Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Reflections on Virtual Schools

So what did I pull away from the Virtual Leadership Conference besides five pages of notes on all aspects of creating an online school? It’s hard to say, but I am thankful that the conference was not what I expected. Going in, I thought I was going to be sold a product, and I was not, by any means. The staff at the Florida Virtual School were as transparent (in the good, School 2.0 kind of way) as they could be. Most of what we learned was couched in “this is what we do currently and we like it, but these are all of the mistakes we made….” and never did I feel like I was being shown the ONLY way to create a virtual school.

It’s exciting to think that because of this, I have the opportunity to create a school, albeit an offshoot of an existing school, but one that will only resemble a traditional school in course title; content delivery, student teacher interaction, assessment, evaluation, and many other facets will be incredibly different. That has me racing to get the wheels moving. And move they must. For a project like this to become a reality, many things have to be put into place, evaluated, and then re-shaped so they fit.

I don’t know if it was coincidence or kismet, but on the plane back while searching for a cure for nausea brought on by reading, I watched Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk about creativity and education. Creativity needs cultivation.

(on a side note, during Robinson’s talk, I made several promises to my children to push and pull on what they are good at, and to never breed fear of failure. Robinson’s points about adults being so afraid to fail in the face of their peers crystallizes why some companies, like Google and others, breed a culture of success—their employees are encouraged to experiment and play without fear of failure)

At this point in my career, I am thankful I have discovered “play,” again, and that I am dependent on creativity to make my projects work. Problems, solutions, failures and successes are all part of most every day that I spend; days that don’t include those aspects are indeed rare. This project just adds to that mix.

Surprisingly, the most repeated point throughout the conference was the immense importance placed on guidance counselors—whether they be those of the virtual school or the public school. Not that I am selling the role of counselors short by any means, but when I came to this conference, the last thing I expected to talk about was guidance counselors. But it makes sense now: overachieving students will gravitate to virtual schools for the opportunity to extend their learning beyond what is offered during a normal school day, but those students who might truly benefit from self-paced learning might not find the virtual school by themselves. That’s where an astute counselor comes in and places the student in a virtual school, where they might meet with success learning at a pace that is suitable to them. When we talk of stakeholders in a school community, rarely do we bring counselors into the fold. This must change if the virtual school is going to be successful, because, regardless of your socioeconomic level, there are not enough overachievers to make a virtual school viable within one district.

The pacing of virtual schools, especially the FLVS model, really astounded me as well. They use a policy of open-enrollment, whereby at any point during the year a student could enroll in the course. Pacing is determined by the student upon enrollment and they must submit a summary statement explaining their choice of pace to the instructor as soon as they begin the first lesson, or module of the class. What this means for the teacher, with students beginning at various times, is that there are multiple levels of asynchronous learning going on at once, and teaching occurs according to student need, not teacher decision. That amazed me, and allowed me to start linking this model into my thoughts on LMS and personal learning environments. In PLE’s there can be room for teacher-created content and coursework.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Evaluating Online School Success

Total Dropouts

How will we know if the program we create is effectively providing the students with what they need? There are so many options available, either in-house and on the web, to evaluate quickly how people feel about their experience in an online school. Metrics, when used effectively, are invaluable in this regard. For us, since this is so new and so unknown, finding out first who is interested with both teachers and students, then how we have hit benchmarks of progress will be important parts of the process.

The graph at the top of the page, with information taken from the US Census Bureau, shows the dropout rate among high school students over the last 30 years. I have to think that using online classes to either keep these students in school, or to give them access to credit recovery would push us, or anyone to create these types of schools.

Survey tools to gather data

  • use them to analyze where the data is telling the school to move.

