MXP4 & Learning Objects

A new file format has been developed that has intriguing possibilities. Dubbed MXP4, this format changes the way recorded music is experienced, providing a more interactive experience by playing multiple variants of a song as you play it - simulating the spontaneity of a live performance. Rather than listening to same song - the same way - multiple times, users can choose between various versions of the song using a download-able software player or online widget.

The potential for musicians is amazing. An artist could, for example, offer rock, metal, reggae, and pop versions of the same song. Furthermore, the artist could also assign weights to song "skins" providing a different experience with each playing. To elaborate, suppose a song had multiple skins for a particular guitar solo within the song. If the artist preferred one instance of the solo more than others, they could assign it a weight of 50% while assigning other solos a lesser weight. Then every time that particular song was played, the listener would hear the version of the song with the more heavily weighted guitar solo half of the time, but other times the song would feature an entirely different guitar solo, based upon how the skins have been weighted.

Personally, I think this kind of technology (not necessarily MXP4 itself, but the concept) has tremendous potential for education in the form of learning objects - one file, multiple possibilities, all weighted by the teacher or student.

But what do you think? How could you use this kind of technology to teach or to learn?

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Riddlin' Twitter

In response to Jennifer Wagner's recent post about Twitter High, I dedicate the following riddle to Graham Wegner.


What do you call a social network of people that:

  • Is full of a wide range of vastly different people,
  • Limits dialogue to brief spats of "conversation" - frequently resulting in missed opportunities for actual communication,
  • Can seem wildly unfocused and often chaotic,
  • And is often a favored target for unbridled criticism by many?
Answer in the comments...

Image source: Jennifer Wagner

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I’m continually learning that Charles Dicken’s assessment of eighteenth century life is as suitable for our time as any other in the history of the world:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...
An economy in the toilet, political corruption throughout, famine, floods, drought, and war. An end to hundreds of diseases that have plagued humans for centuries, a staggering array of medical advances, effortless communications with people around the planet, and we might even go to the moon (again).

Phishing, spam, viruses, and other related malware just to brighten your day. A plethora of (free, online) educational tools, invigorating potential for open education, and amazing opportunities for networked learning.

In the end, I think that our focus determines our outlook - and ultimately - our happiness.

Just thought I'd share why I included this quote in my recent addition to our growing pile. Great stuff all around.

Original image source: Flickr user dsevilla.

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K-12 Online & Timing

Too bad the K-12 Online Conference didn't come just a few weeks earlier. That way I could have known which presentations I wanted to submit for next year's NECC.

Scott McLeod's excellent presentation, for example, would have been perfect because his even includes speaker notes. :)

Image source: Scott McLeod

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Improving Instruction, Now

There are three basic actions that every teacher can take to improve instruction now.

  • Collaborate
  • Videotape
  • Practicate
To elaborate…


If you’re a teacher and you’re still not getting out, you should – and now. Begin by collaborating with your peers about what works in your classes and what doesn’t. In time, expand your circle of collaboration to include other members of your local faculty and even members of your school’s faculty that teach subjects other than your own. You will be surprised by how much can be learned by teachers of other disciplines that will work for you in yours. I guarantee it.

Additionally, in this day and age, there is absolutely no reason for you to not expand your circle of collaboration such that it includes teachers from other cities, states, and even countries. I would begin such efforts by joining any of a number of social networks designed for educators. Classroom 2.0, for example, can be an excellent place for you to meet other teachers with interests, issues, and instructional circumstances similar to yours.


Whether you like it or not, your students are likely not learning many of the things that you may think you are teaching. By watching yourself in action, you will be able to see your instruction as some of your students see it – and probably learn of areas wherein improvement might be needed.

Combining this type of videotaped feedback with collaboration can also be beneficial.

Practicate (Practice)

You’ve heard it a million times: Practice makes perfect. So, why would improving your abilities as an instructor require anything different? As any teacher that teaches the same content multiple times a day knows, the first time a lesson is taught is almost always worse than the second or third time it’s taught.*

In my experience, effective "practicating" includes a narrow focus on specific skills to practice. For example, transitions, question formulation, and giving appropriate amounts of wait time are all essential teaching skills that all take practice to master. Focus on one such skill and practice your way to improvement.

Three simple steps to improved instruction - but tell me: which catalysts for improvement have I missed?

Image source: Flickr user Wonderlane.

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* Caveat: I can’t help thinking that the law of diminishing returns doesn’t come into play a little bit here. By your fifth time teaching the same lesson in the same day, I’m sure you’ve experienced the ol’ “haven’t I already told you this?” scenario.

The Invisible Political Forces At Work

[In response to the zealots out there, anxious to blame the system but unwilling to look in the mirror.]

I was stunned this morning while reading John C. Dvorak's latest column in PC Magazine. In a piece entitled "Microsoft vs. the iPhone" (not yet available online), Mr. Dvorak explains perfectly one of the ills that plagues public education by shedding light on the workings of Microsoft.

