Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Horizon Project: What do the students think after week 1?

At the start of Week 2 of the Horizon Project I recorded a podcast with my Grade 11 ITGS class to document how they feel the project is progressing. I also asked them what they thought about the use of either British or American English and whether they perceived any problems with using one or the other or both. This concept of an international standard has been a hot topic for discussion on the Horizon Project Ning this week (a private Ning for teachers and participants in the Horizon Project). We have been considering the possibilities and trying to establish a mode of working for this type of international project.

In summary, the main points the students have raised today:
  • A feeling that the project has got 'too big' compared to the Flat Classroom Project with too many wiki pages to look at
  • Acknowledgement that some students are working well and that the Project Managers job is doable within the structure provided
  • Ongoing feelings of frustration when students from other classes do not communicate
  • Concern that the timeline is not long enough (6 weeks may be better)
  • Problems with the facility of Wikispaces (one student has emailed the Help desk already over this)
  • Discussion about the use of different communication methods and whether they are enhancing the project or not
  • British vs American English: a general feeling that this is not important and that communication of the message is and should be the main focus
Overall, do not be put off by the negativity of some of these responses. My students are always very honest with me and I appreciate this candid approach. I think what they have to say is valid and that it is a fair assessment of the state of play at this stage in the project.

I welcome your responses to this podcast.

Blogging on the Spot

If a Blog Falls

My Sunday......

Do you ever feel that there was something just not quite right about the day just gone? Is it just because I live in Bangladesh? Am I getting too impatient with life?
Sunday is a working day here in Dhaka so we are at school. The actual school day itself was not worthy of special mention. It started with a double lesson of the Horizon Project Grade 11 class. We updated each other on developments in communication and project organisation. Big news from me was the addition of Karl Fisch as our keynote speaker coming up later this week. Also news of Judy O'Connell as the expert review person for social networking and not to mention the addition of George Siemens as an advisor to the project as well. My students knew of Karl as we had watched his 2020 Vision video in class not so long ago. In fact we had this great idea to create a Bangladesh version...I even thought of a name, "2022 E-Liberation", based on the fact that the year 2022 will be the 50 year anniversary of Bangladesh's independence from Pakistan. Coupling this with an eLearning idea could be very interesting. Needless to say we have not had time to do this...maybe before the end of the year as I think a more international perspective would be a contrast to Karl's excellent work.

I spent time working on our technology budget for next year and in preparation for an SMT meeting about this tomorrow. I'm trying to think of creative ways to say "You've got to be joking', when our CEO cans the amount I think should be spent. Not that he doesn't agree with me deep down, but he has to balance the budget somehow. We need another 50 PC's (most to replace 5-6 year old machines), we need at least another 12 digital projectors. We are moving into SmartBoards as a trial next year (2 have been approved already). More than anything we need a turn around in teacher attitude and a commitment to using our mobile and ubiquitous tools (yes, we have a laptop and a handheld program) for connecting, communicating and creating. How do you buy that?

The afternoon class was spent supervising a Grade 12 mock exam for ITGS. A one-hour paper on their case study on podcasting. A fun topic as we have not only studied podcasting but created a podcast series to put on the ITGS wiki. I thought the students did a reasonable job of this series, but it is lacking in depth somewhat, as I expect their paper answers to be when I feel like marking them this week ;-). While the students were writing the paper I was putting the finishing touches to my presentation for the whole staff meeting after school. Myself and a colleague, Catherine DeLevay, presented at international conferences over the Easter break. Catherine on Information Literacy in the PYP program at the IB Asia Pacific Teachers' Convention in Singapore, and myself at the ECIS IT conference in Düsseldorf on Web 2.0 and wikis and podcasting. We had been granted 20 minutes each at today's meeting, after the CEO speaks about the ACER testing. Needless to say his talk went 15 minutes overtime but included positive feedback about the academic standing of our students. Catherine did a fantastic job updating us on the evolution of information literacy and the objectives of the IBO with literacy and emphasis on participatory writing, the use of commenting and interacting (sounds like blogging!). She also has some great information on her wiki 'Dimensions of Literacy'.

