This is What It Might Feel Like…

Main Entrance of Saalburg Roman Fort

First impressions of Oberursel are overwhelmingly and enthusiastically positive. It’s clean. People are exceedingly polite and friendly. ..and although it isn’t much larger than the very small town In which I grew up, in western North Carolina, it has a train with four stops serving the town and connecting it with nearby Frankfurt. Of course, figuring out how to negotiate tickets from the kiosk was a nearly insurmountable problem-solving task.

I spent much of my first full day here at the Saalburg Roman Fort, an authentic first century fortress, protecting the farthest border of the empire from the Germanic tribes to the north. The layout of the complex is based on excavations (which are ongoing) and the writings of Julius Caesar and other officers who occupied this and other frontier installations.

Many of the rooms served as museums with extensive collections of excavated buckles, toga pins, tools,pots and cooking implements. What challenged me was the descriptive signs, which were all written exclusively in German. Therefore, except for just a few words here and there, I had no sure way of telling exactly what I was looking at.

It was actually and interesting exercise, because we were challenged to act like archeologists, reasoning out what the various objects were, based on our knowledge of the history, other objects in the vicinity and logic.

But all told, it made me feel illiterate. What an interesting experience, facing this wall that prevented me from understanding where I was — for lack of my ability to use the information.

It was not the full effect that I felt, however. I am older, traveled, somewhat accomplished, and I have learned an ultimate lesson, that adulthood does not mean that you stop making mistakes — giving myself permission to admit mistakes is enormously liberating. This is to say that I am confident.

I had assumed, from what I’d heard, that all German people spoke English. This is not true. I have encountered many who do not or are not willing to try. Many who do said they do, actually speak so little English that it is hugely difficult to understand and make myself understood — though there is a richness to a conversation that challenges your own language. I’m not complaining. How could I. I’m an American. But age does give me the confidence to walk in, say, “hallo! Sprechen Sie Englisch, bitte?” and regardless, work through the all German menu to select their best sausage, without the Sauerkraut. 😉

If I was less confident, then I would be terrified to enter any of the fine restaurants of Oberursel, stores, the bank, or even the streets of the town. Too much opportunity for humiliation.  The thought of people living with this terror breaks my heart.

Literacy, in all it’s ranges and forms, is empowering, and if learning any literacy skill does not immediately and meaningfully enable and empower a learner to do something new and wonderful, then we’re teaching it the wrong way!

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Lanyrding Conference Learning Events, a social conference directory

I carry a generic black lanyard with me to conferences to hang my name tag from. I do not use it at every event, only those where severely crunched budgets force the conference to provide tacky vender-branded lanyards — or a piece of string. But I just discovered a new kind of lanyard, or Lanyrd(.com) that I can take with me to a conference, or use to attach myself to conferences I’m not even attending.

Some of you may remember a web site I created a number of years ago called Hitchikr, that aggregated blog posts, Twitter tweets, and Flickr photos associated (tagged) with various user-registered conferences. It died of neglect, but Lanyrd has risen to do much of the same think — and then much more.

Going to the site and registering with my Twitter login, I discovered 22 upcoming conferences that are being attended, or spoken at, by people I follow on Twitter — people I respect. In the coming week there’ll be the Interactive Local Media East conference, care of David Weinberger, the Mobile Learning conference in Bremen, Germany from Josie Fraser, and Cr8net, a creative industries conference from Richard Florida.

I registered ECIS IT, where I’ll be speaking later this week in Oberursel and identified myself as a speaker at June’s ISTE 2011 conference in Philadelphia. The site invited me to register sessions I’ll be presenting along with links to my online handouts. If the event is being covered by media in any way, then there are opportunities to link that in as well.

Providing access to conference speakers, attendees, and event-generated content seems to be the goal of Lanyrd. However, I see something else happening, an additional benefit. If taken seriously and currated by people associated with the conference, their Lanyrd site can become a portfolio of the event.

This got me to thinking about the electronic portfolios that are, thankfully, becoming part of the education conversation again. We talk about learner portfolios, but what if teachers were able to currate a classroom or course portfolio, by having student work, artifacts of their learning, aggregated into something that people can “follow.”

Who Among Us is Explicitly Tasked with Helping Children Learn to Teach Themselves?

I would suggest that “YOU NEED OUR LIBRARIES!”

From the Texas Library Association web site

One of the upcoming events I especially look forward to is the Texas Library Association Conference in Austin. I’ll be part of a series of presentations for administrators about libraries and their evolving and increasing importance in a mouse-click world.

One component of my message came to me about a week ago during a conversation with someone who works with librarians across the country. I did not know her before this conversation, and so, do not remember her name now. It takes two meetings for me to remember someone’s name. No stickiness left in my brain.

