Friday, July 16, 2010

The Difference is the User, Not the Tool at BLC10 Day 3

My third and final day at BLC10 (Building Learning Communities 2010 from November Learning) brought yet another valuable message that will sure have an impact on my teaching:

Web 2.0 tools don't make the difference, it's the user strategy that makes the difference.

Class Blogs
Darren Kuropatwa (see @dkuropatwa on Twitter) hosted a workshop called A Day in the Life. He talked about several ways that he allows his students to create their own academic content online that is related to his class. While he used many tools, he brought it all together to a central blog to share it with the world. The quality of the student entries on the blogs improved over the course of the year and the class got more and more visits.

As a teacher, I have seen class blogs that teachers use to post their own lessons and handouts and other information, but they never let the students themselves control the content. Mr. Kuropatwa allows the students to run the class blog. This is why his workshop was a lesson in the strategy and not in the tool. The attendees really got the message. Here are some excerpts from the backchannel discussion to prove it.

  • Their pride in having an audience will encourage their best

  • I think it's important to try to show the principal and parents how "sharing" improves work.

  • A sense of awareness that they have an audience asks them to do their best

A class blog with content controlled by the teacher is just another reading assignment for students. A class blog with student controlled content is a new way for students to engage and interact with the world beyond their classroom walls.

Yes We Can... with Social Media
Rahaf Harfoush (see @rahafharfoush on Twitter) was the keynote speaker today. She volunteered in Chicago for Barack Obama's presidential campaign. The focus of her keynote was all about how social media has an enormous impact on the every day lives of our students and how we, as educators, can be a part of their world by leveraging that power to our advantage. It was truly fascinating to see how she and the rest of the Obama campaign were able to reach millions through social media... at very little cost with a whole lot of payoff. It really reaffirmed my desire to use Facebook more actively with my high school students.

Verbs of Web 2.0 in School
Brad Ovenell-Carter (see his blog here and @braddo on Twitter) talked about the 5 verbs we need to use around technology in schools.

1. research
2. produce
3. publish
4. discuss
5. manage

He explained how he did not push individual tools like wikis or Jing. Instead he simply taught kids to use the web browser and let them decide what to use. He asked them to "produce something" but did not tell them which tool to use. Mr. Ovenell-Carter gave examples such as:

"Let's have a discussion."
"Today we are going to produce something."

He was specific about the verb terminology, but not about the tool they might use to accomplish these tasks. He was pushing the idea that, "The essence of technology is by no means anything technological." When he posed these tasks to the students, sometimes they chose blogs for discussions or Wikipedia for research. In the end, if they accomplished the task, the tool did not matter. But, they used many many tools throughout the year! In fact, if the students had the opporunity to choose the tool, the work they produced was higher quality. In the end, it's about the students accomplishing a task, not tinkering with the latest and greatest tool.

Mr. Ovenell-Carter sums up his philosophy in this video:

What Did I Learn About Choosing EdTech Tools at BLC10 on Day 3?
1. When students control the content of a class blog, it will get more hits and the blog posts will be more interesting.
2. If you want to get teenagers and 20-somethings to listen, go to them online. TV is good, Facebook is better.
3. Instead of designing a lesson around the latest and greatest technology, let the goal of the lesson be the determining factor in choosing the Web 2.0 tool. And let the kids be the ones to make the choice.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Give Students the Power at BLC10 Day 2

Today at BLC10 (Building Learning Communities 2010 from November Learning) the theme of the keynote and workshops I attended seemed to focus on providing students with an experience that blends classroom interaction with online participation. When students learn through face-to-face discussion AND online interaction, they are empowered to create and publish their own new ideas.

Why We Need Classroom AND Online Interaction
Dr. Michael Wesch (see @mwesch on Twitter) started the day with a keynote address that ended in a standing ovation. Those of you who are reading this post and are educators yourselves know how difficult it is to get faculty meeting full of teachers to be enthusiastic about a speaker's message.... imagine that situation multiplied by 5 or 10 or 25 (depending on the size of the faculty you work with). Dr. Wesch brought a room filled with hundreds of teachers to their feet. He showed various examples of how user participation on the Internet can lead to change and true meaning for our students. His published videos on YouTube have gone viral. Check out his channel here. There are two videos that I have watched before, and that he showed during his presentation, are posted here. They do a great job of putting his whole message into perspective.

Moodle as a Tool to In/Out of School
The second workshop I attended was a teacher demonstration showing the use of Moddle within a class and to connect classes. In this case, the teachers, Michelle Anderson and Lucy Howard, connecting their students from Prairie Vale, Oklahoma and Buckingham, England using Moodle. I had be playing around with Moodle and was relatively unimpressed prior to this session. I even felt stuck and limited. The demonstration reignited my interest and showed me how much growth and potention my Moodle, Honors History 9 - Renaissance Through Revolution, really has. I hope to build on my Moodle and really give it a shot during the 2010-2011 school year. Since the session, I have already added multimedia images, better design features, and a forum activity to the bear-bones of my Moodle. While it isn't published yet, I hope to launch it by the time the school year begins in late August.

