Tag Archive for techintegration

It’s not about the next big thing

No matter how many amazing technologies that educational technologists may personally enjoy, our work in schools is fundamentally about supporting teachers and students. We provide the tools and means for teachers with limited time and risk tolerance to try activities that apply modern pedagogies and use social technologies. We ourselves operate in a different world, immersed in social technologies at our desks and at home, able to spend far more time than can most teachers.

I spent an hour today with arts teachers from grades PS-12, focused on a single topic: posting multimedia content to web sites. If we post more content, students can exhibit more work, and visitors can learn more about the school’s arts program. Our teachers already have the media—digital photos, audio, and video. They just need help crossing that last hurdle to post the content online.

mask work

We have our share of early technology adopters. They build amazing lessons with technology tools: trip planning with Google Earth, language activities for homework with Voicethread, real-time group writing in Google Docs and class discussions in Moodle. Now we are grooming the second level of teachers who are eager to learn new technologies once they have seen others use it successfully, and the platform looks stable. This second wave of teachers is much larger than the first, so many opportunities exist to provide training, visit classes, and involve the innovators in providing leadership and guidance. The second wave will make student-centered classroom uses of technology commonplace, not just exceptional.

Many kids figure out how to post content on their own, especially in the higher grades. Younger students need more assistance, especially with audio, since the most successful commercial networks emphasize photos and video. Substantial online writing—especially collaboratively—is often a new experience for students. We have also found some success with students learning skills in one grade and carrying them on to the next.

Helpful in this endeavor is insideCatlin, our “walled garden” of social software open to the members of the school community. While I completely understand some educators’ insistence on teaching students to use publicly available tools, we find it easier to scale technologies to multiple classrooms when everyone uses a common platform that we can bind to our login system and customize to our liking. Intranet-based services also ensure that authorship of posted content is easily identifiable, helping teach responsible use within a community setting.

I have scarcely mentioned Twitter at our school. Does it have potential as a useful tool? Sure, but we’re better off using scarce teacher time to deepen one’s still-nascent understanding of the last few years’ inventions, to enrich their curricular applications and actually improve student learning. I’ll continue to tweet, but I won’t encourage our teachers to (at least not yet)! I may even get into Second Life (if someone drags me there), but I would not roll it out here in a big way. Teachers’ brains and schedules are currently full. Except for the rare few, they can’t give these new technologies the time they require to make them really useful in the classroom.

What successful experiences have you had scaling new, curricular applications of technology to the majority of your teachers?

Voicethread activity design

Voicethread may be one of those very versatile tools that appeals to a wide variety of teachers and supports many different kinds of learners. These examples demonstrate some different lesson designs we discussed during a meeting with our language teachers and Barbara Cohen of Marin Country Day School.

Introductory activity: state your goals for the year, attempt your first Spanish statements. This activity was both a low-risk way to have kids test their Voicethread connections from home and get a sense of their Spanish abilities.

Quiz practice: Kids practice and share their preparation for the phrase completion quiz.

Math solutions: This creative example took us by surprise. The MCDS students use the doodle tool and audio narration to walk through math solutions. Very cool.

Organic story: Spencer came up with the idea to have students create a story one comment at a time. Start with a single prompt and then have students each continue the story from the previous student’s comment.

Self-portraits and Photo Booth

Our middle school visual arts teacher organizes a self-portrait project for his students based on the techniques of Chuck Close. In his classroom, he has the students use Apple Photo Booth to capture a photo of themselves and then modify it in the way they desire. They print the photo, add a grid using pen, and then begin to draw their self-portrait using pastel crayons on a larger, similarly-gridded paper.

MS students

I asked whether using Photo Booth’s built-in image filters stunted the students’ creativity in this project. On the contrary, Dale replied, it helped those students who needed a little push be more creative. Other students found plenty of creative space in the drawing portion of the assignment. The digital portion was just a starting point for the project. One student used Photoshop instead of Photo Booth to achieve a more custom effect.

MS arts

New iMacs with built-in cameras made the digital portion of the project run more easily and faster for a number of students. They were more quickly able to get to the drawing portion than did students in past years. The teacher successfully used the digital tool to assist the creative process while retaining hand drawing as the central component.

Many quality ed-tech conferences this year

I am excited to recruit more teachers to attend terrific ed-tech conferences, especially those focused on learning and located nearby. I sent the following list to my colleagues today in an effort to build interest and make plans.

This year sees an unprecedented number of quality national conferences in educational technology both locally and further afield.

