Another Classroom Blogging Tool Emerges

Gaggle, the home of student e-mail and other classroom communication tools, has just announced a classroom blogging tool.

Here’s the URL:

I took a quick peek. It looks like it makes some use of Java in it’s page layout, which can be problematic, but otherwise it looks interesting, and reports to provide the same sorts of protections that Class Blogmeister does.

Gaggle has a long history of serving classrooms, and I think that this service deserves a hard look.

More than 2¢ Worth.

It Takes Time…and a New Element to Teaching & Learning

Video Camera, by James JinThere is an interesting conversation happening over at Bud the Teacher and being echoed in other places. Bud’s entry, It Takes Time…Too Much Time, Bud refers to a recent post by Clarence Fisher, where he writes:

…like with any other new tool, I wonder if we’re going through a period of consolidation? People have heard about blogs, they set up accounts for their kids and began to write. But then their interest faded, they couldn’t see progress the they expected, it required too large of a change in classroom routine, etc., etc. For whatever reason, a lot of the blogs that my kids are finding seem to be inactive.

Ewan McIntosh commented about a “lull”.

It takes nurturing, tending, etc. The payoff, I think it’s more and more evident, can be huge.

I think it’s like any cog for the machine. It has to find its place, and it has to, in some way, help the machine to run better, more efficiently, less noisily, and with more shine. From the comments, blogging seems to cause more noise, not less.

But there is another way of looking at this. Perhaps, at this point in time, because of blogs and so much else that has happened in the last several years, it’s time to think differently about the machine. Any device, that grows only in features and “cogs”, but not in purpose, is bound to eventually explode, under the load. And ladies and gentlemen, our world is demanding that our machine, our classrooms, must change.

Specifically because of innovations such as iMovie, $300 digital video cameras, camera phones, open source audio editing software, and loads of free and inexpensive server space, the production of valuable and compelling content has fallen within the abilities of average, everyday people. It no longer takes a technical degree and tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment to produce video, nor expensive studios, musical instruments, years of mastery, and audio engineers to produce good music. It doesn’t even take the very best writing skills and lucky breaks with a publisher to write a book. I’ve written three — case in point. 😉

Traditionally, our classrooms have taught children how to consume content, how to read, watch, and listen, and learn facts and ideas to be used at a later date. Within the context of a traditional classroom, blogging, and other content production technologies have some value, because telling a story helps us to remember the story. However, a classroom, that also purposes itself with teaching students to produce compelling and valuable content will easily find a place for blogging, and other powerful communication techniques, and the cost of time, technology, and support will be well worth it.

I believe that at the same time that kids must learn to read and count, the must also learn to communicate, compellingly, with their world, within their information environment.

* Jin, James. “Video Camera.” flickr. 19 Feb. 2006. 08 Mar. 2006 <>.

Finished Products are no more!

Yesterday, I posted an entry on Technology & Learning Magazine’s, TechLearning Blog, entitled Curriculum as Mashup. In that posting, I used the increasingly popular mashup web applications as a metaphor for how our students should be learning in a multidisciplinary environment, that all pieces are loosely joined. I want to say a couple of things today, about one of the statements I made in that blog, “…information is the raw material that people work with.”

I know the industrial age well. I was born and raised firmly within its influence, as I grew up in a small mill town in western North Carolina. Most of my neighbors worked in the textile plants, producing yarn and fabric for the world. In nearby Gastonia, they made tires, guided missile parts, and chain saws (I worked for Homelite Chainsaws for a year). In that time, we were focused on the finished product, something that when completed, would perform, very well, the task for which it was designed.

People were the same way. When we graduated from high school or from college, we were a finished product, ready to take a job that we could depend on for the next 30 or 35 years. With some exceptions, you were promoted because of some talent you had for leadership or creative problem solving, not because you taught yourself something new. But once again, the finished products that we built were designed to do one thing: make toast, catch a mouse, comfortably propel us to our destinations, or fashionably clothe us.

With the advent of the personal computer, we were introduced to a finished product that could be or act like almost anything. In fact, some of the earlier computer engineers saw this potential and wanted to call it the universal machine. Perhaps the best example of this is the spread sheet. It is something that you go to the store and buy. It is a product. But once you have it, you can fashion the spreadsheet to do thousands of things for you, depending on the problems you wish to solve.

