Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Closing Up Tuesday at NECC


That wasn't a bored yawn. That was an exhausted yawn.

More like: YAAWWWNNNN...

Day 3 of my Tour-du-NECC and I'm blogging from the remains of the student showcase area. Me and a security guard and a few straggling bloggers.

Before I forget, here are the Tweeple of the Day: first up is @JDPennington, a teacher from NJ; he's going 1:1 in the fall and wants to have all his Spanish students using Diigo. Next up is @dragonsinger57 who taught me the difference between 'vortices' and 'vertices'.

Most of the action this afternoon, at least here in the convention center, was over on the 140s wing and in the Bloggers' Cafe. ISTE came around Ustreaming from the cafe and they've uploaded that here. You may want to stop the video short lest toward the end, during the interview of some weird bearded blogger dude who goes by the name of TechPepperless or something like that, yr video card be disrupted; don't have any idea who that guy is, but man is he... blurry.

As for the showcase area, SETSIG hosted a workshop on Universal Design for Learning. In fact, I'm sitting in the wasteland of what only hours ago was that workshop space. The first step in Universal Design, after all, should be experiencing complete lack of it.

I have to say that today was really just overwhelming. At least I'm not the only one who looks overwhelmed. One of the greeters upstairs in the games area was joking that next year she's going to make her set-up less comfortable to chat in because she spent all day long talking and talking and talking to folks pouring through.

But those crowds are steadily streaming out of the convention center. Off into the chaos of Chinatown; leaving one hyper-experience for another.

And with that, I'm off for the day.

from NECC,


"Yeats explained that the 'fundamental symbol' of A Vision is 'a double cone or vortex' (also called a gyre) that describes the 'Great Wheel' of history."

from 'Modernism and the ideology of history' by Louise Blakeney Williams (2002)

Thinking about vortices.

I know, I know... I probably just need lunch. But I've been thinking about vortices.

You know a vortex when you see one. They start little and start spinning until they get bigger and bigger and bigger. Then, expanding as far as they will allow themselves, they will begin to contract and get smaller and smaller and smaller.

Then they turn around and do it all again.

I've been thinking about 'em all day.

Sitting in the audience for a NECC session on 21st century tech and literacy with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Will Richardson. Here are some of the phrases that have been floating over the room:

Connecting and Community.

Learning from the Wisdom of the Crowd.

Picking your Mentors.

Exploring Virtual Learning Communities.

Developing Personal Learning Networks.

Merging local community and global community.

And here I am thinking about vortices.

And I'm thinking about this morning's debate over the future of bricks-and-mortar schools.

And I'm thinking about the school building not as a place to be taught, but as a homebase to return to to disseminate what you've learned.


I see the 'school year' of the future:

I see a school year where students will begin their learning experience in a small building filled with a caring local community. They will then plug in and become aware of the world. They will plug into networks and discover the breadth of humanity. They will meet strangers and develop teams and tribes with them. They will then leave the building and go out into the world. They will exist in the world and learn things. They will share those things with their teams and tribes. Their experiences will be shared among strangers and family alike. Their family back home in the local community will learn from their shared experiences and they will synthesize their community foundations with what they've found in the world. They will plug into and come to know themselves. They will return to the small building. And they will share their experience with everyone there.

And they will Grow Big. They will all Grow Big.

That's the vortex I'm talking about. That's the school year I want to see happen. Whether it's going out into a foreign country or into a neighboring community or into a different learning environment.

We're talking about rearranging the set-pieces of what we have too long held essential as the fundamentals of education: the enclosure of the school building and the nature of the school year.

And when I'm talking vorex, I'm not talking silly novelty metaphor. We're not talking novelty. We're talking necessity. We're talking a way of thinking about how we need to engage our students, engage the world, and make something happen in education that reflects the needs of the times we are living in.
Grow small. > Share. > Go big.

Grow big.

Go small. > Share. > Grow small.

Grow big.

Shared growth. A complex, but elegant vortextual/vortextural understanding of the flux between local and distant. A re-purposing of time and place. A breaking through the 'essentialist' mechanic and philosophy that tells us just exactly what THE PROGRAM is and HOW IT'S ALL SUPPOSED TO WORK.

I've been thinking about the change that's coming. I've been thinking about vortices.

What's a School Day?

In a session on ‘Engaging the Digital Generation’, Vicki Davis brought up a really interesting point about global connections that I hadn’t thought about.

And it’s not some big conceptual thing and it’s not some little touchy-feely thing; it’s a practical thing.

A practical thing with rather profound implications:


A true real-time global classroom can’t expect to work on a North American school-day schedule.

You want your kids to understand what ‘global’ means?

Have them participate in a real-time session with students in Australia… during the Australian kids’ regular school day.

Homebases of Learning

After the Oxford Debate formally finished this morning, the assembled took three questions -- two from the audience and one from online.

Richardson has a great observation about Jupp's inability to answer one of the questions and what it implies about his understanding of what's really going on in ed tech.

It would be enough to write the guy off. After all, buildings? As 'houses of learning'?

But, it's funny: despite the fact that I'm surrounded by all of this technology and it allows me to work beyond or even without the walls of that old school building, I'm still in favor of having a building, a homebase, some physical space where your own mind rather than your digital device can develop memory and love and pride.

That's not to say that you can't develop those things on-the-go, but I'm still a sucker for having a 'homebase'.

A 'homebase' is a safe place you can always return to. The doors are not locked. And they swing both in and out. A 'homebase' is a place where you don't always feel like a tourist.

I guess the bigger point related to so many of our schools is that they are not 'homebases'.

I see a future where we treat the school building as a community headquarters.

Students and teachers do not always have to be together in the building; and world travel, virtual learning, and global networking are encouraged. But the building still remains the place where we can gather as a local community with our neighbors and families. It's the place where members of our community who have been off on wild travels can return to tell us what they found out there. It's the place where we can gather to share something you can't share online: real smiles, real laughter, real hugs, and high-fives.

Because that's important stuff; it's stuff that teaches us how to live with one another.

If we really wanted to walk the walk and not just blame the talk, we'd sit down and rearrange how we organize our streets. Our neighborhoods. Our cities, suburbs, and farms. Because how we are spatially, geographically, and architecturally organized directly effects how we teach. And how we learn.

Buildings are important. I agree with Jupp that a school-building can be a 'house to learning'. But not if we don't take the broader implications of architecture and urban planning seriously.

I went to a high school situated on a campus. We had six main buildings. Underclass, Upperclass, Cafe, Performing Arts, Field House, and an old tower.

My sisters went to a school where everything was stuck in one fortified brutal building.

I have deep feelings and memories of places on my campus. They still inspire my memory.

What does that fortified brutal high school my sisters went to inspire?

As we talk about the integration of technology into the learning experience, we also need to talk about the re-examination of school architecture. Let's take what Jupp calls those 'houses of learning' and make them 'homebases of learning'.

NECC 2009: The Oxford Debate

It is too early for Michael Jackson.

Unfortunately that’s been the music-of-choice throughout the conference. Bearable two nights ago. Grating this morning.

But I digress.

It’s 8:26AM and the convention center ballroom is just about full. This morning’s event is an ‘Oxford Style Debate’ on the topic: Are brick and mortar schools detrimental to the future of education.

The event begins with news about today’s ‘international competitiveness in education’ event over at the Press Club. And an ISTE volunteer just reminded the guy sitting next to me about the ISTE-led march down to Capitol Hill later in the morning. About 500 members are scheduled to meet with reps on the hill to advocate for ed tech. Looks like the big goal is for increased funding for classroom technology. Lot’s of policy stuff. Will keep you posted (in the most obviously least wonky of ways).

Lot’s of talk about ‘Digital Citizenship’ this morning. This has to do with the new NETS-A standards. According to ISTE, it’s about students learning how to use technological communication in safe, responsible, and appropriate ways.

Fair enough, though ‘appropriate’ wouldn’t make my list. If we teachers had been using tech ‘appropriately’ -- that is, according to the rules of the technology and the tech traditions in our schools -- we’d never be at the point we are now. ‘Appropriate’ is not one of the ingredients in Innovation.


The leadership of ISTE is now glowing hagiographic re: integration of ISTE goals and etc around the world. Celebrating the admins, mentors, and teachers who have been working hard in ed tech. Also celebrating the ‘corporate relationships’ that make this possible.

That’s exactly the thing that gives me pause. I completely understand that the folks down there on the convention floor are paying the rent for the rest of us to meet here at the Washington Convention Center. But, in what they’ve actually presented downstairs, I see a lot of maneuvering room for a non-profit to step in and actually handle a lot of what they are doing.

Consider Netbooks. You could pay $400 for a new book. Or have a non-profit that strips and retrofits old Mac iBooks for $200. I’ll tell you this: my souped up iBook G4 totally rocks the Acer netbooks I bought for my sons.

