Trust me: I hate Halloween. Really.

Nevertheless, the day today (with accompanying night o' tricks with treats) was an excellent way to finish up an outstanding four-day weekend.

Over the weekend, I was able to spend a few days with my family and friends in beautiful southern Utah. The above photo was taken in Kolob Canyon, a spectacular, oft-missed section of Zion National Park.

While relaxing in St. George (southern Utah), I was able to peruse the pages of the USA Today - an activity I don't frequently enjoy. In reading Monday's copy of "our nation's newspaper" I came across an interesting article about religion. From the article:

Independent congregations are slowly chipping away at the ‘trusted brands’ as the Christian faith becomes more like Wikipedia and less like Encyclopedia Britannica.
Is it just me or do you also find the "Wikipedia version" of religion to be a scary thought? I know I don't feel confident in trusting a mass-collaborative effort of finitely-capable men (and/or women) to provide me with the knowledge required to truly understand God. Do I trust Wikipedia to provide me with an overview of the world's religious sects? Sure. But an overview of religion will hardly lead me to an understanding of God.

Regardless, engaging in a discussion about religion does not fall within the scope of this blog. To discuss trust, however, does.

Interestingly, one of the main focuses of the USA Today article was trust:
A poll called the General Social Survey has asked people whether they have "a great deal of confidence" in social institutions, and their answers reveal a clear decline. According to this survey by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, confidence has dropped since the 1970s in:
  • Banks and financial institutions (From 35% to 28%).
  • Major companies (26% to 17%).
  • The press (24% to 9%).
  • Education (36% to 27%).
  • Organized religion (35% to 24%).
Yep. Education made the list. Does that surprise you? Trust me: I'm not surprised, either. Saddened, but not surprised.

So what are we going to do about it?

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Digital Media Ethics - Where Do YOU Stand?

Last week, Ed Bott hosted an interesting poll on his ZDNet blog regarding digital ethics. The poll, entitled "When is it OK to copy digital media," has received a fair share of attention from his readers. I thought it would be interesting to see where we (as primarily an educational technology community) stand on these issues - especially in comparison to the readers of Ed's blog. Anyway, here's my version of the poll (ten quick questions). Have at it, feel free to share, and we'll see how we stack up.

Do you think it’s proper to buy a CD, rip it to your hard drive, and then make copies for your own personal use on multiple devices or computers?

I'll reserve my take on digital media ethics until after I let you respond.

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Why I'll Be Voting Against Referendum 1

To my 7 readers from Utah:

2007 has been a banner year for education in Utah's political landscape: Increased funding for educational technology, a possible three-way Jordan School District split, and the upcoming unprecedented attempt to incorporate government-sponsored vouchers to fund private schooling. This issue of vouchers, currently being referred to as Referendum 1 (here and also here, see page 4), will be decided in three weeks when Utahns will vote on one of the most debated, polarizing issues in state history. As I've been asked by several people "why referendum 1 is so bad", I'll give you my take now.

  • While never guaranteed to be great, private school can be great... for those that can afford it.
  • Most Utahns can't afford private school - even with the funding that vouchers would provide.
  • Hence, Referendum 1 would be a way to reward the people that already utilize private schools and not really a way to recruit new students.
To continue, I honestly believe the opening paragraphs of our nation's Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Furthermore, I believe (like many of the educators that served to shape our nation's educational system):
  • Education is one of those unalienable rights to which all men (and women) are entitled.
  • Neither liberty nor the pursuit of happiness can truly be obtained without an education.

In closing, I think there are many questions that all people need to answer for themselves:
  • How do you feel about public funding for private schools?
  • Have you studied the issues yourself?
  • Do you think that every child has a right to a quality education?
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T4 Tips Podcast #29 - Classroom 2.0

Yesterday I had the privilege of interviewing Steve Hargadon for an episode of T4 Tips Podcasts. In the interview, we discussed social networking and its utility in education. Rather polished and a great teacher in his own right, Steve did an excellent job in detailing the Classroom 2.0 social network and provided several compelling reasons for teachers everywhere to join in on the conversation.