65% Survey
  • when a student hits the 65% completion point, they are automatically taken to a survey that asks them about teacher effectiveness and class effectiveness
  • Data is then analyzed and changes are suggested for the course or teacher
  • This is kind of like RateMyTeachers on steroids.
End of year, mass surveys to stakeholder groups
  • each district served receives the survey
  • they are asked how well the school is serving the community/school
Principals and Guidance counselors receive surveys
  • they are asked how well the school is serving the community/school
  • how does the virtual school compare/stack-up to the regular school
Parent Survey
  • targeted to their child's schedule and class record

Student Survey
  • end of course survey about their school experience

Marketing and Publicity in Virtual Schools

Establishing a virtual school requires buy in from all of the stakeholders in your community. In order to win that, and it is something that has to be won, your message has to be clear, ethical, and seen as driven from an altruistic motive, which of course it will be. This type of school is by its nature non-traditional, and will be seen as a change to current environment. It's safe to say that when you introduce change, it has to be done in a careful way, and with great care given to bringing the right people on board with you.

Who are those people? That depends on your community. With us, it begins and ends with students and their needs. A good point was brought up this morning by Dan while we were in a conversation with an administrator from Texas: "If we are preparing our students for college, this might be something we should look into because this is what they will see when they get there."

Otherwise, counselors are also people who need to brought on (see below), the public, administrators, teachers, parents, etc., are going to be wary of adding this to your district's offerings.

Marketing and Student Outreach

Sharing what courses looked like

* teachers and administrators need to see that what you are offering online is comparable to what is being offered in the classroom
* Samples from existing virtual schools


* making sure that your students/teacher have access to the classes.
* Assess what your population has in terms of connection and bandwidth
o survey
o assessment of what we can offer if there is low bandwidth

Counselors are the gateway to the students getting access to the classes.

* Sell the counselors on the idea, and the students will follow into the classes.
* This makes perfect sense because counselors tend to know the needs of specific students as well as the general trends for overall grade levels because they analyze the trends that students exhibit while registering for classes.
o also can read emotional needs much more clearly

Get the name out there

* products with emblems
* How do we publicize this? And in publicizing the virtual school, would be we be unethical in relation to the other subjects? Seriously, no one advertises their Economics 101 class during scheduling?
* But why not? This might show passion and energy that student might pick up on. Interesting

Customer Service training is integral to building a successful school in this light

* treating people with care and genuine concern takes the stigma out of online classes being impersonal
* the initial meeting is the beginning of this process. Once the students are enrolled and participating in the classes, the personal nature of the teacher/student relationship furthers this.

Curriculum Design in Virtual Schools

Yesterday, most of the questions I was generating were in regard to how to actually create the content for the classes offered. Today's session will deal mainly with curriculum design and instructional strategies. What I am looking for is what type of experience students are having in this environment. When a student decides to take an online course, what will they be doing with other students? Will they collaborate, and if so, how? When I think about 21st Century skills, and creating students capable of recognizing patterns and being empathetic, I wonder about the sometimes isolating nature of the online world.

Course Development

* every course has a motif
o engagement is begun here.
o the example being given here is Comprehensive Math for 6th grade where the class is built around a zoo motif. The student is assuming the role of the zookeeper, and will use the math skills he or she learns to successfully maintain a zoo.
* When students remain the center of the class, success is inevitable
o students benefit, teachers benefit, school benefits.
* Courses are developed using a multiple intelligence modality. Learning styles are targeted through varied course content and varied choices for student output.
o allows students to feel success regardless of their talents.
* Students can show mastery in a variety of ways

Quote from the main course screen: "instructors have access to all areas of the student account. Your email account is for school use only."
Science might be a problem--how do you do labs?
Look and Feel

* material in the course, the actual pages, are chunked for the students, so that there is limited scrolling.
* courses mirror the diverse population.
* Readability levels
o chunks of contents
o web links
o other resources
o average
o courses do not use materials that dip too far below grade level, or too far above grade level
* Writing
o personal reflection
o Upper level Bloom's
o Comparable to lesson
* These two components appeal to both ends of the spectrum.

Some notes from how the course looks as you enter it:

* The first thing I noticed is that the interface is really basic, with not a lot of busy-ness on the screen.
* Also, the students must decide at what pace they will proceed. When they decide this, they must write the instructor with a rationale for their pace choice. Accelerated is 18 weeks, Traditional is 34 weeks, or Extended, where the pace is decided on by the student and teacher together.
* The autograde function is interesting in that you can design assessments to include questions that are graded by the LMS, but also have on that same assessment an essay or short-answer portion that is sent to the teacher for grading.
* What these course will always need is rich web content and collaboration. If the students could also create course content that other students use, that adds another huge element to this.
* Could we design a course around an MMORG? I am thinking of Civilizations here, where the students are required to use the game as an integral part of learning ancient civilizations, in addition to other content from a more traditional sense.

