Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

May we pause and remember Christ's birth during the holiday season and the love God has for humankind...and may we live our lives in light of that love he has extended to us!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Collaboration is hard...

Collaboration is hard. We throw this word around all the time as important and we speak of the need for it and yet it is extremely hard to attain. Sometimes we confuse it with cooperation. Cooperation means working together to achieve the same goal or end. Cooperation tends to lead to compromise depending on the situation. You work out what you can live with in order to achieve your goal.


Collaboration is a bit more complex. It requires true dialogue. We could define dialogue as exchanges or conversations between 2 people. In the original Greek context, it was an intellectual debate and exchange that developed discussion and led to rational, intellectual conclusions. The conclusion was not set at the beginning of the dialogue but the conclusion was reached through a journey of logic and rational arguments.


As we apply dialogue to the verb collaborate, it is not compromising a position. It is a sharing of ideas to create a position together. The process is a key ingredient to the outcome.


Within collaboration, an element of sacrifice is present. It is not about giving up an idea. It is about giving up some control. It means extending trust and faith to the person you are working with. It means it is okay to not have all the answers and to walk in with ideas that need to be molded. This is difficult. And it is much of what Web 2.0 is about. Web 2.0 allows, facilitates, and promotes collaboration, and content is seen in process. The transparency can be messy and unpredictable. Additionally, the content is frequently added to the conversation. My observation is that it is rarely taken away. For example, many Google docs become messy with time because people don't want to delete others' ideas. It is meant well and signifies respect for others' ideas. However, deleting some content is necessary to get to the final conclusion. This is where trust plays into engaging collaboration and the value placed on others.


Collaboration takes effort. It is not easy but as we practice and strive for it, it can become more a part of how we operate and our everyday interactions.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Google Wave

...Bill Gates likes to say that at Microsoft they know only one thing: In four years, every product they make will be obsolete. The only question is whether Microsoft makes it obsolete or one of its competitors will.
-The Lexus & the Olive Tree (T. Friedman, p. 213)

Google Wave is a new "thing" out there that has generated quite a bit of conversation. Like anything new, it takes time for people to adopt it and generate the critical mass to make it successful. That said, I have had little experience with Google Wave although someone was kind of enough to invite me for an account. I am looking forward to checking it out. I think it makes a lot of sense and has loads of potential. I ran across this short video that explains Google Wave in a pretty simple, straightforward way. It might be worth checking out.



Thursday, December 10, 2009

Automatic Captions

I recently saw this new feature discussed on the Google blog. It takes Youtube videos and automatically adds captions to them. The obvious application is the assistance to the hearing impaired. However, I think the potential of this type of technology is pretty cool, especially when applied to searching content without user effort to tag media.

Google also claims the captions can be downloaded into text. If you want to quote someone from a video, this makes it significantly easier. The use of captions can also be tied to certain cues in the video so you can skip to particular sections with ease.

Google translation tools can also translate video captions to other languages. Talk about crossing languages and making videos global...

A small blurb on the news but I see huge potential impacts and uses.





Monday, December 7, 2009

Screencasting

Screencasting is a great tool for a number of reasons. Whether you want to show a route on a Google map, have students explain their work, or demo a new web tool with instructions for other staff or students, screencasting can be really quick and easy. A newer tool that is great because you don't have to download anything is Screenr. I also like Jing.

Both of these tools allow easy posting to a website or Youtube. Both are free and easy to use. See my last post on Math tools for an example. I used Jing on that one.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Extending Math with Technology Tools

Math continues to increase its presence on the web, particularly for educational purposes. The advantage of many of these tools allow students to access differentiated skill practice and improve at their own rate. It also allows students to make some of the more abstract manipulations and concepts more real.

One such site I recently ran across was GeoGebra. It has an entire wiki devoted to educational uses. The website claims it seeks to go beyond some of the geometry manipulations and directly link algebra to some geometry concepts. It seems to have an array of options and ways for students to manipulate objects. In just a couple minutes I was able to take a screencast of this example:



Reuters reports on an Oxford professor who has developed a subscription service of video games that engage students in real world problem solving and fun. He calls his site Manga High. I checked out some samples and the site definitely looked pretty good at challenging students in engaging ways.

One of our elementary schools uses Mathletics.

The point is this: tools available if you want to look for them. And the quality and benefit of these tools is increasing. Regardless of subscription services or free tools, accessing some of these resources can be a great asset to students.


Monday, November 30, 2009

Wordle

I have digressed into more philosophical topics lately and I want to take a few posts and get back to some tools that some might find useful. Wordle (http://www.wordle.net) has been around for a while. One of its greatest strengths is its simplicity. Copy and paste some text in and let it generate a word collage for you. You can also put in websites. I put in this blog and got the following collage.

You can manually emphasize certain words (with a ~). You can also paste in a list and it will automatically resize words based on their frequency. This is a nice feature if you want to see results of feedback or adjectives from a group. For the next sample, I just copy and pasted in the mission statement from one of our schools.

You can also edit the colors and direction of words. I made this last Wordle from our school ESLRs.
Whether it is decorated your blog or classroom walls or measuring the frequency of responses, Wordle provides a nice graphical way to share text.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Twitter Followup

At the beginning of May this year, I posted about Twitter. At the time, I was debating whether or not to sign up. Over the summer, I decided to sign up for both Facebook and Twitter. If you really want to evaluate something, you have to give it a try. I have very few followers, barely double digits and I follow about 20 people.

After using it for nearly 2 months, I have found it useful for getting links to other resources. I follow key people and have gotten some great tips for good links and resources. After a month or so of use, I found that I didn't like following people that post too much. It becomes too much to filter through for the casual user. So I edited who I was following as a result. I also protected my profile. Although being a fan of open use and transparency, I had a few sketchy people start following me. I will say that Twitter quickly disabled some of these questionable accounts before I could even view who they were.

I'm still not an avid Twitter user but I check it a few times a week and post blog updates and an occasional thought to share there. Overall, the jury is still out for me but I do see some definite benefits of Twitter for professional growth and links. I also see how it can be a grand waste of time if you don't filter your lists and keep its uses intentional and focused.

It is similar to many of the tools that our students use. It's not about the tool, but how it can be leveraged to benefit our learning.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Void of Digital Communication

Shane Hipps, in his book Flickering Pixels, talks about anonymous intimacy in regard to electronic communication. He says,

This anonymous intimacy has a strange effect. It provides just enough connection to keep us from pursuing real intimacy. In a virtual community, our contacts involve very little real risk and demand even less of us personally. Vulnerability is optional. A community that promises freedom from rejection and makes authentic emotional investment optional can be extremely appealing, remarkably efficient, and a lot more convenient (p. 113-114).

