of Central Florida, was shocked to discover that students cheat on exams.

Is it really all that hard to imagine that students would take the easy way out, when that appears to be exactly what the professor did? Instead of creating a novel and authentic way to assess student learning, Richard Quinn used his 20 years of teaching experience, to draw his exam from the question bank supplied by a textbook company. Instead of sharing his own work with students, he administered an exam created by a publisher, leaving me to wonder: Did the test acknowledge the source for the exam questions?

When I study at an institute of higher learning, I prefer to take courses that are not the same year after year; courses that recognize the realities of today's hyper-connected world; courses that don't place such a huge emphasis on a written exam to demonstrate the stickiness of course content.

In watching the 'lesson' below, I can't help but sense the emotional vibrations from the teacher: disappointment, frustration... disillusionment. As the audience for this 'lecture' learns that statistical variations, forensic analysis, and data tracking have narrowed the pool of suspected cheaters to about a third of the class, I'd have been just as interested to read the faces and body language of the 400 students.

The rant appears to have led to 200 confessions. Self-identifying cheaters will be allowed to complete the course and graduate, provided they take a four hour course in ethics. I can't help but wonder if/when any teachers at the school will see themselves as culpable.

At the close, we learn that the instructor was too distraught to load the slides for Chapter 8 and Chapter 9. Whether or not the slidedecks were also provided by the publisher, Mr. Quinn's closing comments indicate that he has much to learn:

"The days of finding a new way to cheat the system, are over!"

I suspect that the system will need far more than a new exam in order to make learning relevant, and cheat-proof. What do you think?

For more food for thought, visit a few true stories of students from the University of Windsor.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Learning in E-lationship

There was a conversational buzz that dominated the ECOO2010 conference experience. It began with ""Hey, I know you..."

Ed-tech conference attendees across North America, are experiencing conference events with networked colleagues, on a level never before seen. This past week, a great number of Ontario educators (and a few out-of-province tweeps) were energized to meet face-to-face with members of their personal/professional learning networks.

It's been a relatively short time since Twitter has been embraced by e-literate educators, but this tool has become a major difference-maker in the spread of good ideas. Conference attendees are readily self-identifying by Twitter ID, and are cross-pollinating their networks by introducing their 'followers' to colleagues.

To their full credit, the ECOO organizing team made a concerted effort to engage participants in the use of Twitter as a networking tool. Throughout the conference, attendees had opportunities to engage in back-channel discussions, to join in a Twitter scavenger hunt, and to attend a Super Tweet-up event.

I've written before about the critical role of the fourth 'R', but now I'm thinking of spelling Relationship in a new way. The positive vibes that result when meeting e-learning colleagues, might as well be referenced as 'elation-ship' or 'e-lationship'. It's difficult to explain to the disconnected, but it is empowering and invigorating to engage in first time face-to-face conversations, with familiar co-learners.

As part of my commitment to attend ECOO2010, I agreed to deliver in a Pecha Kucha talk during the last day of the conference. I couldn't have chosen a more apt topic: 'Twenty Things I've Learned in Twitter'.

It used to be that conference-goers could count on meeting peers who shared their passions and interests, but in 2010, conference attendees are counting the opportunity to meet with fellow tweeps, as the most rewarding part of the conference experience.

In assuming that you're already on Twitter, I'd be interested in your take. If you've yet to join us in shared learning year-round, what are you waiting for?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Think Before You Post Online

My colleague, Royan Lee, from a few hundred clicks up Hwy #401, has just posted 'Think Before You Post Online', a graphic poster, on The Spicy Learning Blog. The graphic shares a number of mini-lessons that should be taken to heart by social media participants of all ages, and when I saw it, I immediately wanted to share his wisdom.

Since I know Royan, getting permission to reproduce this graphic was relatively easy. I posted a request on his blog, and the next day, I discovered that Royan had granted me permission to share his work; but I couldn't help thinking that the inclusion of a Creative Commons icon on this piece of work, would've made it much easier to reproduce. In fact, the licensing on such a piece of work can serve to provide an additional lesson about copyright.

If you have a piece of work you'd like to share, my first suggestion would be to visit the Creative Commons website to Choose a License. After answering a few questions, you'll be supplied with a graphic that you can add to any work you'd like to share, along with some code that you can embed along with the work. Others visiting your work will have the option to hyperlink to your Creative Commons license to see what uses are permitted.

