Tuesday, December 26, 2006

"21st Century Learning" Interview with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach (School 2.0, Part 1)

Last week I interviewed Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, focusing on what Sheryl calls "21st Century Learning." Sheryl is fast-paced, energetic, and devoted--all of which really come through in this hour-long interview, and make for very interesting listening.

Show notes:
  • Sheryl is a technology and education consultant and adjunct instructor in the School of Education at The College of William and Mary, and she was one of the organizers of the recent K12 Online Conference.
  • Right now, Sheryl believes, we are in a place where computing in the classroom is really going to take off.
  • She feels that it is a moral responsibility of teacher-leaders in the school to figure out how to access the tools of the web and help students to learn to use them in a safe environment. (Again, I'm fascinated with the contrast of Larry Cuban's views here, and also with the apparent difficulties that grass-roots technology efforts face in school decision-making.)
  • "You can't give away what you don't own." Until school administrators are experiencing the benefits of the new technologies, there cannot be more widespread adoption of them. (This touches on the point above.)
  • The students of today don't have a choice as to whether or not they will master the skills of the read/write web (and being collaborative and self-driven)--if they don't, they will be left behind in the work world.
  • The magic of Web 2.0 in schools is individual growth toward the sense of being "self-actualized:" students can be transformed by being able to write things that others are interested in reading, and by being able to collaborate with others.
  • The "Golden Question" right now is: can tie these new tools to student achievement? She believes it they can be, but it's very hard to measure because of all the other variables.
  • Sheryl points out the need for balance: when you use any pervasive educational strategy (not just the new computer technologies), you need to make sure that there is a marriage between the passion that is generated with a rigorous education. This should be a deepening of learning, and be challenging. "Rigor and passion."
  • Many students are going to be coming to school already well versed in the read/write or participatory web. Her experience has been that they are often motivated learners from these experiences.
  • Sheryl talks about moving from the "Information Age" to the "Age of Conceptualization." I'm not sure I know what the "Age of Conceptualization" is...
  • The most gifted students are good at the way school is played right now, and they can have the hardest time adjusting to a learning environment that is cooperative and self-directed. It is the kids who have struggled previously that really benefit the most by being able to use these technologies. (This goes along with Sheryl's desire to bring computing resources to homeless youth, and her belief in how important this will be for them. See below.)
  • She sees more of the writing tools being used in the classroom--blogs and wikis--but not as much podcasting.
  • The real skill needed by teachers and students will be the ability to be our own "digital age librarian," knowing how to access, select, and synthesize all of the available information. We need to tap into the power of "self-directed interest."
  • On homeless or transient children: she is a living example of breaking the cycle of generational poverty. If we don't empower these children with the same technologies that the affluent child will get at home, then we are trapping them in their poverty. Homeless children move around a lot, and often the teachers are unaware of the true situation at home. After the interview, Sheryl and I talked at length about creating a program for teacher mentoring to homeless children, and the providing of computing resources at homeless shelters (see www.PublicWebStations.com).
  • Her blog is 21stcenturylearning.typepad.com.
To join in a discussion of "School 2.0," please visit www.School20.net.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

"Aha!" Moment on Adoption of Web 2.0 in the Classroom?

A couple of months ago I had lunch with Bonnie Plummer, who is the chair of Education, Arts, and Humanities for the University of California Davis Extension. She'd seen some of my work on the use of Linux in the classroom, and didn't have a real agenda, but just wanted to talk about the problem of computers in schools: "everything that we have done hasn't worked." Now, she allows that's a bit of an exaggeration, but her experience as an assistant superintendent over instructional support services left her feeling that a huge amount of money was being spent on computers that were sitting in the back of most classrooms gathering dust.

