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Class Blogmeister Status & an Experiment

Word CloudIt’s been a while since I’ve talked about Blogmeister, so I thought I’d just mention some statistics. There are currently almost 1500 teachers using blogmeister, managing more than 11,500 student accounts. There are users in 46 states of the U.S. and 37 countries. So far, more than 22,000 articles have been posted by teachers and students.

I suspect that we are approaching the capacity of the hosting service that I’m using, so I will have a decision to make soon. My choices, as I see it, are to move the site to a more robust server solution or limit new teachers to an invitation system. I may set up a procedure where new users will have to receive an invitation from current Blogmeister teachers. I’m still struggling with this decisions.

The fact is that there are other options that were not available when I first built Blogmeister. Alan November’s November Learning is attracting a lot of users. James Farmer is now offering student blogging accounts through Learner Blogs, which he hosts through his WordPress installation. I suspect that more enterprising tech directors will soon be installing and tweaking tools like Manila and WordPress to server their teacher and student bloggers. The purpose of Blogmeister was to provide a place for classroom managed blogging experiences for students, when there wasn’t anything else available.

Experimenting…

It’s an A.D.D. thing where you wake up after only four hours of sleep with a brilliant idea…or so it seems at the time. Anyway, I finally got up at 4:00 AM and started programming. Here’s how it works.

If you are a teacher, using Class Blogmeister, you now have a new word cloud icon for each article when viewing them in “edit” mode. When you click the cloud icon, a word cloud window is generated, displaying the article. Words that appear in the blog articles of other teachers appear blue. Larger fonts indicate words that appear in many other teachers’ blogs.

If you click a commonly used word, Blogmeister generates a list of teacher articles that include that word. You can then click an article title back into Class Blogmeister, where you can read it in its entirety and comment.

The idea is to use the content that is continually being generated inside of Blogmeister to promote potentially valuable connections between teachers, and, perhaps, one day, connections between students.

Some Quotes from Presentation Slides

I am going through my iPhoto library, sifting out redundant or otherwise useless pictures. I frequently pull out my camera during keynotes and other presentations that I’m watching, to take pictures of important slides — rather than working too hard to copy them down. Here are some of the quotes I’m running across that you might like or find valuable.

“Only one thing is impossible for God: To find any sense in any copyright law on the planet”

“When ever a copyright law is to be made or altered, then the idiots assemble”

Mark Twain, Mark Twain’s Notebook, May 23, 1903

I suspect that this next one came from a presentation that I saw by Marc Prenski

Does everything we do have great engagement and gameplay?
Would kids spend their own money for it?

Does everything we do empower our students?
Would kids do it in their leisure time?

Does everything we do change our students’ behavior, beliefs & attitudes for the better?
Would theymake their friends do it?

This is definitely from one of Prenski’s slides.

“Gamers have amassed thousands of hours of rapidly analyzing new situations, interacting with characters they don’t really know, and solving problems quickly an independently.”
Beck & Wade, Got Game

That’s it for now!

Putt’s Law & Education

This quote, Putt’s Law, came through my Google page today.

Technology is dominated by two types of people: those who understand what they do not manage, and those who manage what they do not understand.

To what degree do you think we might substitute technology with education?

TechForum Grow to Texas

Tech ForumPerhaps one of the best small conferences around is Technology & Learning’s TechForums. They evolved out of the old T&L Expos that use to be held in New York and Chicago each year. The TechForum, which offers a balance of administrative/tech issues with curriculum, will grow to Austin, Texas this year (Nov 10), and additional cities next year, as well as NY (Last Week) and Chicago (Apr 28, ’06).

I attended the NY conference and presented on Blogging and other Web 2.0 topics. One of the most important benefits of these conferences is their size. I feel like I got to meet a majority of the people who were there. The Texas event will feature a keynote address by Hall Davidson (Thinking as Big as the World is Small), now of the Discovery Educator Network. Morning panels will include:

The afternoon will feature more presentations:

  • Digital Story Telling, Visual Literacy & 21st Century Skills — Joe Brennan & David Jakes
  • Blogs & RSS: Tapping into the Global Conversatioin — David Warlick
  • Classrooms, Content, and Kids — Pete Reilly
  • Copyright, the Constitution, and Schools: The Colonials Got it Right! — Hall Davidson

There’ll also be lots of opportunities to network through receptions and roundtables.

