Saturday, March 28, 2009

Tech Connect - Baby Steps

Teachers at UGDSB continue to surprise me with their interest in learning new things, despite the incredibly busy teaching schedules they have! I put a shout out to see if any teachers might like to gather together online from the comfort of their own internet connections and learn about using technology in the classroom, expecting about 5 responses. I've now sent out the schedule to 18 eager teachers...this should be awesome!

In planning this I'm no expert with Adobe Connect but I have attended a few meetings as a guest and have now run a few conference meetings for ECOO as a host, with the help of my friend Karen Beutler. I've used other communication tools like YacPak, skype, ichat, and Elluminate and I think I'm ready to branch out and try using this tool for learning with other teachers, so I'm jumping out of the nest; comfortable with giving this a try and learning along with them to get it going.

I've decided to make the first session a welcome one, with a chance for participants to play around with the interface. I'll have a few goodies to share in order to keep people interested and hopefully wanting to come back! I am imagining these sessions will become interactive webinars where we can share issues and teachers can request what they'd like to learn. I can easily give teachers the option of sharing things with the group as well, so this intrigues interactive might this tool be?

What is best practice with online PD and conferencing software like Adobe Connect?

So far, I've gathered the following ideas from my colleagues who've used this model, but please add comments if you can share some expertise!

1) If at all possible use two monitors, so that one monitor allows you to see what you are sharing, and the other lets you keep track of the back channel chat which is so important to learning this way.

2) Try to have an attendee who can troubleshoot as your technical person. Upgrade this person to another host presenter so that they can grant permissions if there are technical issues that your attendees are trying to sort out as the session continues.

3) Always begin with a slide that reviews the process of getting connected and checking your audio. With a huge number of people it's probably preferable that not all attendees us a microphone, but mostly use the chat. (I'd like to experiment with this)

So that's what I know so far! I love trying new things and usually start with a basic plan and adjust as I go, taking into account the needs of the group and their interests in learning.

Looking forward to any comments that might help!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Grateful for Discourse, Desperate for Balance

I had a really nice first day of March break today caving with my kids. In the midst of an ever increasing network of people online, I'm in awe of the opportunities that I'm having to connect with other educators in my PLN and beyond, but I'm constantly challenged to keep the balance between what could become a 24/7 workday and my other priorities: family, learning, and a few interesting pursuits along the way to keep me sane. Conscious of how quickly the kids are growing, I know that the huge amount of time I spend online, largely in the evenings since I'm teaching all day, is coming at a cost.

However, I'm so in awe of the teachers I'm meeting up with online that are so caring about their profession and so passionate about learning! This week I found myself challenged by my friend Gary Stager to speak up on Twitter about my beliefs about students and learning, certainly something I'm not encouraged to do in my day-to-day. In fact, in public education we are so rarely asked to develop a personal philosophy of education that it dawned on me that this should be considered quite worrisome! Whole generations of teachers may spend a good chunk of their lifetime becoming 'expert' teachers (at least in terms of years served) and never think very deeply about what it is they are doing that could change the life of a child. This has not been my experience, as what appeals to me most about teaching is my own learning about learning...I'm thankful to have an online community in which to engage in such rich discourse and thankful that after 21 years, I'm still constantly challenged to become a better teacher; there is always more to learn!

Good examples of learning-centred approaches are all around us, and I'm so grateful to my colleagues for sharing their work. When Mike Anderson organized our Skills Canada event at UGDSB this week, I was so impressed with the collaborative, authentic challenges that were presented to the students to promote problem-solving. Lego Robotics, Toon Boom animations, Lego Mechanics, Video Production with Apple Canada, student created Health and Safety presentations, building wind turbines and designing and building replicas of houses were the focus of this event, with a focus on a constructive rather than instructive approach.

This week I've been checking out Ben Hazzard, who creates a collaborative space for teachers, Alec Couros, a prof from Regina that I've met on Twitter who was u-streaming a conference presentation from Calgary this week, and veteran teachers like Peter Skillen taking on new projects like Adobe Youth voices. Also, Nathan Toft and Jane Smith and their, Kent Manning sharing his love of digital storytelling and Doug Peterson's regular updates on his blog.

You see what I mean? What is a person to do? Not only do I feel a little guilty for being such a taker, and not contributing, but it's such a challenge just to keep up with all this good stuff and keep doing my thing for teachers and students in my school district.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Vote Peter Skillen for ISTE International Representative!

This is a shout out for Peter Skillen, who has won the nomination as one of two candidates for the ISTE International Representative on the ISTE Board.

You can follow this link to see Peter's profile under International Representatives.

Peter's teaching experience and support of technology for learning and constructivism would be a great addition to the ISTE Board of Directors. Check out his website Vote soon!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Twitter @bsherry

I've been giving Web 2.0 lots of thought this week as I become pretty much entrenched in the Twittersphere...and really liking it! I am absolutely amazed at the sharing that I see going on in twitter. It's pretty incredible to read postings from people I know and technology leaders I've been reading about for the past 5 or 6 years.

Creating groups around your career or interests is a wonderful thing. It makes you feel pretty good to be exchanging ideas with people who think like you and have the resources that you have...but I do wonder whose voice is not being heard here? What, if anything, is the danger in developing ideas among like-minded individuals? Is there really a variety of voices and objective participation in most online communities? Are we missing out on some important voices? You'd think that you'd find a diverse group in the Twittersphere, but is the clustering that happens likely to promote a range of opinion, or a similarity that could cloud our view of what other people experience?

Quite frankly, some teachers just don't have colleagues in their schools that are interested in collaboration around topics of interest in education. Or perhaps they are the only teacher in a particular subject area or with a certain kind of expertise in the school. Our choice used to be taking a course, which would give us a PLN we needed for a period of time. Now, I can take my professional interests online and look for like-minded educators to help me push forward in my learning, possibly in a much more sustaining way than a traditional course offering. This is why I got involved in blogging and wikis...I needed dialogue with teachers who were interested in new technologies and there weren't individuals at my school who were exploring these ideas. Online communities seemed to be a much more practical and vibrant classroom for me.

In December, David Warlick talked at RCAC about the danger of students without access; he says the real danger is not so much about access to computers anymore, but understanding the power of collaboration, or not. I'm coming to understand, through my own participation online, that these learning networks may meet more of the needs of our learners and teachers than traditional learning spaces (time, choice, just-in-time learning, co-learning), and that teachers really need to be understand the usefulness of these very real and purposeful virtual environments. Now, the challenge of being open to the use of these kinds of tools in our often locked-down school network environments!

I look forward to learning more from my Twitter friends about how these networks work and their experience as participants.