Monday, February 9, 2009

Powerpoint and Levels of Comfort

Scott Meech had posted a question on whether an assignment was good or not: - Technology in Education isn't the Future... It is the Present!: Is this a Good Assignment via kwout

I think it touches on some many issues that have to be taken apart layer by layer as to why this is a good or bad assignment. First when I look at just using PowerPoint, I sort of feel uncomfortable and want to ask the teacher why they are necessarily using it? Howard Tufte has written an essay and also posted an excerpt and article in Wired on the problems of professionally using PowerPoint as a way of presenting information. I don't think this is completely relevant for education but it does get at the issue of depth of ideas versus something which is visually appealing. Second, the teacher has instructed the students to access the visual candy of what the software can do. Is there a reason to use backgrounds or designs, none that the assignment makes clear. However the teacher may look upon Powerpoint as a computer generated version of a poster or Kidpix, its not clear. Also, there are no instructions on how the presentation is going to be used, will it be used as support for an oral presentation or is it meant for someone to look at and read later on, why else to necessarily include web links.

This vagueness of specific details moves the question on whether the assignment is good or bad to then be based on us the reader. We have to fill in and determine whether the teacher was going to use rubrics, or what sort of organizers or organization might be given. I feel as if the assignment is being given by a teacher that is not comfortable with using these tools or hasn't had the professional development necessary to see the use of power point as nothing more than a continuation on the traditional way to present. Not only that, but it looks as if each student is responsible for their own presentation so there is no incorporation of peer to peer learning in the project. We don't know what sort of interacting the students themselves will do.

Can we blame a teacher for doing something wrong because they still give these sorts of assignments in Powerpoint? Several years ago I remember that there was a great push to teach students how to use Powerpoint to help them begin using computers in the classroom. Powerpoint was presented as "the" multimedia tool to bring in Quicktime videos, photographs, and even sounds. The tool always came across as a one stop solution for teaching computers skill and for the teacher to organize their ideas and since almost all presentations that a teacher would see in their district were done using Powerpoint, then it was natural for a teacher who was thinking about what a student might need as even a skill in the workplace to feel a need to teach it.

Unfortunately, the style of teaching and presenting which uses Powerpoint has fallen out of favor, but unless a teacher has gone to a conference in which the presenters have become more like facilitators and modified how their information was presented, then even a teacher today could probably argue that within their experience there is still a value to be placed on teaching using Powerpoint. My middle school even last year was making sure that each teacher had their presentation station with projector and computer, again an extension of the overhead and teacher directed instruction. Several teachers were still putting great effort into their Powerpoint presentations for students as the school year started and during the year.

So, who is to blame for this type of assignment still being given? If the teacher has given up on learning, no longer attends conferences, pulls the same lesson off the shelf year after year and doesn't take advantage of new research or discussions on how the classroom of today should look. Then a great deal of the blame goes on the teacher. In that case it doesn't matter what sort of professional development is offered or how new ideas are presented during learning days or ideas sent out from district offices to schools by directors of instruction or technology. However, if a teacher who is engaged with their community and is always trying to find new ideas or websites and dialogs with other teachers about what they are doing in the classroom and feels comfortable giving this type of Powerpoint assignment then I say a great deal of the responsibility lies with the administration of the district and those who help shape what the teacher are doing in their district. Is this then one of those teachers who is primed to be plugged into the global community. I wonder how many teachers are at this point in their teaching?

But one difference today versus a short while ago is that even the mainstream sources of information a teacher might be exposed are being altered. If we look at Alec Couros widely used Typical Networked Teacher than even that teacher is getting exposed to alternative uses of media.TypicalTeacherNetwork by courosa.
Almost all popular media outlets have podcasts and use social networking resources such as Twitter and Facebook to share ideas. The teacher of today who still refuses to acknowledge that the education landscape has not changed and isn't required to change because they don't see any difference in the media around them is putting their head in the sand. So a teacher using Powerpoint today may be a teacher ready to join the global community or it could be a teacher in which Powerpoint is now that dusty lesson on the shelf that they continue to pull every year.
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Sunday, October 26, 2008

CCK001B From the Outside Looking In

I became much too busy to take on the Connectivism course with George Siemens and Stephen Downes; nonetheless I'm still interested in understanding more about the theory and so I took on some of the learnings for week one as well as creating a mind map using Cmap tools which was the recommended software to use. My understanding so far is somewhat limited as I haven't read about many of the referenced theories in many years. I looked over the text for week one's title of "What is Connectivism?" Instead of trying to stumble through writing text that did not appeal to me at all. I thought I'd use some of the words that occurred from Connectivism:
Learning Theory or Pastime of the Self-Amused?
which was one of the required readings. And after creating a wordle I input the common words into flickrCC.find+someone+who%3AJuhan%27s+2008+Career+GraphJuhan%27s+2008+Career+Graph
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Thursday, October 23, 2008

