saudixpat’s Weblog

December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Expat in Saudi @ 11:18 pm

I am taking a break from education and technology related postings to wish everybody a very Merry Christmas. As we are almost at the day, I am taking a second to count my blessings. I am alive. I am healthy. I have my family around me. I am doing what I enjoy doing and loving the chances I have to travel the world.

I can pick up the phone and call my mom, my brother, my wife. I get a chance to spend Christmas with my family. I can see to read books and newspapers. I can hear what my friends say, I sleep ok at night. I am not in chronic pain.

A lot of these are things that people might not think about much, if ever. However, they are among the things that really make life good. I hope you stop for a second and think about everything that really makes your own life good.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year One and All!

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December 16, 2008

Changing Nature of Education

Filed under: Uncategorized — Expat in Saudi @ 8:32 pm

Wow – my mind is spinning and I am having an epiphany. A Mind Bomb. I can see the education of the future, but instead of the future it is coming now. Buckle your seatbelts!

Articles from my Curriculum course included those by Huebner, Macdonald, and Apple, as well as earlier readings by Eisner, Pinar, and Kliebard. All have a dialectic which centers on who controls the model of education and the delivery of the content promulgated by that model. However, there is a new dialectic coming around the bend – and I am not sure if we are ready.

“The World is Flat” is a book by Thomas Friedman, about how a series of synergistic events have acted to flatten the world – the internet, workflow software, shared standards, google, wireless, virtual reality, and Web 2.0. are among the flatteners he discusses. This flattener effect to date has been largely economic, seeing any job that can be exported via technology or chopped up and the portions that can be done cheaper exported via technology to places such as Dalian, China or Bangalore, India.

I am not suggesting that teaching will be “chopped up” or exported using technology; however, as I progress through my courses and I work with my international project at and I read and explore more of the thinking in technology, I am beginning to see that the world of education and of curriculum and assessment (remember – all the activities associated with designing, delivering, and assessing student activities and learning) is going to be fundamentally changed.

Here is a challenge to you. Go into your school library. Ask to see the World Book Encyclopedia 2007. Oops – not there? Ask your librarian when they purchased their last encyclopedia set. If they have done so within the past two years I will be very surprised. The world is flattening and education is following along.

What will the political system do when it no longer fully controls the levers of education? Wikipedia is an example of this. Users share knowledge, this knowledge is vetted by a huge body of users with a vested interest in keeping the knowledge as accurate as possible, and it is accessed by millions of users every day. Do you know that globally Wikipedia is the 8th most accessed web site (Google, or its local version, is the number one accessed site in the world).

So what happens when textbooks become obsolete? What if instead of reading a textbook and anwering the questions in it, students were to research the information online (they do that now anyways) and post their understanding to a wiki, where other students in their class or in the class set at school then edit it to share their understanding and where students can discuss why they made the changes they did. What if our students’ understanding of a subject becomes a shared experience in which everybody’s voice has a chance to be heard? What if curriculum becomes a set of shared online resources rather than a textbook, teacher resource manual and reproducables and section tests?

Think it can’t happen? It is happening as we speak. Darren Kuropatwa, in Winnipeg, teaches high school math, mainly calculus and pre-calculus. His Pre-Cal 30S class compiled a blog using blogspot and assembled a directory of resources using, the social bookmaring site, to share common tags with the class. The class built a common curriculum centered around global resources available to anybody. The point is that learning became learner-centric and the teacher removed to the learning advisor.

How long have we heard about teachers moving to the “guide on the side” from the “sage on the stage” model? It was old when I was in university and that was quite awhile ago. However, at present, PATs (Provincial Achievement Tests) or other instruments make teachers accountable, meaning that if they aren’t great guides they better be super sages. That model is about to change again.

When the knowledge you need is online and not controlled by any one political or educational authority, who “slants” the knowledge to achieve the desired outomes in curriculum? Huebner argues that aesthetic and ethical value systems are important (but did you notice in the article, those were the two he implicitly said were NOT necessary, unlike technical, political and scientific?). In the age of online learning, ethics and aesthetics become more important. How do we teach students to make proper use of the information they find? How do we teach them critical reading skills to be able to interpret biases on web sites they come up against? How do we teach them to take the sum of knowledge and synthesize it into a thing of beauty, to enjoy the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake? When knowledge and learning become part of the social environment, as well as the educational environment, I think we will begin to see a greater shift occur in learning. What outcomes will Alberta Learning mandate in the new flat world?

