Sunday, April 26, 2009

Across My Desk (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Virtually Awarded....and more!

This time yesterday I was almost in a virtual panic! Our Net Generation Education Project Awards were about to start in ReactionGrid, an OpenSim virtual world, on the F.L.A.T.S., (Flat Learning Area for Teaching and Sharing). I blogged about this a while ago.

Well, an hour before the official opening.....and 30 minutes or so afterwards, we were continuing to get students into the grid, stabilize and start the awards. So much time had been put into this ceremony, through press releases, online meetings, judges and meta-judges determining the multimedia winners. Led by our very own virtual pioneer, Vicki Davis, who spent hours preparing the slideshow and making sure everyone who wanted to had access to the awards in the virtual world, we took the plunge....over the cutting edge...into something we all knew very little about....but something we now have a lot more confidence with. When I say 'we' I mean the teachers involved in the project, as well as the students who had the opportunity to participate, including students from USA, Australia and Qatar. As colleague and Flat Classroom teacher here at Qatar Academy, Sam Liberto, said he never thought he would be in a classroom asking students to edit their avatar and transport to a virtual island. The language itself is alienating, but not anymore!

But, back to the panic. Well, as a lead presenter in the Awards show I was to pick up my newly created dress, get it on and arrive at the F.L.A.T.S looking glam and ready to go. Well, it took a few trys and some real help from Chris (dress provider and tech guru) to transport me to the box that contained the clothes. Ok, click on box, save clothes to inventory, now WEAR clothes...hmmm. Sounds easy, but, then the grid wobbled, crashed. tried again, wobble, crash. message from organisers not to go in as too many participants were on the island flying and editing their appearance making it unstable. Panic....but what if it starts and I don't have my dress on?? Managed to get in, put the skirt on, lovely green flowing skirt....but the top would not go on, not sure why. Decided it was not important enough to keep asking Chris as she, along with other organisers was trying to stabilize the grid so we could start the show. So, here I am, green evening skirt and TShirt, setting a new trend in you like my pink hair? Vicki gave me that!

As it turned out we managed to get through the awards and stream the audio into the Sim, but many participants did not manage to get in, including Vicki! Here is a pic of me, Dr Eric Brunsell and Steve Dembo standing 'near' the podium while we help present the awards.

We also managed to connect with Don Tapscott (project instigator and author of Grown Up Digital) but not until after the official awards were over. Vicki is creating a final video and summary of the event and will paste Don in so that it sounds like he was there.....the joys of technology!

So, what did we learn? Well, I think we learned that -
  • working in virtual worlds is fun, 'scary', and unreliable....just like working with other technology and online spaces
  • students and other participants need more guidelines as to how to behave in a virtual environment, and to know how to come prepared for a ceremony. Editing your personal appearance while at the awards is not good virtual-etiquette, apart from the fact it contributed to the Sim crashing through overload
  • we need to think about having a set guest list and sticking to it so that there are no surprises and we can keep the grid stable
  • we need to explore further the educational opportunities a virtual world provides, and these will be many of we can approach it pedagogically
Here is the Awards Slideshow featuring all winning students. All multimedia and can be found on the NetGenEd Ning, and the NetGenEd project wiki.

'What is our next challenge?', did I hear you say? Well, in about 9 hours Vicki and I will be interviewed in Second Life on the ISTE Eduverse Talk Show! My avatar in SL is Charlotte Ozigard, wish me luck with the dress :-)

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Across My Desk (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Across My Desk (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Conversations about Collaboration and Global Projects

I was contacted recently by Ståle Brokvam, Head of IT, who is currently teaching a SUNY masters module at International School Manila to a group of 25 teachers from Pre-school to HS.
The request in his email, "Many of our teachers have really appreciated forming connections outside school through blogging, and are keen to find ways to take this further. Some have used Ning sites for collaboration between classes, but no one has yet tried their hands on collaboration with multiple other schools. I figure it would be best to learn about your exciting projects by hearing it from one of the original project creators."

This is the third request I have had in the past few weeks for a real-time interaction with teachers who are wanting to learn more, who are gathering in their schools with the purpose of community sharing and learning, and in 2 out 3 cases, with the purpose of gaining further qualifications in educational technology. Teachers at International School Bangkok are working on their Certificate of Educational Technology (another SUNY course), with Jeff Utecht and Kim Cofino leading the way and I was skyed in to talk about collaboration and global projects. At International School Beijing Jeff Plaman leads the way with the lrning21 community. I was skyped in to talk about collaboration and global projects and wrote this blog post as a response:
"Collaboration: the concept, power and magic".