Standards and alignment

* must align to state, national and now world standards
* specific to each state
* if designed well, courses and lessons will blend the standards together seamlessly and fluidly
o standards--objective--lesson--assessment

Interactivity, Multi-Media, Technology

The nature of an online school lends itself to using multi-media as a means to create content, whether teacher-created or student-created. The rise of things like Second Life where several members of the class could meet in a quasi-physical way adds another level of meaning to this.

* How to allow them to use Web 2.0 technologies
* Can we incorporate these into our classes online?
o necessary and obvious


* autograde- students submit a quiz online that is graded immediately
* written
* oral assessment
* project
* self-assessment

What are some of the collaborative activities that are included in the assessments?

* classmates- interaction through discussion boards
o students are given an option sometimes through the assessment piece--individual or collaborative
o this is in beta right now.
o students have the ability to reach outside of the classroom and connect
* family
* community- students can work with their communities for school projects

21st Century Skills

* Life skills- how to collaborate and how to interact
* core subjects
* learning and thinking skills
* internet and medial literacy- how to detect credibility online and how to assess what constitutes a good source.
* 21st Century Content


* web links
* guided web activities
* subscriptions
* software

Monday, April 23, 2007

Virtual School Instructional Leadership

How are teachers evaluated in an online model? Virtual schools present different challenges to administrators as they do not exist within the Hunter-esque model of evaluation. Barbara referred to this when she posted on her blog about the unique problems associated with School 2.0 and evaluations in the traditional sense.

How are teachers hired?

  • teachers must first take an online survey before they are asked to come in for an interview or a phone call.
    • minimum score required
  • Instructional Leaders are like "principals" of the the virtual school.
  • The interview process is unique
    • face-to-face and phone all at once
      • integral because of the nature of the teaching--a lot of the teaching is done by phone.
    • There has to be some thought put into how different the hiring process will be than the traditional interview and screening process. In addition to the teaching craft, the interpersonal skills are essential to the success of the online teacher.
  • Mentoring program
    • reduced class load for the mentoring teacher
    • follow-up calls and once a week to the new teacher
    • The drop aspect of this is an often-discussed

Florida has a policy of open enrollment where students can drop or add the class at any point during its progression. This means that the learning and teaching is completely asynchronous on two levels:
  • learners are not always accessing the information at the same time, even if they are at the same point in the class time line.
  • learners in the class may be at several different points in the time line. (imagine an American History class where one group of students is working through the Depression while another group may still be working through Lincoln's presidency. The teacher is responsible for teaching, re-teaching, re-teaching, until the class has finished).
In addition to the open enrollment, teachers can also drop a student after a series of missteps or lack of performance. WHAT! Imagine that in a regular classroom!