When we look at curriculum through the lens of Apple or Macdonald, we come across knowledge as the “product of an empirical-analytical methodology” (Macdonald, 1975, p. 286). Fast forward 33 years, and I think knowledge has taken on a new coat. Knowledge, while still maintaining its empirical-analytical thrust, is also folksonomical. In other words, knowledge has now become a shared reality bought into by a multitude of people linked together by common interest or interests.

Out of this model we have things such as Apache server software. It is empirical, but it is also by design public domain and FREE for all to use and alter, provided that they keep the result in the public domain and free for all to use. In other words, knowledge knows no legal borders BY DESIGN. When knowledge is freely available to be gleaned and shared, more and more people will add to and distribute it. That is the beauty of a wiki, or of Wikipedia, arguably the meta-wiki.

Macdonald also gives us three models of curriculum development (Macdonald, p. 292). The first is the linear-Expert model, where curriculum is initiated by experts and tried out, feedback given to the experts, the instruments refined, field tested and then implemented. However, what happens when curriculum is implemented by learners to reinforce or replace an existing curriculum – so that it overlays the curriculum in place but expands it to better meet the needs of the students.

The example I used before, that of Darren Kuropatwa, is again a perfect illstration of this. His students have overlayed the regular curriculum with a ‘net curriculum gleaned from a myriad of websites. While at this point there is a central resource, will the “text” of a course be necessary if al all the pieces are in aggregate online? That is yet to be determined, but I can see a time coming when control over the knowledge of curriculum is shared between users worldwide rather than concentrated in a special group in a particular geographic location.

Macdonald’s second model is that of Circular-Consensus model, where the local staff of schools are developing curriculum with the experts on call. If this is a current model, the future model might well be local staff of a province developing curriculum using wikis as a development and refinement tool. When everbody can contribute and have their say, and the group mind moderates to correct for bias or inaccuracies, then you begin to have a truly global curriculum that better meets the needs of all practicioners and which certainly allows everybody a greater chance of mastery, which one would think could only improve student performance. Now what happens when “local” happens to be experts bound together by a common software program, a common goal, and shared outcomes, all relating to curriculum in a global sense? It is happening now in global collaborative education projects.

The last model is also more of a flat earth model, that of the dialogical. Leaders (teachers) would identify student leaders in Friere’s model (Macdonald, p. 293); however, based on what I see happening with my students in the Flat Classrom Project, student leaders would quickly self-identify themselves. Curriculum through dialogue on a global scale, as opposed to a local scale, will be an increasing trend of the flattening world.

All of these changes relates to what Apple calls the “deskilling of teaching” (Apple, 2003, p. 183). I argue that rather than “deskilling” the changing paradigm of teaching which has started will entrail the “re-skilling” of teachers. I can see the day coming when teachers hired for our school will be given a guidebook on using wikis, blogs, social networking, and RSS in education and be expected to utilize these tools in their curiculum. Teachers who can apply these tools to curriculum and attendant artifacts will be in demand; teachers who can’t will not.

As knowledge goes global, education must by necessity follow. The tools are available today – right now – but their application to education has only begun. The emergence of student-authored knowledge will make Apple’s insistance on the politic of the text book and whose reality is encapsulates a moot point or at the least ameliorate its truth. Control of textbooks will become more and more irrelevent as education curriculum moves away from that model and into the post-textbook world.

Rather than be scared by the emerging reality of teaching, I think it is a time to be excited. There is so much happening out there to change curriculum for the better and for the benefit of our students. This is an exciting time to be a teacher, isn’t it?

I am really looking forward to your thoughts on this. I know I haven’t expressed myself as well as I wanted to – but it is the message that is the real hook here. I honestly believe we are on the cusp of a fundamental change; one, incidentally, that will be embraced by government because it is a cost-cutter. Imagine being able to do away with physical textbooks, with the administrivia of dealing with textbooks, the physical component of storing textbooks, and finding the money to pay for textbooks.

Hang on – the ride has already started!

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December 6, 2008

Reflections on Web 2.0

Filed under: Uncategorized — Expat in Saudi @ 6:25 pm

Here it is the end of the semester, the course is almost done and I am faced with reflecting on my journey through Web 2.0. Whew! First off, I found out what Web 2.0 really meant and how it got its name.

This is Web 2.0

Once that was out of the way, it was off to learn about Web 2.0 apps – blog sites, such as, edublogger, and wordpress; photosharing sites such as photobucket, flickr, and picasa; video sharing sites, along the lines of youtube, teachertube, and google video; social bookmarking sites such as, furl, and diigo; and finally podcasting sites such as podbean and podomatic.

After that there was a break – a detour really – to virtual library sites. These were really interesting to me, although I am not a librarian (although one day I would love to be one and actually did work at the Patrick Power Library while I was a visiting student at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, N.S.). That exploration took me back to my old high school’s library web site and showed me that a lot has changed in the school library since I was a student!

