The Future in Edmonton

Ready to Record
About to get underway.  The presentation was piped to students in five high schools across the district.

Most of this was written during my flight home from Edmonton on Tuesday.  I had spent Monday in Edmonton, Alberta, working with about 250 educators from the local school district, some neighboring districts, and the local Catholic schools (also publicly funded in Alberta).  Similar to many of the districts I’ve worked with lately, the Edmonton Public Schools have been focused on improving student performance, as measured by the province — for which Edmonton has been especially successful.  But they are now looking to the future, realizing that much has changed in recent years, for which their schools have not kept up.

I started off with a general keynote address talking about the future, our students, and how the nature of information has changed, becoming increasingly networked, digital, and abundant.  That address was watched, via teleconferencing, by several students from each of five high schools across the district.  These students backchanneled the address using Knitter, the transcript of which was immediately made available to the educators in the immediate audience.  They used this transcribe and their own reactions to fuel small group reflections and conversations.

One of the continuing themes of the students’ conversation was the digital divide and a learning divide. Another was education in general, about which they were fairly conservative in their opinions.

Here are some quotes from the studentss chat:

I do not want to just learn facts, I want to learn why things are said and done the way they are. cant change the only thing that changes is the way its delivered

I say we make Windows and Mac open-sourced. Send the development code to tech instructors at public school boards. See what happens 🙂

As part of a conversation about Wikipedia and the library:

there’s no reason to go with one or the other, but it IS necessary to know how to use both

To the question, “…isn’t technology making us lazier?”

Theres a fine line between lazy and the ability to do more, if the computer can check our spelling, that saves us time to do more

i believe that technology has made the poputaion lazy. but it can also be veiwed as a very positive thing if we learn to use it in a way that is positive for society.

About Facebook:

Facebook may not be completely safe but neither is taking public transport that doesn’t stop us from using it

Random thoughts:

y not cut down on the keeping up and focus on whats important, student learning, there’s always going to be the latest and greatest technological advancement…

Sitting and watching powerpoints for an hour everyday is not as exciting as it may seem

computers are used like typewriters, everything useful is blocked or restricted

why not make the students the teachers..

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Working for Value

Attendee of my workshop being a Personal Learning Network

I have to say that last week’s NCTIES conference was one of the most valuable conferences I’ve worked in a long time — and it was a treat to be able to use Raleigh’s new and quite impressive Convention Center.  The only complaint I had was about the projectors and displays.  The featured speakers presented in two nearly identical rooms that were visually striking, roomy, and cozy at the same time.  However, there were no drop down screens, and we had to project onto a side wall that was entirely too small and uncomfortably angled.  I think that this is the sort of thing that you learn the first time you use a new venue.

A little less forgiving were the Promethean IWBs that were installed in the other presentation rooms.  The worked quite well, but were intended for classrooms, and were simply to small, and even more frustrating, to low to be useful to attendees sitting further back than the forth row.  It was a technology conference, and part of the point is to be exposed to new technologies, but not at the expense of the teaching and learning that is at the heart of conferences.

The information experiences that help to define our Digital Natives:

  • Responsive
  • Measure Accomplishment
  • Values Safely Made Mistakes
  • Demands Personal Investment
  • Rewards with Audience & Attention
  • Provokes Communication
  • Is Fueled by Questions

I was satisfied the the results of my sessions, two of which were more unconference in nature than presentation.  The first of these sessions, ambitiously entitled something like Foundational Structure for Learning 2.0, sought to build a framework, so to speak, for formal learning experiences that take advantage of specific qualities of our students outside-the-classroom information experiences, or native information experiences.  The qualities, which resulted from an extended activity I did with teachers in Irving,Texas several years ago (read more here).

I described each element by illustrating how it might manifest in a particular video game or genre of game, while operating within a social network, or engaging in conversations via IM or text messaging.  For instance, I showed a rather richly adorned player avatar from an MMORPG, to illustrate measured accomplishment and personal investment, and a video clip from Justin TV (Ustream-type service, where kids broadcast their video game play, while engaging in conversation with a global audience, illustrating audience and attention.

