Sunday, May 11, 2008

Can we play Webkins and call it professional development?

Actually, I have never even seen a Webkin, so I've never played with one. I think I need to though! I know some cute 7 year olds who are big fans, so I know where to get help. Has anyone out there played Webkins or Club Penguin? Will I have fun? As a point of reference, I can have fun playing Candyland with two four-year-olds, which is essentially a 3 way game with myself. I think playing with these might be fun and powerful experiences.

There have been a couple of comments on my blog that have gotten me to change the way I think about and design professional development. Kim Cofino's comment about her "wired Wednesdays" made me realize that teachers need to engage in meaningful conversations, not just show teachers "a plethora of tools they may not know [how to use]" I can think of a few conversation starters. I was at a graduation yesterday in which the speaker listed many of the snippets from the Did You Know video. I think of that video as so ubiquitous that "everyone" has seen it, but it turned out that I was the only one in my group who had. (Side question--if the speaker doesn't mention the video, does that constitute plagiarism?) Do other ed tech types have similar experiences? Which leads to the old quote about assumptions. . . I need to work on not making assumptions about what "everyone" has seen/read/heard/done. That leads to Intrepid Flame's comment on the same page asking "How can we slowly encourage people to understand that the future is hear with a sense of urgency, but at the same time not allow them to become defensive?" His words capture the essence of edtech, don't they? The first step is to not act like a "Know it All" as Michele Martin points out on her blog. Not making assumptions is the first step in not acting like a know it all.

I think I can come across as a know it all, even though I regularly feel totally overwhelmed by all I don't know (Google Earth, GPS's, GIS, Scratch, and ArtSnacks come to mind immediately, and I'd love pointers on any/all of those). Is this defensiveness endemic to educational technology?

Technology can make confident, experienced professionals feel uncertain and "dumb." Maybe people forced to take a workshop walk in making assumptions about the people who are leading it (and vice versa). Is it because the solution to a tech tangle can sometimes involve just one or two clicks? This makes the tangled one feel dumb and the "untangler" look like that dreaded know it all. I sometimes remind folks that there are a million things I can't do that they can. I need to get better about emphasizing that when I am providing support.

So, back to the webkins (and Facebook, MySpace, Club Penguin, etc). Aren't these types of activity here to stay? Can teachers hide from understanding them and stay effective and relevant? "Social networking" is a bit of a misnomer to me, since it implies that nothing of intellectual importance is going on within the network. Hey, we're just hanging out, right? For educators, social networking can be a powerful tool for professional growth. There are videos, blogs and wikis on just about any topic one can imagine. How do I find the ones that will help me (as a teacher) learn about ___________? What is the role of technology in encouraging connections among practitioners? When new research emerges, it hits the web long before it reaches the teacher journals that can have more than a year's lag time. Does this matter? Does it matter enough to ask teachers to move out of their comfort zones? It does, but again, fear of the future leads to defensiveness. Maybe play is the answer to breaking down the defensive barrier. So, I'm thinking about going shopping for a few Webkins. Anyone want to play?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Two posts in one day!

Two totally different topics though. I've been participating in the Comment Challenge 08, otherwise seen around these parts as comment08 What an experience already. I've done more commenting in the past week than in the past month. There are daily challenges involved. Here is today's challenge:

For today's task, I want you to come up with three lessons you've learned from your experiences so far. Consider what you've learned about yourself as a commenter, what you've learned about the act of commenting, and how you think your recent commenting activities have impacted you as commenter and a blogger

Two days ago, the task was to make a comment when you disagreed with someone. There's a young student teacher who has been keeping a blog of his experiences. I've been reading his entries occasionally and was generally impressed with not only his ideas about teaching, but his capacity to be reflective. I remember being assigned to journal when I was a student teacher and hating it--I would make up entries just before turning it in. However, there are times when I though hmmm while reading. I decided to comment on one of the hmm entries and it's led to an entire conversation. I like to think, but don't really know, that he's learned something, but I've learned a great deal through our conversation. I've revisited the Bill of Rights, some of the cognitive psychology concepts from grad school round one (yikes, I'm old) and just generally had a good time refining my thoughts about assessment and student learning. The assessments I give students tend to be rather non-traditional these days, although there are still good old vocabulary quizzes on occasion. So it was nice to feel myself articulating why I feel so strongly about making sure that assessment gives students the opportunity to show me what they can do as well as point out what they can't.
I also relived some student teaching nightmares. My mentor teacher disappeared into the teacher's lounge the first day I was there, and got mad when it was time for me to hand classes back to her. She complained, thinking I was trying to get out early, not realizing that the university's semester ended well before the school year. I would never have done this without the comment challenge and so I have already benefited far more than I had thought I would (well, not so much with re-living the student teaching days. . . )

I've also engaged in a little bit of conversation with Bill Farren at Education for Well-Being. I've been able to introduce his ideas to a few people I know who were really impressed. Bill's work demonstrates a passion for making a better world for all of us. He has a vision I want to incorporate into every aspect of my life, professional and personal. He's got a fan club in me, and I'm out to recruit everyone I can!

