Wednesday, July 30, 2008

EdubloggerCon NECC 2008 - Where shall we go?

For a start, a very big thank you to friend Steve Hargadon for his work in organising and essentially running this 1-day event at NECC. Steve is a true visionary and hard worker for better learning opportunities for all and I really admire his genuine and committed approach.

I looked back on my post from EdubloggerCon 2007, 'Oh the Places You'll Go' and briefly relived the excitement of the first NECC unconference event. Once again this year, at EdubloggerCon 2008, I was able to meet more online friends, have conversations, and have some fun. The photos here show some scenes including the group photo, Person's recording a session, and Kevin Honeycutt with his Web 2.0 'smackdown' offering of a keychain with useful ideas and resources attached (we ALL thought this was such a great idea...and so simple!..and you can download the template from Kevin's blog!). Thanks to Lucy Gray for uploading these pics to Flickr NECC08 group.

So, last year I was contemplating the places we will go with such a dynamic collection of educators gathering in 'inconference' style, this year I am asking a question, 'where shall we go?' Numbers at EdubloggerCon08 had more than doubled from 07. With this increase the event lost some of its intimacy but gained ground on its diversity and potential to offer something for everyone. The addition of Pearson was a concern to some. It was a little comical the way they were handing out permission agreements for us to sign while filming us talking. Pearson did not bother me, I loved the informal sessions, found the 'smackdown' initiated by Vicki to be a real treat (see Nancy Pratt's great review of this) and in retrospect consider the day to be a 'success' in terms of what it set out to do which was to provide an alternative format for 'bloggers' to come together and talk and share.

However, what will be the evolution of this event? Will a continuation in the increase in numbers be a logistical issue that kills the event? Or will more numbers mean we can shape it and organise more sessions, be more diverse? What is niggling at my conscience is the thought that this EdubloggerCon could be more if we wanted to make it so. What I mean is, here we are again, talking about the need for leadership, awareness of 21st century learning modes and meeting perceived conditions for these, new tools and tricks, emerging pedagogies etc, bouncing ideas back and forth, engaging contributions from a global (more so this year than any other year I thought) gathering, but what have we actually achieved? I do not mean this as a criticism of course, don't get me wrong. What I do think is that we could grasp the opportunity to make a difference somehow. Rather than just talk, let's out together some actions, let's make alliances and follow through with objectives that will foster change in education. For example, many educators continue to be disadvantaged by Internet filtering, why don't a group spend most of the day on this and put together a resource/document that can be used at a different venue, higher level to start to affect change? I know we are not just gathering for the social interaction. But are we ready to take on more than we have so far? Conversation, debate and shared experiences are important.....effecting change is also high on my list.

What do you think? How will EdubloggerCon evolve? Are you prepared to step up and be part of the evolution?

In closing, I really like this line from David Warlick's NECC08 reflection,
"At any rate, it was a conference that glowed, in that there was teaching, learning, and conversation; and much of that teaching, learning, and conversation was electrified with tiny bits that transcended time and space."

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

How to Flatten Your Classroom - Getting Started

Taking that First Step - Connect With Others
I am motivated to write this post due to a number of interesting online communications that came through today. As the new school year is about to start in the northern hemisphere (and ongoing in the southern hemisphere of course) I know there are many educators out there planning to join or create an online project that provides their students with the opportunity to learn from others that are not in their immediate environment. Here are some ideas and resources that may be the catalyst to get you started with that first, all important, connection and 'flatten' your classroom this year.

For a start I recommend you join our Flat Classrooms Ning. We have nearly 200 members since inception about 2 months ago, and there is already considerable movement with groups formed for all levels of K-12 education, including a research strand. Our aim for the Ning is to provide opportunities for educators to find each other and create projects on a global basis. We also want to provide support for the use of Web 2.0 technology and encourage best-practice use of these emerging technologies for facilitating connections between students and teachers. The Ning is also a place where educators from past, current and future Flat Classroom projects and Workshops can meet and continue to plan ongoing interactions.

Let me draw your attention to a couple of Flat Classroom Ning members who are out there wanting to make connections. From Bangladesh is Eather Newaz who is "...working in online education program under the Global Connections and Exchange (GCE) Program funded by US State Department by 27 Internet Learning Center(ILC) throughout Bangladesh. Those 27 ILCs are located in 27 schools where students, teachers and community users participate. Under this program students, teachers and community users have gathered knowledge on ICT such as: online collaborative project, online forum, video conference, yahoo/skype messenger, Web blog, wiki space, Google Earth etc." I am very excited to hear from Eather this week as she has a clear vision of what she wants the teachers at the ILCs in Bangladesh to be able to do and is wanting to make connections globally to be able to do this. Their Connect Bangaldesh website is evidence of what they have participated in, and the list is impressive!