OK, so back to Manila. The Skype conversation was spread over 2 sessions due to our Internet here in Qatar completely crashing (very unusual). Between the first and second sessions teachers sent an excellent list of questions for me to consider. it is these that I wish to share now, and to add extra online resources for further exploration. So, in the order received here goes....

Q - How is the big picture achieved i.e. having students understand/appreciate the value of flattening the classroom and moving away from valuing grades.
A - The big picture needs a whole school approach, including the wider parent community. Students are concerned about grades because that is what they have been told is most important, and in some cases they are. However to realise a holistic curriculum and to foster a dynamic curriculum environment it is important to discuss what an actual flat classroom really is and looks like, and then look at how assessment models may need to change. In reality I find the students are quick to embrace flat classroom ideals, connecting and collaborating with others not in their immediate vicinity, sharing their work with the world and expecting global responses as well as responding globally, interacting with subject experts and peer reviewers etc. It is the teachers and administrators and parents who lack essential understanding of how this can transform the classroom itself, and due to that lack of understanding continue to use out-dated assessment methods. Grades are important, however, what are we actually testing? In a flat classroom we should be 'testing' the ability to find information, synthesise it and use it to create something new, we should be 'testing' 21st century skills.

Q - What is an example of a collaborative project used with younger children
A - There are many excellent examples out there including Life 'round here, the Monster project..... I suggest you look at the work of award winning kindergarten teacher, Maria Knee, and her blog as a window to her classroom. There is also the of database of projects started by Lucy Gray from Global Education. Our Flat Classrooms Ning also has a Primary group where you can find other educators with similar ideas. Essentially, running a collaborative project with younger students is not different to running one with older students, you still need to set up the tools, establish a timeline and common objectives, including assessment criteria if required.

Q - Have there ever been problems where there are too many people collaborating, how do you filter the information?
A - Well, in a wiki authoring environment there can be 'too many' working on the same wiki causing issues with simultaneous editing (not a good idea due to technical issues). However, the best way to monitor and filter information from students working on a Ning, Blog and a wiki is to use RSS and feed areas into your reader. This allows you to 'catch' inappropriate content early and also helps you to stay in touch with daily updates etc.

Q - What skills do students get from these projects that will be relevant long after school is done? (five, ten, twenty years from now). How are they being equipped for the future?
A - These collaborative and global projects are teaching real-world skills that are essential for survival post-secondary school. Skills such as communication (read the chapter in Gladwells, Outliers, about how lack of skill in communication can have serious consequences), how to be a reliable and responsible online learner, enhanced cultural understanding and sensitivity to the lives of people in other countries, how to interact appropriately with others asynchronously and synchronously......and more! A student who has completed a Flat Classroom Project has a lot to write about on a college application, and on a job application as their experiences in learning, in problem solving, in using IT tools are far more advanced. In terms of the future, exposure to different ideas, different cultures and lifestyles can only build a stronger knowledge base from which to make life decisions.

Q - How long does it take to plan a project?
A - Right now we are planning 2 new projects for the final 10 weeks of the northern academic year, Digiteen 09-2 and Flat Classroom 09-2. Starting with requests for applications, setting up the wiki and determining the project structure, online teacher meetings, and many discussions, signing students up to teams etc.....about 3-4 weeks.

Q - Do you find you run out of teaching time or are you able to maintain your schedule because of kids taking initiative to complete their projects in their own time with their e-partners?
A - Well, when I am in the classroom running a 'flat classroom' style of project there is an expectation that the project work does not stop when the bell rings. Students are expected to continue to interact and keep the project moving in their own time. Learning can not be designated to a 1-hour time slot each day. A global project means that students are online and offline at all times of the day, and there are often opportunities for real-time connections as well during the evenings.

Q - What kind of support is given to students with learning difficulties?
A - OK, this is a sensitive one, but my colleague, Vicki Davis and I strongly believe offering choices to students in how and when they learn and especially choices in how they show what they have learned through differentiated outcomes. our projects are multimedia rich, and provide opportunities for students to write, to provide audio files (podcasts) to create video and screencasts etc. These are not one-size fits all projects, flat classrooms are not one-size fits all, they are open to student choices for learning.

