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Tag: educational technology

I could be almost anywhere, I suppose, and you could find me. You don’t need to know where I am, just how to get a hold of me. Need some help with your blog? Can’t register for a workshop? I’m right here, just a click away. Two weeks ago I was three time zones away but right here when you needed me. That’s why living on the Internet is so important. And I don’t mean you need to be in constant contact glued to a screen. I’m not a Tweeter and I make just limited use of social networking. Yet I always pack my virtual Internet bag with presentations, word processing documents, blogs, calendars and forms no matter where I go. I don’t leave home without them.

I live in the land of Google. Some might think trusting everything to Google is risky; and you might have a valid argument; but not living in Google means you either aren’t in contact or you have to trust someone else like Microsoft or Sun Micro Systems. I’ll take my chances with Google. I do my writing in Google Documents, prepare and share presentations there and keep track of the world with Google Calendars,  iGoogle and Google Reader.

Living in cyberspace is the way the digital world is headed. And the Oregon Department of Education has figured that out. Oregon is the first state to sign an agreement with Google to bring Google Apps for Education to every school district in Oregon. Google Apps will put us all together all the time. Students will be able to access documents anytime they have access to the Internet not just when the class troops down to the computer lab. Students can share documents, collaborate simultaneously on the same document, give access to teachers, publish to the Web and join virtual classes and meetings. Teachers can even grade papers on Google. Think of the money schools can save on paper, printers and Microsoft Office licenses.

Google Apps for Education is a big step in the direction of the blended school day. Way to go Oregon!

In the early 1990s Web browsers were in their infancy and anything but interactive. Web pages held information, mostly text, and there really wasn’t much to click on. But even with a lot of green screen text and almost no graphics, communities of online users were built and flourished. Here are a couple of personal examples from almost twenty years ago:

I had been working on a database software problem and I was stymied. I went online and found the software vendor’s Web page. I noticed a link to an online forum where you could actually type in your question and others visiting the site could respond. A novel idea I thought; but because it was Sunday afternoon I doubted if anyone would be reading my plea for help. I logged off to continue my struggles. A half hour later I logged on  again to see if I had gotten lucky. And there it was: An answer to my question and a solution to my problem. It was a very detailed but clearly delineated answer. And it came from a person in Sweden.  Today that wouldn’t even make us blink; but back then it amazed me that sitting in Eugene on a Sunday afternoon I could get help from someone half a world away.

Here’s one more example: Three friends and I were awarded a grant to attend a summer institute at Stanford University. We flew to Palo Alto where we saw each other for the very first time. All of our interactions prior to that meeting had been online without the benefit of a Web browser. We had no idea what the others looked like yet we knew each other as friends, helping one through a loss of a job, another with the death of a parent and a third through a divorce.  To say we had built an online community was an understatement.

The Internet can create community and, for better or worse, social networking sites like facebook and My Space are demonstrating that everyday. But there are other communities that don’t necessarily involve the sometimes mindless postings about what we had for lunch. These networks of people often revolve around a common interest, vocation or passion.  And even though most of us would prefer and greatly benefit from face to face interaction, it doesn’t mean that online interactions can be any less powerful or meaningful.

Web 2.0 applications can position any individual or group to create or participate in virtual communities whether or not the participants are in Sweden or Pleasant Hill.

Bethel administrators almost universally agreed that they were not tied to the six hour school day, five day school week or nine month school year. So what would schools look like if we were able to make changes to these often taken-for-granted structures?

As I was thinking through this, it occurred to me that there might a very different way to view how school time is organized. Specifically, we might consider a totally different mind set about when learning takes place. Instead of changing the hours, days or months, it might make more sense to blur the the lines of when school ends and when it starts. Why not make schools 24/7? Could after school programs like KidSports or daycare be a component of a child’s learning? How about weekend activities involving parents? Why do we just give up July and August to summer school remediation? Doesn’t every child need to learn as much as they can? says blended learning “combines coursework in a traditional classroom (synchronous) setting with an online (asynchronous) component. Students get the sense of community with other students, but are allowed to complete a portion of the coursework independently in a virtual environment.”

Purnima Valiathan defines blended learning as a “solution that combines several different delivery methods, such as collaboration software, Web-based courses, EPSS, and knowledge management practices. Blended learning also is used to describe learning that mixes various event-based activities, including face-to-face classrooms, live e-learning, and self-paced instruction.”

But this still makes the distinction between the traditional classroom and the virtual classroom. Why not just call it learning or education no matter where it happens? Although learning beyond the four walls of the classroom is a great match for Web 2.0 technologies, it doesn’t  have to be exclusively a technology environment. Reading to a child, helping with an art project or taking a field trip on the bus could just as easily enhance learning.

If as community members, professional educators and parents we come together  in a community of learning, we can make everyday learners into life-long learners. It seems to be as much a state of mind as a structural change in how children learn.

Blended education might be Bethel Learning Environment Night and Day.