We had a long discussion, much of which focused on the insights from Larry Cuban and the adoption and use patterns for technology in schools. In short: teachers are overburdened; even if they are technologically savvy, bringing the computer into the curriculum is hard when you don't have good training, lessons plans, or an assurance that all the computers will be working. Also, technology decisions are being made at higher levels than the teachers, and those decisions have more to do with security and performance than they do with promoting educational effectiveness. We came to a tentative conclusion: computers won't be integrated into the average classroom or truly be transformative until a "killer application" comes along--something that is so amazing and also so simple to use that everyone will be willing to do whatever it takes to utilize the computers. Bonnie also pointed out to me that some huge percentage of teachers in California are women, and without falling into stereotypes, the female brain is not wired in the same ways as the male brain with regard to technology. Whatever it is that the computer does, it has to be as easy to use as a "garage door opener," Bonnie insisted. We left our lunch having wondered out loud if that killer application might be distance learning (and so I went back to work and called Susan Patrick of NACOL and set up an interview).

Some weeks later I met with Bonnie again. She wanted me to meet someone who is involved in instructional technology at a regional level. Bonnie and I rehearsed our previous discussion with this good man, and he helped to bring some of his experience to the dialog. In short, he wasn't very optimistic about the ability to technology to transform education, and said that he still feels that it's only a very small percentage of teachers who see the transformative potential there--and that percentage, in his view, hasn't really changed over the last 15 years. Early adopters are using the new technologies of the web (Web 2.0) and having exciting experiences, but even if what is currently on the cutting edge has changed, that edge is still very separate from the vast majority of teachers. Are blogs and wikis and the "write" component of the web significant changes that can transform education? According to him, even if they are, they will likely not be able to jump the chasm between the early adopters and the bulk of teachers.

Why? Because ever since he was teaching and brought an early DOS computer into his classroom, control of the computers has moved from the teacher to the school to the district, and even to the county. Teachers don't have control of the technology, and the higher-level decision-making about computers means that the emphasis is on control and legal protection. They've even moved away from black-list filtering to white-list filtering, so getting to a new website for a teacher is almost impossible. His feeling was that the conversion of textbooks to electronic editions (pushed by laws about the weight of textbooks) will be the most significant force to actually put computers in the classroom to use. (That sure didn't sound transformative to me...) He also felt that recent approvals to purchase LCD projectors for classrooms would make a difference for teachers to be able to use their laptops in front of the students. (Again, a forward step, but not transformative.)

Then I had an epiphany--an "aha" moment. Knowing how transformative the read/write web had been for me, I wanted to find out if he felt that these technologies, even though they are just another wave of innovation, hold something special for education. I asked him if he had blogged. He felt badly, I could tell, but said he really had not. I asked if he listened to podcasts. No, no time.

Now, this is a guy who likes technology, and is using Breeze for lots of distance learning, and arranges technology workshops for teachers. He's no slacker. But he hasn't personally experienced the amazing things that happen when you become a producer of content.

The light bulb went off for me. There is no way that teachers are going to be able to bring this technology into the classroom without support from the administration. So, the key would be to help the administrators experience the personal educational benefits from the read/write web technologies. And how would you do that? Maybe not providing them with just more information on the benefits of the read/write web, but actually providing them with some kind of training that actually helps them use these technologies in their jobs. They then would experience what happens, and can either promote or be more supportive of these technologies.

I copied Will Richardson on this concept, and it turns out he had come to this conclusion some time ago... Both Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Chris Lehmann feel that the new generation of teachers (anyone 32 or younger had access to email in college) are more likely to demand change from the bottom up. But that puts the burden on teachers to make changes to our schools--which Larry Cuban says does not really work... So maybe no "aha" for now.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

More on Second Life: Interview with "Intellagirl"

I'm hooked. Not on Second Life. But on thinking about second life. Ever since my interview with Gavin Dudeney last week, I've been contemplating the whole idea of Second Life and other virtual worlds. I must say, I think a huge increase in usage of these worlds is coming--not just because they are another means of self-expression (the creation of avatars), or because they are another place to shop (!), but because the virtual world is a much more intuitive way to participate with technology than the standard computer interface.