Hipps points out that social networking and electronic communication can be attractive for many reasons. However, authentic investment on a social and emotional scale is needed for genuine relationships. We need to embrace the technological opportunities in front of us but we cannot get into the trap of having it as our only means of communication. In many instances, email and chatting might be very effective. However, in others, it lacks the richness that embodies the totality of human communication and therefore impacts the messages sent and received.


Hipps goes on to say...

Given the limitations of email, the chances of miscommunication are near certain...Using email to mediate conflict is like baking a cake without a mixing bowl or an oven. The very ingredients that make reconciliation possible are absent. Reconciliation comes in the context of clear communication, meaningful listening, shared understandings, civility, openness, and a lot of patience. The medium of email inevitably removes these delicate ingredients...Electronic text as a medium stunts our best efforts to resolve conflict (p. 118-119).

Whether it is conflict or just daily communication, I think Hipps articulates an important value of not getting sucked into a shallow world. As in so many areas of our life, balance is not just desired, but desperately needed. Embrace electronic communication and tools in certain areas but be intentional to retain, promote, and sustain the vibrancy of authentic intimacy in our communication and relationships. Don't settle for something that ultimately leave you empty.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Living Life in Beta

I mentioned Michael Hyatt in a recent post. He has some good stuff on his blog that resonates with me. He recently posted the following conversation that he had with a friend:

“I am redesigning my blog,” she mentioned. She then showed me a prototype. I was flabbergasted. It looked … great! It was a hundred times better than what she currently has.

Truly wowed, I asked, “So when does it launch?”

“I don’t know,” she replied. “I still have some changes to make.”

A little suspicious, I asked, “How long have you had it at this level?”

“Months,” she admitted.

“What?!” I exclaimed. “This is way better than what you have now,” I blurted out. “Just launch it!”

Unfortunately, many people get stuck in this kind of no-man’s land. They want it perfect before they share it with the world. The problem is that they are missing scores of opportunities by waiting. Instead, they should get used to the concept of “permanent beta.”

Why is there such a difference in perspective between these two people? I think the answer is simple. 21st century thinking. Hyatt exemplifies a 21st century mentality and perspective that allows imperfection and transparency. The goal is not a polished product. The outcome is the process.

I have worked with many colleagues who struggle to collaborate on documents and work within a Web 2.0 context because they cannot bear to work with others in an imperfect state. They must wait until it is "done" before they show anyone their work. But it's really a lie. Perfection is too illusive. We aim for it and strive for it and yet rarely, if ever, catch it.

21st century thinking changes our perspective and allows us to be imperfect...to launch in beta, knowing we can improve it as we move along the journey. And it also acknowledges that in a rapidly changing world, the day may come to discard it before perfection is ever attained.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Simplifying Life - Part 3

So I've talked a lot about prioritizing in the last few posts. I have also talked about managing life and getting organized. For some people, it is easier than others. If you visit my office, you might question if I'm really living this out. Yes, I am...but we can't make wholesale changes all at once. I've started in my bedroom and spread out to my home. I've also gone to work to work on my computer and making sure I am digitally organized and "de-cluttered". That is still a work in progress. My office will come...but baby steps.

Substantive and sustainable change requires manageable steps
that match reality with theory.

My office is down the list. Just wait and see...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Digital Clutter

I've talked quite a bit about clutter recently and getting organized. What does the desktop of your computer look like? Does it look something like my desk with papers everywhere and stuff just piled up? I've seen many computer desktops that are so cluttered with "junk" that it's a wonder the person can even find an icon to start their internet browser.

When we talk about getting organized, it not just the papers on your desk, picking up your clothes, or putting some toys away. It's your email inbox. It's the attachments you save. It's the new files you are creating and working on. It's your digital life too. Take a few seconds and put stuff away.

Michael Hyatt talks about declaring email bankruptcy. If there is an area that is too out of control, adapt Michael Hyatt's idea and declare bankruptcy. If you file system is too out of control, archive the whole lot into a folder called Archive 2009. Create a new file structure that works. Then save all new files and any old ones you use into the new structure. Leave the junk in the archived files.

Make a plan. Setup an organization structure that works for you. Take some time to manage your digital life before it manages you.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Things

Several people have asked me about Things which I referenced in a recent post. I really like its features. I used to use Checkoff, but like many task lists, the list just got longer and longer. It easily became too big to identify priorities.

In my opinion, setting priorities is where Things really helps me manage life.

Features I really like:
  • Viewing Today tasks with the ability to drag & drop to shift list and set priorities for the day
  • The Someday category which allows me to stick projects in a future to-do list area and knowing that it is not always popping up yet be there to review at any point
  • Tag tasks so they are easily searchable, inclusive of setting priorities
  • Manage multi-step projects by allowing me to prioritize and set dates for certain steps
  • Drag and drop files into specific tasks (doesn't actually store the file but rather a shortcut to it)
  • Scheduling tasks for certain dates and re-prioritizing tasks as needed to prioritize correctly
  • Set custom shortcut keys so I can copy and paste information in quickly and easily
  • Very intuitive interface so little learning curve in utilizing features
  • Logs completed tasks so I can refer back or see what I have been doing with my time
I'm not trying to advocate that everyone go out and buy Things for their task list. It may not work for you. But perhaps the features that I like will help you think about how you are using your task list and what kinds of features you should look for and utilize to help you prioritize and manage life.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Simplifying Life - Part 2

Professional growth can come by a variety of paths. I stumbled across a blog entitled Zen Habits by Leo Babauta. I'm not sure where I got it but Time ranked it as one of the best 25 blogs in 2009. Zen Habits has some nice tips for everyday life and productivity. From this blog, I was referred to a relatively new blog that Babauta has started: mnmlist. I particularly like his post titled Clutter is Procrastination.

Read it. Seriously. I think he is right.

Clutter is often a result of my unwillingness to act now. Sometimes waiting and reflecting is a good thing. But more often than not, it postpones action which adds stress to our lives and mounts up into bigger projects than a simple effort to finish tasks.

Whether it is email, dirty clothes, or the kids toys, I'm trying to keep the clutter at bay. Put in the extra 15 seconds or 2 minutes to get the job done.

Leo's mnmlist blog references the fact we fill our lives with a lot of unnecessary things. We buy lots of stuff we don't need and sometimes never use. How much time and energy have we invested into "things" that are not important. So much of this comes back to priorities. I'm no zen guru and don't desire to be, but there is something to be said for simplifying life. Leo says,

It just takes the decision to live with less, and to be content with where you are and what you have and who you are.

Sounds like some advice worth considering...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Simplifying Life - Part 1

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
- Robert Frost

As I embarked on another school year this fall, I reflected on the past and considered how I wanted to go forward. And I wanted to travel a different road. I think my reflections were based on 2 realizations: 1) We fill our time no matter how much or how little we have; 2) We want to and have the opportunity to do more things than time allows. These 2 concepts are coupled together and I have known them, but I have not changed my actions to adjust -- until now.