You can see by the icon and hyperlink on this blog, that I commonly license my creative work with an attribution, non-commercial, share-alike license. Royan... I'm going to revisit your blog soon. Will a lesson on sharing be embedded in future posts?

Late addition:
Following a tweet from Royan, I visited again... and was pleasantly surprised.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

WE are Smarter than ME

Brian Eno is credited with inventing the term 'Scenius', as a tool to describe 'group genius' that tends to erupt serendipidously. Specifically, he's reported to have said "Scenius stands for the intelligence and the intuition of a whole cultural scene. It is the communal form of the concept of the genius."

This definition fits with the collaborative intelligence I've experienced for the past few years. Through a conscious effort to harness social media for personal and professional learning, I've confirmed that WE are smarter than ME.

Innovation, whether in the education sector, or otherwise, comes when individuals give themselves permission to think creatively, and to share their ideas, inferences, and insights with the crowd. As a result, similar but coincidental "A-ha!" experiences will sometimes take place completely independent of one another.

Kevin Kelly, writing on The Technium, offers four characteristics of Scenius, each of which is characteristic of the Personal/Professional Learning Networks being cultivated by more and more connected teacher-learners:

Mutual appreciation - When educators suggest they're going to try something unique, they get affirmation from members of their PLN. (E.g., A user tweets about hosting a Skype conference. Others affirm the idea; suggest guest speakers; and later, offer congratulations on the initiative's success.)

Rapid exchange of tools and techniques -- When interesting discoveries are made online, they rapidly fire through the retweet circuit until connected learners have been brought into the loop. (E.g., From node to node, and network to network, a presenter's slidedeck; resources page; or recorded presentation, are shared on Twitter via hyperlink)

Network effects of success - When innovative practices emerge, loosely connected participants, and random observers alike, readily acknowledge and celebrate the success. (E.g., Local and distant micro-bloggers use common hashtags to raise the profile of an Educon learning experience.)

Local tolerance for the novelties -- Creative thinkers who challenge the status quo, are often respected in networked learning environments. (E.g., A dissenting view is shared on a blog post. Although discussion participants may disagree with one another, the post can be recognized and valued for inspiring thoughtful debate.)

The expertise of my co-learners seems to me, to be exponentially more powerful when hyperlinked together. Whether or not we call it 'scenius', there's little doubt it's changing the way I consume, communicate, and create. Have you noticed your network having similar effects on your learning?

Next step: Find out more about the 'hive mind' in Kevin Kelly's latest book, Out of Control.
Photo Credit: Elisabeth Audrey

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Vintage Ads & Social Media Inspiration

This morning, I came across some "super-neat-o" vintage ads for modern social media tools. It took some time to discover the provenance of these ads, but with the assistance of Lisa Lane, I discovered posters advertising Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Skype are free to download from Maximedia.

In learning more about these 'historic' print ads, I also stumbled upon a vintage video in the style of narrated black & white educational films. Though campy, the production quality is very good and the tips are apt for members of the Facebook Generation.

In case you just want to engage your students in critical thinking about authentic vintage footage, your learners might be interested in investigating a modern viral video. The story of a time-traveler who may have inadvertently used a mobile communication device in Charlie Chaplin's 1928 film: The Circus, is certainly being used for promotional purposes. (The conspiracy has even found inclusion in the Wikipedia entry.)

By coincidence, as these vintage ads were being bookmarked, I responded to a minor commotion as our chaplain hung up a modern poster in the hallway outside of my office. Whether you're looking for a creative way to introduce social media, or are interested in leading learners to think in critical or creative ways, the works of advertisers have the potential to inspire a wide range of media works.

Image credit: Print ads downloaded and 'hung' courtesy of download from Maximedia

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Student Success: Surviving vs Thriving

As a teacher responsible for Student Success in my high school, I've grown fatigued with dealing from the fallout from one-size-fits-all educational approaches. Specifically, I find myself sharing the frustration of my students as they make every effort to avoid completing work they see as irrelevant.

In the past year, I've spent most of my time at school in supporting students who don't do homework; who are disengaged from school; who don't like to write; and who are too challenged with distractions of the day, to demonstrate an interest in lessons designed by their teachers.

This year, I've been more proactive in working with teachers to develop learning experiences that are more closely tailored to the interests and abilities of my clients. Here are a few examples of the work I'll be doing in coming days and weeks, that I hope will lead students to become active participants in their own learning.