My son sits in his bedroom with a TV, VCR, DVD player, video game systems, a small video camera, a digital camera, a computer, and a Video iPod. Each product was initially designed to perform a specific task, allowing us to be entertained or to record images and sound. My son, however, spends his time mixing them together, drawing audio and video from his video games and from movies, and mixing them together with video and still images that he makes of himself and his friends to produce a different and entertaining new information product. Information, to him, is never finished. It’s just a raw material with which he can make something new. It is important, I believe, that we look at curriculum the same way, that it is a raw material, something that we can mix in different ways, and produce learning experiences that help our students to teach themselves.

I think it may also be interesting and valuable to treat our students and ourselves the same way. That rather than graduating finished students, who are ready for the world, that we produce people who are raw material, capable of not only adapting to a rapidly changing world, but also able to continue to learn, unlearn, and relearn, so that they can shape that world into something that is better.

The Changing Shape of Information

Last week, at the Illinois Technology Conference for Educators (IL-TCE), I said something that I wish now, I hadn’t said. It sounded kinda mean, now that I think back on it. The session was called, Right & Wrong on the Information Highway, and I started it off by playing the EPIC 2014 video and then asking the audience to share their reactions to the program, in light of the ethical skills we should be teaching our students.

Their were a large number of librarians in the audience, and I entertained several long and passionate pleas of preference for the dependable information that can be found in books. I said, regretfully, but with some apology, that the book’s days may be numbered. I expressed my preference that we continue to have books for a long long time, that they are part of my heritage as well as the heritage of our children. However, it is our children’s future that we are preparing them for, and it is a future that they will be choosing.

What I was really trying to convey to the audience, was that what we look at is not our most important concern, as information specialists — educators. The change that is affecting the greatest impact on every aspect of our jobs is the changing nature of information. Largely because of ICT, information is increasingly digital, networked, and overwhelming. In addition (and more recently), the increased practice of information tagging and XML have further transformed information into something that is for more shapeless, impossible to freeze and contain, less dependable, and, yet, more valuable.

CUE ConferenceI’ll be talking about “Harnessing the Changing Shape of Information” the end of this week at the California Computer Using Educators (CUE2006) conference in Palm Springs. Unfortunately, I’ll only be there for a few hours, but hope to see and chat with many of my California friends while I’m there.

Telling the New Story — a Prologue

IL-TCE ConferenceI’m back in Raleigh and back in my office, after getting up early to take the dog for her customary four-mile Saturday morning walk. Yesterday turned out to be a great day with my presentations, getting to know (even better) my friends on the conference committee of the IL-TCE (Technology Conference for Educators), and finally having some time after the conference to visit with my friend Tammy Worcester, and my new friend, Tony Vincent, both featured speakers at the conference.

The day started out a little rough, however. As Joe Brennan got up the introduce me for the keynote, and I got up to go stand in the corner during the introduction, the lapel mike remote box, which was clipped onto my belt, caught on my chair and exploded into many parts. So as Joe was telling a great story about the time that he and I almost presented together in Chicago (my flight got delayed), I was crawling around on the floor, in front of the audience, trying to find the parts of the device. We never found them all, but the mic worked and I carried on.

The speech almost smoothed out as I had rearranged the slides yesterday morning and was caught a little off focus a couple of times, but the end result seemed to have worked. The message is a good and important one, I believe, and the responses from people who came up after the address gave me faith that it went well. The next time I will deliver this address will be at Technology & Learning Magazine’s Tech Forum, in Florida next month.

The rest of the day went well as I delivered one presentation called Riding the Edge of the Wave, and two sessions called Right & Wrong on the Information Highway. For the Right & Wrong session, I played the EPIC 2014 video for the audience, and then asked people to discuss among themselves and then suggest to the group aspects from the video that concerned them. I recorded this part of the two sessions and hope to make it a future podcast.

Two basic themes came out. One, that in an information environment that is so contributed to by “us” and so arranged to suit “us”, how will we be able to tell true information from false information and valuable information from worthless information? This sparked some fantastic discussions that drew in aspects of several of the other sessions from the conference. The conclusion was two fold.

  1. That part of the skill of reading information is the skill of proving that the information is true and reliable.
  2. That part of communicating information is including in the message the evidence that it is true and reliable.

The second theme, I fear, is going to be even more troublesome and much more difficult to address. Several people in both sessions brought up the idea that as information becomes more personalized, catered to our interests and our predispositions, might we become an even more polarized society. If we hear only those messages that agree with our world-view, what happens to our dealings with people from other world-views. How do we address this in the classroom? I don’t know.

I guess what really interests me about this issue is the societal implications — and I try not to look at it from a self-centric point of view.

What might a world be like, with idea nations, rather than geographically boundaried nations?


