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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Teaching Adults Online/Mark Milliron/Temple Univ. Online Teaching Strategies

These are complicated times with shrinking resources and an unsteady national and global economy. Planning and sustaining educational programs is more complex than ever. Are we teaching what's needed for the future our children will inherit? Will right brain careers dominate or is there some other skill or expertise that will be essential to making a living 10 or 15 years from now? Are we acquiring the right skills we need for our continuing careers as educators? There's one thing I think is going to only grow and provide some answers - online teaching and learning - virtual courses for children and adults. It makes sense for financial reasons - it allows rich offerings - and learning can occur without constraints of time or place.

There's a trajectory for technology in education - first it's about the technology - then it's about learning. In the early days of networks being introduced into schools the buzz was about the network itself and solving the problems it introduced became the focus of workshops, conferences, professional organizations and listservs. Eventually the messy part came along - leveraging technology for teaching and learning. The same happened with 1-to-1 - initial questions were on how schools solved issues of battery life, wireless network, power, access. In 1-to-1 we're now reaching the ubiquitous stage where it's no longer unusual to provide laptops or tablets to children in your school or district; it is however very complex to support and sustain the kind of meaningful student-centered learning that 1-to-1 affords. This logistics-first trajectory is necessary however because there are issues to solve before learning ensues.

We're now moving along the continuum of online virtual learning because we're talking less about the tools and more about what's different when the entire environment is partly virtual, partly not. There are blended approaches to online learning such as what's done at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia, where I received my M.S. in education and technology and now teach, and there are wholly online courses in many schools and universities and colleges. My employer opened a virtual school in South Carolina in September with more to come; enrollment exceeded expectations and children, empowered by a virtual environment, using laptops from their own homes, work through a rigorous high school curriculum while interacting synchronously and asynchronously with teachers and fellow students.

Knowing how to teach online, how to engage, motivate and support students in this environment, and how to keep content rigorous and meaningful is one of the most important skills educators should learn if they are planning to remain in education for the next 10 years.

I recently had the pleasure of attending an event at Temple University in Philadelphia entitled Online Teaching Strategies for the Health Professions. Professors from Temple described how they engage their students virtually through chats, online discussions and forums, how they facilitate the community of the course and how they overcame the challenges of the virtual classroom. As an adjunct professor, I listened intently for ideas and tips and took many notes. Because of Dr. Rosalie Schofield, for instance, I will introduce the idea of SAOQ's - Summary - Analysis - Opinion - Questions - as a model for online forum postings by my students. Dr. Deanna Schaffer talked about telephoning all of her students before the course began - what a simple but supportive technique to help ease introduction into the course learning community.

The keynote speaker, Mark Milliron, was excellent and I would highly recommend seeing him if the opportunity presents. An avid reader and futurist, he talked about the Next Generation of Learning. For instance, our students can text at 60 wpms, and age 16-20 prefer text to voice. One university with an infrequently-used library space put a Starbucks in the middle of it and saw exponential gains in its use as a community center of learning. He said it's useless to dichotomize in the "get onboard or fall behind" way of thinking - better to see the whole picture with many learners. If you want to avoid Alzheimer's, he said, be a rookie every year. The idea of Trigger Analytics was a topic; apparently a course at Purdue University "signals" students as to whether they are on track or not - most useful in the online learning way when bringing students back is a frequent effort. He talked about holographic caves where a hologram of, say, a brain is projected into a room and students can walk around it to understand it better.

I can hardly wait to see how it all - virtual teaching and learning - plays out in the next 10 years and what the children we are parenting and teaching will build next.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Consider Twitter

I've been on Twitter since 2007 when I saw David Warlick presenting it at an educational conference. For quite a while, I was an evangelist, trying to explain it to various people, following lots of forward thinking educators, making it a demo during presentations I've given. It would go like this - I'd send out a tweet while everyone watched:

"Please reply to this group of educators from XXX and tell us where you're from and what Twitter means to you!"

