Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Digital Journalism Syllabus 2010

Second semester I will be teaching a new high school course for the first time titled "Digital Journalism." It is an English elective for juniors and seniors inspired by and based on Howard Rheingold's Stanford course of the same title.

I have been working on my syllabus for a while and have just completed a draft of my syllabus for the first quarter. It is a work in progress and definitely will change once the course starts.

I would welcome and encourage your suggestions, questions and ideas! (In particular I am looking for two more short videos for the end of the quarter.)

Thanks in advance!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Facing my Fears in 2009!

First of all, thanks to everyone who voted for me in the Edublog Awards. I didn't win, but a lot of really great bloggers did. You can see all the winners here.

On Friday last week I got up in front of my entire school community, 440 teen age boys and about 60 teachers, and sang a song. It was part of a Faculty Holiday concert that we do every year. I have never sung a solo in front of a large audience. The first time I did Karaoke was this summer on vacation and there were only about 50 people there. That was a huge accomplishment for me and this Friday was even bigger.

I am a performer, I have been acting and dancing on stage since I was a little kid. But when I was in 6th grade I tried out for a small singing group and was told that I can't sing. I'll never forget that day. And unfortunately, I let one music teacher's opinion shape who I am. I stopped singing. I only auditioned for chorus and dancing parts for shows. I was embarrassed to sing next to someone and always felt they must be cringing at my voice.

It has taken me 30 years, but I am determined to face my fear of singing and take back that part of myself. As Carol Dweck might say, you aren't born a singer, you become a singer. If this is something I want badly enough, it is something I can do. I am determined not to let my fears stop me from living my life. In fact I've been actively seeking out my fears and facing them down this year.

This summer I learned to sweep row. I have always loved the water and my school has a crew team. I volunteered to help coach the middle school team last spring. "Coaching" involved standing next to a variety of amazing coaches and watching and learning. In the summer I finally got into a boat myself and learned how to row. I even rowed in a race. The race part is where I was terrified.

I have never been a competitive person. In fact, competition scares me. I get so anxious that I can't perform. I tried running a few 5K races years ago and I could barely breath, I was so nervous. This year, this was another fear that I was determined to overcome. I pushed through the fear and raced. It was an amazing experience. I'm so glad I did it. (I'm in the two seat, which is second from the bow of the boat.)

In fact, the more fears I face down, the easier it is to do. Neither of these experiences were resounding successes. My singing was not beautiful and we came in second to last in the race. But, neither were they horrible failures. Instead, I survived both and grew a little stronger and a little braver with each experience. In 2010 I'm going to continue to row and I am going to take some singing lessons.

The more I push myself, the more I want to push myself. I'm seeking out my fears, rather than running from them.

I have been so energized by my own experiences. I believe others can really benefit from doing this. Just take it one fear at a time. They don't have to be big things. In fact, to other people they may seem really small, but it is knowing inside that you are not going to let your fears run your life that really makes a difference.

Well, I haven't really talked about technology here, but I think for many people who are afraid of technology, helping them to face those fears could really make a difference. How can we encourage our colleagues and students to face their own fears and take them on?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I've been nominated for 2 Edublog Awards

Voting ends tomorrow (Wednesday, Dec 16th at USA EST 11.59 PM)

(for my 10 Tips for Teaching Technology to Teachers post)

Even if you don't feel like voting, you should check out all of the nominated blogs. It is a great way to find inspirational educators! I am honored to be in such great company.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Edublog Award Nominations

It is time again for the Edublog Awards. I read a lot of blogs and I thank everyone for taking the time to share their thoughts and resources with me. Here are just a few of the people that keep me learning every day.
  • Best individual Blog Blogush by Paul Bogush
    Paul is an 8th grade social studies teacher in Connecticut. He isn't afraid to tell it like it is. He makes me think, and sometime cringe and often laugh. I admire his risk taking and his commitment to his students and to being the best teacher he can be.
  • Best individual Tweeter @butwait
    It is hard to pick just one, but Shelly shares great stuff, she retweets and also responds and thinks about what might be helpful to individuals, not just the collective.
  • Best Resource Sharing Blog Edueyeview by Sarah Sutter
    Sarah is and art teacher in Maine. Her artistic perspective makes the links she shares particularly interesting, and often things you won't find elsewhere.
  • Most Influential Blog Post spectacle at Web2.0 Expo... from my perspective by Danah Boyd
    Danah's writing on teens and technology is always inspiring. This post about her recent experience with a backchannel gone rogue is particularly compelling.
  • Best Teacher Blog MagistraM by Danja Mahoney
    Danja is a Latin teacher in Massachusetts. She shares great resources, projects and ideas that relate to all teachers. I think it's particularly cool that such a forward thinking person teaches a "dead" language ;-)
  • Best Librarian / Library Blog The Web Footed Book Lady by Lesley Edwards
    I only recently discovered this librarian's blog. Lesley shares great ideas and resources.
  • Best Educational Tech Support Blog Thumann Resources by Lisa Thumann
    No Edublog nomination list would be complete without Lisa. She is the ultimate support person, sharing great ideas, tips and links.
  • Best Elearning / Corporate Education Blog Brandon Hall by Janet Clarey
    I love Janet's irreverent writing style. She writes thought provoking posts about the state of social media. Her spin is a little different than the teacher blogs I read. I always learn something new here and often laugh while doing so.
  • Best Educational Use of Audio - Live Conversations on the Impact of the Internet on Cutlure and Society.
    Steve Hargadon (my hero) chooses amazing guests and asks great questions.
  • Best educational use of a Social Networking Service Independent School Educators Network
    This is probably too niche a network to win, but this has been a great resource for me as I have recently moved into the world of independent schools.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Rethinking Professional Development

I have been thinking about effective means of professional development for teachers for a long time. I started my edtech career as a Professional development specialist at Tom Snyder Productions. They still use my picture on their website. Not to bite the hand that still occasionally feeds me (I freelance for TSP), but lately I have been questioning the effectiveness of the group training model. On the surface it seems like the most efficient way to reach the largest number of people with the most information. In reality however, it doesn't quite work that way. I find it hard to get people to attend, hard to meet the needs of everyone in the room and hard to make a one day event sustainable over the long term.