 

K12 Online Conference
October 13 – November 1
100% Online
http://k12onlineconference.org/

This free, fully online conference marks its third year in October.
Speakers record presentations in advance and then participate in online
discussions on a predetermined schedule. All the presentations are
archived for posterity. Most of the leading international figures in
educational technologies have a hand in this one. Now all you need to
do is to carve out some time to watch and participate.

EduCon 2.1
January 23-25, 2009
Science Leadership Academy
Philadelphia, PA

http://educon21.wikispaces.com/

SLA is a public school in Philadelphia with a progressive educational
mission and many thoughtful uses of technology. Their principal, Chris
Lehmann, has established a national reputation as an effective school
leader, education technology blogger, and school reform authority. The
school enjoys a partnership with the Benjamin Franklin Museum and
enrolls an ethnically and socioeconomically representative sample of
students from the city.

EduCon is the school’s groundbreaking "unconference," where teachers
and theorists facilitate participatory discussions rather than giving
conventional presentations. They also took the groundbreaking step of
broadcasting the entire conference via uStream last year, making it
possible to attend and participate "virtually."

Northwest Council of Computer Educators (NCCE)
February 17-20, 2009
Oregon Convention Center
Portland, Oregon
http://ncce.org

This leading regional conference usually takes place in Seattle, so we
are fortunate to have it in our own backyard this year. The conference
boasts dozens of sessions and features nationally-known presenters. If
you have an idea of what you are looking for, this conference is likely
to offer it — new technologies from all of the main vendors, and
teachers sharing their strategies.

PNAIS Spring Teachers Conference
April 20, 2009
Rowland Hall-St. Mark’s School
Salt Lake City, Utah
http://pnais.org

Imagine the fall teachers conference that many of us attend annually.
Now imagine the entire thing organized around the role of technology in
education. Keynoted by Ian Jukes, the day promises to focus on 21st
century learners.

Association of Computer Professionals in Education
May 6-8, 2009
The Resort at the Mountain
Welches, Oregon
http://acpenw.org

This is the leading annual conference for computers in education in Oregon. Geared to technical professionals, this conference nonetheless contextualizes our work firmly in the context of teaching and learning. It offers an excellent opportunity to network with Oregon schools and build relationships with local vendors.

PNAIS TechShare
June 28-30, 2009
The Resort at the Mountain
Welches, Oregon

TechShare features practitioner sessions from our peer schools in Oregon and Washington, including Lakeside, Northwest, Evergreen, Overlake, Billings, Meridian, FAIS, OES, and Seattle Academy. The participatory format and small size encourages lots of informal conversation and networking with our colleagues at other institutions. Participants stay at the resort for three days and two nights, and the sessions encourage your participation and ideas. The conference is divided into two strands, "teacher" and "geek." This year’s theme is "Small World," an exploration of tools and techniques that put our students in touch with peers and resources globally.

Building Learning Communities (BLC)
July 27-31, 2009
Copley Plaza Hotel
Boston, Massachusetts
http://novemberlearning.com

In 2008, Alan November succeeded in focusing this conference primarily on teaching and learning in a technologically-rich world. The best sessions were led by educators creating remarkably student-centered learning environments with technology. Student-led instruction, international collaborations, and social learning were all on display.

 

Learning from our peer schools

I spent a day and a half in Seattle to visit Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences and attend the PNAIS Teacher Conference. I got to spend a good chunk of time with Vicki Butler, who graciously toured us through the Seattle Academy campus and gave us an in-depth look into their Moodle installation.

Seattle Academy has deeply leveraged Moodle to organize assignments and track student progress. Every teacher maintains homework assignments for every course. Teachers and students thereby benefit from Moodle’s aggregation features — each person has a meta-calendar that shows all of their outstanding work program-wide. In additon to built-in features, staff have installed optional modules and written custom code to more effectively track student progress. On their course home pages, teachers can easily view what assignment submissions remain to be graded and advisees who are falling behind on their homework. Advisors can quickly view overall course progress of their students. The school is experimenting with Mahara e-portfolio integration. I hope to learn from their use of roles and permissions in order to create a way for our parents to view course content without having to enroll in each one.

I am most interested in using Moodle to create immersive, social learning environments for students. Vicki showed me several examples of students maintaining glossaries, posting science videos, and holding discussions using Moodle’s activity modules.

