Who are your sheep

Tweetsheep Tag Cloud
The Tweetsheep tag cloud of my Twitter followers

One of the most interesting people I met in Scotland, when I was there four years ago (Scottish Learning Festival), was David Muir.  I’ve followed him since, and got caught up in today’s EdCompBlog post about Twittersheep.  It’s probably not the first app that does this, but Twittersheep, with your Twitter login, captures the profiles of all of the Tweople who follow you and then generates a tag-cloud representing the most often used words in those profiles sized by frequency. 

To the right, you see the tag-cloud representing the dozen or so people who follow me on Twitter.  No real surprises here, lots of educator and technology types.  I have to say that the “lover” reference bothers me a bit.

Stephen Downes pointed us to a fairly good rundown on text-based visualizations the other day, referring to a 17 March presentation delivered by Philippe Gambette and Jean Veronis, Visualising a text with a tree cloud.  You can watch and listen to the presentation at Slideshare

I can’t help but think that these tools, and what’s to come, might expand reading, that one way of reading the chapter of a text book might be to view and explore its tag cloud.  Not that it would replace reading.  Your visual representation of the text would simply be another way of looking at its contents, in the same way that a table of contents does.

Or, I could be wrong!

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What do you Hope for in 2009

Photo by Ben Jeffrey (2007)
There was no-end of photos with Crystal Balls on Flickr’s Creative Commons search.  If the first pages, I almost picked this, this, and this.

I just scanned CogDog’s piece on making new year predictions (This the Season of Predictions) and have ReadWriteWeb, and Stephen Downes loaded in my queue (see Levine’s blog post for other links).  I don’t really care about predictions at this point.  I do not really wonder if they’re right.  The value is in the insights and advice that they carry.

What I care more about is what we all care about.  That is to say, I’m interested in what you care about — what do you hope we, 12 months from now, will be able to say about 2009.

I’ll start with two:

  1. I hope that 2009 is the year that NCLB starts its much needed complete overhaul — or complete replacement.
  2. I hope that we come to realize, in 2009, that digital and networked content for teaching and learning is actually less expensive than printed paper — and far more effective.

So, what do you hope we’ll be talking about in 12 months?

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So Now What Do We Do?

Thursday was an incredible day in London.  Not only did I get to work in Ontario with such hospitable people, especially Doug Pederson (thanks for the cab fare, bro), meet and get my picture taken with Amber MacArthur, and meet her fiancé, Chris — but I also got to meet two edublogger greats, Rodd Lucier (The Clever Sheep) and Quentin D’Souza (Teaching Hacks).  Come on back, D’Souza.  It’s a great blog.

Trying to help Amber feel less conscious of her pregnant belly

In his blog post on Friday (Fertilizing the Grass Roots), Rodd wrote:

At today’s Western RCAC Symposium, educators from across southwestern Ontario were called to engage with emerging tools in order to ensure learning is relevant to 21st Century learners.

He went on to say,

My personal suspicions are that most attendees will fail to make effective use of any of the many tools introduced today. Even with everyone recognizing that we have a long way to go: A significant knowing-doing gap will remain!

Then Rodd listed some comments that he overheard during the conference, that support his concern.  I’m listing them here and will try to make some suggestions that may be useful.  My suggestions are indented just a bit to better distinguish them from the overheard statements.

Comment 1: “Our IT department won’t let us!”

Granted, it’s easy for me to say that IT should work for you, the teachers.  Their job is to make sure that you, the teachers, can do what you want to do — not prevent it.  Getting them to realize this is the challenge.  One of the best suggestions I’ve heard was when a tech director suggested that IT folks be required to follow students around for a day.  I would suggest that IT folks be required to sit in a classroom for a day, each month or so, to see not just the challenges of teaching, but the passion of mission.  We need to bring them into the mission.

I suspect that IT folks are evaluated each year just like teachers.  Give them an instructional goal to accomplish each year, find some way to technically facilitate better reading, global awareness, creativity, etc.

One final idea.  When you submit a request for technical service in writing, include a statement of it’s instructional benefit or goal, and write it clearly, succinctly, yet prominantly.  This way, refusing the request is documented as preventing instructional activities — and fulfilling the request makes you partners in a holy cause.

Comment 2: “My superintendent doesn’t get it.”

Suggest that your superintendent read “The World is Flat.”  I don’t agree with everything that Freedman says in the book, and some of it has been debunked.  Yet, this book has probably had a larger influence on our rethinking our place in a rapidly changing world than any other message.  You might start with your principal and work your way up.

Enlist your students.  Help them make (our get out of their way) public service announcement videos expressing the importance of digital networked learning in an increasingly global marketplace.

Organize a 21st century education fair, arranging for teachers and students to demonstrate what they are doing with contemporary information technologies.  Invite vendors to bring in interactive white boards, turn the kids loose on them.  Invite the local paper, radio, and television stations, and allow students to organize booths where they can demonstrate what they are doing with technology and information outside the classroom, i.e. video games, social media, and social networking.

Comment 3: “We don’t have enough money.”

True enough.  But I’m starting to wonder whether technology might be a cheaper way to do things.  Find out how much you’re paying for paper and printing.  Find out how much it costs to heat your buildings each day.  Find out how much you spend on textbooks, that are produced by 15th century technology.

