May 28, 2008

The web 2.0 tool that’s already there- sort of

Filed under: education,personal learning network,TeachersFirst,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 10:04 am

I am following up on my previous post about TagUrIt, my mythical tool to pull all outside feedback and response into a single place for a learner to synthesize feedback received from all products and projects, no matter what the medium. Lifestream apparently does this. (I have a vague memory of reading about Lifestream a couple of months ago….so my “dream” tool in the previous post may really have been a figment of foggy memory.) Once again, somebody already thought of my great idea. I wonder if it can pull a feed from tagged email, as well. For a TRULY one-stop shop, I’d want to be able to include feedback emails, too.

 Of course, I don’t see Lifestream rushing to market themselves as a tool for education or personal learning network/professional development. If they are interested in a powerful use of their tool, they should talk to our team at the TeachersFirst Edge. We know how to learn from web2.0 play: bridging the gap from web2.0 into learning. I guess there’s a better market in building customers’ egos or helping them track their social web presence than there is in making webworld a wide-open classroom. Or maybe they never thought of it?

Thank goodness for teachers (like those on our Edge team and the earlyadoptereducators who hang out in places like Twitter) who see the freebies and find amazing power in applying them in new ways. I can’t wait to see them all at NECC where the bloggers cafe and laptop users seated on the floor in public spaces are always abuzz with new toys. It’s hyperstimulation of the highest order: Thoughtstream.

May 22, 2008

Why my life is sorted into email folders- a teaching idea?

Filed under: edtech,education,musing,personal learning network — Candace Hackett Shively @ 1:11 pm

I spent the morning sorting through old emails for pull-quotes to use on some promotional materials, and the process brought on a surge of reflection. I have been in this job since 2006 and have always kept a “teachers out there” folder within my email for messages that tell me good and bad about how TeachersFirst is doing. I even have subfolders for mail from college faculty users or those who comment on the Interactive Raven. I make folders as a reference system to find emails later , but I had no idea of their impact as a tool for reflection. Bear with me as I muse on…

Imagine if every student had an email account (yes, I know…. archiving, server space, bullying, etc…everyone has a reason NOT to provide these). Imagine if they could file emails from peers and teachers all year as a way to sort out reactions to major projects (like my Interactive Raven folder), comments from outsiders (like my webmaster email or “teachers out there” folders), and feedback from specific professionals (like my college faculty folder). Then when the time came to “pull quotes” (verb, not noun) to share as part of an end-of year reflection, each student could read back through and see progress, consensus and even direction. A new personally-organized learning network.

Taking it further: Maybe students don’t need email to do this. After all, so much of their input likely comes in the form of web 2.0 “comments” and can be sorted by “tags.” Perhaps what they (we) need  for School (or Work) 2.0 is a tool that allows us to organize responses to ANY and all media we create (email, wiki, blog post, dig pix, online comic strip, YouTube video, podcast, or cute web2.0 doo-dad) in a single location by tag or “folder.” Suddenly we have “Response Central,” a place to see trends among very diverse products and to allow meta-analysis of our own strengths and needs for improvement. If EVERY tool provided RSS feeds for comments, that would be one way to do it: by tagging the responses within the reader using a consistent system.  We could have our personal RSS (Response Sorting System) Reader. Not every tool provides RSS for responses or comments, though. Many do.

I wonder if anyone has ever done this. Of course, setting up the tagging system could be the kicker. The first few times we did it, we’d discover that some tags did not “work” over time. But the second year would be a lot easier. We could make New Years Day the unofficial tag reorganization day as we watch parades and football…but I am getting carried away.

So there’s a skill to add to School 2.0/Work 2.0 so we can reflect on all those marvelous comments and actually learn from them. Anybody have a cute name for it yet? (TagUrIt?) I am sure some developer is working on it.