Want to spend an hour in the future? Then listen to this interview with Sarah Robbins, who is known online as "Intellagirl," and who teaches an English class in Second Life at Ball State University. Her class meets twice a week--once in person, and once in Second Life. "Are they learning," she is often asked, "or just goofing off?" This is exactly the kind of question that Sarah is likely to give to her students as an assignment. And wait until you hear her describe the experience of asking her students to change the gender of their avatars for a day.

Of interest:
  • Sarah has observed that some of the friendships she has seen develop between her students appear to be very influenced by their interaction in Second Life.
  • She noted that "everyone becomes more gregarious" there. The class currently self-selects to those who may already be technology-comfortable, since you have to own a laptop or computer good enough to run Second Life (the school's lab computers are not), so she is not sure if that will still be the case when anyone can take the class.
  • The experience in Second Life is much more realistic than one might think, and it's memorable and believable to hear Sarah talk about feeling uncomfortable because of a clothing choice she made for her avatar at one point.
  • Sarah herself spends "only" two hours a day on average in Second Life (she says it has basically displaced television viewing for her); she often visits other educational campuses and art exhibits.
  • She characterizes the early adopters who populate Second Life now as "very intellectual."
  • She believes that virtual worlds will have a profound impact on how we communicate and view each other (I agree).
  • Sarah has, with a grant, purchased virtual land (and "island") called "Middletown," where she and her students meet, experiment, and "build" exhibits.
  • It was also very enlightening to hear Sarah talk about the impact of having Second Life be built primarily by the actual users, and how that differentiates it from other virtual worlds. She believes it is the key to its success.
Sarah's technology predictions are just as fascinating: virtual stores, automatic language translators, increased physical representations, and more. Imagine being able to build a model of your home, and to go to the virtual IKEA, pick from their furniture, and see exactly how it will look and fit in your home. That knocked my socks off. You can see more of Sarah's research on second life here. Her Wikipedia entry is here, and here are some links to media stories about her work:

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Free Software, Web 2.0, and the Road Ahead

I've been thinking about the connection between Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) and Web 2.0, and the road ahead. Web 2.0 has been built largely on the back of FOSS (think Google's Linux servers, the infrastructure of the Internet, and blog and wiki software--FOSS powers much of the Web 2.0 software). Not only has Web 2.0 inherited the technology of FOSS, but much of the collaborative philosophy as well.

In fact, one might even say that the "ideas" I put on the School 2.0 wiki are largely the ideals of FOSS:

  • Participation
  • Collaboration
  • Openness
  • Engagement
  • Self Learning
  • Mentoring
  • Apprenticeship

What will be interesting to watch is what happens as many of the Web 2.0 technologies that we love so much get into a position where they are no longer the underdog, and don't have the same market motivation to live these ideals. For instance, Flickr's meta data--not freely available, and locks you into their technology the more you comment, tag, and add notes. Will Flickr open that up? Certainly, traditional business practice would be to hold on to that "lock-in" advantage, but the "feel-good" gets lost.

Will there be a measurable result to that? Right now we are in a market where many companies are offering Web 2.0 technologies, and the competition is supported by the low cost of entry into the marketplace. When some of these companies start winning out (and, for sure, we could put Google in that category), will the collaborative, we-can-all-win philosophies have to bow to the pressures from investors?

I think Google, for example, has taught us a lesson that I hope we don't forget: we want to like the companies we do business with, and they've been too scarce the last few years. You can be a business that combines the need for profit with a desire to do good, and while it is not always easy, you can find ways to both serve your customers and make money. It's arguably the most profitable, long-term model, but it must be pretty easy to lose sight of because it is so often

Moodle, Drupal, and Web 2.0 Workshops

Finally, a good excuse to put a picture of Will Richardson in my blog...