And we would watch as various "tweeple" would reply e.g.:

"Sam XXX from London - Twitter keeps me connected..."
"Joan XXX from Cleveland - when Twitter runs in the background my PLN is always there..."
"Jeff XXX from NJ - Twitter is intelligent cocktail chatter for educators ..."

Above were made up but you get the idea. It was thrilling to think of all these people communicating synchronously in 140 character bytes of pithy conversation, adding to our shared knowledge and ideas, enriching us all. And that, in a nutshell, is what I like the most about Twitter.

The things I don't like about Twitter:
  • Being followed by spammers
  • Seeing yet another "making PB&J sandwich for my son" style comments - IF this is the only feed from this person - some PB&J is fine with me so long as it's mixed with intelligent ideas, contributions, links, educational ideas, etc.
The PB&J comment makes sense when you remember that the essential Twitter question is "What are you doing right now?" However, I am hoping the people I follow are often expanding that question to "what am I reading/writing/creating/pondering/linking to/reflecting on right now?"

The negatives bulleted above are not a long enough list for me to quit Twitter, however. The benefits right now are greater than the downsides especially when I have a chance to consider everyone I follow to make sure they're involved with the latter question above.

I told my daughter I was thinking about Twitter lately. She said she wasn't surprised. I'd shown her Twitter back in 2007 and sent out a tweet and we watched for a while. The tweet was not a question, just a statement. She said "awwww, they don't answer." She said she wasn't surprised now because in her words "there's no center." There's no one place to go, no extension of the 140 characters, no central community.

We live in really interesting times don't we. Community is all over the place in various forms but there's no one place at all, there's no center, for almost all of us.

I'm staying with Twitter for now but bouncing in and out as needed. It's worth it because of the good stuff and I'll take some time to mediate the other stuff.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Adult Learners and PD

Blogging from Las Vegas during a 3-day Professional Development session and thinking about Adult Learners. The work of Malcolm Knowles continues to resonate even though he did not write about technology or the field of education per se - he wrote about andragogy - or adult learning. Knowles explains that adults have a wealth of knowledge, want involvement in learning, want hands-on experience, are practical, are motivated by their own needs, want their own learning styles maximized, and need time to think and reflect. The book I use most by Knowles is The Adult Learner which is now in its 6th edition.

When Professional Development is designed for the Adult Learner, knowing that adults need opportunities to be hands-on, should do and not just view, that they have an average attention span of between 8 to 20 minutes, that they have a wealth of knowledge, that they are highly practical, and that they need to see the value of the learning, it works and you will see evidence in post-session surveys.

Here are some ideas that have worked for education technology working sessions:
  1. Getting participants hands-on as quickly as possible. Brief intros and a broad stroke of purpose and goals - possibly turning to participants for purpose and goals.
  2. Changing activities and approaches frequently.
  3. Adjusting as needed - paying attention to the body language of participants and having some activities ready should the session lag.
  4. Breaks. This may seem obvious but adults need to stretch, move, and walk away in order to return fresh.
  5. Getting feedback and participation different ways. Some will feel comfortable speaking out, others will prefer reflecting on paper, others will like an online survey or a back channel.
  6. Sparing use of Powerpoint - but - not so spare that there is nothing to follow or see for your visual learners.
  7. An electronic version of it all somewhere - a Wiki, a Ning, etc.
  8. Some type of paper handout. We don't want to kill trees but we are in this interesting in between stage right now involving adults who are "paper-trained" - and those who are immersed and comfortable in the fully-electronic delivery of media. Give them something to hold in their hands and you will see relief on the faces of many participants.
  9. Reasonable times for all activities - not too long or too short - adjust if you start seeing people taking a break when times for working hands-on.
  10. A reinforced theme - go back to that whenever possible.
  11. A "parking lot" for ideas or tangents that are brought up.
  12. A positive activity describing the intent of the session and asking people to buy in somehow - we posted a large smiley face, gave out star stickers, and asked people to post 2 things on how they will be ensuring they stay positive at their schools while managing change.
  13. Participant sharing in different ways - not just talking - showing, demonstrating, sending out links, etc.
  14. A druther - 2 projectors in every room - one for the present(ers) with a screen and one for the participants with a screen/wall as well - speakers for both - jump drives if needed and a spare laptop
Starting the second day this morning of our session which we have adjusted and changed multiple times and feeling energized about working with adult learners. It is so much better than being a "talking head" (although I've done my share of that)!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Back Channel: Boon or Bane?

