So What do you Call a Textbook that isn’t a Book?

Flickr photo (cc) by DecafI proposed a conversation for the EduBloggerCon last Saturday, part of ISTE 2011. The title was something like “How Might Social Media/Networks Help to Redefine the Textbook?” From the digital votes that it got prior to the event, I’d assumed that the conversation would not make the cut, and so I did not finish up the Google Forms activity I had planned for kicking off the conversation. So I was surprised not only that it was scheduled as one of the first conversations, but also scheduled to be repeated during the afternoon. Someone made a mistake!

Anyway, I was able to hobble together the Google Forms activity, thanks to the immense patience of my un-audience, which resulted in this blog post of a few days ago.

The state of the textbook is such a huge and timely topic that I was not able to focus the conversation specifically on the implications of a next textbook’s socialness. But one issue that did emerge in both conversations what what we call future textbooks, that aren’t books? It’s always seemed like a trivial issue to me, because the English language is full of terms that no longer apply directly to their original meaning. For instance, the word manufacture use to mean to make by hand.

One likable idea came out of the afternoon session from a teacher who uses Moodle as the basis for her classroom instruction. She calls it her digital curriculum. I like it because it describes what we’re talking about in a way that leaves nothing out — though the otherwise useful term, digital, is somewhat limiting.

What I like most about this concept of a teacher designed, produced, and maintained assembly of resources and tools is that there is little that’s new about it. I have never asked the question before, but suspect that if I were to ask an audience, “How many of you do not use textbooks in their classes?” a significant number of hands would go up — and even more if I were to ask about their textbook being merely a supplement to the teachers collected curriculum.

There are two problems here, however, one of which I didn’t get a chance to ask during the unconference, and the second occuring to me on a few minutes ago.

Number one, what about the first year teacher? For how many of us was our textbook the life raft that saved us from drowning in the unexpected complexities of our first couple of years of teaching? This was certainly true for me. ..and somehow, using somebody else’s digital curriculum might not hold quite as much air as an industry structured hardcover-bound curriculum (textbook).

I often suggest to higher ed folks that their job is to prepare future teachers for the first five years of their career, and to make sure that they have the contemporary literacy skills to continue to self-develop within their profession. A significant and pivotal part of this might be the construction of their first year digital curriculum, something that they can carry with them into their job interviews.

But this solution, in itself, causes the second problem. You see, never again, could a principal meet you, a seven-year social studies teacher, in the mail room, two days before the students arrive for their first day of school, and say, “Mr. Warlick, I’ve got you teaching 8th grade math this year.” 🙁

You see,

a teacher,

carrying a self-made digital curriculum,

is a powerful thing!

Note-Taking at ISTE

Notes I took during the EduBloggerCon

Quite a few people have commented on the note files that I have been sharing from the ISTE 2011 conference in Philadelphia. So I thought I would share some details about my note-taking process.

First of all, concept maps seem a logical way to take notes for me. They do not, by nature, expect complete sentences, but do carry a visual syntax of relationship, which is easily editable during less pertinent moments of a presentation or workshop.

The challenge has been to find a tool whose interface is simple enough for quick work, rather than just for the slower and more deliberate idea mapping, for which most concept mapping tools are designed.

I’ve used this technique for years on laptop settling on XMind, an open source product that is free, provides cloud space for sharing, and is cross-platform (Mac OS, Windows, & Linux). In February of 2010, XMind’s blog mentioned plans to develop an iPad version, but none exists at this time.

However, there is a plethora of other mind mapping tools available for the iPad, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. For a long time, my preference was SimpleMind. But its freeform functionality, though highly effective in some circumstances, requires attention to maintaining an practical flow of ideas.

I finally settled on Mindo, which is the app I used at ISTE11. It’s main power is the ease of use. When entering a list of items, I merely type the item name (I prefer to thumb on my iPad) and then touch [Next]. It starts another sibling box that fills as I continue to type. I can also start a new sibling item by double-touching just above or below and existing idea box and a new child item by double-touching to the right of an existing box.

Another huge benefit of Mindo for me is the fact that it will export to Dropbox in a variety formats — including xmind. So I can continue to work on maps on my laptop and vica versa. Other export formats include:

  • Mind Mapping Application for iPad - YouTube
    PNG – An image format which is what I typically use to share my notes at a conference.
  • PDF – Perhaps another logical format to use at conferences, but I haven’t tried it yet.
  • TXT – In outline format and coded in HTML.
  • OPML – Obviously a meta data markup language.
  • MMAP – Not sure about this one
  • FREEMIND – Possibly the most used open source mindmapping format. Most tools will export as FREEMIND
  • MPAD – The native Mindo format

Click the image to the right and above for a video of Mindo in action.

Where is This Coming From?