We've just finalized the details of our Moodle, Drupal, and Web 2.0 workshops that we will be holding in Philadelphia at the end of January / beginning of February. Many thanks to Chris Lehmann of Science Leadership Academy, where the workshops will take place.
We are also announcing Moodle workshops for the following dates and locations:

Jan. 8-9, 2007 Fishersville (VA)
Jan. 22-23, 2007 Orlando (FL) prior to FETC Conference
Feb. 5-6, 2007 Austin (TX) prior to TCEA Conference
Feb. 27-28, 2007 Palm Springs (CA) prior to CUE Conference
March 12-13, 2007 Seattle (WA)
March 29-30, 2007 Wichita (KS) prior to ESSDECK Conference
April 12-13, 2007 Chicago (IL)
April 26-27, 2007 Philadelphia (PA)

To sign up or to get more information, you can send an email to workshops@edtechlive.com, or fill out the online interest form at the bottom of the page here.

School 2.0 New Website, Wiki, and One-Day Blitz

After talking about getting a school 2.0 website going for a long time, a little impetus to finally doing so was provided by Women of the Web 2.0. Sharon Peters, Jennifer Wagner, Cheryl Oakes, and Vicki Davis will be hosting a Skypecast tonight on "The Power of Web 2 in Education" (for more details, see here), and it seemed that it would be helpful to have a list of articles and websites ready to share on the topic, since I'm not going to be able to make the Skypecast. The School 2.0 wiki is at school20.wikispaces.com and you'll see that the only content that is up currently are the links in the resource section that I'd been collecting already (worth checking out, as there is some AWESOME material). But now the wiki is available for the real content, which will come from the community, and hopefully will quickly eclipse what I've put there.

I will take credit for the "Ideas" section, which I'm hoping others will flesh out. I'm convinced that the current technologies that we call Web 2.0, Free and Open Source Software, open content, distance-learning, video-conferencing, and virtual reality are significant not because they are "technology," but because they bring new, compelling methods and ideas for learning that are transformative. I hope you will expand on these--describe them, add to them, modify them, argue with them... They are:

Self Learning

I'm also tentatively announcing a School 2.0 one-day conference on Saturday, June 23, 2007, in Atlanta, Georgia, just prior to NECC. I anticipate it will be a blitz of teacher and student demos, panel discussions, video-feeds that will be blogged and flickred and podcast real-time--and that will take a day or two to recover from. We have some big-name folks who are promising to come, but the real key will be to network, mingle, and hear from those in the trenches using the tools of School 2.0. This means that our more relaxed EduBloggerCon "unconference" could be the day before (Friday, June 22), giving a two-day combination that would be an real treat. Or, we combine the two events into one... Let me know your feelings.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Second Life in Education Interview: Wow...

I don't know whether to be scared or excited about Second Life. This interview today with Gavin Dudeney of The Consultants-E, who run the EduNation island in Second Life, was a fascinating look at this virtual online world--a place where Gavin spends 8 - 10 hours per day!

We spent the first half of the interview just talking about how Second Life works. It is both compelling and frightening at the same time--the idea of "going" to a virtual location for a conference actually makes a lot of sense (with all of the technologies built into the venue, it will be very intuitive), but paying money for designer clothing to put on your online avatar (character)? Yikes. I have an image of pale, lifeless children sitting dark rooms in front of their computers, sucking nutrients from a tube while their heroic online avatars live their lives for them...

When I asked about the safety issues relating to the use of Second Life for youth, Gavin described a "teen grid," which even Gavin doesn't have access to because you have to apply and go through some security/background checks to be able to interact with youth there.

This interview is only about 33 minutes long, and--for those who don't know anything about Second Life--should be a real eye-opener. At the end of the interview Gavin generously gives instructions for getting a personal tour from him once you are in Second Life.

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Life-changing Technologies

I recently had an experience with my new cell phone quite similar to one that Will Richardson blogged about recently. With our oldest daughter going to college, we changed our cell phone plan and switched to Verizon (if you can believe it, this was her first cell phone--I know, we're pretty cruel parents). Normally I am too frugal to upgrade from the standard phone, but I did so in this case and purchased the computer-like LG 9800 (there was a rebate, of course).