During that conversation she said something to me that did stick. She suggested that for high school students, who are going on to college, the school librarian is perhaps the most important teacher they will have. I think that this was a gross understatement.

We talk hard about life-long learning, but I do not believe that it is figuring in to the procedures, policies, and pedagogies of formal education nearly as much as it should. Today, with everything changing so fast, the ability and proclivity to learn is as critical as the basic literacies were in my time.  Perhaps they should be the same thing — learning and literacy.

I often ask people, especially non-educators, “How much of what you do in your job or profession, did you learn in high school?” “ college?”  “In the last five years?”  “In the last month?” How much of living and working today is significantly dependent on our ability to learn? Imagine education focusing less on what’s been taught, and much much more on skilled, curious, resourceful, and habitual learning. Imagine a generation of super-charged learners embracing a day and time when almost anything is possible.

Coming back around, what educator in today’s schools, holds, as an explicit part of their mission, helping children learn to teach themselves. Why it’s librarians, those educators who are too often among the first to be laid off in order to balance budgets.

Such a sad and tragic lack of vision.

On the Other Hand

I probably made a dozen of these from scrap lumber and discarded lawnmower wheels or disassembled roller skates if I was desperate

This morning, while preparing for an upcoming presentation on Internet ethics, I jotted off several comments that began with, “Remember When.” They were all designed to lament back to a time before the Internet, when we did things differently, because we couldn’t surf, text, or tweet. My plan is to illustrate how much we have come to depend on a dependable information network. I posted most of them on Twitter (#rememberwhen) and Facebook.

For the fun of it, I also listed in my notes some of the elements of my own pre-Internet childhood that I suspect most children today are not experiencing because of the Internet, video games, texting, etc. I decided to post some of them here for your enjoyment.

  • Remember when childhood happened almost exclusively outside?
  • Remember when a child’s most important resource was a saw, hammer, and bag of straightened nails?
  • Remember when we daydreamed about building a raft, putting a propeller & wings on our bicycle, or exploring a wilderness with a musket and bowie knife?
  • Remember when there was more you could do with a pair of skates than just strap them on your feet and skate?
  • Remember when we use to pretend — out loud?
  • Remember when every tree was scrutinized for its treehouse suitability?
  • Remember when playing house was done with chairs and blankets (not with simulation software)?

Does this ring true for you?

Reflections on NCTIES 2011

Early Registration at NCTIES in Raleigh

Last week was the NCTIES conference.  NCTIES (North Carolina Technology in Education) is the ISTE affiliate for my state.  They use to be NCAECT, and I understand that there was another acronym before that.  But Thursday they launched their 40th conference, and I do not remember being a part of any anniversary conference with a number that high.

Before the conference, I lamented on all the people I’ve worked with from across who I’d miss because they have certainly retired.  But I was surprised at the number who were still at it, mostly informing me that they were retiring in May or August  or some other of the next 9 months.  But it was also trilling to see the folks who were back for the 40th anniversary.

But on to my reflections.  It occurred to me this morning that I can tell when I have been fully engaged in an education technology conference by the number of times I remember asking, “But why?”  Here’s a typical exchange.

“We’ve bought iPads for our alternative school kids.”

“Cool!  But why?”

“We’re trying to get them to read more, and we believe they will read more if its on an iPad.”

“Why do you think they’ll read more with an iPad.  Is reading what’s cool about using an iPad?”


“Why do you want the students to read more?”

You get the gist — and I know that I am doing a lot more reading since I got my iPad.  But it’s not because the text glows.  But that’s a different blog post…

Another thing that was interesting about this conference was my ongoing and often playful quest for the next cool thing — the next “buzz.”  It’s more of a game for me, a cool hunting sort of thing.  After all, most cool things in educational technology grow cold, hopefully before we start to integrate and effect instruction.  Anyway, I got an inkling of two cool things here at this conference. One was the topic of my session on infographics and data visualization.  Of course, in my preparation for the session, I realized that there is nothing new about this stuff.  We’ve been doing data visualization for years through geographic information systems or GIS with products like ArcGIS.

It was my first planned presentation on this topic, and it did not go as smoothly as some of my more practiced topics — as a number of demos didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped (starting to justify the purchase of Camtasia for my Mac 😉.  What got me wondering about the impact of this is the fact that Kathy Schrock, one of the other featured speakers of the conference, was in the audience and she told me that she is planning a similar (better) presentation on the same topic for an upcoming large conference (A Picture is Worth 1000 Words: Using Infographics as a Creative Assessment”).  If I think it’s cool and then Schrock sees it’s pedagogical value as a learning tool, well, you’ve got something there…

Jason Standish Timothy Smith
Talking about QR-Codes

The other cool thing that seemed to be buzzing throughout the conference was QR-Codes.  Part of it was the interesting way that the presenters, Jacob Standish and Timothy Smith of Charlotte Mecklenberg Schools preceded the conference with QR-Codes in their conference wiki page and their YouTube video introduction (blogged about here).

