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!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

DST: Life 'Round Here Project

Over the past three years, my network has become absolutely essential in how I function professionally. Being connected has been an enriching learning experience for me, and has caused me to reflect on and rethink much of what I believe about education. It's only logical to use these same networks to our advantage with kids, to put our kids in contact with experts, and most importantly, in my opinion, with other kids in other classes.

Enter the Life 'round here project, spearheaded by Chris Craft.

If you haven't seen the project, it's a digital storytelling project. From the wiki page on requirements:
I am going to begin with a discussion about life in other countries and the stereotypes we have here in the USA about other countries. We will then move into a discussion about real life in our area, and about how it is not quite as rosy as the tourist brochures might lead one to think. I will then ask the kids to begin thinking of how to tell the story of what life is really like here in the USA, in the south, to be specific.
Chris already has six classes besides his own participating, including his kids from South Carolina, and others from Australia, New Zealand, and Thailand. He's asked that these kids craft similar messages about their lives.

As many of you know, I'm a big fan of digital storytelling and the promise it holds for helping students craft important messages that can be distributed through the networks of the Web. Harnessing the affinity that students have for these technologies, and then directing those energies towards producing a product of meaningful value, one that can help to create a competitive voice, is an important aspect of what learning should be about in 2007. Doing projects that help kids from different parts of the world understand each other, like this project, are what we need to be doing more of.

So what's next for a project like this?

I think that assessment should play a critical part. Obviously, the projects will be assessed (or judged) and the best will emerge. But I think there needs to be more:

First, will the value of the process of digital storytelling as a learning tool be evaluated? Is it better than what kids have done in the past with other instructional methodologies? Does the process add value to the learning experience? F
or example, are other literacies, such as visual literacy, developed within the context of the storytelling experience? Do these skills improve, and how is that known?

Second, what is the value of making this a worldwide program? I mentioned earlier that I felt projects like this have the potential to promote understanding between different cultures. How can the connections between classes be utilized to add that value I mentioned earlier? For example, will the students be expected to evaluate each other's work and learn how to judge fairly and comment accordingly? Will the students be asked to reflect on the messages contained in the digital stories, and respond in kind? Will there be a conversation between kids started by the stories, and how will the teachers continue that? Will these conversations be evaluated for their impact on learning?

OK, so I have a lot of questions. But I think we need to begin to ask these when we ask kids to do these kinds of projects.

Congratulations to Chris on stepping out there and getting a nice project going. If you haven't looked at the wiki, please do so. I'm already looking forward to what the kids that are involved will produce.

tags: chriscraft digitalstorytelling liferoundhere07

ChatCasting: A Summary

Many of you have probably heard of chatcasting by now, or the process of using something like Skype to chat during a conference presentation (in effect creating a back channel discussion), with a copy of that chat being posted as a blog entry. Several were done at NECC in Atlanta, the technique continued at the BLC Conference in Boston in July, and has been repeated by some others , including David Warlick, Janice Sterns, and Darren Kuropatwa. Here is an example from BLC, featuring Chris Lehmann and Christian Long.

The most obvious benefit is that participants inside the presentation can have a discussion about the content of the presentation, and it can be very enriching. Imagine having a mini-learning network right in the conference room....

But it doesn't have to be just the people in the room. People not attending the conference can participate, and by using the conferencing features of Skype, a limited number of people not on location can actually listen to the presentation through Skype and add their perspectives to the chat.