I have found that my most effective instruction for teachers takes place one-on-one. I meet with faculty, discuss their needs and then help them to form a goal and implement their plans. This takes more of my time, but ultimately does pay off. I've been thinking about ways to formalize or systematize this method of PD so that I can reach more people in this way. It may take longer to get to everyone, but if I can create a system of one-to-one technology mentoring, ultimately I think I will get more people doing more technology in meaningful ways.

So here is my plan. I am approaching faculty at my school with this idea. In particular, I am talking to faculty who are up for review the following year, and asking them if they would be interested in spending a semester prior to their evaluation meeting with me one-on-one every 2 weeks or so to explore ways that they can better integrate technology into their teaching. I also created a sub group on the ISENet ning and hope this will help participating teachers to reach outside of their face to face network for ideas and to reflect and interact with each other.

I'm really excited about the potential for this project. So far I have three teachers on board and am hopeful that I can get a few more. I've even come up with a name (thanks to my Twitter network for help with this): Technology Exploration And Mentoring (T. E. A. M. Davis).

Have you ever tried anything like this? Do you have any suggestions for me? Are there resources for this kind of one-on-one coaching model that you could point me to? Any and all ideas would be appreciated. Thanks!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Making Meaningful Connections

NEIT2009 Days 2 and 3
At the closing keynote, Michael Wesch (@mwesch) posed this essential question: "How can we create students who can create meaningful connections?" At this conference I made dozens of meaningful connections. I learned about school to school collaborations, tried to figure out Google Wave (still don't get it), introduced more folks to Twitter and had a great discussion about effective professional development.

I talked and danced with many new faces including more people I had only known previously online. These included Bill Campbell (@BillCamp), Karen Blumberg (@specialkrb), Michelle Koetke, Matthew Lipstein (@matthewlipstein), Don Buckley, Aaron Grill (@agrill), Andrew Katz, Denise Daley, Kerri Richardson-Redding (@nandikerri), Lan Heng (@lheng ), Colin Samuel (@colincsh), Barbara Swanson (@barbaraswanson), Lisa Pedicini (@Pedicini ), Anne Marie Rowley (@amrowley), Julien Laveyssieres (@jlaveyssieres), and of course Arvind Grover (@arvind) and Alex Ragone (@alexragone). (I'm sorry if I've forgotten some people.)

I even got shake hands and get my picture taken (along with Kerri Richardson-Redding) with Michael Wesch himself. When I introduced myself to Michael he said he knew me from Twitter. OMG! You can imagine the look on my face when he said that. Talk about making a meaningful connection. That man is one of my rockstars! Here are some of my revelations from his talk. You can watch the entire keynote here including the etherpad collaborative notes. I reccommend that you do. Both parts were amazing.

Five Things I'm thinking about after listening to Michael Wesch:
  1. We need to go from creating knowledgeable students to creating knowledge-able students who can think and discover for themselves.

  2. Media are not just tools - media mediates relationships. Technologies shape who can say what, who can hear it and what can be said. When media changes, relationships change. When you introduce media into a culture you have cultural shift.

  3. There are no natives here - these technologies are only 5 years old and in 5 years there will be new technologies that are only 5 years old. We are all in the same boat. We can't give ourselves an out by suggesting that we don't have to teach students and ourselves how to best use these tools.

  4. All real learning hurts because it changes us in some way. If it's easy then we aren't doing it right. We need to be willing to take more risks and fail and get back up again. If we aren't failing then we aren't really learning.

  5. The ultimate question is how can we create students who can create meaningful connections? Maybe the first step is learning ourselves how to create meaningful connections. There is also a question of what makes a connection meaningful.
Wrapping Up:
We ended the conference with a World Cafe style discussion. I chose to sit at a table where we discussed creativity and innovation. What struck me at the end of our talk was the number of dichotomies that I am constantly balancing. The tension between tradition and innovation, between risk and reward, between product and process, between, my educational philosophy and the philosophy/culture of the school. The trick is to find a way to be comfortable with the discomfort. Good luck with that ;-)

Image Sources:
2009-11-13-NEIT2009 046 from alex.ragone's photostream on Flickr
Liz, Kerri and Michael from alex.ragone's photostream on Flickr
2009-11-13-NEIT2009-WorldCafe 040 from alex.ragone's photostream on Flickr

Reflections on NEIT2009 - Day One

I could hear my heart beating in my chest as I drove up to the Mohonk Mountain House, the site of the NEIT (New York State Association of Independent Schools (N) Education (E) Information (I) Technology (T) conference. I was excited, but also nervous at the end of my 3.5 hour drive. I learned about this conference from the tweets of two independent school educators, Alex Ragone and Arvind Grover, whom I greatly respect, but had never met.