Larry Baker 'Challenging the Challengers' by Katie Morrow

I noticed it, that the presentations and workshops I was attending at ISTE this week were more effectively delivered, compelling, and entertaining than I remember from past conferences. I assumed that it was because of luck — I happened to be in the right place at the right time. But then I started hearing the same thing from other attendees, that the sessions they were attending were better than they’d experienced before.

So, having thought a bit about it, I’d like to speculate on some possible reasons. Mind you, these are only speculations.

  1. Luck – This is certainly a possibility (or probability), that I was talking with folks who were, like me, ISTE-charmed, draw to those presentations and presenters that fulfilled and exceeded their conference expectations.
  2. Presenters are simply better – Frankly, most of the sessions that I attended were presented by people who were accustomed to presenting at conferences. But I heard more than once about renowned speakers who had simply improved substantially over the past year.  What I do at conference, I would have to consider to be a craft.  I work to refine and improve my craft as I’m sure all of us do.
  3. Presenters getting smarter – I suspect that this might be one of the weightier potential reasons — and it is not that we’re increasing our brain mass and capacity. But I suspect that as we increase and refine our skills at cultivating and learning from our networks, we are collecting and contextualizing more ideas, opportunities, and resources more effectively and efficiently than ever before.
  4. Presentation software is Better – Here’s another one that comes from my own experience. Prezi, the single canvas, zoom, and twirl presentation software from Hungary, significantly effected my presentations in several positive ways. For one, it altered the way that I planned my presentations, as I was working with one document rather than many. Since switching back to Apple Keynote, I’m back to slide decks. But the astounding build and transition capabilities of this software has given me a richer tool box for expressing complex ideas with motion and sequence. I hope that I’m doing that well.
  5. The message is better – We seem to be talking less about test-prep and a lot more about exciting new pedagogies. We may even be talking less about gadgets and more about their application. I would love to see or do some research on presentation descriptions and their inclusion of various flag words to test this out.

Again, these are merely speculations — food for thought.  But I think it is a legitimate question for us to be asking right now, right after ISTE 2011.  Are we beginning to mature as a movement? ..and if so, how and where do we go from here?

Why would you Build a Classroom?

Slightly doctored Flickr photo from Ario

I’m at ISTE, and haven’t had time to do anything but listen, talk, do a little eating and sleep. No time to write or even think. I am just wow’ed by the ideas from EduBloggerCon, the opening keynote and some of the outstanding session presentations I’ve — and there are such powerful presenters here. I was especially impressed by Heidi Hayes Jacobs. She has contributed so much through her writings — but folks who write influentially often are not very good presenters. This is certainly not true for Jacobs, and I hope to write a blog post about here presentation.

At this moment, I want to mention a couple of things about the opening keynote speaker. John Medina, author of Brain Rules, is a biological engineer. Again, I wasn’t expecting much, and was especially frustrated by the cramped conditions of where I was sitting and the Amazonian woman I was sitting behind, blocking out most of the light of day. I’ve become so spoiled by stadium seating in movie theaters.

But right away, I knew that my time with Dr. medina was going to go fast. He had a sense, wasn’t taking himself too seriously, and he also was not going to pull any punches. On several occasions, I turned to the person sitting next to me and mouthed, “WOW!

Perhaps the most impactful statement was when he described what we know about the human brain. He said that, “The human brain is designed to solve problems related to surviving in an unstable outdoor environment and to do so in nearly constant motion.”

Then he said something to the effect of, “If you wanted to design a learning environment that was directly opposed to the way that the brain works, you would design a classroom.”


– Posted using BlogsyApp from my iPad


Next Textbooks are…

A Kevin Jarrett Photo of Elizabeth Davis

Several days ago I submitted a proposal for an EduBloggerCon unconference session asking how social media and social networking might help to define digital (next) textbooks. To help seed this conversation I asked folks, via Twitter, from the train on Friday, to share some defining characteristics of old paper printed textbooks. As the responses flew in, I combined and edited them into more positive descriptions such as standards aligned, focused, unbiased, durable, etc.

Next I created a Google Form survey that asked unconference participants to read a characterization statements about old textbooks and write in comparative characterizations of next textbooks. For instance, if Old textbooks are NARROWLY FOCUSED then Next textbooks are

This morning I culled through the responses, mixing, matching, and editing them together into a defining set of comparisons.  Admittedly, this listing reflects my own biased sense of where textbooks are going.