After checking Michael Thompson‘s keynote on boy education, I soon settled in with my colleagues from Lakeside, Billings, Meridian, Evergreen, and Seattle Academy to plan the PNAIS TechShare conference, scheduled for June 28-30, 2009 in Welches, Oregon. We selected a theme, “Small World,” an exploration of global education and social technologies. This should lead to sessions on GIS, trip planning, international collaborations, global education, Skype, Drupal, uStream, and more. We are also hoping to walk the talk by coordinating live, international participation in the conference through uStream and Skype.

We speculated that it might be particularly effective to put a single person in charge of the remote participants in each session. Instead of occasionally reading out remote contributions, the backchannel facilitator could arrange Skype connections with remote participants and pull them into the discussion.

I also added Billings and Meridian to my list of schools with Drupal-powered public-facing web sites.

Can you imagine how much richer our daily professional life would be if the staff from all of these schools blogged?

Reflections on Building Learning Communities 2008

BLC08

I made a full week of the Building Learning Communities conference this year. I started with EduBloggerCon East, an informal gathering of local educators and technologists to discuss tech issues on our mind. I spent Tuesday at The Met, the “unschool,” in which students learn through internships and independent study. The formal conference ran from Wednesday through Friday and included one keynote and several breakout sessions per day.

EduBloggerCon was a success. I am a big fan of participant-led events, which bring a level of authenticity and spontaneity often lacking from more carefully planned professional development. I took the group through a workshop to explicitly connect technology-rich activities with underpinning learning theories. I participated in a discussion of extending special education technologies to the entire school and a review of people’s favorite new tools (mine was NanoGong). I was disappointed by what I saw as overemphasis on tools and relatively weak discussion of pedagogy. Does this mean that educational technologists need to develop stronger dialogue around pedagogy? Yes. Can I better structure my workshops on this topic? Definitely. It may be time for me to narrow the discussion to constructivist teaching with technology rather than trying to cast a wide net over a number of pedagogical constructs.

I had a tremendous time at The Met. I had heard and read about their model for internship-based education — a school without classes or courses! However, this was my first direct experience speaking with teachers and students about the model and reviewing their planning and explanatory materials. Running for over a decade now, The Met staff has continued to deepen its understanding of what works and enrich the details of their program. I kept a series of notes on the a-ha moments of the day and hope to refer to them often in the future.

I am pleased that the Big Picture Company now boasts a network of 50 schools nationwide (and a few abroad) that have adopted their principles and model and participate in their network for professional development and planning materials. Given all of the talk about authentic learning environments, student interest in learning, and 21st century skills, this seems like one obvious direction to explore when considering new models for effective education. One of their schools is located in my backyard. I hope to pay a visit to expand my local professional network in Portland and see how the Big Picture model translates to one of their newer schools.

To tell you the truth, the first two BLC keynote addresses were disappointing. Ewan McIntosh and John Davitt focused too much on currently existing technology applications and their effects on social dynamics and power. The dominant educational technology discourse has been enamored with these possibilities for a few years now. We are ready for a more detailed exploration of the intersection of new technologies with specific pedagogical strategies. Give us lots of specific examples from schools — by now, they should exist, right? Explore both successes and failures. Teachers and school technologists have already bought into the vision. Now give us the tools and wisdom to implement well.

The third keynote exemplified a great address to 1,000 people. Ironically, Pedro Noguera did not talk at all about technology! His classic talk on the case and problem of school reform resonated well with much of the audience both at the conceptual and practical levels. Full of detailed examples and specific cases, Noguera interwove the conceptual and moral imperative for school change with many different views of each concept, data from research studies, and individual schools implementing specific strategies, to great success.

Interestingly, McIntosh scored a hit with me during his breakout session titled “We’re Adopting: One Year On.” I had read about his introduction of a large professional learning environment in East Lothian last year and was excited to get an update on the progress of the network one year along. Not only did McIntosh deliver the promised update, but he also revisited some of the concepts from the keynote in much more detail and to far greater effect. I found the second presentation much more compelling and useful than the first. Most effective was his step-by-step analysis of a FlashMob performance at New York’s Central Station. The idea was creative and original, but it was also planned to a very fine level of detail, and many individuals departed from the script in ways that made the experience even more high-quality.

Ewan also delivered several nuggets to remember as we facilitate school change. Emerging technologies have impact because many people share awareness of the tool at the same time. Small, passionate groups make things happen. And I remember one of Ewan’s nuggets from last year: forget the pilot. Come up with a great idea and launch it well. This year, that idea surfaced with the selection of a unique, memorable name for the initiative. In East Lothian’s case, it was “EduBuzz.” Let evangelists evangelize, but then turn them into trainers. People need training, not evangelism (I could stand to remember this sometimes.) Support bottom-up and emergent behaviors through informal structures — meetups, gatherings at bars. Don’t think. Try.