One difference between NECC this year and past years is that back channels, as is the case in many conferences, are alive and well and very active. During keynotes there were up to 4 going at the same time. If you're not aware, backchannels are live chats where participants comment on something going on. The best backchannels are actively moderated. Cover-It Live, Tinychat, Chatzy are just three to list, but there are more. During NECC's keynotes I was active in the backchannel as was my 17-year old daughter who attended this year's conference (her 4th!)

During a conference last week for my employer (see "about me" for full information - I blog as an individual and not as a representative of my employer and my thoughts and ideas represent only my own ideas and not current or past employers or clients) we initiated a back channel and also set up a private Ning. It went quite well and added to the dynamic in many ways, and was fully moderated. We were about as fortunate as we could be to have the thought-provoking dynamic Vicki Davis as our keynote speaker (anytime you can possibly see Vicki live do it!) My musings below are about NECC as at the EdisonLearning session we had a smaller more controlled and focused backchannel which did what we wanted - to allow people to question, consider, reflect, share and experience together.

At the NECC back channel at one point my laptop battery died. So I could no longer participate in the back channel, but my daughter continued to do so. I tried to consider what was different after my laptop was shut. And what I saw myself do was hone in more on listening and focus in a different way. This was not necessarily better, just different. I had no one else to bounce ideas off of and did not take any notes, just tried to listen. I think different things made sense but different things were missed.

Note that I am not a strong auditory learner, that in every learning styles test ever taken, I skew towards visual and kinesthetic. I usually take notes in meetings and at conferences, but the notes are visual with lines and drawings and quotes - and often are never reviewed - the experience of the pen and the drawing helps me absorb what's going on and make some sense of it all. But with my laptop shut I did not have a pen or a pad or anything for drawing or notes.

The back channel experience seems that it can be noise or it can be reflection, it can be focused or it can be highjacked (especially when someone goes off on a tangent and is not brought back by the moderator or participants), it can be effective or it can be disruptive (and not in the "disrupting class" sense of moving towards a new paradigm), it can take people to a higher plane or it can scroll off the screen too fast to make sense. It favors fast typists, fast readers, and quick thinkers. It can be like the best most stimulating fascinating cocktail party conversation or can be annoyingly one-sided and didactic. How very human this all is.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

New Podcast - 2nd Edition release

There's a podcast/interview I did for ISTE available here about the 2nd edition of my book to be released June 19 and available for NECC this year. I'll be there presenting July 1 at 8:30 a.m. along with Dr. Dave Berque, Rob Mancabelli of Hunterdon School District in NJ, Kim Henninger of St. Ursula Academy, and Shabbi Luthra from the American School in Bombay. I have enormous respect and admiration for all these hard-working visionary leaders of schools with successful tablet programs.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Largest Stakeholder at Schools: Students

It's important that any organization involve stakeholders in some way either by having them on boards or committees, by surveying them, by inviting them to events, or through other methods.  Organizations understand that the nature of stakeholders is that they have an investment, a stake, in some way in the organization.  When organizations bypass or ignore their stakeholders, the organization moves ahead without vital information.