The non-profit sector has to be part of the equation.


Now, we’re on to the 2009 Awards Presentation.

Strange, strange atmosphere in the ballroom. The lights have gone down and we’re watching what was described as a ‘multimedia presentation’. Actually, it’s a flashy PowerPoint. At least they didn’t use ‘Thriller’ as their background music.

I say it’s strange because no one is actually receiving an award (physically). Rather, we are all sitting in rows watching this fancy automated PowerPoint on three big screens. I’m sitting in the front row, so I can look back into the crowd and what I see is not unlike rows upon rows of ninth graders watching a video describing photosynthesis.

Minutes pass.

Suddenly all the award winners magically appear on the side stage. Wow. Nice to see them. Though I would have preferred the award winners to have flown in on wires in a blaze of pyrotechnics and fog. Maybe it’s just all the Michael Jackson getting to me.

One way or the other, congratulations to the award winners for your hard work, and I was certainly relieved to see you in human form rather than just on the screen. (Hey ISTE, next year let’s get some video going on in that ‘multimedia’; it’d be a nice touch).


Oxford Debate

Finally. This is the main event. Horn and Stager vs. Jupp and Lemke. The sledgehammer wielding demo dream team vs. the touchy-feely old-fashioned ‘human’ types.

First up is Michael Horn, co-author of ‘Disrupting Class’. First thing I notice is that he is using notecards. I think notecards are detrimental to the future of education. His argument is that bricks-and-mortar schools don’t meet the variety of needs of students. He’s in favor of online-learning. Whatever that means. Because he doesn’t explain.

This is my beef: we still haven’t defined what ‘online learning’ is. I’ve looked at two major companies running online courses recently and what I’ve seen is that their version of ‘online learning’ is a rebuild of ‘textbook learning’. How is that any different than what we’ve got? Horn talks a lot about how bricks-and-mortar schools ‘confine’ students -- well, so do textbooks. And online courses can just as easily fall into the ‘textbook mentality’.

Next up is Brad Jupp from Colorado. He’s talking about bringing technology into the schools as opposed to closing down schools and sending kids into technology. “Schools are the vessles of the wishes of our democracy”. He’s got me. Talking about schools as the community centers where we can meet face-to-face and learn. They are anchors of democracy and they are the places where peers form important bonds.

Jupp describes the school building in sacred terms as the ‘house of learning’. It’s a powerful icon, not easily replaced by a computer screen.

Next up is Gary Stager from the Constructivist Consortium. His opening salvo is about the silliness in using technology to meet NCLB goals. Stager rips on the state of most online learning, comparing it to mailorder correspondence classes. He’s getting applause and laughs. Stager talks about quality online learning “mirroring” quality classroom learning. Getting beyond the bells and whistles. And then a slam on whiteboards!

Gary, despite his rather bombastic styule, is presenting a much more nuanced view of online learning. I see his role on his side of the debate as to redefine what we’re talking about in terms of ‘online learning’. He’s arguing that brick-and-mortar schools as they exist are detrimental, but that to be meaningful, online learning has to get beyond the status quo.

On the other side is Cheryl Lemke. She immediately plays against the dualism presupposed in the debate question itself: “It’s not black and white. It’s not one or the other. It’s a combination.” She’s playing to the same themes as Jupp: We don’t need to get rid of schools. We need to redefine how schools relate to their communities. But she stresses the recent research demonstrating that hybrid-learning being the most successful. And, when it comes down to it, that’s what really makes sense. Our kids have physical AND virtual lives. And we need to educate them for BOTH.

Marshall Thompson, a high school student from Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda takes the first rebuttal on behalf of the tear-‘em-down team. Argues about the ‘limits’ of classrooms. Talks about ‘international’ living. “Why am I limited to get together to learn with those around me?”

But then he undermines his point via an anecdote. He tells us that he has lived around the world and saw devastation left in Sri Lanka by the Tsunami. Well, isn’t the point that he was ‘there’ in a physical space? He didn’t just get the images on YouTube. His argument actually is more about getting beyond the school walls and getting out into the world; he’s bypassed online learning altogether.

Rebutting on behalf of school buildings is Erik Bakke from West Springfield High School in Springfield, VA. Rushes into the ‘how’ and ‘with whom’ argument. Argues that connection to the local community is a good thing. Stresses the importance of groups and teams to learning. Hmm. I’d argue that anyone with a PLN would argue that ‘groups’ and ‘teams’ aren’t limited to the folks you share a room with. One thing that really does come through in his rebuttal, however is a sense of pride in one’s school. Can you have the same sort of ‘pride’ in an online class?

We’re up to the summaries.

Stager’s up. Slams teachers for not being about to understand student culture. Slams clickers and whiteboards and traditional classroom mentality. Raises hoots, eyebrows, and the rhetoric of the dialogue saying: “The blame lies in the bankruptcy of our imaginations”.

Lemke gets the last word: “It’s time for us to remember that we don’t want our fathers’ schools; we want our children’s schools.” She presents a compelling argument for engagement with the local AND global communities.


The final result? Well, at the start of the debate, 37% of audience members said bricks-and-mortar schools WERE detrimental, 64% WERE NOT detrimental. By the end of the debate, 26% said bricks-and-mortar schools WERE detrimental, and 74% said they WERE NOT.

Go figure, looks like teachers actually like their classrooms.

Cue the Michael Jackson.

Monday, June 29, 2009

How Am I Doing?

To start, here are your Tweeple of the day: @teacherman79 and @nashworld.

Second thing, so I've been doing this NECC thing now for two days. I've seen grown men dressed as data-storage and I've watched dedicated educators make hand-made Tech Anarchist garb. I've been screamed at by the cast of the new PBS Electric Company 2.0 and I've been cursed at by various well-meaning Australians. I've learned how to avoid coffee and food lines and I've become an expert at sneaking into closed sessions. I've managed to get my principal to start a Twitter account and I've managed to lose a party of VR gamers in ChinaTown (not my intention).

So I'd like to know, in terms of my blog posts and Tweets: how am I doing?

Don't hold back. I'm sure I will have gotten harsher criticism from my students, and I expect nothing less from my readers.

Just remember: this ain't Ed Week. They're pros. I'm just a loose cannon with a souped-up iBook G4.

All I've tried to do is mind-send my thoughts, observations, hyperboles, confessions, and occasional provocations out there to all of you whether you are at NECC or at rest comfy in your own homes.

I hope this is working.

And for the record, I fully realize that I am not a journalist... but that doesn't stop me from scoffing up their pastries in the press room.

Thanks again ISTE Connects for the chance to cover the conference. Tomorrow I turn up the heat.

Quest Atlantis at NECC: Using Virtual Worlds to Teach Net Citizenship

Comment came from the panel at the Quest Atlantis session this afternoon with regard to something that came up during one of the leadership sessions at NECC 2009.

One of the members there suggested that we just get beyond fear.

Start acting like educators and stop being afraid of making mistakes.

Allow mistakes to produce innovation.

And that's so right on. Maybe we should ask the folks who demand we live by the rules of their fear exactly what it is that they've innovated recently.

None of us want kids to be put in harms' way. I've got three elementary aged kids of my own. I want them to be safe online.

But in the same way that you need to go through the somewhat dangerous practice of driver's ed in order to teach a kid how to drive safely, you need to teach kids how to exist in the virtual realm in order to teach them how to be a responsible Web citizen.

Quest Atlantis is exactly the type of virtual world to allow this sense of play and learning about virtual worlds among schoolkids.


In the same session, the question of strangers and meeting people online came up.

Quest Atlantis itself is a very safe virtual environment for kids. Second Life it is not. It's more of a practice world where students get to take in all different sorts of lessons.

But there's really an even bigger reason we need kids to learn to manage their online lives as young people. Because, the world that they will enter into as young adults will be a world where they can NOT hide from strangers and the unknown. It is a world in which -- if they are going to be successful -- they will have to be prepared to ENGAGE strangers and the unknown.

Rather than hide from strangers, the panel threw down the real gauntlet:
"We should be TRYING to meet other people".

What it comes down to is this: we need to teach kids how to become citizens of the world. This doesn't mean we want to throw them into some imaginary nest of Internet perverts in a Second Life whorehouse. It means we want them to understand that 'being connected' means being connected to everyone; and that with connection comes responsibility.

And - most of all -- it means that you are not the center of, but rather a vital part of that world. You and billions of other people.

Student-centered virtual worlds such as Quest Atlantis are precisely the type of place where this education in digital citizenship can start.


Get beyond fear.

No fear of technology. No fear of one another.

Idealistic? Yes.

Necessary? Absolutely.

Possible? If you want it.



That’s the year Scott McLeod says we’re without a paddle.

Here’s the equation from his NECC session this afternoon:

K-12 education is facing disruptive innovation. It’s [called] personalized learning.