Case 1: "I don't do writing..."
For a student who needs one more language credit, but who finds it painful to put pencil to paper, we're pursuing an independent project. In the next few weeks, I hope to scaffold the work of 'Trevor' who is designing a high school to meet the needs of unique students.

Using Smart Ideas concept mapping software to scaffold the writing, 'Trevor' will be designing a whole new high school experience. This work grew out of a small writing assignment, and although it's been a struggle to get rolling, I've promised to share this student's work with a real world audience. If the project gains traction, you're likely to hear and see more about it in this space.

Case 2: "I can't sit in a desk..."
Like many teens, 'Jake' needs to be physically active in order to survive the school day. While our board's alternative education focuses on career skills and co-op, the remote site that hosts the program is inaccessible to this student. In order to develop a unique program to suit his needs, I'll be hosting a meeting of the special education department, the guidance department, the co-op department, and our school administration, to design a pilot learning experience that may one day be made available to other students at our school.

The plan is to cluster a few accessible courses, and to design rich cross-curricular projects that will lead 'Jake' to demonstrate the achievement of the interdisciplinary course expectations. Ideally, we'll twin this project work with a co-op experience, and will provide access to multimedia tools and training so that 'Jake' can document his experience.

Case 3: "This class is a challenge..."
One of our grade 10 language classes has a disproportionate number of special needs students who chafe at the rigors of reading and writing. In completing the course and in preparating for the provincial literacy test, students are required to respond to a wide variety of 'media texts', so why not engage students in creating their own media texts?

After consulting with the teacher and department head about movie-making and podcasting, we've settled on a few performance tasks that will allow students to play the roles of advertising executives, multimedia engineers, and movie-makers. What's more, students will have choice in the roles they'll play, and the best of their work will be seen by an online audience.

While many of my Student Success colleagues around the province may find themselves working in triage, I'm trying to be proactive in helping teachers to create academic challenges that are compelling and relevant. I'm hopeful that my job will gradually become one of enriching the high school experience, rather than surviving it.

Photo credits: br1dotcom, vancouverfilmschool, Proctor Archives

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Creative Commons: What Every Educator Needs to Know

This week, my K-12 Online Conference presentation on Creative Commons goes public. For late night readers, I'm embedding the video here, a few hours in advance of its official launch.

I'm grateful that this presentation follows on the heals of Dean Shareski's pre-conference keynote, Sharing: the Moral Imperative. My related purpose, is to demonstrate ways that educators can model the appropriate use of CC licensed materials, and to highlight how creators from around the world are benefiting from 'intentional' sharing.

"Creative Commons may be the most powerful mechanism for media development you've never heard of. Worldwide, creators of all ages are gaining access to millions of free images, audio files, video elements, and written materials, and are using these to create their own unique products. No matter what you teach, you need to know about Creative Commons!"

CC Resources by Rodd Lucier:
Creative Commons: What Every Educator Needs to Know (slidedeck)
Creative Commons in the Classroom (free e-book)
Creative Commons Collaboration (blog post)
Creative Commons Chaos (CC media sources)

Other CC Resources:
A Shared Culture
Building on the Past (video)
Sharing Creative Works (slidedeck)
Wanna Work Together? (video)
Choose a CC License for Your Own Work (CC tool)

As I continue to publicize stories of how students and teaches are leveraging Creative Commons in the Classroom, I'd be grateful for any questions, comments, or exemplary uses that you'd be willing to share...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Changing Education Paradigms

Sir Ken Robinson's words ring even more powerfully when augmented by 'Back of the Napkin' strategies:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

GaGa for (& QR Codes)

You may find this hard to believe, but it's sometimes easier for me to make a short video than to write a blog post. I think this explanation works well in this format.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Differentiation: Charting a Course

Recently, I was asked to respond to an authentic problem and to provide a briefing on Differentiated Instruction. Specifically, I was asked to highlight what DI is; to identify barriers to bringing DI to high school; to highlight the role of DI in meeting the needs of at risk students.

While the request to asked respondents to limit their response to 1 page, I couldn't resist but to respond in a differentiated manner. Here is the 8 minute presentation I shared in response.