Then there is Cheryl Lykowski, 5th Grade teacher from Michigan, and instigator of a discussion about projects for students under 11, who wants to expand on a previous project to include a wider geographical area. Another is, 'Falconswiki' from Ealing in West London who writes, "The Falcons School for Girls is attempting to embrace the potential of Web 2.0. Having begun to use blogs and wikis to post student writing and podcasts, we are now looking to develop collaborative projects with schools across the world." and who started the Primary Education group. Martin Williams, teaching in China, stumbled onto the Ning through his interest in the World is Flat (Friedman) and is "Very interested in linking and learning up with some like minded souls." The amazing work of Jackie Gerstein, from Arizona is shared via her website and her ambition to be a 'global stewardess.'

After you have joined, explored and contributed to the Flat Classrooms Ning I strongly suggest you also do the same at Lucy Gray's, The Global Education Collaborative. This group has over 700 members and is a fantastic place to make connections and share ideas and resources. Lucy sent out an email to all members today calling for contributions to a project database. I admire Lucy's hard work and excellent organisation with this Ning.
Here is the message from her communication:

"Most U.S schools have a new school year starting in about a month. To help people gear up for collaborative projects, I've created a online Google Spreadsheet where people can list their project information in hopes of finding partner schools or classrooms. This is the form view:
To see all projects that have been listed, look at the spreadsheet view:
Check back often to see if anything new has been added to the list. Of course, many projects are still listed in this Forum page in our Ning community:"

Taking the Next Step - Planning and Implementing a 'Project'
I wish to share the recent work of John Peters who I had the pleasure of meeting at NECC08 a month ago. John writes enthusiastically on his blog about using Web 2.0 tools and his exploration of what is out there that can extend his classroom, including coming to our Flat Classroom Birds of a Feather session at NECC. A recent post details his plans (now fully approved by his admin.) to run the HSTE Project. What I really like about John's post is that he shares the process he has been through, including resources used, and then shares the resources he has set up for his students to use during the project, including a Ning and a wiki. He also shows clearly that 'small steps' are an essential part of moving into a larger 'global' project.

John states in his post,

"I am really hoping that I can pull this off, using technology, computers, Web 2.0 applications, etc., to teach my HSTE classes but I think I can do it. I am very excited at what my students will produce as finished projects. I can envision all sorts different outcomes with collaboration not only with each other, but when my students use our
HSTE Ning Site to communicate with Health Care Professionals, initially in Hereford, Texas and then where ever the power of the internet will lead us. One of the keys to making this a successful project in the end will be encouraging busy Doctors, Nurses, X-Ray Technicians, etc. to agree to share their knowledge and experiences with my students."

Remember: A 'flat classroom' project can start with your class using Web 2.0 tools and connecting themselves. It can then move to two classrooms connecting, and this can be classrooms from the same school or town. Don't force a global connection and a large project until you are confident it is pedagogically relevant to your students and that you have the engagement and means to see it through to a satisfactory conclusion.

Good luck to all those educators out there right now trying to put together meaningful projects and liaisons. This post has at least steered you in the direction of others who are out there as well. Don't forget, flat classroom teachers are never alone!

NECC08 Flatclassrooms BOF
Educators collaborating and planning for flat classroom projects at our Birds of a Feather session at NECC 2008 recently

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Monday, July 28, 2008

NECC 2008 - Keys to success

OK, here goes, it's time to bring together my jumbled thoughts and start reflecting on the NECC 2008 experience. This is not a particularly flattering photo, but thanks to Scott McLeod for taking it! There were a handful of us at NECC, including Jeff Utecht, who found there pictures up on ISTE boards throughout the conference. A bit of fun, but a little disconcerting at times! You can see more photos taken at NECC 2008 by Scott and by others on Flickr.

Julie's famous!, originally uploaded by Scott McLeod.

Here is another Scott pic, taken also at the ISTE bookshop in conversation with keynote speaker James Surowiecki, author of 'Wisdom of the Crowds'.

Vinnie, Vicki, Robin, and Julie hangin' out with James Surowiecki, originally uploaded by Scott McLeod.

Here is a favourite pic I took in the Bloggers cafe with Vicki Davis, Jo McLeay and Beverley Stubbs (Head of Libraries and Media at Qatar Academy)
Vicki, Jo and Beverley
This last pic was taken at lunchtime during the Saturday event, Edubloggercon 2008.

NECC this year was such a busy time for me personally due to the many things I had volunteered to do and organised to be part of that I did not get to see as many sessions as I wanted to. This shift from being a 'passive' to a more 'active' NECC participant took me a little by surprise, but as they say, it was 'all good'.