The Big Day, at IL-TCE

flickr image from the IL-TCE conferenceIt’s 5:47 AM and I’ve been up for a few hours. It’s always like this before a keynote address, especially when I’m presenting at a conference of this size (IL-TCE) — and I haven’t delivered this presentation very many times. The real problem is going to come from the fact that I’ve rearranged some of the slides, and I’m sure that I am not going to remember it, once I get on the stage. You’ve got to laugh 😉

I went out last night with my personal steak trainer, Dave Jakes. He’s taken me under his wing and has set out to educate me on the nuances of the mid-western steak. Last night, it was Za Za’s, in downtown St. Charles. We both got twin fillets, smothered in something that included the word port and lots of sauteed mushrooms. With the first bite, I had to close my eyes and hold onto the table. Exquisite 🙂

David, who is the Director of Instructional Technology for the High Schools of Downers Grove, told me about a PE and Health teacher, who had approached him one day in the hall. He’d told David that he was tired of teaching health the way that he had for years. He wanted his students to learn in a new way.

Jakes told me about a project that resulted, where the health students were asked to do research on many aspects of their backgrounds, include their family health history, and to identify any specific health risks that they face. Then the students were assigned to research those risks and to learn as much about them as they could.

After making themselves experts, the students had to learn what kinds of habits and behaviors they should be engaged in now, as preventative measures to their facing these health risks in the future, and to write up a plan.

Finally, the students had to create a compelling presentation about what they had learned, and deliver the presentation to the rest of the class.

This project is perfect on so many levels. Perhaps its best quality was, as David jakes said, that what the students were learning applied to them personally, and that the skills that they were developing, applied to their information world.

An amazing project that I simply had to share.

Wish me luck on the keynote?

2¢ Worth…

Will and Wikis

[This entry is moblogged, so please forgive the typo’s and misswordings.]

Will Richardson talking about WikisWill is starting his session called “What’s Up With Wikis?” He has a very comfortably presence on the stage. He’s not tastfully promoting his new book, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Web Tools for the Classroom.

His wiki handouts are at:


IT’s a very exciting time, with lots of different people sharing their ideas. Wikis are the very best tool for getting people together to share. “Anyone can edit anything at any time, in a true wiki.” Will is using Peanut Butter wiki for his handouts, and he is actually using the wiki as the basis for his presentation. This is cool.

As an aside, Will is using his tablet PC for the presentation, which means that he is driving it with a stylus. This is interesting.

Wikipedia has just flipped to 1,000,000 articles. This is astounding, since the encyclopedia will never exceed 65,000 articles. There is a site (url unknown) that illustrates the real time updating of the Wikipedia.

Will is vandalizing a Wikipedia article about the Chicago Cubs. People here (in Chicago) are being very gracious about it. A lot of nerve. A member of the audience has just interrupted Will, asking, “how do I know that the information here is accurate.” A great discussion has ensued. I’m not sure that the young woman gets it yet.

The entire South African Curriculum is on a wiki. It isn’t the greatest example. But conceptually it’s looking the right directions. Will suspects that textbook companies are quaking in their boots.

Will is demonstrating Writely. I haven’t actually seen this before. Very impressive. It really looks like MS Word.

Tim Lauer

I’ve stayed in the same room where Tim Lauer, a principal of an elementary school in Seattle Portland, and a master of implementing Web 2.0 technology in his schools. He has a fairly veteran teaching staff. He’s talking, today, about utilizing the web to facilitate better communication in the school.

Tim is using for his handouts.

From the beginning, the school wanted a web presence that was valuable resource both externally and internally. Tim is talking about an early conference that he attended where he got to hear people like Chris Andreessen (inventor of the first graphical web browser, Mosaic). But he also saw a presentation by a high school teacher in Denver, who was using Gopher. But what was interesting was that the teacher was having students generate their own content and then put it on the net.

The school (Lewis Elementary School) decided to use Manilla Movable Type. Now he’s talking about a display they have in a common area of the school, where they use an application called TickerShock. It grabs information from an RSS feed, which they feed through a blog with content. Very cool.

He uses a technique that he calls, “Classroom Notes”. During a 15 minute period each week, teachers are asked to write about two paragraphs, describing what they are doing in the classrooms. They are using Manila for this, so the entries are posted as a blog entry.

Tim needed to have a mapping of the homes of his students. Very possible, except that it’s not a good use of a Saturday afternoon, coding all of those addresses in to get their longitude and latitude. He discovered a web site called Batch Geo Coder. You type or paste in the addresses, and it processes them into long/lat coordinates. It also includes a feature that converts the data to a Google Earth format. Very very cool.