Old Textbooks Next Textbooks
Old textbooks are STANDARDS-ALIGNED. Next textbooks will be synaptically aligned to the learning needs and experiences of their users.
Old textbooks are CENTRALLY-AUTHORITATIVE. Next textbooks will establish authority as part of the learning practice.
Old textbooks are SAFE & COMFORTING. Next textbooks will demand and provoke new learning (and teaching) through surprise.
Old texbooks are STABLE. Next textbooks will be fluid, dynamic and ever adapting to learning experiences and shifts in the world, about which we are learning.
Old textbooks are ERRORLESS (error ignorning). Next textbooks will admit errors and will socially self-correct.
Old textbooks are NARROWLY FOCUSED. Next textbooks will be broadly focused through logical and interdisciplinary connections and by adapting to the behaviors of their users.
Old textbooks are UNBIASED (self-proclaimed). Next textbooks will admit their multi-bias, and will invite and share reader interpretation.
Old textbooks are PERSONAL/ASOCIAL. Next textbooks will invite and facilitate conversation and, in appropriate ways, adapt and grow through the conversational behaviors of their users.
Old textbooks are MANUFACTURED. Next textbooks will be co-created, cultivated, and grown by learners and master-learners.
Old textbooks are DURABLE BY THEIR RESISTANCE TO CHANGE. Next textbooks are durable by their adapting flexibility.
Old textbooks are HEAVY. Next textbooks will weightlessly make themselves available to any learner, anywhere, anytime.
Old textbooks are VISIBLE. Next textbooks will glow, grow, and flow, seamlessly reflecting the world through the eyes of a learning community.

First Impressions of the “ISTE 2011 Onsite Mobile App Guide”

I’ve been saying to myself for weeks that ISTE 2011 needs an app. I wrote them and told them that the ISTE conference needs an app. They wrote back and said, “Working on it.” Couple of weeks ago I found the ISTE Mobile app, which, as a conference support tool is pretty pathetic, though, as an association reference tool, it’s a pretty good start.

ISTE Onsite for iPhone
This afternoon, however, with a couple of hours in my office after flying in from Omaha and getting on the train for Philly in the morning, I did a search on AppShopper, and there it was, posted 17 hours ago, ISTE 2011 Onsite Mobile… (I’m guessing the dot dot dot extends to “App”).

I haven’t looked at the iPhone version yet, but the iPad app is pretty awesome at first glance. It’s essentially a web page with all of the sliding windows that we’re accustomed to on our touch devices. Starting with the upper left corner is a Twitter roll, featuring a post from techfish21, 6:08 PM (currently 6:36). It only appears to display the latest feed’able 15 posts, which is a bit less than overwhelmingly useful. But we have other great ways to follow the conference buzz.

To the right is a calendar of events, divided by day, with a popout for each touched event. I am very impressed that it attaches to my planner. Even though I’d rather do my planning with a full screen web site, I know that there will be times when I need something to go see right now, and this will come in quite handy. I’d like it better if I could select a particular session block and see only presentations/workshops for that block of time. There is an icon to the right, “Coming Up,” that doesn’t seem to function yet. I wonder…

iPad version of the app
Directly beneath is a slide’able alphabetical listing of presenters and exhibitors with popout details. The exhibitor details can click out into a map of the vendor hall. Now that could be handy.

In the lower left are icons for “Gallery,” still empty, and “Videos,” broken down by day. Upper right menu bar features a thumbs up, to review the App on the iTunes App Store; two friends, which clicks out into an email message announcing the app that you can address to family and friends; a magnifying glass for searching;and the reload icon to get the latest content. There’s also an (i) for information icon with info on the company who made the app, quickmobile.

On the bottom menu bar, and here’s where it gets interesting, is a maps icon.  Touch it to get a floor plan of the exhibit hall, linked to details about the company. This seems less practical than it could be, because there are no titles in the map, so you’re clicking a booth number to see who’s at that booth. Maybe I’m just not thinking ahead enough.

Further down the list are maps of the various levels of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, labeling lecture and session rooms, playgrounds, and lounges, posters sessions, etc. I’d like it if I could swipe through to the various levels, rather than having to back out to the menu. Also, I found that the maps loaded rather slowly. Perhaps that’s a first time thing.

Other icons are:

  • FaceBook – takes us to the ISTE FB page,
  • Sponsors – obvious,
  • Overview – at a glance schedule,
  • Info Booth – further links to helpful references, including a glossary (Bloggers Cafe: A lounge featuring participatory blogging events and ISTE Unplugged)
  • ISTE Connect – linking out to the Iste Connect web site,
  • About ISTE
  • The NING


Overall, I think that this is a great beginning, and a tool that attempts and succeeds to an impressive degree, to create a one stop resource to cover conference attending functions that we’ll all be relying on a dizzying array of individual apps and web pages to work.

Opps, the dot dot dot extends to Guide, not App.

Examining Your PLN

I’ve been struggling over the past few weeks with a complete redesign of my PLN presentation. I am keeping the title (A Gardener’s Approach to Learning), since that’s what I called it for my ISTE proposal, some distant months ago — and for other more obvious reasons. I’ve delivered versions of the upgrade at other conferences recently, and, well, it’s not ready yet.

