Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Social Media Political Engagement

I have had these ideas running through my head for nearly a year now but it took Bud Hunt's encouragement to finally get them on the blog. Our politicians have been increasingly utilizing social media websites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to further their political agenda and to gather support for themselves. Many of them also just use these tools for fun. Congress seems particularly engaged on Twitter. It occurred to me last fall when I came across a little iPod app called "MyGovernment" that we might be able to take advantage of this in the classroom.
MyGovernment is a simple directory of US Congress Representatives and US Senators that includes both their email addresses and their Twitter accounts. Watching C-Span we noticed that a lot of Congressmen fiddle with their mobile devices while in session. I decided to have our high school seniors taking US Government to watch C-Span and pay attention to when a congressman picks up their Blackberry or iPhone. They then looked them up on this iPod App and checked their Twitter acco0unt to see if they indeed were actively Tweeting. If they were this became a great opportunity to ask the Congressman questions and potentially actively influence the political debate.

We tried this a couple times and amazingly many of the congressmen tweeted back. What's more, being on television we could tell when we got responses from the politician and when it came from a staffer.

So, what is next? There is incredible potential here for some very authentic and powerful projects. What if we had students research these tweeting congressmen and find out who their influences are? Then, the kids could create Twitter accounts for historical figures the politicians identify as being highly influential (i.e. "I am a Regan republican"). The students could then use these faux accounts to respond to the congressman the way they think these historical figures would have responded. This would serve both as a conscious for the congressman but also will require students to learn deeply about both history and contemporary civics.

What other potential applications does this have for education? What other projects could be done with this?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Weekly Tech Tips - How to attend #ISTE10 from home

Weekly Tech Tip:

Related links:
Things I will be involved with at #ISTE10

Link Stew:
  • If Atari Was Apple, And Had Done It All In 1977... http://bit.ly/bUkv9Bless than a minute ago via web

  • The Government’s Official Plan For Education Technology http://bit.ly/cxeFjjless than a minute ago via feedly

  • 15 Coolest Google Earth Finds: http://tinyurl.com/yhf27htless than a minute ago via API

Blog Carnival:

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Is Assessment Necessary for Learning?

There is a fantastic discussion on the nature of assessment and learning happening on Will Richardson's blog right now. You should go there and read through the comments. I am re-posting mine here:

To build on Gary’s earlier suggestion that we think about the role of assessment in terms of learning that occurs outside school settings I think it might help even to think about it in the context of other species. Take my dogs for example. Aside from formal training experiences I have observed two distinctly different types of learning experiences they engage in on their own. One involves learning by cause and effect and the other involves discovery.

An example of cause and effect learning is problem solving. This type of learning is fueled heavily by a motivation to attain a result. For example, for most of the day my dogs have free reign of the back yard but at night I lock them in the garage. My shepard-husky mix, who is our most hyper dog and arguably the best problem solver, doesn’t like this kind of confinement and constantly works to find ways to get out. The results of both her failed and successful attempts to open the dog door (or break it open) are forms of feedback and through this trial and error she engages in self-assessment until she has learned what she needs to satisfy the desire that motivates her.

The other type, discovery learning, has no motivational force and also lacks assessment. An example of my dogs learning through discovery is one day my newfoundland discovered, while digging a hole in my yard, that the soil below was cool. When he was a pup, and even a young adult dog, he rarely engaged in digging behaviors but through discovery he learned this was an effective way to keep cool outside on hot days. No one taught him to do this, it was not motivation that led him to dig (if I remember right he was digging because I forgot to trim his nails), and there was no assessment in the form of trail and error. I suppose you could argue that his discovery that the ground was cool was a form of feedback but it certainly was not assessment. And, how do I know he learned that the ground under the top layer of soil was cool? He only digs on hot days and he always sits in his holes. He has one this for ten years (he is 15 years old).