‘Students teaching students’ was a recurrent theme. Over and over again, speakers highlighted the value of exposing students to content, providing time for analysis and reflection, and then having students present content back to the group. Darren Kuropatwa described his everyday practice of students creating Smart Board presentations and then posting them to the class blog, demonstrating their mastery of topics in mathematics and building the ‘textbook’ for the course. Darren also makes great use of imagery and metaphor to get students excited and build real-world relevance. Note that this is a far cry from the applied education of The Met, but it has a far better chance of reaching all learners than direct instruction. Watch video of Darren’s presentation.

Bob Sprankle enlighted us with his use of blogging and podcasting over the years. Again, the dominant message was the high educational value of students producing content, demonstrating their understanding, sharing their knowledge with family members, and even receiving comments from people around the world. I have not yet had the opportunity to gain public visibility and interaction around student work, but we come closer every year. I would probably get a lot more Sprankle in my life if I listened to his podcasts, but I prefer to read.

Clarence Fisher delivered a presentation on international collaboration as the norm, essentially the story of his classroom. Given Clarence’s recent reminder to U.S. edubloggers to refocus on teaching and learning, I knew I would enjoy this session. Clarence opened the door to teachers everywhere to navigate blogs around the world and get their students more globally connected. He also made direct links to the pedagogical usefulness of such an approach — authentic audience, writing the “textbook”, and seeking experts outside of one’s organization. Clarence’s nuggets: design a logo for your classroom, subscribe to Global Voices Online to find the latest international content (he found AfriGadget this way. The most important job as a teacher is to hook up individual students with information tailored to their interests and learning goals. Clarence built his global network by Googling for “grade 8 teacher,” finding teachers with blogs around the world, and then sending dozens of emails seeking collaboration. Clarence does not allow his students to link from their school blog to their personal Facebook pages and such. Clarence’s sites: Thin Walls (collaboration with Los Angeles school) and Studying Societies (class wiki).

The New Technology Foundation promotes many of the same ideas through its national network of “new tech” schools. Starting with New Tech High at Sir Francis Drake in Napa, Bob Pearlman described their emphases on group work, collaboration, and generative work. Again, many of the same ideas, facilitated with technology, starting to form a blueprint for a vision of school reform. They also have a school in Portland.

I learned of several online professional development/school management environments. Check out EduBuzz from Scotland, where 1500 school administrators and teachers reflect online about their practice; PeBL, the online portfolio and learning application from the New Technology Foundation; and Big Picture Online, the online sharing/working/school leadership portal for the Met schools.

For a change, I attended a session that was more about content than pedagogy. The National Archives promotes learning through the critical examination of source documents. The presenter brought several examples, including a military register showing John Glenn and Ted Williams serving in the same unit and a letter that 12 year-old Fidel Castro wrote to President Roosevelt introducing himself and asking for a $10 bill! If you search their Archival Research Catalog (ARC), be sure to click the full Search button search and then click the Digital Copies tab 20080718-Picture 1.png in order to most directly access the source documents themselves instead of just the descriptions! My only complaint about this session was that the presenter focused exclusively on analysis of the source documents. Any real lesson would combine this with other pedagogical techniques. My curiosity was piqued by the military document, I Googled for Ted Williams’ military service and found a wonderful summary that enlightened me about several other fascinating aspects of his military experience that one could not infer from the primary source material. Heck, a colleague at Catlin Gabel informs me that every time he wants to view a speech from any possible historical figure, he finds it on YouTube.

I even presented my own session at this conference, titled “A Window Into Gaza.” I was delighted to present to a full room and elicit three individuals particularly interested in either starting a club at their school or helping put the program in touch with more possible funding sources. See my presentation handout and blog posts right after the event for more information or to get involved.