Priorities are critical. When we have more than we can do, what do we choose to do? If we just let life happen, odds are good we'll work on trivial things but are we working on what is most important? Sure, I get stuff done, but is it the right stuff?

I've made a decision--I am not going to just let life happen. I'm going to do what I can to prioritize. Please note: I did not say control. That's God's job. But I can prioritize what does come my way. Prioritizing starts with knowing what we are doing and what we need to do. And it means some stuff may not get done today. And it may mean some stuff never gets done because it should not be a priority.

So, how am I doing this? First, I am working with a task list. My previous task list was my post-it note on my desk or my email inbox. If life was good, I had 25-30 messages in my inbox in each of my 2 work inboxes so a total of 50-60 messages. When life got hectic, I would double that. That is a pretty poor way to manage tasks yet I have a strong suspicion that I'm not the only one that does this. Anyone need to confess?

Now, I read my emails. I leave them there if they will be responded to later in the day. If they aren't a priority for the day, I copy and paste the relevant part of the email to my task list and schedule it when it fits as a priority. And it may get rescheduled multiple times as I adapt to changing tasks. Responding is important, but it may not be important immediately. Of all the emails I get, a small part is actionable. The actionable part goes on my to-do list. The rest can be saved or deleted. My goal is to get my inbox at 0 messages each night before I go home. The exception is something I plan to respond to first thing the next morning. However, never more than 1 or 2 messages remain. In an effort of full disclosure, I have been doing this for 2+ weeks--so far, so good. All tasks don't come through email but it is just one example of what I am talking about. Using a task list also keeps you focused on the priorities you have set...not new distractions coming into your inbox or across your desk.

Getting organized is just one step I have taken. I use Things to accomplish this. It allows me to schedule tasks and even drag shortcuts of files into my to do list. Whether you use Things or something else, get organized and prioritize.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Web 2.0 Impact

I was recently pointed to a website that features a new show:


I found it interesting and applicable to our IB Theory of Knowledge (TOK) students. However, I also found myself reflecting on the sheer number of reality TV shows and their popularity. I have to wonder if it's not a reflection of Web 2.0 impact. Web 2.0 took sharing and transparency to a new level that is felt throughout our society. Whether it is reality TV shows, iTunes courses put online for anyone to participate, or a Harvard course turned into a TV series, transparency and the display of the process (not just the outcome) are infiltrating our lives. Don't get me wrong. I don't think it is a bad thing. It shines a light on many areas but it can bring out some spiders along the way. In many ways Web 2.0 reflects culture but perhaps these technology leaps are also culture shapers. What came first, was it the chicken or the egg?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Did you know 4.0?

The latest "Did you know 4.0?" was recently published on Youtube. The original was started by Karl Fisch, who maintains a instructional technology blog. Some people love it while others hate it, mostly probably due to its overuse and exposure. Several versions have come out and this is the latest one for 2009. I like things that expose people and raise awareness to the changing digital landscape that impact our students. So here it is. Check it out.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

21CHK Quotes & Reflection #2

As I near the end of my journey home from the conference, I am tired yet reflective. It was enjoyable to see colleagues and catch up in person with some people that seem only "virtual" for much of the year. I also like reflecting on our schools and the ideas of the conference. We are in the midst of major efforts to transform our schools into the 21st century models that we talk about. As I return, I want to really look at that guage and apply my reflections and new ideas to our strategic plan to make us more effective in our efforts.

In the second keynote address on Friday morning, Bruce Dixon talked about the 21st century and its impact on education. He said...

What we teach much change
where we teach much change
when we teach much change
how we teach must change

He continued on to discuss the need to transform our classrooms, not just translate the current modus operandi to a digital medium. I think this is something for some continued reflection.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

21CHK Quotes & Reflection

I am enjoying the 21st century learning conference. It is nice to see some of the people that I regularly interact with digitally in person. I have found many thoughts, ideas, and resources which will undoubtedly make it to this blog in the coming weeks. After a long day at the conference, I'll just mention a couple quotes that stuck out.

Wes Fryer stated our need as educators this way:

We need to become the engagers, not the entertainers.

Another comment from Fryer in another session on podcasting:

Hyperlinked text is the most powerful form of writing.

I thought these were both solid comments for further reflection. What do you think?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Learning 2.009 Conference

I am headed to Hong Kong tomorrow for the Learning 2.009 conference. It has been in Shanghai over the previous couple years. It is a great conference that really focuses on learning. It has a heavy technology slant and exhibits many great technological and educational tools. However, these tools are presented in the light of how they benefit students and create effective learning environments. I am looking forward to collaborating with other educational leaders to see how they are forming a 21st century learning environment in their schools.

I hope to post some updates from the conference in the coming days. If you want to know more about this conference, check out the website.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Google Lit Trips

I recently ran across Google Lit Trips. It utilizes Google Earth to enhance a literature lesson. I have not used this specific website and idea, but I really like the theory. It takes one technological tool and applies it to enhance and invigorate another area of study. Although cool in engaging students, the reason I particularly like this concept is that it takes this integration and allows teachers to share templates and lessons with each other. The concept is good and becomes better and more attainable for a wider group to use with students when it is shared and they collaborate.

That is 21st century thinking and implementation.

It takes us beyond our 4 walls of our classroom or the colleagues down the hall. It gives us access across the world to share excellent resources for the good of students. If you are interested in more info, you might check out this article on Edutopia.

When I tried to go to the Google Lit Trips page, it said it was down due to too much traffic. Perhaps I am not the only one that sees this as a good idea...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Learning with video games

I have recently seen more and more educational tools that are integrated within video games. 360Ed is just one of the recent ones I have seen. This 360Ed game focuses on US History. The Economist recently featured an article about Quest to Learn, which is a video game that totally redefines the educational paradigm of students. It integrates subjects into domains that combine math and English, English and social studies, and game design and digital literacy. As education seeks to engage students, the application of video game and multimedia technology to interactively engage students is reaching new heights. While research is still being conducted, the root of hands on learning and engaging students in ways that motivate them to learn for themselves continue to lie at the heart of these initiatives. What are you doing in your class to engage your students in innovative ways? How do you make learning fun and make students want to know more?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Youtube Monetized

Social media has powerful influences. I recently read this article from the Google blog. It talks about Jill Peterson and Kevin Heinz's wedding party. Their wedding party danced into a song which became a huge hit. Their little Youtube video spread across the net and a musical artist capitalized tremendously. It is an interesting story of how Youtube and social media have significant impacts. Who are you influencing? What is your web presence?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Growing in a New Year

Each year appears as a microcosm of life. It has cycles which include times of celebration and new challenges that provide opportunities for growth. The uncertainty and adventure helps me be energized each year.