Whether you have success stories in bringing DI to the high school environment; suggestions for overcoming barriers; or approaches you've tried in professional development, I'd love to hear from you. Stories shared in comments; through hyperlinks; or via email would be appreciated.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Conference that Never Ends

Have you ever attended K-12 Online Conference? Since its inception in 2006, the event has hosted a wide range of professional development sessions including presentations on video, and live conversations. Each week a unique strand is highlighted, and with presentations being archived, the presenters never seem to age.

The K-12 Online Conference begins in earnest next week, and during mid-October, I'll be sharing a 20 minute presentation in the 'Leading the Change' strand: Creative Commons: What Every Educator Needs to Know. To whet the appetite of attendees, I've just posted this 'teaser' video to the conference Ning.

Whether or not you can join in this event synchronously with teachers from around the globe, presentations will be available for viewing in the conference archive, whenever your schedule allows.

This year, the conference kicks off with a 'pre-conference Keynote' by Dean Shareski. I hope to see you there...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Redefining the 21st Century Learner

Earlier today, I was asked to demonstrate my understanding of the term '21st Century Learner'. I was pleasantly surprised by the question and found myself mentally reviewing a few of the conversations I'd had with colleagues in recent days.

The term may have been adopted to spur educators to consider the relevance of learning experiences being offered to students; to embrace emerging tools in the classroom; and to inspire an evolution in our practice. Now that it's 2010, and we're well into the new millennium, my observations are that the term has failed to engage a majority of educators in critical reflection of their own teaching practice.

By the time I was finished critiquing the term, I was faced with a follow-up question: What term would you use in place of 21st Century Learner?

In considering a more apt term to represent today's school-aged learners, I put forth the term 'refugees'. I went on to explain that I see students every day, who have to unplug, disconnect, and go solo in a world whose terrain is foreign to the way they regularly interact. Rather than interact via mobile devices tethered by invisible signals, most of today's students have to wait for teacher permission to communicate, and even then, can only network with students in the same room. In many ways, it's like being forced to speak a unique language while being contained in a foreign land. What they wouldn't give, to have the freedom to return to their 'home country'!

How would you have responded?

Have you grown tired of the term 21st Century Learner?
Do terms like Digital Native and Digital Immigrant now strike you as failed attempts to categorize youth and their not-quite-so-techy parents and teachers?
Do you have an apt metaphor for today's learners in today's schools?
Do you see today's learners as 'Time Travelers', 'LOST passengers', 'bats without radar', or something different?

The audio version of this story is available as today's episode on The Clever Sheep Podcast.

Image Credit: Alex Mickla

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ontario Teachers are Learners

I've often said that I love living in the world of Edu-Blogs and Twitter for the simple reason that this is where the learners are. It's next to impossible to see yourself as a learner, if you're not finding ways to connect with other like-minded educators, so the increasing numbers of Ontario educators learning in virtual spaces has been reassuring.

The act of connecting with virtual colleagues may be rich for each participating individual, but will such engagement ever be enough to bring about systemic change? If inspirational educators worry only about "today, in my classroom", then who will inspire the professional growth local 'unplugged' peers? It begs the question: "Is your PLN virtual, or real?"

In recent years, school-based teams in Ontario have become engaged in Teaching-Learning Critical Pathways a collaborative process that engages teachers in reflective practice. The process has grown out of Crevola, Fullan & Hill's, 2006 book, Breakthrough, and succeeds when every classroom participant benefits from a customized learning experience.

Classroom teachers are active learners throughout the process: collaboratively designing lessons; assessing the effectiveness of shared strategies; using the evidence to plan a way forward. In short, the teachers are co-learners with their charges. Combine this colleague-to-colleague professional learning with what appears to be happening in online spaces, and the future looks promising for Ontario families.

A Caveat:
Boards of education across the province have widely adopted this practice with elementary school teams, yet the TLCP process and related terminology are foreign to secondary teachers in my region. While the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat has been spearheading the adoption of research-based practices in grades 1 to 8, many secondary schools continue to stagnate.

What are the steps will lead to the development of relevant courses, learning strategies, and professional learning for Ontario's high school teachers?

Photo Credits: story photos courtesy of torres21

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Rise of 'Interest-based' Learning

It's been two years since I first wrote about 'Learning Without Teachers', and now Sugata Mitra is sharing compelling stories involving peer instruction, that should lead educators at all levels to re-think what it means to teach.