It has been a while since I have attended a conference without knowing lots of people. I remember back to my first Educon 2.0 when my Twitter network first came alive. Since then, most conferences I attend are filled with real life versions of my virtual learning network. At NEIT2009 however, there was only one person at the conference that I had met face to face before, Kerri Richardson. Fortunately, her smiling face was there to meet me at the registration desk when I arrived. And what followed was everything I had hoped for and more.

I have never attended a truly open space conference. Edubloggercon is sort of open space, but many of the sessions are posted on the wiki before the conference. Not so at NEIT where the conference built itself as it went. But first, Siva Vaidhyanathan kicked the conference off with his Keynote, The Googlization of Everything.

The message I took away from Siva’s talk is that we can’t stop questioning the corporations that surround us. As Siva put it, “Google has been around for less time than Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston were married. Why should we trust them?” We might love Google and what it does for us, but we have to remember that we are not actually Google’s customers, we don’t pay Google anything, we are Google's products. We provide the data that feeds their advertisers. This doesn’t mean that Google is bad, but just that we have to be careful not to get drink the Google Koolaid without also checking to see if it has been spiked.

Next we started the open space portion of the conference. Here people were given blank pieces of paper and markers. People interested in presenting sessions wrote down the name of their session on the paper, announced it to the group and then posted it on the session board. When we began the board had 70 of blank spots. By the end of the conference all but 7 were filled.

After a lovely tea and cookies break, we had our first session. I attended one on problem based learning. Michelle Koetke facilitated this session. She shared a project that she had done with her students on the Images of Girls Online. I learned from this session that an excellent project is driven by an authentic real question. If the question is real enough, the students will drive the project themselves. I think the hardest part is figuring out the best question. That is what I still struggle with. Does anyone have any suggestions for ways to come up with good questions?

More on day 2 of the conference in my next post...

Image Sources:
DSCF7594 from musicanys' photostream on Flickr

"How to Rawk NEIT2009" with Alex and Arvind
from SpecialKRB's photostream on Flickr

IMG_8314 from arvindgrover's photostream on Flickr
IMG_7909 from arvindgrover's photostream on Flickr
IMG_8372 from arvindgrover's photostream on Flickr
2009-11-11-Mohonk 091 from alex.ragone's photostream on Flickr

DSCF7697 from musicanys' photostream on Flickr

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Twitter List Screencast

Recently Twitter introduced the ability to create and subscribe to lists. I've been playing around with this new feature and I think it has a lot of potential. I created this screencast to show a few of the things I've learned.

In addition to my screencast, @_stevewoods wrote a great post describing Twitter lists. And, here is the direct link to the Twitter Gadget for embedding your list on a website.

Please share your tips. What have you learned about lists? Do you like them? I'm still trying to figure out how to subscribe to a list in a reader. Does anyone know how to do that?

P.S. This is the first time I have included my own image as part of the screencast. I'm not sure if I like it, or if it is helpful. Let me know what you think.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Article for Alumni Magazine

I just finished writing this article for the Belmont Hill Alumni magazine.

What I've been up to for the last year and a bit...

"Respecting tradition yet alive to innovation..." These words from the Belmont Hill mission statement illustrate the unique way that Belmont Hill marries technology with pedagogy. In a school where face to face relationships are primary, the faculty at Belmont Hill seek out technologies to support this mission, while remaining true to the traditions that have been at this school for decades. In my second year at Belmont Hill as the Director of Academic Technology, I have been thrilled and inspired by the energy and excitement both the faculty and boys show for using technology in their classrooms. Each department has found a way to bring in 21st Century technology tools to their subject matter. We strive to use the technology, not to replace teaching, but rather to take the material to another level, to inspire the boys to see things in a new way and to bring the subject matter to life.

In the Science department the boys created their own Wikipedia like website of information about a variety of genetic disorders. The boys first learned essential information literacy skills to determine if a website is a reliable source for their research. After gathering information about each of their disorders, the boys used Wikispaces ( software to create a website with pages for each of the disorders. Using technology allowed them to include images and video as part of their report. In Geology, the boys are going on a "Virtual Roadtrip," visiting different parts of the United States and blogging about their geological discoveries. Science teachers are also using Google Documents to share lab data with classes.

The English department is using blogging and an online discussion space to scaffold discussions in the classroom. Sharing insights through a social media application called Ning (, is proving to enrich the dialogue that students are having in their classes around the Harkness tables. In addition to blogging, the boys are also using media to express their creativity by recording podcasts of their poems and creating video commercials to sharpen their persuasive skills.

Powerpointlessness no longer plagues the history department, as the boys have learned to use visual media to enhance their presentation skills. The boys discovered the average person reads silently at a rate of 240 words per minute, and aloud at a rate of 140 words per minute. Thus, when you put words on a slide and read them to your audience you actually teach them less than if you included simply an image. The number of bullet points has decreased dramatically. Technology is also helping us teach about plagiarism. Using an application called Turn it in (, students are able to check their work to ensure that they haven't taken anything directly from an online source and fix their mistakes if they have.

Online flashcards are proving to be a great help in the Classics department, where the boys are using Quizlet ( to help them with their Latin vocabulary. The Modern Language department is using a Lingt ( to record and listen to boys speaking in their target language. The Language Lab is set up to improve the speaking and listening skills of our boys. Language faculty also use SMARTboards to record and share their notes from class and post them on our website.