Then, what would be the cost of equiping all teachers with a state of the art notebook computer, every student with a netbook, integrate virtual learning environments, and establish a consortium of schools where teachers would collaborate to create a dynamic, customizable, digital networked textbook — available for free to the entire province and beyond.

Comment 4: “Our computers are too old.”

Your computers may be too old to run MS Office 2007 or Photoshop, but probably not too old to run, through Firefox, Google Docs and and a growing array of cloud applications.  One young man, at the conference, talked about bringing in older donated computers, having his students refurbish them, and then install Ubuntu Linux, giving them an equal array of opensource software — and the cloud.

Comment 5: “The school networks are out of date.”

Well this is a problem.  It seems that Alberta has established fibre to every school in the province, recognizing the critical importance of the Internet to teaching and learning.  This is something that has to be accomplished from the top — connection to contemporary, digital, networked, and abundant information is as critical to education today as heat and electricity.

Comment 6: “We still ban cell phones in school!”

This is simply not one of the wagons I’m riding.  I think that it will come, that we’ll recognize the value of pocket-based information technologies in education as we stop being afraid and come to respect what our students are doing with them outside the classroom.

But I’d not focus on cell phones.  I do not believe that we should expect our children to learn about the world through a keyhole.  They need larger windows on the world, more powerful lenses.  We would never think of issuing textbooks the size of a matchbook.

If we’re working toward preparing our children for their (and our) future, then we can’t compromise on content space.

Comment 7: “I’ve never even heard of RSS.”

Well, my initial response is, “Why not?”  I think that we have to stop excusing educators from not keeping up with what’s happening around them.  It’s what’s wrong with Prenski’s otherwise brilliant distinguisher, Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants.  It can be an excuse for immigrants to say, “I can’t learn that.  I’m not a native.”

As I said in the PLN session, “Start small.”  Form study groups, set teachers up with RSS Readers (you don’t have to use the term RSS).  Suggest a few connections for them, and have them blog (again, you don’t have to call it a blog if that will help) to each other what they’re learning.  You have to start the connections.  You have to start the conversations.  You have to work toward the point to where the learning engine kicks in, and starts running on its own momentum.

Comment 8: “The kids know more than we do.”

No they don’t.  They are more savvy at using technology, but we are better at using information.  They know how to play the information.  They desperately need us to teach them to work the information.

It’s one of the benefits of redefining teachers as Master Learners, that it give us permission to say, “Can you teach me how to do that with a digital camera?”

Comment 9: “I don’t have the time!”

This is too true.  When Amber MacArthur interviewed me for her podcast after her keynote, lack of time is the barrier to retooling classrooms that I zero’ed in on.  The teacher-day is virtually unchanged from the classrooms I attended in the ’50s and ’60s.  Think of lawyers, surgeons, or even farmers.  Do they spend all of their time in front of juries, in operating rooms, or in the fields.  No!  An important part of their job is research, collaboration, reflection, resource development, and professional development.

Now think of factory workers, who spend all of their time on the assembly line, installing parts.  And think of teachers, spending all their time with students on a conveyor belt, moving through kindergarten, 1st grade, 2nd grade, while we install math on them, reading, science…  Education is still an industrial age institution, trying to address information age problems.

This is a tough one, but, as you publish information about your schools, and take pictures of teachers on the job — include lots of pictures of teachers researching, collaborating, engaged in professional development, liaising with the community.  These are all critical elements of being a teacher today.  We have to get that message out there.

The Beaten Path

“Building your own personalized travel guide couldn’t be easier. In five simple steps you tell us where you’re going, where you’re coming from, your name, and when you’ll be there. That’s it!”

It’s very early in the morning (I neglected to change the clock by my bed back from daylight savings time), so I do not recall how I ran across this, but the first thing I caught, in these early hours, was an announcement from Dave Sifry, the founding CEO of Technorati.  His new endeavor is Offbeat Guides.

He explains in the announcing blog post from his Sifry’s Alerts,

Our first product is quite simple: On-demand, Personalized Travel Books. Travel books that are tuned just for you, only about the place that you’re going, with local information like festivals, events, and concerts that are going on during the dates of your stay. We put in local maps that are tuned to where you’ll be, and we even customize the guide based on what we learn about you, like the timezone differences from your hometown, electrical plug differences, embassies and consulates nearby, differences in tipping policies, exchange rates, local weather forecasts, and much more.

They include 30,000 cities destinations from around the world, which include New York, Paris, Rome, and Tokyo — and Newark, Paradise, Romeoville, and Tokorozawa.

The tool needs to know where you are going, when you will be there, where you are coming from, where you are staying, and your name.  From this information, it constructs a travel guide that is geared to your specific locales, any local festivals, events, or concerts, and contextualizing the material to your place of origin.

As we continue to dream about the possibilities of textbook 2.0, which is not only digital, but pliable — and we imagine book services where the teacher (and even students) can pick and choose among modules of content, assembling webtexts that are specific to instructional needs, such individualized content generators may be one of the most appealing aspects of such a service.

The Offbeat Guides are not free.  A printed book will cost $24.95 and a PDF edition is $9.95.  You can get both for $24.95.  As you shop for modules for your North Carolina history, specific teacher-generated reports about the origins of various generations of immigrants might be highlighted, both by the publishers and by procedural recommendations.

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