Unfortunately, the sessions on video games will not be following TechForum to Texas. New York’s keynote address, by Bernie Trilling of Oracle, touched on gaming, and there was also a panel with Eric Klopfer of MIT, Ben Sawyer of Digitalmill, and Bill MacKenty, a teacher from Martha’s Vineyard, who uses off the shelf video games with his elementary students.

We tried to use a community Wiki for a collaborative notebook in New York, but my hosting company periodically does something that prevents meta tag redirects from working, and it failed. I’ve since started using a Java based redirect routine, and it seems to work very well. People will be able to go to a web page, type their name and the name of the event, and it will create a wiki page for them that they can use to take notes. All of the notes pages will be linked together so that all attendees will have access to each others notes.

In addition, and at the suggestion of Texans Miguel Guhlin and Wesley Fryer, this forum will be blogged and much of it may be podcasted. Both Miguel and Wesley have suggested strategies where all blogs posted about the event, will be aggregated to the Technology & Learning web site. Podcast recordings will also be available there, as well as iTunes Music store. This is a bit of an experiment, but like all things loosely joined, the winds of uncertainty must do battle with the winds of innovation.

Attendees, blogging the event, should place the following code within the text of their articles.

<a href=”http://technorati.com/tag/techforumtx” rel=”tag”>techforumtx</a>

It is also helpful to register your blog on Technorati.

You can see all blogs that have already been posted about the even here.

Cheating or Resourceful?

CheatingWill Richardson has been sharing his experiences in the Monterey area of California, where he was speaking at the Internet @ Schools West conference. Yesterday, he reported a story that came out of one of his presentations.

But here is the moment that has my stomach roiling (aside from the nasty “snack” the airline gave out): at the end of my presentation, a woman in the audience related the problem with blogs at her school. “The kids are posting questions and answers to tests in between periods so kids later in the day know what’s coming. What do we do about that?” My first response was “sounds pretty inventive to me.” And I know that some people took that as being flip. But I was being serious. What a great use of the technology, not from an ethical sense, certainly, but from a collaboration and information sense. This is the new reality of a Read/Write world where knowledge is accessible, number one, and knowledge is shared instead of being kept closeted, number two. These kids are finding ways to share the information they need to be successful at what they are doing. Isn’t that something we should cheer? (Am I in trouble yet?)

Read the full post here

Here is the comment that I posted to Will blog:

An uncle of mine recently wrote a book about my family. Even though we go back nine generations on this continent, it’s a short book, because there isn’t that much to tell. One thing that fascinated me, though, was that my family valued education. My grandfather earned a degree in the Classics, driving himself to classes at the University of North Carolina in a horse drawn carriage. His brother earned a degree in engineering at North Carolina State University.

However, when they returned to rural Lincoln County North Carolina, there were no newspapers nor magazines, and very few books available to them. Being educated, at that time, meant having knowledge permanently stored in their brains, and the act of educating was to cause knowledge to enter their brains and stay there.

Today, we are surrounded by information and knowledge. Media is available any time and any where. Not only that, but the information is constantly changing — and here is the true crime that we commit when we inflict industrial notions of education on information-driven youngsters. We imply, in the way that we teach and assess, that what they are learning is omni-important and absolute, and that it will serve them the rest of their lives; when we know, as do they, that the answers are constantly changing.

If I were still teaching history, I’d take my students into the library for each test and say, “Answer my questions — with the knowledge you can find here.”

I want to add something here, lest someone thinks that I’m condoning cheating. We must refine our definitions of cheating in the technology-rich, information-driven world. We must also redefine ethics, teaching, learning, curriculum, literacy, and what it means to be educated. The playing field has changed, and so too must the rules.

No child should be rewarded for taking what they did not earn. However, the greater crime occurs, when we prevent our children from resorting to learning avenues that are perfectly relevant to today’s information environment, just because it looks like cheating to us.

Children will be resourceful in achieving the goals that we set for them, and this is what we should teach. How do we steer that resourcefulness into positive avenues — and perhaps the most important thing is, where will we get the time to figure all of this out?

