Summer to Relax? Never!

After an especially hectic summer in 2010, I had expected that this year could be a relatively quiet year. (Un?)fortunately, that is not shaping up to be the case.

As those of you who follow my sporadic blog posts know, I am currently on sabbatical working on my MEd thesis, a process that marches along. The plan is to do data collection in the next month and a half and then move on to the writing stage. While I will be returning to an as-yet-to-be-determined day job in my District in the fall, it will likely be closer to Christmas before the thesis thing wraps up.

While I have to pass on ISTE this year, July and August will see me on the road to the Midwestern States for two exciting events. My annual pilgrimage to Memphis continues as I am presenting eight different sessions over two days at the Lausanne Laptop Institute July 10-13. I love this event for many reasons. After all, it’s where my thinking about teaching and learning took a ninety degree turn after being challenged by the ideas of David Warlick six years ago and I have developed and continue to nurture many friendships and professional relationships with educators from all over the world every summer on the banks of the Mississippi. This summer will be particularly exciting for participants as international educator Jeff Utecht from the International School Bangkok – he’s a rockstar in educational technology circles – will be keynoting and leading several sessions as well. If you are looking for a great learning event this summer, this is the one!

In early August I have been invited to participate in a two-day conference at the University School of Milwaukee. While I am not sure if the details are public yet, I am humbled to be invited to stand amongst the quality of the presenters that will be there. I will share the details as they are announced/posted.

Of course, later in August comes “our” turn. After successfully hosting our 1-to-1 Bootcamp for Educators last summer, we’ve changed the name to LearnEast 2.0.11 and tweaked the focus to include a broad range of technology-rich learning sessions. I am excited that noted international educator Kim Cofino of Yokohama International School in Japan has agreed to join us to virtually keynote day two of the event. Preliminary details are available here.

Throw in a week as a member of the host committee for the Pepsi U-19 Men’s Canadian Fastpitch Championships and the summer of 2011 is shaping up to be one of the best ever.

Tweet, Tweet – You’re Under Arrest!

Yesterday was Election Day here in Canada. Despite a dramatic finish, featuring an unprecedented push by the New Democratic Party (social democrats) to finish a strong second, the Conservative Party won a majority of the seats in our House of Commons and will form our government for the next four years.

As I was watching television last night, one of the storylines the commentators were tracking was the emergence of social media and, more specifically, how individuals who “broadcast” election results on Twitter, Facebook or any of the other platforms could be breaking the law. The penalties are severe, with possible fines of up to $25,000.

You see, Canada is a huge country, spanning four and a half hours of time zones. Polls close here on the east coast several hours before our friends on the west coast must stop casting their ballots. As soon as the polls close here in the east we start to see results broadcast on TV and other local media. For many years, however, our government has had a law that prohibits the local broadcast of election results until after the polls close, meaning that broadcasters to the west of us were prohibited from releasing results until after the polls closed locally. This effectively meant that there was a cascade of election programming that made its way from east to west.

Of course, the world has changed since this particular part of the election act was made law. Back then TV was local. We were lucky to have half a dozen stations even in the largest centers. Now I can sit at home and watch TV originating from across the country and around the world. Of course, the satellite and cable TV providers are required to black out any programming that might reveal the results.

However, the REAL change is the emergence of social media and participatory journalism. As individuals become more comfortable and demand access to information, rules that threaten such draconian reactions have reached their best before date. I understand the intent – but it just isn’t practical anymore.

As citizens of democratic countries, we are highly critical when foreign governments use censorship and limit access to information for political reasons. We demand that citizens of those countries be given their rights and be respected and valued as engaged citizens with a share in their countries fortunes.

The idea that individuals on the west coast might be swayed and need to be protected from the results to the east just doesn’t hold much weight in the new world. The digital platform of the web – and the increasingly ubiquitous connectivity provided through the mobile web – makes it easy to get results. But it’s more than that. I give my fellow citizens credit and expect that they would weigh the candidates on their own merits (which might include the policies of their affiliated national parties) and not simply react to a wave of media reports.

Message to the government: the world has changed. The law is irrelevant in today’s world. Show citizens some respect as recognize them as educated individuals who are able to make up their own minds without requiring protection from the state. Oh, and while you’re at it, maybe you want to look at web-based voting options to engage more young people. Just a thought.

Down to the Wire

I am down to seven days and counting!