SMARTboard notes are also a staple in the Math department where faculty regularly capture their notes from the board and upload them to our school website. Last year we added two new technology projects to the Math curriculum. Students are using a visual programming language created at MIT called Scratch ( to program their own video games. The application forces students to use problem solving and logical thinking to build and debug their working games. Geometry classes used Google Sketchup ( to design and build 3D models of buildings for the campus. The boys first create blueprints for their models and then use the software to implement their vision.

Finally, in addition to all of the technology being integrated into each academic department, 3 new technology courses, Digital Video, Music Technology and Digital Journalism make their debut this year. In Digital Video students learn how video affects the way we communicate and form opinions. The boys write a scripts, create a storyboards, operate a camera, and edit their films. Music Technology mixes science, history and music and provides students with an understanding of digital keyboards, MIDI technology and computer music programs. The changing face of news meda is the focus of the new Digital Journalism course. The boys explore the essence of journalism and the effect that new technologies have had on how we as citizens are informed.

The campus is indeed alive to innovation. The technology landscape is ever changing here on the hill. The 21st century has brought many opportunities and many changes to our school curriculum. We are all learning to find the balance between the core of the Belmont Hill academic experience and what new technologies have to teach us.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

9 Common Principles for 21st Century Schools

I've been reading and talking about "21st Century Schools" lately and just remembered this post I wrote on a wiki a while ago. It is based on Ted Sizer's Common Principles for the Coalition of Essential Schools. I thought it was worth reviving here.

What do you think? Do you agree with these? Am I missing something? Are these really "21st century" principles or principles for/from all time?

9 Common Principles for
21st Century Schools

1. Build
Community - The school should bring all learners together into a supportive community that nurtures both the individual and the group. The community should permeate all possible spaces, in the classroom, in the home and Online.

2. Encourage Critical Thinking - The school should actively encourage learners to think critically, continually asking the question, "Why do we teach what we teach?"

3. Reward Risk Taking - The school should actively encourage learners to risk failure in the pursuit of understanding.

4. Focus on all Learners - The school should surround the learner with ideas and information, encouraging the learner to pursue a wide variety of paths to knowledge, and supporting the personal growth for all who inhabit the community.

5. Value Diversity - The school should actively encourage and value the input of those both inside and outside the community with a diversity of opinions and experiences. The school should consistently check that it is inclusive and supportive of learners from diverse backgrounds.

6. Nurture all learners - The school should provide opportunities and encouragement for all members of the community including teachers, students and parents to learn and grow.

7. Pursue Innovation - The school should actively explore, pursue and assess new ideas and technologies, while always keeping the learner at the heart of the pursuit.

8. Teach Empathy - The school should actively and explicitly teach learners to think beyond themselves, encouraging students to value kindness and generosity.

9. Break down the walls - The school should provide access and opportunities for learners to reach outside the walls of the school to the neighboring, national and global community.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Letting Go...

Change is hard. Change is painful. Change is frustrating. Change takes time. Blah Blah Blah...

You have heard it all before. We humans get attached to things. We don't like to let go. In many ways this serves us well, especially when we are married with young children. At times my children are very lucky that I am so attached to them, but I digress...

Teachers can get attached to certain technologies, certain email clients, certain ways of word processing. Moving from one application to another application can be a very painful process that involves a fair amount of anxiety, fear and whining. At the rate that the world is moving, switching technologies is happening more and more often.

We have to learn to let go. We have to learn to trust in the skills we have and know that they will transfer. We need to trust our ability to adapt and change, not fear it. We need to let go, breath and move on, reassess and potentially move on again. When the tide is coming in it is better to swim with it than to fight it. We do better to take a deep breath and enjoy the ride than to drown.

Image source: Big Wave from Tom Plunkett's Photostream on Flickr

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Power (and Peril) of the Retweet

Back in the olden days (2006 ;-) when I first started using Twitter, we didn't have the Retweet. If I liked something someone said or shared on Twitter, I would pass it along with a comment like "Check out @xxx's great post" or Thanks @xxx for sharing... or I might reply @xxx great point, but I think... Now if someone posts something interesting people "retweet" it by adding the letters "RT" before the persons @username and then their original post (preserved as well as possible). Click here to learn how to Retweet.

I have mixed feelings about the Retweet...

On the positive side, the Retweet spreads your message much farther than you could spread it yourself. I just recently blogged Ten Tips for Teaching Technology to Teachers and it was retweeted 42 times. My unique visitor count spiked to almost 400 unique visitors in one day (compared to 200 for my last post). And my post generated 25 comments. Clearly, the retweets helped to bring people to my blog (Thanks to everyone who took a look and took some time to comment). Retweets allow certain tweets to float to the top. My August post was not as strongly Retweeted and must not have resonated with as many people as my September writing. In the same way, when I follow my Twitter stream, retweets point me to posts by other bloggers which I might otherwise have missed.

The problem with the Retweet is that it sometimes stops the conversation. Rather than replying to what a person has tweeted, we simply pass it on. Rather than turning back to the person and replying, we turn away and repeat what they have said. While there is power in repeating, it does sometimes cut off interaction. I appreciate the passing on of my ideas, but I would also sometimes like to engage in a conversation, a back and forth that takes my idea a step further than I could have taken it myself. (Granted - the comments on my blog do continue the conversations.) Retweets are like a pat on the back. I appreciate the sentiment, but sometimes a hug is much more satisfying.

What do you think about the Retweet? Do you use it? Did you get to this post because of a retweet? Did you retweet this post to someone else? I look forward to reading your thoughts (here or on Twitter).