In most instances at Microsoft, there is no dictator. There is a committee of individuals, all of whom have to like each other (because of the odd empoloyee grading system for promotions) and tend to use a hodgepodge of ideas to make what amounts to an agreeable soulless product.
Replace Microsoft with [insert your district here] and you've got a pretty decent explanation of why so many things go wrong in public education.

You see, the truth is that sometimes bad things happen to good people in good schools - and there's nothing we can do about it. I mean, think about it. Did not we, or well-intentioned people just like us, create the policies and bureaucracies that currently regulate how things are handled within our schools? Are not we the ones that built the system, played the games, and engaged in the politics that have made schools what they are today?

Nonetheless, there are times – a great many times – when the system fails us, when we come up short, when we must ask “why?” and yet we’re stuck, trapped in the system we’ve ultimately helped to create. I think that Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal (2003) have successfully summarized the dilemma that besets so many of us today, as we struggle to reform (fix, if you will) what we now call “school”.
If we tried to get better people, where would we find them? Even if found, how could we ensure that they too would not become ensnared by the political forces at work?

…The political frame does not blame politics on such individual characteristics as selfishness, myopia, or incompetence. Instead, it asserts that interdependence, divergent interests, scarcity, and power relations inevitably spawn political activity. It matters not who the individual players are. It is naïve and romantic to hope organizational politics can ever be eliminated in organizations. (pp. 185-186)
Something to think about as we continue to chew on this idea of school reform.

  • Bolman, L. G. and Deal, T. E. (2003). Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Dvorak, J. C. (2008, November). Microsoft vs. the iPhone. PC Magazine, 27 (12), 52.
Image source: Flickr user fliegender.

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My Turn @ Inpirational Quotes

So I've been playing with a few quotes here and there and thought it was praw-ly my turn to share the love.

Let's Change The World Dept.:

Image source: Flickr user Ali K.
Quotation source: Chris Lehmann, School 2.0: Creating the Schools We Need.

Are We Teaching The Right Things Dept.:

Image source: Flickr user iboy_daniel.
Idea for sign: Another Flickr photo but I can't find it again for the life of me.
Quotation source: Me.

Sometimes Free Isn't Free Dept.:

Image source: John F. Kennedy Middle School
Quotation source: Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody.

Wha' 'Chew Lookin' At Dept:

Image source: Flickr user dsevilla.
Quotation source: Me.

Not That There's Anything Wrong With That Dept.:

Image source: Flickr user pine red.
Quotation source: Mark Ames, NewsLeader magazine, October 2008.

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Simply Knowing Is No Longer Enough

I created the following quiz/review for the teacher participants in our 21st Century Engaged Classroom professional development opportunity.

Direct link

An important aspect to this quiz is the fact that it forces participants to apply what they have learned before they are able to submit their answers.

In my opinion, this is extremely important. Here's why:

Original image source: Flicrk user iboy_daniel.

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The Beautiful Side of Open Education: A Ray of Hope

In spite of any negatives that might come out of sharing one's curriculum, can we really afford to ignore how great the positives can be?

Absolutely amazing!1

Talk about a ray of hope that might pleasantly turn education on its side!2


  1. Forgive me (again) for ever doubting.
  2. While we're on the subject, don't you kids pay me to ask the tough questions?
Image Source: Flickr user [Sazzy B].

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The Schools We Need

Forget everything I've said in the last three weeks because this is what I really meant to say. For reals this time.

I mean, I always knew Chris Lehmann rocked but I never realized how hard.

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...Leading the Blind

Is this true in YOUR school organization?

I'm just askin'. Again.

Image Source: Scott McLeod

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The Ugly Side of Open Education?


  • Dan Meyer appears to be an amazing educator. He's clearly engaging, talented, and possesses a love for teaching that many teachers lack.
  • I'd want Dan to be my kids' geometry teacher.
  • Dan has shared his entire Geometry curriculum. "The whole year. 1.94 gigabytes. Every lesson plan. Every handout. 2,144 slides — flavored in Keynote, PowerPoint, and PDF."
  • In his willingness to be open, Dan has also shared how his pet Feltron Project cuts into precious time that could be spent teaching core content. But hey, every teacher has pet projects. (Right?)
  • Since Dan's brought this dirty laundry out to light himself, I don't mind asking this now.
  • What will we discover when teachers who aren't as good as Dan begin to open up?

What else lurks within?

Image Source: Flickr user GIRLintheCAFE.

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I Want My Google 1983

Google 2001 is nice, but what some teachers really need is more like Google 1983. That way their experience on the Internet would better coincide with the experience they are providing for their students.

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Perspectives and the Future of Education

I really appreciate the comment made by Mike in the discussion we had the other day about technology and balance. After reading a number of comments that largely advocated technology use, he bravely voiced his concern, anchored by his perspective.

Great I can connect with people all around the world and learn about different cultures, places, things, and anything I want. I can become a person that has unmeasurable amount of knowledge about nearly everything, and share what ever I want with that same world. But when I run into a conflict with the person next to me I have no idea how to deal with it because I don't have the time to work through a text reply or research a solution on google.