By now however my presentation time had been reduced to 10 minutes (By 4.30 in the afternoon, even the most dedicated teachers have started to look longingly at the door) and as I went to hook up the laptop it crashed! OK, grab the microphone, smile nicely at my wonderful IT support and try to talk while it reboots. My mission was to share global online learning and the Flat Classroom Project with my immediate colleagues and peers. This was the first and only chance I was going to get to do this. I talked about how connectivity is changing the world and how through our online presence Vicki Davis and I discovered our mutual interest in pushing the limits and challenging the status quo in the pursuit of finding a better way to engage adolescents. Finally, back online (well not really as suprisingly the meeting was being held in a non-Internet connected venue!) I started the ubiquitous PowerPoint and took off. I whizzed through the objectives and framework, played the review video, talked about the Three C's (Connect, Communicate and Create), played a student example video from the Flat Classroom Project created by Cannelle and Casey and moved at a rapid speed into relating our latest venture, the Horizon Project. Excellent response from the crowd to the review video but ran out of time for anything more than a cursory reference to the Horizon....maybe next time. In 15 minutes maybe I had managed to spark interest, maybe conversations will start tomorrow, maybe they will continue.

I felt pleased to have exposed myself to my closest peers but anxious that I had not fully explained how important this type of project is. Not just because of the international recognition, but because it really does have the potential to change the way we view the world of education as educators. Here is my slideshow for posterity, called "It's About Connectivity and Learning, Not the Technology".

Coming home after the meeting the heavens opened, down came one of the first heavy rains for the season. As expected, no Internet working in the flat. After inquiring with the ISP I was told it would be about 1 hour before it was fixed. Three hours later, I rang them again. The story this time, amidst many apologies, was that they had noone in the office who was willing to climb the 20 foot pole and fix the radio transmitter as the storm was too bad and it was dark! Well! What happened to good old fashioned work ethic and customer service? I was aghast, no Internet? The pile of marking that I should probably be doing anyway peeked out from my bag....oh OK....but first I think I will blog my day in Notepad and upload it tomorrow...'
blogging on the spot' my better half called it as I was pouring out the words but they were going nowhere! What a great analogy!

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Global understanding through language and multimedia

Using language to communicate meaning on a global playing field is a challenge. This has become evident this week while working with the Horizon Project. This project involves 58 students from 5 diverse classrooms as well as many educators from many different parts of the world. It is being conducted with English as the first and only language however we are witnessing national and cultural differences in the way we express ourselves and even how we spell.

My question is, in a global project how do you define what the common language is so that one culture or nation does not 'dominate' the other? Can we in fact develop a global language in English that everyone is happy with or do the inherent differences between countries, schools, education programs and teachers mean we will continue to have to explain what we mean after having said it or written it? It is natural for a person to be more comfortable with the spelling, phraseology and terminology they have been exposed to in school or while in their developmental years. Exposure to other cultures may help to broaden the awareness of alternative ways of communicating. Projects such as the Horizon Project can only continue to reveal to all participants that there are differences between us and that we do have to work hard to make ourselves understood.

Here are a couple of examples from recent activities:
  1. The use of terminology to label seasons: The pre-winter season is labelled Autumn in Australia/Britain, Fall in the USA. When both northern and southern hemispheres are involved of course Spring/Autumn are present simultaneously.
  2. The use of terminology to label school levels: In the USA Freshman, Junior, Senior etc. Which one comes first? How old are these students? In other countries secondary finishes at Grade/Year12 and moves to tertiary. The terms under-graduate, graduate and post-graduate are used, but do they all mean the same things across the world?
  3. Spelling for understanding and uniformity: an interesting example on the HP Rubrics page today where our good friend Durff edited the page and changed all of the words 'Artefact' to 'Artifact' (as I type this into blogger the red-line spelling error is coming up under the latter indicating the 'non-USA preference is with the 'i'). This word has always plagued me. A quick investigation reveals the Wikipedia page has the 'e' version in its URL but in fact the 'i' version in the page title. Dictionary.com claims that artefact is a variant of artifact.
I am not professing to be a language expert and invite more authoritative opinion on this topic. One rule of thumb (there is another example, common sayings...is this a phrase that everyone understands??) we use at school is that in the one document (one wiki page?) the spelling and phrasing/terms should be consistent. Is this the best way to go? Therefore we can have 'color' and 'colour' and 'honor' and 'honour' as long as meaning is understood and as long as in the same blog post, wiki page etc the same spelling is used to be consistent.

On the other hand, we are moving into more multimedia forms of communication. Maybe these will eventually dominate over text (now I am sure that statement has upset somebody out there). David Warlick talks about the power of the new media on his blog today in relation to new forms of literacy and the development of film schools.