P.S. I just found this interesting analysis of the Retweet: Tweet, Tweet, Retweet: Conversational Aspects of Retweeting on Twitter

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

10 Tips for Teaching Technology to Teachers

I have been working with teachers to learn to integrate technology into their teaching for almost ten years. Here are a few of the things I have learned - in no particular order (number 10 is probably the most important).

Please share your thoughts and suggestions!

1. It isn't really about the tool it is about how you use it: It isn't the word processing software, it's the skills and usefulness of word processing. It isn't the presentation software, it's how to create a meaningful and effective presentation.

2. Differentiate: Provide lots of different avenues for teachers to learn. Create visual handouts, offer group training, create video screencasts and provide one-on-one instruction.

3. Don't be the only teacher: Encourage teachers to work together and coach each other. Get students involved, let the kids be the teachers and provide opportunities for them to help their teachers out.

4. Ask lots of questions: If you are working one-on-one or with a small group try to get to the pedagogical goal for the tool.

5. Enlist your PLN: Reach out to your PLN for support and ideas, read blogs, follow folks on Twitter, ask questions, share your frustrations.

6. Remember there is great teaching without technology: There are many ways to teach and many great lessons that do not use technology. Respect the expertise of your colleagues.

7. Acknowledge your teachers' anxiety and expertise: When I'm working with a teacher who is having a hard time with something I find easy, I always remind myself of all of the things that person knows how to do that I don't know how to do. Teachers are not used to not knowing, looking "dumb" or feeling out of control. I often hear teachers tell me "I'm bad at this." Remind them how they respond when their students tell them they are bad at something. They aren't bad at it, they just haven't learned how to do it yet.

8. Start with the early adopters: If you are new to a school and are trying to make change, start with the easy folks, the ones who want your help. Once they are successful, word will spread and you will be able to get to some of the more resistant teachers. Don't beat yourself up about the hardcore resisters. There are some people that you just can't change - see number 6.

9. Observe your colleagues: If you can, try to get in and observe classes at your school. Go in without an agenda, just watch your colleagues teach. You will gain a greater appreciation for their skills, it will give you some ideas of ways you can support them and you will get to know them a little better. This is also really fun to do.

10. Don't touch the mouse: Tie your arm behind your back if you have to, but try not to take over mousing for your teachers. This is one of the hardest things for me to do, but also one of the most important. When people mouse they learn to do things themselves, when I do it for them they learn to watch me do it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Commercial Influence at Edubloggercon East

We had a great day at Edubloggercon East just before the Building Learning Communities conference. Thanks again (and again) to the November Learning team for donating space and for all of their help with the event. You can find links to our sessions here.

We had about 50 participants which included some folks associated with a variety of vendors. At the end of the conference, I brought up the concern I have with keeping Edubloggercon free of commercial influences. Andy Pethan of Alight Learning sent me a very thoughtful and thought provoking email in response to my comments. I asked Andy's permission to reprint his email here and allow the community to respond. He graciously agreed to open up his comments to all of us. I look forward to reading your thoughts. I'm just back from vacation and am still gathering mine.

My name is Andy Pethan, a student at Olin College and one of the people working on the software startup Alight Learning. As someone who is interested in K12 ed-tech both personally and professionally, I wanted to clarify your perspective on the commercial influence at events like EBC.

Near the end of the conference Tuesday, you mentioned your concern about the purity of the event. Though you did not ask anyone to stop coming, it seemed clear that there was some kind of line that was being pushed. At one extreme, there may be something like the Pearson influx that I heard had happened a year or two ago, representing the attempt of a company trying to turn the day into a sales pitch (this story is all hearsay for me, but if this is not what happened one could imagine something like this). At the other extreme would be asking anyone who can increase their revenues by learning from and contributing to the event to stop coming. Since these entrepreneurs, developers, consultants, and salespeople base their livelihood around making better products, positioning products more usefully, and training teachers and administrators on the use and large scale implementation of these products, it would seem silly to cut them off from the educators who care most about getting good products into schools with a useful and meaningful application. Assuming that either extreme is bad for the community, where does the line get drawn? As a software developer and eventually a salesman (when we have a product done enough to sell), what behavioral guidelines should I be considering?

I want to reiterate my interest in attending events like EBC and EduCon. From only two of these events, I personally have learned more about the real problems faced in introducing change to schools and the strong and weak points of the tools teachers are starting to use. Small insights at these events may lead our team down very different development paths, and in fact does (we started yet another redesign of a significant portion of our app yesterday, partially from problems recognized at EBCE). I can guarantee that our product will be much more useful to schools as a direct result of listening to and asking questions of all the different people that attend these events, and that someday our team will be able to make a significant impact on the challenges schools face. The perspective I want to hear from you, and eventually all the teachers/ed-tech specialists/admins/employees, is where are the lines between co-design, empathy, and beneficial marketing vs. product hawking and spam?

If you have time to give your thoughts, I am very interested in hearing them. If I attend future events like this, I want to be a fully contributing teacher and learner, not an unwanted pest or someone afraid to talk openly. This message was sent preemptively in the hopes that the issue would be more of a discussion right now instead of becoming a much larger problem in the future, and I think we both recognize the potentially bad path things are heading down if left unaddressed. Thanks for your time,

Andy Pethan

Alight Learning / Olin College

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Counting Down to Edubloggercon East!

Only two more days until the second (annual) Edubloggercon East conference. On Tuesday, July 28th at 9am at the Arlington Room of the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston, MA we will kick off our free unconference where the participants create the program.