Blended Classroom: Why? and How?
Jeff Utecht (see @jutecht on Twitter)explained that 80% of today's undergraduates will take at least 1 online course. He also explained the universities are investing the majorit of their money in development of online content and courses. They can bring in more tuition money without building more dorms or classroom buildings. Students today can even get a bachelor's degree without ever stepping foot on a college campus. This well-known advertisement from Kaplan University is a perfect example of Mr. Utecht's point on the flood of online higher learning.

Teachers need to prepare students for online sharing and interaction because they will have to use those skills in higher education and the professional workplace.

Mr. Utecht talked about how we need to allow ourselves and our students to have the time to go through all of the stages of technology use. As a way to challenge students to play with technology and use Bloom's Taxonomy-style thinking skills, Mr. Utecht gave us 10 minutes in small groups to research a corporate/political/economic problem with limited information. Participants used Google, Facebook, iPhone apps, and many more resources to accomplish the task. We then had to email a solution to one of the problems. It was exciting for us! I can't wait to dream up something similar for my own students.

Not only should students have time play with the technology, they should also have the opportunity to share their discoveries. His students at his International School of Bangkok, Thailand are blogging (a.k.a. writing, creating, interacting, multitasking...) on their own. Their blogs are hosted by the school, but not graded by the teachers. Their lives as students throughout their 13 years in the school are recorded in the blog in one big portfolio. The key to all of this is a teacher who is already connected with her own network of educators from around the world. We can use our connections to other educators to spread the word about our students' work and build their digital identity on the web and apart from Facebook.

Social Media in the Classroom
Howie DiBlasi calls himself an "Emerging Technologies Evangelist" (see @hdiblasi on Twitter) He opened the session with this remix video by Discovery.

He argued that remixes (a.k.a. mash-ups or montages) are going to be one of the most powerful ways for our students to develop literacy. In order for them to reach the resources they desire for these remixes, he proposed a solution in his workshop called Using Social Media in Your Class - 50 Ways.

Social Media is...

  • social networking (i.e. Facebook, Twitter)
  • social bookmarking (i.e. Delicious)
  • sharing and remixing (i.e. YouTube, blogging, wikis)

He challenged us to challenge our school districts' policies on the uses of these resources with our students. I left with many ideas and have posted about Facebook in the classroom in the past. I might just move forward with it!

How Did I Learn to Empower Students at BLC10?
  1. Students are more invested in and connected to your curriculum if they are communicating and creating the content themselves.
  2. Moodle has the potential to empower quiet students and bring about more meaningful student discussions.
  3. Students should be able to create their own content online and your classroom will be a more meaningful place if you help do it.
  4. Social media is unlimited. There are a LOT of tools out there. Teach your students to use them carefully and well so they are building a responsible identity online.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Tearing Down the Walls at BLC10 Day 1

The theme of the Building Learning Communities 2010 conference from November Learning seems to be:


Four different presenters followed this same theme. Here are my reviews of their workshops throughout the day.

Create and Share Video Games!
Today's keynote speaker, Dr. Mitchel Resnick, demonstrated Scratch, program from MIT that allows users to create cards, posters, animations, video games, and lots more. They can then share their creations on the Scratch website and encourage others to build on, or remix, their work. Most of the work on Scratch was created by kids, like this one about a girl who hates alarm clocks. Dr. Resnick's biggest message was that taking what others create and then making something new out of it or even contributing to it causes a new kind of learning. Not only are children creative when they remix, they are collaborative. Click here for his paper on Scratch and how it fosters learning.
"The Smartest Person in the Room is the Room"
In the first breakout session I attended, Dean Shareski (see @shareski on Twitter) talked about what do to when you, the teacher, are "not the smartest person on in the room." He suggests making the room the smartest person in the room. It may sound like tricky word-play, but really it is about teaching your students that they become smarter by learning from each other. It isn't about who is the smartest person in the room, it's about learning from the expertise that each of us has to become smarter collectively. What I liked most about Mr. Shareski's presentation was that he practiced as he preached while he was preaching! Participants posted on Wallwisher about their favorite teachers, sent in pictures of weather from all over the world to Flickr, and watched while others participated via Twitter (see #blc10weather).

DO Something With Primary Sources
After lunch, the next breakout session I attended was from Stephanie Greenhut at the National Archives. She showed us where teachers can create or use premade activities with questions and tasks based on primary sources. These can all be gathered in online "classrooms" like this one. What I love about this is that students to do the reading and analysis part at home, and then we can talk about their individual impressions and make connections with each other in a live class discussion the next day. Another way to extend the classroom to resources outside of our four walls.

Tear Up the Textbook

Textbooks are not bad, but they present information chronologically. Teachers can follow that path, or create their own. This is the idea Thomas Daccord (see @thomasdaccord on Twitter) puts forth. You can look at his Prezi presentation below. Some of the questions he asked of hte students in his American history class were:

  1. To what extent is American the land of opportunity?
  2. What is the proper role of government in the lives of Americans?
  3. What is America's place in the world?
  4. What is the role of race in American history?

Mr. Daccord argues that this thematic, rather than chronological approach, gives the course more purpose and the students are more invested on the goals of the course. Students learn about history through these essential questions and learn to research effectively through their investigations.

How Did I Learn to Tear Down the Walls of my Classroom Today at BLC10?

I can't wait for tomorrow!