2¢ worth…

“Bold new strategies … put on the table without delay”

The Raleigh News & Observer, my state’s capital paper, reports today (N.C. Teachers Given Raises) that…

Every teacher in North Carolina’s public schools will get an extra $75 each month beginning in November and a promise from state political leaders of more to come.

Under a plan Gov. Mike Easley announced Tuesday, the average pay for teachers in the state will be raised by the 2008-09 school year to the national average, projected to be $52,206 by then. To get there, Easley and legislative leaders have committed to average increases of 5 percent in each of the next three years, amounting to about $150 million a year. 1

If our governor and legislature believe that getting North Carolina’s teacher pay on par with the nation will solve our education problems, then they know much less about our classrooms than they claim.

Our problem is that we do not have enough teachers. An August 2004 press release from The Teaching Commission, refers to a report from the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research, which…

…details teacher turnover rates for each of the state’s 117 city and county school systems and concludes that “a 20 percent or more annual teacher turnover rate in some school districts will take the teacher shortage to crisis proportions if the state does not act quickly to get more teachers in the pipeline now.”

The press release continues…

…while North Carolina must hire about 10,000 teachers per year to staff existing classrooms, the state’s public and private universities produce a combined total of just over 3,000 teachers per year—just 2,200 of whom end up teaching in North Carolina. With enrollments growing, that problem will only grow more dire, unless bold new strategies are put on the table without delay.

Again, if our government believes that mere salary hikes will solve the problem, then we have a bigger problem. Our teacher shortage is not happening because they do not make enough money, though they certainly deserve more, and most of us acknowledge this. Teachers are leaving the classroom because they can not succeed. Our students are performing better on standardized tests. But intelligent, dynamic, talented communicators do not enter the teaching profession to boost test scores. They become teachers because they want to help children to grow into productive, insightful, adaptive, and self-fulfilled citizens. Good teachers know what success in the classroom looks like. We need to return the confidence that we once had for our teachers, and we need to establish an education system that provides for success, not simply punishes for lower than expected test scores.

We need to ask good teachers what they need to succeed. Their answers will include relevant and dynamic curriculum, freedom to explore innovative and inventive teaching strategies, technologies appropriate for 21st century learning, ongoing professional development, and above all, significantly more professional time to plan new lessons that address the needs of a rapidly changing world.

If we set up our classrooms for success, then we may find that there is only a very thin line between a mediocre teacher and a good teacher and we may even get more talented young people entering the teaching profession.

2¢ worth

What’s Left for the Classroom

I’ve been holding out on this one, because I still do not have my mind wrapped around it. But because of an article I ran across in Digg yesterday, I decided it was time to let loose. I am reading a book right now, one that was recommended to me by Doug Johnson. The book, called The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson (author of Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, and other cyberpunk works) also sports a subtitle, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer — Doug suggested the book during a discussion of digital textbooks.

Near future engineers (living in a retro-victorian culture), have invented a book to provide an education for privileged children, that circumvents the prevailing education system of their time — evidently not that much has changed in the classroom.

Nell, a disadvantaged girl in the story, has surreptitiously gained access to one of the primer books. Here is an excerpt from Diamond Age, Nell’s first experience with her primer.

The book spoke in a lovely contralto, with an accent like the very finest Vickys. The voice was like a real person’s though not like anyone Nell had ever met. It rose and fell like slow surf on a warm beach, and when Nell closed her eyes, it swept her out into an ocean of feelings.

Once upon a time there was a little Princess named Nell who was imprisoned in a tall dark castle on an island in the middle of a giant sea, with a little boy named Harv, who was her friend and protector. She also had four special friends named Dinosaur, Duck, Peter Rabbit, and Purple.
Princess Nell and Harv could not leave the Dark Castle, but from time to time a raven would come to visit them.

“What’s a raven?” Nell said

The illustration was a colorful painting of the island seen from up in the sky. The island rotated downward and out of the picture, becoming a view toward the ocean horizon. In the middle was a black dot. The pictute zoomed in on the black dot, and it turned out to be a bird. Big letters appeared beneath. “R A V E N,” the book said. “Raven. now, say it with me.”

“Raven.”

“Very good! Nell, you are a clever girl, and you have much talent with words. Can you spell raven?”