The existing educational model is not a given.

All of this is going to sneak up on educational organizations.

Looking at the exponential curve with regards to technology and personalization in education, McLeod predicts half of high school courses will be online by 2019.

Another way of thinking about it is like this: in ten years time, most of the basics of how we’ve thought about servicing education will be toast.

We'd be wise to review Dewey: "Communication is shared experience". And while we're at it, let's update Dewey: "Communication is shared experience is education. And immediate, global, connected shared experience is communication".

Ten years.

You Wanna Know What's Going on in Ed Tech? Ask the teachers and students.

Finally found what I came here for.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, in room dedicated to the student showcase.

No corporate spokespeople. No flashy commercial displays. Just real kids and real teachers showing what they are doing integrating technology into their classrooms.

When it comes down to the brass tacks, this is what NECC is all about.

Because without those kids and those teachers actually having the audacity to engage with tech in their learning environments, all is for naught.

Without that connection being made, without that learning taking place, it's all a carnival.

Among my favorites was a project taken on by Antonio Lenoyr and his students at the Cedros school using Google SketchUp to visualize concepts in geometry and architecture in a unit on 'Architecture and Urbanism'. Another was a presentation on 'Virtual Pioneers' by a teacher named Andrew Wheelock and his middle-school students. And then there was the digital portfolio program from Rhode Island public schools.

In the center of the room is a '21st century Media Center' where teachers and librarians are helping each other learn how to navigate Second Life, create digital storyboards, edit Wikis, and create their own blogs. It's hands-on learning at its best.

As I'm sitting here blogging in the center of all of this activity, I can't help but think: this is what it's all about. It's about giving the tools to students and teachers so that they can make connections. And who are we to say what those connections will or will not be.

Our task as educators is to confirm in our students' hearts and minds that they have both the right and capability to think, make, and do. Our task is to give them the support via content, tools, and skills to think, make, and do. But our task is not to teach them what to think, make, and do.

The big difference between this room of teachers and students and a lot of what was going on downstairs in the big convention room full of tech and software companies lies in that distinction.

Wi-Fi Fail at NECC 2009

The Washington Convention Center had better get working on its Wi-Fi problem; there are dozens of bloggers ready to pounce (that is, if they could just get connected).

McLeod blogs livid.

As reported earlier, folks have been complaining about the intermittent service. But now, things have taken a turn for the worse. I am hearing that there is now no service in the Bloggers' Cafe. I've been moving around the building (I'm currently in Ballroom A waiting for a presentation from the worldwide SCRATCH community) and I've had spotty access at best.

Let's get it fixed, folks.

The Disconnect: the Two NECCs

The smiles are held half as strong.

Today is Monday at NECC and the first chance to get on the exhibit floor. The place sort of resembles a Best Buy on methamphetamine.

Fueled by coffee and battlelust, I wander past the kind of stuff that I find fundamentally useless and make my way to the booths celebrating (er... that is selling) blocking software.

My goal is to get to the BLOXX table. They're a Web filtering company and this year's theme is: blocking anonymous proxies (wonder if they've been in contact with the government of Iran recently).

The greeter meets me at the table and launches into quite a spiel. The only thing I really notice is that she says the word 'porn' three times in less than twenty seconds.

She explains that the new software her company is developing is filtering software that attacks proxies. I ask her why. She repeats the word 'porn'.

I ask her if the filter can tell the difference between a proxy that I might use say to shorten a url or to feed an RSS through a blog. She doesn't understand what I am asking.

I ask whether the filter blocks all anonymous proxies or whether it follows the proxy and then blocks the masked site. She thinks the latter.

So, we should just be able to double-mask the proxy to a 'real' site to get around the filter, says the teenaged hacker voice in my mind.

Let alone the fact that mobile Wi-Fi makes the whole system useless.


I wonder how many tens of thousands of ed tech dollars are going to be wasted on filtering and blocking software like this. I wonder how many kids are going to be asking for smartphones for Christmas.

The greeter hands me a press release. Coffee's wearing off. Or something.


I wander the aisles a bit. Take in a conversation with a guy from Roland.

Warning -- paraphrase ahead:
Q. "Why would I want to buy your Sonar software?"

A. "It's cheaper than Digital Performer."

DP is the pro Mac app I run for the kids in my audio production classes; Sonar is a cheap PC imitation.

We stare at one another.

Moving on, I try to break my habit of constantly looking at people's chests to read their name-badges. It's gonna give me a sullied reputation.


I stand amidst the strange competing glows hovering over the side-by-side Microsoft and Dell stations.

I score a sweet orange bag and someone at some point thrusts a pre-packaged headset into my hands, gives me some sort of full body scan, and sends me in the direction of a 'free' laptop.

My eyes wander about the room. I notice a heart hovering in space. Finally: something with meat on its bones (pardon the obviously mixed metaphor).

Reach Out Interactives is demonstrating it's 3D rendering software. As in: here, wear these funky glasses and watch the scientific models float into your personal space.

I'm a sucker for 3D. I am looking forward to a world where Wolf Blitzer is not the only person on Earth allowed to hang out with 3D hologram humans. It's just one of those quirks I've got; probably directly related to the hundreds of hours I spent in my youth watching Star Wars and Star Trek movies on VHS.

One way or another, these folks swear that you can bring real 3D directly into your classroom. I am especially excited by the notion that you could make Google Earth projections appear in 3D. Well, that and the opportunity to stand in front of a class of kids all wearing funny glasses.


I've got to get outta here.

I've now crossed the length of the convention floor twice. My orange bag is full of... well... stuff. I don't really know what it is because I've barely had a chance to take anything in. All around me, the commercial version ed tech world is spinning. I'm in a zone of complete obsolescence and all about me I hear words and phrases like: what IT departments are most scared of... security... like having your personal school Internet... and whiteboard, whiteboard, endless whiteboard.

I stumble to the escalator and make my way upstairs to an 11AM session on gaming.


Up here, things are different.

I've heard folks complaining about the quality of the Wi-Fi. I've heard presenters complain about the idea that they would be expected to present via PowerPoint (as opposed to live online resources). The Bloggers' Cafe is buzzing and Twitter has been all-#NECC09-all-day.

For the most part, it seems like the educators here are mostly interested in access, connection, and sharing info via Web 2.0.

I didn't find a single booth downstairs that talked about any of those things.

Granted, I only rushed through the endless displays on a hobbled knee; and to be honest, the whole thing was so overstimulating that I could have certainly missed some non-profit organization's innovative presentation on universal access to cloud computing. But under the glow of Big Tech, any and all of that was lost.

I should say that I met a TeachPaperless subscriber on the convention floor. And she said it better than I ever could when she told me that she needed to get online to sort it all out and get a little peace.

And that's why I say that it's like there are two NECCs going on. One is an NECC comprised of folks absorbed by social media, free access, and Web 2.0 participation. The other NECC is folks absorbed by building the better corkscrew.

I'm going to keep an open mind. I'm here for two more days and there is a ton left to see. But walking around with my bag full of free crap, I can't help but feel like I'm at a carnival.

Morning Update from NECC 09

Educational Insanity has a nice argument against Malcolm Gladwell's form of inductive reasoning right here.

And McLeod has links to four separate liveblogs written last night during the keynote.

I had a terrible nightmare last night in which Mr. Gladwell pummeled me with a rolled up copy of the New Yorker whilst recounting the day-by-day antics of Mick Fleetwood and company circa 1969.

Back to reality.

Starbucks' line is now 50+ deep. I scored a free cup of joe behind-the-scenes. When it comes to coffee, I don't stand in line; see me for tricks of the trade.

I'm headed down to the exhibition floor. Will be blogging throughout the day. Let the games begin!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

First Impressions: NECC 2009

First thoughts about NECC. This is my first time attending, and I'm pretty impressed.

Structurally: This thing is a monster. There is so much going on. I'm in awe of the catering and event staff. I watched them fix a downed monitor, reset a Wi-Fi deadzone, and manage to score extra bottles of champagne for the gala (on a Sunday in DC). These folks are beasts.

As for the attendees: I've noticed, in loose anthropological terms, three types of people.

First are the educators. You notice them quickly. Because they are the folks who are smiling huge ridiculous smiles. They are smiling because (anomalous to many of their ed conference experiences) they are actually attending a conference that they WANT to attend. They are also meeting people they are mostly used to seeing only in itsy-bitsy Twitter profile photos. It's quite invigorating to talk to these folks.

Second are the leaders in ISTE and the various committees. They are somewhat similar to the general educator rabble, except in that few if any of them are wearing a bookbag. And in general, they have nicer haircuts. And they all seem to know the proper way to hold a champagne glass. I bet they go back to the hotel to play Bridge.