Hot off the Twitter press this morning I posed the question "..what is the dominant global way to spell in English? American or British?" Answer from Graham Wegner in Australia, "English, your honour. I realise that all these red lines under my typing say otherwise." and from Jeff Utecht (an American in China), "..that's a loaded question. :)"

The power of multimedia over text is exemplified in the introductory pages of the Horizon Project again this week. The student introduction page is where all participants have the opportunity to post an audio file (we are using evoca.com) to introduce themselves. Just hearing the different accents and the inflections in the students voices is a great way to start making connections and to get to know each other.

Here are a couple of examples:
Sabbab from International School Dhaka, Bangladesh

KuanJu Chen from Shanghai American School, China

In addition to the audio files, on the teacher introduction page we are encouraging communication via twitter (short messages of activity or thoughts) and video (with narration rather than images of ourselves in this case) and audio. Vicki has created an 'avatar' and talks through this image. I decided to share scenes of Bangladesh.

OK, now you be the judge. The power of multimedia is obvious however accessibility challenges participants with ongoing software and hardware and networking issues. The power of the word, the written form of communication is taken for granted but there are inherent problems with understanding and meaning for global communication.

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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Facilitating Communication for Online Collaborations

What is the best way to facilitate communication between people in different (and diverse) geographical locations? What are the best tools to use that will cater for differences in bandwidth and access? How important is social networking and the ability to connect with others while using these tools? How user friendly are they? Can a digital native and a digital immigrant both use them to communicate? Can they be used by a group of people? at the same time?

These are some of the questions we have been asking as we set up our next collaboration between classrooms around the world, the Horizon Project.

Here is a brief overview of what I have been considering today.

Evoca is an online facility to record and share audio files. It allows for networking and finding friends, creating groups, creating albums. It also has many user-friendly features for live recording and embedding widgets for playback into a blog or a wiki page. The Evoca browser mic is useful to invite viewers or participants to leave a message, question or comment. In fact, I have an Evoca browser mic in the sidebar of this blog. If you are reading this why not leave me a message NOW. I would love to hear from you!
For the Horizon Project we have set up an Evoca group account. You may view our home page and access the audio introductions and podcasts we will create over the next month. There is even an RSS subscription facility so there is no need to not be the first to know when a new recording has been uploaded.

There is a lot of 'twitter' about Twitter lately. I have been trying it out recently (see sidebar of this blog once again!) and last week my Horizon Project students joined and have been merrily twittering ever since. This is experimental as we are trying to work out if this will help us communicate with the other classrooms. Seeing as this is the 'project that never sleeps' we do need different ways to let each other know what we have been doing. Twitter allows for 140 characters to be entered at a time as a short message. We will be putting individual Twitter widgets on team wiki pages so that participants can briefly report in on activity.

Meebo has been around longer than Twitter (I believe) and is another excellent way to leave messages for someone using a widget interface that can be embedded in a blog or a wiki page. For a working example, see the Project Manager page of the Horizon Project set up already by Casey. The widget allows text as well as voice input.

I am fascinated with the facility that YackPack provides for group collaboration. Recently Anne Davis blogged about the new free WalkieTalkie widget provided for instant communication between people viewing the same webpage. In fact PBWiki have included this YackPack widget as a feature. This is excellent news. This is what CNET's webware had to say about it. I was fortunate to try it out the other day and spoke to Diane Hammond from Canada via Anne's Voices wiki page. I could hear Diane clearly but my own voice was rebounding with lots of echo. This is the ongoing problem we have from Bangladesh where our bandwidth I think is affecting the quality.
Kim Cofino in her recent post Yakking it up on YackPack gives an excellent overview of the pros and cons of using this online software in a classroom and collaborative situation.

What other online communication facilities are being used to connect student-student, student-teacher, classroom-classroom? What are YOU using that you could recommend or share a review for us all to learn more and find the BEST way to facilitate communication around the world. Leave a message to this blog post or, if you can, send me an audio message via the Evoca browser mic in the sidebar, or if I am also online be adventurous and Yack with me via the YackPack Walkie Talkie (also on the sidebar).

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Keep your eyes on the Horizon Project

This is a simul-post with Vicki Davis' My Heart is on the Horizon. I strongly suggest you read Vicki's comprehensive her post as well as it provides additional details about who is involved around the world and how YOU can become involved in our new project!