I can highly recommend this conference for educational technologists focused on teaching and learning. As I hope I have demonstrated above, all of the presenters I saw had a strong grasp of the connections between pedagogy and technology and could provide both wisdom and examples with their presentations. The conference design was superb. Following on the heels of NECC, the contrast is clear. Building Learning Communities keeps the scope of corporate sponsors, vendors, and salespeople to an appropriate place. The vendor “floor” was tiny, and company representatives were genuinely helpful and interested in teachers’ questions and issues. For me, it was easy to steer clear of the vendors and not feel accosted. EduBloggerCon retained the grassroots feel and spontaneous organization that so dramatically failed at NECC. I was able to attend (even sit) at every session I entered, and they even served a sit-down lunch two of the three days! Kudos to the November Learning team for superb organization. I only suggest that they get the proposal submission process and logistics submissions online next year. I was surprised at the number of times I was asked to respond to a question by email instead of an online form. That could not have been easy to collect and organize! I also appreciated ubiquitous wireless access but found it variable in quality. I know it’s very difficult to accomodate the hundreds of laptops that participants brought to the session, but it was a bit hard to lose connectivity periodically, once while presenting! Next year, the conference will be at the Park Plaza hotel in downtown Boston instead of suburban Newton, so pencil in July 27-31 right now!

Technology – Pedagogy

I just finished facilitating a session that aimed to make explicit connections between technology activities and specific pedagogical theories of learning. It went okay — we struggled a bit with the challenge of speaking about pedagogy in sufficiently specific terms, in the context of technology activities. Two or three people invoked multiple pedagogical constructs for a single technology example. While this might authentically reflect the real complexity of actual classroom work, I also feel that we would benefit from at least narrowing the conversation to one pedagogical construct at a time in order to truly understand the reason for its effectiveness.

poster signup
Participants expressed interest by posting stickies under the session description.

Here are our notes from today’s session:

Pedagogical Constructs
- Behaviorism: rewards, grades, stars, stickers, reinforcements
- Cognitivism: intellectual complexity, Socratic method, programming, debating
- Constructivism: building meaning based on experience, building knowledge base, socially, based, Montessori, project-based learning, not one authority
- Connectivism: working in a highly connected environment, using your network, blogging, lurking on backchannel (sidebar convos, perhaps) chat
- Engagement, joyful participation
- Differentiated Instruction
- Inquiry model, studio
- Understanding by Design
- Universal Design for Learning: multiple representations

Examples

Internet Safety — 5th and 6th graders
- Lecture, poster or comic about one safety rule
- Build a web page and publish it, demonstrating that they can follow the rule
- Connectivism, Understanding By Design: project is available for any student to be successful with, every student completes the task; more than constructivist, because of group work, connected to all teachers, working with and supporting each other

Art/music collaboration: history of silent films, background in nonverbal communication, drama, what it takes to create a movie
- students created storyboard, ideas for how they would create a silent movie
- how can we make this more open to different kinds of students? break students into groups? not so product driven?

Podcast project with ninth grade
- vignettes, write about an experience in their lives, added music and sound effects
- extraordinary podcasts in terms of writing and expression, correcting themselves as they were speaking it aloud
- one kid in particular related his experience with parents getting divorced
- very personal, not shared outside of the class
- differentiated — being able to express themselves in a different way
- kids who had decided they were not good writers
- read vignettes written by other people

Digital Storytelling — fifth grade
- kids had a personal narrative, Macs, iMovie, Garageband
- music, sounds effects, parents made up the audience
- blogged and podcasted so that relatives far away and teachers could also enjoy it
- behaviorism: rewarded for their work
- constructivism, engagement, personal narrative
- can add to story by including random elements, discussing how that impacts the story
- using photos may not be easier, especially if gathering other peoples’ images
- visual literacy: how are images interpreted? How do you tell a story well with images?

Google Tools: teachers investigating tools themselves and thinking about how they could use them in their classrooms, present the tool to the rest of the class
- larger group response and feedback to the tool
- greater opportunity for creativity — more ideas about how tools could be used

VoiceThread: bridging podcasts and vodcasts
- focus on the up-front preparation before you get to the technical tool
- could also have value to throw kids directly into the tool to explore it (e.g., Scratch)
- teachers didn’t think that one would be allowed to submit a research paper as a VoiceThread
- when is the purpose of the lesson exploration? (especially when it is something new). No matter how teacher-directed an activity is, learners find the opportunity to explore.
- exploration is highly constructivist — building your own representation of the tool based on your toying around with it
- power of exploration when there is a direction to it: e.g., “build a house” “build a bicycle”. Need to have some kind of goal, allow the time to explore, fewer projects, more time per project.
- Able to accept as research once you set the bar high for product expectations

Simple repetition: elementary school students record own stories and then, on their own, decide to re-record over and over in order to improve them.

Teaching and Learning (remember them?)

Thankfully, edubloggers are writing about the lack of classroom representation in the most widely read online conversations about educational technologies. Brian Cosby and Clarence Fisher bemoan the lack of teachers at NECC and classroom examples in NECC presentations. He draws attention to the Educational Technology Professional Development Manifesto, which urges presenters at ed-tech conferences to get specific and provide enough detail that others may implement one’s ideas in their schools.

