Chance Meeting at Airport

I love that American Airlines now has electric outlets at most of the seats of their larger planes, MD-80s (Mad Dog 80) and up.  It makes such a difference, especially considering the multitude of hours I’ll be in the air between Dallas and Honolulu — have to admit that’s sounding pretty exciting now.

As I was finishing up a blog entry at gate C15, across from me sits Bethany Smith.  I’m not sure what her job is, but Bethany works at the Friday Institute, which I’ve blogged about on several occassions.  She’s become a go-to person for several specific technology applications including podcasting and Moodle.  She’s on her way to San Francisco for a Moodle conference.  Bethany is also involved in an initiative at North Carolina State University to re-invent their educator pre-service program, which I hope to be a part of — schedule permitting.

We talked a bit about Moodle and how NCSU is looking to adopt the software for their online learning programs.  She’s obviously an enthusiast, but equally versed in BlackBoard, Web CT, and their combined product(s).  At any rate is was nice to have someone so pleasant to talk to at the airport.

For most of the rest of these flights, I’ll be finishing up an article about Personal Learning Networks (PLN) and simultaneously finishing up a re-build of my PLN conference presentation, which I’ll be doing three or four times at EdTech, in Honolulu.  One thing that I want to do is to reconcile the fact that there is nothing new about personal learning networks (just like there’s nothing new about do it yourself (DIY) education practices — aka, Edupunk).

I’m struggling with the fear that I may be de-constructing PLN techniques a little too much, for the sake of acknowledging what many will say, “Hey!  We’ve been doing that for years!”  It’s true.  But in the case of PLNs, new information and communication technologies have availed dramatically new avenues for learning from each other and for learning by mining larger conversations for value.  Also critical to this conversation is how important lifelong learning (learning lifestyle) is to education and how necessary it is for teachers to not only practice it, but model the skills of using the networks for learning.

More about DIY/Edupunk later — perhaps the next flight.

When Frills are Not

A couple of weeks ago, I added a graphical user Interface to Class Blogmeister.  It came after several teachers, who were planning summer professional development, said that a word processing-style GUI would help the teachers in their workshops adjust more quickly to blogging.  I can certainly understand that.

Blogging with GUI (click to enlarge)
As you can imagine, the arrival of bold, italics, underline, hyperlink, insert image, etc. buttons met with enormous excitement and satisfaction.  The only disappointment seemed to be that the feature had arrived at the end of the Northern Hemisphere’s school year.  But even at that, there was a minority of teachers who immediate expressed displeasure with making it so easy for students to format their texts.  If I were teaching students and using Class Blogmeister, and especially if I were using it to teach writing, I would probably be with them.

They objected because limiting students to just text, forced them to concentrate exclusively

on the words

    on the writing

        on the communication.

They felt that giving students access to bold, resizing, indenting, and COLORING of text would distract the students from the communication.  Learners would spend more time playing with the look of their blog entries, and less time with the wording — and I think that this objection is well founded.  I’ve said as much before, and it’s the main reason why I hadn’t added GUI before now — that and the fact that I’m not a good enough programmer (I found FCKeditor, an open source code set that I was able to integrate into Class Blogmesiter).

However, I wonder if, in a time of overwhelming content, the look of your blog, how the information is laid out, it’s bolding, bulletting, and even the color of the text, has become as important as the content itself.  As we struggle to find and select information to accomplish our goals, we will seek out that which not only seems valuable, but also looks easy to use — efficient.  So perhaps it has become important to make it easier for students to work the look of their blogs at the same time that they are working the ideas.

Certainly, they are going to get distracted and even abuse the feature, wasting time.  But we have to make them accountable for their work, not only the quality of the content, but also the quality of the communication.  It’s ok if students turn a line in their blog to pink, as long as they can convincingly answer they question you ask nearly every day, “Why did you use pink for that line?  How did that improve the communication of your ideas?”

On My Way West — and Further

I probably shouldn’t say this, but I’ve never been all that thrilled about the classic “Vacation Paradises.” Paradise is OK, but something about places where people flock to vacate themselves.. Well, again, I probably shouldn’t be saying this.

Brenda and I have always preferred the road trip style of vacation or renting a house in the second oldest town in North Carolina and just living there, or spending 90% of our vacation time in England or Scotland on a train. [Photo ((Scott. “Blaisdell Center.” sdj92104’s Photostream. 8 Oct 2007. 7 Jun 2008 http://flickr.com/photos/sdj92104/1517066509/.)) ]

Pretty weird!

But it’s the reason that I haven’t, until now, been itching with anticipation about my trip to Honolulu, Hawaii for their EdTech conference. I spent some time at their web site this morning, which they resourcefully and brilliantly constructed on a WordPress installation. They have a welcome page, schedule page, keynote and featured speakers (including Will Richardson, Mark Standley, Howard Levin, and composer and record producer, Kenneth Makuakane (cool).