Yet often in schools we do not involve our largest stakeholders: students. We would not implement a major improvement without seeking buy-in from teachers and without fully informing parents.  How often do we involve students only peripherally even though they are the largest, numbers-wise, stakeholder in our schools?  Students have much to say and have spent considerable time thinking about school, yet we often don't ask their opinions.  Do you involve your students, poll them, put them on committees and boards?  All students, not just the student council and/or student leaders?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I'm an Ed Tech Nerd -- Meeting Dr. Elliot Soloway

Somewhere around 10 or more years ago, I was in the audience at a conference at Germantown Academy when Dr. Elliot Soloway showed a video of students working in a project-based learning, constructivist style classroom. He said the noise and the seeming chaos were what was expected with this approach and it certainly did not look like a class where traditional "Classroom Management," i.e., students sitting in rows in a teacher-centered classroom and waiting to be called upon, was happening. Students were circulating, standing, sitting, moving, talking, gesturing, explaining, drawing, writing, using computers, using books. But he said -- listen to what they're talking about -- watch and consider what is really happening. We did and it was quite impressive - the students were working, collaborating, sharing, thinking, solving problems, creating together, building. It was not the 3 R's - rote, repetition, regurgitation - it was the 3 C's - collaboration, creativity, communication (3 C's are an element of 21st Century Learning per the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.)

Something clicked while I sat in that audience - I thought - this is it. This is how computers should be used with students, this is the real power they can offer, this is how students can be unleashed to their full potential, and how teaching and learning can be a mobile fluid continous process and how learning can happen in a way that engages, involves and enlightens students, in a way that emulates the most creative work in real life. I wanted to learn more about teaching this way and enrolled in a master's program at Chestnut Hill College (where I'm now an adjunct), wrote more including a book, and other things followed as well.

But it was watching Dr. Soloway and that video that was the catalyst.

So I told him the story of how seeing and hear him and viewing that video transformed my professional career and how he should know he may be touching others in an audience when he speaks as well. He hugged me - 6 times (I counted.)

This was by far the high point for me of an exciting day at the University of Michigan - Dearborn for the One-to-One Institute and Wayne RESA where I keynoted (Dr. Soloway stayed and listened!), and taught a class of middle school students from Sarah Banks Middle School in the morning and in the afternoon, and lead a panel of the students. The teachers and administrators were eager and reflective, the students were flexible, bright and creative, everyone else was helpful and kind. But meeting Dr. Soloway topped it all. I am an ed tech nerd for sure.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

End User Networking

My local supermarket, the Acme in Randolph, NJ, recently installed do-it-yourself check out lanes. They were one of the last of the bigger stores in the area to go this way, distributed checkout now available as a growing option.

In the late 80's, I worked for Pan American World Airways, in the department termed End User Computing. The idea was that instead of having secretaries and assistants who did word processing and interacted with a computer, the end user, from the chairman on down, would all have a computer and do their own work including email, word processing, database analysis and reporting, spreadsheets, etc. This was an enormous change in approach and philosophy and was, frankly, one of the attempts to save the airline which had not made money since the 70's. The concept was to distribute the computing work to the actual person who needed the work done, not through an intermediary (word processing department or secretary or assistant.) Now it seems in most organizations this is how it's done, with a few people having secretaries or assistants, but most doing their own email, word processing, spreadsheets, etc.

In the end, by the way, computers (of course) could not save the airline and in 1991 it closed its doors. According to a friend of mine still there at the time they piled up all the computers with the trash and threw them out. I hope some went to good use in some way.

Now we have Web 2.0, cloud computing, ATM's, grocery store self checkout, home/school/work/cafe and nearly everywhere Internet access, social networks, personal networks, online shopping (which didn't suffer so much economically as retail stores during this past holiday season),Twitter, LinkedIn, Delicious, Diigo, and more. Nearly everything pushed out to the fingertips of us all. End user networking in effect. No go between, no one to separate us from the work and the activities.

