Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Twitter creativity

Just wanted to post about this great mashup made by my friend Sue using RockYou a free widget which works for both windows and mac. It is from from Badongo which is a free “file hosting site that enables you to upload an unlimited amount of files, photos, video and music, to send to friends, family and colleagues.”

Sue says, “After having such a connected holiday I really wanted to express the power of the links we have made, so I tweeted for people to send me a photo of themselves at the computer.” A great result.

Sue also made the image above using Parody Motivator Generator.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A meeting of twitter friends IRL

Barbara Dieu, a name, a voice and an internet presence that I have been aware of and admired for more than two years and two well known Australian online community builders, Michael Coghlan and Alex Hayes and I met while all three were providentially in Melbourne at the same time (having attended the Linux conference). We had a meal, some wine and lots of conversation, about identity and digital presence, about twitter and a different manifestation of friendship, and integrity and open source. It was really memorable. See some more photos here and here. I think Bee makes a habit of such serendipitous meetings (grins). (Thanks for the photo, Michael.)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

An Aussie Podcast

Just recently I found out from my Twitter network (where else) about the Edtech Crew an Aussie podcast which I've been enjoying listening to. This is made by two guys Darrel Branson, (a.k.a. The ICT Guy), and Tony Richards from Learning - Thinking - Playing. From them I have learnt about a number of new things, including the proceedings of a conference called Powerful Elearning which I'm looking forward to exploring. So that's been great.

And then tonight, after a week which has seen my return to school after five weeks of holidays, I get a tweet from my blogging buddy and twitter friend Sue Tapp. (Sue and I are delighted to be travelling to NECC together in June.) Sue was inviting me to try out Yugma, so we did. Using Skype and skype chat as well as Yugma and twitter Sue, Allison Miller and I shared our desktops to show each other tools we are using such as Jing, Cool Iris and Answertips. It was fun. But we have decided that we really should look at the tutorial before our next experiment.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Education Blogosphere Survey

Blogosphere_survey_buttonScott McLeod from Dangerously Irrelevant has once again put out his call for participants in the edublogging survey. Why don't you have a go? Here, Vicki Davis writes about her reflections on filling out the survey which I found an interesting read.

The second annual Education Blogosphere Survey is now open for business! 4 screens. 25 questions.

Please use the link and/or the graphic and help spread the call for participants.

Last year 160 edubloggers participated. Let's see if we can at least double that this year?

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Expectations and reflections

Even though I'm on holidays I have not stopped teaching, perish the thought. I have been teaching my 16 year old son to drive. Well not really, I have been sitting in the passenger seat while he drives us to wherever he wants to go. He has had his Learners Permit for 6 months now and this morning as he was at a T intersection wanting to turn right (please do the adjustments if you are in a country that drives on the wrong side of the road), he paused then pulled out safely, while mentioning a car coming towards us from some way down the street. He said "Six months ago I would have given way to that car." I responded by commending his improved judgement. He reflected that all the practice he had had definitely led to improved judgements in all aspects of driving. I was so happy that he had recognised this and could articulate it.

At the same time there was a program on the radio in which the host was interviewing a teacher about how he had become a better teacher of creative writing. It was in the encouragement, he said. He only ever pointed out the good bits in the writing, while making one suggestion for improvement. "That paragraph is great," he would say, "and the second one is fantastic. How can you make a good transition between them?", rather than "your paragraph transitions stink." Well, duh. But it led to a discussion on how my son perceived his teachers, in particular his teacher of Literature. His teacher explained everything really well he said. He didn't assume too much knowledge on the part of the students initially. It made me think, as it is a bit different from the approach I take, where I am looking for much more student input. But it is probably all in the balance.

It's really good to have a 16 year old at home as this is the age of the majority of the students who are even now preparing (or not) to go back to school and be in my classes. But Kieran is preparing for school. He was going to pick up his school text books this morning and to dive into them fully a week before he has to. And he is not coming back to school after having had his brain in neutral for six week. He has been online every day, but not all day. He has been communicating online in his forums and while playing his games. He often tells me that the etiquette in the forums he participates in is to write in a grammatically correct way. We have been discussing his gaming and whether they foster creativity or not. I have even learned a new term from him: linear and non linear games. He expects school to be different to the way he admits he learns while on holidays. He expects to be quiet in class while discussion happens one at a time and in a teacher directed way. He doesn't expect to be using technology to learn. He tells me that he respects authoritarian teachers and works more cooperatively with them, and pointing out (having never seen me in class) that I am probably too soft to to be an effective teacher. I don't know.