In addition to pages about the venue (The Neal S. Blaisdell Center), sponsors, conference evaluation, and a blog, the organizers have also established a Flickr stream, playing a slide show of photos tagged for the conference.

Now? I can’t wait! I want to wikiwiki there!

Games for Changing the World

A quote from the World Without Oil promotional video
Too late, I caught up with an e-mail from Norm Sutaria about a resource that would have come in quite handy for my video games presentations this week, in Bismarck.  It’s a recent blog post in Jeff Cobb’s Mission to Learn blog, 26 Learning Games to Change the World.  They are all serious games aimed at exposing students to some of the critical problems that face people around the world, including malaria, famine, nuclear proliferation, and congress (not a joke).

One game, World Without Oil is about the first 32 weeks of a global oil crisis.  It launches with the fictitious announcement that gas, at the pumps, now costs $4.00 a gallon.

Sutaria also suggested ICED (I Can End Deportation), which he’d just learned about at the Games for Change Conference.

Thanks, Norm!

Peer Learning…

I continue to be under-impressed with video conferencing as tool for “revolutionary” new educational applications.  It connects us, provides for more information and perspectives, and it solves problems of geographic distance.  But what I’m looking for is spanning the distance between experience and intellectual/cultural growth — and sometimes that distance is only a few inches.  That said, my crusty fuddy-duddy resistance is slowly being chipped away.

Lucy Sutton, with Waggener Edstrom WorldWide and part of the PR team for Promethean, shared with me an activity that took place the other day between students in the UK and students in China.  It was a Chinese language lesson where they had video and audio conferencing and were able to share the interactive white board.  Here is a video of the activity. 

I was most taken by the interviews with several students from the Lambeth Academy.  One child admitted that the Chinese students “..work a lot harder than us!”

What strikes me is the peer learning that is taking place, which seems quite relevant to education in a time of rapid change…

Mapping Folder-based Presentations

Geek Warning: This is probably about a 7.5 on the 10 point geek scale!

I wrote a while back about how impressed I was with Stephen Heppell’s method for doing keynotes. Rather than using Powerpoint slides, he presents right out of his hard drive, concepts organized by folders (see Stephen Heppell Keynote at SuperConference and Tinker Toy Networks). I’ve played around with it myself, working with some of the techniques that he taught me, and I like it. Just before starting my video games sessions yesterday,

This is the open folder for my Video Games as Learning Engines presentation. The folder and file icons are arranged in something of a curling line so that there is some sense of sequence. However, I can easily skip around as needed. Folders can be opened with many icons to chose from for that aspect of the presentation. Plus, with OS 10.5 (Leopard), all I have to do is click most icons (images and videos) and they pop up and play almost immediately in preview mode.
a teacher came up to me and asked some important questions about SecondLife. I’d not planned to go into so much detail about the virtual world, but they were such good questions, that I quickly, in about a half minute, made a new folder, and dumped some images, a video, and several web links into the folder. It seems to be a very brain-like way to teach.

My nagging question has been, what to leave with the audience. With Powerpoint and Keynote, I can post the slides on Slideshare. No easy way to do this from my hard drive. I tried just building an outline on my online handouts, but that was time-consuming and editing it each time I added or deleted something is problematic.

Then I tried using Inspiration to create a graphical, branching tree type approach, and this looked great. However, when it came time to edit it, I had to edit the Inspiration file, export it as HTML, upload, etc. Looked great, but it was contrary to the spirit of having an easily adaptive technique of presenting content. I also tried a couple of online idea mapping tools, and like Mind42 a lot. However, they just upgraded the software and there are still some bugs. I’ll probably go back to them when they’ve fixed the publish feature.

But in the process of playing around with Mind42, I learned about FreeMind. It’s an open source downloaded (Windows, Mac OSX, & Linux) application that is designed for free form idea and project tracking. It is fairly customizable using CSS and the files can be exported as MM format, which seems to be a standard idea mapping file format. Mind42 imports them, so that’s what I’ll be trying next.

But what really works for me is that FreeMind will import file structures. I simply find the folder for my presentation, import it, and FreeMind creates a branching graph that reflects the file and folder structure. It even hyperlinks any web shortcuts that I’ve included. There is some cleanup necessary, as it captures invisible files as well. So you have to delete those out, and do a little rearranging, which is very easy, once you learn the keyboard shortcuts.

FreeMind will then export as an XHTML file with a clickable map that links to an outline, also generated by the program. The only step left is FTP’ing the file up to my web server, for which I’ve started using the Fireftp Firefox extension, so I don’t even have to launch a FTP client.

Here is the end product.

I’m fairly happy with this.

Last Day at TNT

I certainly enjoyed working at the TNT conference in Bismarck this week, especially being able to attend the entire conference — learning as well as teaching.  My video games session keeps getting better and the wikis session rocked.  It was especially helpful to be able to share some personal experience with editing Wikipedia articles, and especially drawing attention to the discussions that parallel article developments.