Mitra's most recent research seems to validate an approach that forgoes 1:1 computing, in favour of a strategy that limits access to learning tools. In a wide range of settings, with diverse populations of learners, Mitra has married the use of communications technology to 'interest-based' learning, and the early results have been stunning, even if counterintuitive.

Do you believe that this 'peer to peer' approach affirms recent developments in professional learning? Does it validate project-based approaches to learning? Might it support equipping a classroom with an On Demand Ecosystem?

Sugata Mitra speculates that "Education is a self organising system, where learning is an emergent phenomenon..." and he is committed to researching this contention. Whether or not we agree, Mitra's work provides an unspoken challenge: How do you assess the effectiveness of the tools and learning strategies that you employ?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Taking Flight with Creative Commons

A blank page can pose an intimidating challenge to a creator; at the same time, a discarded cardboard box can inspire a child to imagine an entire world. It prompted me to wonder: "Why don't we use similar triggers to spark creative 'knowledge' construction by modern learners?"

As outlined in my previous post in preparation for the ABEL Summer Institute, participants in my Creative Commons workshop, were invited to join in the collaborative creation of a field guide. Rather than starting with a blank canvas, I provided the title slide, and invited colleagues to consider the stunning CC licensed photography of Trey Ratcliff (stuckincustoms on Flickr) for inspiration.

After priming the pump for workshop participants, our Google form collected suggestions for using CC in the classroom; questions about creative ownership; and general insights regarding media. The suggestions of teachers have been paired with the images that inspired the contributions, and the resulting work is licensed for further sharing, re-mixing, and knowledge construction.

The parallel goal of the resulting slidedeck, is to inspire educators to consider ways that they might use Creative Commons in the classroom. My hope is that this guidebook will act as a 'cardboard box' of sorts, inspiring creative individuals to take flight.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Co-Creating with Creative Commons

In a few hours, I'll be up early in order to make the drive to York University. Once there, I'll be taking part in the ABEL Summer Institute, where I'll be leading a workshop on Creative Commons.

In keeping with the theme of ASI2010: "Creating the Future Now", I'll be working with participants in my session to co-create a Creative Commons Field Guide. If all goes according to plan, our collegial effort will highlight a number of innovative ways that teachers and students can leverage Creative Commons in the classroom.

Creative Commons is an excellent vehicle to model academic integrity, and to provide learners with raw content for their multimedia creations. I'll be using the slidedeck below to provide a rationale for using and attributing Creative Commons works, and to highlight a wide range of CC licensed exemplars.

How will we Create the Future?

During the latter half of my workshop, we'll be producing and publishing a professional development resource. If you'd like to contribute to this e-book, I invite you to follow the steps below to share your idea.

Step #1: In 25 to 50 words, teachers will be asked identify a strategy, project, or idea for leveraging Creative Commons.

Step #2: Teachers will be challenged to identify a CC licensed photo that can be used to illustrate their idea. I'm encouraging the use of images by Stuck in Customs so that our resource will have a consistent look and feel.

Step #3
: Participants will contribute their ideas.

During the week following the ABEL Summer Institute, I'll be condensing the ideas into a common slidedeck which will be made available as a downloadable e-book from my Slideshare account.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Hidden Treasures

Remember the good old days when folks used to play outside?
Geocaching is a wonderful way to remind yourself and friends and family that we're surrounded by wonderful natural places ripe for exploring. If you have access to a GPS device, you can use longitude and latitude coordinates and secret clues to locate 'hidden treasures'.

Yesterday, we used Geocaching Toolkit and an iPhone to lead us to cache locations near Springbank Park in London, Ontario. While we've gone hiking and geocaching before, I was lucky enough to capture the moments that followed my son's first geocaching 'find'.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Mac Mini-camp

This week, I hosted four colleagues for a full day of hands-on learning intended to help novice geeks to get the most of their Mac computers. Contrary to traditional large group PD, this audience had the luxury of going in any of a number of directions, and could do so at a comfortable pace.

I fielded a number of queries about this informal PD through via Twitter, so here are my top 10 discoveries from a day of learning with friends:

1] You can use a large screen television as a projection device.

2] Although the operating system is simple to navigate, there are simple tricks that you may take for granted that may be greatly valued by your colleagues.

3] Small changes to System Preferences can allow any user to be more productive.

4] Individual needs are much easier to address in a small group meeting than they are in traditional PD. (I.e., A teacher with a new external hard drive invited us to explore how to use Time Machine to backup files.)