What my Tagging Habits have Taught me

I think I'm beginning to realize a few of the differences between the way I should be tagging and the way my mind is inclined to tag. Folksonomy to me has become as much about learning how my mind tends to organize information as it is about how I was taught and trained to use information as say it is organized at a library. I wonder what will the long term consequences be of letting students organize their own metadata versus those of us who are older and were taught the Dewey Decimal system of organizing. When I think about how my books or music were organized I tried several ways over the years. Once I organized my records alphabetically and that didn't suit me for finding my current set of music. I've always tended to let a more organic approach dictate where something went for the physical objects around me. I tend to want what is current to be in the front and yet I like to periodically have surprises come before me. Somehow I've always cherished the idea of serendipity coming between me and the resources online. I've noticed with my delicious/Diigo accounts that I've created broad categories which only need to be reworked when they grow too large. Over time I do need to go back to redraw how bookmarks are organized. There is a dynamic way to organize and I've not gotten there yet. I like that my Diigo account  will tell me when I've already bookmarked a site so I don't have duplicates at a glance. There are so many web sites being shared that I'll bookmark something say during an Edtechtalk show and forget to go back to it at a later date. Typically I'll end up with so many tabs open that I never want to reboot and close them unless I have too. Speaking of tagging, here's my blog's front page as a wordle, seems I'm always looking for a pretext to use it.
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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Here Comes Everybody

Having been to NECC and Edubloggercon in San Antonio this year I had many varied experiences and connections. The first day for Edubloggercon I sat in on a discussion of the book Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky. A group of educators sat in a circle with Will Richardson facilitating the discussion. Many voices were heard in that short period of time and the most powerful ones were by educators I was not familiar with. Comments by those who were more well known were not as powerful as others. A large part of the discussion was addressing elements of the book and how it should impact our teaching and classrooms. The group who participated included many leaders in the implementation of 21st century tools. Many of them had laptops, cell phones and were well versed in all the vocabulary and experiences that Web 2.0 has to offer. Dean Shareski put together a compendium of video images composed of friends within his PLN from amongst those gathered. One interesting result of what Dean uploaded to Youtube was a repurposing of this home movie of friends as a foundation for a blog post by Mathew Tabor of why he doesn't or wouldn't go to the NECC. It was amazing and somewhat disturbing to see his argument by manipulating what was never intended as a documentary of the event but more of a home movie.

At NECC I even later saw a flash mob in the main area of the conference hall but did not understand what it was for at the time and although it was enjoyable to see a group suddenly freeze with my background in art history and performance art, I didn't realize what it represented.

When you look at Shirky's steps of building community from first sharing, to cooperation, to finally collective action. I would say the edtech community is built around sharing and the level of cooperation is what is seen as individuals and classrooms create temporary projects together but there is really no long term or sustained participation. When I think in terms of the edtech community, what do I really mean? Certainly someone such as Stephen Downes has well reasoned arguments for why there is no community per say. But could there ever be a point in which collective action could be possible. Why haven't we heard of anyone out of such a vocal group that has created a community or new school outside of Chris Lehmann and the SLA?

Of some of the other points the book was making that caused me to reflect back on my PLN and my relationship to it would be the idea of "connectors." These are the people who join together separate networks or groups. I think these are always the people I try to have as part of my network on twitter for example. I wonder though say on twitter if I look at TweetWheel if I can't find visually find connectors within my own Tweetwheel group but also by following certain people begin intersecting networks myself.

Lastly, the idea that struck me in relation to students was that of failure and the "power law distribution." When and how do we share this with students. How do we make them aware without taking away their motivation to challenge and change the status quo with their ideas? I thought of those individuals who can withstand continuous failure for an occasional success versus those awkward and uncertain students just learning to take risks and are sensitive to failure. Would one solution be to use the video game experience of repetition and relentlessness in order to achieve the next level in some game?

When I came home, I left a few days later for China and I decided I needed to read the text and see if it was as important for me as everyone talked about. I purchased the book and started to read it on my flight over to China. As I've slowly learned about the Chinese culture I've been amazed so far at the high level of organization with in the social groups that are formed around family and friends. Just as we've heard the discussion of our children maintaining connections even after individuals leave organizations such as high school, the same is true for most of the individuals I met in China. What I would like to understand better is what organizing principals or structure was in place before the wide spread distribution of the cell phone. This is most peoples primary tool to connect. As where now when someone in the US who is a savvy user has a problem they may first get online and try and search for a solution. For a well connected Chinese individual it is more a matter of making phone calls moving from the small network to a connector until a solution is found. With a lower standard of living most people cannot yet afford a computer so it will be interesting to see how social networks build up around cell phones.