Nancy Bosch suggests that including classroom examples in ed-tech presentations may not be sufficient. Bosch writes:

I spent ten years presenting (as a full time teacher) around my state and district. I also presented for 5 years at NECC and IMHO I was very good at it, bringing hundreds of examples and projects from the classroom to share with the participants. I then suffered from tech overload and frustration because, no matter how much they “oh-ed” and “ah-ed” at workshops, I saw little technology integration in the classrooms throughout my large district.

At the same time, Chris Lehmann feels that edubloggers need to start an organization in order to effect educational change, Will Richardson wonders how to broaden the impact of powerful learning with technology that he and others have witnessed.

On the positive side, Gardner Campbell acknowledges that critical mass grows slowly but offers one institution’s history as a light at the end of the tunnel. Campbell writes:

I was struck by the commonalities with my own experience, as well as with the stories I’ve heard from similar groups: early adopters, early resistance, the slow growth of a critical mass, the difficulties with communication and cooperation and resource allocation that come with all large organizations, the successes, the professional networks, the immense satisfactions.

This leaves me to wonder: what will it take for teachers to more widely teach effectively with technology? I don’t have a single answer, but I think I can see one important missing piece. Edubloggers and teachers are not involved in enough discussions together that address teaching and learning with technology in ways that serve both populations. I have participated in so many discussions with teachers in which we spend a lot of time just to move beyond the idea that teaching with technology means trying a new tool in the classroom. It takes a substantial effort to move the discussion back to the teaching and learning objectives for a unit of study and to bring pedagogy to the forefront. If we really believe that technology is a tool, then the discussion must center about pedagogy. Changing the tool is most the most effective way to improve curriculum, but it does directly change how students interact with curriculum. Pedagogy addresses the creation of learning environments in which students interact with curriculum. Technology tools make it possible to differently implement time-honored pedagogical strategies (group discussion, for instance) and sometimes make possible new pedagogical frameworks (e.g., connectivist environments).

As I enter a new academic year, I hope to collect and present more examples of effective technology integration in the curriculum at my school. Some of it lives within the curriculum integration category of this blog, but if you want to go further back in time, you have to select an archive first and then select the category again — not the best way to navigate this content repository. I would like to draw particular attention to technology uses that are particularly effective at supporting progressive, constructivist pedagogies at our school. For example, our lower (elementary) school Spanish teacher has students creating and revising their own presentations by sitting alone in front of an iMac with video camera. In the middle school, English students write a song about post-Civil War Reconstruction, share it with their classmates to hear, transcribe the lyrics, and then have a discussion about it, all online. In the upper (high) school, a history teacher plans a new Election class for the fall, hoping that students will create their own theories about the roles of new media in this election, using new media tools to investigate the question. The best example from my past is the ChemSense project, in which students create simple, 2D representations of chemical processes and structures and discuss them in an online space. In each case, students construct their own knowledge, and the technology tool makes the process easier and more powerful.

I am convinced that theorists and teachers having more conversations about effective technology support for specific pedagogies can only lead to greater adoption in the classroom.

Our lack of a common vocabulary for new, technology-infused pedagogies works against us. Other new educational ideas, such as small schools and learning differences, have developed this common vocabulary and more quickly make sense to more teachers. In educational technologies, the only common understanding is a false one: that educational technologists simply want teachers to use more technology in their classes, and that this alone will lead to better teaching and learning. Unintentional, unplanned technology integration that uses loads of resources is counterproductive.

The lack of common vocabulary hurts us in another way — Google searches. A teacher using Google to search for technology in the classroom will easily find ‘blog,’ ‘podcast,’ or ‘Web 2.0.’ She won’t just stumble across a discussion about ‘constructivist uses of technology,’ for example. Our good writing about effective technology integration gets lost in the vast pool of ed-tech buzzwords that exist out there. Teachers find plenty of support for the misconception that technology integration is just about the gadgets.

We need more cross-pollination between educational technology and teacher conferences, but we also need new, more clever strategies to make this happen. This year, I succeeded in encouraging our middle school world cultures teacher to submit a proposal to the K12 Online Conference. Now, I hope that the selection committee will accept his proposal, and both ed-tech theorists and classroom practitioners can benefit from viewing his ideas applied to the classroom.