We are all very excited to announce that on Tuesday April 17, the following classrooms begin a project to look into the future of education based upon the Horizon Report 2007 Edition by the New Media Consortium and Educause:
  • Australia - Presbyterian Ladies College (Melbourne) Grade 10 Digital Innovation (John Turner)
  • Austria - Vienna International School (Vienna) Grade 11 Information Technology in a Global Society (Barbara Stefanics)
  • China - Shanghai American School (Shanghai) Media Literacy (Ed Kidd) Blog: http://blogs.saschinaonline .org/edkidd/
  • Bangladesh - International School Dhaka (Dhaka) Grade 11 Information Technology in a Global Society (Julie Lindsay) Blog: http://elgg.net/itgs/weblog
  • USA - Westwood Schools (Camilla, GA) Introduction to Computer Science, (Vicki Davis) Blog: http://computers4teens.blogspot.com
The project is called The Horizon Project and includes about 60 students in five countries but represents many more nationalities and cultures. It also involves a number of volunteer educators around the world who will be observing, providing feedback, doing research, 'judging' for awards and interacting with the five main classrooms over the 4-week project length.

This slideshare I created aims to explain the basics of the project:

More pertinent details can be found on these wiki pages:

We are analyzing the trends that will significantly impact post-secondary education (and our society) in the next 1-5 years. We are looking at them now, predicting the future, and making proposals about what the students think needs to happen.

Here are the areas of fundamental change as highlighted in the Horizon Report:
We are also combining these six main trends with areas of impact and asking students to consider how technological change is going to affect the world as we know it in these broad areas:
  • Education
  • Employment and Politics &Government
  • Arts, Entertainment and Leisure
  • Science and the Environment as well as Health
One of the main challenges the students will have is analysing the impact of the trends on the areas and trying to work out 'What the future will look like'.

So, why are we doing this?
What are our goals and who is involved? We've created a very complete About Us page naming the people who thus far have agreed or volunteered to help and explaining the "why's" as best we can. But our focus is the students!

Amazingly twenty six of you have agreed to help in several areas. We appreciate it, but know that if you are interested in such a project for your school we have room for more.

Here is my introductory message from Bangladesh to start:

Features of the Horizon Project
Like the Flat Classroom Project we are researching the trends to do with the impact of technology AND experiencing the trends. The project is wiki-centric and also uses other Web.2.0 facilities to communicate, share and publish.
We have spent hours revising the assessment rubric and appreciate our original flat classroom judges coming back to advise us.
(We were very concerned with the flaws in the old one that many were copying the old rubric! We felt it was too cumbersome and didn't focus enough on the thinking skills we are trying to teach.)

New features for this project include:
This is the project that never sleeps!
Learn more at
About Us.
Also, read our Tagging Standards wiki page. To make it simple for edubloggers, if you are writing about the Horizon Project tag your post hz07 first, then horizonproject07.

In the words of Vicki Davis: "Our heart is on the horizon. If your heart is on the horizon... will you join us?"

Thank you Vicki for your inspiration, hard work and dedication! Thank you Barbara and John and Ed for believing that such projects can be done!

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Great Firewall of China

Are you in China? Are you going to China? This may not be news to some of you but it it first time I have seen this website. Thanks to Josie Fraser for blogging about it.

This website The Great Firewall of China allows users to test if a particular URL can be accessed from within China. Given the changes made on a random basis (so it seems from the outside) by the Chinese government to Internet censorship this is an interesting way to see if your blog or website can be accessed. The news is of course, and I did have the heads up on this recently from Jeff Utecht's blog, that blogger.com is being blocked. [sorry Jeff you will not receive this post :-( ]

Here is the evidence that this E-Learning blog is being censored within China:

OK, so let me test some others....
  • wikispaces (any URL) comes up with the message the URL cannot be found. This could be one of the technical errors they mention on the website so therefore (I hope) wikispaces is not being blocked
  • Google video: available
  • YouTube: available
  • Wikipedia: blocked
  • Blog that I do not post to often In Touch with a Flat World: Not Blocked! This is ELGG, or now called Eduspaces and my Grade 11's use this as well for their class blogs this year. Good news!
The site is also supposed to allow users to look at the website from the perspective of someone in China but I only got blank pages come up for this feature.

Clippings from the About page:
The main aim of The Great Firewall of China is to be a watchdog and keep track of which and how many or how many times sites are censored. A database is being kept that is searchable. Also, transparency of censorship and raising awareness of one particular government applying censorship to the Internet and being able to visualize Internet censorship.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Shall we call it Collaboration 2.0?

I do not mean to trivialise this concept, development and trend for putting 2.0 on the end of key terms however I am responding to Miguel's recent post about Mission Improbable and his discussion of how and where students are collaborating. I really think we could call this Collaboration 2.0 and link it in with the other 2.0 trends such as Web 2.0, Classroom 2.0, School 2.0 and so on. The validity arises from the need to start or continue to think about collaboration in a new way. It is not totally teacher controlled or classroom specific. Students/young people are doing this (collaborating) via their own social networks already. Teachers and administrators are starting to use new tools to collaborate in increasingly new and meaningful ways. We need to be able to tap into this and develop relevancy for what a 'school' or 'organisation' provides.