Finally are the sales/demonstration/booth folk. Booth folk. I like that. They are the professionals. I saw a guy work out an on-the-fly problem regarding a full-sized monster suit and a missing badge. These people are pros. And they are also sort of like tech carnies. And I can't wait to get on the floor with them tomorrow.

'Til then. Good night (once you close down Twitter).

Real Tweeple

Every Friday on Twitter, folks pass around links to the Tweet feeds of folks they enjoy following. I'm gonna be posting my favorites throughout NECC right here.

First this evening is @jenwagner who got the Re-Fleetwooding story source; second is @deangroom who makes me laugh with his no b.s. Tweets, and third today is @AndrewBWatt who has a ton of great ideas.

Tweet away!

Faux Gladwell: The NECC 2009 Keynote Fail

Lot's of dissension on the Gladwell keynote at NECC. Here's a link to the RSS of the liveblog I posted during the speech.

My biggest beef with the presentation was that it was an ongoing string of generalities about famous people. Had absolutely nothing to do with teaching kids. And throughout, I felt like the whole thing just sounded canned.

Little did I or anyone else know that Mr. Gladwell just gave a 'strikingly' similar speech a few weeks ago: to the United Way.
It is impressive to hear someone like Gladwell talk. He didn't use notes and he was able to recite facts and statistics from memory that always tends to blow my mind. In an effort to do something a little different last night he decided to give three lessons to be learned from the story of Fleetwood Mac. One of the hallmarks of a great speaker for me is their ability to entertain, to get their messages across and if they can surprise you at the same time then its a huge bonus! Gladwell delivered ... Fleetwood Mac as a topic for the United Way major donors!

The blogger at the Eagle Blog goes on to describe exactly how Mr. Gladwell related the history of Fleetwood Mac to the work of the United Way.

And guess what?

Looks like it was mostly the same speech he just gave to NECC.

I find this to be the ultimate in pandering. Given the opportunity to give a keynote to the biggest ed tech conference in the world, at least do us the honor of giving a unique speech.

At least something we can't already find on Google.

Live Blogging from NECC 2009 Opening Keynote

A Tale of Two Conferences

I am realizing very quickly that NECC is really two conferences.

In one conference, educators explain how they are pushing the boundaries of technology. Discussions take place. Thinking occurs.

In the other conference, corporations pitch their wares to the folks who make big money ed tech decisions. Deals take place. Sales occur.

In and of itself, this is not necessarily a bad thing.

But it is a thing.

And it is something that I've got to be aware of as I blog the next few days.

A Very Delicate Procedure

I realize that I am a fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants idealist.

I especially realize this as soon as I step onto the ledge overlooking the exhibitors' hall.

AT&T, Texas Instruments, and several other names which have surfed the choppy waters of modern American capitalism peer up from the floor as if to say: told ya' we'd still be here.

Nowhere at NECC is the tenacious balance between ideas and commerce so self-aware as on the exhibition floor.

This is where hundreds of companies will tell you that their product and/or proprietary method is what you need. This, when we all realize that what we need is true open source cloud computing.

What we need is simple and universal access via simple and universal devices.

Yeah, exactly buddy... I got one of them right here for a good price.

Alas, the exhibition floor.

This is where teachers getting paid morsels to prepare the intellects of future generations get to be eyed by sales reps from the world's biggest corporations.

Depending on your point of view, it's either the best of the future or the worst of the future. It's either testimony to innovation and collaboration between corporate and educational America, or it's a testament to that basic premise of business which will never change.

I somehow see it as precious. Delicate, perhaps.

In the same way that walking on the edge of a knife is a very delicate procedure.


I'm sitting downstairs outside the exhibition hall in a little secluded alcove. No one else is here. Just me and a handful of nicely proportioned modern leather chairs.

On the wall hang three art assemblages. They are three abacuses made of wood and old rubber balls. The sign says that they are the work of one Greg Hannan of Washington, D.C.

I sit here looking at the three pieces and I can't help but wonder. Who needed that original abacus more: the guy who ran out of fingers to count on or the guy who came up with a way to put that wood piled up in the backyard to some entrepreneurial use?

Relics of the Past

I am sitting in a hallway on the third floor of the Washington Convention Center. I'm at the 30th annual meeting of the NECC along with a few thousand of my best friends.

The opening salvo -- the orientation presentation -- actually became an SRO affair, adding yet one more acronym to this NECC/ISTE ed tech mélange.

In this long hallway there's an exhibition I took in over a few spare minutes. It's a collection of old computers and techware; everything from a sweet old Apple SE to a how-to guide for managing a Windows NE server to an Atari 400 that my own kids would still just about die for.

The not-to-discreet title of the exhibit is: Relics of the Past.

It's funny because I was thinking of exactly this sort of thing on the way into town today. But not in terms of old hardware.

I was thinking in terms of the relics of an old way of thinking. An old way of going about business. An old way of thinking about and using technology.

It's that old top-down approach. That us vs. them approach.

It's been around from time in memorial, but to some degree, I think we really have bowed to it in recent years in ways not seen since the time of the British Empire. And before that, Rome.

And look where it's gotten us: financial crisis, housing collapse, a completely whacked-out environment, continuous war, and a degradation of the entire concept of what education should be all about.

And folks are sick of it.

So they are taking things into their own hands.

Here in the US, we hired this guy to be president much on this notion that what we desperately needed was CHANGE. Even bankers and car company execs are admitting that we need CHANGE. Not to mention the scientists telling us we need CHANGE to deal with climate CHANGE.

And, though undervalued and crucially underestimated, we've got teachers and students saying we need CHANGE. They're dying to kick the vestiges of the past to the proverbial curb (but more responsibly being willing to stuff 'em into the recycling bin of history).

The old top-down methods of management and the us vs. them philosophy of fear have only helped to lead our public school system -- particularly in the most vital yet vulnerable areas of our country -- into failure. We've got school districts that look like failed states. We've got kids in teachers' classrooms for only a limited amount of time, and yet we watch as teachers are forced to waste weeks of learning time teaching kids how to take bubble tests. We tell kids that they aren't intelligent because they can't regurgitate information.

It's all about failure.

But this time, it's the old system that has failed.

Here in the excitement of NECC -- a conference whose most intrinsic qualities are its exuberance and audacity -- we need to push the final remnants of that way of thinking out the door.

Scratch that.

Don't push it out the door. Just put it in one of those display cases with the other relics of the past.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

NECC 2009

Thanks to a press pass award from ISTE, I'll be reporting and blogging live from NECC 2009 over the next few days.

Look for TeachPaperless.com to be your best (or at least your most obsessive) resource for information coming out of the conference. And please give your feedback and tell me where you want my eyes and ears to be.

Here's a link to the official conference site.

Next post will be from DC.

- Shelly

Friday, June 26, 2009

Does Arne Get It?

Digital Education reports on a new report released by US Dept of Ed which suggests that 'blended learning' is more effective than strictly face-to-face or strictly online learning.

Despite the fact that, as Dig Ed notes, little to none of the research looked specifically at K-12 learning, I'm willing to barter that the gist of it is right. 'Blended' or 'Hybrid' learning merging digital and f2f has been my go-to for the last two years and I couldn't imagine running a successful paperless classroom any other way.

But that's not the end of the story.

Because also in the article hangs a bit of low-lying fruit in the form of a response to the report by Arne Duncan:
“This new report reinforces that effective teachers need to incorporate digital content into everyday classes and consider open-source learning management systems, which have proven cost effective in school districts and colleges nationwide.”

Problem is: it doesn't seem like the Secretary of Education has any clue what he's talking about.

Teachers don't need to incorporate 'digital content' into anything. You don't teach 'digital content' in a paperless English class; you teach 'English language and literature content' via digital alternatives to paper. You don't teach 'digital content' in a paperless art history class; you teach the content of art history via digital means.

Via the integration of technology, students learn vital networking, communication, and participatory media skills; but this isn't the content of the course.

If anything, in a fully integrated Web 2.0 classroom, it is the students who are creating 'digital content'.

Furthermore, 'open-source' learning doesn't require any management system. You don't need to spend any money on a management system. Nor do you need to spend any money on textbooks. Rather, just spend your money on smart teachers who are savvy enough to know how to put together the content of an authentic course by compiling open-source materials, creating engaged and vigorous lesson plans, and integrating a sophisticated use of social media tools.

Get it?

[Add 6:40PM - My original title for this post was 'Is Arne Duncan a Luddite?' but I decided to pull that. Because Arne obviously is not a Luddite. It's not that he doesn't like or dislike technology. It's that he doesn't understand what's going on. He just doesn't get it. -- Shelly]

Semantic Search

ReadWriteWeb today with a post on what semantic search is (not):
Organized information is not semantic information.

'Semantic Search' may or may not be the way with which we relate to information on the Web in the future.

Are you ready to talk with your students about a deconstruction web? The underlying existing arche-Web that no one yet knows how to tap into?

