The Strength of Weak Ties

Everyone participates. Everyone contributes. Leveraging the power of digital networks to connect people, resources and ideas to drive creativity and innovation forward...and actually accomplish something!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

If Your Car was Open Source

I get tired of people bashing products like Blackboard, in favor of open source products like Moodle. Not everyone is a big fan of open source software, and open source is not for every school district. So, with that in mind, I'll poke a little fun at open source and get my swings in. Don't take it too seriously-not that anyone would....

If your car was open source:

You would tell everyone it was free, but ignore the total cost of ownership.

When it needed fixing, you would rely on the generosity of others to help you fix it by self-diagnosing the problem through the use of various listservs and discussion boards.

You would have to paint it as it came very white and gray from the "dealership."

It might have 3, 4, or 5 wheels as the manufacturers argued about standards.

Your car would always be under construction and never really finished.

Recalls, well, you're on your own....

Optional features may or may not work and might be unstable and make your car perform poorly, but, hey, at least they were "free."

Owners would support their cars with self-righteousness and with indignant and incredulous comments directed at those who have chosen a different direction for their transportation needs.

Your car's radio would be tuned to a talk show bashing Microsoft as you pulled into your driveway excited about firing up your Macintosh....

Sorry about the Mac thing.

Monday, November 28, 2005

No More....Staff Development

David Warlick's recent post, OK, No More Staff Development created much discussion as it should have. David provided a set of provocative guidelines for a new vision of professional development, one centered on an individual teachers personal growth, and supportive of a new self-development infrastructure. His basic tenets are as follows:

They need to strive for a school environment where teachers:

  • Have the time to reflect and retool (at least three hours a day),
  • Have ready access to local and global ideas and resources that are logically and socially indexed,
  • Have the skills to research, evaluate, collaborate, remix, and implement new tools and techniques (contemporary literacy),
  • Are part of an ongoing professional conversation where the expressed purpose is to provoke change (adapt),
  • Leave the school from time to time to have their heads turned by new experiences,
  • Share what they and their students are doing with what they teach and learn — their information products and relics of learning become an explicit and irresistibly interwoven part of the school’s culture.

In my school district, tenured teachers have the opportunity to design their own staff development (or we could call them self-development) plans. This is done in accordance with our District's set of professional standards and is done in concert with a building administrator, typically a department chair. Teachers can select 1 or 2 year versions, and in doing so, the traditional classroom evaluation by an administrator does not occur (unless it's part of the plan). So, in our district, a tenured teacher does have the opportunity to develop a plan that could incorporate many of David's ideas. However, embedded within David's description is a heavy reliance on the various technology tools that many of us use on a daily basis to connect with information and with each other's ideas. Not many of the teachers in my district would be comfortable with tagging, blogs, aggregators, and wiki technology (hey, isn't it my job to teach them-or is it?) . Many of them do not even know these tools even exist or how to use them in combination. To support David's vision of self-development, we absolutely need to help teachers understand the relationship of these tools to self-learning, so that self-learning can occur. That's right-more staff development...but just to jump start the process of self-learning.

So, I have a challenge. We have a district-wide professional development day on January 27, 2006. We'll have three sessions, with a number of courses ranging from technology courses to special education courses to cooperative learning. Each session is 1.5 hours in length. Each course, in some way, is tied to school board goals. I'll admit it-this is a very traditional one-shot day replicated across the country many times over. It's the only day we have to be together as a district-a problem in itself but not the point of this challenge.

Given that day, and the amount of time, how could this day be restructured to provide the support for developing a self-development infrastructure, as identified by David? What does it look like?

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Wikis 101

We recently added wiki capability to our Blackboard system through a building block by The tool has many nice features, including an interface for disaggregrating student contribution relative to the number of lines contributed to the wiki document and the number of lines modified by students assigned to the wiki. So, each teacher now has a way to assess individual contribution within a collaborative project as represented by the wiki document, and has an opportunity to teach students how communities build shared understanding.

What has been interesting so far is that students have not modified each other's writing. Student A may have posted an intial paragraph, and Student B may have added another paragraph, but B has typically not modified A's work in the original paragraph. Additionally, students have not added links to Web content to associate and support their thoughts, nor have they added imagery. At this point, none of the student wikis have multiple pages, which is possible within the system.

Is this a new type of writing for students? Certainly. Is this a new way to collaborate and publish representations of their learning? Yes. So, we need to do a better job with the kids at illustrating the power of community as a network for learning and how wikis support that. We need to apply the same characteristics of blog writing to wikis that Will indentified in his post about connective writing.

Additional wiki items: If you have not seen this wiki page, Case Western Reserve University has done a great job of creating community with a wiki.

Also, a must read for those interested in using wikis to develop learning communities can be found here at Dossiers technopédagogiques

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Greetings from Albany!

I'm in Albany, New York getting ready for NYSCATE 2005. I'll be presenting Capturing Stories, Capturing Lives: The Power of Digital Storytelling and on Monday it'll be The Case for Community: Learning in the Digital Age. This is the last stop in my Fall Tour 2005 with stops in New York, Austin Texas, Springfield Illinois, and now finally Albany. Several days ago I presented at the Illinois Education and Technology Conference on the Read Write Web as well as a presentation on visual literacy. The hottest topic by far at the conference was digital storytelling, and most of the presentations focused on using Photostory 3.

I'm really excited about the Community presentation, as I have an additional year of experience, as well as examples of, student blogging and wiki use,, and applications of Flickr as tools to connect learners with information to drive learning. Our teachers are just beginning to see the power of wikis as collaborative learning environments and I suspect that use in our district will build quickly.

I'll only be able to see five presentations but I will be blogging them.


Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Digital Storytelling with Photostory 3

During my presentation on digital storytelling at the New York Tech Forum with Joe Brennan, we showed Microsoft Photostory 3, which is a free alternative to MovieMaker2 (and a better one in my opinion) and can be used to create digital storytelling movies fairly easily but with surprising sophisticated effects. We created a very simple story in about 10 minutes (I had the script and the images, so I cheated) and the audience members had many questions and immediately saw the potential of the software as a tool to take some initial first steps in digital storytelling without a great financial investment. The software only takes about 1/2 hour for adults to learn (!) and probably could easily be used by third graders and above.

The software comes complete with the capabilities to do pans and zooms, add transitions, add text, narrate voice, as well as adding music from either a personal mp3 library or from music that is contained on-board within the software. There are numerous rendering options with a great deal of flexibility given the final destination of the completed movie. Take Photostory 3, add images from Flickr, music from Freeplaymusic, and get a classroom set of noise-reduction microphone headsets and you have a very cool digital storytelling capability for about 500 bucks.

With that in mind, I have created a Photostory 3 tutorial that explains each screen of the interface.

You can also download the software here. Photostory 3 requires Windows MediaPlayer 10.