QR-Codes have actually been around for more than a decade, and I have used them on presentation slides for over year, though, until recently, only recognized and used in Singapore and Hong Kong.  But the buzz in Raleigh was palpable and it was contagious.  During their session, you could feel the excitement in the packed presentation room, and the scurrying of educators rushing up with their smart phones held up, and seemingly bowing down to this new great thing.

It was exciting and more than a little funny.  It’s like I told my son (who attendeed the last day of the conference), “You’re going to be with people who are passionate about what they do.  They don’t have jobs — they have a mission.  You don’t see this everyday, and I double you’d see it anyplace else in the field of education.”  And it was certainly true NCTIES.

As for QR-Codes and infographics, only time and our capacity to innovate will tell.  I have some big questions about QR-Codes, and one of my next articles will likely take a more critical, but certainly not a dismissive look at this application.

Learning about World of Warcraft in Education with Lucas Gillispie

Here are some fairly rough notes from a workshop I attended on video games in education, presented by Lucas Gillispi. My comments are boxed and italicized.

On top of everything else that was new to me with this session, I got to operate an Alien computer.

I’m sitting in a session about World of Warcraft, being facilitated by Lucas Gillispie, from Pender County Schools (far eastern part of the state). His blog is EduRealms, where he talks about games and learning. Lucas has worked with Peggie Sheehy, who started with SecondLife and is now exploring the learning that happens in games like World of Warcraft.  Their guild in WoW is Cognitive Dissonance.

“Education needs a Cataclysm,” he says. There’s double entendra here. See this. In the traditional classroom, its about teacher, textbook, and workshops. WoW has built-in resources, fan sites, blogs, facebook, and twitter feeds, WoWWiki (second largest wiki in the world), custom apps, etc.

I wonder how many of those game-resources would work for formal learning. – dfw

In formal education, mastery must occur within allotted “seat time.” Achievement is constant in games such as WoW. The traditional classroom is about “No Talking!” In the game it’s about collaborating and sharing. Everyone’s talents bring something to the team. Slackers will fail and will fail their team.  Guilds provide a larger community. Plus the game is differentiated. You choose the style of play (learning) that works for you. “World of Warcraft players crave assessment,” rather than dread it. In the traditional classroom, failure is punitive. In games, failure is expected. Failing at a quest means you re-try, as often as needed.

So what makes it engaging. Gee says that its in your regime of competence — hard but doable. (see this summary of Gee’s principals of learning.)

So “What if school was more like a game?” Gamification is term being used to make. Look at Epic Win, as a way of turning everyday tasks into a game.

Hmmm!  But isn’t school actually like a game?  Students who do well are not always your brightest and most resourceful, but they’re the ones who play the game well.  I’d rather suggest that we change the rules of the game, and perhaps even the rule of the schooling game, to include some of the pedagogies of WoW and other compelling and deep games. – dfw

Gillispie and team were recently contacted by a philanthropic organization from Washington state who’d been watching what they were doing through his blog and twitterings.  They asked him to submit a proposal for funding for gaming laptops (Alienware). “look kids,” he’d told the students, “Here’s someone who is paying attention to you and what you are doing.”

It occurred to me, then, that Pender County is not, to these students, the same place that their parents grew up.  For many of them, it was a padded world that was effectively insulated from the outside world (I speak from experience from having grown up in a similarly rural area.)  Because of their experiences with WoW and other networked learning experiences, Pender County is a gateway to a much broader and richer world.  ..and that richer world is available to them, even if they choose to always live in their rural community.

The theme of their project is “A Hero’s Journey.” Students are “Heros,” teachers are “Lorekeepers,” and grades are “experience points.” Interesting that experience points, which are is almost like currancy that is accumulated.  You start out your experience with the game as a poor and weak character, gaining in strength and skill, resulting in more wealth.

A question immersed from the conversation that I think was quite important.  Why do we not grade our students in the very same way?  Why have we not always graded our students in the same way?  Why not have grades (or what ever we’d call it) that reflect learners growing wealth of knowledge and skill, rather than measuring discrete sub-knowledge and sub-skills? We couldn’t answer that question. – dfw

Here are some of the things they are doing as part of the class:

  • Character Tweets: Students tweeted from the perspective of non-player WoW characters. They’re projecting into another character and determining perspective For instance, there’s a girl who wonders a specific road selling bread. What does the world look like to her.
  • Propaganda/Ads: Students used photo editing to create ads aimed at WoW characters.
  • Research and argumentative writing: So what would happen if Hobbit characters (which they’re required to read) were living in WoW.
  • Fan Fiction: Writing a story from inside the plot of the game.

Very cool session!