Because we use language within the Web, the information bound up within it is full of nuance and what could be referred to as hermeneutic and allusory data -- that is data comprised of interpretations and references with a context separate from the data itself.

There's a simple way to think about this. Consider that in any broadcast of a football game, you've got a play-by-play announcer and a color commentator. The play-by-play announcer gives a direct account of the action on the field and the color commentator brings in the interpretations and references to history, anecdotes, and personal stories. Now, using only a transcript of the color commentary, could you reconstruct the game play-by-play?

That mind-bender is sort of the issue at hand with semantic search.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Lifelong Learners Dissent!

Reader Anne:
I disagree with the derogatory slam on "life-long learner". The phrase *is* overused, but I think anyone who is a teacher had better be someone who enjoys learning and does it all the time.... Being a lll doesn't *make* you a good teacher, but I've never met a great teacher who isn't a lll.

Reader Knaus:
Life long learner is a phrase I'm not going to give up. My students know that I work with them. However, they also know that I am always learning something. I share my new knowledge with them. I preach that everything they do is a learning experience and they should seek those out.

For the record: I completely agree with these readers.

It's not 'lifelong learners' I'm against; it's that term. It feels like a term created by a marketing coach or a governmental organization.

Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Walt Whitman, Picasso, and so many other folks could in retrospect be labeled 'lifelong learners'; though I would imagine that all of them would have cringed at the term.

I prefer terms like curious, engaged, active, and experimental.

I'm an adjective guy. I like words like fearless.

I like terms applicable to child and adult alike and devoid of the connotation of jargon. And I've rarely heard folks outside the education world use the term 'lll'.

I also like it when my readers challenge me. That's what a blogger lives for. Keep it up; keep my on my toes!

Social Media and Digital Portfolios for College Admissions

With regard to turning in digital portfolios as a part of college admissions, a reader asks:
How do college admissions officers know the authenticity and validity of these "digital" portfolios. How do I know who the work is from?

The portfolios I am describing are actually the product of four years of the student's classroom and coursework engagement with social media integrated across the high school curriculum.

In other words, the portfolio would consist of the student's four-year blog -- which among other things would include blog post editions of all graded writing and daily work in all disciplines -- as well as the student's social bookmarks, videos and other multi-media, and a variety of participatory media projects that would demonstrate creativity, task determination, and intellectual aptitude in ways that SATs and exam scores just can't.

The validity of the portfolio can easily be weighed up against four years worth of work. In other words, the portfolio would not represent some sort of 'capstone' project, but rather would be an honest reflection of four years of formative development.

Because the majority of the work represented by this portfolio will have been completed within the context of classwork and learning and because the tools used in creating the portfolio are authentic Web 2.0 public tools, there is little threat to the 'rigging' of the portfolio by the student -- time stamps, cross-Web intertextuality, and just plain ongoing teacher assessment of the student's involvement in the daily creation and documentation of a learning portfolio contribute to the authenticity.

I'm not talking about students submitting their MySpace pages to college admissions. I'm talking about students submitting portfolios which demonstrate readiness for college by representing four years of the full application of integrated social media tools in the day-to-day coursework of the student.

Reminder: This Week's Friday Chat Topic -- Professional Development for Educators: What's Social Media Got to Do With It?

The Friday Chat -- 1PM EST -- June 26th
Professional Development for Educators: What's Social Media Got to Do With It?

We'll be talking about the (nearly) 101 ways in which social media provides for more meaningful professional development for teachers and ultimately what that means for our students and the the classroom experience.

The Friday Chat: Hosted by TeachPaperless every Friday at http://todaysmeet.com/teachpaperless

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hire Geeks

Common thinking about what kinds of folks make good 21st century teachers generally runs as follows:
“They’re constantly in the process of being trained and being a lifelong learner,” he says.

The 'he' saying this is Jeff Murphy, a director of instruction for the Florida Virtual School and he's being quoted in a recent article from Education Week.

I cannot tell you how tired I am of hearing this sort of talk.

The last thing I want is to be 'trained' more. And, I'm sorry, but 'lifelong learner' has just worn out its welcome as a catch phrase.

I want teachers who are curious, experimental, sophisticated, and engaged. 'Lifelong learner' sounds like someone taking a woodshop class at the retirement home.

What we really need is to be recruiting more geeks.

I'm talking about folks who don't have to be 'trained' in using technology. I'm talking about people who live and breathe social media and don't understand how you live without it.

That's who we need to be recruiting.

Because that's where our kids are.

And -- even more importantly -- that's where the world our kids are entering into is.


It is painfully obvious to our kids that certain teachers have no clue when it comes to the integration of technology into their classrooms.

And more 'training' ain't gonna help.

Because before you integrate technology into your classroom, you've got to integrate it into your life.

And you should only integrate it into your life in ways that you need and/or want to. The worst thing we can do as a society is to force people into the use of technology -- particularly social technologies -- via training and tech mandates.

That's like forcing a democracy upon another country.

Not a good idea.

Rather, we should model the best practices in the use of technology and give folks the room they need to experiment with the tools so that they can develop personal relationships with them.

In other words: no two people are going to use Twitter the same way.

So don't bother 'training' teachers to use it. Rather, present it; model it; and then give the teachers the time and space to experiment on their own.


The same article cites Kayleen Marble, the lead teacher and writing specialist for the Arizona Virtual Academy, run by K12 Inc.:
“You’re competing with kids who are used to computer games,” she says. To pique students’ interest, Marble adds visuals to her online lessons, such as graphics and video clips, and creates interactive lessons that require students to click and move objects on the computer screen with a mouse.

Are we living in 1983?

We're actually talking about a 'virtual academy' whose idea of what makes a lesson more interactive is that students are 'required' to 'click and move objects on the computer screen with a mouse'?


No wonder there are so many books written about the illusion of the worth of technology in the classroom.

My twin eight-year-olds have their own blogs. We sit down together and play MMOGs. They compose their own musical scores with GarageBand. Do you really think 'pointing and clicking' is the key to engaging them? Do you honestly think they need to be taught how to use a mouse?


We need geeks.

We need them to tell us that we look silly when we talk about technology.

We need them to be our school leaders and not just our technology mentors.

We need geeks running the show.

And let me define 'geeks'.

Geeks are not techies who know nothing but computers. Geeks are 21st century folks for whom digital technology is naturally, casually, and obviously integrated into all aspects of social living.

Geeks -- depending on age -- grew up with a Commodore 64, and then a Nintendo, and then a Sega or an X-Box. Geeks learned to hack software in elementary school. Geeks have had MySpace and Facebook pages so long that they tend to forget how to log in to them if they are not on a computer with their password saved.

And there is no one type of geek.

There are Liberal Arts geeks. And Science geeks. And math geeks. And music geeks. And history geeks. And art geeks. And sports geeks.

Yes. Sports geeks. And lots of 'em.

Looks to me like the folks who are so terrified about 21st century style education just don't understand geeks.

We're not here to computerize and dehumanize you. In fact, we'd rather stop the bickering and let you do your thing while we get on giving our kids an authentic 21st century education. If you need a hand, let us know. But if you think we're going to tell you what to do, forget it. That's really not how most of us think.

We're not here to 'train' you.

The Thrill of an Old Mac

I am getting ready for NECC 2009.

Just spent the evening finding a new battery for my old workhorse iBook G4. I've been everywhere with this computer and it's taken me everywhere else. Half of the keys are missing the letters (good thing I learned to type in grade school). Several keys stick (but I know which ones, so I feel sort of like Larry Bird must have felt on the old parquet of the Boston Garden). There's a deep gash in the corner where a piece of audio equipment fell on it. And the whole thing is covered in a strange grime that I like to refer to as a 'patina'.

But it's a hell of a computer.

I souped it up to the max RAM and stripped it of anything but the essentials. I like to think of it as the REAL netbook.

And it's a Power PC. The real deal. 1.2 GHz of pure pony car computing.

So when you see me at NECC, say hi. And tell my Mac that her new battery looks great.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

ISTE is taking it to the Hill

ISTE is taking it to the Hill:
ISTE is taking advantage of NECC being in the nation's capital by providing you with the opportunity to go to the Hill and share your ideas and success stories with your Senators and Congressional Members.

And, in preparation, they have just launched their Twitter Advocacy Group:
To get involved and see what people are posting you need to follow us at http://twitter.com/isteadvocacy and then follow the group.

I'll be following all of this action next week and will be updating this blog many times daily and live-blogging via Cover it Live. Follow my Tweets via @TeachPaperless for the most recent info.

Monday, June 22, 2009

AACE University Social Media Seminar Series

Nice new series on the place of social media in education being hosted by George Siemens and David Cormier as the AACE University Social Media Seminar Series.
"Social Media: Trends and Implications for Learning" will explore the impact of new technologies, research, and related projects.