I also engaged in an interesting discussion tonight on Twitter. Here are a few bits an pieces of what I added to that conversation:

How do you self-assess the learning you do on Twitter?less than a minute ago via Twitterrific

@jerridkruse what about learning that results from events of discovery? Learning occurs w/o goals. Does assessment need 2b in this equation?less than a minute ago via Twitterrific

@shareski can you give an example of when it is not an instrument of control?less than a minute ago via Twitterrific

@jonbecker to self assess one has to have an external model (curriculum), or perceived model, to use as a rubric.less than a minute ago via Twitterrific

@bengrey @jonbecker @shareski isn't assessment just a byproduct of curriculum and a subtle imposition of ones control over another?less than a minute ago via Twitterrific

I am still waiting for an example from Dean. I am curious what your thoughts are on this. Is assessment necessary?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Counter Cultures in the Classroom

When I was in high school in the early 1990s I rarely experienced anything that questioned the role of a dominant culture or even brought it much to light. Sure, we had cliques in school but for the most part they divided themselves along superficial lines (What type of music they liked, if they liked sports or not, what they looked like, etc.) But for the most part I don't remember encountering much of anything, perhaps I was sheltered in my small Midwest Nebraska town, that would suggest that people in the same geographic location could separate themselves among deeper lines.

Sure, there were differences in economic status, religion, and race and there were those in my hometown who chose to do things that went against the mainstream culture like homeschool their children but for the most part these divergences from what most people regarded as "normal" were viewed as fringe and strange.

Or they were considered sick, depraved, or outcasts.

Watch more free documentaries

And, this post is not about youthful transgressions, teen angst, or rebellious youth.

This post is about counter culture.

Four years ago I was teaching in an alternative school in a first ring suburb of Minneapolis when I noticed that the kids I was working with were, in large part, aligning themselves along lines that ran deeper than just the superficial. The obvious examples were the Gangster Disciples and many of the immigrant students I had in class but this kind of social division was not only present in these two (usually unrelated) groups. It was happening with most of my students. They were not joining cliques, they were joining counter cultures.

Many of these counter cultures challenge long held beliefs about the world. They challenge conventional or dominant cultural values. They have different rules for engagement with the world, different "norms" and differing ways of showing respect, gratitude, love, anger, etc. In this context a member of a counter culture might not care about the same things other people care about. They operate with different motivators. And, with this social stratification happening across our society and with the new ease with which to find people of like mind the more empowered we are to operate and affiliate with that counter culture.

Watch more free documentaries

And, with new social technologies shaping how we interact with one another this empowerment can lead people to abandon the "normal" social norms and explore more deeply their fantasies and their true beliefs.

Making it more acceptable to "drop out" and live off the grid and with different rules than the mainstream dominant culture.

Watch more free documentaries

With public education being a state mandate it is highly likely, if you are a teacher, that your classroom contains students of multiple counter cultures. This may not be obvious in all cases but I am sure they are there. Not everyone operates with the same rules, the same values, the same general assumptions of how the world is supposed to work. Whats more, these kids might be of a different culture than their own parents. What kind of pedagogy do you use in a situation like this when many of the kids in your classroom are culturally "off the grid"?

I personally think this is another reason we have seen the rise in online education.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Weekly Tech Tips - Live Streaming

On Friday last week, the day I intended on making my weekly tech tip, the internet was down at school. Therefore, this week I intend on doing two tech tips, one today and one Friday. I took advantage of the unfortunate situation to work on getting more acquainted with the capabilities of my Nokia Nuron and exploring what applications and implications mobile technologies have for education. This week's tech tip largely explores one such application.

Weekly Tech Tip:

Tools shown in this video:

Related Links:
Link Stew:
  • Seymour Papert - Closing Session 1994 NSBA T+L Conference
  • Seymour Papert - Closing Session 1994 NSBA T+L Conference from Gary Stager on Vimeo.

  • Jaron Lanier - You Are Not A Gadget
  • B.F. Skinner's Shaping Experiment ("Skinner's Box")
  • Most Disturbing Presentation Ever: Our Tech Nightmare ("Skinner Box") DICE 2010
  • Howard Rheingold Live Chat: Critical Thinking
  • Howard Rheingold Live Chat: Critical Thinking from Shelly Terrell on Vimeo.

  • RSA Animate - The Secret Powers of Time
  • A Political Online Push
  • YouTube Video Editor
  • Blackbird Pie – Twitter Media
  • Wells, H.G. 1898. The Time Machine
  • THE MACHINE STOPS ... E.M. Forster
  • Project Tomorrow: 2009 findings r.e. Student, Teacher, Principal, & Administrator feelings about emerging technologies
  • onlinedegrees.com, has put together a list of the top 100 technology blogs for teachers
  • ScanLife - The Place to Create & Manage 2D Barcodes

  • WOW! RT: @butwait: Y'all have seen Clayton Wright's MONSTER list of #edtech #profdev opportunities, right? http://bit.ly/edtechconf2010less than a minute ago via Echofon

