Saturday, July 14, 2007

EdubloggerWorld: Free candy floss for all!

Are you an educational blogger? Do you feel excited about the potential blogging and associated Web 2.0 tools are having and will continue to have on education around the world? OK, join us at EdubloggerWorld and get your free candy floss today! The 'candy floss' is virtual of course and is your reward for being part of a motivated, connected and aspiring global group. Thanks to Darren Draper, Steve Hargadon and inspired by conversations with Vicki Davis this new Ning has been established to provide a home for educational bloggers to find each other and communicate.

Who knows exactly where this will lead us, but it is a brave step embracing internationalism and an holistic approach to what it means to be a blogger. Already we have over 100 members, we have blog posts on the Ning in other languages, we have interest groups established and a Frappr map to show locations and blog addresses.

Do not be intimidated, come and join us. Do not think this is just for tech gurus or tech nerds (!). We are all in the same boat, trying to work out how blogging and online communication can enhance what we do as professional educators and what we do with our students (of all ages).

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Home among the gumtrees with friends

Gumtrees along Mullum Mullum Creek, Melbourne

There is always something special about coming home. Despite the cold, wet weather (good for the drought!) I am pleased to be spending some time in my 'home town' of Melbourne in Australia. I love waking up to hear the magpies crying out and the occassional kookaburra laughing and to smell the eucalyptus of the gum trees.

Julie and Jo over coffee in Melbourne

This week I was thrilled to be able to meet face to face Jo McLeay, English teacher and blogger from the eastern side of Melbourne. Jo is a very down to earth Aussie and a great inspiration for other educators with her approach to Web 2.0 pedagogy. What I also really like about Jo is her willingness to take on a challenge and to be outward looking, as shown by her efforts as a Flat Classroom Project judge last year. We shared ideas and experiences and lamented the lack of understanding by administration in our respective schools as to what we were doing in the classroom and beyond. My daughter and I goggled over Jo's new Nokia N95 and had fun recording a short conversation.

Also this week I caught up with another colleague who I worked with 15 years ago when we were both music educators. Linda, also an English teacher, is starting a new job working with the Australian Federal education department on a new initiative that is trying to provide a better system of education for Grade 11 and 12 students (17-19 years old) who are working in 'industry' and studying for their high school certificate. Linda has the challenge of providing curriculum coordination and vision for the program. We discussed the need for an information/digital literacy course that was international in approach, available as a package, and which gave students of this age the necessary tools to become confident cybercitizens and fluent with Web 2.0 tools. Linda is experimenting with wiki-centric ideas for assessment and student-teacher interaction. Her new school has also recently implemented a laptop program which has been semi-successful so far. Once again the same lament, some teachers who complain because the laptops are being a 'distraction' in the classroom. However, I am not going to dwell at all on the negative here as there are far too many wonderful positive ideas and great energy.

I believe it is intelligent and articulate educators such as Jo and Linda who will make the difference to education and work towards the changes that are inevitable, although a little slow coming for some of us. I am honoured to call them my colleagues and friends. Watch this space for more Melbournian updates!

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

There is NECC and there is the Real World

Like many of my colleagues I was enthralled with the warmth of the blogging community at Edubloggercon and at NECC and also excited by the many sessions, official and non-official, talking about change in education. The Blogger's Cafe became a place to gravitate to meet new people and bounce new ideas off friends. In my view it was a great success, thank you to ISTE for providing this facility!

This short story is where the ideals of NECC meet the real world and for me showed that what we are doing at a conference such as NECC is talking about educational reform and integration of E-Learning in a largely futuristic way. David Warlick in his post recently 'It Isn't Easy' discusses the sense of illusion we create by meeting as an 'extreme' group of ed tech heads and how we need a dose of reality and a ladder down from our ivory towers.

Featuring Huntington Beach High School
I have spent the past four days post NECC07 in the Californian 'town' of Huntington Beach. I have a teacher friend here who I try to visit every year on my way out of the USA. Currently my friend (BC) is about 2-3 years away from retirement and teaches math(s) at Huntington Beach High School. We have had many conversations about education and on this trip I even managed to visit the school briefly. HB High is a performing arts magnet school, has a large 'surfing' clientèle and is challenged by demographics meaning that over 50 different first languages are present in the school of about 2500-3000 students.
A typical maths class has almost 40 students in it. They sit in the regulation desks, in rows and learn largely from text books. Assessment is test and exam based. There is no real learning support as such. Lessons are 'block scheduled' so that each class is 1 hour and 40 minutes long. During maths classes students have to sit and work and learn for this length of time in their confined desks.
The school has technology but there seem to be some problems. A computer laboratory is available for booking, but is in heavy demand and means moving the class to the other room (of course). There is no real discussion as to what technology the teachers want. One anecdote revealed that it was decided all classrooms would have TVs and DVD players. Despite BC's protest's that a digital projector would be more useful the former had already been put in the budget and arrived regardless of intended use. Alternatively another colleague of BC's was given a projector for the classroom but has not and will not use it...does not want it, so it sits there unused.
There is very little, in fact no real PD for teachers throughout the year, however there is Tech Camp in the week before school starts so that interested staff can come in for 5 days and learn more about tech integration etc (and be paid extra for it!).
I am not saying these scenarios are unique to HB High what I am commenting on is the largely dysfunctional and ad hoc approach to improving learning through the use of technology. But then, let's not get ahead here, what about improving learning generally by creating better environments (smaller class sizes and more aesthetically pleasing classrooms/schools).

Talking about education and learning with BC and then seeing the realities of teaching at HB High was certainly my ladder down from the ivory tower this week. I am not saying this is a bad school, I am probably saying this is more of a typical school than we (or I, being non-US) realized.

So what are the answers? More importantly what are the important questions here? Let me suggest a few:
  • What are the core 21st century ideals in education??
  • How do we engage teachers and learners to adopt 21st century ideals in education?
  • How do we find the money to pay for what is needed to launch students all over the world into a better system of education?
  • What in global terms is 'a better system of education'?
As participants in the NECC experience I think we do need to be responsible for not only spreading the word internationally about newer ways of embracing learning but at the same time we also need to be very aware that no matter how much we talk and recommend 'it', to many of our teaching comrades throughout the world the reality of daily life makes it difficult to come on board with what we see as essential methods and tools (Web 2.0 in particular). Basically, we have a long way to go.......

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