Thursday, August 27, 2009

What does "good enough" mean for a one-to-one program?

Pat Woessner, a middle-school instructional technologist at MICDS, which seems like a school with which we at D-E have some similarities, echoed an interesting idea from an article in Wired Magazine. (By the way, MICDS also has a one-to-one tablet computer program.)  In Pat's latest blog post, which you can read here, he said that the "crapification of everything IS an improvement" and schools should embrace that.  Before you get crazy by reading this idea out of context, note that he was talking about hardware and software technology tools and the point is that while many of the cheap or free online tools currently available might not be the "best of breed" they can still be powerfull with regard to educating students. In fact, simplicity may make them more valuable. (The post is short so you can read it yourself and not take my word on it.)

This is definite food for thought for schools with one-to-one programs, especially tablet PC programs since tablets are generally more expensive that standard laptops.  While we definitely have some classes where not having ink would be a loss, those courses might be in the minority at the moment.  Netbooks are worth some thought as the draw of an almost disposable computer is strong. It would be  easier to keep computing ubiquitous and reliable for every student in every classroom if the majority of hardware repairs required only a hard drive swap into a new replacement and we could quickly send students back out the door without dealing with insurance, parts ordering, and loaner pool management.

Many people who have used Netbooks say they don't run high-powered applications well. For example, is video editing and production viable on a Netbook? I don't yet have the Netbook experience to answer this question but my gut feeling is no (as the technology stands today).  Of course, hardware performance will increase faster than cost as it always does with computer technology so maybe this problem will be elminated sooner than we think.

The flip side of trading tablets for netbooks is that even if you think our current use of tablet ink by students is expendable, should we radically change a program only based on current use.  As with any program, it evolves over time.

Does pen input by students provide potential for improving student learning that still needs to be further developed?
Should efforts that might go toward making this hardware platform change instead go toward professional development and possibly obtaining better tools to make ink use more powerful?
If we shut the door on ink by eliminating pen input or causing it not to be umbiqutious, will we miss valuable opportunites?

I honestly don't know at this point but am interested in hearing from others on the topic so if you are reading this, please post a comment.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

How to keep those old electronic grade books

As we are about to start the new school year with a new student information system, the old teacher grade book software, InteGrade, which we previously used will no longer be available. This caused a good question to be raised by member of the faculty:
A thought just occurred to me as both a teacher and former department chair.

Seeing as though there is no longer going to be use of Integrade, it may seem that we no longer need the program application around. However I have my own Integrade files over the years as a teacher, and as a former department chair who kept department faculty's files each marking period. If I delete the program application, ALL THOSE FILES Become unreadable (data rot). Is there something in place as a school, so that if the need arises, we can access the information in those file in future years?

There seems to be no conversion option for Integrade files. In other words -- are we going to keep at least one turntable around in order to play the record albums in the future?

I posted my response here for others with the same question:

We no longer have the rights to use InteGrade and there is no plan to keep it around somewhere for the purpose you mention. This is a common problem with all electronic data and the best practice for dealing with this problem in general is to save the data for later viewing in a common format. In this case, I recommend that you print the appropriate InteGrade reports for record keeping purposes to a PDF file. Primo PDF, which we have supplied on your tablet, will work well for this purpose.

In some cases, PDF files are better than the original proprietary application data because most hard drive search tools or uploading files to services such as Evernote will allow you to search them all en mass. (While Google Docs lets you upload PDFs, it doesn't currently appear to let you search them all at once. Bummer.) The version of PrimoPDF I just tested (4.0) does create searchable PDFs. If your tablet has an older version that does not create searchable PDFs, you can download the latest version for free at (I don't remember when Primo added this feature but I believe it was a few years ago.)

All that said, InteGrade does not need to be "installed" in order to use it. If you copy the InteGrade program folder currently on your tablet to a CD and stick it on a shelf, you could copy it back onto your computer at a later date if necessary and it should run. (It might even run directly off of the CD.) Of course, this assumes in the future that you are using a computer and operating system that InteGrade would still work under, which is not a certainty as technology evolves. This is another reason why common file formats like PDF are good for archiving.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Why is social media relevant to education?

This 17 minute (TED) presentation by Clay Shirky recorded at the State Department in D.C. last month seems a compelling explanation of why social media is relevant and important in the 21st century. If it is important to society than it should be relevant to teaching.

(You can also watch it with subtitles at the TED site.)

Shirky claims and supports that we are currently living during the "largest increase in expressive capability in human history".

He says social media makes the Internet the next media revolution because it's global, social, ubiquitous and cheap. The other four periods in the last 500 years that qualify as a "revolution" were during the creation of the printing press, telegraph and telephone, recorded media (other than print), and radio/tv broadcasting.