When I was an eighth grader in Spokane, the desks in our classroom were bolted to the floor. The aisles between rows of bolted-down desks were so narrow they didn’t accommodate the 16 mm projector cart. With the projector at the back of the room, the image was about one third larger than the screen causing the top 25% of the picture to show on the ceiling. This lead to some peculiar optical illusions. Our teacher, Mr. Bohanan, managed to adapt this state of the art technology to the less than state of the art classroom furniture.desk

Yes, this was 50 years ago and things have changed. When it comes to technology, as educators we often pride ourselves in how successfully we’ve adapted or adopted a new technology. We manage to twist and push the latest gadget into our classroom structure whether it is the physical structure or instructional framework. And that, at times, seems to be the problem. What if, instead of showing the movie from the back of the room, Mr. Bohanan had the desks unbolted and rearranged or had us watch the movie in the hallway or in the gym? The school structure could have changed to meet the demands of technology.

Fifty years later we’re still showing movies, albeit through a video projector, from the back of the room or from a makeshift teacher station in the front of the room. And our unwillingness to change structure is like bolting the chairs to the classroom floor. Maybe, just maybe, the technology should, at least occasionally, dictate a change in the school structure, not the other way around. It certainly is dictating change in society as we are seeing with smart phones, social networking and online business and news.

So here’s my question: What part of public education are you NOT willing to change? What things can you unequivocally say must stay in place to fully complete our mission. Below you’ll find a short anonymous survey. Take a moment and check those things that are NOT negotiable, that you absolutely aren’t willing to give up. I’d also encourage you to post a comment to this blog to start a dialog around the issue of technology and education.

If Mr. Bohanan is still alive, he’s in his mid 70’s and probably posting on facebook. I’ll have to look him up.

There has been a dearth of research supporting the effectiveness of interactive white boards in public schools.  Recently published research might support the use of white board technology. However, there is a question about the relationship between the researcher and the brand of white board used in the study and there is a big question about how well variables were controlled.  An even bigger question is this:  How much does the use of high-end, razzle-dazzle technology play in motivating students to show up and pay attention and how much does the equipment actually mmsinfluence learning? Is it just enough to have students in their seats and paying attention to justify technology purchases? If it is just the glitz of seeing and using the equipment that works, maybe we can get away with purchasing something less expensive than at $7,000 interactive white board.

Or perhaps there is another variable researchers are overlooking: the classroom teacher. I was visiting a fourth grade classroom last week and observed a teacher implementing a 20 minute math lesson. She had her students eating out of the palm of her hand. Yes, she was using a document camera as part of the lesson; but it was background to what was really happening. She was getting student responses from all over the room. She brought her students to a crescendo of excitement one minute and then was whispering the next with her students listening in rapt attention. Students were receiving positive affirmations from the teacher and from classmates throughout the lesson. It was amazing to watch. And the technology hummed along in the background.

Selecting technologies we know help children learn and technologies that reinforce standards and district goals makes sense. But we can’t minimize the importance of the instructor and appropriate  instructional practices. No technology can completely replace a competent facilitator of learning whether it is in a traditional classroom or virtual world.

Maybe we can learn something from the behavior modification movement of the 70’s where advocates trumpeted the benefit of instant gratification as a way of improving student behavior. If we are going to adopt expensive educational technology without clearly doing our homework on its effectiveness, we might be better off spending $4.59 on a bag of M&Ms.

In the 1940s bowling alleys introduced the overhead projector.  It was a remarkable innovation. Next to the automated pin spotters, this projection system  helped popularize the sport of bowling.bowlingpin But this blog entry isn’t about bowling. It is about how quickly, or slowly, educators adopts  technology, because it wasn’t until the 1960s that these first overhead projectors showed up in the classrooms of America. That’s 20 years for the math challenged among you. What took so long? Didn’t anybody see the application beyond the Pine City Lanes bowlers?

The easy answer is a lack of money. Adding unproven technology to school district’s budgets wouldn’t have had many advocates.  But the real answer, I think, is two-fold:

1. It has to do with our willingness to change. And change can be a slipper concept to grasp. If I’m using an video projector and document camera in my classroom, but using this technology  with the same instructional model I used pre-technology, is that really change?

Here’s another example. In 1994, the Bethel School District passed a $3.5 million bond for technology. I walked every inch of each building to help determine where network drops (wall ports) would be in each room.  As it turned out, the ports ended up being place where it was either physically the easiest to install or where the teacher wanted the port based on how she taught pre-technology without any consideration for how technology might best  be used. Back then we talked about not letting technology be the dog wagging the tail. Boy, did we have that wrong!

2. Secondly, with the introduction of educational technology, a knee-jerk response is often “this looks like more work to me. I already have enough to do.”  What doesn’t always get addressed is how will technology change what I do or what am I going to stop doing. And this might be the bigger stumbling block if, as an educator, you identify with a specific set of behaviors that you are not comfortable changing. What happens all too often is trying to mold technology to fit what’s comfortable not what’s appropriate.