Once the detour was over, it was back to examining Web 2.0 apps again. Wikis were on the menu, with Wikipedia and Wikispaces looming large (I am encouraging my school to get mediawiki, which will allow us to run our own inhouse wiki that is secure and non-accessible to the outside world. Being in Saudi that is a concern. It was funny, because my class also became associated with the Flat Classroom Project, which is based on wikispaces and ning. Little did I know the connection would be there!

From there the journey led to multimedia sharing sites; specifically voicethread, which I really like. So much so, in fact, that I am going to be presenting on it to our staff in the new year. Moving on from that, there was a consideration on the benefits of using Facebook as an educational resource; however, that didn’t get too far. From there it was an examiation of RSS feeds and RSS aggregators, such as Feedreader and Bloglines, as well as another ubiquitous Google product, Google Reader. As can be seen, the semester recap covers a lot of web territory. What have I learned, looking back?

First off, to paraphrase Shakespeare, there are more things on the web than were dreamt of in my philosophy. While I knew there were a lot of applications being developed for online use, I had no idea that there were so many that had practical application to teaching. Wikipedia, for instance, is not the only wiki in town and the others are available for use with classes, as I found out. The same goes for blogs. I am currently planning on revamping my curriculum in my website design and management course to incorporate wikis and blogs – wikis to build a knowledge base and blogs to discuss problems and propose solutions to them.

For my colleagues, I am hoping to turn them on to voicethread, as I mentioned earlier. It is such a ‘cool’ and powerful tool that I can see students really getting into using it and sharing their viewpoints. As all voices can be heard, I think that it will empower those voices that aren’t as loud if involved in a voice discussion in the classroom.

Another resolution I have made is to share more of my life with family back home using flickr, or possibly picasa, as a 4×4 group I belong to uses that by default and so it might be easier to share photos with more groups to use picasa. Besides this, I really enjoyed the virtual library exploration in the course. It has inspired me, as I mentioned last post, to make changes to the portal of our school library. Currently it is a web page with a list of links broken down into Elementary and Middle/High School. There are no graphics and it is pretty bare except for the banner (which is a graphic of a sand dune that I created from a photo I took). The new site will be amazingly different and I think that the students will love it I will post about student reactions once I get the sites up in January. Promise!

Overall, I really enjoyed the course and what I learned from it. It is not only what I learned abou Web 2.0, but what I learned from my classmates about how they are using Web 2.0 and how they perceive it. Some of their ideas and resources, such as the Storybutter site created by one of my fellow students in the course.

I think the course has made me more willing to go out and explore and try new technologies as they emerge and attempt to work them into my classroom activities with students. I think it has also made me want to seek out what others are doing with the apps that they have found and how they are putting them to use. I certainly hope that others in the course will continue with their blogs and keep everybody posted on how they are getting on in the Web 2.0 world.

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What’s Next?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Expat in Saudi @ 9:44 am

“Every journey starts with a single step,” is a common saying. I know that I cannot apply everything I have learned in this course right away, nor would it be fair to my students to try. However, like the journey, my small steps have started. I have two IB art students working on the portal pages for our ES LMC and our HS/MS LMC. After seeing what is out there I am determined as our intranet web master to change our portal and make it a pull site to draw students in and a push site by distributing information out. Accordingly, I am in the process of learning how to code RSS in order to push out changes to the site via RSS so students can track what is happening and tune in to library events, procedures, and feedback.

Fast forward a little over a week. Winter break has finally started and the art students have finished their rough drafts and I have critiqued them. They are excellent, the elementary LMC portal in particular. It is going to be very bright and colourful and students can access a lot of resources and activities through it.

I am also in the middle of organizing a presentation on Voicethreads for my staff, in conjunction with the Tech Department. We are really trying to help our staff move forward. One of our members is working on video hosting and wikispaces, while another is working on file sharing via Google Docs or Zoho. I am doing Voicethreads as I can see our elementary teachers in particular (but some from all divisions) wanting to jump on board using it. When students have a voice that is heard, not drowned out, then I think they tend to be more thoughtful and put a greater effort into sharing their views.

One thing I have had to reassess as I have gone through this course is Wikipedia. At our fine institution, teachers have been discouraging students from using it as a source. In fact, students have been denied the opportunity to research using it or to cite it in any way. Why is this a problem?

Well, the last time our library bought new encyclopedias was in 2002. They just ordered a new set of encyclopedias this year – the 2008 World Book Enclycopedia set. I have to ask the question, “Between 2002 (when the knowledge in the World Book was already at least six months to a year out of date) and today, how much new knowledge has been created or synthesized?” This is an important question because knowledge doesn’t wait to be put in books. It is out on the internet within months of its development and available for others to work from. Much of this new knowledge gets updated on Wikipedia.