Quick Update: Upon hearing Steve pronounce his own last name, I thought I'd better follow suit. I've updated the podcast to include the correct pronunciation. : )

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Social Software 07 Rocked The House

Last night's Social Software in the Classroom open professional development class went as well as I had envisioned it could go from the beginning. To say that it went perfectly would probably be an understatement:

  • Recording, transmission, and connecting went flawlessly.
  • We opened with the first "show & tell" session that I know of that has included teachers from across the country. The topic: Bring your favorite Firefox plugin.
  • We continued with a wonderful discussion about the in-class use of various exciting, online teaching tools.
  • After a brief break, we were happy to interact with our first international guest speaker. Rachel Boyd (from New Zealand) was kind enough to explain to our class about a few of the experiences she's had in using blogging as an educational tool for her students. How many guest speakers from New Zealand have you brought into your class lately? +10pts to Rachel for her willingness to share.
  • Finally, Rachel's discussion led perfectly into a discussion about blogging. We used Blogger as our tool of choice, simply because the participants already had Google accounts and the Blogger interface is relatively easy to use.
  • In total, roughly 35 teachers from around the world participated in our class.
  • It's been amazing to see how far we've come in 5 short weeks, and am glad that we were able to shine in this final session.
  • None of this would have been possible without educational social networking! Classroom 2.0, EduBloggerWorld, FaceBook, and especially the Twitter network (my TwitterSchool) have been able to come together to make truly great things happen.
Again, the entire class was extremely refreshing, and I'm confident that everyone that participating walked away from the night having learned much.

Click here to view the video and audio recorded during the class to read about how we accomplished it all.

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Learning Objects - The World Has Become Our Repository

I've really enjoyed the sparring that has been taking place between Stephen Downes and David Wiley related to learning objects. Having followed the progress of learning objects for several years now (I first met Dr. Wiley in 2001 in connection with my Master's program at Utah State), I can say that (a) they've come a long way and (b) there's still a long way to go. For those keeping score at home, a learning object (as defined by Wiley) is "any digital resource that can be reused to support learning."

Much like the "most famous scream in Hollywood" (above), there exists a plethora of educational content (much already digitized) that is just as effective in its reuse as it was in its first use. Wherein many original issues surrounding the implementation of learning objects centered on the practicality of creating and maintaining a centralized repository, it appears that Google has provided our much needed, neatly indexed repository: the world wide web itself. Furthermore, use of such learning objects is becoming easier and easier as most social media distribution sites (think: YouTube) freely offer the embed code that most wikis, blogs, and other content management systems willingly accept.

I suppose the next real hurdle for the global implementation of learning objects is the question of licensing. Ironically, we're back to the lessons that were once taught to us in Kindergarten: It's always nice to share.

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TESOL Macedonia Thrace Conference - Yep, The World Is Flat

I had the opportunity to present at the TESOL Macedonia Thrace Conference (held in Northern Greece) today. Rather than fly to Greece to join the conference, I elected to give my presentation via Skype and Ustream. Other than the 30 minutes of technical difficulties that the TESOL folks had on their end, the presentation went well and was a good experience all around.

If you're interested, the Google Presentation file I used can be found here (a spin-off of the general message I've been giving lately) and the stream of my presentation (take 3, anyway) can be viewed here.

For a good time (when you have a spare minute or two), you may want to check out takes 1 and 2. Take 2, by the way, begins with a very good intro to my actual presentation.

For those of you keeping score at home, the technologies I used to get all of this running were truly amazing - and what was more amazing is the fact that everything worked flawlessly on my end. We may have turned this classroom-broadcasting thing into a science.

Each of the windows shown in the screen shots above were used at some point in the presentation. Here's a quick rundown:
  • A few visual aides during the presentation were shown using the Google Docs presentation component.
  • YugmaSkype was used initially to share my screen. Their limited bandwidth called for plan B.
  • I had an additional iSight connected to my MacBook (which has an iSight built in). One camera was used for Skype video, the other was used for CamTwist - I then used CamTwist to feed both my desktop and my picture-in-picture webcam image to Ustream.
  • In truth, Ustream is the most critical component to this entire technological equation as it allows your video to be easily recorded and also provides an easy-to-access back-channel.
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Our Fearless Leaders - Technologically Incompetent?

Nothing brings President Bush’s references to “the Google” (and his apparent lack of technology literacy) closer to home than my recent experiences at the NFUSSD conference in Charleston, West Virginia.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of presenting (thrice) with Margo Shirley and Kathy Ridd at the National Federation of Urban & Suburban School Districts conference. The small, annual conference attracts an elite crowd of superintendents, school board members, and other high-ranking district administrators from various school districts across the United States. I was fortunate enough to give the closing segment of a presentation detailing the experiences I and my fellow team members have had while assisting in the creation the Jordan School District Comprehensive Balanced Literacy website. Our assigned task was to describe our collaborative efforts in creating the site – but my internal agenda pushed more toward a discussion of the skills necessary to succeed in the 21st Century, and our students’ heightened need for increased collaboration, global awareness, and social & cross-cultural skills. Essentially, I framed most of my points around the framework created by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills and the list of skills that they have published (giving pretty much an outline of our recent Social Software in the Classroom open PD class). Entitled Soaring to New Heights in Literacy Through Technology Integration, our presentation was well received by roughly thirty-five participants.