What does it all mean? Do long term trends and change cycles exist in the constant change? What patterns are emerging?

And, perhaps most importantly, should academics and education leaders respond?

Seminars are free and will be held the Second Tuesday of each month, 2PM CST (I think that's 3PM EST).

This Week's Friday Chat - Professional Development for Educators: What's Social Media Got to Do With It?

By special request, this week's Friday Chat will be on the topic:

Professional Development for Educators: What's Social Media Got to Do With It?

We'll be talking about the (nearly) 101 ways in which social media provides for more meaningful professional development for teachers and ultimately what that means for our students and the the classroom experience.

The Friday Chat: Hosted by TeachPaperless every Friday at http://todaysmeet.com/teachpaperless

Social Media in Pakistan

Twitterer @josiefraser turned me on to an article posted back in February by Henry Jenkins. It's a piece looking at Huma Yusuf's work on the role of social media in Pakistan.

Well worth a look by educators looking for more authentic analysis of social media to put in their intellectual arsenal against the forces of blocking. I've saved it and commented on a few parts via Diigo.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Real Time Learning

A reader writes:
I know my students are always asking "why am I learning this". With social media as the initial introduction, they might never ask that question again. Things are happening in the "real" world in "real" time. They will see the need for educating themselves.

They will see the need if we model it to them. That's part of what it takes to be a 21st century teacher: you must model authentic and connected real-time learning.

Owning Knowledge: thoughts about the 'Ethic of the Link'

Great interview with Jay Rosen on social media and journalism that I think bears a lot of importance for educators.

Pay close attention to the comments made concerning the "Ethic of the Link" around 4:27:
"You don't just use the web to tell people stuff, you send them to where they can learn more.... to connect people with sources of knowledge that they can use themselves so that they're not dependent on you all the time to tell them something else."

That's what we want to happen in the classroom. As we discussed concerning the Pappas article from a couple of days ago, if a student is always looking for teacher validation, that student will be lost once they leave the classroom.

We need students to validate themselves.

So, we shouldn't be giving information to the students. We should be giving students links to the information and then we should hold them responsible for following and searching the links. Classtime itself should be a conversation, a debriefing, a discussion based on what the students found.

Now, this is not unlike asking a student to go read an article so that we can discuss it tomorrow. Except in that few students are going to read a piece of paper and then, autodidactically, go off and try to find out more information. But via links, the student enters into a Web of information navigable in an inviting way; personal interest and self-motivation is cued by curiosity and made accessible by simple access to more links. And, of course in the fluid and social world of links available via Twitter, Diigo, and the like, the student actually becomes part of the process of the creation of knowledge itself. The result is ultimately one of activating ownership.

The process of actively accessing sources of knowledge rather than expecting the passive reception culled from the distribution of knowledge is the defining feature of a successful academic mindset.

We want the student to own knowledge, not lease it until the exam is through.

Dodge City

Quote of the Month from NashWorld:
Web 2.0 must look a bit like the wild west compared to the pricey and packaged comfort of a content management system like Blackboard, WebCT, or E-Companion. But think about it: a constructivist classroom probably does look like Dodge City to the vast majority of people who were educated in the neat and tidy rows of desks in the American schools of our past.

The Revolution Will Be Complementary?

Ethan Zuckerman has got a piece on protest and social media that's required reading over at ...My Heart's in Accra.
The use of social media for protest - especially to promote a protest to international audiences - is far from unique.

Hmm... I'm interested. Do tell.
I’ve been asking some of the reporters I’ve spoken with where they were on other recent social media and protest stories. Citizen media has emerged as one of the key spaces for journalism in Fiji in the wake of a coup government that’s censoring mainstream media. It’s been a key source of information in Madagascar as that country’s suffered through a violent change of government. (One reporter who I mentioned this to remarked that Madagascar was “just a speck of an island somewhere”. That speck is twice the size of Great Britain and has the population of Australia…) In Guatemala, online media publicized the assasination of a lawyer by forces close to the president… and government authorities began arresting people for twittering the story to amplify it. These weren’t huge stories for most newspapers - the Iran story is huge not because of the social media aspect, but because protests in Iran are a huge story independent of citizen media.

In all these cases, it looks like the real role of social media is in amplifying the story to a broader audience. In a sense, that is the current role of social media in the synergy with established traditional media which we described yesterday.

The shift is that through critical mass, social media is now able to make the stories we used to tell around the kitchen table or at the corner bar now available immediately as a primary source to the world's media.

So, the stories themselves are going to have a different feel or focus.

In a way, as a musician, I can't help but see in the amateur video coming from the streets of Tehran the same sort of ethos that was present and has been instrumental in the lo-fi and documentary movements in audio recording. It's about getting the moment on tape, all else be damned.

In a way, it's a perfect complement to the remarkable on-the-street professional reporting of pros like Roger Cohen whose recent NY Times Op-Ed is one of the best pieces of writing I've read in ages.

How about: "The Revolution Will Be Complementary"?


I agree with Zuckerman that the Iran story is huge not because of social media as the focus but because it's a big story regardless.

However, the secondary impact is that the Iran story is in fact a big story for social media. In reality, the biggest yet.

Perhaps even, the game changer.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

This Web is Your Web

This Web is Your Web
by Shelly Blake-Plock

with apologies to Woody Guthrie
sing to the tune of This Land is Your Land

This Web is your Web, this Web is my Web
From the semantic to The Atlantic
Chicago Tribune to Tehran dorm room
This Web was made for you and me.

As I was surfing along the highspeed
I saw before me the streaming HD
I saw before me my MMOG
This Web was made for you and me.


I’ve hacked and searched her and I’ve followed my Tweet feed
Through the sparkling falls of her Twittered RTs
And all around me a Skype was sounding
This Web was made for you and me.


RSS digest as I was scrolling
Higlighted Diigo and Flickr photo
Facebook was downtime, Ustream a goldmine
This Web was made for you and me.


As I was surfing, I saw a block there
And that block said: no authorization
But with a proxy, I was scot-free
Now that site was made for you and me!


In the halls of high schools, in the shadow of the filter
Near the principal’s office, I see my teachers
And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin'
If this Web’s still made for you and me.

This Web is your Web, this Web is my Web
From the semantic to The Atlantic
Chicago Tribune to Tehran dorm room
This Web was made for you and me.

Summer Assignment for Teachers

Here's a list of 5 things you can do over the summer to prepare your paperless classroom for the new school year.

1. Start a blog. It doesn't matter who you are or what you do. You have something to say. So say it. Say more of it everyday. A blog is the hub around which a paperless classroom rotates. The more comfortable you are at blogging and reading blogs, the more comfortable you will be teaching in a paperless classroom.

2. Start a Diigo account. I've been following the Diigo-ing and Diigo-speak of many folks and finally decided to take the plunge myself. I plan on spending all summer learning everything I can about how to use social bookmarking. And in the fall, I am going to make it a mandatory practice for students in my classes.

3. Tweet, Tweet, Tweet. Forget what everybody has told you about Twitter. Forget everything you've read about it. Hype is hype is hype. Just sign up, follow some ed techies, and enter a new world. It will prove to be a Professional Development experience unlike any other. You will kick yourself for not having signed up earlier.

4. Follow the debates concerning traditional media and social media. As regular readers know, this is something which has very much been on my mind lately. My current thinking is this: the #IranElection feed changed everything. It didn't 'replace' mainstream media, rather it forced a critical eye onto the inherent problems within it. And -- most importantly -- in a way that took popular imagination by storm. Are professional journalists necessary? Absolutely. But are the top-down corporate organizations which provide them with jobs singularly necessary? That's the question that's up in the air. That's a question they are asking in Seattle. And in Boston. And in Chicago. And in Baltimore. What's the future of media? Well, I think the type of synergy we've seen in the last eight days between professional savvy and amateur ingenuity marks the way forward. Because the best thing that that synergy can create is a more engaged citizenry; and the more engaged the citizenry, the higher the quality of the output of social media. We have the opportunity here to organize and educate a more sophisticated and engaged society.

5. Prepare your talking points. There are two major obstacles to starting any paperless movement: blocking and access. The events of the last days, as well as the plethora of examples of Twitter in the classroom that have been popping up across the blogosphere, should aid in bolstering your arguments against the former. As for the latter, it is our duty as educators and citizens to advocate for free universal Wi-Fi and universal mobile hardware in all of our schools and public libraries. Movements in major cities such as Philadelphia and Minneapolis have demonstrated that universal Wi-Fi does not have to be a dream. The dropping of the prices of Netbooks and Smart Phones below the cost of textbooks has mooted the cost argument; now it's just a matter of the allocation of resources and the educating of teachers in how to best use this stuff.

Have a fun, safe, and productive summer. There's plenty to learn between now and the new school year.

