Back to the “Jersey Shore”

My NING Profile...
My NJELITE Ning profile. You see, I'd like to have one profile that I could share into all of my social networks.
I’ve already been home for a full day, after a late but sure return from Madison and the Games+Learning+Society Conference last week.  I’ll have much to write about that later, but my main (and only) regret is not getting to see Stephen Downes opening presentation, which he apparently gave from the stairwell of his hotel in the Canary Islands.

However, I am focused, at present, on upcoming work in Wildwood, New Jersey.  I have a fairly long relationship with NJELITE, having been invited to present and help facilitate workshops for their annual administrators conferences at the Wildwoods Convention Center.  It is a treat for me, because I get to work with some fantastic professionals, see fabulous presenters and leaders, and I get to stay in the very lovely Candlelight Bed & Breakfast.

Last year, the conference opened with Daniel Pink (I’m currently reading The Adventures of Johnny Bunko, thanks to Vicki Davis).  This year, I’ll finally get to see and meet David Pogue.  It was on a train between New York and New Haven Connecticut, a couple of years ago, that I almost got to meet him, but I lacked the nerve.

Perhaps the best part of this years event will be the opportunity to work with Kevin Jarrett, AKA KJ Hax.  Kevin and I will be facilitating a strand together called “The Future of Technology and Learning.”  This is candy to me, and we’ve been working on a plan via Skype and together at NECC and GLS.  I think it’s going to be a lot of fun and there is going to be a lot of chance for conversation.

It’s also given me a chance to play around a bit more with Ning, fleshing out my profile.  I’m still rolling this social networking thing around, and increasingly coming to believe that the profile is the real power for making this work.  Not sure how, but…

Conferencing by the Lake…

I am so lucky to be attending the Games+Learning+Society Conference in Madison, Wisconsin.  But before flying to the city between the lakes, I was at the Vermont LEADIT institute, where Judy Harris, Jim Moulton, and I provided staff development and facilitated conversations, around Alan November’s opening workshop and Tuesday evening keynote.  It was interesting, to be as non-descript as possible, to watch Alan stir things up, and then the three of us help the participants to crystalize things in his wake.  The conversations were quite rewarding for me, and I hope for the participants as November “took them places they had not been before,” to quote a phrase I heard yesterday.

One thing crystalized for me, during those two days, that explains a lot of the turmoil that seems to arrise in my professional life from time to time.  It is that we, as educators, and as passionate people, tend to come at this from various valid and crucial perspectives.  Three come to mind at this writing that I’ll just list briefly.  You can care on the conversation if you like.

  • The What: This is the educator who cares most about content.  Typically he is the teacher that I was, and in other ways, still am.  I loved history.  I loved reading about it, thinking about it, and I loved fashioning it into stories to tell my students.
  • The How: This is the educator who comes at the process from the perspective of process.  This is the pedagogiest.  He or she cares about the children and things more about the method of teaching/learning that respects the child and the child’s style of learning.
  • The Why: Finally, it’s the visionary.  I guess I’d fall into this category now, though I’ve spent time in all camps.  But, at present, I suspect I’m more focused on the why — “The future demands this, that, and the other, and so we need to reform education to…”

Unfortunately the three can clash — not because, as a purpose, they counter each other on their own, but because perspective and passion can make them appear at odds with each other.  It’s unfortunate, but probably not a bad thing.  It’s one way to sharpen our saws.

Yesterday and today, I’m being a conference attendee, learning about Games, Learning, and society.  More to come, I’m sure.

Text-based Simulations

I had lunch at a table with a wide variety of folks, including a history teacher. We obviously hit it off, especially when he said that he was having his students create historical simulations. The twist, though, is that they are text-based.

Jeremiah McCall uses a product called Inform 7.0, which is an engine for creating text-based adventure, similar to the old Zork game.  If you don’t remember it, think about an intereactive book.

Anyway, his students are able to create an interactive historical spaces that you interact with by reading about it, typing in reactions (go, pickup, look at, etc.) and the world is designed to respond in appropriate ways.  It’s very hard to describe, but the best part is that the students are building virtual spaces with language — by describing them.

It takes me back to the early ’90s and the MUDs, MOO, and MUSHes of the pre-Mozaic world.  Very exciting, especially as it inspired reluctant authors to write megabytes.