Already in the short time we have been open, we have had opportunities for growth. During the 2nd week of school, we had to close the school due to concerns about the spread of the H1N1 flu virus. This instantly transformed our teachers into distant educators. Students worked daily on assignments given to them by their teachers.

Overall, I must say that I was proud of our staff to dive into a new and unexpected scenario with a positive and learning spirit. They tried new things with technology and stretched themselves. I was also glad that we had the infrastructure in place through our use of Edline, Moodle, and Google Apps among other resources to handle the school closure needs. It was not perfect but we grew as a school through the challenges.

Learning. That is what the 21st century environment is about. May it continue over this year and may we more successfully prepare our students for the 21st century as a result.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Future of the Web

On April 27th, I posted a video by Microsoft labs entitled A Glimpse Ahead. I have read and seen many people talk about the future of the web. And this dialogue easily leads to the concept of cloud computing. When services and processing occurs on the web, what happens to the local machine? Does platform matter in the future?

In some ways, no it doesn't. Many web services provide great tools free or at a minimal cost to users. And users on any platform can access and utilize them through their web browser. However, I still don't see the end to the local machine. People like to work on their laptops or desktops without being connected. As we are more connected in more places, this may change. But I think it will take awhile...quite awhile. The performance of editing photos or multimedia on the local machine versus the web is a good example currently. However, even simple tasks like typing word processing documents can meet a turned up nose. You can do many things via the web...but the performance often lags behind that of the local machine. The value of running programs locally remains important to many users.

Some people are just plain uncomfortable with the constant need for a connection. They can generate documents on Google Documents but the truth is that they strongly prefer to use MS Word. Perhaps they are stuck in a rut. Perhaps they do not have a ubiquitous connection to the internet. Perhaps some of it is the influence of their computer culture that surrounds them. I am sure there are many reasons for it but it seems to be my observed reality.

With that said, although many tasks can be completed independent of the operating system, the OS will continue to be important in the foreseeable future for both us and our students. Despite the many applications available on the web, our schools have decided to utilize the tools available to us on the Apple OS. It's not best for everybody but we believe it is best for our schools and the learning environment we are trying to create. We know Apple is not well known in Korea but we desire to implement it because of the advantages it brings to our students. My posts on our transition to Apple is not all-encompassing but it does at least give insight to some of the perspectives within our decision-making and transition process. I do hope you have found the information useful, and informative at a minimum.

It is summer time and my posts to this blog will take a vacation, hopefully like myself. I will resume more regular posts about technology and education topics in the fall. May you have a restful summer!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Common Myth #3

Common Myth #3: Everyone will have to learn Windows later anyway so why bother with Apple.

I have heard some question why bother to learn Apple if students have to learn Windows anyways. First, I personally believe students adapt much easier to adults to multiple platforms. Their learning curve is shorter and easier than ingrained adults. If a switch is necessary at a later time, the skills and abilities they have learned are not lost and will be transferred to new learning platforms. In that regard, it isn't a waste. Their exposure to multiple platforms diversifies their experience and widens their perspective.

However, I do not believe a switch is necessary for our students matriculating to universities. Most major universities support both Windows and Apple platforms. They have computer labs of both and their university networks are designed to integrate with both. To say that a student must change over to a Windows PC when they go to college is just untrue.

When surveyed in the fall of 2008, approximately 50% of students that intended to purchase a laptop within the next year planned to purchase an Apple. 1 out of 3 students (or actually higher in some cases) at schools such as Harvard, Princeton, Yale and Duke have Apples.

As I have recently traveled in airports, I see more and more business people with Apple laptops. To say that a switch over to Windows is inevitable is not accurate nor does it ring true with the data from universities. Regardless, the skills learned should prepare students to use technology as a tool that benefits their learning on any platform.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Common Myth #2

Common Myth #2: Apple costs too much and is a luxury laptop.

I have heard people say that Apple is the luxury machine that is too expensive. This is true in the sense that they do not offer a budget model that appeals to a cheaper market like many other manufacturers such as Dell, HP, or Compaq. But this is a bit bogus because it is not comparing apples to apples...(pardon the pun).

I have also heard individuals say that they can get a Windows-based PC spec for spec cheaper than an Apple. Again, I would tend to agree. If you get the exact same processor speed, RAM, memory, etc., Apple will not be the cheapest.

So it appears that Apple is 0 for 2 and perhaps they are too expensive. However, before I draw that conclusion, we need to take the operating system (OS) into account. To run Windows Vista, Microsoft said you could do it with 512 MB of RAM. They later revised that to something more like 1 GB. If you do some internet reading on the subject, you will find that you can "get by" with 2 GB of RAM but any serious user will probably want 4 GB for the Vista experience. For the record, Windows XP is fine and runs well off of 2 GB. Regardless, to perform adequately with graphics and multimedia, more speed and higher specs are needed. Overall, the whole computer market is seeking to "lighten up" their operating systems with Windows 7 and Apple's Snow Leopard. Whether or not this will really happen remains to be seen and this is good for everyone no matter what computer you have.

As a whole, the Mac OS is a lighter OS than Windows. It does not require the system resources in terms of RAM or memory. As a result, the specs on a Windows machine needs to be higher than that of an Apple for the same performance. This definitely varies by use. Multimedia is a good benchmark because it requires heavy resources and the Apple can handle more on less. As a result, the spec for spec comparison doesn't work out because I can't buy the same machine and run either system on it. Well, with the Apple, I can run both Windows & the Mac OS with Boot Camp or Parallels, but then I need to consider the specs needed to run both.

As a school here in Korea, the real question is what does a good student machine that runs for 3-4 years reliably cost? I am uncomfortable posting our prices in this public forum and will keep those within our community. However, I have found over the last 6 months that Dell, our previous supplier cannot compete with a comparable model at the same price. Context makes a big difference and this may not be true around the world. But in Korea, we are actually saving money, anywhere from $100-200 per computer by using Apples compared to our Dell prices. This is a comparison of the selected base models we recommend to students for either manufacturer. Prices definitely fluctuate, especially with the rapid changes in exchange rates in recent months. Overall, I would predict our student machines with Apple are cheaper right now but will probably break about even in the long run. Our goal is to offer a good student laptop for $1000-1200 USD equivalent and make it a good machine that will last a student 3-4 years. My interaction with other 1:1 laptop schools show this to be common practice and cost to students and parents.

Overall, I'm not saying Dell prices are unreasonable, but it does show that by choosing Apple, we aren't necessarily investing in the "Cadillac" of laptops. Don't get me wrong, I like Cadillacs...but I don't think this myth is an accurate representation of reality for us in our context.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Common Myth #1

Common Myth #1: Apple isn't compatible with Windows.

This is a broad generalization. Let's unpack this and see what is compatible and what isn't.

