NECC 2009 in the Clouds

Digital-Age Learning Concept MapIt’s been a cloudy, cool start to the summer throughout much of the Northeast.  So when I departed Boston for this year’s National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) in Washington D.C., I was ready to feel some heat.  It was my fifth consecutive NECC and the 30th anniversary of the conference.  NECC attracts around 20,000 educators from around the world who are passionate about designing and developing digital-age learning experiences.  The digital universe has grown so vast that it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the complexity of processing and synthesizing new information.  My compensation strategy is to use concept mapping to emphasize important ideas gathered during the conference and attempt to relate them to practical classroom use.   The concept map to the left was created with the new MyWebspiration web application (view the web version).  A web application runs entirely through your web browser.  There’s no software to download and install.  Why would the makers of Inspiration software decide to create a web version? The answer can be found in the CLOUDs.  These aren’t those pesky precipitating clouds, but rather an array of computers pushing virtual versions of software through the Internet into your browsers.  NECC was dominated by these cloud computing solutions.  One major issue for schools is the need to constantly update software on individual computers.  The cloud version of Inspiration requires a browser with a stable Internet connection.   Now here’s the real kicker, myWebspiration concept maps can be shared and edited by multiple users.   Imagine assigning your students an assignment to collaboratively visualize books for homework.

The cloud metaphor is a good one to characterize the current status of educational technology.  I spent NECC 2009 thinking about the creation of compelling Digital-Age Learning environments.  Simpson holds a humidity probe during the Information Technology in Science Instruciton workshop.MyWebspiration concept map shows a link between the world icon, NECC 2009, and a cloud symbol containing Digital-Age Learning.  Controling clouds is notoriously futile therefore teachers will get wet.  Your students will benefit from Information Technology experiences such as collecting temperature data with a USB probe directly into a computer and then sharing through the Information Technology in Science Instruction portal.   Social Networking is also critical for making your curriculum global.  Educators are using Twitter and Ning to create social networks that bring students together to design solutions to real-world problems and build their digital literacy skills.

Photography and Collaboration are also given the cloudy treament.  Adobe enables image editing through the web.  flickr is one of the largest photo sharing communities on the web.  Wikis are the single best method for initiating a web collaboration.  I created the NECC09 wiki page to share information and resources with K-8 educators back home.  To document my NECC experience, sessions and workshops were listed by date with notes posted as text comments and concept maps!  Selected photos were either embedded into the page or streamed from my flickr account.

How will you share your NECC09 experience?

Do I NEED to Twitter?

Maybe. Not all technologies should be embraced by teachers with open arms. As an educator on the front lines of technology integration I keep my eyes open to the digital horizon. I’m interested in finding technologies that can actually make classroom life easier for teachers. Lately, the mass media has become enamored with Twitter as evidenced by the constant invitations to “follow me on twitter.” Before I render a final verdict on Twitter let me describe my experience.
My Neotech03 Twitter streamMy Twitter birth was August 2008, username: NeoTech03 I first joined because several colleagues were constantly talking about it. OK, I’ll give it a try. My first impression was positive since my colleagues posted messages that often linked to news articles on relevant issues in the educational technology world. As a Twitter novice, following a few people is easy and satisfying.
I’ve posted a total of 39 updates or Tweets. I’m following 7 people and organizations, and I have 12 people or organizations following me. The name of the game on Twitter is to create a network to share resources in a fast and efficient method. Twitter limits each message or post to 140 characters which makes it supposedly easier to consume information. Issue #1, the use of shorthand notation and acronyms to stay within the character limit make deciphering some messages difficult for novices.

During March, I joined a wikispace group called The Gr8Tweets Wiki that welcomed educators to experiment and learn more about the educational potential of Twitter. The Gr8Tweets Wiki was an opportunity to build upon my knowledge and comfort level using wikis on by adding Twitter. Anyone could join the wiki by editing the Who’s Playing page. Participants were encouraged to post messages, sorry…Tweets, using the hash tag, #gr8t. The hash tag is a method that allows Tweets to be automatically tracked and searched. The home page of the Gr8Tweets shows a stream of the last 15 Tweets tagged with #gr8t.  Educators posted their basic info in a simple wiki table.In the spirit of Web 2.0 openness I set my profile updates to be unprotected to encourage people to follow me. Protecting updates means that you have to approve anyone who wants to follow and read your updates. Issue #2, Twitter spam. I blocked 5 users who started following my updates with the express purpose of trying to sell me a product. Since the bulk of my updates were posted during March, I’ve noticed an uptick in emails informing me that spammeister is following me.  Policing my Twitter account may become annoying if the rate increases.
Issue #3, Useless tweets.  Mixing personal and professional messages is a major issue when considering to use Twitter.  I don’t want to know what you had for dinner, but I would put your professional opinion about the impact of stimulus funding on educational technology in the NEED to know column.  Another aspect of useless tweets is wading through messages that don’t interest or apply to you.  I’ve mainly used my Twitter experience to document my activities implementing technology at the Ferryway School.  I can’t imagine managing a network of hundreds, if not thousands of people.  I do like the ability to stream updates though, especially embedding them on a wiki page because it documents the many facets of technology integration.

My advice to teachers is to spend your time mastering wikis and blogging before committing to Twitter.  No, I don’t NEED Twitter.

Tune-in to Your Students with Classroom Clickers

Grade 4 student casts vote using student response clicker.  “I wish my teacher knew that I don’t really understand what they are trying to teach me today.”  How many of our students think these thoughts each day?  Well, some very smart people in the physics department at M.I.T. decided the large lecture hall approach just wasn’t working for their university students.  An article written by New York Times columnist, Sara Rimer, described the transformation in, At M.I.T., Large Lectures Are Going the Way of the Blackboard.  The new interactive, high-tech, collaborative classrooms have resulted in higher attendance rates and significantly reduced failure rates.