Nell hesitated. She was still blushing from the praise. After a few seconds, the first of the letters began to blink. Nell prodded it.
The letter grew until it had pushed all the other letters and pictures off the edges of the page. The loop on top shrank and became a head, while the lines sticking out the bottom developed into legs and began to scissor. “R is for Run,” the book said. The picture kept on changing until it was a picture of Nell. Then something fuzzy and red appeared beneath her feet. “Nell Runs on the Red Rug,” the book said, and as it spoke, new words appeared.

“Why is she running?”

“Because an Angry Alligator Appeared,” the book said, and panned back qulte some distance to show an alligator, waddling along ridiculously, no threat to the fleet Nell. The alligator became frustrated and curled itself into a circle, which became a small letter. “A is for Alligator. The Very Vast alligator Vainly Viewed Nell’s Valiant Velocity” 1

The book is an interactive (n), not a tutorial. The progression to reading is not pre-packaged. Instead, it interacts with the reader, generating learning experiences within the telling of the story, one involving the reader. The fact of the matter is that we are not far from computer technology that is this powerful, and the precedent is certainly there, that the hottest personal computer technology goes to the kids. Well, not for education, but for game-playing. But that’s another issue.

Yesterday, I took a precious ten minutes at the end of the workday (4:30 AM – 7:00PM) to scan through some Digg articles. I ran across one referring to this Associated Press story, E-Tutoring Broadens Bounds of Outsourcing. I’d heard of this going on, but this article (Oct 22) was the first published report. Here is an excerpt:

COCHIN, India – A few stars are still twinkling in the inky pre-dawn sky when Koyampurath Namitha arrives for work in a quiet suburb of this south Indian city. It’s barely 4:30 a.m. when she grabs a cup of coffee and joins more than two dozen colleagues, each settling into a cubicle with a computer and earphones.

More than 7,000 miles away, in Glenview, Ill., outside Chicago, it’s the evening of the previous day and 14-year-old Princeton John sits at his computer, barefoot and ready for his hourlong geometry lesson. The high school freshman puts on a headset with a microphone and clicks on computer software that will link him through the Internet to his tutor, Namitha, many time zones away.

It’s called e-tutoring — yet another example of how modern communications, and an abundance of educated, low-wage Asians, are broadening the boundaries of outsourcing and working their way into the minutiae of American life, from replacing your lost credit card through reading your CAT scan to helping you revive your crashed computer.2

I bring these two items to your attention to suggest that education in the (near) future may be more radically different than my romantic notions of the classroom have allowed. Is it possible that a fully interactive book could teach children to read and perform mathematics. Is it possible that tutoring of advanced math and science across a dozen time-zones might be more effective than a teacher in a classroom of 30?

My answer to that question is, “Yes, it may be!” I was born and educated during the industrial age and I have very romantic notions about how things should be, and the question that this leaves me with is, “What can we do in teacher-lead classrooms, that can’t be done by interactive books and nearly seamless telecommunication. What should children be learning that they can only learn in a group lead by a teacher?

What do you think?

——————————–
Digg — (http://digg.com/) Digg is an intriguing online newspaper where readers suggest stories and the stories are rated by readers. The stories with the most votes, or Diggs, surface to the top of the list. In other words, the headlines are determined not by an editorial staff, but by the readers.

1 Stephenson, Neal. The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer. New York: Bantam Books, 1995.

2 George, mirmala, Martha Irvine. “e-Tutoring Broadens Bounds of Outsourcing.” Yahoo! News 22 Oct 2005. 26 Oct 2005 <http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20051022/ap_on_hi_te/tutored_from_afar_1>

The Wrong Message

This is from the hopper, something that I wrote weeks ago, but haven’t gotten around to posting.

FuzzyA couple of weeks ago, I worked a conference in another state. I was fortunate enough to have the time to explore the exhibitors and to attend a number of presentations by some very innovative teachers.

Toward the end of the day, I sat down with one of the exhibitors who was marketing a database service. The attendant immediately began by asking questions about my experience in researching with Google. I knew where he was going so I played along. Then he began to demonstrate some of the “validated” databases of articles, reviews, news, etc. that were available through their service, giving students access to information that they could rely on, because they were written or selected by authoritative sources.