  • 45 Twitter Tools the Gurus use: http://j.mp/9weSkX /via @Chirrpsless than a minute ago via HootSuite

  • world map of social networks: http://bit.ly/15xHQi (scroll down, compare Facebook today with 2009 )less than a minute ago via TweetDeck

  • If Luke gets me that Tatooinian "sand art" crap again for Father's Day, his hand won't be the only thing I cut off.less than a minute ago via Twitterrific

  • YouTube Play: YouTube + the Guggenheim want to showcase the best online videos from around the world. http://www.youtube.com/playless than a minute ago via web

  • "100 Incredibly Useful & Free iPad Apps" http://is.gd/cTL2Jless than a minute ago via TweetDeck

  • Education Week's Digital Directions: Social Networking Goes to School http://ow.ly/1ZAW3 Great article! :) #vanmeterless than a minute ago via HootSuite

  • .@alfiekohn "In education, bad ideas are timeless. It's the good ideas that are incredibly fragile."less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhone

  • RT @jsmummert: If U're in2 mobile technology, augmented reality, & the Civil War, check out my proposal- http://bit.ly/afsN53 Awesome for SSless than a minute ago via TweetDeck

  • Papert - No such thing as "Grade 3 Math" http://tinyurl.com/2ag5t6x <-maybe by 2030?less than a minute ago via TweetDeck

  • Education Gap infographic http://bit.ly/drfpngless than a minute ago via Seesmic

  • 22 Educational Social Media Diagrams http://bit.ly/byyxwU #hubspot really cool posters...less than a minute ago via web

Blog Carnival:

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Real Disruptive Innovation

This morning I listened to Kim Ross, principal of Minnesota's first online high school, give a keynote speech to a group of educators in Southeast Minnesota. I can't say that he said anything that we have not heard before. It was a good talk about how the world is changing and about how online education allows for teachers to individualize instruction and focus more on relationships with their students. He gave a general overview of the theory of disruptive innovation in education and drew special attention to how this individualization of instruction made possible by online learning was the disruptive force, not the technology.

In the past few years schools have been looking at online education as a major disruptive force. We have seen exponential growth in enrollment in online schools and as a result a lot of our traditional brick and mortars have seen a decline. It has been widely thought, and I must confess that for a long time I have counted myself among those holding this belief, that schools need to modify their programs to draw upon what is happening in online education to improve what they do and make instruction more individualized. In answer to this we have seen a slew of measures taken by traditional school systems in an attempt to capitalize on this theory and retain students. Many schools have tried offering their own online courses, others have invested heavily in technologies like interactive whiteboards with the thought that if only they made the presentation of class theatrics more visually appealing students would be more engaged, and other schools have experimented with hybrid courses which are primarily online courses augmented with periodic face to face meetings.

None of these solutions ever really felt right to me but I have only recently been able to make enough sense of what I have been thinking to articulate it. Perhaps the rise in enrollment in online schools has very little to do with the quality of education they offer and more to do with declining relevance of schools in general. I have noticed and I have spoken with many teachers who have observed that in the past few years student motivation to meet deadlines, to attain a good grade, and to complete all of their work has been on the decline. What worked to motivate students to "achieve" five years ago isn't working today for a large percentage of our students. "Its like they don't care if they pass my class."

What has changed in the past five years? What are kids doing today that they were not doing, or able to do before? What they are doing is learning. They are learning on their own in ways that were not really possible before. Through highly engaging Montessori-like online learning environments like YouTube, Flickr, fansite forums, Myspace, Facebook, etc. they are learning deeply about the things that interest them and are relevant to them. The scale has shifted to a point where the technologies available to learn deeply about anything online on your own has in large part outperformed what our school pedagogies and our school systems can compete with.

To illustrate this, take the following video as an example. What is this kid doing in this video? How is he using the technology to aid in his learning? Does he need school to help him learn? What is the broad implication of this? It is worth seeing this video on the YouTube page and reading through the comments he has received (click here).