Some History:
I attended my first Edubloggercon at NECC in Atlanta in 2007. It was an amazing experience and I was determined to bring it up the east coast. As my Twitter network began to grow, we had a New England Tweetup in Newburyport, MA in 2008. There we talked about running our own Edubloggercon and discussed asking Alan November if he would give us space to hold our Edubloggercon before his Building Learning Communites conference.

I had attended my first Building Learning Communities conference in the summer of 2006. It started my journey into the Web 2.0 world. I joined Classroom 2.0, started blogging, and then Tweeting. I decided what the heck, I would email Alan's people and ask them if there was any space available for us before BLC. At first they responded no, they didn't think so. I was dissapointed, but not overly surprised. At least I had tried.

But all was not lost. A day later I got an email that Alan would like to talk to me about my proposal. He was on the way to the airport and asked me to call him on his cell phone (how cool is that). I was kind of terrified, but I called and before he got to Logan he had agreed to give us some space on the Monday before the conference (which started officially on Wednesday).

The rest, as they say, is history...
It was a great day. We had about 30 people and a lot of wonderful conversations.

This year we are meeting on the Tuesday before the conference starts, we have 42 participants signed up to attend and 9 sessions on the agenda. I'm very excited about the event. If you plan on attending please add yourself to the list here. If you can't attend in person, stay tuned to the wiki for links to the Ustream. We will try to stream as much as we can. We will use the Twitter hashtag #EBCE09. Hope to see you there in one form or another!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Putting Gladwell's Compensatory Model into Practice or NECC 09 Keynote Part 2!

I've just returned from an energizing visit to Washington DC where I attended NECC, the National Educational Computing Conference. Not surprisingly, my best learning took place in between sessions, at Edubloggercon, in the Bloggers Cafe, and in the evenings. 

Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers, was the Keynote speaker for the conference on Sunday night. I recorded his talk: click here to listen in new window. For the most part, if you have read the book, you have heard the talk (and vice versa). He has a great message, but I want to know how to put it into practice in the classroom. I put out a call on Twitter to find people interested in talking more about Gladwell's ideas. I was thrilled to have the company of Donna DesRoches, Jen Orr, Laura Deisley and Richard Scullin for this discussion. 

Gladwell spoke about a "compensatory" model of education, where we encourage students to learn how to compensate for their weaknesses, rather than capitalize on their strengths. In our discussion we talked about what this would look like in the classroom. This is what we came up with.

A compensatory classroom would focus, not on where the student is, but instead on how far a child has traveled in his or her learning.  Assessments would be self-referenced, rather than norm referenced. It doesn't matter how students compare to each other, but rather how they compare to where they were before. 

Teachers would encourage students to look at how they are learning, not just at what they are learning. It would be important to assess learning styles and encourage students to work outside of their preferred style.  Students would reflect and share the strategies that worked best for them, taking a metacognitive approach to their own learning. Teachers would differentiate instruction, asking students to try less comfortable learning places and suggesting strategies to help them succeed in those places. 

Students would have more control over what they learn – they would be constantly asking themselves to think about what they are learning and to be looking for their own weaknesses and looking to strengthen them. Mixing kids up would make sense – kids can help each other to compensate

Finally, and most controversially, failure would be valued as much as, or more than success.  If you aren't failing, if you aren't taking risks, then you aren't learning.  Assessments would look for weaknesses, rather than strengths, to encourage students to build on their deficiencies. The things we praise and the ways we praise them would need to change.This is a major cultural shift and would require us to learn to find joy in failure. 

What do you think? What would a "Compensatory Classroom" look like to you? Please share your ideas.

Image Source: Sarah Sutter's photostream on Flickr

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Edubloggercon 2009 Notes and Reflections

Once again Edubloggercon (I missed the EBC in San Antonio, but attended the 2007 meeting in Atlanta) and the great Steve Hargadon lived up to my expectations. The day was filled with interesting conversations, and for me, not a single "presentation." I learned and shared and questioned and pondered. It was a wonderful day. I have a hard time believing that the actual NECC conference (for which I am paying big bucks) will live up.