As you might expect, with any emerging learning technique, there are questions about the process itself, and questions that focus on the value of the chatcasting process to:
  • those chatting and present in the audience
  • those chatting but not in the audience
  • the presenters
  • to the individuals reading the transcript of the chat in a blog entry (chatcast)
The process itself:
  1. How many participants are optimal? At BLC, the sessions ranged from 4 to 26 with many of the 26 just lurking.
  2. Should off-site participants be invited or should it be open to anyone who wishes to participate? For BLC, I posted my schedule on my blog so people knew where I would be, and surprisingly, they took me up on participating through Skype.
  3. Should there be a moderator? Terry Freedman recently was a moderator for a chat that was done in a workshop being led by Darren Kuropatwa. Here is the wiki, which contains the chatcast.
  4. What is appropriate in terms of chat content? At one point at BLC, everyone was saying hello to each other and people entering the chat, which was not really necessary. What are the ground rules?
  5. Should the chat be edited before posting? How much distillation should take place, or should the entire chat be posted and let readers make their own meaning?
  6. Should the chat be placed in a wiki for participants to mashup after the conference or presentation? If so, should other media be added, such as a podcast, or the presentation file used, in this case, delivered via Slideshare.
  7. Should the process be formalized by conference organizers? If so, what logistics would need to be in place to make that happen?
  8. Is there a different tool besides Skype that would be more effective? Would FlashMeeting make more sense? Are there other tools that have been used successfully at other conferences that would work, as Tim Lauer suggests?
The people present in the session:
  1. Does it improve the presentation experience, or does it create too much distraction? Just how good at multi-tasking are you?

The people participating, but not in the session:
  1. How is context provided for these people? In one session, Dean Shareski took a photo of the presentation room and posted it on Flickr. Seemingly minor, but I think that it would help me if I wasn't present.
  2. Is it really valuable? Is it a true learning experience or is something that is just unique and fun? Read Cathy Nelson's view here.
The presenter(s):
  1. Should they participate, if there is more than one presenter?
  2. Is having 10 people typing distracting? I had to get over several people blogging my sessions live, I can only imagine ten typing furiously. Wouldn't you want to see what they were saying?
  3. Knowing that this process could occur, how does that impact preparation? Would you prepare in a different way, and would you prepare differently if a member of the presentation team could interact with the audience?
  4. How much value is there in reading the chatcast of your presentation as a evaluative process on how the presentation was received and what the audience thought your most salient points were?
  5. How would that influence you the next time you gave the presentation?
  6. David Warlick has been exploring the use of a chat backchannel in his presentations, see his reflection on the process.
The people reading the chat:
  1. How much value is there in the transcript of the chat to someone who did not participate in the actual chat?
  2. Would editing the chat before posting improve its value to those processing it for the first time in a blog post, or should they draw their own meaning from the raw discussion itself?
  3. It's not for everyone, and that's ok.
Using this technique in the classroom:
  1. How could this technique be added to schools that had 1:1 environments? Or perhaps even those schools that have mobile laptop labs?
  2. Think of the ground work that would have to be done in order to allow students to have access to some type of chat program in a school setting. Considering the pervasiveness of IM and chat in the lives of our students...oh well, enough of that....
  3. What would the pedagogical structure of the lesson look like?
  4. How could this be used to invite experts into a classroom to add value to the lesson, would teachers be comfortable with that? Would kids?
  5. What literacy or literacies would this process support?
  6. What kind of assessments would enable the teacher to evaluate if the chat, and the subsequent chatcast (especially in the form of a wiki), were effective learning tools? How would we know that the process of chatcasting improved student learning?
A couple of comments:

From Mrs. Durff, in a comment to Chris Lehmann's post:

"I've been pondering how best to implement this backchanneling into the high school classroom. I'm thinking it will have to be scaffolded, so where you all flew off into it, I will have to provide a prompt and allow time for response. We will likely use Meeborooms. I think the metacognitive value is too great to skip this. As the year progresses, less and less structure will be necessary."

From Darren Kuropatwa,

"Imagine a 20 minute lecture where all your students back channel about what you're saying. Outside guests or experts are invited in. Someone acts as a "rudder" to keep the conversation on track. The discussion is displayed on a SMARTboard or with a projector. The chatcast is immediately dumped into a wiki. The rest of the class is devoted to reorganizing the wiki clarifying what was said, answering questions (student to student as well as teacher to student; and don't forget the people, students, teachers, mentors or parents beyond the glass walls of the room) summarizing the big ideas, reframing the discussion in terms of what needs to be explained again and where we're going next. Imagine the possibilities."

