Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tipping the Iceberg

Many of our colleagues liken the makeover of our education system to the steering of a large 'directionally challenged' ship. Taking a different tack, I like to consider our educational system as being analogous to an iceberg. With little doubt that we are in the midst of global climate change, the iceberg's very existence is under threat. Understanding that accelerating change that is real in every other facet of society, surely we can conclude that the modern understanding of school, is similarly at risk.

What if we Tip the Iceberg?
For educators dieting on a menu of progressive blog posts and viral education videos, it's enticing to think that we might just be at a tipping point for transforming education. But before tipping that iceberg over to discover a whole new world, we have to realize the enormity of the task we hope to undertake. Even if change agents understand the immensity of the cube we're attempting to flip, I'm not so sure we fully understand the repercussions of widespread transformation. Might a controlled melting the cube into a more meaningful form be a more sensible strategy?

Educators in this social learning space, are attuned to messages about engaging project based learning; leveraging social media; and ensuring that students 'own the learning'. But these messages fly against the comfortable anchor of daily lessons that over many years, have become the frozen foundation of our practice. Rebel educators have always been leaping from the crest of the berg, furthering their own learning in the quiet and lonely crevices provided by the unseen surfaces of our iceberg. Maybe by way of slow drip, we can lead colleagues and students to consider exploring these new worlds? Maybe we need to polish the smoothest portions of the iceberg, revealing the many innovations that are taking place below the surface?

Does the Iceberg Even Know It's Changing?
For the past many years, I've been frustrated in the way our schools have offered mass market, paper-based lessons for individual learners to digest and regurgitate. Many of the lessons I see first hand, and those I experience through my children may be irrelevant, but I find reassurance in the many trailblazers who, in spite of daunting obstacles, are reinventing education for future generations. Few who work in the relative stability of the known school system, seem to take notice, but positive changes are taking hold. I believe it is through the sharing our collective stories of success, that we are most likely to inspire a curricular meltdown to a core of relevant learning experiences.

In the end, it is that unseen part of the iceberg, where innovators test the limits of today's learners, that will lead to a course correction for that steamship that everyone seems so intent on 'turning around'. What are you waiting for? Sound the alarm by pointing your colleagues to a blog post, a video, a podcast. You've just been drafted as the look-out in the crow's nest.

Photo Credits: Guille Avalos, Natalie Lucier, Canadian Science & Technology Museum

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Copyright School

It's surprising that it has taken this long, but Google has gone and created Copyright School, a short interactive course on how users can make appropriate use of media when posting content to YouTube. While resources have existed for some time to teach clients how to ensure their posting of material doesn't violate copyright, I discovered the news through the form of a short animated video that was embedded at Mashable.

It's a great beginning, but lessons on fair use, copyright, and Creative Commons, are long overdue. In preparing students to flourish in an increasingly media-centric world, there is a need for classroom teachers and students from primary school through university, to understand how to create content in ways that respect the wishes of other content creators.

WIth a link to copyright information now appearing at the bottom of every YouTube page, maybe Google will expand this copyright course to include:

* How to find and use appropriately licensed music for synchronized works
* How to credit photographers when using their CC licensed works
* How to make the most of archival film footage found in the public domain
* How to use Creative Commons to share your own work with the world

Now that YouTube is now one of the world's most popular search engines, I'm hopeful those who visit the site to consume media, will find themselves following links to learn about the ethical creation of mulitmedia.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Social Media Advisory

The Ontario College of Teachers released today, 'Professional Advisory: Use of Electronic Communication and Social Media', advising members to make appropriate use of social media with students.

My fear is that many educators will see this as a warning, granting reasonable grounds to remain on the social media sidelines. The first headline I read, spun the story as a cautionary tale: "College of Teachers says social media the wrong way for teachers to communicate".

Even though the 'professional advisory' is filled with caveats, fear of social media can be allayed, provided teachers use common sense in their e-communication. The news release put it this way:
“Represent yourself in social media the same way you would in person.”

In partial contrast, the OCT also released a companion video that rationalizes why educators should engage the use of modern communication tools:

Take the time to review the document. If you have questions or comments that you'd like to share, I'll be happy to bring them along to one of the regional information sessions taking place in the next few weeks. Are there any other 'appropriate use of social media' documents' I should reference?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Top Ten Tech Tools (Spring 2011)

It's been almost three years since I first blogged my Top Ten Tech Tools, and plenty has changed. Consistent with my earlier ramblings about 2011 being The Year of the Cloud, I'm finding that more and more of the tools I'm using, are accessible from any computer or smart phone. Here then, my 'revised' top ten tech tools for 2011:

I've had a Gmail account since June of 2004, and even though those in the younger generation tend to prefer short instant communication, this tool is the hub of my e-office. A few of the reasons I love the service: I can leverage customized filters for incoming mail; I can link documents to calendar events or to do lists; I can instantly convert attachments to Google Docs; I can search content I've sent or received using Google's highly efficient search tool. What's not to like?

Google Docs
Whether publishing surveys and forms, or collaboratively creating text-based documents, I love the fact that Google makes my work is available from any device. With a click of the sharing button, any folder or document can become the basis of a team project.

In the past three to four years, Twitter has proven itself to be the best way for me to keep in touch with distant members of my learning community. Among several aggregators of content, I still gravitate towards Tweetdeck. Leveraging groups, search tools, url-shortening, photo uploads and more, this app has proven to be the best way for me to sort 'nearly live' news, learning, and social communications.

I'm posting 'the good stuff' I stumble across in both places. Although Google is sometimes quicker at finding anything I archive, Clever App still grabs the feed to this content, so social bookmarking remains the best way to share my findings.

Sharing files with myself or with colleagues, this tool allows me to do it with ease, from any device. Now that tools like Drop-it-to-Me and JotForm allow web-based uploads to my folders, DropBox is also a sensible file collection solution.

As I continue to work on projects with colleagues who are in other provinces and countries, Skype has become our go-to tool for collaborative meetings. With participants opening relevant shared Google docs in their browser of choice, we can co-develop solutions, or use free A/V to deepen social connections. With the recent launch of Skype in the Classroom, at least 9000 educators from around the world agree this is a valuable networking tool.

I made the leap to a premium account to teach students how modern tools can replace paper notebooks. Accessing the work from any computer or smart phone, users can upload and tag audio, text, photo, video or document files; and can and share web-based files or folders with colleagues.

One of the cloud services I use that am happy to pay for, Flickr works in partnership with iPhoto, allowing me to share and back-up photos and videos. What's more, Flickr is home to a growing legion of photographers making their work available for use, remixing, and sharing via Creative Commons.

One of the few tools I use that only resides on my computer, Keynote remains my presentation tool of choice. Untethered, I control this tool with Keynote Remote on my iPhone. In order to share content I produce on Keynote, I host my presentations at Slideshare.

Creative Commons
This tool is as much a state-of-mind as it is a tech tool, and I'm including it on my list for the first time. If CC is new to you, it would be well worth your time to visit Creative Commons: What Every Educator Needs to Know.