The conversation that followed this brief introduction revealed some aspects of these experiences that had not occurred to me — which was, of course, the purpose of the activity.  I asked the audience to work for a few minutes in groups and to come up with a story that illustrates what formal learning activities that incorporate these qualities might look like. 

Now that I think back, none of the stories were imagined, but true life learning stories, some of which mutated from traditional assignments into something more interesting.  For instance, one person told about her son, who was preparing a report for sociology, and his questions could be answered only from web sites that were blocked by the school’s filtering system.  He resourcefully found a way to redirect the content of the sites into his classroom through sites that were acceptable.  I wish I could remember how he did that.  He also put together a way to digitally survey his classmates, to collect further data to support his study.  His activities were fueled by questions, demanded personal investment, and he used the web to provoke communication.

What most resonated with me came out of conversations about responsive information experiences.  I showed a nostalgia-evoking video of Pong and a Facebook thread to illustrate this quality.  Most of the stories incorporated responsiveness in that they involved students writing or in some other way producing for an authentic audience.  One of the attendees, a rather precocious youngster from a middle school in Union County, described a project from his class, where students produced videos (don’t remember the topic), and then invited their parents to come in on evening to watch and talk about what they saw.

As I often do, when the teller exclaims how motivated the students were, I ask, “Why!”  “Why did it excite you to have your parents see your videos.”  What came out of these follow-ups was a fairly dramatic distinction between authentic audience and teacher as audience.  When writing, let’s say, to the teacher, you are communicated to be evaluated.  Assessment is the outcome, based on some set of expectations involving skills and/or knowledge.

However, when writing to an authentic audience, what you are trying to earn is not an evaluation (though there may be one coming in the process).  What you are writing for is a response, and that response will be directed toward what you have invested in the work, not just the facts you have included or the skills you have demonstrated.

One difference that occurs to me is that when delivering to the teacher, you are working for for correctness.  When delivering to an authentic audience, you are working for value.  It’s not an either or, of course.  We should be striving for both evaluating of learning and response to value.

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iPod Touch in the Classroom

I’m sitting in a session at NCTIES about iPod Touches in the classroom.  The presenters represent an exciting project at Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools — using the handheld devices with middle school students.  I met the principal a few months ago at their school district opening, and they were very gong-ho, and I was very interested, because there were just beginning to imagine the possibilities.

They wanted a device, but they didn’t want to phone and they didn’t want to camera.

I’m interested in this, because of a comment that Vicki Davis said yesterday in her keynote, that she would rather have iPod Touches for her students than laptops.  I may well have misunderstood.  But I definitely jerked my knee when I heard it.

Now one of the developers is talking, his company located in RTP.  He says that part of the appeal of the iPod T is that a $200 device makes more sense than a $1000 laptop.  “It’s cheap!  It’s out there.”  Another advantage is development practicality.  Writing applications is much simpler, and it takes much less time than developing for computers.

One of the instructional tech people is talking now,  describing the teachers’ first experiences with the Touches.  She says that they got very excited fairly immediately, talking about the possibilities, which were all aimed at student learning.  They saw very little pushback from the teachers (average age is 47).  Even the community got excited.  Now understand, that this is Chapel Hill — very sophisticated community.

We don’t have to teach the kids how to operate it.  They figure it all out.  They can take their notes on their Touches, but they can’t write a paper.  They are now talking about specific apps.  It reminds me of the handheld thing, where they are listing all of the apps, each very cool, but would all of them serve your classroom.  How many of them apply to your class, your students.

I just asked, “What do you wish it would do?”  Entirely unfair, because they came in prepared to talk about what they are doing.  Here the answer was that it was doing everything they wanted and then some, and then started talking about the near future when they’ll be utilizing podcasting.  This is very exciting.  But I can’t help but be a bit hesitant about anything that does everything.  I know, I’m old and turning into a curmudgeon before my own eyes — and it isn’t pretty.