Turning the Tables…

Live-blogged.  Please excuse misspellings and awkward wording!

Alan November in Top FormI’m sitting in a meeting room in Burlington, Vermont for the LEAD IT Summer Symposium.  Jim Moulton and I did an unconference style session this morning about school 2.0.  We started by showing the EPIC 2015 video and then asking participants to brainstorm about their fifth grade daughter, who will graduate in 2015,

  • What do you hope they know?
  • What do you hope they know how to do with what they know?
  • What do you hope they care about?

Then we discussed, as a group, what should be happening in their schools that would lead to that knowledge, skills, and attitudes.  It was a good conversation.

Now (1:30 PM), we’re sitting in a larger meeting room, listening to Alan November — and he’s in top form.  He claims that Wikipedia is a better source of information than Encyclopedia Britanica — and, he adds, “Many of our schools won’t even allow students to use the Wikipedia.”

Interestingly, one of the teachers in our morning session told us about a group of her students who came up to her, as she was looking something up on Wikipedia.  They cautioned her, “You shouldn’t be using Wikipedia.  There has been a rash of hacking attacks on Wikipedia where people are changing the facts.”

OK, why did the students know that, and the teacher didn’t?

Added later:  Does anyone know of a recent rash of Wikipedia hacking?

Plurk? Interesting

Plurk Interface
Click to enlarge
I’ve played around a bit with Plurk, since Joe Brennan invited me to join — knowing now that my acceptance has beefed up his Karma.  I’m not even going to try to explain. 

It’s an interesting application, or platform for communication.  It’s like Twitter, but probably more like blogging than Twitter is.  The difference between Twitter and Plurk, that I’ve observed so far, is that a single Plurk message, can be commented on, turning itself into a conversation — just like commenting on a blog.  It’s micro-blogging in that you’re limited to 140 characters, just like Twitter.  But it is blogging, because it facilitates conversation more effectively.

An understanding of the currency of Plurk, karma points, still eludes me, and there is much about the interface that is still confusing.  But having just come off of NECC and having enjoyed using CoverItLive so much during the few sessions I attended, there is something about the interface with Plurk comments that appeals to me.

Imagine a conference schedule page that is laid out just like plurk — a time line of sessions, with slots for each concurrent breakout.  The slots can be clicked on, unfolding a conversation about what’s being said — hyper-backchanneling. 

It’s probably that my mind is still tangled up with NECC.

16 minutes before I head for the airport.

Reflections of NECC ’08

Picture of Conversations at NECCI’m up at 5:30 and wondering what I should do with the couple of hours I have before heading to the airport.  As I am not yet through preparing for my work in Vermont, am in the middle of two formal writing projects, and haven’t packed yet, I guess I’ll blog, and finally offer up some thoughts about NECC — before it fades too far into the past.

First of all, it was a great conference, perhaps not quite so great as Atlanta, but very close.  It was multidimensional, in ways that other conferences aren’t or can’t be, and in a way that NECC seemed to fully achieve in ’07 — at least that was the first time I noticed it.  By multidimensional, I mean that there were many directions in which to turn, in order to learn.  If there weren’t any sessions of interest to attend, which for me never happened, then you could visit the playgrounds, or one of the lounges, or the poster sessions — which were a high point for me.

And there was the blogger’s cafe, which was, more than anything else, just a cool place to be and talk and learn, rather than a quiet place to go blog.  And then there were the many alternative blogger cafes that emerged for bloggers to go and do their thing.  I missed most of those.

I did not get nearly as much time in the exhibit hall as I usually spend, but was able to get through most of it, looking for new things.  What’s new?  Social Networks.  Am I impressed?  Nope!  What struck me the most was seeing Terrapin Logo and MicroWorlds.  What impressed me was that these were applications from the past, not the future.  You’re welcome to chime in here, Stager 😉

At any rate, it was a conference that glowed, in that there was teaching, learning, and conversation; and much of that teaching, learning, and conversation was electrified with tiny bits that transcended time and space.  Here are a few statistics gathered in only the ways I know how to gather them:

