Thursday, August 31, 2006

Instant Messaging: Is there validity for curriculum integration?

What are you doing with instant messaging (IM) in the classroom? (See wikipedia for current definition of IM).

At ISD we have a one-to-one ubiquitous, mobile and digital handheld and laptop program. We encourage use of these devices in the classroom and provide a wireless network for their access to the Intranet and server and to the Internet, and an IT support team to configure and support them. But that is just the hardware and infrastruture.

At ISD we also deliver the IB curriculum (PYP, MYP and DP) which focuses on student-centred learning, collaboration and interdisciplinary units of work. We encourage the learner to be an enquirer and to interact with other learners in the self-propelled, teacher facilitated constructivist environment. In essence, we want our students to communicate, embrace an holistic approach and value and understand multiculturalism in its many forms.

IM provides a collaborative tool that encourages active learning (student-to-student and student-to-teacher) and is already widely used by many people around the world. Perhaps this can then be used to support our curriculum objectives? However, on the negative side IM can be a security risk and threaten individual privacy.

As part of our ongoing discussion into the benefits and disadvantages of IM in education I recommend these resources as a starting point (some are a little older):
I particularly like Ewan's message for foreign language use (from his blog):

And in the classroom...
Internet chat has clear disadvantages for the classroom: it's not very safe if your students get propositioned by a stranger and they can easily fall off task if their pals start to ping them. However, it does have obvious uses in the Modern Languages class.

Video conferencing is expensive and horrifically difficult to organise with a partner school who (a) don't have broadband, (b) have worse technical support than you do (yes, it is possible) and (c) having spent three weeks experimenting to make sure it works with the class, the system then breaks down during the very lesson that you had planned it in. Doh!

With MSN, ad hoc meetings with foreign classmates can be organised at the drop of a hat. Log in while other work is being done and if MSN pings, go and answer it.

Live internet chat is also good for pushing those language skills to the limit. Try typing fast, and thinking of how to say what you want to say. It's really tricky. This is conceivably a shortfall but, after saving the discussion to disk, the teacher can then take the whole class through it to learn from any mistakes either correspondent has made (often the ones made by the French/German/Spanish/Italian student on the other end are very reassuring for learners: "they get it wrong, too".

So, what are we going to do about this tool that can never be fully blocked, will always be there in the laptop classroom and available for great educational uses under teacher direction? We haven't quite worked it out yet.....and I therefore welcome all contributions from educators currently integrating IM into their programs. What are you doing? What restrictions are you putting on the use of IM? What do the teachers in your school think about using IM?

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Finding best practice Wikis in education

I am exploring best practice use of wikis, how to use them and how to use them effectively for education. As I am writing this I am also listening to the recent podcast by Steve Hargadon on K12 Open Source Webcasts: Wikis in Education, an interview with Victoria Davis and Adam Frey. Adam is the founder of wikispaces and Vicki is the Cool Cat Teacher. The interview discusses uses of wikis and the need for educators to have an open mind about using open source software and online collaborative tools in the classroom.
I am impresseed that wikispaces are providing wikis for educators that are free from advertising (pbwiki is one that I use already but the upgraded version is $5 per month).

Adam talked about the future development of wikispaces and the need to integrate multimedia and to make the publishing system/interface realtively easy to use to attract the 'less technical' more visual participants.

Vicki talked about her class wiki and outlined five uses of wikis:
  1. Summarise and synthesie the information from a lesson
  2. Collaboration of notes e.g. when studying for an exam
  3. Introducing concepts and exploring projects
  4. Sharing information with other community members
  5. Individual assessment projects
My own use of wikis so far includes classroom and personal use. My senior IT class has a wiki as a collaborative space where we are building a knowledge base and collaborating on projects based on the course they are taking called Information Technology in a Global Society. The wiki I started called Podcasting and All That Jazz was created to collate resources to do with podcasting and to become a multimedia presentation platform for my session at NECC06 recently.

I would like to mention Will Richardson's Weblogg-ed Presentation wiki as an excellent example of using a wiki to collect resources for sharing. I do not have an extensive list of other best practice wikis yet. I have started my own wikispaces wiki and will share this with you a little later as it is very raw. In contrast to pbwiki I cannot see how to subscribe to the wikispaces website. The ability to use RSS and keep track of new postings and updates on a class wiki is an essential feature I use. Is this available on wikispaces?

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Monday, August 28, 2006

I do not want to fix computers!

I often refer to myself as an educational technology or technology integration specialist. The response from colleagues is too often, 'OK, so can you fix my 'xxxxx' problem?' Can I make this very clear...I do not want to fix computers or computer related devices! Why is it when you tell people you have a degree in anything to do with technology (MA in Educational Technology Leadership from the George Washington University) they think you can troubleshoot, fix and know a computer from the inside out? Is this what it meant to be a computer expert years ago?