On my way to NECC I blogged about the high value of fostering face to face connections. Despite our numerous online connections and interactions there is still something special about meeting people and being in the same space. I appreciate Graham Wegner's thoughts about the validity of being face to face when in fact we can achieve what we want educationally via our online networks, however f2f provides that extra opportunity to create bonds, discuss and explain in a shorter time frame, and cement relationships that will often end in online activities explored and cultivated throughout the following year. Don't get me wrong, f2f is not the ultimate, it is not even the ideal way to communicate but it is still a very valid way to connect and share. That is what a conference such as NECC provides, the opportunity to reach out and make new connections, develop online connections with a fresh perspective and reflect on your own individual contributions while doing it. It is another form of reality that is often exciting and intimidating at the same time, but I love it, and have traveled long distances each year of my own choice to be part of it.

So, let's keep the conversations and discussions going, both online and f2f, as NECC is essentially about both. Let's embrace opportunities to be in the same physical space at the same time and also contribute to and promote online spaces for interactions and collaborations.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Beyond the 'Wow': Embed the Flat Learning Experience for Sustainability

Thank you to Clay Burrell for his kind words about our Flat Classroom Projects and for starting the conversation about 'Does Flat Fall Flat for Teens?' The comment responses to his blog post many and interesting to read, as is Vicki Davis' response via her blog.

Essentially Clay is asking to what degree are global projects working, given the often intense work needed by educators to set them up and propel them, as compared to local projects, and whether the benefits justify the costs.

In response, as I gaze out to the Pacific Ocean on my 20th last day of summer holiday ;-)......

1. Getting beyond the 'Wow!'
I firmly believe in moving away from the 'wow' factor and embedding good practice into everyday teaching and learning. Therefore, even though the 'hook' for many classroom activities is the 'wow' e.g. meeting and learning with others who are not face to face in the same room, the aim is to make this mode of working normal so that an 'unflat' classroom becomes unusual. Yes, it can be a lot of work for teachers, it can be intimidating for students, it can also not be the most comfortable way that students/teenagers want to learn (initially) given other demands in their lives. However we are talking about a win-win situation here. We are talking about providing choices for learning, local and global interactions that are meaningful and support authentic problem solving.

2. Engagement
In order for students to be fully engaged, creating and sustaining collaborations and friendships on a global basis, teachers must also be engaged and model best-practice for this. Clay asked if any of our Flat Classroom students still communicated after the projects finished. To be honest I do not know for sure. There is a lot of pre-project and post-project research we need to do to determine what is going on and to be able to measure how learning is improving. I do know students have created alignments that have sustained throughout the projects and been meaningful not just for the immediate project topics or work. I do know that my class in Bangladesh, the very first Flat Classroom and Horizon Project group of students, were eloquent in their reflections (I have podcasts on this blog) about communication issues, collaboration difficulties and cultural differences that challenged them to the point that they were enthralled but at the same time not sure if all the work was worth it. However, it is this group of students that I still hear from, even after being out of Bangladesh for over 12 months.

3. Pedagogical shift - Making a difference to the world as we know it today
I am also a firm believer in providing opportunities for interaction and learning that will ultimately change the world. I am not trying to be high and mighty about this, or over philosophical, but I do not see the point in school for school's sake. We collaborate to 'create' better understanding of each other and of what is happening in the world. We collaborate to find better ways to do things that can make a difference to how others live, learn, communicate etc.

Another thing.....learning is not a one-size fits all situation. Does everyone like Geography? or Mathematics? No? Well then not everybody 'likes' local or global collaboration, or for that matter group work as opposed to working alone. I empathize with Will Richardson's comment to Clay's post when he says, "I think there is a residual learning about simply the process and the complexity of creating and working in those connections that will benefit the kids you worked with a great deal."

I am reading a great book called 'Three Cups of Tea' that is affirming in it's simplicity, that by reaching out and providing multi-modal opportunities for learning and by joining together people from different backgrounds with a common purpose we can raise awareness and be a catalyst for change. Greg Mortenson's drive to open schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan is an inspiration to us all.

So, I say let's get beyond wondering what the average teenager is thinking or doing as most likely it will be something self-centred, but let's continue to reach out and provide experiential learning opportunities that are confronting and challenging knowing that by starting with a spark a fire is sure to follow and that the process and practice of global interaction is pedagogically sound. So Clay, I think the benefits, albeit intrinsic in nature, far outweigh the costs on teacher time. We need to wake up our fellow educators and students to the advantages of cultural diversity, collaborative learning and online tools to support this pedagogically and embrace flat learning experiences as the norm. We need not be 'disappointed' if our students are not changing their work patterns immediately or at all, the residual knowledge gained from flat classroom experiences will ultimately shape the way they approach the world, as it has for educators.