Quick Change

Noam Cohen with a sober look at Twitter.
Political revolutions are often closely linked to communication tools. The American Revolution wasn’t caused by the proliferation of pamphlets, written to whip colonists into a frenzy against the British. But it sure helped.

Both reasonable in tone and revolutionary in the sense that this is hardly what we would have expected the Times to have said about social networking back in the silly days of MySpace.

A lot has changed over the past two years. Time to take it all in and process.

The Revolution is Synergy

It doesn't have to be either/or. The revolution in media is not about traditional media vs. social media; it's about a newly possible synergy between the two.

Synergy. That's what we can offer our students.
Posted from Diigo.

The Conversation on #IranElections

Absolutely vivid discussion/argument/whateveryouwannacallit going on the last few days in the comments to a post on Weblogg-ed titled "#IranElections: Why We All Need to be Editors Now".

Read it. Comment. Diigo it up.

Ignore at your own risk.

Friday, June 19, 2009

School Games

Generation Yes blog reports on recent EU research on Games in Schools.

This on the heels of the Games, Learning, and Society Conference, and the upcoming opening of the Quest to Learn School in the Fall of 2009.

Naysayers gird yourselves with Pong-addiction horror stories. Let's see where this goes.

Social Media's Possible Effects on Assessment, College Admissions, Identity, and Critical Thinking

Engaging discussion this afternoon at the Friday Chat. The topic of discussion concerned the ways in which social media will have an effect on assessment. Going back over the transcript of the chat, three things really struck out at me.

The first was how social media could effect college admissions -- and not in the sense of colleges looking for pictures from high school parties, but from the perspective of how a four-year social media portfolio might demonstrate more about the student's academic, intellectual, and creative capacities than a list of scores on exams ever could.

Second, we discussed the connections between authentic assessment and identity. I discussed this in a post yesterday and have had a lot of conversations about it today. I think it's one to give some real thought to, especially as we see the role of social media becoming more ubiquitous in all aspects of life.

Finally, we had an interesting talk about 'Critical Mass' as a teaching and assessment tool. I am fascinated by the possibilities of using Twitterfall and other forms of real-time search to facilitate critical thinking.

Here are clips from the chat:

On social media, assessment, and college admissions:
I agree w/ critical mass assessment. For a bottom-line oriented community, though, pointing toward a corpus of work might create conflicts. as in -- "this isn't quantifiable...how did you come up with these grades?" Sadly, more earnest assessment isn't always easy to explain. Nate at 3:25 PM, 19 Jun 2009 via web

I think that's changing. I think the final push will be when colleges completely stop accepting AP scores and move to student portfolios. Shelly at 3:26 PM, 19 Jun 2009 via web

As a result, I think teachers then create assessments that are retrograde b/c those structures are easy to perceive as being authoritative. Nate at 3:27 PM, 19 Jun 2009 via web

'Authority' is on the way out. Shelly at 3:27 PM, 19 Jun 2009 via web

I hope it's changing. Unfortunately, secondary schools w/ more clout w/ colleges are perhaps more able to take these kinds of risks. I'll have to ask some of my friends in college counseling how they perceive these types of portfolios. Nate at 3:27 PM, 19 Jun 2009 via web

The 'clout' issue... I think there may be a subtext there with regard to grade inflation. Shelly at 3:29 PM, 19 Jun 2009 via web

It'd be great if students could include on their college application a blog that they've curated for four years and shows intell. growth. Nate at 3:29 PM, 19 Jun 2009 via web

Admissions Counselors are savvy. They know what those scores mean. I think admissions wd prefer four-year portfolios. Shelly at 3:30 PM, 19 Jun 2009 via web

can you expand on what that subtext of grade inflation is? Nate at 3:30 PM, 19 Jun 2009 via web

And once they put the muscle of scholarship and financial aid money behind it: watch out! Goodnight AP exams. Shelly at 3:30 PM, 19 Jun 2009 via web

that'd be great. I think the CB tests do emphasize some important intell. skills, but the institution is just out to make $. Nate at 3:31 PM, 19 Jun 2009 via web

A friend told me a story that when he first came to this country from afar as a teacher, he was giving lot's of low-Bs as his highest grades Shelly at 3:32 PM, 19 Jun 2009 via web

Pandemonium ensued. Shelly at 3:32 PM, 19 Jun 2009 via web

That's the subtext of grade inflation. Shelly at 3:32 PM, 19 Jun 2009 via web

yeah, the issue of grade inflation is rampant at my school presently. Demographic fears (e.g. a top 10% policy) has created a ground-swell movement for higher grades across the board believing that will help. Nate at 3:33 PM, 19 Jun 2009 via web

Universities, more than ever before, are international. What do you think is going to happen to US students w/o changes in assessment? Shelly at 3:33 PM, 19 Jun 2009 via web

On the connections between authentic assessment and identity:
I also think that social media and blogging is a good way for students to really distinguish themselves and create a clear identity. Nate at 3:35 PM, 19 Jun 2009 via web

The 'identity of intellect'. Pappas wrote about this yesterday; I did a follow-up. Absolutely vital to student success. Shelly at 3:36 PM, 19 Jun 2009 via web

beyond assessment, I think social media helps clearly communicate that the teacher is also simultaneously learning from the students. Nate at 3:38 PM, 19 Jun 2009 via web

Students need to be connected to and validate one another; that's a successful society. Can't just be looking for approval from top. Shelly at 3:38 PM, 19 Jun 2009 via web

and that community-construction helps foster an 'identity of intellect' that you mentioned. Nate at 3:39 PM, 19 Jun 2009 via web

Recognition of teacher learning is a form of good modeling. In seeking information and analyzing info, we model intellect. Shelly at 3:39 PM, 19 Jun 2009 via web

Using Twitterfall in assessments to teach critical thinking:
how do you articulate the concept of "critical mass" to students? It seems a rather nebulous idea. Do you outline it on your syllabus? Nate at 3:42 PM, 19 Jun 2009 via web

We look at it in the 'real-world' and discuss what it means. Twitterfall is hands-down the best example for the kids. And the fun thing about Twitterfall is that it can be anything from the silliness of celebrity to the seriousness of warzone events. Shelly at 3:44 PM, 19 Jun 2009 via web

interesting idea about using Twitterfall to see meaningful vs. non- or less-meaningful postings, thoughts, etc. Nate at 3:44 PM, 19 Jun 2009 via web

Exactly. All a matter of being able to evaluate good writing and validate or invalidate sources. Shelly at 3:45 PM, 19 Jun 2009 via web

that's also a great idea for teaching students to read for POV/perspective; how to understand bias and pay attention to the source's origin. Nate at 3:46 PM, 19 Jun 2009 via web

Heck, I can tell you this: teaching bias via Twitterfall makes teaching Caesar and Augustus a piece-of-cake. Shelly at 3:47 PM, 19 Jun 2009 via web

yes, primary sources are opaque for students w/out contrasting it with contemporary primary sources--the bias, context, etc. students know. Nate at 3:49 PM, 19 Jun 2009 via web

Rescheduled Friday Chat

For folks following this feed live: there was a screw up re: todays's Friday Chat.

I'm the screw up.

Here's the deal: I'm going to try to run a rescheduled session at 3PM EST today. I'll be there, let's see who shows.

The topic will be: How Will Social Media Effect the Future of Assessment?

How will the integration of social media into assessment effect the authority of final exams and high stakes tests as 'authentic' indicators of student understanding and achievement?

The Friday Chat: Hosted by TeachPaperless every Friday at http://todaysmeet.com/teachpaperless

Debate at NECC 2009: Ask Them About Blocking in a Post-#IranElection World

Interested in hearing what the ISTE sponsored NECC 2009 Oxford Debate has to say about Internet and Social Media Blocking post-#IranElection?

Me too.

They are currently collecting ideas for questions to be asked at the debate. Click here to support their asking a question regarding blocking.

It's too important an issue to let slide.

Think about it: this is all about making authentic connections. And so long as Web 2.0 is blocked to students and teachers, we will never be able to give the kids an authentic 21st century education.

And what would that mean to our future?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

I Think 'Common Sense Media' didn't do their Homework

Was considering posting about the Common Sense Media silliness about kids using technology to cheat, but Michael Kaechele beat me to it with an excellent post.
First of all, where are the teachers in the classroom administering the tests? I think cheating is not that easy if teachers are paying attention while they administer tests.... Cheating has been around for ages before we had cell phones. Don't blame phones for students behavior.

More importantly teachers should re-evaluate their tests. If tests are really at high-level thinking requiring analysis, evaluation, synthesis, and application then they should be "cheat-proof." It is much easier to cheat on multiple choice or fill in the blank than on a test that actually requires thinking, interpreting, and students writing their own opinion.

Absolutely agree.

Validation and Authenticity

Interesting post over at Copy / Paste concerning student perceptions of what their answers mean to a teacher.
Students learn that their comments are of provisional value until "approved" by the teacher. Over time, students stop listening to each other and only focus on what the teacher says or validates.