On the Mac OS, Mac Office 2008 runs just like it does on Windows. MS Word, Excel, & Powerpoint files can all be opened on either machine. I have noticed that once in awhile, an animation in a Powerpoint will get dropped between platforms. However, when this happened, I was also going between versions (I think I was going from Office 2007 to Mac Office 2004). Overall, the MS Office suite is compatible across platforms. MS Publisher does not open on any other application but Publisher. That is a Windows only application.

iWork is suite of applications for use on the Mac. iWork can import in any of the MS Office formats (except Publisher). They can export documents back out in office formats but certain advanced formatting like masking does not export correctly. The main reason for this is that some of the more advanced features just work in a very different fashion than MS Office. When exporting, these features that are not embedded into MS Office don't export correctly. Overall, I have not found this a problem as I bring documents in, rarely exporting out to Office. When I need to share an Apple created doc, I do so via PDF rather than the iWork suite. However, iWork has a beta version of online sharing which allows any user on any platform to access a document from the Web and give comments (but not actually change it).

Most image files come in JPG formats. However, PNG, TIFF, and GIF files are also used in various places. These all work across platforms and applications.

Movie files frequently come in MP4 format or MOV (Quicktime). Both formats work across platforms without difficulty. If one uses Windows Movie Maker, they may create an WMV file (Windows Media file). In the past, this has been a problem to play on the Mac. I have installed Flip4Mac (free plugin to download) which allows me to play WMV files. Although I don't use it frequently, I have not had any issues for close to 9 months of use. Have others had issues with this after getting any outstanding updates?

Adobe PDF files are designed to be easily maneuverable across platforms and computers. I have not used some of the Adobe CS4 suite to check compatibility. However, my Google search says that they are able to move between Windows and the Mac OS. Have any of the readers have any problem cross platforms?

Overall, more compatibility issues used to exist. Now, with the use of the Intel processor in the Macs, compatibility is not nearly the problem it was. Additionally, more and more web applications operate regardless of platform. This makes it advantageous for not only Mac and Windows platforms, but also the addition of mobile devices to access Web. 2.0 tools.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

More than just computers...

As we partner with Apple, it is a partnership. Unlike our Window vendors, we are getting more than just computers delivered to our door step. Apple supports our school with training and professional development for teachers and for the IT staff. The IT support includes on-site support for our students and staff as well.

Professional development for teachers has several different avenues to impact teachers in the classroom. Some involve attending conferences with other educators. Other options include having educators that specialize in effective technology integration visit our campus and work with teachers. I have attended Apple Professional Development (APD) training sessions and the facilitators are quality educators that can demonstrate classroom uses. Actually, these trainers are required to also be in the classroom at least part of the time with their full-time job assignments. By utilizing Apple training opportunities, we are able to screen out professional development opportunities and participate in high quality, strategic sessions that move our school forward. These training events do more than just focus on Apple applications. Training includes the use of many Web 2.0 tools that can be used with either platform.

In addition to specific professional development, we are connected with other Apple schools that are implementing similar 1:1 laptop programs. The connections to other schools is a powerful way to network with similar schools and build from each other. We are already connected through associations with Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) and the East Asia Regional Council of Overseas Schools (EARCOS). Although Apple is not a specific association, the network and facilitation of Apple to share ideas between schools acts in similar ways. As a result of our exploration of Apple, we have already begun to build partnerships in other areas like IB with 2 others schools running similar programs.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Keynote vs. Powerpoint

In addition to iLife, iWork is another suite of applications offered by Apple. This suite is very affordable for a school license (only a few hundred dollars). iWork includes Pages, which is a combination of Word and Publisher put together. Numbers is a spreadsheet program. Although functioning much like Excel, it allows for easier design of certain documents. Keynote is the 3rd component and perhaps the most powerful of the iWork suite. It is most often compared to PowerPoint. All the iWork applications come with some great templates that can be easily used by students or teachers to help them format their work more easily.

For those that have used it, Keynote is frequently said to be more powerful than PowerPoint. Their functionality is very similar in many ways. PowerPoint can insert media (photos, movies, sounds, etc.), but it isn't always smooth or easy. PowerPoint is designed and heavily used for text-based presentations.

Keynote is much more media-based. It allows for the fluid inclusion of media in many different forms, signifying the major difference from PowerPoint. Keynote smoothly incorporates many types of media in a polished look. It also has some very nice, professional-looking templates. And the difference plays out in important ways when we start talking about engaging students during lessons. It enables teachers to access the many digital resources available to them in our modern digital environment. And again, as previously mentioned, more time can be spent on content than troubleshooting or trying to polish the actual technology.

For example, teachers may want to show a clip from a video on the internet. They can bring that video into iMovie and edit it to the spot where they wish it to start and end. Then they can insert it directly into their presentation. Students do not lose time while the teacher cues the video/DVD but it is readily available, smoothly integrated into the presentation.

Keynote also allows the easy conversion of presentations into podcasts. This can be very useful for absent students or just allowing students to review their notes at home. Below is a presentation of our new campus as depicted by our architects. I already had the slide but in less than 2 minutes I converted it to a short movie to show the different aspects of the campus. (Note: I did not include audio but I easily could have.)


video

The ease of working with multimedia within Keynote or in other forms is beneficial for students and teachers to improve their lessons and classroom engagement.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Multimedia in the Educational Environment

In my previous post, I mentioned the role of multimedia in the educational environment. Teachers expect students to do different types of projects than they used to do. And in turn, students desire to do more complex projects for their teachers. Shifting a poster board presentation onto a PowerPoint slide was one step. However, now students and teachers are engaging in projects such as podcasts, movies, animations, slideshows, etc. that contain dynamic content. In Korea, we have huge billboards running TV-like advertisements. Multimedia is the norm.

Not all projects are best as multimedia projects. The goal of student work is a key ingredient here. Teachers want students to attain certain skills and standards in their work. Students need ways to display their understanding. In many cases, multimedia gives a much more rich, deep demonstration of understanding than other options. When applied in this context, multimedia helps students demonstrate their understanding more clearly to their teachers. So, overall, multimedia has changed expectations and changed the types of assessments students encounter in their academics.

The Apple platform is the professional grade standard for multimedia. KBS, one of the main Korean television stations, is not alone in the world of broadcasting to use Apple for their editing and multimedia needs. Whether it is editing photographs, creating feature length movie animations, or editing live television shows, it is common to see Apple computers in graphic environments.

The average student or teacher does not use these advanced applications. However, the iLife suite is useful for the more common multimedia functions. iPhoto organizes photos easily and can create slideshows and convert them into movies in minutes. iMovie allows even beginning users to edit movies in ways that look like quality products. GarageBand can be used to create podcasts or record music and audio. All 3 of these applications work together and integrate easily with one another. As these tools make quality products easier and quicker, more time can be spent on the content and the depth of understanding.