5] If you use Skitch, ctrl+shift+5 is the new ctrl+shift+4

6] Teachers can have fun with Skype by contacting folks in the same room; and you can demonstrate the power of this collaborative tool by inviting guest experts to dial in to share their expertise. Thanks @BrendaSherry, @KellyPower & @IainRobertson!

7] Delicious is a great tool to introduce teachers to the power of the hive mind.

8] Engaging in conversation within a PD session is a good thing. How else can folks teach one another and share their giddy love of learning?

9] This type of learning should be taking place on a regular basis. The consensus from participants was that we should schedule follow-up meetings. First on our next agenda: "So, What happened?"

10] Teacher-learners are happy to share food in exchange for tech tips!

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Three 'R's of Educational Leadership

For the fourth time, Scott McLeod is calling on bloggers to help support administrators in becoming effective school technology leaders through Leadership Day.

There are hundreds of things I'd love to share with administrators and classroom leaders, but let me boil it down to 3 R's to replace Readin', Ritin', and 'Rithmatic.

1. Take Risks
There are many things we do in school, for no other reason, than we've always done things a particular way. Consider the use of chalk; the alignment of desks in rows; the use of written tests; or the opening of the school day to fit with bus-schedules instead of the needs of growing brains.

We can continue to do things the way we've always done them, or, we can recognize the folly in some of our practices, and can strive to find better ways. In your own work as an administrator, don't be afraid to take risks and to encourage others to do the same. Two important questions to consider any day; Why? and Why not?

2. Conduct Research

Whether encouraging leaders to pilot new technologies, or asking peers to consider novel practices, work with colleagues to discover the best ways to engage today's learners. Celebrate exemplary achievements, and gather evidence to support the expansion of successful strategies.

The craft of teaching should be one of continual evolution. Through collegial discussion, educators can examine local teaching practices, and with the support of a networked leader, can share their professional learning with a global audience.

3. Build Relationships
You don't have to go it alone. Network with colleagues near and far, to keep abreast of emerging trends. Share your challenges, questions, and ideas, and learn through shared experiences. We may not be with you in person, but we'll have your back should you require resources, ideas, or other forms of support.

In modeling the collaborative skills of a 21st century educator, your experiences are sure to bring a sense of wonder to your professional life. Once you see the potential of networked learning, it will be natural for you to advocate for the modern learning needs of teachers and students alike.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Social Network

'The Social Network' is one of those trailers that seems to work one its own as a short subject movie. At the opening, the words of the choir over the computer screen close-ups are ethereal, intimate, and sad all at the same time.

Do you yearn to fit in? Do you need a digital channel to enhance your sense of belonging? Many of the quotes within this trailer help me to understand how individuals may be inclined to value their online social connections above all else.

While hundreds of millions engage in social experiences through Facebook and other social media channels, I wonder how many will engage in online conversations about this movie, rather than experiencing it first hand with real friends? The film opens in October... How many educators will see it as a piece of media worthy of consideration?


A number of days ago, I came across this explanation of Facebook that might be worth considering as a teaching tool, especially when it comes to privacy settings and terms of use agreements.

A Movie for Anyone On FaceBook from Casey Neistat on Vimeo.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Holding Up a Mirror

As the school year winds down, it gives each of us time to pause, and to reflect on what we've accomplished. It's through such critical consideration of our work, that we grow as teachers and as learners, so let's be sure to get beyond ourselves to consider how our actions have led others to grow.

What Students Accomplish
If you attend school at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, the reflection by your principal, Chris Lehmann, might lead everyone to reflect on what the graduating class has accomplished; not just in one defining year, but in an entire high school career.

If you're Megan Palevich, you lead your students to reflect on what they've accomplished, and you discover, that they've learned much more than the curriculum dictates.

Learning With Colleagues
Do you work within a community of teacher-learners?
How have you acted as a mentor to fellow teachers?
Which discoveries have you shared with your colleagues?
Is the sharing of your personal/professional learning a common practice at your school?

Learning in Community
How have you highlighted student achievement for your community?
Have your parents discovered what learning looks like?
Do folks know why you structure learning the way you do?
Have the doors of your classroom been open to visitors?
How have real people augmented your lessons?
Which learning stories are worth sharing with an even wider audience?
How have you publicly celebrated the greatest achievements and minor miracles from this school year?