Do online schools do this? No, not really, but what they do is offer a credential just like students can get at a traditional brick and mortar, only online allows a student to endure the arduous and tedious task of schooling at their own pace and in their own time. Online schools allow students the ability to let their own interest-driven learning to take a front seat and take top priority. The asynchronous nature of the majority of online instruction means that it is not getting in the way of the learning activities that are really meaningful to kids. It is not that online learning or individualized instruction in an online school are so much better than that which students receive face to face in a traditional brick and mortar, it is that online schools don't get in the way.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Web 2.0 and the Building Administrator

I have been asked to give a presentation on Thursday titled "Web 2.0 and the Building Administrator." While I think the conveners of this event would like me to show them how to use web 2.0 tools I have found that one hour is not sufficient time to plug people into the PLN matrix and I will be presenting two other "How To" sessions for all educators throughout the day. For this session I felt a bit deeper conversation was needed. After all, it is far more important for a school leader to make informed decisions about the direction they take their school given the existence of web 2.0 and social media than it is for me to show them a few tricks and tools they might not ever use themselves. I intend this to largely be a discussion session and I hope to challenge many of them. Below is my slidedeck for this presentation. Is there anything else I should include? I would love your feedback.

In the session I will also be asking my Twitter network what they think school building administrators need to know about web 2.0 and social media.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The corporate confusion machine

What if we let fast food chains give the public lessons on nutrition? Would we allow that? If we did, I am sure there would be many of us who would be highly skeptical of the message they send. I am also sure there would be plenty of people who, if the fast food chains were persistent enough with their message, would start to internalize and trust that message. I am also sure that a growing number of people would come to trust that message or at least give it equal credence as an independent voice. What if the fast food chains hired a well respected researcher to conduct a study that showed eating fast food was better than another diet choice? This research would not have to take into consideration the plethora of other lifestyle or diet, only ones that were less healthy than eating fast food.

I must admit that a guilty pleasure of mine lately has been listening to conservative talk radio. I find listening to most programs on Clear Channel to be kind of like watching a car wreck. I know I shouldn't pay any attention but I can't help but look. I listen because I am intrigued with how each day, like a machine, they twist the facts and through the course of a 24 hour news cycle can move an idea from, "some people may say," to "this is how it is." The whole industry is recursive, building upon itself and opinions expressed earlier as references to build a case for something most rational people would never accept. To add fuel to their fire they go out and find the one or two scientists or researchers who will either present bizarre interpretations of data that support the day's talking points or will present data that contradicts the opposite view but doesn't necessarily support the day's talking points. In the process they stir up enough confusion that many average people will be willing to accept false statements to be true.

Both of these scenarios (one real and one imagined) have one thing in common, corporations. Corporations exist with one chief responsibility above all else: provide profits for shareholders. This profit motif drives much of what happens on conservative talk radio. This is painfully obvious because when something disastrous happens, like the gulf oil spill, they bend over backwards to blame anyone but corporations. In the past few weeks we heard the conservative opinutainment machine try to blame everyone from the Sierra Club to President Obama instead of placing the blame on anyone in the petroleum industry. We have also heard them try to dismiss the problem by saying that this is no big deal, that oil leaks happen all the time naturally, and that the amount of oil spewing into the gulf is minor compared to all the water in the ocean.

This same issue has been at the heart of most major critiques of the charter school movement. Most of the time I get into arguments with people about the pros and cons of charter schools it becomes clear that me as a supporter of charter schools and those opponents of them are usually talking about different types of charters. Most of the time they are talking about big box corporately run schools like KIPP and TFA while the charters I support are small locally run schools. In these arguments I find myself having to concede that we are arguing about different things and that I agree with those who oppose charter schools on this premise. Any time a school is created for the purpose of serving corporate interests instead of the educational interest of its students it is created for reasons that are immoral and disingenuous. The education of our children should not be founded upon what is in corporate interests.

Now, the fast food scenario seems rather ridiculous but, it seems to me that we are allowing this scenario with other facets of public education. The charter movement is just one area where this has been allowed to happen. We allow corporately run schools and corporately driven reform initiatives (and for this case I am also including union voices) the same level of consideration as less biased voices. The same thing is happening with edtech. For the past couple years, whenever I go to a education technology conference it seems that companies selling products (like SMART, Promethean, rSchool Today, Apple, etc.) have been moving their pitch outside the exhibit floor and into conference sessions.

