Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Social Networking as Professional Development

(Cross-posted from The Infinite Thinking Machine)

Will Richardson has written that: "I've learned more in my four-plus years as a blogger than I have in all my years of formal education." He's not talking about blogging as a teaching tool--he's talking about blogging as a personal and professional development tool. And he's saying that it's been a better learning tool than all his formal schooling. How could that be?

It's because, for Will and many others of us, to blog is to be engaged in really meaningful conversations about education. Indeed, the tools of Web 2.0 (or the "read/write Web") often trigger a personal learning renaissance. I now engage daily with great thinkers as I use the tools of Web 2.0 to read, to listen, to interview, and then to blog myself.

But let's face the reality of talking about the value of blogging to educators. It's not easy. Most educators are far too busy to squeeze in another hour (or more) to each workday to 1) learn how set up a blog, 2) start writing in it, 3) comment on others blogs, 4) learn how to track the conversations that take place where they comment, and then 5) "speak to the empty room" for six months before their audience builds up. So, is there an easier way to experience the value of blogging and the read/write web? The answer is yes, and it's coming from somewhere I never expected it to: a social networking site.

I've watched the MySpace phenomenon, and have even gotten an account there--and while I understand the appeal of creation and connection that it provides, just haven't felt it was worth any time for me (the unsolicited "friendship" invitations from immodestly-dressed young women to this 45-year-old male are, let's face it, not believable and just plain creepy). When Facebook opened its doors to the general public, and because I have a daughter in college, I got an account to see what it was all about. I have to say, I've been pleasantly surprised. Facebook has none of the garish ads that make MySpace so busy, and the ability to connect socially in appropriate ways with total transparency is actually kind of comforting to me as a parent (I know more about what my kids are doing because of it than I did before). But as good as Facebook is for social interaction, it really isn't that great at facilitating an in-depth dialog. I started and joined several Facebook "groups," but there don't have any good tools for engaged conversations, and mostly the feedback I've seen from other participants is: "OK, I'm here. Now what?"

But then I tried Ning.

Co-founded by Marc Andreessen (of Netscape fame), Ning has evolved into a fascinating kind of "do-it-yourself" social networking site that probably didn't make sense to anybody except those working on it, but now that it is out is something of a "wow" experience. It could be, for educators and students, the perfect way to test out the waters of Web 2.0 quickly and easily. Ning's social networking platform introduces you to some of the most engaging aspects of the read/write web: social networking (of course), user profiles, blogging, forums, photo and video sharing, and even RSS!

Encouraged by a "Library 2.0" network that had been started at Ning (and that currently has over 700 members), I created a "Classroom 2.0" social network in a just few hours last Friday. While I would encourage you to join Classroom 2.0 just to see how it works and to network with some great folks who are talking about the read/write web in the classroom, here's the best part: you can now create your own social network. A class, a school, a district, a region, or any other group you care about can now be introduced to the benefits of engaged dialog on the web with very little work and safely. Profiles can be anonymous, and both the network creator and each user can opt to approve content and comments before they are posted. All that we have to do to make this completely student-friendly is to get Ning to allow educators to eliminate the default Google ads for bikini/singles stuff. (For $20/month you can turn the ads off, but they can do better than that for educators. I'm emailing them a copy of this post.)

So if you've been looking for an easier way to be part of the Web 2.0 revolution, give Ning a shot. See you there!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Value of a Social Network?

David Warlick questions the need for a social network for those using the tools of Web 2.0 in the classroom. He says...

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Also, I’ve not had time yet to mention Steve Hargadon’s School2.0 social network. He’s using Ning, a social network builder, and there already seems to be a highly active Library20 network. I’m not sure how helpful these will be. Do we all really need a new place to go. It’s what I like about blogs, podcasts, and RSS, that the network is so organic and so boundaryless. It follows us around.
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Here’s why I think a social network, like Ning, could make a big difference. Yes, the blogosphere provides a fair amount of conversation and connectivity… but it isn't super-inviting to the beginner:

1. You have to learn to set up a blog
2. You have to learn to use RSS feeds
3. You have to figure out a way to connect with and to others who have the same interests
4. The blogosphere becomes an echo-chamber/selective-few-voices medium because of the limits of voices that can be subscribed to–note Will Richardson saying he is tuning out most of those voices and only listening to a few. To be heard in that environment is not easy.

Even for the technically savvy, this is not an easy way to get into the dialog.

Here’s what something like Ning offers:

1. Instant connection to others
2. Low initial technical understanding to do so
3. Quick access to the dialog of the community without RSS needed
4. RSS capable, once comfortable
5. Individual blogging built in, super easy to post and experiment
6. Socially-engaging

Seems to me this is why there are 700+ people in the Library 2.0 social network that can be mobilized and communicated with in an instant–while the blogosphere provides a much less coherent group. And I think a coherent group, that is inviting and easy, is needed for educational technologists using collaborative web tools in the classroom.