As students and teachers head off to the Christmas break on the 23rd, I’ll be heading off to enjoy the holidays with my family as well. However, when everyone heads back to school on January 10th here in New Brunswick, I won’t be returning.

Time 4 Learning

Time 4 Learning

Over the past year or so I have been working on my MEd. I just finished my fifth course, taking them one at a time in the evenings and during the summer. Some of these courses were face-to-face, some on-line. All were great learning opportunities, providing an opportunity to augment the more informal learning I do everyday, primarily through Twitter and other social media, with more formal “academic” pursuits.

Now comes the real exciting part. Beginning in January, I have been granted a sixth month educational leave by our Department of Education. This is a wonderful program whereby teachers can apply and, if lucky, be granted up to a full-years paid leave (at 70% salary) – I only applied for six months – to pursue personal learning opportunities. While most are formal programs (like me) some use it to travel and expand their understandings by writing, research, etc.

So, what will I be doing? For the past several years I have been teaching introductory level learning technology courses in an undergraduate education program at the University of New Brunswick. This program, run by the Mi’kmaq-Maliseet Institute, is designed specifically for First Nations (aboriginal) learners throughout New Brunswick and the Gaspe region of Quebec. Through the wonders of the web, video-conferencing and, more recently, web-conferencing many students in remote communities (remote in terms of geography, economic opportunities and many other factors) of our region have had the opportunity to access post-secondary educational opportunities while remaining in their home communities to fulfill family and employment commitments. I have been absolutely blown away by the hard work and dedication of these adult learners towards themselves, their families and their communities.

I will be continuing my work with the Mi’kmaq-Maliseet Institute through graduate studies and a thesis in the area of First Nations education. The plan is to conduct qualitative research in an attempt to capture the story of these students and the impact that technology-based distance education has had on the lives of the individuals and the communities involved. As an active participant in the delivery of these programs, I am very excited to see what stories evolve that weave together the collective narrative of how the new information environment can change lives by flattening the educational landscape for this specific population.

I am excited about this opportunity. While I will definitely miss the bustle and excitement of working with teachers and students everyday, I know I will be back to the classroom again next September. In the meantime I look forward to the change, for the conversations with colleagues and fellow learners in a different setting; for the opportunity to engage a new audience (within the university Faculty of Education) in discussions of change; to reflect, write and share through this blog more (and maybe Tweet less??), to spend a bit of time travelling with my wife, to hopefully participate in a couple of conferences, to continue my teaching at the undergrad level but most of all, to have the chance to get very messy in learning through research.

I have to admit, this is new to me. I am anxious and uncomfortable, but know there are wonderful people who will guide me through the process.

It’s almost noon now – down to six and a half days left!

Photo credit: Time in the Sky, by Matt Westoby, from Flickr, CC licensed.

Connecting to Learn

I love learning.

Part of that learning takes place at conferences. For me they have real benefit; the conversations recharge my batteries and the networking pays huge dividends as I add to my Personal Learning Network (PLN) and provide connections for collaboration and student projects.  I am excited to be heading across the border again next month to present at ACTEM’s MAINEducation2010 conference – a wonderful mid-sized event that captures the essence of the conversation of a new story of school.

However, I also realize that having teachers attend conferences on a regular basis is neither practical (we do have jobs to attend to) nor feasible (resources are scarce everywhere).  For those teachers who are driven to learn and change their personal narrative of school, the solution is becoming more visible – virtual conferences.

There are a couple of exciting options taking place next month. First up is CRSTE’s 2010 Global Symposium. Held on-line in a virtual environment (Elluminate), the event will feature a variety of sessions held over nine days between October 16th and the 24th and will focus on the ideas surrounding worldwide collaborative network of educators. The sessions will take place on weekends and evenings (on the east coast of North America at least) and will feature educational technology leaders from around the world, including Alan November, Mark Weston, Karen Cator, Kathy Schrock, Jeff Utecht, Julene Reed, Julie Lindsay and Shabbi Luthra. I am absolutely humbled and honoured to be included in that company as I been invited to share some of my ideas about student global collaborative projects.

After that intense week, we will all need to turn quickly and immerse ourselves (or dip a toe in) in the annual K12 Online Conference, running pretty much the whole month of October (it actually starts before and runs concurrent and extends after CRSTE). The theme of this year’s conference is Cultivating the Future. Beginning with a keynote from Canada’s own Dean Shareski, educators will be able to choose from a wonderful selection of sessions delivered by educators from all over the world. These sessions offer practical advise on shifting classroom practice from your colleagues; classroom teachers and educational technology leaders from every continent.