I just realized, in looking back at this entry, that the pictures makes it look like a small audience in Will’s and Tim’s presentations. The opposite is surely the case. It was a large lecture all, and it was practically full of enthusiastic educators. The Illinois attendees of this conference were a wonderful and eager group to work with.

A Reduced Listing of Web 2.0 Bottom Line Concepts

This is important, I believe, because in a time of rapid change, the answer to brand new questions may not come from someone who got their PHD ten years ago. I may just come from something, that somebody said, yesterday…. <li>People are connect to each other through their content</li> This one has had a personal impact on me, as I have made new friends through the comments and blog-passing of people who react to my ideas.

Working on my online handouts  two hours from my flight to Chicago

I’m sitting here with only a few minutes left before I have to pack for my flight to Chicago and the IL-TCE (Illinois – Technology Conference for Educators). I’ve been finishing up my online handouts, and also put together a blog and image aggregator for the conference on my web site. You can see it at:

The main purpose of this blog entry is the presentation that I did a couple of days ago for MEGA on Web 2.0. By all indications the session was a wild success. I must have been really “on” that day, because the room was thick with excitement. I thought that one woman was going to go into convulsions and start speaking in tongues. Well that’s a bit of an exageration, though she had to be led from the room babbling “RSS is the new WWW, RSS is the new WWW” 😉 I’m just fooling.

The session was a challenge, in that I had only 45 minutes to do the presentation. So I decided to condense one of the bulleted lists on one of my slides (the only slide with a bulleted list). A few weeks ago a posted a list of Web 2.0 Bottom Line Concepts. There were five of them, but, for the sake of Tuesday’s presentation, I condensed them to three, and I’m pretty happy with this list.

Now it is important to note that Web 2.0 is something different to each user. We all create our own metaphors to label our experience and to describe it to other people. So this is my list. If you thing other concepts should be included, then please comment.

  1. Content is Conversation
  2. Millions of people are talking now, and they are talking in such a way (blogs, wikis, and podcasting) that the world is potentially their audience. This is important, I believe, because in a time of rapid change, the answer to brand new questions may not come from someone who got their PHD ten years ago. It may just come from something, that somebody said, yesterday.

  3. Content is organizing itself
  4. Well this is a rather melodramatic statement, meant to start a conversation about how the way that information flows is largely resulting from the behavior of its readers. Aggregators, mashups, blog linkings, and other more esoteric techniques are causing us to reshape the information environment on a global and on a personal level.

  5. People are connect to each other through their content
  6. This one has had a personal impact on me, as I have made new friends through the comments and blog-passing of people who react to my ideas. Far more important is the fact that through these exchanges, I have learned. My ideas have been challenged and they have grown, as have I.

So, please comment or write about this. Lets grow this thing, or perhaps even further condense it.

2¢ Worth!

Stop with the Widgets

On Friday, I will deliver a keynote address to my good friends in Illinois, at the IL Technology Conference for Educators (il-tce). I have attended and worked at this conference before, and I have made a lot of very good friends in Illinois.

The address will be called “Telling the New Story”. I’ll be telling some stories (loosely defined), telling what our stories should be about, and giving some hints on how to tell new stories designed to redefine our classrooms. But I’ll also be re-telling some stories.

For instance, I will likely describe how Hong Kong is encouraging project-based teaching strategies in its classrooms, that have long been places of regimentation. ..and how Singapore is attracting scientists to their country from all over the world, and inviting them into their high test score schools, because they desperately want to inject a culture of innovation and creativity into their classrooms.

All of this, while we seek to further standardize our curriculum, teaching practices, and technology programs. Think about it. Think about our children moving down a classroom assembly line, where we install reading on them, we install math, and install science on them. ..and at the end of the line quality control engineers, with their precision instruments, measure each widget to make sure that they all fall within the clearances of the blueprint specification — making sure that each child knows the same things, thinks the same way, and can solve the same problems.

This, of course, made perfect sense in an industrial economy where we needed a workforce who could work in straight rows, performing repetitive tasks, under close supervision.

But in a creative age, it’s not what you know that the same as everyone else that brings value to your endeavors.

It’s what you know that’s different, you think that’s different,
..the solutions you can invent for new problems, and
..answers you can assemble for new questions,

that bring value to your endeavors.

Let’s stop with the widgets, and start talking about preparing our children for a dynamic future, where almost anything is possible.