Q - How much time is spent on developing appropriate online behaviours (intraclassroom and intraschool) before students are ready to go global?
A - This is a good question also, as there is always concern that students do not know how to behave and could cause problems that reflect badly on the project. We encourage teachers to spend time developing digital citizenship skills, in fact our Digiteen project does that as well, and we use it here at Qatar Academy as a pre-runner to the Flat Classroom project. The really important idea to stress is that being part of a collaborative global project is a professional requirement and teachers must be role-models for the students in a professional way. We are talking about 'educational networking' not 'social networking' as such. The tools such as Ning provide for a 'FaceBook' style environment, but this is not FB, it is a professional association with students, teachers and adults in other countries. Therefore text-speak is not a good idea (culturally this can be misinterpreted also), inappropriate images and discussion about weekend parties etc etc are not appropriate. Students need experience at creating an online profile, writing a professional blog post, commenting on other profiles and blog posts and this may take some time within the class and school to foster. The idea is to start as young as possible. Online profiles and avatars can be created in Primary school, as can blogs and wiki digital portfolios. ....the younger the better. The importance of having a professional digital footprint needs to become a school ethos, and part of the curriculum.

Q - How do you deal with a complacent student - is this easy to monitor?
A - A student who is not engaged is easy to monitor online because there is usually nothing there to see! On the Ning, on the wiki it is very easy to monitor all student activity through individual profiles, through wiki history and tab discussions. If the student is not engaged and does not contribute or respond, there will be nothing worthwhile posted online....this also makes it very easy for assessment purposes.

Q - Do you ever encounter technical difficulties?
A - Yes! We are not in a perfect world, and working globally with different classrooms, we see and experience the pain of others as they try to make the technology work as well to be able to complete project requirements. once again this all depends on what the project is and the technical level for completing it. For example the Flat Classroom Project requires outsourced video to be uploaded to the ning, downloaded by the individual and then inserted into their final multimedia piece and the end product uploaded to the Ning again (via YouTube if preferred), many other projects to not have such a high-tech approach. The week all multimedia is due is when the real tech issues emerge....often these are network related, easily solved by having an IT Manager on side.

Q - What is the optimum time-frame for a project like this, before students and teachers lose interest?
A - This is an interesting question....I don't think the lack of interest in a 'flat classroom' is the point here, in fact the ideal is to flatten the classroom permanently and have a succession of projects and objectives and interactions, as many teachers are now doing around the world. However, maintaining energy levels and motivation for completing a 'Flat Classroom' style of project we currently plan on 8-10 weeks.

Q - What curriculum areas and subjects can take on a flat classroom project?
A - We have had a number of different classrooms take on a project, IT and Computer studies, Global studies, Social studies, Economics, Mathematics, History, ITGS (Diploma subject for IT). In fact I want to share with you a video created by a teacher at MICDS in St Louis, where the IT Director is Elizabeth Helfant. Elizabeth talks about her schools involvement in the project via an AP Statistics class in this newsletter. The video, a presentation to a parent meeting shows clearly why the project was attempted and how it fitted into the curriculum and pedagogical objectives of the school: AP Statistics and the Flat Classroom Project

Thanks Ståle for the opportunity to speak to teachers at ISM and to gather my thoughts into this blog post. I hope this helps move your teachers closer to becoming flat classrooms.

What questions do you have about flattening your classroom? What questions do you have about global collaborative projects?

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

Student Summits: An opportunity to connect globally

Another Flat Classroom Project is almost finished, flatclassroom09-1 included classrooms from USA, Qatar, Germany and Oman.
Judges are currently reviewing the multimedia, as found on the Master List, under topics such as Connecting the World Online, and Virtual Communication, and other 'flatteners' found in Friedman's book, The World is Flat.

A recent highlight were the three student summits held over the past week. As a culmination to the project, classrooms are invited to schedule virtual presentations within Elluminate. These sessions ran for about 45 minutes. They provided an opportunity for students to talk about their work during the project, based on their team and topic. They also provide a virtual learning experience and real-time interaction with an international audience on a professional level. In other words, they flattened the walls of the classroom by inviting the world in and providing a platform for students to present and share their knowledge and to learn valuable digital citizenship lessons.

Students prepare an image, a collage of their experience in the project, and speak for 2-3 minutes, with an opportunity to answer questions and interact with the global audience afterwards.

Of special mention is the joint summit presented by students in Germany and Oman, with teachers Torsten Otto and Salim Al Busaidi leading the way for cultural understanding. Both classes were second language English, both had not presented in this way before, and both were a little nervous! However, due to excellent rehearsal a sense of occasion, the students did an outstanding job, as shown by the recording of the session.

The Qatar session recording and the USA session recording, with teachers Ray Jones and Suzie Nestico are also available.

One interesting theme that emerged this round of summits is how alienating online asynchronous learning can be, and how students who are new to this mode of learning find it difficult to make a real connection with their team members. As teachers we are often too quick to assume that the Net Generation are fluent in online communication. This is not the case, and it is our responsibility to provide opportunities to gain skills in asynchronous tools. At the same time, the opportunity also to 'meet' other students within a virtual classroom such as Elluminate comes towards breaking down that alienation and putting a 'voice' and a 'face' to the name in real-time. We are looking into this for future Flat Classroom projects and hope to be able to connect students throughout the projects more often, rather than only at the end for the final summit.....we are only limited by our imagination...of, and of course time zones!

