A School is People Learning: Revisited

Forgive me for waxing a bit philosophical here, but I want to spend a bit of time revisiting my mantra for education…A School is People Learning. I first wrote about it here during NYSCATE last year, and reaffirmed it here just before this school year started. This year’s NYSCATE brought it back again.

At Milton Chen’s keynote, he showed the terrific video, Animal School. Take 5 minutes now to watch it if you have not seen it. I could not see the video very well during the keynote, and until it was just re-sent to me, I did not realize how powerful it is. It goes to the heart of our primary goal in schools – people. Our customers, our students, are the majority of the people in the school, and although they come in with unique talents, strengths, and weaknesses, it seems like all we do is teach to the test, and beat back all the things that will make each child do their best.

There is no simple solution to making things better for every person, and we do an incredible amount here everyday to foster our students’ strengths. This video is a reminder for me to try just a bit harder, or try something different, because our students depend on us to. dog.jpg

Image citation:

Bondseye. Pose. Photograph. 2007. Flickr. 29 Nov. 2007 <http://www.flickr.com/photos/32731319@N00/492552952>.

Synthesizing NYSCATE #2 – Is Google Big Brother?

nyscate2007.jpgLet me begin by saying that Google is awesome. The breadth and depth of tools coming out of Google each day is unreal. This post is not meant to be a “paranoia” reaction. Its just something nagging in the back of my mind. I’ll try to voice it and see if it makes sense.

At NYSCATE, I attended 2 sessions in which the various tools of Google were presented. Some are true Google creations (Blogger, Earth, Maps, Reader, etc.), and some are independent, but linked to Google (GoogleLitTrips). There were 5 sessions at the conference which focused on some aspect of Google. They have even started a network of educators, “Google Certified Teachers.” For me personally, I have trained on it – I was a co-presenter for a hands-on workshop 2 years ago at NYSCATE on using Google.

One of the hottest tools in recent years is Gmail. The web based email has a unique conversation hierarchy, and 5GB of storage. You can archive, rather than delete, email, resulting in the ability to track down old messages you want. You’ll notice the contact at the top of this blog is my Gmail account.

Blogger was a great independent blogging site that Google purchased and made better. It’s easy to create and begin publishing a blog, and there are awesome examples of how Blogger blogs are lighting classrooms on fire (you must see apcalc07.blogspot.com right now if you never have before!)

Web History is a newer tool (I believe) which can remember all of your web searches from the point that you activate it. You can go back and review old searches to find information you are trying to recall.

Google Docs may well mark the end of the stronghold of Microsoft Office. Docs has word processing, spreadsheet, and, just recently added, presentation files available for creation and sharing. More than that, online collaboration is available with multiple users simultaneously editing the same document. Those of us from my district who attended NYSCATE are collaborating on a presentation file to summarize our take-aways from the conference. Its a simple and powerful way to bring people together virtually.

I ‘ve really just begun to talk about what’s available. I hear many people, rightfully so, singing the praises of Google. So where is my issue? I think it comes down to the fact that all this information is stored on Google servers (a joy for any IT department since they do not have to worry about storage). Its not that I’m worried about server failure or space. Terabytes of storage are added everyday to the Google “cloud.” Its that Google is a business. Businesses are in the business of making money. In this age of Google frenzy, millions of people a day are storing information on these servers that can be used to profile them for future use. It is an advertising/marketing holy grail, far better than any grocery store loyalty card.

By no means am I accusing Google of doing nefarious things. My concern is that we are placing a lot of eggs in one basket, and that at the end of the day, a for-profit company holds the handle of the basket. This is where I hear myself sounding paranoid – I’m not a paranoid type. Microsoft got into the OS and productivity software game early, and came on strong. Google got into the Internet game early and is coming on extremely strong. There is much talk that they will be at the table when bidding opens in January for the 700mhz bandwitdth auction by the FCC.

Maybe this is my subconscious reacting to the riveting Epic 2014 video that I first saw a couple of years ago (take the 8 minutes now to watch it if you have not seen it). I can best sum it up by recalling something from the Constructivist Celebration pre-conference workshop on Saturday. I briefly spoke with Gary Stager and told him how I appreciated his tendency to disagree with many educational technologists. The comment he made (I’m paraphrasing here) was: If everyone thinks something is a good thing, there is something inherently bad about it (keep in mind our brief conversation was not about Google at all – this is me re-purposing his comment in my context).