One key to creating a truly student-centered learning environment is to ensure that every student is heard.  In traditional classrooms, teachers never have the time to call on every student, leading to disengaged learners or dare I say, bored.  The student response system solves this problem by creating a classroom in which every student responds using a hand-held remote.  At the Ferryway School, where I work as a technology specialist, I’ve been helping elementary teachers make their instruction interactive with the Qwizdom student response system.

Third graders enthusiastically vote, Yes, on using Qwizdom to learn vocabulary.

Think about how many PowerPoint presentations you have sat through where you wished that the presenter would tune into the audience.   Now consider a third grader stuggling with new vocabulary words.  We’ve been able to transform vocabulary instruction using a response system — here’s how.  Students view a presentation projected on the white board at the front of the classroom controlled using a special teacher remote.  The lesson begins by showing students a list of the unit vocabulary words.  The teacher uses her remote to randomly select students to read the vocabulary words aloud, their names flash on the screen.  A nifty feature for keeping students on their toes.  Hey, better pay attention, you could be next!  We then provide a subset of 4-5 vocabulary words asking students which word they can easily use in a sentance.  Students write descriptive sentances on paper and then send their chosen word to the computer.  The teacher displays the classes’ responses in the form of a bar graph.  This technique gives teachers immediate feedback on which words students don’t feel comfortable using in a sentance.  Teachers use this real-time assessment to immediately adjust their instruction.  Next, traditional worksheet exercises such as select the best definition or identify the parts of speech, i.e. noun, verb, and adjective are converted into multiple choice questions.  Send responses, share, and discuss results.

Using images to reinforce vocabulary comprehension.

To differientiate instruction, pictures are displayed and students asked to select the best word(s) to describe what they see in the image.  In one lesson, students viewed an ape hoarding food in his zoo enclosure.  [Picture credit: Patries71, Flickr, Creative Commons license] Which word would you choose?  A) care  B) attention C) probe D) enrich E) saving.  As you can see in the picture, student responses were well distributed as represented by the bar graph on the right-hand side.   Students then justify their word selections in writing and share their reasoning with classmates.  This approach enables students to master unfamilar vocabulary words through writing, reading, discussion, and visual analysis.  A detailed answer report on student performance generated after each lesson is used by teachers for grading purposes.

The excitement students feel about being heard is confirmed as I walk the hallways,  Mr. Simpson when are we doing the next Qwizdom lesson?

Adobe Photoshop Meets Web 2.0

What happens when Adobe Photoshop meets Web 2.0? Answer: Photoshop Express (psx). Two of the central tenets of Web 2.0 are an ability to move content to the web and then provide an easy mechanism to distribute the content to others. Psx is a free beta program that provides 2GBs of storage with the ability to perform Photoshop style edits through the web. For the last year, I’ve used Flickr to post my images to the web. Each image has a unique web address (URL) that can be used to insert a link to the image. The image to the right was taken at the Chihuly exhibit at the de Young museum in San Francisco. The image is stored on my Flickr site and a placeholder is created on this Edublogs post that says, go fill this rectangle with whatever sits at the end of the link provided. Here’s the link as a web address.

One of the most difficult concepts for teachers first dipping their toes into the web pool, is to understand that web pages are assembled from diverse streams of content. Web 2.0 requires users to manipulate these streams of content to build web pages that pull content from many different sources. I choose one site, Flickr, to organize my photos which appear on three different blogs and several wikis. I’ll continue to use Flickr as a central storage site. What’s different about psx is that photos can easily be manipulated with Photoshop editing controls through the browser. In edit mode, you can perform basic adjustments such as resizing and exposure level and red-eye correction. There are also a number of tuning and effects tools that are familiar to any Photoshop user. Teachers will quickly find that Photoshop Express provides a nice first-step for students to dive into the world of photo editing. Another benefit that the program’s Web 2.0 nature affords is the ability of students to photo edit at home for school projects.

My flower slide show was produced with images taken on May 11, 2008 during Lilac Sunday held at the Arnold Arboretum, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. The HTML embed code is automatically generated by psx.

I’m a Connector!

Pew internet typology table thumbAccording to a new survey tool on the Pew Internet and American Life Project site, I’m now a certified member of the “connectors” group based on my question responses on technology use at home and for work.  The survey took only four minutes to complete.  If you spend a few minutes scanning my blog, it should be obvious that I place a high value on the effective integration of technology in schools.  I agree with the tool’s classification and think it validates my philosophy to Information and Communications Technology (ICT).

Connectors combine a sense that information technology is good for social purposes with a clear recognition that online resources are a great way to learn new things. Their cell phones have a lot of features, and they also try new things with technology; more than half have watched TV programming on a device like a laptop computer or cell phone. Download my full report. (PDF)

As an educator, responsible for training K-12 teachers with a wide range of technology skills, the Pew Internet typology groups remind me of the many efforts that have attempted to capture teacher technology skills to provide them professional development opportunities.  Those efforts often ask teachers to complete the survey, but often don’t make the assessment data available in a timely manner nor in a format that teachers find useful. The combination of inadequate PD in technology integration, administrative policies, and a lack of reasonable access to classroom computer hardware and software keep many teachers at the wrong end of the typology spectrum; Inexperienced Experimenters, Light but Satisfied, Indifferents, and Off the Network.  Where do you fall on the Internet typology spectrum?