From classroom teachers, learning specialists and superintendents to parents and students, the conversations about a new story of learning that will be offered at these events will be valuable to your personal journey as a learner. If you feel overwhelmed, you can join the room, sit in the corner and just listen. If you have something to offer, please share. But in whatever way you can, engage in the conversation.

Hope to see you on the other side.

WatchKnow; A New Filter for Educational Video

Part of the challenge for teachers in using educational videos in their classrooms is finding just the right ones. After all, with the huge amounts of video being produced from a variety of sources , just finding quality stuff can be like looking for the proverbial needle-in-a-haystack.

This summer I was introduced to WatchKnow, a non-profit organization whose goal is to locate, index and offer free online educational resources for teachers and students. WatchKnow is run by a group of educators led by Wikipedia co-founder Dr. Larry Sanger. While they don’t own rights to the videos they share or necessarily host the videos on their own site, the strength of WatchKnow results from the power of a community who act as a filter and conduit all in one.

WatchKnow now sports over 15,000 videos from a variety of sources, cataloged and searchable by subject area and other filters. As a user, they also welcome teachers to add their own favorite videos you find on-line, sharing your finds with colleagues from around the world.

Best of all, the price is right.


Returning to Memphis; the Scene of my Personal Shift

We’re a couple of weeks removed from the hype, bustle and seemingly endless sales pitch that we call ISTE (don’t get me wrong, I love ISTE for the connections it affords) and my brain is still full from the ideas and conversations that I downloaded there. After not being at ISTE for a couple of years, it was invigorating (sales pitch types notwithstanding) to be part of the global conversations – the big buzz!

However, this weekend will be special. Saturday I get to head back to where it all started for me – Memphis, Tennessee and Lausanne Collegiate School’s Laptop Institute. First of all, I have to tell you, I have been to my share of events but the Laptop Institute is still my favorite. The folks at Lausanne are amazing hosts, the conversations are focused on shifting how we teach and learn using the power of connectivity, and the organization leaves nothing wanting. With around 600 delegates, the event is intimate enough that you feel like to have an opportunity to follow up on the conversations at a later time and not get lost in the sheer size of the conference around you. If you have an opportunity and are considering one-to-one or tech rich programs, this is the event for you.

Six years ago I was teaching in a pilot 1:1 classroom at my school. It was just by happenstance that I ended up at the Memphis event (it was – at least at the time – a consolation prize for giving up a January trip to FETC) with my teaching partner at the time. I wasn’t sure what to expect – we seemed to be doing OK with incorporating the laptops into our classroom – so we intended to enjoy ourselves.

Boy, was I blindsided. At the opening keynote some old guy comes on stage and starts talking about new understandings about literacies and forms of information. My first reaction was to continue answering my email, but as he continued talking my focus shifted from my digital connection to a real connection with his ideas. I had never quite heard ideas quite like it before. He was talking about a whole new story of school. I was, in the space of an hour, blown away by his ideas and what it meant for me as a teacher. The “old guy” on stage was Dave Warlick.

Later that day I had a chance to talk to Dave on the bus to the hotel and we began a great friendship. From that connection grew a new set of personal ideas about the possibilities for school, connections to other authors and educators, two visits by Dave to my home province where I was so proud to introduce him to my colleagues, my own start in blogging and eventually the journey has led me to where I am today – promoting and supporting change with teachers and students in our schools.

I have been back to Memphis every year since, sometimes alone, sometimes not. Last year was particularly gratifying as I was able to lead a delegation of 13 educators from my school as we were featured as the Spotlight School for the conference. This year I am excited to be leading two workshops and 5 presentations over the two days on topics ranging from “Ten Secrets About Wikispaces” and “Learning to Blog: Blogging to Learn” to “Global Collaborative Projects” and “Digital Footprints: Building a Personal Brand on the Web”. It’ll be a busy two days, but I am excited to be heading back to see old friends and make new ones.

This year’s event is particularly special as it will take me right back to where it all began for me – Dave Warlick is the keynote once again. I have heard Dave speak many times since that day six years ago, but I always learn something new each time. I am sure as I settle into my seat for the keynote in the beautiful theatre on campus my memories will reflect back on my journey and the amazing side trip I began in that very spot. There might even be a tear in my eye.

Hope to see you in Memphis. Will you be the next member of my PLN?