Doing some research into the term
Collaboration 2.0 unveiled some interested thoughts. This blog post and this one are to do with libraries, information and Collaboration 2.0 where the emphasis is on using collaborative online tools to share and find information. This post from Collaborative Loop by Jennifer Pahlka discusses the concept from an enterprise viewpoint and states:
"Collaboration 2.0 doesn't just mean collaboration with a Web 2.0 veneer to it. Interest in collaboration is rising at the moment because of globalization, the opportunity to take advantage of converged networks, the increasingly connected nature of work, and a wide variety of other factors, but one important thing that's enabling this is a new understanding of how people really work together. Decentralization and user empowerment are part of the picture, but security, regulatory compliance and corporate cultures are critical pieces of the puzzle in an enterprise setting, and Collaboration 2.0 encompasses all of these."

So how do we define 'collaboration'? Another Google search brought up these links:
  • A mutually beneficial well-defined relationship entered into by two or more organizations to achieve common goals. Collaboration is the process of various individuals, groups, or systems working together but at a significantly higher degree than through coordination or cooperation. Collaboration typically involves joint planning, shared resources, and joint resource management. ..
  • something done with cooperation
  • A social skill involving working together with two or more persons.
  • Collaboration, literally, consists of working together with one or more others.
  • Literally: "to labor together" A process in which two or more entities work together to achieve their independent and collective interests through a joint problem solving process. ...
OK, what about 'Cooperation'?
  • Co-operation refers to the practice of people or greater entities working in common with commonly agreed-upon goals and possibly methods, instead of working separately in competition.
  • In an ideal team organization, there is always cooperation. People have a common set of goals and they share the spirit. A special personal effort is made to go the extra mile. Lack of cooperation can destroy a team.
If we define collaboration as a 'higher order' form of cooperation then we can move forward into Miguel's challenge of providing examples of collaboration within a curriculum framework.

Before that however, let me revisit the ISTE NETS refresh development where the proposed NETS.S II currently reads:

II. Communication and Collaboration
Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others. Students:

  1. collaborate, publish, and interact with peers, experts, and others employing a variety of digital media and formats.
  2. communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences utilizing a variety of media and formats.
  3. develop cultural understanding and global awareness by engaging with learners of other cultures.
  4. contribute to project teams to produce original works.
Miguel states:
"I suppose that a developmentally appropriate curriculum is needed...at what grade level do you start kids collaborating in school? At what grade level do you recognize student collaborations are occurring at home in the real world?

If they are collaborating, what are some examples of that collaboration? Social networking isn't collaboration is it?

  • Collaboration occurs as children/teens work to solve the puzzle or are engaged in achieving a mission objective in an online game. As they play the game, they also use instant messaging, audio-chat to coordinate their efforts for maximum effect.
  • Collaboration occurs as...[what others can you think of?]"
I would add to Miguel's list:
  • Collaboration occurs as classrooms and/or learners in geographically different (and possible diverse) locations team up for a mutual goal
  • Collaboration occurs when collaborators actively interact, discuss, synthesise and then construct new knowledge (in the form of original work)
  • Collaboration occurs as students and teachers share the decision making process
  • Collaboration occurs as meaningful friendships are made that become relevant in the context of learning
Going back to my starting paragraph, Collaboration 2.0 in an educational context means using appropriate communication tools, taking a global perspective and being humble in approach with the realisation that everyone can be a learner and a teacher. Collaboration 2.0 has to be included in curriculum reform (NETS is heading the right direction) and in any School 2.0, Learning 2.0 etc discussions. Yes, I think social networking is collaboration. However, I tend to side with Vicki Davis that in an educational sense we could label it differently:

Vicki states:
"I really am beginning to believe we should get rid of the term "social" networking because instead we should use the term:
  • Professional networking - When we are networking to learn more and improve our professional careers.
  • Student networking - When we are a student and are networking to learn more."
This video, created by Tom Woodward (based on Karl Fisch's 'flat world' thinking), called Education Today and Tomorrow using the terms 'collaboration' and 'multimedia' sequentially and challenges us to think about the skills we are 'teaching' and whether we are preparing students for the 21st century. If nothing else, more food for thought as we try to make sense of the NEW opportunities we have.

What do readers of this blog think about collaboration and curriculum relevance and reform in a Web 2.0 world??

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