This past fall at the TIES Conference I spoke with a rep from Apple who said that the company has given up entirely promoting their products in the exhibit hall and has instead focused their energy entirely in offering educational sessions. Do you think that a session at a conference by one of these companies will be objective in their presentation of research and best practices? Do you think, if there were a better tool to use to achieve the goal/effect of what they demonstrate, that they would be honest and forthright or is their primary purpose to sell you their product? At that same conference I heard Dr. Robert Marzano present research, paid for by Promethian, that showed use of an IWB had a positive influence on test scores. This research was not peer reviewed and it was clear that it ignored all the plethora of learning environments that may exist. It only relied on a narrow view of education that clearly supports the pitcher and cup method of instructionalist learning environments. Dr. Marzano's research sells IWBs not by what it includes but by what is left out.

I see this as a dangerous trend. The more and more we allow those who sell us things to be given equal floor space as independent educators and researchers at educational conferences and the more we are beat down by their message, just like what happens daily on conservative talk radio, the harder it is to tell what is truth and the harder it is for us to make clear and informed decisions. Minnesota is in the middle of a state-wide budget crisis. Schools have to be careful with how they spend their money. The push is even greater for these companies to scramble to collect whatever they can of what little dollars schools can spend on their wares. When I hear of a school district cutting media specialists in this climate so they can afford to put more IWBs in classrooms I have to wonder if this was the result of the corporate confusion machine.

With states having to delay and reduce payments to schools, districts are forced to make cuts. This spring we have seen a surge in cuts to media specialists and technology integration specialists (I had to change jobs because these budget cuts meant no more financial support for my position at Goodhue Public Schools). In the absence of people in these positions, and with great reductions in dollars for professional development schools are forced to find alternative methods of training teachers. The companies who sell us hardware, software, and curriculum are stepping in to fill this void. Most companies offering high ticket items like SMARTboards offer their customers free training for staff members. These training sessions amount to little more than infomercials masquerading as professional development.

Districts are put in a difficult situation. For x amount of dollars they can afford to staff a full time media specialist or technology integration specialist position whose primary objective is help raise student achievement and thus are not influenced by profit motives. These positions are also our schools' best instrument for teaching digital literacy and critical analysis. For less money a district can equip 10 or so classrooms with IWBs and receive free training from the company. This is a Trojan horse. While on paper this might sound like sound investment, what these companies will tell your teachers will only reinforce what they already do and will not revolutionize instruction in ways we have been told it will. Essentially, districts doing this are trading real pedagogical and curricular transformation for smoke, mirrors, and infomercials. Furthermore, teachers receiving this training (be it "in house" or at a conference session) receive continuing education units (CEUs) good toward the renewal of their license, cheapening their credentials.

Teacher unions should be standing up against this. They oppose cart blanch efforts for alternative licensure, blocking legislation that would allow professionals from industry to be granted teaching licenses and opposing corporately funded school reform efforts but not this. Why is that? I suspect it is because the free training offered in these sessions reinforces the status quo they also protect. They offer a path of least resistance, sending the false message to teachers that they do not have to change anything fundamental to their practice to integrate technology in their classrooms. Teachers like these tools because they provide a false impression that traditional teaching methods can work well for all kids. And, operating from a profit motif, companies selling you goods are not going to challenge you very much to reflect upon your practice or make fundamental changes to your pedagogy.

Friday, June 11, 2010

ISTE 2010 & SEMTEC Techspo 2010

I have been feverishly getting ready for ISTE in Denver later this month. I will be presenting a poster session there on iTeach Mobile and co-presenting a BYOL session with Vivian Johnson, Cara Hagen, and Scott Schwister on Technology Enhanced Active Learning Strategies. We are also lucky enough to get a chance to do a trial run of both these sessions next week at the regional SEMTEC Techspo in Stewartville, MN. This is the third year SEMTEC has held this Techspo and it has quickly turned into a very nice little conference.

Of course there will be some format differences between my iTeach Mobile poster session and a iTeach Mobile discussion session. For example, the discussion session at Techspo will focus more on issues related to using mobile devices in schools while my ISTE poster session will focus more on the model of blended PLC and social networking for professional development we used in Goodhue to explore the use of mobile devices in education. But, these two sessions are largely the same.

If you are going to ISTE I invite you to my iTeach Mobile poster session (our BYOL session is full). If you are going to either of these events, below is a preview of my iTeach Mobile session. Presented for your review and critique:

click here to view this in a new window

Also, for those attending our BYOL session on Technology Enhanced Active Learning Strategies, here is a link to our session wiki (now only partially under construction):

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Weekly Tech Tips - Podcasting

Weekly Tech Tip:

Related Links:
  • Tools shown in this video:

Link Stew:
Blog Carnival: