Sunday, March 29, 2009

Andrew Churches Workshop

We had a whole day workshop yesterday at school led by Andrew Churches. The focus was 'Learning Styles, Learning Tools', and it was very, very cool. It was one of those sessions where you just couldn't type fast enough to get down everything you wanted to, and it was bursting with links and ideas and new ways of doing things.

He started by showing us this video by Don Tapscott, 'You are the Dumbest Generation'.

It really is a welcome breath of fresh air. It's easy to believe the cynical way young people are seen these days, when actually, there is very little evidence to back it up. I'd quite like to show it to my class. Hmmm.  

Just while we're on video links, another amazing one which Andrew showed us is this one called 'The Lost Generation'

What a great ending!!! Now this is a format I will definitely try with my students. I'm sure it will work if you use the structure on every second line. Very powerful. And hopeful too. Watching this kind of thing really does make me think that what we do as teachers matters a lot. Really matters.

Andrew then took us through the different learning styles, multiple intelligences and showed us some digital tools that could be used to really engage learners who have those particular learning preferences.  I won't list them all here because you can see them for yourself on Andrew's wiki page, along with how it fits with the learning style/MI theory. 

The key thing for me was that when looking at what digital tools to use in teaching, we need to look for areas of overlap, because no individual learner is exclusively one style/intelligence, but rather a composite that changes with factors such as (as Andrew outlined) the task, the teacher, the topic, what is being taught and how. Also, no particular digital tool is exclusively suited to one learning style/intelligence. Most of them these days are multimodal.

Multimodal literacy is something I'm preparing a paper on at the moment, so it's an area of interest, and I'll probably post about some of what I'm learning as I go. We live in a multimodal world, and our learners must be literate in that world. What exactly that means and how we achieve it is contested, but fascinating nevertheless.

Andrew also brought along one of his robots that I referred to in a previous post, so it was cool to see that in action.

OK, last snippet, which I found very interesting indeed: apparently employees of Google have 20% of their total work time designated 'play'! How cool is that! The rationale is that it is when we play that we are our most creative and discover new things. The Wikipedia entry says this:

In a talk at Stanford University, Marissa Mayer, Google's Vice President of Search Products and User Experience, stated that her analysis showed that half of the new product launches originated from the 20% time.

Google has decided that this is fundamental to innovation, and I think they're right. So, implications for classroom practice? Hmmm. It's all about creating opportunities for creativity and valuing it for what it could be. 

Embrace the chaos!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Tinker Table

Some of you may have read this post by Clarence Fisher about 'tinkering'. I read it a few weeks back and found it quite inspiring, and so decided to set up a Tinker Table in my classroom, the grand unveiling of which was just last week. What a success!!!

The prospect of being able to take to an old piece of electronic equipment with some screwdrivers, pliers, wirecutters - they were just delighted. At this stage I just have an old TV and stereo and students can use it three at a time, for 10 or 15 minutes before the next rotation have a go. I have been really surprised at who has been interested in it. I had wrongly assumed that it would be something mostly enjoyed by the more physical boys in my class, but I heard a number of "yay!"s from some of the quieter girls as well, in fact, everybody.

No matter who is using it, one thing is consistent, and that is the absolute focus and fascination of the users.  This is something that I observed during their Technology time as well and blogged about a couple of weeks ago

Now, to be sure, what I have set up is what I'd have to call 'crude tinkering' or 'destructive tinkering' in that all they are doing is dismantling the object. It is more focused on curiosity than creativity at this stage. That said, isn't curiosity the mother of creativity? I think this is something that will evolve over time, especially as I hear what others are doing.  

What I'd love to do is get a robotics programme going with my class, or as an extra-curricular activity. Andrew Churches has been blogging a lot about this recently with reference to Lego Robotics here, here and here. It looks fascinating, and after seeing my students at tech and tinkering, I can't think of a single one who wouldn't love this. I'll need to find out more about this, cost, resources, software etc.

My overarching goal is to develop the 'tinkering mentality' and apply it to lots of things - the way they use language, their ideas and how they find new ways of using digital learning tools. Most of what I have learnt about using web 2.0 tools has been by tinkering, and as educators we need to make sure we create the space for this tinkering to happen.

One added spin-off is that it has also become a classroom management tool, because they know that the 'right to tinker' needs to be earned by being on-task with other classroom activities.

Follow the links at Remote Access if you are interested in reading more about this. Highly recommended!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Asynchronous Conversations

The paper I'm doing at the moment is called 'E-Learning Pedagogy'. I'm doing this as a distance student and the participants are spread across the country, one even as far away as Kuwait.

There was a time when I considered it a disadvantage to be studying online and not face-to-face in a classroom, which was a luxury afforded by those not needing to earn money at the same time! Well, I think those days are over, and I'm a true believer in the asynchronous conversation.

In many ways, the conversation in a classroom, although dynamic and often very interesting, happens too quickly for real thought/learning to be taking place. Often it's after the class when you replay the conversation that you have your best thoughts and realise what you could have said in reply to a particular point.  Unless you are an extroverted person, there's a good chance that you end up being (largely) an observer of a conversation between those with the classroom confidence to state their opinion, challenge others' ideas and engage in debate.

Online learning avoids these pitfalls. In a discussion forum you can read someone's ideas and chew on them for as long as you like before responding. You can go and check out a few facts or do some reading before responding, and you can even get eight hours sleep before answering the question (which might be considered somewhat rude in a face-to-face!).

What I'm interested in at the moment is creating space for asynchronous discussion in a face-to-face class. I've set my class a homework task this week, which is to respond in the comments section of our class blog to a thought-provoking question I have posted there.  As the comments come in for moderation I usually give a brief reply. Over the course of the week there's been this other extended conversation happening, over and above the cut and thrust (and noise) of daily classroom life. I've really enjoyed it and have seen a different side of my students, especially those who do not often put their hands up or participate in discussions. The Internet is the new Equaliser!

So I'm thinking of ways to build more of this into the classroom.  Twitter could be worth experimenting with in this respect. Hmmm. Still thinking about that one.

One side effect of online learning (and blogging) is that everything I read now (even a magazine) I expect there to be somewhere to post a comment! Even watching TV or listening to a professional development seminar.  I think the whole process enables a higher level of metacognition and reflection, and that could be the real benefit of integrating this into my class.

Voxopop (formally Chinswing) is a Web 2.0 tool that enables asynchronous conversations. I haven't used this yet, but at a glance I can see  a lot of potential for its use. Here is a post about using this in language learning, where students often need more time to formulate responses.
Voxopop enables you to start your own 'talkgroup', which could be open or closed, and you actually record your own voice, rather than typing. This would be great for junior students who are still getting used to a keyboard.  

Voicethread is another application which is essentially asynchronous, enabling comment around an image, video or topic.

Hmmm.... Lots of possibilities! I think I'll think about this a bit more and come back to it at a later post. Please share your experiences below if you've used these tools or have other thoughts on the matter. Let's have our own asynchronous conversation!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Wonderment and Awe

Recently I've been talking with my class about Art Costa's Habits of Mind, and focusing on one of the 16 each week. One that really resonates with me is 'Responding with Wonderment and Awe'. 

I remember when I was at university (the first time!) seeing a picture in the National Geographic, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. According to the description, the Hubble had chosen an area of sky about the size of a grain of sand, that appeared completely empty, and then zoomed in on it for an extended period of time. This is what they saw. Mindblowing. Each speck of light there is a galaxy, containing hundreds of billions of stars. This is a vastness our brains are not really wired to comprehend, and you can only 'Respond with Wonderment and Awe' and feel very tiny.

I came across an image on the internet recently, which invoked that same feeling. Ever wondered what the Internet looked like? Try this: 

This image is from the Opte Project, who are using special software to 'map' the Internet. It looks to me as though it hasn't been updated for a while, but incredible nevertheless. I have this image on my desktop, and I think most of my colleagues think it's a fireworks display (!). To me it's a visual representation of collaboration and connection on a grand scale.  I believe that relative to the future, this image may just be a seedling.

Ultimately, when working with Web 2.0 in the classroom, this is what we are teaching our students to navigate and use effectively. And unlike space travel, which takes light years, to get from one end of the Internet to the other only takes a couple of clicks, and there are plenty of black holes on the way.

As part of my course I'm reading Will Richardson's book  'Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for the Classroom'. It has some incredible statistics.

"In early 2008,, one of the many blog tracking services, listed over 110million blogs ... At this writing, the service was adding 120,000 new blogs and 1.5 milion Weblog posts each day." p.2

He also discusses Wikipedia, which often gets a hard time from critics. Richardson's comments here are worth reading too, particularly regarding the accuracy of Wikipedia.

"No one person, or even small group of people, could produce Wikipedia, as currently edits appear at a rate of around 400,000 per day. Everyday, thousands of people who have no connection to one another engage in the purposeful work of negotiating and creating truth. They do this with no expectation that their contributions will be in some way acknowledged or compensated, and they do it understanding that what they contribute can be freely edited or modified or reused by anyone else for any purpose. The extent to which this happens and to which it is successful is truly inspiring."  (2009 p.57)

Inspiring indeed. Go forth, in Wonderment and Awe.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Am I a StatCounter-holic???

Well, Webb-ed Feet is just over one week old, and I have to say that I'm really enjoying being an active participant in the blogosphere, after many years as a 'lurker'. That said, you do learn a lot as a lurker, and you never cease being a lurker on some sites.  I do think that having your own blog gives you more confidence to comment on others, and maybe commenting on others' gives you more confidence to blog.

However, one thing I've noticed is that I've become a bit of an addict, and I'm blaming it on my StatCounter/Feedjit/Clustrmap!  It's hard to resist the urge to open the old MacBook for a quick peek, see if the counter's gone up, ultimately to see who, 'out there', is reading.  I get a bit of a thrill seeing those little red dots pop up, and wondering who it could be in Venezuela or New York that's reading. 

I'd love to hear from other bloggers out there - do you experience this as well? At least did you in the early days? Clearly those bloggers with thousands of readers are not going to jump up and down over one more red dot. Or are they?... Here's one example of similar sentiment, and the StatCounter User Forum even has a thread on this.

Thinking about my own experience here, I think when getting students to create their own blogs, I would almost certainly recommend that they put a Clustrmap on their blog. One of the key advantages of blogging as a student publishing tool is that it connects them with a real, global audience, and Clustrmaps etc, give them proof that they are being read, and hopefully will motivate them to write more.

Even better than red dots, however, are comments - a blogger's food. This to me is really what blogging is all about - starting a conversation and developing ideas as others add their perspectives. 

So, as always, comments please!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Smell of a Good Website

The feeling I get from following other people's links and searching for good stuff on the internet is the same feeling I get when I'm browsing in a second-hand bookshop. There's always that anticipation of finding some hidden treasure somewhere. I love the smell of old books. I wonder what old websites smell like??!!

Over the last few months I've found a number of blogs and sites which have absolute 'must bookmark' and have harvested them to my delicious page.

Here are some very worthwhile places that you might like to check out (if you haven't already!).

Turning the Supertanker was one of the first e-learning blogs I came across. A great record of one Auckland school's journey in digitising practice. Definitely check out the Resources page, as it has great links to Web 2.0 resources, and the 'How to' page and excellent video tutorials on how to use some these, like Voicethread, Inspiration, and Audacity. Definitely worth a visit.

Andrew Churches' blog has a lot of great information, and the accompanying wiki is a storehouse of ideas and resources for those wanting to integrate e-learning into their classroom. Particularly useful are the Starter Sheets he has here, pdf sheets introducing web 2.0 applications to the classroom, suggesting classroom adaptations, and importantly, tying these in with Bloom's and learning styles.

Will Richardson is usually on everyone's blogroll, and for good reason. He wrote the book (literally) when it comes to using the Read/Write Web in the classroom. You could spend hours exploring this blog and following all the worthwhile links.  This blog introduced me to RSS and the possibilities for its use in learning. If you're unfamiliar with RSS or want a good place to refer other people who are new to it, check out this page. After reading that I set up a bloglines account and now enjoy my blogs coming to me!  

If you enjoy reading my blog (for example) you just click on the RSS Subscribe button in the side bar, and then choose your feed aggregator, and then whenever this blog is updated you'll be notified immediately, rather than having to check to see if there's anything new.

OK, last one for today! Graham Wegner's Open Educator blog is always thoughtful, challenging and refreshing. And his Shared Items are always worth checking out too.  Definitely one to sub on bloglines!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Unpredictability of Creativity

I've been thinking a lot recently about the whole place of 'creativity' in education, and in particular whether we should see it as the means or the ends of the learning process. I have to say that my general position has been that we should give opportunity for creativity in our classrooms, because real learning may come from this. 

But I'm beginning to feel now that all learning that takes place should not only include the creative process but be directed towards that end. Perhaps it's chicken v egg stuff.

There's something about human nature, the one thing, in my humble opinion, that really sets us apart from the other wonderful species on our planet, and that is our creative urge. We need to create, and to see what we have created and share what we have created, be it tangible or intangible. 

I spent all of Wednesday with my class at their off-site technology programme, and I was blown away by how engaged they all were. You could see it in their faces, that their mind's eye had a vision of where they were going, and they were going for it. It really challenged me to think about my own classroom and what opportunities there are, on a daily basis, to be creative.

If you have the time, watch this inspiring talk by Sir Ken Robinson,  "Do Schools Kill Creativity".

He suggests that we are prioritising the wrong things, and I can't help but think that perhaps it is because if the ideas come from us as teachers, this is predictable (from our own point of view) and can be planned for. However,  what comes from the learners is completely unpredictable and out of our control. It's risky, it's messy, but it's what learners crave.

When we look at the way Web 2.0 is developing, it is completely about people taking something there, changing it, improving and sharing it.  And finding some fulfilment in doing so.  The tools of the read/write web are tools for creativity, and that has to be our deciding criterion when considering whether or not (and how) to use them in the classroom: how well do they excite the creative imaginations of our learners and give them an outlet? Or are they just bells and whistles...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ahead in the Clouds

There are so many great web 2.0 applications out there these days that we're really spoiled for choice. One that I'm using with my class at the moment is called Wordle, which allows you to paste in any text, and it organises it into a word cloud with the highest frequency words being the largest.

Here is a Wordle of the comments from my first post, Engagement is Learning (hat tip to my course tutor for this idea!).

I'm using this in my Current Events programme. As a class we are looking at a particular news item that we want to explore in greater depth. After a general first reading we discuss what we think the main ideas and key concepts are, and then paste the story into Wordle and see what stands out. My students really love the visual aspect of it, and the fact that you can randomise or customise it to change its shape, colour etc.

I can also use this to add to my spelling and word study programme. They can select several relevant words from the article, and avoid selecting low-frequency words that are a bit obscure or chosen just because they looked difficult!

Another cool tool is one you'll find on this blog, called  AnswerTips , which allows you to double-click on any word on the blog that isn't a link, and it provides a box with a definition, synonyms, etc. Great for the class blog!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Death, Destruction and the Internet

I was watching the news yesterday evening and there was a clip about the things happening in Sudan at the moment. Really tragic images 

that stop you in your tracks and make you rethink your current enthusiasms and their relevance.

After all, what could 'e-learning' possible mean for the person in this image? Where does e-learning fit on Maslow's heirarchy of needs?

Then it struck me that of course the Internet has no relevance at all for this person, BUT, it does have incredible power to make this kind of thing relevant for the learners that I'm responsible for. The internet is all about connection, and although things like third world poverty seem a million miles away from my classroom context, I can show my students that the world is smaller than they think, that the world is a village, and that we need to be responsible citizens of that village.

On my MEd course recently we've been discussing the importance of our learners not just finding and presenting information on the Internet, but also going that extra, essential step of generating new knowledge, being creative with what they find there. However, it can't stop there. Surely this new knowledge is useless unless that in turn is followed by action.

 Confronted with images like this, we need to discuss with our learners, "What can we DO?".

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Engagement is learning

Well, here is the inaugural post for what I intend to be long and enjoyable journey through the edublogosphere! 

Because education is concerned with learning, and 'learning' and the way it's defined is somewhat contentious (to say the least) I would like to venture out and ask the question: Can learning ever occur if a learner is not engaged with the process and content of the learning? Put another way, if a learner IS engaged, does it therefore follow that they are learning? Can a learner be engaged but not learning? 

I don't think so, and that's a huge part of the benefit of e-learning opportunities.  Not many other tools in education have such a power to draw the learner in and help them to see things in different ways, and to be constantly discovering the 'new'. And discovering something new and getting a thrill out of it is, in itself, engagement.

I was looking at the weblogged wiki yesterday (this is Will Richardson's wiki), in particular what he had to say about connective writing, '...the ability to publish in a variety of media with the intention of connecting it to others who share an interest (or passion) in the topic'. 

I really believe this is the way forward for engaging students in authentic learning. This is what Web 2.0 is all about.