But it has really made me think about the students that I will have in my classroom in only two weeks from now, how they will have been filling their time while on holidays and what their expectations are of me. How will I be able to help my students learn in a way that meets their needs and uses the skills, abilities and creativity that they bring to class from their out of school life?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The power of networks

The network will be working tomorrow. In a post entitled "Help make the network real" which I think will be about demonstrating the power of the network, Will Richardson tells about a gathering of independent school heads and teachers near Philadelphia, called “21st Century Education: 20/20 Vision for Schools”. It will be a global event and include live skype video calls and a wiki that you can add to.
"Just leave your name, your place in the world, your blog if you have one, and one link or resource or piece of advice that you feel will help these folks get their brains around some of the challenges and questions and opportunities we face right now."

And then in a networking effect from this post I found a blogger that I did not know about who I was glad to read. From this blogger, Woody , and his blog, Edumorphing, about Education Reform in Practice I found this interesting post, where he critiques the "worksheet" culture in schools. He says:

The use of worksheets...
  • Uses an unspeakable amount of paper. Most of the paper goes unused and is discarded in the trash or recycled.
  • Creates teachers that begin to rely on a 1-dimensional teaching method. Introduce... teach... have them fill in the blanks.
  • Creates dependent learners. Students depend on the teacher to direct their learning. Discovery and reflection are put on the back-burner.
  • Creates a sense of monotony and boredom amongst most students. Pass out the paper, put your name and date on it, read the directions, answer the questions, fill in the blanks, pass your papers in.
  • Dilutes creativity. Students begin to lose the creative aspect of learning. They start to feel comfortable filling in the blanks. It's easy!
  • Creates a stack of graded worksheets that is taken home and thrown away. Why should the students care about the worksheet? They didn't create it. They don't own it. They have no stake in it except for the grade.
  • Creates teachers that don't want to grade the worksheets and end up throwing some of them away, meaning that students did the work for absolutely no reason.
  • Creates teachers that share worksheets and just use ones others have created. This results in teachers using worksheets that don't truly match what they are currently teaching or can even be at odds with the learning.
Couldn't have said it better myself.

And finally, go Aussies! Graham Wegner has a guest spot on one of my favourite webcasts from the Edtech Talk stable, Teachers Teaching Teachers. If you're in Eastern Australia, tune in live on Thursday 17th January 2008 at 1 pm DST. (which is 9 pm eastern USA the day before).
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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Students write

I just love blogging. Introduced blogs to some of my year seven students last year and even though the content is worrying at times and rather deep and anguished I know that in writing their poetry and publishing it for comment, whether among themselves or from the wider world, the students like Jessica, Heather, Amber, Katie and Sally are expressing, exploring and experimenting with language. They are making connections as we see from the comments and this is continuing in the holidays. One student emailed me with concerns about her writer's block and asked for advice. She told me that she had done the usual things: used writing prompts and gone to other sites for inspiration. Her appeal for help was expressed in poetic language and I advised her to start from there. This is what I wrote:
You know the email you wrote is almost poetry. I wonder if you could use the words of this email and setting it out like you would set out poetry. Or just taking random words from from it and using the words as the start of lines, or rearranging the words. Start with the words at the end of sentences and use them as the start. Or go over poetry you wrote in the past and threading words and phrases from other poems winding them in and out of words from today, rather like making a daisy chain. Have you ever done that? take a stem from one poem and bring in a line or a thread from another and weave something entirely new.... I love your writing.

But I don't know if it helped. What advice would you give? I think these students need to be encouraged. What do you think?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

It really makes you think

It's just been an amazing time with all the social networking that is available to me now that I have time to be involved. I know I'm late to this but I was just blown away by Yugma on Wednesday with Cathy Evanoff Making Connections on the Edtech Talk site. This is some information about the show:
Making Connections is a group of educators helping each other understand new ways to integrate technology into the daily lives of teachers and students as well as creating contacts so our classrooms can connect to one another. The show is hosted by Cathy Evanoff from eastern North Carolina along with interaction from regular visitors.

Cathy used Yugma to show her desktop as she explored a site called Greenbush Labs about Edusim, where teachers can build 3D interactive whiteboard lessons. But that's not the important part; what blew me away was the fact that I heard Cathy talk us through her exploration of the site while watching her do it on my screen. It was like I was looking over her shoulder while she was doing this. It made me think about what we are able to experience now with web 2.0 technologies. Just like a hearing aid extends the sense of hearing and binoculars extend the sense of sight, so these technologies extend the way we can be human in the world. It extends the person without regard to time or space. It feels like magic (even though it can be explained scientifically). No wonder people are afraid of this potential. No wonder there are questions of terminology, of what we should call this new power. It really is "awesome".
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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Welcome new voices

Because it’s holidays and because the weather is so summery and gardening is an attractive option after it has been neglected all year, I haven’t blogged as much as I wanted to. And just now I have come back from a lovely lazy Sunday lunch to find twitter exploding. And it is exploring a theme close to my heart – being open to hearing the voices of new bloggers and the edubloggers who are coming up with new creative and original points of view about what is needed in education. Last week I was a guest on Women of Web 2.0 and we had a discussion which included thoughts on why we want to invite others to the edublogosphere and how we can encourage them when they do. It is all about conversation and all about learning.

