saudixpat’s Weblog

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

Voicethreads

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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