  • We seemed to have blogged less.  I found evidence of 252 blog entries tagged with necc08, while last year there were 394 tagged with necc07.  This could include post event blogs that simply haven’t occurred yet for San Antonio, but I suspect that there were other avenues of expression that became an alternative to blogging this year.
  • At the point that I collected this data (Thursday morning, the day after the conference), 4,452 Twitter posts had been submitted, hashed with NECC, going back four days.
  • I was most taken with CoverItLive, a free service that allows the live note taking within a blog entry, and commenting on the notes in real time.  I was quite impressed with this, as I found conversations forming around my live notes, including people who were also in the session, in other sessions, sitting out in the bloggers cafe, or as far away as the Gold Coast of Australia.  However, Stephanie Sandifer and I were the on attendees who used it, as far as I could gather.
  • Ning was also a larger success than I’d anticipated.  At the end of the conference, the NECC Ning enjoyed 1,944 members, who’d generated 119 general discussions, 117 session discussions, and had uploaded 72 videos.
  • It only just occurred to me to cound Flickr uploads.  Listing photos tagged with necc08, the upload count is 2,798.  That’s practically another NECC.  Of course some of them are also labeled dude ranch.

There also seemed to be more controversy at NECC this year, starting with  a back lash over the presence of Pearson Publishing at the EduBloggerCon, and their use of some admittedly intrusive recording equipment.  Steve Hargadon accepted blame for this, as he had not fully understood their intent, when he gave them permission to work the event.  It didn’t bother me.  I guess I’m not so quick to villainize.  It’s probably naivet?.  But, hey, we’re all making a living, and there are teachers out there who are happy too limit their concerns to teaching to the test. The problem is not with those who profit from NCLB.  The problem is that it exists, and we, as an institution, accepted it.

I was also conscious of a number of conversations among educators who were attending NECC from outside the U.S., and their dissatisfaction with the air of the event.  Principally, they pointed out a focus on the technology, to the exclusion of conversations about what should be done with it.  Well this is an old and ongoing complaint of many of us, along with the lack of innovation that was also eluded to.  I’ve attended conferences in Scotland, Canada, and New Zealand, and I agree that in comparison…..  Well, it’s my opinion that an education system that has been forced to care more about what our children are learning, rather than how they are learning it, is required to mechanize rather than innovate.  This, I believe, is a fatal error on our part, and I am thankful for the gracious (and sometimes less than gracious) observations shared by our global brothers and sisters.

A high point was realizing that two of the educators who received awards and recognition during the second keynote were Class Blogmeister users.  Neat!

My main takeaways were the conversations and the one liners — that statement which said so much.  Among them were…

  • When Michael Huffman, of the Indiana Department of Education, said, in his narrative about the learning that is happening in their 1:1 open source classrooms, “our students are using their teachers.”  “Using” is new learning.  “Listening to…” is old learning.
  • Then there was Leslie Fisher’s presentation on World of Warcraft.  First of all, no one should have that much fun doing their job.  Leslie loves what she does, and it’s contagious.  But she told a story during her session that really stuck with me. It was about a conversation she’d had with a mom, who had been listening in on her sons involvement in a World of Warcraft Raid.  She said, that after the team’s conversation about that raid, their debriefing, which the mother overheard, the mother told her son that the discussion was exactly the same kind of conversation that she, a corporate executive, had every day at work.
  • During the Machinima session, paneled by Bernajean Porter, Kevin Jarrett, and others, Peggy Sheehy made an interesting distinction between her students approach to making standard camera-based videos, and their work in constructing machinimas.  She said that in making videos, they tended to focus on themselves, what they would say.  In creating machinima, they would say, “How should I communicate this idea?”  Way more powerful, thoughtful, and literacy building.
  • Bernajean Porter, in that same session, talked about their efforts to conduct the project, having students create multimedia reports, using Ramapo Island in Second Life’s Teen Grid, as a place for collaboration and a palette for expressing their learning.  She described difficulties the students had in finding opportunities to do their work, having to use lunch time and other narrow corridors of time and space between formal learning.  Porter said, “It shouldn’t be that hard for students to be creative.”  Wow!

So, there is much more to say, and I may get around to it, and I may not.  Right now, it’s time to focus on this week’s leadership symposium in Burlington, Vermont.

More Evidence of a Shift to Social Networks

Here’s an interesting story from the NY Times about an IBM employee who switches from E-mail to a range of social networking tools.