Yes, that's exactly it. The possibilities. Educational technology in 2007 is all about possibilities and I think we can safety add one more. I'll be interested to see how the process continues to evolve at conferences and in the classroom.

Over Jakes' Shoulder by Will Richardson

tags: davidwarlick willrichardson terryfreedman janicesterns darrenkuropatwa deanshareski cathynelson lisadurff chrislehmann christianlong timlauer chat chatcasting backchannel

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Learn then Lean

Okay, it is back to school time. That means PowerPoint presentations, speakers, departmental meetings, saying hello to old friends, and even some work in the classroom. But what it really means is that we get to do what we do.

And that’s to work with kids. That’s what so exciting about the new school year.

It’s also a time to start trying out those new things, new techniques and new strategies that you learned over the summer, either through professional development sessions or by learning on your own. This summer I taught sessions on digital storytelling, Blackboard, Marzano’s work (Classroom Strategies that Work), and of course, Web 2.0. I’d like to think everyone learned a lot, and that these experiences would impact what those teachers did in the fall, and that their experience would in turn impact student learning. Perhaps you taught sessions yourself or perhaps you were a participant in some similar workshop.

Fast forward to the end of October, early November.

It’s several weeks yet to Thanksgiving Break (in the States) and you’ve got a monster pile of papers to grade, after-school curriculum meetings, parents to call, emails to answer, special education staffings to attend, well, you know the story. What happens next? What happens to all those new things? Do they get filed away for later, only to be never revisited? Do you stare at longingly your file cabinet?

Will you let school get in the way of doing things different, and perhaps better?

Over the summer, I read The Dip, by Seth Godin. It’s a short book with small pages, but with big ideas. Basically, the idea is that you want to be the best in the world at something. You start out great, all energized, and then barriers set in, which results in resistance, and then your ability to reach that goal enters into a big dip. The question that Godin poses is this: should you quit, or should you lean into the dip, push through the dip and proceed on your way to excellence?

Here’s an example. You took a really good Web 2.0 course, and you are interested in using those tools with your kids. You’ve even started to blog. You come back to school with the best of intentions, and then you get real busy, certain sites are blocked, your department chair doesn’t understand the importance in the era of AYP and NCLB, and bingo, you’ve hit the dip…

Now what?

Sometimes it’s not possible to make it through the dip because either you don’t have the skills or the resources, something gets in the way. If that’s the case, strategic quitting is the answer, according to Godin.

I’m not interested in quitting if the goal is to be the best.

So my question to all of you is this. Have you thought about the approaching dip? Because it’s coming…

To the teachers out there: What will you do to work through the dip? What can you do to anticipate the factors that will contribute to the dip? What alliances do you need to form or develop that can help to mitigate the dip? How must you alter what you do to provide the time necessary to nurture, develop and extend the things you have learned so that they become a seamless part of what you do? How will your past practice, behaviors, and methodologies contribute to the onset of the dip? How will you avoid these? How will you lean into and push your way through the dip to be the best?

To the administrators out there: What will you do to help teachers through the dip? Do you know what they learned over the summer? Have you learned the same things? What do you have in place to support teachers on those new initiatives? Have you built organizational readiness to support teachers, or will you be a contributing factor to the influence of the dip? In September, will you think of November, when the initial energy of the start of school is a distant memory? Are you planning to help teachers maintain the energy? Are you providing the dollars, the infrastructure, and the leadership to help your school become the best? Teachers can only do so much; administrators have the ability to open the door to more.

And the technology people out there: will you supply that lost or forgotten password ten times, and do so with a smile? Will you answer that email in a timely fashion because behind every email is a whole bunch of kids that need to know. Can you get that site unblocked for that teacher that wants to do more and take kids to the next level?