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Starting again: 21 Days to Reflect, Write and Plan

I am surprised to find the last blog post I wrote was nearly 4 weeks ago! Thank you loyal readers if you are still with me. Greetings to new readers who may have stumbled onto my blog more recently. I am currently on summer break from Qatar Academy and have spent much of the past 5 weeks traveling from the Middle East to Hong Kong, various parts of the USA and now my 'home-town' Australia. Two weeks ago I finally reached Ozzie soil feeling totally exhausted and a little burnt out by the intensity of my commitments at NECC in San Antonio and also by the Flat Classroom workshops co-run with Vicki Davis in St Louis. However, despite needing some down time and family catch-up time I am excited and exhilarated by what has happened in the past year and what is going to happen in the next 12 months!

This afternoon, after some serious walking, beach-going and watching numerous surfers ride the waves here in Coolangatta (on the Gold Coast in Australia) I have started to get my head around what I want to do before officially starting work again in Qatar. In fact, as it turns out, I have exactly 21 days of 'holiday' left in which to reflect, write and plan. So here is my list so far of what I want to achieve, during the down-time of each day, while family also catch up on their own down-time activities. By the way, this is the view I am looking at right now as I blog, from the 10th floor apartment......we are feeling very lucky to be here in such a wonderful country.

Back to the list.......
  1. Reflections on NECC 2008 - I have read what others have written and want to add my 2 cents as well this week in terms of highlights and moving forward.
  2. Reflections and sharing of our amazing Flat Classrooms workshops in St Louis - such a special time.
  3. I want to finish the 'Sharing my Classroom' series I started eg Sharing my Classroom Grade 7, to include Grade 8, 9 and 10.
  4. Reflections on our first year in Qatar and how Qatar Academy has moved forward, moving into where we are going in the next 12 months with educational technology.
  5. Learn to use my MacBook! I have carried this laptop all around the world and still cannot use the generic applications to my advantage. My daughter also has a MacBook...time for some serious mother and daughter team work here!
  6. Learn to use my new mobile phone. I bought a Nokia N82 in Hong Kong, and after my daughter finally worked out how to change it from Chinese to English I am starting to get the hang of it.....still thinking I should have bought an iPhone, but am up for the challenge of getting to know it better.
  7. Start to write more seriously about our Flat Classroom experience - we have plans to publish, more later!
  8. Plan for Flat Classroom Project 2008! Yes, we want to invite educators around the world to apply by September, but some serious work needs to be done on setting this up first.
  9. Plan for the new year in Qatar - so much to do!
  10. Practice my new ukulele. Did I mention I have joined a ukulele band in Qatar? What a hoot! So, here on the Gold Coast I went to the Tweed Heads music shop and bought a new ukulele...a good sounding Hawaiian model. Our instructor emailed a website where we can play along and practice during the holiday.
  11. Plan for our Flat Classrooms Workshop and Student Summit in January 2009 - so exciting! and lots to do to get this off the ground!
So, having broken my 'bloggers block' I am expecting the next 21 days will be a cognitive adventure.....maybe you will share it with me?

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

When Birds of a Feather Flock Together.....

This afternoon at NECC 2008, Vicki Davis and I ran a 'Birds of a Feather' session at the Bloggers Cafe for NECC Unplugged.

As anyone who is attending NECC this year knows, the Bloggers Cafe is in a central, easy to find location and has a great buzz going again this year. However, it is noisy venue and running a session is a challenge.

Birds of a Feather is traditionally a session where like-minded educators can come together and find each other, discuss ideas, plan further liaisons, learn from each other etc. It is one of the many excellent opportunities at NECC to meet more people who have the same educational interests as yourself.

Vicki and I planned this session with the idea of providing stimulus and opportunity for participants to 'flock' together and brainstorm ideas for collaborative projects. We gave a short introduction and some background material to the Flatclassroom concept and project practice (all links and info can be found on our standard Flat Classrooms wiki now). Here is our slideshow.

Groups were formed based on discipline or school level and participants brain-stormed for 15 minutes before reporting back to the rest of us. I am suitably impressed and awaed by the fantastic ideas that came out of this session, by the energy and enthusiasm that went into the conversations and planning and by the liaisons that were made with intentions to carry ideas into the next academic year.
Here are some examples:
  • Working with the digital citizenship idea and including parents. Creating a cross-cultural perspective on what it means to be growing up in a digital world and involving students in workshopping parents. Having a 'Digiparent' day each year where over a 24 hour period classrooms around the world present, celebrate and produce artifacts to raise awareness of what digital citizenship means and involves.
  • Social Studies project where classrooms share images of locations and prepare 'lessons' for each other based on themes to share knowledge about diverse locations. Also, an historical perspective could be brought into this one.
  • Art-based project where cultures are shared via drawing/painting in response to 'stimulus.
A big thank you to all who contributed and a pat on the back for the powerful collaborations that took place today. Let's see what the next academic year will bring. Expect to see more 'flat classroom' crafted projects online!

NECC08 Flatclassrooms BOF

Remember - Flat classroom teachers are not alone, they find others to fly with!

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