I started the day by offering a session on Professional Development. I was worried that no one would come because the great Vicki Davis ran her Web 2.0 Smackdown during the same slot. But it was a very nice group of about 25 people. We split into smaller groups of about 5, to envision our ideal Professional Development experience. When we came back together we shared our conversations. Here are some of my notes:
  • Time for reflection should be built into PD
  • Take the PD that teachers are already doing and use technology to support it.
  • PD should be purposeful
  • We need to include administration in PD
  • Administrators have to trust teachers to be professional and allow them to take control of their PD.
  • The pressure for accountability is misapplied to the disadvantage of teachers.
  • It is important to look at how we frame the PD - selling it to teachers/administrators standards based instruction
  • Back channel - Being off task doesn't only happen with technology. The backchannel can be a powerful support to PD.
  • Model back channel with teachers so teachers will be able to use it properly with students.
  • What is your focus for back channel?
  • What is your focus for PD?
  • Who do you target for PD? Power users beginners trickle down? Build scaffolds.
  • Engage admins to use one tool at a time as models and lead the changes
  • Coach in each department in the high school
  • Sign up to demo lessons to teachers - 20 minutes Taste of technology
  • Unprofessional development (unconference)
  • PD On demand
  • Speed geeking (speed dating) 3 min pitch of what you are doing
  • Individual technology education plan (support plan) Take NETS standards revisit goals reflect on strengths and weaknesses.
  • Tools potluck come with an idea and we will match you up with a tool.
Next I went to the Social Networking in Education session lead by Steve Hargadon It was another interesting discussion. More of my notes:
  • Instead of asking what happens if we use social networking in education, ask what will happen if we don't do it?
  • Instead of worrying about how bad it can make us look, think about how good this could make us look!
  • Isolation breeds superstition
  • Socialization breeds learning
  • Authenticity is important, if the network is closed and the kids see each other face to face anyway, it loses its authenticity.
  • If you talk about the world in the third person, it is a scary place not so if you talk in the first person.
  • Etwinning - an English initiative pairing schools 60,000 schools in Europe Part of European school net
  • Find author to be part of book - social networking collapses hierarchy
  • What are the real dangers? Bullies and predators are not really as much of a risk as the media makes them out to be.
Jeff Utecht lead the next session with the question "Is blogging dead?"
  • What has Twitter done to the conversation? It speeds up the conversation - the life cycle of a post is much shorter.
  • When do you post? When you release info - time day makes a difference because of live timestream. Jeff has found that 3pm Eastern Time is ideal for getting feedback. (Should I wait to release this post?)
  • The Retweet is the new way to refer to other posts
  • Twitter audience is different
  • How do you revive old content on your blog? Feature Posts - Related Post - Tag Cloud. Most recent posts commented on come to the top. Zemanta Lists of related posts come up
  • Jeff's kids are blogging and will post from a joint twitter account to tweet new posts
  • Blogging requires some risk taking, to put something out that might not be perfect - different level
  • We talk all the time about teaching kids responsible use of the Internet, who is teaching kids about empowered use?
  • Blogging gives you incubation time.
  • What is not dying is communicating!
Finally, I ended the day with a session on digital portfolios. The woman who had offered the session didn't make it to the conference, so we went ahead with the discussion anyway. I love that about an unconference. We were all there waiting for a leader and just decided to go ahead without her. It was great.
  • Possible tools: Mahara, Edublogs Campus
  • A good portfolio demonstrates growth.
  • It is important for a digital portfolio to be more than just a binder on a screen.
  • There are different types of portfolios
  • Portfolios collect evidence of learning
  • We need to decide what we keep private and what public
  • The digital portfolio could become the new standardized test.
  • The portfolio should be an ongoing formative assessment, not just something you do at the end of the year.
  • Ideally you would put it together with a social network and course management software
  • The entire faculty needs to buy in to make it a productive and meaningful experience.
  • It is important to consider who the audience will be.
  • Proud points - Who you are and what you are proud of?
  • Without reflections it is nothing more than a scrap book
  • Students moving from one school to another (middle to high school) often leave with nothing to show for their learning, portfolios give them something to hold on to
  • Reflect and collect
So there you have it. I still have lots to reflect on and synthesize, but I hope my notes can provide you a bit of a window into my experiences yesterday. Thanks to everyone who I met and who contributed their thoughts. I'm sorry that I'm not able to attribute each of these points to their originators.

What do you see in these notes? I would love to hear your analysis of the day!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Are you going to be at NECC09?

I am getting ready to head down to Washington DC today for the NECC09 Conference. I am looking forward to seeing my PLN IRL and learning from everyone. I am also feeling kind of out of the loop. I haven't blogged in almost a month and I've hardly been on Twitter. I think NECC is just what I need to kick me back into gear.

Will you be at NECC? If so, I would love to meet you (if I haven't aready). Please leave a comment and hopefully we can find a way to connect.

Here are my plans so far:

Friday, June 26:
Fly down to DC
Dinner - no plans yet

Saturday, June 27:
Dinner - Wikispaces after party

Sunday, June 28:
Constructivist Celebration (I actually may not be able to make it to this)
Opening Keynote Malcolm Gladwell
Dinner - no plans yet

Monday, June 29:
NECC sessions (don't know yet which ones)
Independent School Birds of a Feather
Dinner - NECC TweetUp

Tuesday, June 30:
Fly home (It is my daughter's birthday)

So there you have it. Sorry I've been so out of touch. Please leave a comment and let me know if you will be at NECC and hopefully our paths will cross.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Change is Hard - Thoughts on our switch to Gmail

We are in the process of switching our email provider from FirstClass to Google Apps for Education. I am excited about the switch and feel that we will be gaining a great deal by moving to Gmail. However, I do acknowledge that we are also loosing some features (conferences and history to name a few) and that from many user perspectives FirstClass works just fine. Here is part of the email that I sent out to our community. (Thanks to my Twitter network for helping me with this list!)

We believe that Gmail is the best email client for Belmont Hill as an organization. Here are a few of the benefits that Gmail offers:
  • More Space - Share and store large files, emails are saved forever.
  • Collaboration Tools - Collaborate on documents, spreadsheets and presentations.
  • Personal Calendar - One calendar to rule them all.
  • Web Based - Get your email easily anywhere you have web access. No client to install.
  • Easy to use - Same interface as regular Gmail, similar to other web based emails (Yahoo, Hotmail).
  • Searchable - No need for folders, search your mail as you would search the web.
  • Portable - Get your email on your mobile phone.
  • Spam Filtering - Built in spam filter catches most unwanted solicitations.
We are excited about this switch, but also recognize that change can be difficult. We ask in advance for your patience and understanding as we embark on this new adventure. We will do everything we can to help make this transition successful.
I started training on Friday and will be training all next week. It has been interesting to see the way different people have responded to the change. Some people are very fearful, some are excited, some are angry, some are anxious, but willing to give it their best.

I wonder if this would be the response to any type of change, or if technological change is more difficult in education?