How far will it go? I think we will see eventually the end of the IT departments as we know them - although there will be a need for experts in centralized support. Instead of everyone having servers at their locations, they'll connect to server farms where redundancy and security are part of the package. This is already happening of course but not so much yet at schools. But in a recessionary economy, cost cutting and consolidation rule, and IT will be examined closely.

Who will survive, who will thrive? Most likely the people with the end user networking perspective, who have a strong PLN, who have seriously seen and considered the shifts happening, who can understand infrastructure and grids and large scale information delivery, who have become experts at some things and generalists at other things, who can articulate their vision, and who can form and strengthen learning and working communities.

The product I'm personally waiting for is the fully functioning portal to gather together all the various networks that exist, with a single signon, with feeds and updates and access to everyone and everything in my personal and professional learning network, where opportunities/ideas/discourse/information/learning/teaching/microblogging/news feeds are all available from any networked computer anywhere. I know parts of this exist but not in a fully formed environmental consolidated one stop shopping way.

But as we consolidate and distribute and bring back to the end user, how to we strengthen communities where we actually see one another? Wouldn't it be great if along with this fully functioning one stop shopping portal there were a fee charged that would go back to local communities that would set up localized drop-in in person community centers that would be physical spaces, with full Internet access, which would allow people to drop in, socialize, interact, speak in person, hold meetings, share information, read and relax together. There might be specific things set up to gather say teenagers together, others for retired people, others for family. It used to be that every town had a movie theatre and lots of people went to the movies nearly every week and saw their neighbors and friends and met other people routinely. This new physical community center could help tie us together in online and personal ways.

What do you think?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Link to 21st Century Keynote/Teaching of a Class

The link is live for the session to happen on Tuesday 2/24/09 in Dearborn, MI for the One-to-One Institute.  I am really excited about this - it's going to combine a lot of thinking about teaching, learning, planning, assessment, new tools, student-centric classrooms, and more.  Participants will have access to a Wiki instead of handouts. The link has all the details including a flyer and how to register.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

21st Century Classroom/One-to-One Institute in Michigan

On a snowy day, I'm having a great time planning for an event next month. Will post the URL when it's ready (soon, during the week) - but it's for for the One-to-One Institute to be held at University of Michigan Dearborn on February 24, 2009. Synopsis is I'll give a keynote on 21st Century teaching and learning followed by my teaching a 21st Century classroom of 6th, 7th and 8th graders while observed by the participants in the morning and then again in the afternoon, closing with a panel of the students. With much deconstruction of the process, the planning, the resources, the tools, the goals -- and with an eye towards making the ideas replicable, accessible and practical for teachers. A Wiki will be fully populated for all participants in lieu of "handouts."

The idea of 21st Century learning is in many ways a new moniker for many existing important educational ideas. Collaborative learning, team learning, higher order thinking, student-centered learning, project-based learning, inquiry-based learning, critical thinking/problem-solving skills are part and parcel of what is now termed 21st Century skills and learning. In the end it's all about the facilitation of deep thinking. Deep thinking doesn't involve repeating facts or finding information, although facts and information inform thinking. Teachers viscerally know when thinking and synthesis is going on in their classrooms. Those educators attuned to these ideas will thrive in a 21st Century classroom.

The difference, however, between these concepts as they were employed even 5 years ago and today's classroom is the abundance of new resources and tools for engaging students and facilitating their deep thinking. And the tools available for the teacher while planning, executing and assessing the project. We'll be using Wikispaces, Voicethreads, Animoto, Apple Keynote, Google Maps, Excel, Smartboards, laptops, blogs, Twitter, and probably more. All without Webmasters or a tech department. All planning is being done at home on my wireless network and at various Internet-enabled cafes and libraries. With reliance as always on my PLN (Personal Learning Network) contacted and polled through Twitter, Linked-In, Facebook and email.

This is going to be way too much fun.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

HotChalk Column Live

The HotChalk column is live - predictions for 2009.  It always means going out on a limb to predict these things but at the very least there will be something to chuckle at in 2010 - at the most some of them might happen!