Since School 2.0 seems to be too theoretical, I switched to Classroom 2.0. The network is http://classroom20.ning.com.

Friday, March 23, 2007

David Warlick Quote


My creation
Originally uploaded by SteveHargadon.
Created with fd's Flickr Toys. Quote by David Warlick (www.davidwarlick.com). Photo by Diego Gonçalves (http://flickr.com/people/noite/)

Classroom 2.0: An Invitation

A couple of weeks ago I started a School 2.0 social network at Ning, and (as you likely know) have done a series of audio interviews on the subject of School 2.0 as well as setting up a wiki on the subject.

This morning I checked the School 2.0 social network and it had a grand total of 3 members, with me included. :( Then I checked the Library 2.0 social network that Bill Drew started, and it has OVER 700 MEMBERS. Get out! I was shocked.

I got to thinking that School 2.0 is a pretty theoretical idea. Not many of us are ready for a discussion that rethinks education as a whole. Some months back Will Richardson and I bounced around the idea that "Classroom 2.0" might actually be a more effective idea/phrase for encouraging broader participation in the dialog about the use of Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies in education--basically, Classroom 2.0 addresses actual practical use by individual teachers, and doesn't have to involve larger systemic change.

So, with my business partner out of town with his wife for a weekend getaway, and being in the doldrums of the school purchasing cycle, I've spent the morning on an effort that I am hoping makes sense. If I've gone in the wrong direction, I'm sure I'll get the blogosphere equivalent of a blank stare. If I'm on the right track at all, I hope you'll look at the following websites:

1. A social network for Classroom 2.0: http://classrooom20.ning.com

2. A wiki for Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies in the classroom, with reference links and lesson plans: http://www.classroom20.net

Some of the edubloggers, Will most prominently, have been discouraged at times about how much of the excitement and the personal changes in learning that accompany Web 2.0 seem to be contained to the edublogger echo-chamber. Certainly, the broad-brush decision-making at high levels that filters out read/write technologies and reduces ed tech funding seem to take place outside of the context of classroom pedagogy. But if 700+ librarians are mobilized to talk about these technologies, it would seem a similar voice could surely come from the teaching community.

I heard this week that Secretary of Education Spelling is having some private, closed-door meetings with selected groups to talk about educational technology funding and NCLB, and it would seem ever more important to show that there is a strong, passionate, engaged group of teachers doing exceptional work with technology in the classroom. Certainly, we have to be careful not to represent that the current set of technology tools are going to "transform" education. But those watching these technologies carefully understand how significantly they are opening the door to very important questions about learning, and about the kind of education needed to prepare students for the world which lies ahead.

If you think these two new sites would have value, would you consider signing up for the social network, contributing to the wiki, and start selectively publicizing them to those contacts of yours that you think could be early contributors? While I have been tempted to wait to blog about this until the wiki has some more content, I feel that there is a sense of urgency.

Spoof Ads with Linux

OK, I can't help myself. I just have to post these.

The first is good. The second borders on being a classic.



Friday, March 09, 2007

Susan Patrick on Online Learning (School 2.0, Part 9)

"Our biggest barrier is our memory of what schools look like. Those of us running the schools have a very strong memory of 'this is how a school looks, this is how it works.' And the system itself is designed to be very resistant to change. But the innovation and the change is going to come very naturally to our students, and if we are going to keep our students in school--which we have to--...we're going to have to make these jumps and these adaptations. And the thing is, if we don't make them, students will simply go around us. We really need to strengthen our public institutions by being open to new ways of doing things and having them adapt to the School 2.0 model.... I don't think those of us in the U.S. understand how stuck we are in the status quo, and how precarious the situation is for our kids to be successful in the new global economy."