I plan to start a small, professional learning community at my school this year to more frequently engage in regular discussion of the pedagogical applications of computer technologies in the classroom. I hope we will meet both in person and online, and that enough teachers will be sufficiently interested in the concept to give it momentum. In this way, I hope to reclaim the dominant conversation about educational technologies.

I also need to build my own personal collection of web sites that present examples from the classroom in a way that clearly explains the pedagogy underlying the technology. Nancy Bosch has done so. The Apple Learning Interchange, notwithstanding the corporate organization, seems to churn out podcasts and videos on this topic every day. Subscribe to their RSS feed. (I wish they provided more of this content as text.)

Some of us eagerly anticipate the start of Building Learning Communities this week. Others have already begun their work at the Lausanne Laptop Institute. I hope that the recent surge of interest in teachers and classrooms in widely read educational technology discussions continues and becomes permanent. We have completely addressed the broad justifications for this movement. Now, it’s time to get specific and applied.

Off to a quick start this summer

Now that the Celtics have completed their incredible journey to title #17, I may find the time to get back on this blog. Seriously, summer has arrived with a vengeance, and we are flying to keep up with the ambitious schedule of summer maintenance and improvements that we have set for ourselves. Like a Rajon Rondo fast break, we hope to weave through the lane, do that Bob-Cousy-throwback-pendulum-move and then take it to the rim.

The upper school ended the year by devoting a day to the 1:1 student laptop program. I was so pleased that we got the faculty together to discuss the program for the first time in many years, even if fear of student distraction and tech overload dominated the discussion. Some teachers are struggling with students distracted by the myriad online opportunities once they open their laptops. Many are concerned about the effect of so much screen time on the social fabric of the school and active class discussions. Other teachers appear to be handling it just fine. On the more positive side, applications of the laptops to support teaching and learning are widespread and powerful. One teacher summed it up with, “We would never want to go back.” We will review the results of these discussions and prepare further conversations for the fall.

In the middle school, I continued my annual practice of teachers sharing successful technology integration strategies with each other. I find that teachers not already working together in teams do not regularly share lesson plans with each other. The tech share provides at least an annual moment for this to happen, allowing me to step completely to the side. It provides all teachers the opportunity that, if their colleagues can experiment with new applications of technology in the classroom, so can they. Teachers shared their work with digital audio recorders in Costa Rica, trip planning using Google Earth, reflections on literature in Moodle forums, and manipulating images of one’s self in Photoshop.

Today, we started our new web site design process. A month ago, I let go of my previous strategy to upgrade only the back-end of the web site and postpone the redesign to later. This will dovetail nicely with a reexamination of our schoolwide communication strategy. I also have the help of Drew of OneNW, who provides online communications consulting to environmental organizations. He has helped us start this process well-focused on our target audiences, their values, and their roles at Catlin Gabel. This will lead to the development of user scenarios and a detailed design document, which we will share with some part of the school community for comment. We hope to launch a new site a year from now, a site that will offer both the intuitive access to information and useful transactional tools that people now expect from an organization’s web site.

At the same time, I continue to pursue the Drupal experiment. In just two hours’ time, I built a prototype for a human resources site using Views and a Custom Content Type. This allows anyone to create an account, submit a job application, and upload attachments. It also solves many of the problems we are experiencing with our current web services provider for job applications, Ceridian. This tool would be part of our main web site platform, get applicants to a list of jobs in one click instead of three, and allow them to upload multiple file attachments instead of just one. By creating an account, the applicant may return and modify the application later on, for example to upload more attachments.

This prototype does not yet offer all of the desired features, and it appears that I will need to learn Actions in order to add automated email features to the system, for example when the HR director wants to notify at once all the applicants who did not get the job. I am also taking a look at Coherent Access (thanks, Bill), which may provide an easy hand-off from the HR office to the supervisor reviewing the first round of applicants. Since we receive 3,000 job applications a year, this will be a more strenuous test of our ability to host large volumes of content in our own system.

Summer workers have arrived, we placed our summer order for Macintosh computers yesterday, and equipment for audiovisual installations is on the way. Soon, we will be up to our eyeballs in computers to upgrade and prepare for the start of school in August. I went with two units of the new Smart 608i2 — save $900 over the 680i, as long as you don’t mind the lack of amplified audio! The Epson 1825 replaces last year’s 1815p but looks almost indistinguishable in features and form. The summer schedule is tightly scripted. On a good note, we are making more use of scripts to automate installation and configuration than ever before. Stay tuned for a report of whether it actually speeds up the configuration process.