We do not want to just do multimedia because it is "cool." We want to use multimedia because it engages students in powerful ways and allows them to demonstrate an understanding of the curriculum in a clear and effective manner. Apple supports this multimedia environment more effectively than the Windows platform. (Again, I am not saying it cannot be done on a Windows machine, it is just easier and works better on the Mac.) In addition to be designed for multimedia, designers and creators of such programs like the iLife suite specifically consider how educators can use the software in its design. Education has long been another niche besides graphics of Apple and their partnership with schools all over the world continue to demonstrate their commitment in this area.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Apple Move

Over this year, our school has decided to move to an Apple environment. We have been operating on Windows XP, largely via Dell computers for several years. We looked at Apple previously but Korea just didn't have the support we needed to make this happen. This initial exploration was actually before my work began in technology. However, after looking at this decision for over a year, we felt this was the right time to make a switch.

Some people argue you can do such and such with a PC or you can only do this with a Mac. I'm more of the mind that if you know what you are doing and have the right software, either one can really work for you. However, in evaluating the needs of our students and our teachers, we felt Apple was the way to go. As I have transitioned myself over the last 9 months, I see ways that I can be more productive, efficient and include more multimedia effectively in my work through the Mac OS, enhancing my ability to engage my audience and allowing more of my creativity to shine through. It is not that I can't do it on the Windows machine, it is just that it is much easier on the Mac and therefore I do things that I would not even try on Windows.

I mention multimedia and Apple is well known for their professional grade multimedia capabilities. Multimedia companies and education are two of the key places where Apple shines. And as we evaluate what we want students to do in school, more and more multimedia is required. In the same way, as we look at what engages students in teacher's lessons, multimedia can play a significant role. In my personal experience, I have included multimedia in presentations on the Mac that I would not have even considered on a Windows' machine.

Overall, the decision to move to the Apple platform is multi-faceted. I've only scratched the surface here. In the last couple weeks of school year, I will attempt to articulate some of the rationale behind our decision. I believe this rationale is the same reason why many schools continue to look to Apple to support their efforts to integrate technology throughout their school environment, particularly in their growing Asian market. Please stay tuned for more in this series and feel free to ask questions along the way...

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Twitter

For some of you, you love Twitter. It's a connection to your online network. You use it well. For others, you are experimenting with it and trying to decide whether or not you like it. Some have said it is hard to understand Twitter until you use it. For another portion of you, you have no idea what Twitter is. (If that is the case, then google it.)

I have read several commentaries recently on Twitter and observed as others have used it. For me, the jury is still out. I know Twitter is hugely popular and was valued at around 250 million USD in January 2009. The amazing part of this financial evaluation is that Twitter doesn't have any income. It is a free Web 2.0 service.

However, that digresses from the issue at hand. With Twitter, the user has 140 characters to share their thoughts and current actions. It is really much like the status message on Facebook or your chat program. For example, I could post to Twitter: "I am now writing a Be Literate blog entry."

I see Twitter like many other technologies--it is a tool. It can be used productively or result in a significant waste of time and act as a distraction. Some productive ideas that I have heard on how to use Twitter include the following:
1) Take minutes for a meeting--it time stamps everything and keeps statements to 140 characters. It allows multiple people to contribute to the minutes.
2) It is a way to take questions quickly during a live lecture session or Q & A time. I have also seen it used to comment on a big screen about what is being talked about--I'm not a fan of this.
3) I know of one service department that uses Twitter to communicate with each other versus email. It lets others in their department know where they are on campus and quickly communicates to multiple people.
4) In conjunction with #3, it could be used to network a group of people at a conference event, particularly if they are hosting it. The advantage of this over a audio network of walkie-talkies or cell phones is that everyone can see the same message at once and won't get busy signals.

If it isn't purposeful, I wonder if anyone cares that I am writing a blog entry at this moment. Does it matter? Is what I am posting about me or socially productive in engaging others? I am skeptical at some of the non-intentional uses and casual participants. I think it can, like Facebook, be a huge distractor time. For the record, I am not opposed to Facebook but I am amazed at the amount of time people spend on it.

In conclusion, we live in a culture of availability. We carry mobile phones because someone may want to reach us. We are constantly connected to social networks because we don't want to miss anything. Somebody may want me that I am not currently with. And as I reflect on my own practices, I recognize the need to make sure this culture of availability doesn't make me miss the present...the here and now. I embrace this culture in which we live but I see the need to discipline and balance my availability in light of it.

For some further reading, you may want to check out the following links related to Twitter:

Scientists Warn of Twitter Dangers
(CNN)

"Just Say No" to Twitter (I take no responsibility for any offense you occur in viewing this link)

The Culture of Availability
(The Thinking Stick blog post by Jeff Utecht)
So what do you think? Are you a Twitter user? I'm still debating whether or not to sign up...please give me some advice.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Glimpse Ahead?

Microsoft labs put this out about potential realities in 2019...I don't know how much you can hang your hat on, but it is interesting to watch.


Friday, April 17, 2009

A Real Thinking Cap?

I must say that I ran across this clip which is apparently from a National Geographic video series. It seemed to fall under the category of bizarre as I first looked at it. I'm not sure what to make of it other than I'm not ready to sign up for the magnetic pulse brain therapy. However, safety and ethical controversy aside, the idea is interesting. Check out this 8 minute video...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Goomoodleikiog

Okay, so the name alone got my attention. I was curious what the joke was about. However, some good ideas are articulated here in terms of organizing and using online tools to promote effective teaching and learning.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Templates for Printing

Have you ever needed some special graph paper, note-taking paper (Cornell or otherwise), or some wide lines for practicing penmanship in the elementary? Compliments of a colleague, check out this nice link where you can download and print PDFs of all different types of templates. Lots of different choices are here. This can really apply to any teacher of any grade level depending on your use.

http://incompetech.com/graphpaper/

Friday, March 27, 2009

Call Graph

Have you ever wanted to record a Skype call for broadcast in a class at a later time or for other blocks of a class. For international schools with often significant time zone issues in reaching people live, perhaps recording Skype conversations would prove beneficial. If this sounds interesting to you, check out Call Graph for a tool to allow you to do it.

The initial cost is free but as with many services like this, the level of service changes with levels of payment.

For more info, check out this link as well.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Web 2.0 Tools Directory

If you are interested in breaking up some of the monotony of the spring with some new looks in your classrooms and different experiences for your students, check out this directory of Web 2.0 tools. It is a pretty significant list and can be searched by functionality. Check it out.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I teach, therefore you learn...or do you?

I recently ran across this video... Aside from the content, it also gives some tangible examples of using images in ways to create "hooks" or illustrates concepts with images as opposed to words, which I advocated in my last post.