One element I would like to add is pruning your PLN or learning garden. The best I have done so far is to suggest some philosophical guide lines, but little of practical value. So I spent much of yesterday searching for tools that enable us to more scientifically analyze our learning networks, specifically our Twitter communities (or megalopolises). I was starting to get rather depressed at failing to find what I was looking for — and inspired. You see, when I’m looking for a technical solution to a problem, and I can’t find it, then I start wanting to build one. This is not good, because I am desperately trying to simplify my life here/now at the tail end of my career.

But building a new tool? Wow! What fun that would be.

Anyway, I found the right search expressions this morning (4:00AM). It’s amazing how much a good four and a half hours of sleep can do for the old noggin. Of course, this serge of cognitive magnificence will last for only about an hour and a half.

follerSML-20110610-080833.jpgSo here are a few of the interesting tools I found. To start with, let’s say that you’ve run across a blog entry that’s caught your interest and you are considering a click of his Follow Me link. You have to wonder if this educator actually limits his work thoughts to his blog, and reads and tweets for his favorite Twitterlebrities. To see, just paste his screen name into foller. You are rewarded with the blogger’s basic specs (number of friends, followers, status updates, etc.), a word cloud of most tweeted words, recent hashtags and mentions. You can also view a map indicating his geographic reach (see right).

Another tool for measuring the potential of a new deep thinker is Klout. Probably more of a vanity oriented tool, Klout does do a nice job of breaking down a person’s influence by topic.

Another tool with a potential to help us cultuvate our learning gardens is Twolo, which allows you to enter keywords of interest and receive a list of Tweople you might want to follow. There is a fee after four days, which is not surprising considering how important social media has become to the marketing industry. No worries. Twitter has recently incorporated the same service with Who To Follow.

Refollow_-_Twitter_relationship_manager-20110610-095603.jpgOf course adding new members to your network is not pruning, is it? One of the most interesting tools that I happened upon was refollow. When you link in with your Twitter account, you get a wallpaper of the deep thinkers whom you follow. To cut back your network, you can sort the layout of avatars by their last tweet, tweet count, follow count, and friend count. It’s reasonable to assume (though not always appropriate) that the people who are most paid attention to, or are paying attention to other deep thinkers , are the most useful for your own learning. This is certainly not always true, but it is a measurable aspect of one’s networking. I found that I was following eight people who hadn’t chirped a single tweet and several who’d not tweeted for 8, 10, and 15 months. There’s more that you can do, but to actually act on your community (follow or unfollow) there is a fee — reasonable if I were engaged in marketing an important brand.

If gaining and keeping a following is important, then TweetEffect might be useful. Essentially, you enter your Twitter screen name and it scans your most recent tweets and aligns them with your follower activity. In other words, which tweets seem to have attracted people, and which made them turn tail and run. I learned that in my last 195 status updates, I lost followers seven times and found new one eleven times. It seems that my announcement that I was finally adding Oklahoma (48) to the state’s I’ve worked in, compelled eleven people to leave my friend list. Still trying to figure that one out.

– Posted using BlogsyApp from my iPad

What’s the Next Big Thing (@ ISTE)

Infographic of Word Trends for ISTE 2011
I’ve seen the question a number of times on Twitter, “What’s going to be the big ‘buzz’ at ISTE this year?” In the past, it has been blogging, podcasting, video games, MUVEs, and others. This year, well who knows. But to get a glance, I collected the text for all of the session, poster, and workshop descriptions and anayized them for key terms and phrases. It’s something that I do frequently, but this is the first time I have compared an upcoming conference with a past one — in this case, it’s ISTE 2011 with ISTE NECC 2008.

The attached file is a PDF that includes a word cloud of the most used terms in this year’s program descriptions, and a count of the occurrences of session descriptions with key words that I scanned for back in 2008. There is little that is scientific about this, but interesting, none the less.

For me, I was surprised to have seen infographic mentioned only once in all of the session descriptions. Although we’ve had infographics almost for ever (think The Periodic Tables), it has emerged as something of a buzz in recent months. I’ve started a new blog called IGAD (InfoGraphic A Day), where I feature different graphics or datasets that could be translated into graphics.  Today’s infographic is “A Better Life Index.”

Another one that I was surprised not to see a lot of (and not entirely disappointed) was QR-Codes. In state and regional conferences I’ve been a part of recently, QR-Codes seem to have become something of the rage. Again, they’ve been around since 1995, but only recently have educators been testing out applications in classrooms and schools. I think they have a place in education, but there are logistical limitations, and do only one thing really well — they can turn a flat surface into a hyperlink for smart phone users.

See you at ISTE 2011!