I'm interested in how this observation applies to technology in the classroom.

There's been a lot of talk over whether or not technology 'helps' students see things more broadly, let alone whether it helps students take part in the learning process in a more authentic and effective manner.

The fact of the matter is, when it comes to the value of technology, it's all a matter of how you use it.

If your laptop/LCD setup is merely being used as a flashy overhead projector, then you might as well not be using it. If you are just using ed software to give easily graded multiple choice tests, then you might as well go with the Scantron.

The successful 21st century classroom will be the one in which the teacher's and the students' minds and the teacher's and the students' technology work seamlessly towards facilitating a fluid, transparent, open ended discussion between the teacher, the students, and the expanse of the connected network. It is a classroom that integrates authentic globally connected social media and authentic face-to-face conversation together into a learning reality.

Because when it comes to the matter of student validation, it's a matter of authenticity.

The whole thing revolves around a teacher who understands how to use and is comfortable working in a connected environment and who sets a tone of learning that suggests to the students that their answers carry the weight of intellectual identity and should be more than vain attempts to mimic what the teacher 'wants'.

The whole thing revolves around a teacher who understands how to integrate social media in such a way that the students are responding to one another and taking part in the big conversation beyond the classroom walls.

Otherwise, the students only learn to seek validity. And as Pappas states:
With no teacher to validate their comments, they naturally gravitate to other subjects where peer comments are valued - "what are you doing this weekend?"

Friday Chat: How Will Social Media Effect the Future of Assessment?

In my class, blogging is the primary form of assessment. Everything from vocab dictation quizzes to student posts on the ties between history and current events gets thrown up onto the students' blogs.

I originally started doing this as a way to develop portfolio reviews so that the students would have an easy-to-use resource for studying for the exams. Along the way, I discovered that the blogs themselves were a much better indicator of student understanding than the exams.

Now I'm weighing whether the exams are even worth it.

This Week's Friday Chat will be at 1PM EST on June 19th

The topic will be: How Will Social Media Effect the Future of Assessment?

How will the integration of social media into assessment effect the authority of final exams and high stakes tests as 'authentic' indicators of student understanding and achievement?

The Friday Chat: Hosted by TeachPaperless every Friday at http://todaysmeet.com/teachpaperless

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Implications of #IranElection for Social Media in the Classroom

For the last several days, I've been consumed by this Iran story. I apologize if any of you think I've just been wasting blog space. I realize that in the heat of the moment I have not always been the most discrete concerning my statements on the media, but regular readers of this blog will long have since recognized that shortness of tact is just part and parcel of my prose.

Getting to the matter at hand: I just want to state for the record that I believe that two things have happened this week, give or take whatever the end result is in Tehran.

First, the Iranian people have protested their government in ways that seem unimaginable not so very long ago.

Their lives have changed.

Second, the use of Twitter to get information into and out of Iran -- being so important that the US State Department even got involved -- has demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt the legitimate importance of social media to societies.

All of our lives have changed.

As a teacher, my thoughts rest on what this all means for my students. And in thinking about it over the last few days, I see this as possibly a watershed moment in terms of what it means for the blocking/access debate.

I've posted in the sidebar to teachpaperless.com a section compiling all of my posts on #IranElection and what that feed means for the future of social media in education.

Read through; digest; and comment back with ideas, suggestions, and criticisms. As with most things these days, this blog depends on your continued generous sharing of ideas.


Spoke with someone from cK-12 during the last Friday Chat. Our topic was the future of textbooks and she came into the discussion to present the open source point-of-view.

Here's a link to the cK-12 site. Check it out; I'd be interested in hearing what folks think.

Specifically, she was interested in what sorts of Web and Web 2.0 resources teachers would want integrated into an open source textbook platform. Apparently right now they are working with Wikipedia and Facebook. My vote was for Diigo, Twitter, and the full range of Wikimedia resources.

Contact cK-12 directly and give them your ideas.

On the Media: Eyes on the Ground

Pulled an early post from this morning because it really didn't say what I wanted it to. It's so easy as a blogger to just put stuff out there and forget about it. So I wanted to do this post right.

In all the talk about traditional media and social media, between cable news and Twitter, between that generation and this generation... there has been one thing vitally missing: the people involved.

Thank god for Robert Fisk. His reporting from the streets of Baghdad comes in the best tradition of in-the-moment reporters stemming from Edward R. Murrow right up to the present. Without these reporters, news is just a sham.

Thank god also for the students and Twitterers inside Iran who have risked so much to show to the world what their country is going through. They too have a little Murrow in them.

It's easy, in the heat of battle as-it-were, to sling arrows with little regard for where they fall. Fisk and his ilk deserve better than to be compared to studio reporters who wouldn't know a story if it exploded in front of them. And the Iranian Twitterers deserve better than to be written off or -- even worse -- merely defined by their medium.

When it comes down to the brass tacks, good reporting isn't about whether you publish in the New York Times or whether you Tweet from a college dorm in Tehran. It's about whether you are honest about what you see.

Changes are taking place in front of our eyes. The mainstream media will not be the same after the events that have taken place in Iran. Not if they can be honest with themselves.

Likewise, the role of social media has changed. When you have the US Department of State telling Twitter not to shut down for scheduled maintenance in the midst of the protests, you know we have transcended the old criticisms of social media as a meaningless trend.

This is the world our students are growing up in. And more than anything, I hope that the events of the past days will change the way school leaders view social media.

But even more important than that, I hope for all humanities' sake, we recognize the value in having eyes on the ground with connections to the rest of us.

The Connection

Speaking of thought provoking, check out the work being done over at elearnspace:
...being a literate person is not so much about what you know, but about how you know things are connected.

This is a riff on the old adage that it's not what you know, but how you know. I like the extension to connectedness; it feels right. Because we really are living through times -- as the examples of #IranElection and Twitterfall have demonstrated wholeheartedly -- in which understanding how to read the connection is crucial to the understanding of the content or situation at hand.

Just yesterday I got in a comments-argument with a fellow Web-citizen over the value of traditional media versus social media. What amounted to a lot of bickering really made me pause upon reflection this morning that really it's just a matter of how we read the connections made by either media.

It was my interloper's perspective that traditional media was more authoritative because the reporters are professionals. My argument against that is that because they are professionals, they are bound by the customs of their institutions -- whether we're talking about the ethics of their profession or the top-down management of news via the hierarchy that exists in corporate media.

It was my perspective that, though there are obviously dubious positions that will emerge, by and large the critical mass of the blogosphere actually keeps things relatively honest; thereby, videos and pictures and news reports Tweeted by amateurs-on-the-street are just as viable a news source as any professionally tweaked report. Now, an argument can certainly be made that mass-made anonymous media could easily be rife with untruth. Point taken.

In the end result, what it really comes down to is understanding the connection.

How is the traditional reporter connecting to you; what are the filters? Editors? Advertising dollars?

How is the amateur-on-the-street connecting to you? What are the motives? Biases?

We have always taught our students to be aware of bias. But now it's taken a new turn. And it's the turn that hints at the dilemma in 21st century media. Big corporate machines vs. Mr. Nobody. It's an age old story; but now, Mr. Nobody has equal billing.

Make the connections.

Smart Mobs on Mob Smarts

Smart Mobs has got a wealth of thought provoking posts regarding the links between mobile communication, networking, and social action.

Some of this is disturbing stuff; some of it is compelling in its witness of human compassion. All of it is very telling of the ethical and analytical dilemmas faced by a society living within a global network.

And I would consider Rheingold's book to be required reading -- especially for teachers.

Because students ask teachers questions. And though we may rarely -- if ever -- have the answers, we can at least give context. That's what this book does.

It gives the context for understanding social change in these networked times.

And by reflecting on the nature of the societal changes brought about by social networking, we teachers can have a better understanding of the context in which our students' questions are asked.

Twitter Search: a primer

Useful Common Craft video explanation of Twitter Search via Open Learning.

Real-time search is now.

Block at Your Own Peril

Regarding the manifest ways in which social media outdid MSM concerning the ongoing Iran protests, The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf writes:
Are we approaching a point where political information is processed so fast that an event happens, information elites weigh in to shape the discourse surrounding it, the conventional wisdom is communicated to Congress, and elected leaders formulate reactions based on public opinion... all before most of even the formerly plugged in members of the public ever learn what on earth is going on, or have a chance to form an opinion? Is anyone who works at a company that blocks their Facebook feed going to be meaningfully disadvantaged in the political process? Egalitarian concerns aside, are the information elites going to set a course, ossify as they always do in their opinions, and influence the nation's course too hastily? Are we on course for a kind of political singularity?

And I respond: Only if we fail to teach our schoolchildren how to use and process social media.

Block at your peril.