I teach, therefore you learn... or do you? from José Picardo on Vimeo.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Listening Skills in a Visual World

At what point do visual representations undermine listening(auditory) skills? Listening skills are important. By producing visual presentations, am I undermining the development of that skill? These questions are good and I had the opportunity to reflect upon them recently thanks to a question from a colleague.

At first thought, it seems easy to say these skills are mutually exclusive. Are we not emphasizing one over another? However, I don't think that this is the case. Visuals should not reduce auditory listening. Visuals should be a "hook" for the learner/audience to make the concept being talked about more vivid and easier to recall. Hopefully, the visual brings out some relevant relationship for an unusual way to think about the idea or reinforce the verbal description. If an audience can remember an image, it is much more likely they will remember a concept.

For example, in some presentations, I have recently used this visual:

CC Prescott Pym (Universal Playground)

I picked it up off of Flickr via Creative Commons. It gives some vivid imagery in relation to our students, our world, and our future. I like it. It may not work for everyone but can say more than the words I type. The image provides a hook to a concept I want to articulate.

Back to my focus, if we post less text and more images/media, then more listening is required, not less. Note the stark contrast to straight powerpoint presentations...typically heavy on text. Text-heavy powerpoints can undermine presentations as much as enhance. People become extremely dependent on the words on the screen--they listen less and read more. Why not hand out a sheet with the text and just let them read it if that is the goal? Some would rationalize this because students listen and write it down themselves as a kinesthetic way of learning. Although true, it seems to me that they spend more time making sure they "write" down the right things than understanding the concepts/content.

We need to find ways to use more images and multimedia to engage students and make the content memorable in place of text powerpoints. If we can do this effectively, it seems to me the images require more listening to make the connections and derive the content. However, I don't want to seem naive and say this is easy. It isn't. This is something I am working on in some of my PD work with teachers. It takes time and it is a skill which develops with use, practice, and effort. Effective teaching is not easy.

Let's note an exception...there is a value in helping ESL students by having more text visible. That doesn't necessarily mean less images, but more text may be interspersed. For ESL students, much of their learning extends to language learning and having a language rich environment. Their learning is more than just getting the content. However, images are invaluable to them as they use it for context and depend on it for understanding, perhaps even more than those without language limitations. For ESL students, they may not understand the oral language...again, they need to practice and do it, but in smaller chunks. For them, it is not the listening skill that is so weak as comprehending what is being said. Again, balance is needed.

Listening as a mental discipline. Effective visuals can be a way to engage and "appeal" to students to perform the discipline of listening in some non-painful, enjoyable ways. At the same time, a discipline takes effort and sometimes there is no way around it.

What do you think?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Sharing Files

A challenge for many people is sharing files with friends, particularly files too large for email. Some great free tools are out there to share your files. If you have really big files, you may have to pay some money, but anything under 100 MB can probably be done for free.

I have used YouSendIt.com in the past. It is easy to use. You just have to go to their website and sign up. Files can be sent via the web or with their desktop client you can run on your computer. Anything under 100 MB is free. You can send up to 2 GB with a paid plan. The nice thing about YouSendIt is that you can pay by use. You don't have purchase a full subscription if you just want to use it once or twice.

A colleague recommended Drop.io to me. I just used this twice this week. It is a free service again for files under 100 MB. I think you can pay for more premium services like password access and larger files. Your link is private and won't be caught by search engines. An additional feature is that others with whom you share your drop space can also add files. It becomes a common location of shared storage that can also store comments and you can even email attachments and information. It is reminiscent of a private wiki in many ways. It will also integrate with your Twitter account.

Dropbox a wonderful service that I have been using for a few months now. It allows up to 2 GB of space, and like other services, I think you can pay for more. An additional benefit is that any files you upload and then erase can be retrieved from the trash. You can use it entirely web-based but the real benefit comes in downloading the client on your computer (both Mac and PC work great). It can create a "dropbox" folder in your documents and anything added to your account will automatically sync across computers. I use this to share files between my home computer and school computer regularly. Although convenient for syncing files which can then be run locally on my computer, I find the real power in being able to share folders with others. By sharing a folder, any item placed in that folder is automatically synced to my colleagues' computer. It is a good way to collaborate on projects where multiple files are being used and updated.

These are 3 tools that I have found helpful in sharing files. Perhaps they'll help you as well.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Stumbleupon

I have been using StumbleUpon for about 2 months. It is a free web service and can also be a Firefox add-on so a toolbar appears in your browser. I use Firefox so I prefer the toolbar for ease of use.

How does it work?
When you sign up, you identify categories and interests that you have as well as contacts. Based on that information, the service takes you to random websites that other users have identified as good and applicable to your interests. It's pretty easy and straightforward. And yes, I have run across several sites that were quite good but I may never have found otherwise.

What are the benefits?
This is a great way to share bookmarks as it is easy to send links to specific friends in your contacts. I have used this as part of my PLN (personal learning network) to trade links on several occasions. It is also a great way to stumble across some good sites that could otherwise be lost in the exobytes of data on the web.

I see this is a tool for professional growth but can also lead you to some good classroom resources and tools. In addition to finding some resources, it can turn some leisure surfing into productive and applicable professional or personal learning. Who knows...maybe someone will Stumble across the Be Literate blog.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

How Students Use Google Apps

Google hit the road to see how students are using their stuff. Don't just stop at the first post, but skim on down and see some cool ideas on the Google Student Blog. You might learn something new. If you don't like Google Apps or other Google products, you probably shouldn't waste your time here because there is a lot of Google love on this site.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A View of the Internet from 1981

A flashback to the the past...27 years ago when a news anchor said they might start getting their news on the internet one day. Who would have thought...crazy stuff!


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Open Culture

Open Culture has a sort of blog format on its website. It claims to be the "best free cultural & educational media on the web." As far as that goes, I can't say. I can say they have some nice educational tools highlighted. Much of their content may just be organizing and pointing out resources on other sites such as iTunes but it is helpful information.

Perhaps one of the attractive free resources that they highlight is free audio books. This is a great boon to ESL students or 1:1 laptops schools. Students can access a number of books via their iPod or computer. They also have some free digital books on their site which are available via creative commons (which I discussed in the previous post).

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Creative Commons

Regardless of whether or not you agree or disagree with the new US president's policies, President Obama has taken a different stance on technology. He is trying to use Web 2.0 tools to his advantage in communicating and collecting information from the American people. Perhaps only time will tell how genuinely transparent and open his government is. Regardless of whether it is a facade or not, the tools he is employing reflect changes in society.