The biggest fear of our teaching staff is that incorrect information will be utlised in a report from Wikipedia. However, with the development of the Wikipedia community and the vested interest their members have as “authorities” to ‘get it right’, misinformation on most topics doesn’t have a chance. In fact, now, if information isn’t or cannot be verified, there is a disclaimer stating such. To test this, one of my students made a change to the Wikipedia entry on Saudi Arabia, entering false information that he became king of Saudi Arabia in 1565. Within an hour it was gone, and a warning was placed on our IP address asking the student to use the sandbox to play with making changes and warning him that he risked being banned if he continued to make false entries on Wikipedia.

Now I am not advocting using Wikipedia on its own. But I think Wikipedia has shown it is an authoritative source for much of the information out there. I also think it is a great primary source and that our students should be using it. However, I also think that students should be verifying and reinforcing the information by citing other sources; academic, online, and reference. I suspect that Wikipedia is inline for the most part with all of these. I know that I have certainly loosened my restrictions on using it. So this is another “What Now?”; to educate my staff on the reality vs the perception of Wikipedia.

I thought I better check my viewpoint against others. There are many sites out there that state Wikipedia is NOT a valid source; however, I came across an interesting story from the tech department at UNC-Chapel Hill which in essence says that “…Wikipedia is a good way to point to deeper more reliable primary resources.”

In BROCK READ (2006, October). Can Wikipedia Ever Make the Grade? The Chronicle of Higher Education, 53(10), A31-A36. Retrieved December 6, 2008, from ProQuest Education Journals database. (Document ID: 1171059221), the author cites leading academics who are both impressed and put off by Wikipedia. One academic actually made four changes, and, like my student, found them all corrected within an hour. Others cite areas, such as history, which are still lacking detailed information as might be found in a physical encyclopedia. Given that book encyclopedias have been around for a hundred years, and Wikipedia only began in 2004, that is still impressive.

Yet others still argue that Wikipedia is not authoritative enough. One co-founder of Wikipedia, Larry Sanger, has started a more academic wiki called Citizendium. where academics comes to the forefront rather than a group-mind where everybody is equal. Citizendium’s goal is to provide academically verifiable and accurate information.

However it goes, Wikipedia is here to stay, and judging by the evidence (Nature,the science journal, tested Wikipedia and found on average 4 mistakes per entry examined. That compares with three errors per entry in Encyclopedia Britannica. Not a bad comparison, really!) it is becoming more and more reliable.

So there it is in the What Next? category. Voicethreads, a library portal, and Wiki-promotion (either Wikipedi or Citizendium, which my colleagues might be more open to).

What about you?

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November 25, 2008

Education Needs to Be Changed

Filed under: Uncategorized — Expat in Saudi @ 10:48 pm

George Siemens, in his blog posting, asked for people to respond to the following questions:

As a small research project, I’d like to ask people to answer the following questions (on their blog, in YouTube, Seesmic, or wherever – please post a link in the comments section below):

Does education need to change?
Why or why not?
If it should change, what should it become? How should education (k-12, higher, or corporate) look like in the future?

First off, I teach technology in an international school, at the MS and HS level, I am a certified English/History/Social Studies teacher who has taught everything else under the sun in my career to date. Here are my responses.

Does education need to change?

Yes, it does. If you think we are doing fine in education, read Thomas Freidman’s, “The World is Flat” Right now, we are adrift and not necessarily training our students and giving them what they need to learn. What needs to change? I think the model of education we have today, with local and provincial jurisdictions setting curriculum is going to change. I think HOW education at the middle and higher levels needs to change.

Thomas Friedman at the National University of Singapore.
Skip forward to five minutes so you avoid all the chit chat at the start.

In what way you ask? First of all, collaborative learning between jurisdictions – between students in different cities, provinces, territories, and states – is going to increase. As Web 2.0 becomes used at earlier ages and as knowledge continues to flow online, the internet and Web 2.0 and later, 3.0, will play a greater and greater roll. I will post my musings on this at a later date. Secondly, WHAT and HOW students learn will also change.

Not at the elementary level, though. The foundation of learning there will continue to be the same. Oh, there will be changes, but structural rather than pedagogical. The purpose of learning and what we want students to learn in ES won’t change considerably. However, by the time students get to grade seven or eight, the whole paradigm of pedagogy is going to have to change.