Yes, as I have moved around as an international educator I have been in positions where there has been limited tech support in a school and I have obliged by doing what troubleshooting I could. Well, in most cases it has been a case of my own classes and needing to get the HW and SW back online for the students to work with as quickly as possible.

Did I tell you about my first teaching experience in Kuwait? I worked at an English speaking school for Kuwaiti girls. There was a 'no men allowed' rule therefore no men (of any type) were permitted to pass beyond the reception area. This allowed the girls more freedom to take off their hejabs during the day and participate fully in physical and other curriculum activities. I was the IT teacher and taught Grade 3-Grade 11 (and Grade 2 music...but that's another story). I had 2 computer labs to maintain, a cupboard full of very good, mainly British software and an open invitation to develop a program. Needless to say however there were the inevitable technical problems, many of which I could not fix myself. The solution? Call the tech support people (men) and invite them on campus after 5pm. Well, I got a little tired of having to wait after work for the 'men are now allowed' time of the day so insisted on bringing them in to the computers during class time. This was finally allowed as long as I warned the classes beforehand by calling out 'man in the corridoor'! This prompted the teachers to shut all doors and girls to reclaim their hejabs and veils.

Life is a lot easier now. I have a Bangladesh tech team of 5 wonderful people and a mobile, ubiquitous handheld and laptop program with a wireless network. It is an exciting time as we move into our 3rd year of using handheld technology and have 5 year levels of laptops (grades 8-12). But enough about the hardware, my speciality, so I claim is the integration. But where do I start? What can I do to motivate and inspire teachers who feel imposed on to have to use the technology and tell me they would prefer to go back to pencil and paper? Where is the imagination? Where is the passion for trying new things and leading the way? Why am I often blamed for moving too fast? Why has it taken 3 years of weblogs and blogging at our school for one teacher to tell me they are finally starting to feel comfortable initiating it in his classroom? Am I really that impatient that I lose touch with the average teacher and hide behind my 'speciality' mask?

I loved Jeff Utecht's post today about 'Transition Techies'.
He said:

"This is why I call us Transition Techies. We are the technology educators who are faced with this challenge to change a system. A system that is rooted in traditions and has always been slow to change. We are the people who are caught in this transition from 20th century technology education to 21st century technology education. In the 20th century we taught powerpoint, spreadsheets, word processing. In the 21st century we should be teaching collaboration, presenting, interacting, and communicating. Our focus should not be on the programs, but what the programs can do for our students".

Thanks Jeff! If I have one more teacher tell me they are not coming to the Web 2.0 workshop I offer because they are catching up their basic spreadsheet skills I nicely and try to understand, but with difficulty.

In terms of integration, it is every teacher's responsibility to use software and hardware tools to best improve student achievement and learning outcomes. If that means using a pencil and paper for some things OK, but it also means opening your mind to the possibilities of the 21st century and being willing to explore new ways of communciation, interaction, online social networking etc and to do it without fear. What is the Star Trek saying..."To boldy go where no man has been before". I encourage, invite, implore educators to look beyond their comfort zones and to also take advantage of your educational technology specialist.....not just to fix that latest software glitch!

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

In Touch with a Flat World

The new academic year has started and I have started a new blog called 'In Touch with a Flat World'. It is an exciting venture as I am experimenting with and exploring its accessibility as a classroom tool. The first posting reveals my motivation for this. I will still be blogging to this eLearning blog, so keep coming back here but the Flat World blog will give me an opportunity to reveal, discuss and share my classroom experiences over the year.

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Coming of Age soon to be updated

Needless to say I am still catching up on reading after the summer break.....have been reading Terry Freedman's newsletter and information about his book 'Coming of Age', an introduction to the new world wide web' which is available for free download from his website. I have recommended this book before and have it sitting on my desk ready to flick through when I need a ready reference for a Web 2.0 idea or tool. It contains articles by some of the most switched on practicing and consulting educators of the 21st century, including David Warlick, Miles Berry, Peter Ford, Alan November, Ewan Mcintosh...and more.

Tonight however I find out Coming of Age is being updated and Terry is calling for volunteers to get involved with writing, proof reading and providing case study material. To keep updated read the Web 2.0 Booklet weblog and subscribe to the blog RSS feed as well.

I am delighted to see a wider collection of authors for this new edition including Vicki Davis (Cool Cat Teacher), Joyce Valenza and Miguel Guhlin.

Terry also has an educational podcast (feed) and the book update podcast can be downloaded here where he talks about the rewrite and update of the book.