Project Based Learning BOAF Session

Below are notes form the Project-based Learning Session hosted by Jane Krauss and Suzie Boss, authors of the ISTE publication Reinventing project Based Learning at ISTE2010.

Birds of a Feather Session – Encouraging Project based Learning
Jane Krauss & Suzie Boss

Thing that most of what we see as PBL in our schools is simply fact-finding and presentation. The difference to higher order thinking in PBL is the driving question.

Differentiation happens more naturally. It’s also not so exposing of student weaknesses. It should have a place for kids to meet the project with their skills rather than the other way around. Give students choice.

It’s important to understand the difference between teacher-directed projects and student-initiated. All projects won’t be successful…important to learn from mistakes. Real life can be mirrored – it’s full of failure.

Good to package project…eg. “Figures of the Renaissance” vs “Mingling at the Renaissance Ball” – creates student interest.
Important element is that kids drive instruction, not teacher. Find things that interest them. (e.g. use comparing phone plans to learn about slope. Make it REAL!

Set expectation: eg. Every teacher in the building will be involved in a parent exhibition of student work…teachers wanted to show interesting stuff…sharing of results…contribute to body of knowledge…interesting work comes from projects.

Classroom 2.0 Ning – subgroup called “PBL – Better with Practice” (some great examples, sharing and conversations there)

Motivation for teachers will come through kids; improved attendance, etc… “If you’re bored, they’re bored!”…teachers must be learners too!
Exercise/Challenge: Looking at the current gulf oil spill, how might you come at this? (conversations at table)

Students can have different questions/projects based on their perspective

Relevance for students “What if it happened to us?”

Tags: iste10

Are Wikis Dying?

I hope not!

At yesterday’s Edubloggercon10, the first circle I participated in was one titled “Are Wikis Dying?” It was suggested / moderated by Jeff Utecht (check out his thoughts on the session here) and was even attended by James and Adam from Wikispaces.

Jeff first started thinking about wikis and their future based on some conversations around the use of emerging Google web tools with teachers at his school in Bangkok. There can be no doubt that the emergence of web-based publishing tools of all sorts are/will have a tremendous impact as we shift to change the story of teaching and learning. The discussion was lively (and respectful), with many people sharing their experiences with both wikis and google apps.

In my experience, the real power of wikis is two-fold, the ability to embed other web tools with ease to create a dynamic story and it’s ease of use.  While Google Docs (and I use them regularly for many purposes) are powerful for collaboration, I think there are some things they don’t do as well as a wiki. And thus the point that I think many of us arrived at / reinforced yesterday – the tool has to match the application.  What wikis, google docs and all the other current and emerging tools give us is options.

Teachers often ask me about whether they should use a blog, a wiki or another tool. The answer is simply “YES!”. However, in order to suggest a specific tool(s) for them and their students, the real question is what do you want to accomplish? The tool will hinge on the learning activity.

Are wikis dying? For me the answer is a resounding NO! At least not anytime soon.  As Adam and James so aptly pointed out, all tools evolve. Wikis will also evolve, but the idea of a collaborative, shared space where students (and teachers) can quickly publish to the web and share their learning using a variety of tools, wikis are alive, well and thriving, another powerful web-based tool for our learning.

I am a huge wiki fan. I promote them heavily and believe they are the most powerful web tool for our classroom. In fact, I do many workshops each year on wikis and their use entitled Ten (Not-so) Secrets About Wikis.  It’s always a hit and teachers quickly see the power in the tool.

Image: Where to Find a Good Wiki, Uploaded to Flickr by CogDogBlog, Creative Commons license

Tags: iste10, ebc10, ebc10wikis

EduBloggerCon10 – a new experience

View from Hotel, Denver and the Mountains

View from Hotel, Denver and the Mountains

I’ve been to ISTE before, but never had the chance to take in EduBloggerCon. Yesterday, that story was interrupted.

When making plans for this year’s event, I booked my flights to arrive in town in time for EBC, and I wasn’t disappointed. First of all, EBC is about learning. To have the time to meet, chat and listen to people – some of whom I knew before, some not – was great for my own learning. Secondly, it’s about the social interactions that help grow networks. It’s a whole lot easier to connect with another teacher using twitter or skype once you have met them face-to-face.

I’ll blog a bit more about the sessions later, but for now, thanks to those of you who contributed to my own learning yesterday through the conversations. EBC10 won’t be my last!

Tags: technology, education, whipple, learning, iste10, ebc10