Preoccupations – I Freed Myself From E-Mail?s Grip –

I stopped using e-mail most of the time. I quickly realized that the more messages you answer, the more messages you generate in return. It becomes a vicious cycle. By trying hard to stop the cycle, I cut the number of e-mails that I receive by 80 percent in a single week.

It?s not that I stopped communicating; I just communicated in different and more productive ways. Instead of responding individually to messages that arrived in my in-box, I started to use more social networking tools, like instant messaging, blogs and wikis, among many others. ((Suarez. Luis. “I Freed Myself from E-Mail’s Grip,” New York Times 29 Jun 2008. 5 Jul 2008 <> ))

Much of the communication he seems to be talking about is in house, and I don’t believe that it was all as simple as the article implies.  But I suspect that there are some veins of insight in Luis’ story regarding a shift from single link professional connections to social networks and personal learning networks.

Alive & Well on the 4th of July

First of all, I am thrilled that 2? Worth is back in living color, after having been attacked at the beginning of NECC and, consequently, quarantined by Google.  I fixed the problem, with the help of tech folks at Rackspace (who hosts my servers) and Google did another sweep, pronouncing my blog cured!

I’d fully intended to post a NECC reflection piece today, but almost without intent, found myself reading a thoughtful and considerate entry (America …. You’ve Got Trouble) from Clarence Fisher sharing his concerns for American schools.  His ideas, seemed to run through a lot of the oral conversations I was a part of among attendees from outside the U.S.  He says,

I’ve been lucky enough to meet some of the most innovative, inventive people involved with your education system America. They are kind, bright, and open people. willing to share and willing to think in new ways; you should be very proud of them. But I don’t think you’re getting it. … But I don’t hear many people talking about classrooms, or about how these concerns and worries about a changing world look like in practice. Many of your educational thought leaders are frustrated by a system that doesn’t seem to honour them and their creativity. They are hampered by the complete dominance of artificial testing and by corporations who are controlling the debates that surround change. Many of them have unfortunately been driven out of your classrooms, right where you need them the most.

One commenter said, in explanation of a Twitter post she’d made during the conference, “I wonder if Canadian schools really get it.”  And I’d have to agree that I’ve met teachers in Canada who are stuburnly holding to the methods of the past.  But I’ve worked in Canada, and the U.K., and New Zealand, and Scotland, and what I see there are national efforts to retool education by treating their students as customers — and in some cases these are the terms they are using.

Poster SessionsThese are not efforts, however, to please the students.  It’s a growing believe that to prepare our children for their future, we have to understand them and to teach from their perspective, through their lenses, as they look to their future.  I’ve written before about the incridible things I’ve seen in each of these countries, practices that would be labeled as “risk-taking” and even “counter-productive” in mine.

I think fondly of the early days of educational technology — when we were finding uses for the earliest personal computers, TRS-80s, Apple IIs, Ataris, and the amazingly powerful Amigas.  We were still working under the radars of our bosses, and we were inventing new ways for our students to see their world, not through an Internet, but through the experiences of working information and ideas in empowering and seductive ways.

The problem, in my opinion, began when we started to consider and to treat our students as our future workforce.  When it became our industries that were at stake, rather than democracy, then we had no choice but to mechanize education, to turn it into an assembly line, where we install math, and install reading, and install science, and then measure each product at the end to make sure that they all meet the standards — that they all know the same things and think the same ways.

The sad part is that this theme of class as future work force is just about too firmly entrenched to turn around in the short months and years we have, before it’s too late.  I’m finding myself promoting the creative arts skills for the sake of the economy, rather than a richer life for our children.  But even within that story, I think that we can retool our classrooms in a way that does help our children inside and outside their work experiences.

I agree with Clarence.  We are spending our time and energies hammering at the walls, rather than reinventing what’s happening in our classrooms.  It’s my one complaint about EduBloggerCon and it’s something I’ve thought about during and immediately after NECC.  I’m continuing to think about what I’m going to do about it.

Thanks Clarence and to all of the educators who came to the U.S. and graciously shared with us at NECC — a true festival of learning.

Oh! and I’m so sorry, Clarence, we didn’t get a chance to sit and talk.  I’d love to have discussed Herman Hesse with you!