Look at all the questions. Look at all the potential excuses. It’s easy to see why the dip occurs, and why it’s difficult to get things changed in education.

Start leaning now.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Pop Quiz

I've had several recent requests for my Pop Quiz post at TechLEARNING, which is no longer there, so here it is.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

For Christian

I guess that I'm envious of your decision to go back to teaching. I don't know if that was a hard decision for you or not, with the obvious success you've had in the business world. It is something that pops into my mind from time to time, but I'm not sure about it-not sure I'm quite ready yet. But what you are doing takes a great deal of guts and it's something to admire.

So, here are my thoughts about you and going back into the classroom. They are from the heart.

Your posts in Twitter reflect a nervousness, which is certainly to be expected. But after having met you, I know that your humor, the easy way you carry yourself, your confidence, and your love for kids will carry the day, so that when you stand in front of them again, they'll know that they've got a teacher.

You will now have more than one kid, and you get know them like your own, so when they come in not feeling well, or they come in after getting an A on a test in another class, you get to feel that, experience that, be a part of that.

You get to make that comment, that small touch on the shoulder, the slight smile when no one else is looking, to let that kid know you care, and be that person that might just make the slightest difference in a kid's life, that could be the biggest difference in that kid's life.

You get to look into the eyes of a kid, and know that two parents stare back, and that you are a partner in the growth and education of a child, and that those parents depend on you, seek answers from you, because you are the teacher, and that still means something.

You get to throw out your lesson plans, and sit down and talk with them, to see how they feel about life, what excites them, what scares them, what they want to do with their lives. And then you get to challenge them, assure them, and be a champion for them.

You get to look up from your desk 10 years from now, when that long forgotten student walks in with a smile, to say thank you for impacting their life, when you would have never thought that you did.

Congratulations on your decision. You'll be great.

tags: christianlong

Monday, August 13, 2007

8 Things...Actually 10, no 11.

So I've been tagged by Cheri Toledo...

Here are the rules:

1) Post these rules before you give your facts.
2) List 8 random facts about yourself.
3) At the end of your post, choose (tag) 8 people and list their names, linking to them.
4) Leave a comment on their blog, letting them know they’ve been tagged.

Okay, here I go:
  1. I never wanted or expected to be a teacher, or in education, but here I am, 23 years later.
  2. Since I was about 8 or 9, I wanted to be a fisheries research scientist. To that end, I have a bachelor's degree in fisheries management from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and a masters degree in the same from the University of Georgia (How bout them dah-oogggs?).
  3. I worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for 1.5 years, living on the Savannah River, and trapping and radio tagging Shortnose and Atlantic sturgeon, some over 300 lbs. I've been shot at by poachers, chased by alligators and almost bitten my numerous poisonous snakes. As a result, I hate snakes and never, never, Poachers and alligators, well...
  4. I've never married, and am fiercely independent, but I did meet her once...
  5. I'm a decent photographer and would like to build my skill if I could find the time to give up Twitter. Here is my favorite photograph.
  6. I was once in a commercial for the NCAA featured at halftime of the Ohio State-Michigan game. All my friends saw it.
  7. I once was a court clerk and did a job similar to Bull on Night Court.
  8. My most treasured possession is a 1981 UW-Stevens Point hat I bought on the day I graduated. All my buddies bought one and we all still have them, and wear them to reunions. They're all thoroughly disgusting...
  9. I have a recurring dream where I win a contest and get to tear down one thing in the United States. Seriously. And here is the one place I tear down. Hey, what's that on the sign?
  10. Worst food I have ever eaten, Skyline Chili, Cincinnati, Ohio. Oh. My. God.
  11. My favorite city on Earth is Traverse City, Michigan. I'll retire there if I live long enough.
OK, so it was eleven. See even more about me here.

Who is tagged next:
Marc Prensky
Alan November
Mark Cuban
Brian Greinier
Chris Craft
Michelle Martin
Chris Sessums
Seth Godin