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Saturday, August 19, 2006

ELGG Spaces and PLEs

FYI acronyms are here to stay, and why not? More investigation today on ELGG as a learning tool and potential software for K-12 education. Good news, ELGG are about to launch ELGG Spaces where any one can sign up and have a tailored environment for their organisation. This means we could sign up as a school and have a worry free and stress free (for our IT Manager) PLE maintained by ELGG Spaces. Given that ELGG provides for passworded and private viewing options to all online material this development has great potential for organisations that have limited technical support and/or limited server space and are worried about security for students.

As for PLE, Personalised Learning Environments, I found a great article by Graham Atwell. Graham is part of the community at the University of Brighton who are implementing an ELGG environment. His article explains why PLEs are so appealing and the social and educational ideas underpinning development. He discusses lifelong and informal learning, ubiquitous computing, social software and educational technology. I particulalry like his what a PLE might look like
and the personal list of software tools he uses. He also discusses the advantage of ELGG providing many of the needs of a PLE within the one interface.

Another find today is a paper by Miles Berry, ELGG and Blogging in Primary Education. Although written in January 2006 and a little behind in recent ELGG development it is an excellent overview of the experience and practicalities of implementing ELGG for primary education. Miles is a prolific writer and advocate of social networking and educational technology tools that make sense to students and teachers.

Dilemma of the day.......I want to start using ELGG with my students. Should I wait for ELGG Spaces to be ready?? Should I get 30 or so students to sign up with ELGG as private accounts? One main consideration this week is the need to supplement and eventually replace the existing digital portfolio program. Rather than Manilla weblogs I think ELGG could be a great substitute. I am reading the eportfolios community online at ELGG which is leading me to different people also experimenting and trialling. Regina
(from UBC, what is this?) has shared information about the International Peer Program and use of ePortfolios with ELGG.

Finally, I have put some work into my ELGG PLE, In Touch with a Flat World. I welcome your observations and comments.

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Friday, August 18, 2006

To ELGG or not to ELGG?

I was interested to read David Warlick's recent posting 'The ELGG Experience' and his wish to find out more and understand what the hype is about. Well, I have posted some ELGG resources, prior to NECC06 and am now gearing up for a new academic year and new challenges with online content management and social interaction opportunities via the Internet that will help the students and teachers at ISD to realise their full teaching and learning capabilities.

Some new resources:
From the OpenAcademic website:

About Open Academic

The OpenAcademic project is about options. We strive to provide a broad selection of tools that meet an array of needs within an institution. People learn and work differently, and the software that supports that work needs to be flexible enough to match each user. People shouldn’t need to adjust to a machine.

OpenAcademic runs on open source tools. For most users within your community, this information won’t matter. For people who acquire and maintain software (as well as the generally curious), this means a couple things. First, it means that the code that runs OpenAcademic can be downloaded and installed free of charge. Like commercial software, open source software undergoes revision and improvement over time. Unlike commercial software, however, you can have a direct voice in how the software develops. OpenAcademic is an open source project, which means that all code developed by the project will be released back to the community. If you are a programmer, you can participate directly.

I think this is an exciting project and have spent time considering how we can implement this at ISD. We are in need of content management software and are reviewing our current use of weblogs as digital portfolio mediums and as a means to interact and blog. The weblogs we use are stored off-site and use Manilla. I am concerned that Manilla software has not continued to grow and develop therefore feel it is time to change and take advanatage of other tools. The merging of Moodle with ELGG and other tools will give schools the potential to manage content and at the same time, with the one login, provide social networking tools to all teachers and students including blogs, podcasts, RSS and wikis.

I look forward to sharing experiences and ideas as OpenAcademic grows and as more educators come on board with Moodle and ELGG.

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Friday, August 11, 2006

Podcast Bangladesh at NECC06

I am finally back in Dhaka with a regular and reliable Internet connection after our holiday and with time to reflect on NECC before moving into the new academic year with creative vigour!

My presentation at NECC in San Diego this year, Podcast Bangladesh, was plea
singly successful and I was delighted to meet a variety of people at the conclusion of the session who showed their appreciation of the podcasting pegagogical approach we have taken here at International School Dhaka. A full outline of the Podcast Bangladesh presentation can be found on the Podcasting and All That Jazz Wiki. Thanks to Sharon Peters who reviewed the session and wrote an article for eSchool News online.

Here are some photos taken inside and outs
ide Room 27 A/B where Podcast Bangladesh was held.

Oh, and here is a picture of me putting the final touches to the 'Nicholas the Great!' blog posting moblogged at the keynote address by Nicholas Negroponte.

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