Finally, I left Danah Boyd a comment. I really like her blog, although I find her scary-smart and much cooler than me. I have never even considered leaving a comment on her blog. She's someone I cite, not someone I talk with. I sound a little junior high here, but there it is. Anyway, I basically wrote her a fan letter and she emailed me back a one-word answer that made my hour. Well worth it.

So, my three lessons are: (1) don't be afraid to engage someone in conversation. Posts can be dialog starters, not just statements. That means mine too. (2) follow up by going back. Drop off comments are not so helpful. (3) a fan letter can be a great thing. 2 and 3 seem in conflict, but they aren't, they are just situational.

Jing vs Camtasia: Nothing exciting to report here, but this one's for Tara

I was fortunate enough to be given a copy of Camtasia earlier this week. I am already a big fan of Jing, so I jumped right in to check out "big brother." There's nothing better than tormenting my sixth graders with my ability to follow them home! I link my videos to the homework calendar so that students can get help using software if they need it.

Also, this one's for Tara who commented that she couldn't get to the earlier videos because her school blocked them (more about that later). These are Flash videos hosted on our school server.

I used the two programs to make the two parts of a training series for new faculty on how to make a blog using First Class, our email system. Here's part one, which covers how to set up the blog, including assigning permissions for commenting (important for blogs by younger students). I made this one with Camtasia (expensive):

Part two shows how to view the blog online and post a comment. I made this one with Jing (free):

They don't seem that different to me. Judge for yourself. I feel incredibly self-conscious about my voice, so please don't make fun of me (for that, anyway). Now, I admit that there are about 500+ features of Camtasia that I haven't even touched. If I decide to go there, I'm sure I'll appreciate Camtasia more. Both are quick and easy though, which is important to me. I'm not a perfectionist, I think that getting the job done, and accepting a few flaws, means that I'll try more than if I insist everything I produce be perfect.

About Tara not being able to see the Jing videos I blogged about last month. I find it sad and infuriating that there are teachers who can't utilize the power of the web through the short-sightedness of their school policies. In my graduate school class this semester, I was the only one in my group who had the rights to download software onto the laptop my school provided for me. The rest (including an administrator!) had to ask someone in their technology department to do it. They told me that it got done when the tech people had time, and then the answer might be no. So much for spontaneity. So much for empowering teachers to be independent learners. One of the teachers told me that her tech people were just too busy to get people out of the messes they would get themselves into. I'm sure she was repeating what she'd been told. Honestly, how on earth are we going to inspire teachers to continue to learn new technologies if we block them from experimenting and making "social" connections with other educators?? No wonder folks sit around and wait for a workshop.

I am so grateful to be teaching at my school. First--faculty have a different level of filtering than students. It's minimal. Students are blocked from YouTube, but teachers aren't, so if there's a video a teacher wants to share, they just broadcast it using a projector. Last week I found out about Animoto's free for education program (which rocks, btw) on Classroom2.0. I emailed the network guy who manages our filter and in less than 30 minutes Animoto was unblocked. No forms, no justification, just "I need to check this out for our students." I can download anything I want and completely trash my system anytime I want and get it re-imaged back to the way it was when I got it without a lecture. Of course, I'm the tech integrationist, so everything I download is thoroughly checked out prior to yes, yes, okay, I accept. What's that sound? Oh, our help desk manager is laughing hysterically. Well, maybe I experiment, a little. I figure in order to teach adolescents about technology, I need to use it the way they do, right? In any case, I am truly grateful for the technology access that encourages me to teach myself, teach the kids, and trusts me to behave professionally because I am a professional and not because someone is making me. Will mistakes me made along the way? Sure. It's worth it.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Does teacher "training" get in the way of real learning?

Monday our "improvement of instruction" committee met. We discussed the students "these kids today"" and 21st Century Literacy/Learning (still designated as "the future"). We watched a couple of videos, the ubiquitous A Vision of Students Today and Did You Ever Wonder?

We started by discussing the concept of a Personal Learning Network (see David Warlick's excellent discussion). I was disappointed to see that when we got to our "to do" list for next year, it started to become a list of workshops we ought to give to teachers on using various forms of technology. I certainly love to share technology with teachers, and do it often, but , I was hoping for something more visionary. How do we need to transform our school for this new century? We're running behind here since we're 8 years into it, btw.

I think that just as I'd like to see the classroom evolve, we need to see professional development for faculty transform too. I believe that when faculty model independent learning for students, the kids benefit in so many ways.

So, in the spirit of modeling, I'll write here about the comment challenge I've just joined. The questions for today are:
  • How often do you comment on other blogs during a typical week? Do you track your blog comments? How? What do you do with your tracking? Do you tend to comment at the same blogs or do you try to comment on at least one new blog per week?
I'm embarrassed to admit that I can't even say once a week. I read and follow a lot of blogs, and I feel like I *know* some of the authors pretty well, but they have no idea how they've influenced me. I need to be more appreciative!

Clearly, this means I'm not tracking my comments, not is there a lot of variety. The blog I have commented on lately that I believe really deserves a lot of attention from us is the Education for Well Being. I am showing that video to our "improvement of instruction" committee to get them to realize that 21st century education is about vision, not skill specific training. So, thank you to all the bloggers out there that are inspiring me to seek a vision.
And if you are part of The Comment Challenge remember to tag your posts "comment08"
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