I wonder what it is like in the business world when these types of technology infrastructure changes take place. Do businesses provide training and information and hand holding? Or are employees just expected to suck it up and deal with it?

If we just expected our teachers to figure it out and deal with it, would they?

What do you think?

Image Source: Mail Box from the Flickr photostream of zizzybaloobah

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Why spend so much time on this stuff?

I am often asked why I spend so much time on this learning network stuff. In her post, Starting Your Learning Network, Christine Hollingsworth does a brilliant job of answering the question.
"For me, I just can't stop learning. It's what is recharging me professionally right now. Connecting with people from outside of family and consumer sciences and career education has allowed me to consider a variety of perspectives in a non-threatening way. More than once I've read someone's blog post, Twitter message, or listened to a podcast that has challenged my thinking. This is a good thing for someone who has been in education for over 20 years now. Maybe it will be a good thing for you, too."
Thanks so much Christine for saying it so well! I feel exactly the same way. I am hungry to learn and my PLN helps me to do that. The more I learn, the hungrier I am for more. It is a good thing that learning is completely calorie free!

Image Source: The Passage of Time from ToniVC's photostream on Flickr

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Technology To The Rescue

Check out this amazing story of how Rye Country Day School used technology to keep them going while they were closed due to a case of the H1N1 virus. Fred Bartels shares how a Ning he set up for his school took on a life of its own during the closure.

Here is a summary of what happened (written by Fred).
We had an interesting experience with a forced closure this week related to possible H1N1 cases. The closing was initially announced as being for two weeks, but after one day being closed, new CDC recommendations allowed us to reopen. (All our students with the flu are doing well.)

For most of one day, we all thought we would be closed for two weeks, so we started to quickly ramp up possible solutions for keeping courses moving forward. ...As luck would have it, we had created a school Ning a few days before the closure. We viewed it as just an additional communication/collaboration tool should we ever happen to be forced to close. The Ning was basically a shell with only three members. I sent out an email to faculty about 8 pm on the evening of the closure annoucement, letting them know about the ning site, and suggesting that for some things -like discussions- the ning might be a good optional resource. By 4 pm the following day the Ning site had over 200 members, 30 course groups, and a very rapidly developing sense of community.
I think this is a great story of turning adversity into a learning opportunity. Fred's Ning had a true pedogogical purpose and thus it thrived. I think that is the key to most technology successes. As Chris Lehmann
says, "Effective technology is like oxygen, ubiquitous, necessary and invisible." I will be interested to learn how the ning continues to function now that school is back in session.

To learn more, check out the ISEnet ning, where Fred shared his experience as the day unfolded

Image source: Helicopter Rescue Training from koert michiels' photostream on Flickr

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Your Barista is on Twitter!

As you probably know, if you read my blog, I am a huge proponent of the educational value of Twitter. Lately, the excessive and often uninformed news coverage of Twitter is starting to get to me. Last Sunday's New York Times Magazine article, The Chatty Classes, just pushed me over the edge.

Matt Bai, who is not himself on Twitter, writes:
"The capital might be a better place if it became a Twitter-free zone, a city where people spent more time talking to the guy serving the coffee and less time informing the world that the coffee had, in fact, been served."

What people don't get is that Twitter is as much about listening, as it is about talking. We may not want to know how our politicians take their coffee, but it might help them to know if their constituents can't afford to buy a cup. Twitter is a tool with the potential to allow our representatives to plug in to the needs, thoughts, ideas and suggestions of their constituents - many of whom are in fact serving them coffee. Arggh!

OK rant over. Thanks for listening!
P.S. You can follow @Starbucks on Twitter

Image Source: Mosaic from Pedrovisky's photo stream on Flickr.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Prioritizing the Personal in PLN: Learning to be "Self-ish"

Last week I had my first ever speaking gig at the New and Emerging Technologies Conference at Noble & Greenough school. Tom Daccord and I shared the podium and talked about Building a Personal Learning Network. I have presented many workshops, but this was the first time I have ever spoken in front of a large audience. I was nervous and excited. I had a great time and I think it went pretty well. I thank Tom for asking me. He is very easy to work with and I feel like we shared the stage well.

The theme of my portion of the talk was the personal in PLN. I believe that we need to nurture our own personal learning as much as we nurture our students'. Rather than seeing this as selfish, we need to make more of an effort to be "self-ish" (imagine me saying this word with a slight New York accent ;).

If, god forbid, your plane were about to crash, they always tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first. It is impossible to help others if you are suffocating. We all need oxygen and our students can't benefit from our wisdom if we aren't constantly growing. So don't blow it off, breath it in!

David Warlick was the keynote speaker at the conference. I have met him a few times and he is such an interesting, inspirational and generous man. I appreciated his talk, "We need to stop integrating technology and start integrating literacy!" He also took the time to give me feedback on my talk and send me some of the pictures he took. Thanks David!

I recorded our talk and put the audio together with the slides. The audio isn't great, and the slides are a little bit cut off, but here is the link if you want to listen. My section starts at about 25 minutes in. Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Two For Tuesday 4/14/09

1. The 100 Most Iconic Internet Videos
Thanks to Alec Couros for sharing this one! Not only does this website list what they consider to be the top 100 Internet videos of all time, they also give you the history behind each clip. "These are the clips that are etched into our memories, made us laugh, influenced the future of internet video, or changed it altogether."

2. FamDing - A Private Social Network for your Family
FamDing allows you to create a private social network just for your family. You can share messages, photos and important dates. You can keep track of birthdays and create a centralized address book. You can even hold a 4 person video conference.