Here is a Bubbleshare of some of the collages:
BubbleShare: Share photos - Find great Clip Art Images.

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Net Generation Education Awards: Press Release


Winners Of The Project And The Grown Up Digital Net Gen Education Challenge To Be Awarded

Unique Opportunity for Journalists to be Mentored by NetGen Students from Around the World in the Creation of their Avatar

Toronto, Ontario, April 6th, 2009 - Don Tapscott, best selling Author and Chairman of nGenera Insight, and Flat Classroom Project teachers, Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay, today announce the closing ceremonies of their collaborative project, The Net Generation Education Project (NetGen Ed), to be held on April 20, 2009 at 10 am EDT on ReactionGrid, an OpenSim virtual world. This first of its kind awards show will bring together students, teachers, and educators from around the world to recognize the best videos from the project as well as the winner of the Grown Up Digital Net Gen Education Challenge. The event is jointly sponsored by nGenera Corporation, ReactionGrid, and Flat Classroom Projects and will provide an opportunity to showcase Open Source Virtual World Capabilities.

The event, which is invitation only, will be made available to students, teachers, and educators involved in the NetGen Ed, Flat Classroom, and Digiteen projects as well as select members of the press, and educational bloggers. Journalists and Educators wishing to attend the event will have the unique opportunity to be mentored by NetGen Ed students and ReactionGrid volunteers on the setting up of their avatars and movement in OpenSim. This partnership will provide first hand insight into the many talents of the Net Generation and continue to build upon the collaborative theme of the project.

The awards show will be recorded and streamed from a NetGen Ed website hosted by nGenera and will be hosted live within ReactionGrid on the F.L.A.T.S. (Flat Learning Area for Teaching & Sharing.) The event is the culmination of an eight week project studying emerging technology trends and how education must be transformed to reach students based upon the eight NetGen norms, as shared in Don Tapscott's book, Grown Up Digital. Throughout the project's duration students from countries such as Australia, India, Qatar and the United States have been collaborating together via the internet - writing a wiki report, creating videos, and discussing trends with Don Tapscott on the Grown Up Digital Ning, an educational network set up for the project, and participating in live webinars with Discovery Educators Network about movie making and digital storytelling. To promote increased inclusivity, the ning, as well as partnerships with the Discovery Educator Network and Classroom 2.0, have provided forums for students, parents, professionals and educators not directly involved in the project to engage in a global dialogue on learning and the future face of education.

All NetGen Ed student video entries will be considered as part of the Grown Up Digital Net Gen Education Challenge, a video contest presented by nGenera. The contest, which was first announced on the CBC series "Canada's Next Great Prime Minister," challenges people from around the world to provide their "next great answer" via video submission as to what they would do to change the education system. The grand prize winner, which will be announced during the April 20th awards show, will receive scholarship money as well as a private webinar with Don Tapscott.

For more information on the NetGen Education Project and the Grown Up Digital Net Gen Education Challenge, please visit: or

Virtual seating for the event is limited to 200 participants. For media inquiries or to request an invitation to attend, please contact:

Joanna Griffiths

Marketing and Communications Manager

The Tapscott Group

Phone: 416-830-1664


About nGenera Corporation:

nGenera drives productivity and business velocity by deploying on-demand Collaborative Enterprise Management (CEM) solutions in the world's largest organizations. These innovative solutions combine nGenera's executive insight, education, advisory services, and collaborative applications to deliver critical business outcomes in marketing, sales, IT, HR and operations. For more information, visit

About Flat Classroom Projects:

The Flat Classroom Project was founded in 2006 to connect Julie Lindsay's classroom at the International School in Dhaka, Bangladesh and Vicki Davis' classroom at Westwood Schools in Camilla, Georgia. The project has grown to link more than 1,500 students from 20 countries in four projects and a face to face conference. The projects harness leading Web 2.0 technologies to connect students in powerful learning environments where students learn, connect, and improve their cultural understanding. For more information, visit,

About ReactionGrid:

ReactionGrid is a virtual world based on OpenSimulator software. ReactionGrid was founded by G2 to be used as a 3D virtual world for business, education, collaboration and learning. ReactionGrid offers a PG/PG13 experience with content created by ReactionGrid residents or Gridizens, and provides a friendly and open environment for all to share thoughts and ideas. For more information, visit

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Sunday, April 05, 2009

Across My Desk (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.