A Great Podcast Discussion

Enormous thanks to Kelly Dumont (The Educational Mac) for pointing me in the direction of The Savvy Technologist, a blog and podcast written and produced by Tim Wilson, in Minnesota. In his podcast, STP #8: A chat with the gang, Tim participates in a recorded discussion about Web 2.0 with Tim Lauer, and Will Richardson, moderated by Steve Burt of Clarity Innovations.

The discussion digressed a bit from the original Web 2.0 topics into the challenges of implementing these technologies in our classrooms. But any discussion of the new information environment that does not slip into defining the barriers, would be just too boring.

Below is a copy of the comment that I posted on Tim’s blog page. But before you read it, I would like to suggest that schools link to this podcast from their school web sites. This is a discussion that should be come part of the community dialog, not just among these A-List innovators.

The can listen to the podcast here!

My comments:

A great podcast. The problem is that people like you and me are listening to this — people who already believe these things. As they say, “preaching to the choir”. This is important, because you have to teach the choir to sing. But I agree with Tim, that there needs to be a broader sense of what students and teachers should be doing in the classroom. It is this broader community who needs to be listening to this podcast. Wouldn’t it be great if schools made this podcast file available through their school web site here at the beginning of the year.

I think, also, that as a society, we need to come to a consensus on what a successful school and classroom look like. What do we see going on in them, and what are the measures of success? Test scores are important. I gave test when I was teaching, because they helped me to measure not only my students success, but mine as well. However, here is another deeper dimension to teaching and learning success, something that can’t really be quantified. It has to be seen. This is where I agree with Will, that it’s the students work, their accomplishments, that should be displayed, not just scores. I believe that parents want to know what, how, and why their children are being taught, not just how well.

Blogs & RSS as a School Communication Environment

I received quite a few comments, pingbacks, and even more e-mails regarding a recent entry, Four Reasons Why the Blogsphere Might Make a Better Professional Collaborative Environment than Discussion Forums. I’d like to present a scenario that seems like a potent intersection between the way that a school handles information, and the “new shape of information” (blogs, wikis, rss, etc.)

We have a high school, that is special in some way. We’ll say that they have a high investment in technology, training, and they serve a special population of students. I’m coming from a specific experience here. At this school, as in many, teachers are required to submit lesson plans to the administration each week. Lesson plans are frequently scanned, because the school leadership feels a need to know the day-to-day instructional culture of the school — what students are learning, and how they are learning it. The plans are then filed.

The instructional technology facilitator also collects from each teacher three lesson plans a month that the teacher has identified as a potent example of technology integration. These lesson plans are combined into the school’s intranet site for reference by all teachers.

The school obviously has an interest in going further than simply filing lesson plans away. But how might this process be automated in a way that is flexible, locally manageable (at the teacher level), and value added?

We might:

  1. Require all teachers to stop submitting lesson plans in paper, and instead, keep a daily Weblog, where they would post a succinct description of what they taught and how they did it. In addition, teachers would be required to post some reflection on the lesson’s success, and what they might have done differently. The key here is succinctness, not only for the say of writing, but also for reading.
  2. With a selected aggregator, the school leadership would capture all of the teachers’ lesson reflections and scan them appropriately for the above stated reason. They would also comment periodically with praise, suggestions, insights, and other statements, understanding that comments will be public to the rest of the schools teachers.
  3. Teachers would also be using aggregators. They would probably subscribe to, and compile the lesson blogs from all of the educators in their department. But I suspect that certain teachers are going to emerge as especially skilled at innovative/effective lessons, or at least as entertaining bloggers. The teachers would likely be subscribed to, from outside their departments.
  4. Software would also be employed that could generate dynamic RSS feeds. For instance, if a teacher is looking for insights on using spreadsheets in instruction, they might define a feed that aggregates all lessons that include the keyword, “spreadsheet”. Technorati and other blog wayports can actually do this now, but a more local and customizable solution may be advisable.
  5. With aggregators in use now, the school leadership would start using them for blog-based announcements, meeting notes, policy information, calendars, and other important information. Other special departments such as sports, theatre, music, art departments, and other school culture entities would use blogging to communicate.
  6. Some how, school leadership (and other participants) would be able to look at subscriptionship. Who’s being subscribed to? Who are school employs paying attention to? This is not specifically for professional evaluation. Instead, it would give leadership an interesting and useful picture of the school’s culture, and reveal potential pivot points among the faculty, for improving the culture in useful ways.
  7. The aggregator is the linchpin of this arrangement. Teachers must be able to refine their settings and how their subscriptions are organized. For instance, a calendar view might be useful, as teachers would like to go back to the previous year to collect information on how they taught a concept last year. Teachers would likely integrate news, web search, and social bookmark feeds into their aggregators and they would want to be able to organize them appropriately. It becomes their professional digital library.

    Comments welcome!