This map is actually a spreadsheet that students can use to comment on specific locations
I’m not going to use the “E” word here, but I saw part of Cindy Solberg’swonderful session about developing stand-alone applications with PowerPoint.  I’m constantly amazed at what educators do with Microsoft Office as a platform, tricking it out to create learning experiences for students.  Perhaps the best person at this sort of DIY product invention is Tammy Worcester.  I’ve seen Tammy work her wizardry in conference halls, with teachers in every chair and sitting on every square foot of the floor, writing down every word.

In the 1990s, I worked with Al Rogers and Greg Butler in some of Greg’s efforts to promote laptop programs back then.  His model was Windows computers running MS Office, and his methods were tricking out all kinds of inventive applications from the productivity tool.  One that impressed me greatly, was placing a map of South America into a spreadsheet as a background, so that the columns and rows were imposed on top of the map.  Then resize the columns and rows so that they are small squares.  Then ask students to label major cities and landforms on the continent by adding comments to the spreadsheet cells on top of them, so that clicking that cell would cause the comment label and description to pop out. 

I was very happy to stay through the end of the conference and see Chris O’Neal’s keynote.  I’d forgotten how funny he is, and he teaches too.  There was a lot of content to his presentation, stories, videos, and he tailored it to accent many of the ideas that I shared in my opening keynote.  It was very well done, and had the entire audience’s attention for the whole hour — quite a feat for the end of a conference — at the beginning of Summer vacation.

One of the high school honors students quotes that I captured was:

“There’s not really an avenue at school for me to share, or publish my own stuff, or especially get feedback from people all over — That’s really the only reason I rush home to do MySpace so much.”

I was especially taken with his suggestion that if you have been asked to appeal to your school board, county commissioners, legislative education committee — or whatever, then don’t bring a class of kids to show what they’re doing with technology.  He said that we should learn about the members of the committee, learn if they have school aged children or grand children, find out what school they attend, and learn what’s going on with technology in their school.  Then suggest, are your children, Mrs. Green, learning these 21st century skills in her classrooms, where they only have one computer and have to share a projector with 12 other classrooms, where they science textbook is six years old, and many of the most up-to-date science and health information resources on the Internet are blocked?  He confessed that this borderlines stalking, but I think that the point was well made.  To appeal to people, you have to make it personal.

Great job Chris.

Wikipedia & Edupunk

I’m sitting at the Raleigh-Durham Airport, waiting to board a plane for Minneapolis and then on to Bismarck, North Dakota. This will be my first time working in North Dakota, so it’s one more state struck from my slowly dwindling list of un-visited states. Actually, I’ll strike another one next week when I’ll be presenting at a conference with Will Richardson in Hawaii. My focus in Bismarck with be wikis, games, and disruptive conditions of teaching and learning.

What’s been on my mind lately, while continuing to move furniture, has been a Wikipedia article that I started the other day on Edupunk. I’d added to an existing article on a book I was reading a few weeks ago, and my paragraphs hadn’t been deleted yet, so I guess I was feeling cocky.

Warning Message from Wikipedia [click to enlarge]
Anyway, I scanned through the instructions and guidelines, and then entered a couple of paragraphs of definition, saved, and then went back in and added a citation and some comments. Then, revisiting the article to add something else less than five minutes later, the message to the right had been posted. I must admit to a fairly intense flashback to early days when I had a genuine fear of breaking the rules. I felt I’d been caught, — by the principal.

However, isn’t this the Wikipedia at its best. Isn’t it the basis of many educators’ resistance to The Free Encyclopedia, that anyone can post anything they like? I thought, “Here’s a great example of the power of a social information source, not that it is unvetted, but that it is incredibly vetted — continually vetted.”

The objection here was that Edupunk is a neologism.

Neologisms (according to Wikipedia) are words and terms that have recently been coined, generally do not appear in any dictionary, but may be used widely or within certain communities. ((Wikipedia Contirubtors, “Avoid Neologisms.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 2008. Wikipedia. 2 Jun 2008 http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Wikipedia:Avoid_neologisms&oldid=209858737.))

But! On further reflection, while navigating our rented Uhaul truck down I-40 toward Raleigh, it occured to me that Wikipedia was one of the first places I went to, to learn more about Edupunk. I expected the article to be there, and when it wasn’t, my first impulse was to start one.

The Wikipedia community works hard to earn respect among readers raised on authoritative, published print content. Yet, part of Wikipedia’s value is its freshness, the fact that you can find the latest information there. And even if the term, Edupunk, does fizzle out in a few weeks or days, it might be of interest to someone, that for a few days during the approaching Summer of 2008, a group of educators were using a term so identified with rebellion and non-conformity to talk about the state of education.

At present, two days later, the Edupunk still lives, having been labeled as a stub (..an article containing only a few sentences of text which is too short to provide encyclopedic coverage of a subject, but not so short as to provide no useful information), having been edited 15 times with two citations. The background discussion is quite interesting.