New core switch

Yesterday, our new core switch (Cisco 6500 series) arrived, and our consultants and we took the network down briefly to test the new configuration. It passed the test, so we appear to be on track to put it into production the coming Monday evening. We will need to touch all campus switches and access points to complete the upgrade, another step in getting our entire network infrastructure under warranty and on a predictable replacement schedule.

I am pleased to attend design meetings for the proposed Creative Arts Center. The teachers have come up with fabulous ideas for the arrangement and equipping of new classrooms, which are essential to the future success of the Arts program at Catlin Gabel. The construction of the building depends on raising the requisite funds by April 1, so stay tuned as we hope that the dream will become reality. An early idea for our communications plan is to create a mini-site with a completely different graphic design and blog format to keep people up-to-date on progress toward the goal, inform, and generate enthusiasm for the project.

Yesterday, I launched a new home page design for insideCatlin, our intranet community portal. We added so many new content sections and tools to the site this past academic year that the home page no longer made any sense to users trying to find specific items. The new home page design loads the user’s Moodle cookie and displays links appropriate to that person’s LDAP and Moodle group memberships. If you go there, you will see only the base set of items unless you are a Catlin Gabel community member. They see additional items that only apply to their context in the school. In this way, we provide dozens of links to the home page without cluttering it for any individual user.

For security, a script doing the work lives outside the web directory, and the links themselves do not contain protected content. You actually have to log in before you see substantial information, a strategy borrowed from Yahoo! and other internet portals. I am also raising the visibility of media content — photos from Gallery, and audio and video files from Drupal. Naturally, I have yet to build the audio file queries, and I want to convert video upload from Video to a FLV-compatible format before working on that section. The photo thumbnails look really great, though!

This week, I hope to make good progress on several scripting projects, especially upgrading existing Perl scripts such as the curriculum map, bookstore, and admission inquiry scripts. Then, I have taken on some new projects, such as a community service tracking form and major assignments conflicts calendar. The school has so many needs for data forms with logic and calculations. It’s great that systems like Drupal are designed for this very thing, but I am still finding it a lot easier to creates the ones that require a lot of calculation or close tie-ins with our student information system in Perl rather than in Drupal. I did recently create a senior projects archive in Drupal, so I am learning to move some recording and archiving functions into there. Each senior project entry contains a brief description of the student’s project, their proposal, a link to their project blog, and their final report. This year, half the class did a senior project. Next year, the faculty hopes that all will, so the ability to review past projects and then track current ones will become even more important.

If you haven’t already, go get your $250, 500-seat iLife and iWork site licenses. Pages fills the space between InDesign and Word — our lower school teachers love it. Remember what a similar deal did for Macromedia nearly a decade ago? Kudos to Apple for the move.

I really wish I could write a separate blog post for each of the items above. I am glad I could provide you with a little reference. Do drop me a line if you are engaged in something similar and would like to compare more detailed notes.

Good luck with your summer projects. I hope to see you at Building Learning Communities in July.

Encouraging Faculty

I am considering activities to run with our faculty at tomorrow’s end-of-year meeting. Do you have any thoughts about which might be particularly effective? What other ideas do you have?

1. Tech Showcase: A few teachers each highlight a successful, technology-rich activity and explore the connection between the medium and teaching/learning. This could help promote sharing of ideas among departments.

2. Top 10 Disruptive Technologies: We may lead off with the article, to provide context to breakout groups and frame one aspect of the challenge facing us.

3. Theories of Learning: Behaviorist, Cognitivist, Constructivist, Connectivist. Framing T&L within these four theories may help teachers design new activities that incorporate technologies. I can provide an example of each one, rooted in subject-specific curricula. Some points of emphasis: teachers typically incorporate multiple theories of learning to provide curriculum to students. Over the years, educational theorists emphasized each of these theories at one time or another. Increasingly, student learn through their networks: a high degree of connectedness to resources and peers characterizes their learning landscape (provide examples). Schools that do not take acknowledge and take advantage of this may appear “artificial” or “irrelevant” to students. Teachers may design new, technology-rich learning activities by: 1) identifying a curricular objective that they would like to teach better next year; 2) choosing the learning theor(ies) that would best support this learning objective; 3) designing a classroom activity or project that would help create this learning environment; 4) Taking advantage of new literacies in our students: personal learning networks, visual information. This presentation could preface departmental discussions.

4. Tech survey results. We have at our disposal an upper school parent laptop survey, upper school student laptop survey, and eighth grade student technology survey (blog articles coming soon). Our middle school head has particularly recommended that the upper school teachers should take a look at the responses of their incoming students for next year.