What about You?
Sure, you've grown too. You've used proven methods and mixed in the use of some new lessons and tools. But it's in the work of our students and colleagues in the context of a learning community that we can best measure the effectiveness of our work. So before you hold up the mirror to yourself at year's end, hold it up to your fellow learners, including teachers, students and community members, and consider the ripples that have been triggered by your work.

Photo Credit: A6U571N

Monday, June 7, 2010

Cognitive Surplus vs Social Deficit

In recent weeks, I've done less collaborating globally, and more connecting locally; and over that period of time, I've felt less stressed, and more refreshed. While I continue to think, to learn, and to share, I regret that I've occasionally done so at the expense of spending time with those who matter the most to me.

I agree with Shirky's point that we can do plenty of good by applying our spare intellectual time to pursuits of collaborative knowledge development; but I've re-discovered that there is also much to be gained in freeing the mind from such work in order to be fully human.

I've found value in digging in my garden with my spouse; coaching kids soccer with my family; spending time on the links with friends; and reading real paper books and magazines all alone in my hammock. Knowing that these physical, social and emotional investments are paying rich personal dividends, I can't help but wonder: How will you be paying off your social deficit this summer?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Lessons Learned in Error

Even if you weren't among the 17,738 fans present at last night's Tigers vs Indians baseball game, you have likely heard the ripples of the '28-out perfect game' pitched by Armando Galarraga.

Calls for the resignation or firing of someone relying on their perception of a moment in time, are not warranted. The play was a classic 'bang-bang' play, that in real time would have been a difficult call for any observer. If you had the best seats at Comerica Park, this is how you might have witnessed sports history:

So what's a person to do?
Jim Joyce: When shown in slow-motion or freeze-frame, the 27th out is more obvious. So, after the game, in a move rarely seen among sports officials, first base umpire Jim Joyce chose to apologize in person, to the Detroit Tiger pitcher.

Armando Galarraga: Even as his greatest lifetime sports achievement vaporized, Armando Galarraga kept his aplomb. The disappointed pitcher closed out the game, and later chose to accept Joyce's apology. At today's game, Galarraga was slated to deliver the line-up card to today's home plate umpire, Jim Joyce... I hope they each received a warm ovation.

Bud Selig: As Commissioner of Major League Baseball, Bud Selig has the authority to overturn the ruling on the field, and to award the baseball's 21st perfect game to Galarraga. Whether or not he chooses to do so, the story of this game, and it's aftermath will forever be a part of the history of baseball, a game values tradition above all else.

Whether or not Selig chooses to correct the umpire's error, I think that this sports event can be seen as a win-win-win. Joyce should be appreciated for acknowledging that though humans may err, they can also make amends; Galarraga and his teammates will be recognized for an incredible accomplishment; and the commissioner's office will be remembered either for righting a wrong; or for reminding us that there are many human elements in the American pastime.

So, why aren't you sharing this modern fable with your students? Surely there are lessons in this story worth sharing, aren't there?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What We Learned from WWYD?

If you've had a chance to review recent posts on the theme: 'What Would Yoda Do?', you may have noticed some trends in the content we harvested. In the past few days, Ben Hazzard, Kathy Hibbert and myself, have taken some time to consider a host of #wwyd tweets, and we've summarized our findings in the document below.

A number of themes came to light as this crowd-sourced document evolved, and as is regularly the case, we learned as much from the process as we did from the product. We think there is some real Jedi wisdom in the way we were able to leverage social media tools to represent a collective vision of teacher professional development.

Our findings are much easier to read via the 'Fullscreen' option. If you have the time, we'd love to know what you think...

What Would Yoda Do? A Jedi Approach to Professional Development

Monday, May 24, 2010

Jedi Wisdom and Teacher P.D.

Over the past few days, we've collected a wide range of submissions with ideas about how educator professional development might be re-imagined. Using the Twitter tag #wwyd, educators near and far have shared their widsom, 140 characters at a time.

Although we've yet to finalize the product we'll be submitting for publication with the Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy, you may be interested in reviewing the creative posters developed under the direction of our collaborators.

Content embedded within this project is open for use, remix, and sharing via Creative Commons. Whether downloading select slides to prime workshop thinking; sharing sample slides as models to develop a similar resource; or using the entire slidedeck to promote critical thinking, we hope this project will prod teacher-learners to pursue rich, relevant, professional learning.