Well, that’s more than enough about this. If you managed to read this far, I would love your feedback. Tell me I’m just plain paranoid, or tell me to get a life, or anything else. But if you’ll excuse me, I have to go now. I have to go check the RSS feeds in my iGoogle account.

Hey – I’m In This Video!

Some “party crashers” (aka learners from another workshop) dropped into our Web 2.0 workshop with David Jakes on Sunday. They were learning movie making and took the opportunity to interview Dave. There are audio issues where the camera person is heard more than the subjects, but here is the product of their learning, posted as they intended to the world. Nice Job! You’ll see me in the back on the left side, next to my new friend Andy from Ithaca.

Synthesizing NYSCATE #1 – Personal Learning Environments

nyscate2007.jpgThere was no specific session on the topic of personal learning environments (PLEs), but the concept came up many times throughout the conference as what we need to do to move forward with the new, connected, world of learning. Basically, a PLE is a learner-centered starting point, or gathering place, for an individual to create a customized space to manage his/her window to the world. See the Wikipedia article for a good overview.

A PLE make take the form of a blog, a wiki, or a customizable start page such as iGoogle or NetVibes. Obviously it is an online presence, and includes the ability to aggregate RSS feeds and link to multiple content sources. There are larger PLE environments created in the last seven years or so. One example referenced through more than one source in the Wikipedia article is Elgg.

Why did PLEs come up regularly at NYSCATE? Simple – web 2.0 tools put learning at our fingertips. We need a place to manage all this information in a way that is simple, meaningful and powerful. Attendees of NYSCATE are tech-oriented, and as such are much more likely to do some sort of PLE. For me, its a combination of iGoolge as a start page, this blog for writing, Bloglines for aggregating, and del.icio.us for bookmarking. Google can handle just about all of those jobs if I want it to – that’s something I’m pondering now (but a separate post is coming soon about that…).

More importantly, if we want to push our schools forward, both teachers and students need to learn about and use PLEs, so they can take advantage of the world of learning available to them. This is the first step, and why it has synthesized as a major take-away for me. In our district we are going to be meeting soon to reflect on the conference and share where to go next (we’re going to use a Google presentation file to collaborate on our thoughts), and I’m going to suggest PLEs as a key idea.

Connecting the Classroom: Helping Student Build Global Learning Networks w/Will Richardson – NYSCATE

While the title of this session was clear, Will started by inviting the conversation to go in any desired direction. We traversed many topics during the hour with some interesting points and conversations. Of note:

  • Will linked the session into usstream.tv and broadcast video/audio live via the Internet. He “advertised” the session stream via Twitter, and a dozen or so peole from around the world jumped into the chat space and had a sidebar conversation along with us. Very interesting global connection here!
  • Comment from Will (I think): If teachers do not use new tools, they won’t do it with their students.
  • Conversation: How do we as professionals maintain balance in this new world of connected tools? I call this the on-the-plate/off-the-plate discussion. For me personally, newspapers and TV are a thing of the past. Gone. Done. Stopped paying for cable a couple of years ago. That’s where I found the time to “plug-in” to the network.
  • Comment from usstream.tv chat room: Professional Development should be embedded in the curriculum areas and learning, not focused on technology.
  • Bell ringing comment of the session, from a session participant: Schools are still designed for a teaching culture – not a learning culture. Pow. Exactly. This is what needs to change.

No clear path to the discussion, but very interesting places we went…

Various Sessions at NYSCATE

Playing a bit of catch up here – there is so much to see/do/learn that time flies by. I’m going to reflect on a few different sessions from yesterday/today.