I also particularly like this quote from Shirky: "These tools don't get socially interesting until they get technologically boring." While he is specifically talking about social media, I think this generally applies to effective use of technology tools in education. It's not about the tools. It is about how they are used.

Thanks to Wesley Fryer for bringing this to my attention via his blog post.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Google Earth resources for teaching Earth Science and more

I was recently asked by a science teacher for resources she could use to independently learn about Google Earth. While I have in no way come close to conducting an exhaustive search, here are a few resources that seem useful. They are pages I bookmarked mostly after finding them via Twitter or blog posts so I offer thanks to those who publicly share information.
Google Earth ScreenshotOverview and Introduction:

Google Earth overview ISTE webinar (duration: one hour)
This is an archive of the online webinar titled Google Earth Lessons in the Classroom, which includes audio and slides, published by ISTE. Dr. Alice Christie presented this overview of using GE with students on October 29, 2008. It is available for free to Dwight-Englewood staff via the Blackboard A Teacher's Toolbox course under Learning Unleashed > ISTE Webinar archives. A more detailed description and information for others to purchase this archive are available here.

Recording of a hands-on introduction to Google Earth (duration: one hour)
This is session one of an online, hands-on workshop led by Thomas Cooper on 2/9/09 as part of the Powerful Learning Practice program. You can follow along with if you run Google Earth while watching. The session includes information on the Oceans component. Here is a description copied from the PLP newsletter:
"Google Earth can be integrated into almost any discipline. Students can use the tool to explore natural features, historical monuments and characteristics of cities. The greatest power of this tool lies in its ability to promote inquiry-based research and collaborative action."

Earth Science:

Designing and Creating Earth Science Lessons with Google Earth User Manual
Published in May 2007. Creation of this manual was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Other Subjects:

Google Earth has also been used by teachers of other subjects. For example. Google Lit Trips can be used to help students better understand a novel through familiarity of the geography of a book's various locales. Of course, contemporary and historical maps can be useful in multiple disciplines. I have not explored the sites below much, but they are a place to start if you are looking for more.

Google's Google Earth for Educators page
Published by Google and includes ideas for classroom use in multiple disciplines.

Google Workshop, Part 3: Google Earth at the Assorted Stuff blog
Includes links to tutorial videos and other sites with resources related to Google Earth.

I'd be grateful to hear feedback about the usefulness of any of these resource for the next time someone asks. Therefore, please add a comment to this blog post or email me at campbb AT d-e DOT org (if you have a comment you don't want to make publicly). Also, if you have another resource that you would recommended to teachers, please add it via a comment.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Interested in an interschool, middle-school collaborative project?

The primary audience for this post is teachers and technology facilitators who might be interested in partnering on a Middle-School/Junior High joint English and Social Studies project in April 2009.

AfricaSeventh grade students at Dwight-Englewood School are studying the way in which colonial powers divided up Africa and the lasting effects of these political divisions on the African people. I have been working with two creative seventh grade teachers on planning a project for this unit that would involve sharing information and collecting feedback from students at a different school. While the planning for this is still ongoing, here is what we currently have in mind.

D-E students (two sections working in groups) will be charged with creating an web-based lesson (probably using a wiki) to be completed by the students at the school we partner with. Our students will present maps of the continent of Africa showing various divisions such as cultural boundaries, population, natural resource, etc. Each of our student project groups will also create pages of related content resulting from research on various aspects of the topic such has the specific effect caused by each of the European colonial powers involved.

Your students would be asked to use a web browser to read and comment on this content, which would probably include a guiding question to answer for each content section. At the conclusion of the lesson your students would be asked to reflect on this information and synthesize a response answering how they think Africa should be politically divided including annotating a map of Africa as part of the response. (There is no single correct answer to this question.) After the lesson is completed by your students, ours may do the same final exercise and share the results with your students.

Our students' goal would be to create a lesson that could be completed by your students in one class period assuming each of your students or groups of students working together have access to an Internet connected computer. D-E teachers will help guide
our students to stick with that length, but of course, seventh graders who have little previous experience creating lessons will be doing this so that won't be perfect.