Which brings us to the crux of the issue: What exactly are the basic assumptions about education that we can all agree on that should be part of any educational experience? Once we’ve answered that question, we can build from there instead of building on all the existing structures that currently exist in public schools that may not be needed in a technological future. Do we need whole group instruction 95% of the time? Are desks and chairs lined up in rows appropriate in a Web-based world? Why have schools open five days a week for 6 hours a day? Why are we not educating most children during the summer? Do we need classrooms or buildings to house those being educated? If we value the importance of a face to face interaction as part of an educational experience, how might that be facilitated as part of a technological world?

If we can answer those questions and free ourselves from the shackles of erroneous assumptions about what education has to be, we’re well on our way to shaping a new educational model and we’ll all be bowled over by how quickly it might happen.

Blogs aren’t the only show in town when it comes to easily creating a Web presence.  A Wiki might be just what you are looking for. So what’s a “wiki”?  The wiki was created and named 14 years ago by Ward Cunningham. He was looking for a name to call his easy-to-use Web page software. Cunningham, who in the late 80’s helped develop HyperCard on the Mac, remembered the name of the Honolulu Airport shuttles called Wiki Wikis. Wiki is a Hawaiian word for “quick”. The Hawaiian word is actually pronounced wee-kee, but has been distorted in the context of technology to “wick-ee”. wiki

A wiki is an easy-to-use online piece of software that lets users create Web pages without having to know anything about, well, actually building Web pages. But wikis are intended not for just a single user, but for groups of people to collaborate in sharing information. Wikipedia is the most well know example of a wiki where anyone can add information about any topic.

What would you use a wiki for in an educational context? Currently wikis are being used for maintaining meeting minutes, classroom projects, grant writing and more. Any group that is collaborating online could use a wiki.

But you’ll get a better feel for how you might use a wiki by looking at these examples:

1000 Names: A Canadian first and second grade classroom wondered what 1000 names would look like.

21st Century Ed Tech: Resources and tools for the 21st century technology classroom.

Adams Middle School News: Everything that is happening at this Redondo Beach, California school.

The Teenager’s Guide to Everywhere: Students in an English class researched interesting information about places and created FAQs for them. The combined effort has produced a kind of travel guide for fellow teenagers.

Terry the Tennis ball: Students in Australia created this “choose your own adventure” story using a wiki to collaborate.

A quick way to get started is, no suprise, Google Sites. You can quickly create your own wiki with a Google account. Anyone can do it. It’s Web 2.o after all.

An RSS feed (Real Simple Syndication) is an easy way to view content from all over the Web in just one location.  Basically the world comes to you. Think of how a newspaper works collecting stories from news agencies around the world and then delivering them in print form to your doorstep. An RSS feed (used with a feed reader) is the digital version of a newspaper only you decide what gets published. But, unlike a newspaper, the RSS feed delivers 24/7.

rssfeedlargeImagine using browser bookmarks or links on a Web page to visit 100 Web sites and trying to discover the new content on the sites . . .  and doing this every day. No one has that kind of time. If you do, you might want to consider doing some community volunteer work. With RSS feeds and a feed reader, you can scan new content from your favorite sites in just minutes giving you time to . . . do some community volunteer work.

A reader, or feed reader, collects and organizes all your RSS feeds in one location. One of the more popular readers is Google Reader. You open your reader in the morning much like you open  your newspaper. Everything that’s new on the sites you subscribe to will be there.

Here’s a quick step-by-step:

1. Follow the link above to Google Reader. Log in with your Google account or create a Google account if you don’t have one. Click on “Try it out”.
2. You’ll see Google Reader appear. Google has some great help menus and tutorials. Use these to learn even more about RSS feeds and readers.
3.  There are two easy ways to add content to your reader. First, try clicking on “Add a Subscription” in the upper left. Type in a key word like “Math” or “Belly Dancing” or any subject you are interested in. Math may be too general so you can refine your search by typing “K12 Math”. In the results that show up, click on a name of a site to see if  it provides the types of content you want. If it is, click on the + sign and an RSS feed from the site will be added to the left-hand column in your reader.
4. The second way to get content is to go to the Web sites or blogs you normally visit and see if there is an RSS feed logo present rssfeed or clickable text to subscribe to an RSS feed to the site. Click on the logo or the link and follow the prompts to add this site to your Google Reader.
5. Once you begin to collect sites in your reader, you’ll want to organize them. Sometimes this means renaming them or putting like sites into a folder. You can also delete sites that you no longer want. There is a “manage subscriptions” link at the bottom left of your Google Reader. Click the link to get organized.
6. Finally, find a specific time each day or every few days when you can spend 5-10 minutes with the content in your reader.

What you’ll discover over time is the power of being in touch without getting the life force sucked out of you. You’ll also find you are part of a burgeoning Web of people with like interests that will help you grow professionally and personally.