  • Sunday Keynote w/Marco Torres: Marco is a wonderful and inspirational person. Its easy to see why he is so successful with his students. It was a delight to listen to him share about connecting with students. I especially like how he focuses on music to make the connection.
  • Monday Morning Keynote w/Gary Marx: I first heard of Gary Marx and the Sixteen Trends during the opening day of school this year for teachers. Our superintendent talked about the trends, and I was very interested to learn more. Gary is a very entertaining speaker, but the amount of information (and number of slides) presented was too much, too fast. I think I’m going to have to get the book and try to digest it at a more manageable pace.
  • Leading from the Inside Out w/Pete Reilly: Pete spoke about the 3 major components of leadership – vision, best practices, and personal practice. He focused on the latter, and specifically on the fact that all learning about leadership is intellectual, and that leaders need time to learn to embody the skills they know intellectually. He demonstrated some simple techniques for “walking the walk” of leadership, starting with making a declaration every day (week, month, etc.) about improving a skill (for example, active listening). This was my first opportunity to hear Pete in action. I’ve heard great things about what he has been doing for NYSCATE – it’s very clear why. Pete presentation style was focused, thought-provoking, participatory and engaging. He closed with the poem, The Way It Is by William Stafford.
  • Monday Afternoon Keynote w/Milton Chen: I’ve been a huge Edutopia fan for a few years now. He shared many things that the GLEF is doing, as well as many examples of types of experiences we should be having kids do. Videos of note were A New Day for Learning and Animal School. Milton gave part of his speaker fee to fund an additional grant for NYSCATE for next year – how awesome!
  • Google’s Cool Tools for Teachers and Students w/Carol LaRow and Tom Short: Carol and Tom presented on many of the tools that Google has come out with. Carol is an author for the Google Lit Trips.

Well, that’s enough for one day – sorry for the amount of writing – just trying to keep up with the amount of information going by…but the good news is the synthesizing posts are starting to form..those couple of thoughts that rise to the top as to what to focus on, what the overall take-aways are.

Digital Storytelling 2.0 with David Jakes – NYSCATE

The presentation resources can be found  on David’s wiki page.

One of the reasons I’ve followed David’s work for a while is his focus on digital storytelling. In this session he talked about the fundamentals of good stories, and about his influence and work with the Center for Digital Storytelling. The key to developing good stories is to start with a personal narrative, share in a circle, and discover what the true story is. Then, bring that out and build it up with images. There needs to be a fundamental theme to the story in order to be effecitve.

The focus of the session was on the new tools now coming online to support digital storytelling. Rather than having software on the local computer, it lives on the internet, accesible from anywhere. Not all these tools are ready for prime time, but this is where storytelling is going…

New Media
Flickr and Flikr Storm. In Flickr Storm, you can search for Creative Commons attribution licensed work. You can add photos to a tray and create a page with selected photos. Here is a quick photo set I created when I searched for Buffalo, NY. That photo set will remain at that url as long as the Flicr Storm site exists. One way to help to protect younger children searching for photos is to create photo sets in flickr storm and link them for kids, so they don’t search themselves.

New Tools
Editing software is now online – JumpCut
Storymapping.org – new tool from CDS about connecting stories to place (location)

New Composition Strategies
See Jon Orech’s resources on this page with tutorials

CDS Stories for change site is a place to contribute stories with real meaning.

Its amazing where digital storytelling has come in the last 10 years. I’ve just begun rolling it out in our schools recently, and will be presenting on that in my session on Tuesday. What’s more amazing is where storytelling is going to go in the next 5 years as these new tools mature. Thanks, David, for another great presentation!

Just around the bend…

…is the 2007 installment of the state educational computing conference, sponsored by NYSCATE. I’ve been browsing the program, and there are many interesting sessions to choose from. My favorite part about the conference is getting time to spend with national (and international) experts in educational technology. I’m signed up to spend a pre-conference day with David Jakes, and due to a very recent change in my schedule, I can attend the Constructivist Consortium Celebration (if there is still room) with Gary Stager, Sylvia Martinez, et al. The Celebration debuted at NECC this past July and sounded terrific. I’m glad they are bringing the celebration to New York.

My session, Digital Storytelling to Captivate and Motivate, is on Tuesday at 10:30. I’m really excited about how it has come together. The conference last year helped push me to where I am in helping learners tell their stories (see this post from last year). My presentation is on this page here at pointatopointb.nyscate2007.jpg

Looking forward to a great conference!

Image citation:
“The Quest for Success.” 2007 NYSCATE Annual Conf. New York State Assn. for Computers and Technologies in Education. 11 Nov. 2007 <http://www.nyscate.org/conferences.cfm?subpage=253>.