She said that they still need laptops and desktop computers.  I need to visit their school.  It’s just up the road.  I’d love to have my skepticism satisfied.

I guess my main objection is this — and I may have jotted this down in another conference blog entry, which I haven’t posted yet.  My fear is that people see this and hear all of this enthusiasm, and come back saying, “This is the solution to our 1:1 problem.  Cheaper way to go 1:1.

There are no shortcuts, folks!

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Opening Day of NCAECT

I have the privaledge of sitting in the audience during the opening keynote for the 2009 NCTIES annucal conference (use to be NCAECT).  The keynoter will be Vickie Davis of Georgia.  I’m sitting here with Kathy Schrock and Meg Ormiston — and trying to concentrate on the task at hand.

The organization just gave $3000 to three schools to be used in “disrupting” their classrooms. 😉

Now introducing Vickie Davis, and I’m impressed with what she has accomplished in only a few years.  I didn’t know that she has just published her first book, Click Smart.

Vickie’s up, and we’re all clicking.  Sounds like crikets in the woods.  “If you like something, then click it.” 

“…and you never get payed enough..”  click click click click. Interesting.  Here class now has space in an OpenSIM, called Digiteen Dream Team. Got to learn more about this.  The only schools I’ve found that are using OpenSIM are private schools.

Just saw an amazing video produced by Peggy Sheehe, at:

Hmmm! What is a teacherpreneur? Teachers in Finland, best education in the world, select their own textbooks.

Vicky is delivering a very passionate speech in support of strong professional teachers, willing to own their classroom and retool them for the 21st century.

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What I hope to Learn

Of Course, you do not really have to be at the conference to learn.  This is a test of the conference’s Twitter feed.

I’m sitting here at my own workshop at NCTIES and Raleigh.  I just assigned the group to write a blog entry that shares what they hope to learn at the conference — So I should follow suit.

I am excited to know that I will have lots of time to attend sessions here and lots of great presenters to learn from.  But the main think I look to learn is stories.  I want to hear and see stories that describe what all of this looks like.  We find it easy to describe learning 2.0 in agreed-upon general terms, but these terms rarely paint the picture.  I want to see some beautiful art work at this conference.

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Two Conferences

Flickr Photo from Naace Conference Blogger

I have right fond memories of my time at the Naace 2008 conference in Torquay, England, this time last year.  This is partly because both Brenda and Martin went with me, train’ing through the country side, the day we spent in St. Ives, and the nearly 24 hours we spent learning the subways of London.  Then there was the part that was the hospitality of the folks at the conference.  Honestly, I felt so far behind where those folks were, not so much from practicality as in the direction and momentum for change for schools in that country.

Last year, the Rt Hon Jim Knight MP, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, presented the opening keynote from Second Life™.  I was blown away by the (political) courage involved in that.  This year, he’ll be interacting with conference attendees via Twitter.  I can’t help but believe that when our department of education (not just edtech) is interacting directly in the conversations of in-the-trenches educators in U.S. schools, we might, then, start seeing progress and momentum.

Naace 2009 is taking place right now, and I’ve added Twitter tracking to Hitchhikr.  Naace can be followed at

From the convention center web site

Speaking of U.S. conferences, North Carolina’s ISTE affiliate, NCTIES (use to be NCAECT) starts their conference tomorrow, here in Raleigh.  I’ll be working all three days, and spending the night at home 😉  Keynotes will be Vicki “Cool Cat Teacher” Davis and Meg “Writer” Ormiston.  Invited speakers include:

I didn’t have to be invited.  I’ll be doing some of my regulars, a pre-conference workshop on PLNs and my virtual worlds session.  However, I’ll be doing a new one, called The Foundational Structure for Learning 2.0, and I’m still working on it.  Also, for fun, Will Richardson and I will be doing a conversational (unconference) session together, back by popular demand from a similar session two years ago.

NCTIES can be hitch hiked to at:

Anyway, it will prove to be an adventurous three days of conferencing in Raleigh, named for Sir Walter, the great British colonizer, and watching Naace, this year in Blackpool, England.

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