At present we teach skills and content. In many cases, content is layered. We expect students to mater and regurgitate content and apply skills to manipulate that same content. The big change is going to be with content and what we teach our students to do. We will be teaching our students what I have come to call JIT – “Just In Time” – learning and how to cross-reference what they have discovered in one subject with what they are discovering in another subject. Cross subject integration won’t necessarily be the outright goal – that goal will be creating a well-rounded learner who can work with disparate ideas from more than one discipline and make sense of them. The goal is to have students who are flexible, can work with information from a variety of sources, and who are capable of collaboration with others in a “team” approach.

I can hear people scoffing, but JIT is what the internet has enabled many of us to do right now. At present, I know how to do many things and I have a memory that retains a lot of information. However, now, when I DON’T know something, it is immediately accessible to me. I am not reliant on a book, a library, a location. My limitations aren’t the hour of night or the day of the week – rather the primary limitation on me learning what I need and want to know is whether I can frame my search terms in the proper phrases to find that information. This is where the flexibility comes in. Learners will have to be taken through framing what they want to know in words which will lead them to the information. They will need to have verbal aptitude and an extensive vocabulary!

So now, when I don’t know something, I JIT it. I frame my search terms, execute my search, and assess the results. If I am not happy (and I often am not), then I reframe and refine my terms, substitute alternate wordings, make use of Boolean symbols such as + or ” ” and begin again. Once I have found the information I am looking for then I use it and promptly forget it. I imagine many of you do the same thing.

However, (and this is where the deeper learning comes in), something that I JIT again tends to be a bit more internalized. And if I JIT it again after that, internalized more. Finally, I am able to instantiate that piece of JIT learning at will and no longer need to find it. Isn’t that what happens to most of us? We have been intent on having our students memorize things (and don’t get me wrong – I believe some things should be memorized) instead of teaching them the new thinking skills – critical thinking and assessent skills, vocabulary and verbal dexterity, information access (frankly, I find that many teachers take students to the lab and either (a) set them free to search with little guidance; or (b) give them very specific things to search for which tends to discourage the cross-connectivity aspect of searching – those serendipititious moments where you commit “the perfect search”.

It is late, and my thoughts are muddled; however, the thoughts I have written pretty much serve as an answer to all of George’s questions. I am off to bed now, but first I will nip back over to George’s blog and post my comment URL so he can incorporate it in his research.

Good night all!

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Blogging about Blogging

Filed under: Uncategorized — Expat in Saudi @ 10:21 pm

Sounds tautological (a great word I learned in Psych 100), but really, now that this blog has come full circle, there are some comments to be made, ideas to be shared, and challenges to be issued. When I first saw the course which this blog is a result of, I was hooked. As a teacher of technology who had ‘caught the buzz’ of Web 2.0 and wanted to learn more and work with some of the Web 2.0 tools out there, I was delighted to find I was accepted into the course. I am also happy, despite the ups and downs in my personal life, that I have kept with it.

First off, blogging is a worthwhile pursuit and a cooperative venture. When I blog and get feedback, there is a temporal dialogue going on that is deeper than a conversation. Why do I say that? In a conversation, ideas, thoughts, and reactions are all temporal. They are NOW, and while we have a moment to instantiate our thoughts, incorporating these new ideas takes time and cognition. This is not a luxury I have when I am engaged in conversation with my colleagues and then have to rush home or to my next class.

Blogs change the nature of time. They lend themelves to a thoughtful considered approach and have temporal stability. The ideas expressed will be there in the future and the thoughts of others will be stirred into the mix, making it richer and more nuanced (one would hope). My greatest disappointment would be to see responses just for responses’ sake, with nothing of significance advance, developed, or expressed. Such has not been the case in this course. As I read the works of others (and I have, although I have been too distracted at times to respond), I have been blown away by others’ insights (“how much better than mine,” I often think) and the insight I have received into the reality of their teaching world and connections they have made with Web 2.0 and learning. Blogging has been a positive experience.

This leads me to the consideration of blogging as a PD tool. Can blogging alone be used as PD? Who provids direction? Is it similar to a PLC? Is it more of a PLE (thanks for wrapping my head around that idea, George Siemens)? What will the anticipated outcomes be? The expectations of my administrator and district leaders? What do I think is best practice for using blogs as professional development?

At this point I am not too sure. So I set out to find what others had said about using blogs for PD. I came across a blog post by Dana Huff; however, the comments and feedback seem to focus more on using wikis rather than blogs. I did come across another blog post by Wesley Fryer who uses his blog to analyze PD presentations. Again, it is interesting, but not quite what I am looking for. If the “shoe” doesn’t fit, perhaps it is time I looked for another “shoe”.