Susan Patrick is the President and CEO of NACOL, the North American Council for Online Learning. She is the former Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education, and as such, published the 2004 National Education Technology Plan, Toward a New Golden Age in American Education: How the Internet, the Law and Today’s Students Are Revolutionizing Expectations.
  • Susan came to NACOL about a year ago because she felt that online learning held the most promise and potential for expanding equity and access to high quality education for all students.
  • Countries other than the United States that are taking a more national view of education are able to move forward passionately in what might be called "School 2." She gives examples from Mexico (digitized entire K-12 content and curriculum) and Singapore (100% of high schools and junior colleges using online learning, and close all schools for a week each year to train in online learning). If China just gets 1% of students doing online learning, it will be 100 million kids, she says. "School 2.0" is happening globally, but in the US we're fighting a big fight just to integrate technology into the old models of schooling.
  • Susan thinks that we know what 21st-century skills are, and that there is general agreement on this, but that they are not being taught in schools. She says there is a huge disconnect between what we know we need to do, and what we are actually doing. Only 30% of our third-graders can read at grade level, and we have a huge drop-out rate.
  • Trying to force 21st century digital tools into the traditional model of the classroom is really hard. When you look at moving courses online (virtual schooling), you have to re-think what and how you are teaching, and you have to train/re-train. Therefore, one of the benefits of online learning is that it give you a chance not only to re-design the course, but to re-think the instructional model--which we need to do. You can do more collaboration, bring in students from other countries, and more closely mimic the way that communication actually takes place in the mode.
  • Susan gives the example of Henrico County, Virginia, which has made the decision to give a laptop to every student. But the primary goal was to increase student achievement, with secondary goals to make certain content available to every student. And with those goals, the laptop program ended up being the only solution to do this. For most school districts, she says, only 1 - 2% of the budget is for technology--but it needs to be in the 5% range. They re-designed their entire, system-wide budget, and allocated 5% to technology. They were then able to give every student and teacher a laptop and still spend $500 less per pupil than the state average.
  • In the last 10 years in the US (local, state, and national combined) we've spent $40 billion dollars on computers in schools--and the critics really have something to talk about since it doesn't seem to have improved education. Online learning has the chance to really change this. The number one reason students take online courses is that the material is not offered in their school.
  • We're going to see more and more high-quality online resources (like Curriki).
  • Public schools right now are locked into the design created at the turn of the last century (school bells, classes organized by age). If we think it's a challenge keeping students engaged in schools, it's only going to get worse in the coming years as life outside of schools becomes organized so differently. There will need to be more "blended" or "hybrid" approaches to learning. If we don't re-think our schools, they will become irrelevant.
  • Schools2-0.org website from the US Department of Education is intended to try and start a conversation about what schools need to look like.
  • The technology infrastructure in ours schools isn't enough, even though we are told that 99% of schools are "hooked up." But the infrastructure isn't nearly robust enough. The 60 - 70% graduation rate in schools should be shocking us into doing more to help our children be successful. In the modern world, 90% of jobs require 2 years of college, and so we need to be doing much more.
  • Online learning is growing at 30% per year. There are an estimated 1 million enrollments in online learning currently. This technology can truly transform education.
  • Online learning is changing the profession of teaching, and it opens up options for teachers, who can teach part-time or from home. And they feel that they are connecting with students in ways they didn't feel in the classroom, since it changes the ways that teacher teach.
  • 90% of the students taking online courses are taking them from within the school environment, and are taking courses that have been approved by the local school system. Going through a state- or district-approved virtual school program allows the students to get credit, and assures that some level of quality has been achieved.
  • Susan talks about how it can be different to teach an online class versus face-to-face instruction. Not only do you get correspondence out of regular class hours, but you also have students who might be quite in physical space be more actively engaged in an e-learning environment. So teaching in an e-learning environment can be more demanding.
  • It's a technology that encourages rigor--online learning can increase access to rigorous classes. She quotes from the The Silent Epidemic report from the Gates Foundation: interview of high-school dropouts. 88% had passing grades when they dropped out. 67% said they would have worked harder if they had been challenged. She really sees online learning helping to solve some of the current problems in education today.
  • Susan describes the experience of online learning management systems. (I was reminded of how the students at Science Leadership Academy described to me how they got to know each other in the summer and before the school year started through the social networking aspects of Moodle.) One of the challenges of education technology is that it's easiest to model new technologies on old ways of doing things. Online learning started with just beaming the image of a teacher in front of a classroom to students in remote areas. In fact, most e-learning is much richer than this, and the teaching and learning are different than they would be in a face-to-face instruction situation. Very student-centered learning, allowing the student to move through the material at their own pace.
  • Second Life? Hasn't done much herself with this. One challenge: Internet safety issue. We are going to see pretty amazing technology advances.
  • We are in an historical period of time that is even more significant than the creation of the printing press. Connecting people in ways that have never happened before. Our biggest barrier is our memory of what schools have been in the past, and the system itself is very resistant to change.
  • This is an incredible period of change--and it means good things for kids if we can manage it the right way.
  • She loves the work being done at the MIT Media Lab. Frustration that the US doesn't have a national view on this new model of education. We don't understand how stuck we are in the status quo, and how precarious the situation is for our kids to be successful in this new global economy. Our old model is going to keep getting more and more expensive and produce less and less of what we need. The current data model for accountability in schools is based on a 1950's-style once-a-year testing of kids. And it's expensive to keep a 1950's jalopy running.
  • Seymour Papert analogy of US investment in the 1952 to re-design the steamship, while instead Europe sent the first cargo airplane across the Atlantic in a fraction of the time. Are we "investing in the steamship" in education right now?

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