While presenting, I was struck (and rather severely) with the realization that many (certainly not all, but many) of the participants in the conference had extremely limited technology skills. Furthermore, this realization had even greater effect as I better understood to whom I was presenting: Remember, these participants were educational leaders (superintendents and the like) of school districts throughout the country. Indeed, I was literally awestruck as I was forced to throttle back my discussion (almost to the point of that famous right-clicking lesson), in order to help several of the participants to understand.

Which has left me to question: How can we expect our students to learn things that even our leaders clearly don’t understand? Furthermore, if we require our teachers to have some level of technology proficiency, shouldn't we equally require our administrators to posess somewhere near the same level of proficiency? If our students should be learning this stuff, why shouldn't we all?

To further illustrate, it may be helpful if I elaborate on the kinds of things that left me scratching my head:
  • Roughly thirty-five leaders in education viewed our presentation.
  • Many of the participants had, at least, heard of Wikipedia – most, however, had a negative impression of it. I attempted to dispel such wiki-disbelief using David Warlick’s Pluto example. “Go ahead, look up Pluto in Encyclopedia Britannica – you’ll see that it’s still a planet.”
  • Few of the participants actually knew what blogs were. While all had heard of them, few knew how they worked, or how they could be used educationally.
  • Not one of the participants had heard of Google Docs. Thirty-five participants, no Google Docs. I guess this makes me so upset because I consider Google Docs to be such a paradigm shift in the way we think about creating, editing, and storing documents.
  • Only two of the participants had heard of Second Life. “Yeah, I heard about that guy that had his own virtual family. His wife divorced him and it ruined his life.” I then proceeded to teach them about the Best Practices in Education Conference that was held entirely in Second Life. Did they know of any other way to hold a highly interactive educational conference, with participants coming from countries all around the world, for even a tenth of the price? Of course not.
  • Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to discuss social networks – a natural next-step in any discussion of social software. I’m afraid it would have taken ten minutes alone to dismiss the “evil MySpace” preconceptions – and unfortunately, I only had 15 minutes to leave my mark.
  • Some of the participants had very limited skills, as evidenced by the kinds of questions they asked:

    How do I go back to the page I was just viewing? - Try clicking on the browser's BACK button.

    How do I see the things that are at the bottom of the page? - Try the scroll bar on the right, experience the magic.

  • I finished our presentation with Pay Attention. I’m pretty sure that it was the first time that any of our district’s board members or our superintendent had seen it. Shhhhhh. This technology integration stuff is top secret. I am happy to report, however, that Pay Attention was received very well - not well enough to immediately change our district’s “No Cell Phone in the Classroom” policy, but I certainly made a lot of head-way.
In conclusion (sorry Jim – this was a long one), presenting at NFUSSD was an eye-opening experience – both for the things I have learned and because of the people I have taught. I guess the only thing I regret is that I don’t bring home the same kind of pay check as those I was able to teach. : )

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Social Networks & Future Open PD

I’m very impressed with an article that Steve Hargadon (et. al) has recently written for School Library Journal (as well as a related article in eSchool News). It’s so refreshing to see educators promoting the use of Social Networks – for education’s sake. Says Steve:

While MySpace has given social networks somewhat of a bum rap among grown-ups, Classroom 2.0 is an example of how these groups can function as a virtual watering hole, a professional development tool, and a place where it’s not uncool to say you want to be someone’s friend.
Having participated heavily in several social networks for educators during the last six months, I’m absolutely amazed at (1) how much I’ve learned from participating in such networks (see my last post, for example) and (2) how much I depend on my network now that I’m hooked. An example of how much I'm hooked is clearly evident in our attempts to provide a globally attended professional development session.

Simply put, if it weren't for my TwitterSchool, EduBloggerWorld, and Classroom 2.0, our "global classroom" would be non-existent.

As of today, there have been roughly twenty-five teachers from all around the globe participate in our class. Needless to say, our class discussions have been very enlightening. In thinking aloud and in discussing the future with my co-teacher Robin Ellis, we've come up with a few ideas that we think would work well in future open professional developments sessions.
  • Next round (beginning in January), let's hold another 5-week class, one night a week.
  • Ideally, 5 sites would participate - each site takes a turn teaching and we rotate through the sites.
  • We all work together to build a unified curriculum for the class.
What are your thoughts? Is this something you (or your teachers) would like to participate in?

Image Source - 1

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My TwitterSchool

In response to Steve Dembo's great post on learning from Twitter, Will Richardson's post on the School as Node, and David Warlick's posting of those he follows on Twitter:

My TwitterSchool

I've suppressed my commentary for the comments - one place (like my TwitterSchool) where actual conversation can take place - as long as we're willing to listen.

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