After a bit of thought, I began searching for “using blogs in a PLC”. A PLC is a professional learning community and is quite the rage as I am sure my educator readers will acknowledge. I went to Youtube and searched for professional learning communities. While I didnt’ find anything that directly related to blogging and PLCs or professional developement, I did come across the video below. More on that after you have watched it though!

Four Building Blocks of Professional Learning Communities

Now this video makes me ask questions. When you look at the building blocks and see the standard mission, then the real question (for example, standard cliche = “we believe all children can learn”; real question = “If we believe all kids can learn, HOW DO WE RESPOND WHEN THEY DO NOT LEARN?”) This is a great question for a blog discussion within your school, PLC community, teacher community, master’s class community or PD session. Blogging allows you to get considered views with time to work through the implications and associations and then give a rational response back that (hopefully) engenders more dialogue as the group comes to agreement about the answer to the question.

Used in this manner, blogs can be a powerful communication tool where everybody has their “voice”. The quiet teacher who doesn’t speak up in face-to-face discussions might take the lead on an issue of importance to him or her. He or she will be “heard” just as much as the teacher who has an opinion on everything and isn’t afraid to share it. I think it is harder to drown out a “voice” on a blog than in a real discussion where heated arguments simply wash people’s opinions away and make them wish they had never said anything.

So, yes, I can see a use for blogs in PD and think they can be a valuable tool. Hopefully I can begin to implement this into my own PD growth plan.

Moving on, I mentioned George Siemens and his blog. George has asked for help and I am challenging you to assist him. I am going to go there now and post. Basically, George has asked for educators to comment on eduation needing to change on their blog and then linking to it. You will see my post above this one with my opinions on his questions. I look forward to reading your own ideas!

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RSS Feeds

Filed under: Uncategorized — Expat in Saudi @ 8:22 pm

What is RSS? What is a “feed”? How is this changing the way that we glean our information? Is there an educational application to RSS? These are all questions that sprang to mind when I looked at this week’s topic.

The video above is part of the “Plain English” series which takes you through how and why to use Web 2.0 tools. It gives visually a lof of the information that is presented here.

RSS has evolved. Originally, RSS was RDF, or Resource Description Framework. It was adapted from a nifty program developed by Dave Winer, who was also instrumental in spreading podcasting. From there it went through support from Netscape, was abandoned when Netscape was bought out by AOL, and then burst onto the scene anew as a result of independent developers implementing updates to it. Its acronym evolved from RDF to RSS (Rich Site Summary) and then to RSS (Really Simple Syndication).

RSS is a “push” technology as opposed to a “pull” technology. As can be seen in the video, the old model of the Web had users “pulling” content on to their computers. They physically typed in URLs or recalled them from their History or Favorites menu and it was impossible to see if there had been any updates without going to the site itself.

RSS changed all that. Sites with embedded RSS code (which is XML code, developed several years ago because HTML code did not have all the features demanded by web developers) “push” the new content out to RSS readers or aggregators in real time. Thus, if the New York Times changes their headline, my Bloglines account will update and I can instantly go there if I choose to read the update.

The real beauty of RSS is that instead of wasting my time browsing a lot of sites, as an RSS user I can simply go to my RSS bloglines aggregator and browse all of the changes in ONE place instead of running all over the internet.

There is also a powerpoint about using RSS in the library. as well as Gurukid going through how easy it is to use RSS and how easy it is to set one up, as well as using a Feed Reader/Aggregator, which collects and updates information from your RSS feeds. Gurukid isn’t that old, but knows his stuff!

In the end, I have decided to keep up with my Bloglines RSS account. I like Bloglines; it is easy to use and most importantly, at this point in time it isn’t Google. In Firefox it is easily integrated on the toolbar and in IE 7 it is accessible from Favorites (I put my “Sub with Bloglines” link as the very first link in Favorites to make it easier to link to. I suspect that in IE 8 the subscribe function for any RSS aggregator (except Google Reader) will be accessible from the toolbar rather than relegated to Favorites). Why is it not being Google important to me? Don’t get me wrong – I LIKE Google and what they have done for making information more accessible to everybody. At the same time, if I put all my eggs in the Google basket then I am denying or hindering the possibility of the next new thing breaking through the Google “barrier” to innovation. Just as seven years ago I avoided things Microsoft, today I try to avoid some Google things out of principle. Besides, what ARE they doing with all their information?

So as you can see, RSS is a very handy thing to have. Imagine having your students creating their own Blogline or a group Blogline following certain topics or certain Web posters to stay current with what is happening in the field. For instance, I suspect that next year I am going to be teaching Journalism in addition to Media Broadcasting, Multimedia, and Yearbook. I would like my journalism class to set up aggregators to stay current on world news and to examine how journalists use the inverted pyramid model and cut out extraneous material to make their stories succinct. It would also allow them to keep up with current events for quizzes and presentations.