May 5, 2008

Bright Orange: Princeton Conference Reflections

Filed under: education,learning,personal learning network,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 8:48 am

Last Friday I spent the day at a conference in Princeton on Children and Electronic Media: Teaching in the Technological Age. There were presentations on current research concerning the impact of electronic media on children and youth, innovative uses of technology in classrooms, and professional development using electronic media (synchronous and asynchronous). The presenters were all recognized voices; many in the auditorium were also recognized “eyes and ears,” as well as practitioners. Kevin Jarrett, one of the presenters and “Mr.  Second Life” of education [my nickname], blogged the event today, and his reverence for the minds in the room is quite appropriate. It was an energizing gathering — one that seems destined to echo in orange.

I spent a good part of the weekend letting the conference incubate in my head. The issues of implementing teacher professional development in rigorous, differentiated, yet supportive and respectful formats are so critical to the future success of our students, and there is simply SO much for so many to learn, and never “be done.” The ProfDev concerns I have been mulling:

1. Time. How can we streamline the start-up and personalization of PD in a one-size-fits-all mindset? So many administrations simply want “all staff” to “complete” this or that Prof Dev “training,” whether it is on special ed procedures, a new language arts program, or –oh yeah– we have to do the technology stuff (Why so many do technology “training” in isolation is a major issue, as well!)

2. Respect and expect. How do we shift to a  model that allows differentiation hand in hand with rigor: respect where teachers say they are (“I need to learn more about teaching xxx in a project-based approach but am also nervous about doing anything with technology”) yet expect them to step outside of their comfort zones with respectful support and encouragement. Without both, you waste your money and their time. With both, change can actually happen.

3. Hanging together. In a standard, hierarchical arrangement of admin and teachers, there may well be administrators placed in the position of evaluating and approving personalized Prof Dev plans who know the topics no better than the novice participants. Shouldn’t they simply do it together as part of the cohort,  just as we would like students and teacher to be able to work together as learners? What better way to model a new way of “building learners”?

4. Real life. Different teachers have varying degrees of “free” time. There are stages of life when doing anything after 4 or 5 pm is extremely difficult for a teacher: infant at home, aging or dying parents, carpools and coaching for their own kids, moonlighting jobs to pay kids’ tuition, and innumerable other pressures spread and stress so many teachers. This is where the asynchronous options actually make a difference, assuming the 3 concerns above have been resolved wisely. Kevin says

Who has time for PD? We all do. It’s a matter of deciding what’s important. When you’re personally vested in the process, somehow, it gets done!

It’s the “personally vested” part that is tough to achieve in stressed people. We need to respect the limits of real life and expect progress without expecting the same level of expertise from all in the same time frame (NTLB?). If  life’s pressures are unreasonable, teachers will never be “vested.” Humans protect their own survival by fighting.

5. Making it meaningful. We are supposed to do this with our students and should expect that our own learning should be the same way. It is our own responsibility to be sure that our OWN prof dev is meaningful. If it isn’t, speak up and ask if you can adjust it (respectfully of course).

6. Vastness. We will never be “done.” We can’t even stay even. We can sift, sort, listen, and ask questions. David Brooks wrote Saturday about The Cognitive Age:

The central process driving this is not globalization. It’s the skills revolution. We’re moving into a more demanding cognitive age. In order to thrive, people are compelled to become better at absorbing, processing and combining information. [my italics]

Teachers need to not only do this absorbing, processing, and combining and with their own skills; they must do it well enough to teach it to tomorrow’s adults. The vastness of this task is huge.

Bright orange is the color of fire, of lively energy and hope, and of sunsets. I hope the fire from this conference will burn brightly as we who were there light some flames in others,  and avoid sunset.

February 19, 2008

Managing the Bakery of EdTech Treats

Filed under: about me,edtech,learning,personal learning network,TeachersFirst — Candace Hackett Shively @ 5:16 pm

“However, it is important to realize that we also need to spend time away from the grid in order to remain focused on areas that interest us. By focusing on specific ideas and using other people as sources for our learning, we don’t have to do all the work ourselves.”

So says Kelly Christopherson (KC) in a wonderful post about prioritizing the overwhelming “informational tsunami” for educators on technology, web 2.0, and change. I feel overloaded every day. When events like a family crisis or days at a conference keep me (blessedly) away from my computer–well, except for emergencies– for days at a time, my RSS reader becomes a Horrendous Heap to read, and I often resort to fast-scan-then-give-up-and-mark-all-as-read. But curiosity still nags at me. What treats did I just throw out?