One of the most telling examples of the changes technology has brought can be seen in the idea of citizen reporting. Cell phone videos, random pictures submitted to news sites, and twitter feeds have given instant information on a number of recent incidents. The terrorist attacks in Mumbai and recent emergency landing on the Hudson River by an airplane serve as vivid examples. CNN has sought to embrace this and they have edited their website to make it easier for individuals to submit newsworthy items. Anyone can become a reporter or a photographer. Everyone potentially has an audience and access. Technology has enabled someone that may have never had a voice in the past to be able to reach millions via the internet.

With many publications, you see items regarding copyright, like all rights reserved. With Creative Commons, it allows a creator to share their work with only some rights reserved. Typically, attribution and credit should be given. However, it lets others use it. Whether it be music, writings, photos, etc., it is contributed to the "commons" for the world.

Creative Commons is a non-profit organization. It states the following on its website:
Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that works to increase the amount of content (cultural, educational, and scientific content) in "the commons" — the body of work that is available to the public for free and legal sharing, use, re-purposing, and remixing. Creative Commons does this by providing free, easy-to-use legal and technical tools that give everyone a simple, standardized way to pre-clear copyrights to their creative work. CC licenses let people easily change their copyright terms from the default, restrictive "all rights reserved" to a more flexible "some rights reserved."
Whether you are looking for some different background music or a photo to spice up a presentation, check out Creative Commons. I use Firefox and in that browser there is a convenient search for CC in the toolbar. Just click on the default G (for Google on top right of your browser) and a drop down will appear and select CC. By using a general CC search, everything is included but many sites like Flicker will allow the advanced search features in a service to filter out only CC images.

People do some really creative things. Check out what is available on creative commons...

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Social Bookmarking

Social bookmarking is a popular term but what is it? Well, the word social can be a little inaccurate in the strictest sense. It's not just social as in informal or in the personal realm. It refers to linking communities. The concept is relatively simple. I may like the same sites and topics as my friends. Additionally, I may like the same sites as my friends' friends, even though I may not know them. Social bookmarking leverages relationships to point you to things that may interest you. It can access bookmarks through relationships, categories, or interests.

I'm fairly new to social bookmarking. I don't particularly like to share all my bookmarks. And I don't always bookmark everything that is of interest to me. However, I have found some value to this concept. I have been able to leverage it to find new information on particular topics. Within my PLN of professional educational technology educators, I have run across many new sites that I see as valuable and helpful to my professional growth. It has become a way for me to expand my community and find new sites that expose me to new things.

Social bookmarking really steps into the beginning stages of the semantic web, or Web 3.0. It is "smart" and helps you find places that are of interest and value to you. Some social bookmarking applications learn and tailor themselves to your preferences on what you like and don't like. The concept is really not foreign. Do you use iTunes? The genius feature of iTunes recommends music to you according to what music you have in your library and the particular song. It is tailored to you. Social bookmarking is really just making the same types of recommendations, just in a different sense. iTunes is not the first to use this idea...Amazon has been doing it for years.

Social bookmarking works largely off of tags. Users "tag" keywords to sites so they can be searched or are associated as relevant to certain topics. Tagging is a common term and commonly used on many photo sites. It has many uses and makes accessing relevant information easier. Tagging is great when people work together. Instead of waiting for me to tag 1,000s of sites, I can leverage others to help me tag good sites and be able to search and categorize them effectively based on the wisdom the collective group. Tagging is often associated with images because the only way to search the content is through tags. However, it is also helpful in something like this blog to reference ideas. (This concept also links to Wesch's video of The Machine is Us/ing Us.)

Examples of social bookmarking sites might include del.icio.us, StumbleUpon, Digg, Diigo, and Ma.gnolia.org just to name a few. I even noticed that Foxmarks, my Firefox add-on, is becoming a social bookmarking application. Wikipedia has a fair list of the many bookmarking tools available.

Friday, January 23, 2009

21st Century Skills: A doomed fad?

I recently read an article entitled The Latest Doomed Pedagogical Fad: 21st Century Skills by Jay Matthews of the Washington Post. The title is really a bit misleading on the content of his article but does lead me to a question...is it a fad that will come and go?

To answer that, I can say for sure it will come to pass...everything does. When we get to the 22nd century, 21st century skills will not be the moniker anymore.

To look at the article in more depth, I'll summarize Matthews' ideas by saying he calls it a trendy buzzword that has the pendulum swinging too far. He sees some value in the ideas but argues they aren't necessarily new nor does delivery or the implementation meet the expectations and rhetoric about it. However, people can't seem to get enough of it. He ends the article by saying:
Great educators tell me that teaching and learning are more about relationships than content, more about asking questions every day of everyone in class than depending on students to soak it up on their own. In our poorest neighborhoods, we still have some of our weakest teachers, either too inexperienced to handle methods like modeling instruction or too cynical to consider 21st-century skills anything more than another doomed fad. There might be a way to turn them around, but if there isn't, instead of engaged and inspired students, we will have just one more big waste of time.
Although I think his article could use more focus and substance for that matter, he hits on an important point of teacher quality. No matter what we are teaching, if we do it ineffectively then it will not be a positive venture. Teachers are the most important factor in improving student learning. The research on this is clear. Schools have to get the right people on the bus and professionally grow these educators.

If you are a teacher reading this, are you the right type of person for 21st century learning? Let me rephrase...are you willing to learn new strategics and techniques to engage students? to model authentic learning? to engage students on their terms rather than your own? To explore new tools available to you? Are you willing to put students at the center of their learning? Are you willing to release control as the expert imparting knowledge and live with a "messy" learning process?

Another point that Matthews touches on is authentic learning. What are students learning? Is it really valuable and driven by the appropriate outcomes? It is not about having students jump through hoops or "do school." We need students to engage in their learning, critically engaging and problem-solving real world challenges.

Lastly, although I may not invite Matthews to my writing class due to stylistic preferences nor may I agree with some ideas that he wrote, the concept of balance is necessary. Our learning environment does need to be transformed into a 21st century learning environment. However, that does not mean all that we have done in the past needs to be thrown out. We need wisdom and discernment to mesh the new and the old together to create something new in its own synthesis of ideas. It is not about what is new or what is old, it is about what is best.

Getting quality teachers to engage students in authentic learning that is relevant to the context of the 21st century era is critical...and it is not a fad. From my reflections on this article, you can see 3 principles that I believe lay the foundations for success, transcending any trendy idea.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Common Craft

Simple is good. And in some cases, it may even make you a living. Common Craft does just this. These individuals make video explanations of more complicated ideas and try to simplify into ways anyone can understand. You can get many of their videos on Youtube or Google video in addition to their website. If you have questions about some of ideas like Web 2.0 or various tools, this is a good resource to check out for some simple explanations. They do extend beyond tech topics...such as saving money in plain English.

Do you think your students could take some complex ideas from any subject area and make them simple enough for anyone to understand? Aside from demonstrating understanding by their explanation in their own words, it requires effective communication skills...