So, RSS and aggregators are good things. They are two of the tools that really make Web 2.0 navigable and allow users to cut down on time spent surfing from site to site. If you aren’t using one, I recommend that you do!

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November 9, 2008

Facebook in Education

Filed under: Uncategorized — Expat in Saudi @ 9:49 pm

Facebook log-in screen.

Facebook log-in screen.

This week the question is, “To Facebook or not to Facebook?” Now that IS a hard question. I do Facebook, but not under my pseudonym I have adopted for this blog. I take my Facebook in small doses, largely chatting with family members and infrequently with friends from high school or other work places I have belonged to.

For those of you who don’t know (there can’t be that many out there though) Facebook is a website that allows people to link to their friends, to communities, such as graduates of a high school, or to areas of interest, such as hobbies, favourite cars, or sports star fans. Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerman in 2004, and according to Wikipedia, by 2008 had surpassed MySpace as the number one social networking site.

My first question that I felt needed an answer was “CAN Facebook be used in education?”. After some searching, I came across some blogs that advocated using Facebook in education. One blog had examples, including using the Files and Questions modules. The blogger states that, “All assignments and other items get posted to the “Files” module and you can use the “Questions” module to send out questions to your students.”. I didn’t even know that Facebook had Files OR Questions modules you could install on your facebook page (along with the Coffee Module, Gangster Wars module, Are You Canadian module, Cities I Have Been module, and so forth). This blogger earlier mentioned that Facebook was more familiar to students than WebCT, and it developed trust in the instructor on the part of the students. However, there was no empirical evidence given for this last statement.

Doing further research, a paper by candidate Ph.Ds at Purdue University again advocated for using Facebook, calling it a “potentially valuable resource”. However, they also admit that “…a direct quantifiable benefit may not be readily apparent“. Another web site, ecademy, quotes from George Siemens, who thinks that while Facebook might be ok for study groups or clarifying assignment questions, but who also believes that “…formal use in college-level instruction may be too much of a stretch for learners.”

That was the biggest hurdle I came across. Facebook is being integrated into some classes at some universities, but I did not come across anybody using Facebook as a tool in high school teaching. I did come across some negative responses to Facebook by universities as well. The one that attracted my attention was that involving Concordia student Chris Avenir, who ran a Facebook study group which was shut down, and 147 academic charges levelled at Chris. Although he was partially cleared and his grade reinstated, it is clear that Facebook remains a questionable tool in academia.

I then set out to attempt to identify specific examples of Facebook being used in high school education. An article about a teacher in Halifax showed promise, until it was revealed that the teacher stopped using Facebook due to the “blurring of the line between teacher and student.” An additional comment by a professor at Mount Royal College, however, showed that Facebook is being used at the college/university level.

One other story I came across, about Facebook use by students at the famous (or infamous) Horace Mann School in New York City was very negative. However, this was balanced as I stumbled across a CNN story from Missouri which highlighted a teacher’s viewpoint about using MySpace and Facebook to reach reluctant students at the high school level. I also came across a YouTube video about college admissions being affected by student’s Facebook or MySpace postings.

To sum it up, I found no emperical evidence validating the use of Facebook in secondary or elementary education. I did find evidence for using it in post-secondary education. Evidence supporting the fact that Facebook or MySpace use and access from school are contentious issues was widely available and came up much more often than any reports, anecdotal or otherwise, in support of their use.

So, while I am a Faceook user I would not use it for educational purposes within my classroom. I would use it for socializing with friends, workmates, and former classmates from high school though!

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November 6, 2008


Filed under: Uncategorized — Expat in Saudi @ 9:46 am

Voicethread is a new (for me) addition to the Web 2.0 world. I am not sure how long it has been around, but it really looks interesting from an educational perspective. I began looking at voicethreads with two questions: What is it? and How can I apply it in teaching?

To begin, I visited the voicethread website where I created an account and browsed a bit. It was interesting to look and see all the embedded videos on how to use voicethreads. The site certainly gets top marks on providing guides and tutorials for its users. So I signed up and created an account. After creating the account I realized it was using my real name, so I went in and using the account details and edit buttons, changed my username. It was exceptionally easy to do so. Today, I went back and updated to an Edaccount, which cost $10.00 for an “educator verification fee”. A onetime fee of ten dollars, enables a new set of features, such as allowing unlimited voice threads. This alone is worth it, as the standard account only allows three. It also allows voice comments by phone. Very cool.