When I sat in the train station to begin my journey home and was reading, I realized that not only is this mode of transportation quite common. It also to me represents a way of living that I experience so little of here in the US. I've ridden my share of public transportation while I lived in San Francisco and didn't have a car. But these days by and large I am driving by myself or with my family and don't have the direct experiences of others that I experience when I'm in China. It makes me wonder if my experience of my PLN has the same sort of separated or indirect experience of other as opposed to sitting on a train and having so much direct experience. I may ask of my Twitter network how to solve a problem, but for my wife she begins with calling close relationships and slowly if an answer is not found does she shift to more of a superficial connection. Is this natural way of connecting with others a better way to organize a social network?

If the majority of Chinese are coming with their cell phones, then what effect will this have on how Web 2.0 social networking sites develop. Certainly for those cites such as photography or music sharing they've had to spend a great deal of effort in trying to uphold copyright laws and distribution laws. There are no such restrictions in China, and people there are used to accessing music, movies, pictures for free, without any compunction. We have the luxury here of being able to afford the access to media. What will happen when more people participate that feel it is their right to have access whenever and wherever without giving thought to who should receive compensation. If in this time of micro-markets and the tiniest of margins a group doesn't even participate in fair use. How will the issue of DRM and other failures of the media companies be dealt with in light of the large groups of users who only believe in free?
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ILC Day Two

For the second and last day I attended the ILC, or Innovative Learning Conference there were three very good presos.

The first very early session was with Chris Walsh who shared reasons why our and our student's learning is moving from a temporary place driven context to a 24/7 environment. Or in other words, "learning extending beyond the classroom." He shared numerous examples in which the student is shifting their focus into a multi-media, mash-up, mixing creation driven world. He ended by sharing his new venture Brightstorm which will be launching shortly.

The next session was done by Ted Lai, (here's his blog post with links for the preso including slides). He shared many examples of very creative podcasts and iMovies in which the students showed their understanding of content through a means which is more natural to their learning. Ultimately, he also acknowledged that many of the sites that teacher's work at are still organized along more traditional styles of teaching. His steps to be successful in creating a 21st century classroom were.
  1. Start small
  2. Be a partner in learning
  3. Add a twist of creativity
  4. Practice flexibility
  5. Publish the work to celebrate success

The last session in which I was able to focus was with Gary Stager. His fiery rhetoric made for an interesting explosion of ideas and the exhortation to change the classroom into a suitable and more effective learning environment for children. His focus was on ways to use a laptop in order to create such an environment.

Overall the level of presenters was good, and I hope the Innovative Learning Conference continues next year. As was my experience at the NECC it was just as much about the conversations outside of the presos as it was about the content being shared formally. It was great to meet Twitter friends again and some for the first time.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Innovative Learning Conference 08

Yesterday was my first day of attending the ILC the Innovative Learning Conference in San Jose marking its first year of returning to Northern California.

The first session I was able to attend was Colette Cassinelli's session on VoiceThread including her wiki with lots of great resources. She also gave access to her presentation slides on Google so that there was an open chat with people outside the conference participating. She did a great job of stepping the audience through the process of creating a Voicethread along with the resources necessary to use copyright free pictures to incorporate.

Next session I attended was by Aaron Sams a Colorado educator teaching High School AP courses using vodcasting. The model involves using previously recorded screencasts being accessible via the web and as DVDs that the students can take home.

The last session I went to was by Gail Lovely on using Web 2.0 tools with elementary age students. The wiki she created has some excellent links to various examples and tools. One tool that is a web version of a tool many of us use is an online version for Inspiration.

Similar to the NECC conference I attended in San Antonio this year it is as much about meeting educators from my PLN network as it is about listening to presenters. Overall the conference is smaller in scale than the CUE conference or NECC but the quality in level of presenters so far has been just as high.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Goodbye Lee Baber

I've been determined to make the next time I wrote on my blog a reflection on Lee Baber and what she meant to my learning and feeling connected to my online experiences. Its hard to believe in the rush of time that she's been gone a month. Ix-plane+rocks+...+%3B%29 first had a chance to interact with her through the Webcast Academy and watched her help in sharing knowledge on how to set up Apple computers for webcasting. She was a good person to help think through a problem, a type of teacher that I enjoyed doing think alouds with.  I hardly knew her and yet I feel as if a path that I could have taken in my life is gone. So much I could have benefited from, her experience in music, her use of computers with students, her P-21 Second Life project, all will be left to where she left them frozen, sitting on some server somewhere. Looking back I understand more of the little bits of information and things she shared when we talked always on Skype, its funny that I rarely used the chat function with her. Speaking was the most common way when I communicated with her, it was the timbre of her voice the inflections and accent which I enjoyed. Although I remember one time when she couldn't talk and I had to use the Skype chat with her while I tried to walk through verbally what we were trying to do. Always I felt comfortable sharing and learning. Even up to our last few interactions she surprised me with her involvement and the breadth of her participation in the "edtech" community for lack of a better word. Even though we never met face to face, Goodbye Lee, my life will not be the same as what could have been, what should have been. You left too early and so many of us still had so much to benefit from your interactions with us.

Image source: Image: 'maze'
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