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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