Now don't get me wrong I believe there is a place for technology but I do believe we are losing something very important, like people and life skills. Things that can only be taught when face to face with a real live person.
I see emotion here, and concern - and between you and me, I think Mike's concern is shared by a large percentage of the silent majority of teachers that simply don't participate in these online conversations.

As I meet with teachers around my district, moreover, I'm learning that many of them feel passionately that the human, face to face element of teaching is something that can never be replaced. Ironically, many who aren't teachers, frequently contend to the contrary. Therefore, as we continue to deliberate over the future of education by considering some of the predictions that have been made (here and here, for example), I think we'd do well to consider every teacher, their perspectives, and how they might feel about all of this. On one level, I hope to do so now.

So tell me, teachers, what do YOU think?
  • As a teacher, does it scare you to think that in 10 years, your job may be outsourced to the "experts"?
  • As a teacher, are you excited to be "promoted" to that position wherein you will "coach students, conduct assessments, and create community?"
  • As a teacher, are you exhilarated to become your students' "mentor, problem solver, and support person?" Clayton Christensen and his co-authors seem to think you are (see also Chistensen, et al., 2008, p. 107).
  • Ultimately, as a teacher, are you willing to relinquish instructional control in your classroom to a piece of software or another instructor, possibly better qualified, but inconveniently located thousands of miles away?

From my perspective (and in spite of my proclivity for online learning), it's difficult to not see some of these views of the future as a "promotion" from "Teacher: Shaper of minds and molder of lives" to "Teacher: Glorified computer lab assistant". I know this is all dependent upon perception, but I highly doubt that I'm alone in mine.

  • Christensen, C. M., Johnson, C., & Horn, M. (2008). Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Image Sources: Flickr users Rainer Ebert, and sfllaw.

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Twitter Nevermind

In response to Tony Karrer and his recent "Twitter Mass Follow - Nevermind":

I told you Shareski was good. Multi-purpose and ya never know when yer gonna need 'em.

Image Source: Dean Shareski

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If I Can Do This, Anybody Can

Twitter version: Today I met Alan November for the first time, told him about OpenPD, and I ended up presenting with him at UASCD.

- - -

I’m telling you: if I can do this anybody can.

Seriously, folks. I’m just Darren, a nice guy from Utah. Yes, that Utah. I happen to love education and technology and sharing it with others. Sure, I’ve had a few breaks here and there but with a little persistence the breaks will come to anyone.

Today I attended my third UASCD conference in Provo, Utah. We sat at our usual back-corner table – you know, the one right next to the power outlet. Alan November was presenting, doing a fantastic job, and giving the teachers here what I like to call the “Web 2.0 First Discussion.” You know: collaboration, networking, throw in some Skype and bit of Google Docs. Not long into his presentation he Skypes in Dennis Richards, the newly retired (congrats) Superintendent from Massachusetts.

I leaned over to my boss, “Hey, Dennis was one of the participants in our OpenPD.”

During the first break, I decided to go up and meet Alan because I’ve known him by reputation for years and have greatly admired his work.

In our brief discussion, we talked a little about Dennis and how I had come to know him. I quickly explained about OpenPD and how we had conducted this professional development using technology to connect teachers from all around the world.

“We used social software to teach social software,” I told him.

“And your teachers learned about far more than just wikis and blogs, didn’t they!” responded Alan.

He then finished our brief discussion with “Listen. Why don’t we do lunch here today, you can tell me a little more about what you’re doing, and then after lunch you can tell everybody here your story.”


After a nice lunch and an even better conversation, I had learned a lot about Alan and he had learned a lot about me. One of his comments will stick with me forever.

“Darren, you probably don’t know this, but it took me over 10 years – writing books, giving presentations, consulting – to get to where you are now. And it really only took you one day [referring to the day that I posted Pay Attention].”


After lunch, he invited me to share my story with the rest of the group (roughly 600 people). I gave them all my “OpenPD First Discussion” and returned to my seat – clear in the back – noticing a room full of heads nodding “Yes!” and smiles from educators who just 15 minutes earlier didn’t know me from Adam.

I’m telling you: if I can do this anybody can. So quit making excuses and change the world.

Image Source: PJ Giles

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Hacking the Curriculum

In response to the string of thoughts expressed by David Wiley and George Siemens, I find a prediction made by Roger Schank and Kemi Jona (1999) to be particularly meaningful today:

…the delivery of education via online courses will change the entire landscape of course development and control of the curriculum. Each academic field will supply its experts to help create the courses in that field. Once these courses are created, the notion that a teacher at a local school should be creating their own course no longer makes any sense whatever. (p. 19)
While I suspect that K12 institutions would required a more localized approach to curriculum control, I think that there are tremendous possibilities for higher education in not only some form of an open (and accepted) accreditation but a shared (and open?) curriculum for schools around the country continent world.

It seems to me that CCK08 only substantiates this claim.

Reference (nod):
  • Schank, R.C. & Jona, K. (1999). Extracurriculars as the Curriculum: A Vision of Education for the 21st Century. Forum on Technology in Education: Envisioning the Future, Office of Educational Technology.
Image Source: Flickr user late night movie.

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