I wondered if there was a good overview of VoiceThreads, so I went out and checked. Sure enough, I found a really good short intro by UPSiTech. It is very informative with great voice annotation.

Then I thought I would upload a photo and comment on it or doodle on it to see how easy it was to do. I have tried to do this at home, but for some reason I get an error with Flash 10. I will try it from school shortly. If it works, you will see the voicethread image below and a link in the next paragraph (photo you see). The ease of leaving a comment is pretty good; however, from Saudi I had some problems getting my video uploaded properly. It was relatively smooth though.

Click the link in the paragraph below to go to the actual Voicethread

Click the link in the paragraph below to go to the Voicethread

The photo you see has a mix of video, audio, and text annotation/comments attached to it. This is a neat tool for having your students give feedback to an image. For instance, if you are teaching grade six or nine PATs, then this is a good tool to prepare your students, allow them to get creative, and contrast and compare what a response might look like on the actual PAT.

There are other uses as well. If you show a photo of an historial event, students can use the image as a starting point to learning about research (researching the event), engaging their parents in discussion (for instance, Ben Johnson’s world record at the Seoul Olympics that was taken away, or Donovan Bailey’s gold medal race in Atlanta eight years later). Students can be required to give a written response, or an oral response, or a video response – or a mix of both. In Social Studies, students could link up globally with other classes and post pictures of their lives. For instance, a grade one or two class could post photos on the topic of “home” and post and share with another class in South Africa, or Japan, or Thailand. As you can see, there are lots of things that can be done with Voicethreads. Lastly, students could use a VoiceThreads image to collaborate on creating a story using voice, text, doodles, and video. This opens a wide range of possibilities.

Overall, I would have to say that VoiceThreads looks like a winner. The interface is clean and easily navigable. The features are rich and full. The ability to interact with the images are great – unparallelled. While you can annotate photo in Flickr, it is nowhere near as developed as VoiceTheads. In two months, our tech director, plus some of the more technologically inclined teachers, will be addressing using technology with the full staff. Voicethreads is definitely a product that I will be introducing to the staff.

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October 31, 2008


Filed under: Uncategorized — Expat in Saudi @ 6:05 am

Wikis have been big in the news over the past several years with the growth of Web 2.0. In fact, Wikipedia is one of the most visited sites on the internet, According to Alexa, the  Web Information Company, Wiipedia is the eighth most visited site in the world (ninth in Canada and twenty-fourth in Saudi Arabia). Google or its local varient is the number one site globally.

But wikis go far beyond wikipedia. For instance, Nokia runs a wiki forum for its developers and the global computer company SAP has a wiki for their developers also. If large corporations are involved in the wiki community, what about schools and libraries?

According to Edweek the use of wikis is expanding in education. Teachers from California to Georgia are utilizing wikis as a learning tool in the classroom. There are pitfalls, however. A 2005 study in England found that students often took ownership of specific pages rather than collaborate to strengthen the wiki as a whole. This led to a small “wiki war” in which students put forth their proprietory claims.

At the same time, wikis can be enormously empowering. Global projects such as the Flat Classroom Project, mentioned in Will Richardson’s book, “Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms” is one example. I have the good fortune this year to be part of the Flat Classroom Project 2008 with nine of my students. Students are collaborating on wikis and video artifacts which will be embedded in their wiki pages. My students are involved with students around the globe, communicating, clarifying, and collaborating.

The video below gives a good overview of using wikis in education.

It is this collaboration aspect which is really appealing to students. The common saying, “All of us are smarter than one of us” is especially true on a wiki, where each student’s strong points can be maximised and support is given by others to proof and edit any possible errors. As my students have learned, there can be wiki wars, but at the same time they try to moderate responses to get meaningful dialogue going. On any wiki, it is useful to persuse the Discussion tab topics. They will provide an overview of how the wiki members are interacting.

This brings up the question, “What use are wikis in education?” A very good article by Stewart Mader gives an overview of wikis and a set of great links to wikis and wiki use in education. One that really rang a bell with me was a link to Heavy Metal Umlaut, a wiki on heavy metal. The page shows the evolution of the wiki over time. The same would likely hold true for a more academic wiki. One of the problems, however, as detailed in is that not all teachers (or librarians!) are ready for the “freewheeling uncontrolled wiki environment”.

What does this mean for the future? Collaboration as a learning method will become more of a focus in education as teachers who have grown up with the new social technology enter the field. Students will have the chance, as this happens, to become truly “global” learners, working with others from around the world. Teachers will be expected to utilize this technology in their curriculum. I can see this beginning to happen at our school here in Saudi. Wikis are, as Thomas Friedman would claim, another flattener that brings everybody closer together.

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