First of all, it was a wonderful product, which I would have in my school. But I wouldn’t sell it as a solution to the Google problem. No Way. The product is being sold on a fallacy that permeates education in my country, that knowledge should be guaranteed, that the knowledge that you gain in school will serve you the rest of your life, and that getting the right knowledge to our children solves their future problems.

OK, this is a simplification of a very complex issue. But, in my humble opinion, anyone who believes that the current knowledge about our physical, social, cultural, and philosophical world that is available in today’s screened databases will serve our children for all the years of their future is not paying attention. Science changes almost daily, as do our perspectives on history, culture, economics, on and on. The skills that our students must be developing are…

  • how to ask the good questions,
  • how to seek the answers in a legitimate and dynamic information environment (the global conversation),
  • how to validate the information by investigating, and
  • then use the information to solve a problem, answer a question, or accomplish a goal.

An organized library of databases is one source. But sometimes, the best answer to a brand new problem may come from something that was said yesterday, by some kid in New Zealand, and finding that potential solution will require dynamic skills, far removed from the operation of a database service.

One other item. I am ashamed to say that it did not occur to me, until the next day, to ask, “How do I know that the sources in the database are authoritative?” In fact, the attendant could probably have shown me an adequate bibliography. But the point is that I didn’t think to ask that question, when this is exactly what we should be teaching our children to do — to ask questions about the answers they find.

2¢ worth!

Allow Me to Push this One More Time

The past two entries have concerned pre-service technology training — a request from a friend by e-mail, who is preparing for an upcoming “technology in education” course. In the answers, the words innovation and inventiveness have appeared in a number of comments. I’d like to ask two more questions, and welcome comments:

  1. During the past several years, we have been directed to utilize scientifically proven, research-based instructional practices in our classrooms. How does asking teachers to innovate and to become inventive in their teaching reconcile with research-based teaching?
  2. If we are becoming more innovative and inventive in our teaching, who gave us permission to do that?

Two More Cents Worth Regarding Pre-Service Technology Skills

I don’t think I’ve ever had so many comments posted so quickly, as with yesterdays call for ideas on pre-service tech skills. All eight of my readers commented on the same day. What I am adding here is going in both as a comment for yesterday’s post and as a new post. If you want to add comments to this subject, please post them on yesterday’s blog, so that we can keep these ideas together.

One thing that has been implied but I do not believe has been explicitly stated so far is context. Most of the people who read this blog have become proficient in Web 2.0 tools because there was something that they wanted to learn about — mostly Web 2.0 tools. We went into the blogosphere, subscribing to the writers we want to pay attention to with our brand new aggregators, tracking the Wikipedia and perhaps even sifting through the histories of articles and definitions, started our own del.icio.us accounts and then used them as a springboard into other people’s digital libraries, and subscribed to them. Totally cool, we thought.

However, I fear that if we take college students into these tools, without some specific and relevant questions to answer or problems to solve, then they may seem cool to them, but the skills will be strictly academic. I think these students should be presented with a problem. For example, you need a multimedia presentation that will teach (some concept) perfectly. Then start with a discussion of the problem to create some grounding in the elements of the problem, then introduce them to Wikipedia, then Technorati, then bloglines, then…

The second penny I would add is a springboard off of something that Jeff Utecht said. He said that “They may already have the information literacy skills…”. In talking with teenagers and from what some of the research says, I think that kids these ages are technology literate, but not necessarily information literate. See Study Shows some Teens not as Web-savvy as Parents. I think that we should help them to develop these skills by isolating out established skills, forcing them to rely on the fully networked, digital, and overwhelming information environment. For instance, in the first stage of their research, they are not allowed to use any resources that have been in any way filtered by traditional publishing or formal jurying. After the first night’s discussions of what they found in the online conversation, then they are allowed to find supporting information, but only digital. In their first drafts of their multimedia presentation, allow no words. Only images and sound. They have to express their ideas with media other than the written word.

Again, we get it, because we learned these tools to solve our own problems. Pre-service teachers, and all learners for that matter, need to be going into learning experiences to accomplish a goal that they identify with.

2 more cents worth.

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Photo taken by Ewan McIntosh in a Taxi in Shanghai

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Cultivating Your Personal Learning Network
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Redefining Literacy 2.0 (2008)
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Raw Materials for the Mind
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