Now, it turns out that I have loved the camera included in this phone, and I take pictures with it that I can send directly to Flickr--and when their communication with Blogger is working correctly, can even post directly to my private blog as a kind of family journal. That has been a LOT of fun.

What I didn't realize, though, was that my phone also has a built-in GPS device, and for a relatively modest fee ($9.95/month), includes a "navigation" program. While helping to coordinate our first Moodle workshop in Plano, Texas, I found out how absolutely life-changing this feature is. Because I was in an unfamiliar town, I decided to shoot for one month's fee to test it out. From the car rental parking lot, I plugged in the address of the motel: it spoke step by step directions to me during the drive. The next day, I plugged in the address for the Sockwell Center at Plano ISD, and it took me there. Then, using another feature of the phone I love (web browsing), I found the address of a local church to attend, and it took me there. I then decided to do a little sightseeing by car, and picked out a local landmark, and it took me there. Then back to the motel. The next day, I wanted to get food for the workshop before it began. I drove to the Sockwell center, then had it give me the ten closest grocery stores--a Super Walmart was close. Since it was early, and I didn't know if they would be open, I clicked "send" and it called that Walmart. Yes, they were open. Take me there, I instructed my phone. Show me on the map. Incredible.

The whole trip, whenever I would normally have pulled out a phone book to find something (shopping, food, movies), I just opened this incredible little device. I felt like, in just a few days, I had been transported to the future. All of the time normally spent in a new area getting maps, figuring out directions, and preparing in advance, were done away with. I literally saved hours, and accomplished things I might not even have considered without this technology.


EduBloggerCon Model: The Edinburgh Festival Fringe?

I heard about this while listening to the audio version of a new book, Mavericks at Work. Around the "fringe" of a traditional drama festival, all kinds of informal performances started to take place, which are now collectively called "The Fringe." It has become a huge event, even dwarfing the original festival.

Like an "unconference," and unlike the formal festival it surrounds, nobody decides who can or can't participate--anyone who wants to can find a venue and advertise, trying to draw a crowd. There is an coordinating/advertising organization for "The Fringe," but they are very clear about the fact that will do nothing to determine who performs.

Last year's Fringe encompassed 28,014 performances of 1867 different shows in 261 venues, with ticket sales of 1.5 million. Very famous actors and actresses participate, as well as complete unknowns.

Not trying to think to grandly about EduBloggerCon, but what an idea: an ed tech conference that is run by the participants. Wouldn't that be an interesting twist on the traditional...

Note to Stephen Downes (smile): you might really find this book interesting. Not only does it draw some great links between the Free and Open Source Software movements and good business practices, it showcases many companies that are doing good things by being purpose-driven (not profit-driven) commercial enterprises.

Like the quote from Tom Peters on the cover, I'm "devouring" it.

Describing the Use of Drupal in Education

Bill Fitzgerald, of FunnyMonkey, and I spent the better part of an hour talking about the Free and Open Source Software program Drupal. (If you feel lost during the first few minutes of the interview, don't despair--Bill and I quickly shifted gears to bring everything down to a better level for beginners.)

Some part of our time was just Bill's explanation of what Drupal is, and then our coming up with a simple definition and description of the use of Drupal in education. Drupal is less like Moodle and more like Joomla or Mambo--it's comprised of a large set of tools that can be used to build a web presence, and that flexibility is a little daunting when you are starting from scratch. But since there has been a lot of buzz about Drupal, I felt our first step was just to find a way to tell someone else about it. Here is our definition of Drupal for education:

"Drupal is a content management program that contains a set of tools for building a web-based community sites, which can include 1) a public-facing web presence, 2) the functionalities of the read/write web into a controlled school environment, or 3) Intranet/Personal Workspaces for techs and administrators."

Bill was engaging to talk to. He and I are hosting a two-day Drupal workshop in Philadelphia on January 31 - February 2. For more information or to sign up, visit EdTechLive.

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