So how do I balance my selfish curiosity (“I just wanna read about it so I know what it is and how it works– in case I am missing something”) with the focus that KC suggests to keep myself sane? With a web site such as TeachersFirst to orchestrate, I am very aware of the wide range of teacher needs we try to meet– for free, without bias, and with respect for our users. We can never be everything to everybody. We are generalists, seeking to deliver from our bakery variety pack a selected, deliciously-frosted cupcake for each teacher-user. We cannot possibly deliver an entire cake to each, but we hope that our cupcake variety is diverse enough for everyone to find just the taste they need now and to return for another cupcake soon. For some teachers, TeachersFirst may entice them to get involved in baking themselves, taking a course or researching “recipes” for techno-treats independently. Others will always opt for our delicious bakery, simply as a trusted time saver.

Personally, I want to know how to bake every type of edtech cake, fill it, frost it, and even list its nutritional content. I know I will never meet that goal. But I will try to take KC’s advice about “taking time away from the grid” (or the bakery). I feel as though he has given me permission to hit the “mark all as read” button when I am feeling overwhelmed.

Perhaps the most important permission I can give myself when confronted with so many edtech treats is permission to follow the bakery scents that intrigue me most and write with passion about those. I may never learn to make every cake, but those I do pursue will taste genuine, indeed. Those who read TeachersFirst and choose us as their favorite bakery will, I hope,  appreciate our authenticity.

January 12, 2008

Birthday Bucket

Filed under: about me,edtech,education,learning,personal learning network — Candace Hackett Shively @ 11:22 am

I love this idea.
You’ve got to be kidding.
But, what about…

I just spent over an hour looking at RSS feeds from blogs I enjoy reading, and I’m fired up. My “personal learning network” includes blogs from teachers, a powerful new blog from the people we “teach” (HA!- they teach us), blogs from people who would probably consider everything I do or write to be trivial, blogs that intrigue me, blogs of well-organized people who write with the authority of an op-ed columnist, and blogs intended as outgoing information-providers not much interested in response. My Google Reader also has feeds from REALLY techie places whose content I add to my “I really should/want to learn about this” list  and feeds from traditional pubs that rework the same content multiple times each week into at least five versions to make their feeds look more prolific. But you don’t care who is on my reader, anyway.

But what a great way to start a birthday: finding things I am excited about, feel strongly about, must argue with, or am simply fascinated by: things I want to do, think about, learn, comment on, and more. This is my “bucket list” of things I want to do–not before I die, but before the bucket overflows. If I keep drawing things from the bucket, I can keep adding.  My bucket is latex and expands like a swim cap under a faucet (try that experiment sometime, if your children are not swimmers— you can make it large enough to HOLD a swimmer). The first addition this year is the idea of a Birthday Bucket.

The Birthday Bucket idea is a hitch-hike on the “Annual Report” contest (deadline tomorrow…I probably won’t make it this year). What better idea on your birthday than to reflect and build a visual representation-in-four of the past year’s accomplishments/events/questions/thoughts/travels, etc. ?

Of course, Think-Like-a-Teacher me says this is something we could ask students to share in lieu of unhealthy birthday treats on their own birthdays. Imagine a fresh 8-year old’s visual version of being 7-going-on-8. We say kids are not reflective at this age, but wouldn’t that be a terrific skill to start building at a young age? Imagine how it would blossom when adolescence injects new questioning…and how great the retrospective of Birthday Buckets would be when trying to decide about life after high school or (in a dream world) what to STUDY in high school. Here are the instructions:

Birthday Bucket
Create a way to SHOW (not tell) what you are learning, wondering, fired up about, simply MUST say something about, have accomplished, or just think is special about you right now and over the past year. Put the items in some sort of “Birthday Bucket” of at least four elements that others can ask about, explore, see, feel, hear, or even taste. The bucket must be preserved in some way so you can look at it in months/years to come. Use any tools you enjoy and at least one tool you have never tried before. 

Stir. Share freely. Welcome comments.

This blog entry is my Birthday Bucket for this year:

Birthday Bucket 08