The tools to be used for this have not been completely decided yet, but here are some of my initial thoughts:

  • Content will be created, viewed, and commented on using a wiki. I've had some recent, positive experiences with pbwiki so that will be the first one I checkout to see if it can meet the needs with regard to content security and user management.
  • Your student responses could be through wiki comments. However, there is some interest in providing the option of allowing audio comments to be left by using a tool such as VoiceThread. This might be particularly useful in providing a place for answering the final question that asks your students to annotate a map as VoiceThread allows commenting (text, audio, or video) combined with drawing on an image. We do not have experience using VoiceThread with students yet, and I have not worked on the details nor potential difficulties related to your students possibly needing to register and login to VoiceThread in order to comment so that complication may prevent its use.
As I can work out the technology tool details later, our first priority is confirming we have a partner school so we know this will be a viable project to be started very soon. Therefore, if you are interested in having students at your school participate in this project, please contact me (Bill Campbell) as soon as possible via email (campbb "at", Twitter (@BillCamp), or by commenting on this post (and including contact information in your comment).

Update 3/12/09:
I realize that I forgot to add that if you partner with us and would like our students to provide feedback on something your students create, we would be happy to do so. (Two classes at D-E are doing this project.)

Also, for those of you interested in the book Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, I'm reading chapter 5 now, and I realized that the project we are proposing seems related to student-created, instructional content delivered through a "facilitated user network" as described in that chapter.

Update 4/2/09:
We will be using PBwiki to publish content and partner school students will respond via wiki comments. (Still investigating VoiceThread for final question.) Student research on the topic is already under way, and we will introduce the wiki to our student publishers on Monday.

I still don't have a firm commitment from a partner school so if you are interested, please contact me.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Vicarious NAIS conference participation

As someone who uses Twitter to keep on eye on what others interested in education, technology, or both are talking about, I discovered that some of the 2009 National Association of Independent Schools annual conference attendees were sharing the proceedings through blogs and social networking tools such as Twitter.  As a result, I've now had a small glimpse of the conference through the eyes of those others who were gracious enough to share. Since I found some of my vicarious conference participation on Thursday and Friday worthwhile, I'd like to share some of the resources for others who might be interested.

Jason Ramsden (@raventech) and Sarah Hanawald (@sarahhanawald) encouraged live online conversation and blogged notes using the Cover It Live tool during the following presentations. (Click on the name of the blogger to access the notes.  Sessions with two bloggers listed have separate notes from each.)
  • Sarah: Setting a Course for IT Success
  • Sarah: Revitalizing the Veteran Teacher with Peter Gow
  • Sarah and Jason: Opening General Session with Dan Heath, author of Made to Stick, Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
  • Sarah: Creating Artists of Learning with Mary Cullinane
  • Sarah and Jason: Michelle Rhee on Reforming Education
  • Jason: Michael Thompson on The Impact of Technology on the Lives of Boys
  • Sarah and Jason: Guy Kawasaki on The Art of Innovation
  • Sarah and Jason: Closing Session with Oprah Winfrey
As you read through the recording of the Cover It Live session, you may notice comments marked with a Twitter symbol Cover It Live twitter symbol and some may seem like a non sequitur.  Those comments automatically appear in the blog session because the author thought that Twitter posts from selected authors or on specific topics might be germane and, therefore, interesting to those viewing the live blogging session.  This relates to the next resource.

Instead of creating a live blogging session dedicated to a particular presentation, many other conference attendees used Twitter to post short messages or quotes of interest while attending presentations.  Many people who posted messages to Twitter before, during, and after the conference marked these messages with the keyword #nais09 (called a hash tag).  That made it easy for people using Twitter during the conference (whether actually there or not) to follow some of the activities. You can see a list of all of the Twitter posts tagged with that keyword using Twitter's search tool.  The entries are listed in reverse chronological order, and people continue make Twitter "micro-blog" posts tagged with that keyword as they write related articles after the conference.  This is how I discovered most of the content about the proceedings. (If you are really bored, you can scroll through the that list of twitter posts and find the announcement I recently made about for this blog post.)

If you have read this far, you might be short on time, but you can quickly read some of the best conference quotes and highlights that were posted to Twitter according to Liz B. Davis (@lizbdavis) in her blog post Gr8T Quotes from #NAIS09.

Thank you to Jason, Sarah, Liz, and everyone else who shared the conference live via the web!

For those who prefer more depth and less conversation, there were also three official conference bloggers:
While I have not had the opportunity to explore all of their work, I did find Jonathan Martin's post "NAIS: Nine Highlights, Takeways, & Observations on Oprah, Rhee, Thompson, 21st. c. Learning, Chicago, and More" interesting.  Jonathan (@JonathanEMartin) also seemed to be a prolific user of Twitter during the conference so I believe he has included the input of others in his writings.

This experience provided me an interesting example of how blogging and social networking can connect people to a traditional conference when people actually in attendance are willing to share.  This is good news for us life-long learners who don't necessarily have the time or other resources to traditionally participate in theses events.

As I find other web resources of interest specifically related to the 2009 NAIS Annual Conference, I will post them under the nais09 tag of my delicious bookmarks, which you can access by clicking here.