From what I can understand Judy O’Connell, Alec Couros, Stephanie Sandifer and Russel Mongomery and many others connected by Twitter wanted to set up a space where lesser known blogs can become visible and included in the wider conversation. There is no doubt that Twitter is helping with this and so there has been a new wiki "Discover New Voices " started. and a tag "edutwittersphere" for your twitter page and "discoverourvoices" for your blog. There is also a wiki set up by Stephanie Sandifer called Welcoming Beginners and a backchannel here. Is all of this overkill? Maybe it is and maybe not. It is an explosion of creativity and community and not all of it will continue. But the efforts and thinking that are going into this is an example of the true meaning of collaboration - doing together something that cannot be done alone. The whole is more than the sum of the parts,

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

First post of 2008

It has just turned 12 midnight on the East coast of the US where a lot of my blogging and twitter friends are, and on twitter there is a sudden outpouring of goodwill for the year ahead. It was the same at midnight last night in my time zone. People from the US and Canada were wishing us in Australia all the best for 2008. And this for me is the biggest difference that the last twelve months have brought. The coming together of people on opposite sides of the globe, a sense of being with others from a distance. There is always the tug of others into their space, their otherness coming into my space and we see it at these times, and in our discussions of the weather. Last night, Cheryl, knowing I was sweltering in my summer, sent me some virtual snowflakes from her mountain, and this act of kindness, this ability of Cheryl’s to feel with me encapsulated something. While I may not have felt any cooler physically, I did feel a warmth in my heart that made me more comfortable. (Stop rolling your eyes, you guys). In twitter and in blogging we have the opportunity to practice empathy, understanding, collaboration and that’s a great thing.

The new year of course is the time to set goals in the light of the reflection of what went well and what didn’t in the previous year. One of my goals is to go to NECC in San Antonio, Texas and I am making plans to do just that. After two years of watching from the sidelines as I read, first blogs and then twitters about the conversations and learning that was happening I decided that I just needed to be there. I have expressed interest in the tour to NECC from Australia that Chris Betcher wrote about (and maybe I’ll get to meet him on this tour as well.)

I have spent a fair bit of time trying out blogging in my classes and encouraging other teachers to blog as well in 2007. I gave numerous after school PD sessions, whenever I was asked, introducing Web 2.0 to teachers in other subject areas as well. A few teachers started their own blogs and some students did as well, but overall I would not say it has been a resounding success. I was hoping that teachers would get to know and wish to learn the technology as a way of doing what they needed and wanted to do (plan, learn discuss, collaborate, research, reflect) but so many times I felt that my public espousal of web 2.0 tools put me in the “weird” category. And then close to the end of the year it was seen by some (important) people that I was spending time on this kind of learning rather than representing and managing the English Domain as the Domain Leader. I have to say that being an English Coordinator and enabling teachers to facilitate great English lessons and learning experiences has been all I’ve ever wanted to do. I love exploring Literature, writing is a passion of mine and I love to see students being able to express themselves and represent their opinions as they come to participate in our society. When I was drawn to blogging and other web 2.0 tools it was as an English teacher. I saw it as an opportunity for students to read and write and discuss, to be steeped in the values of the reading and writing tradition (i.e. become aware of the importance of full stops and apostrophes), and so I saw it as part of doing my job. I am not really sure of what it means for 2008. But I try to suss it out. I have been timetabled into a computer lab for two of my classes so I will be offering blogging as a choice for the students in those classes at least.

Working through the difficulties in introducing blogging to teachers in my school has made me think about what the barriers are, as so many edubloggers do. And I think I have worked it out, maybe. The national radio station ABC used to offer its programs as podcasts in its advertising. But in the latest advertising of this service the word “podcast” was not used at all. It was referred to as audio on demand. And it made me think. The word “blog” and “wiki” are not important and the terminology itself seems to be a barrier. Even the term “web 2.0” is unnecessary and could be a barrier. As I thought after I heard an IT conversations podcast, people other than early adopters or techno-geeks aren’t really interested in the technology. They don’t want to know how RSS works or even what it is, and so the for product being discussed on the podcast, while it uses RSS, the term was not used. The technology is hidden. Maybe that will happen for blogs and wikis which may be just “websites”. After all, good learning starts with where the learners are, I think.

And then tomorrow I am going to be on the Women of Web 2.0 show. I am so excited. I listen to this podcast all the time and in the holidays it is great to be involved. But to be an invited guest! I am so honoured. I love what these women are doing and their mission statement sums it all up really:
Our mission is to provide a professional voice in educational Web 2.0 discussions. Conversations coming from the WOW2 network will move across gender, race, and country lines and display the beautiful diversity of the internet kaleidoscope. We are advocates for professional ethics, emerging technologies, collaborative projects, quality best practices research, and teaching students critical thinking skills. We are non-partisan and pro-student.

Advocates. Says it all really.