The appearance of an online teacher, to their families, is very different.
  • because the teacher works from home, families tend to view the teacher as a non-teacher. After all, they don't look like they are working because they are sitting in front of the computer or talking on the phone.
  • Here is the beginning of the difference for teaching and evaluating, perhaps. When becoming an online teacher, the applicant needs to be made aware of exactly how different the profession is in this new model.
  • In addition, the strategies teachers use to admonish or to motivate, can be extremely creative
    • contests
How do we know that the students are the ones doing the work?
  • Mirrors traditional classrooms in that the teacher will get to know the student's writing and style
  • Phone conversations also let the teacher know more about the students.
  • Database of student work to compare to. As more assignments get put in, the database grows.
  • Teachers can view how long a student has spent on an assignment through the LMS.
  • Oral assessments
    • "how did you come to that conclusion?"
  • Requiring a student to take a face-to-face exam
  • Students are also allowed to resubmit assignments at any point throughout the course.
  • Pacing
    • three paces allowed by FLVS
      • traditional pace- similar to what a traditional school would offer for a full-year class (about 8mos.)
      • extended pace
      • accelerated pace
    • flexibility within each of these paces.
  • Students and parents also complete an evaluation when the student is 65% completed with the course. This feedback is used to reshape how the teachers are selected, how the classes are structured, and the type of professional development the teacher needs to focus on.
How do administrators know that the teachers are doing their job?
  • Each teacher has credit goal that they are expected to meet.
    • it becomes evident when a teacher has a weak point in their pedagogy
    • There is data that may reflect
    • Each teacher is required to complete so many students throughout the course of a year.
      • performance-based
  • The Instructional Leaders look at the teachers each week
    • data from calls
    • student ebb and flow from the class
    • weekly student progress- pace and academic average.
  • This might not reflect everyone's model, but since FLVS is performance-based, what happens when a teacher is floundering?
    • when the IL picks up trends within the teacher's performance over time, then they intervene much as they would in a normal school.
      • providing strategies and support.
      • Content-buddies (at FLVS): new teachers are placed with a content-buddy as well as a mentor to help troubleshoot areas of curriculum.
      • Team teaching: working with a group of teachers on a class so that they can all interact with the group of students.
  • Three evaluations per teacher
    • beginning of the year
      • credit goal- there is a standard that all teachers are expected to meet with how many student credit-hours are completed by their classes.
      • leadership goal- how a teacher communicates within the course and how they work within the team
      • business goal
      • professional development goal
Teamwork and getting teacher stakeholder buy-in is essential, and in thinking of how to set this up in my district, the decision to include some and not others will make or break whether or not the Sparta Virtual School becomes a reality. This, like many other areas of School 2.0, requires a certain ability within the stakeholders to be able to suspend disbelief and be comfortable with not knowing how it is going to look upon completion.

This is such a different model of learning, and so much of it lives in opposition to traditional teaching (hours of operation especially) that not to spend time on the training of staff would be disastrous to the success of the virtual school.

The Technical Side to Virtual Schools

Obviously, the technical side of creating an online school must be addressed before you roll out the program and begin enrolling students. Surprisingly, the choice of learning management systems was only briefly discussed. However, there are so many out there to choose from ranging from open source to commercially available, that even a school as successful as FLVS, who uses EduCate (?), can work with Moodle, Drupal, or SAKAI.

Help Desk/Support

  • Each district must account for volume in order to make this program work
    • volume of calls or service requests must not exceed the capabilities of your tech staff.
    • Interesting to see the numbers as they increase when a district adds a virtual element to their curriculum.

Students and teachers, in addition to the course content needed at the inception of the class, will be creating content and data as the course moves through its progression. The problem of data security and integrity becomes an issue.
  • are you teachers virtual or not?
  • where are you storing your data?
    • is it safe and secure?
    • disaster recovery
    • you need to have definite plans for disaster recovery and to evaluate who is going to be hosting your student information
  • laptop
    • support
      • remote support
    • MS Office
    • Instructional team gets Dreamwaver
    • life-cycle of machines
  • VOIP Phones
    • calling students is essential to the success of the school, so VOIP works for this purpose.
    • support for phones
    • paid for
  • High speed internet connection is mandatory
    • paid for by school
  • Printer/Fax machine supplied by the school
  • elluminate
    • web conferencing for classes but also for administration within the staff in FLVS
    • Cost might be an issue here
  • VSA
    • student information system and teacher management system/performance indicator.
    • SIS/TIS
    • phone calls are logged in by teachers
    • reports on student performance are generated and housed here, also on the teachers as well.
  • Disk Space per student?
    • some classes will require students to upload huge documents and housing this material can become problematic when you grow your school.
  • Parent/guardian accounts to access the performance of their child within the LMS or SIS.

Virtual Leadership Training

Here are my notes from the Virtual Leadership Conference, Day 1. I am
just going to let these fly out there, and it may be in several parts,
but I am not usually one who writes in this format (notes, that is).

Goals of the group:

* How to build an online school
* How to grow a school wisely
* How does teaching look in this environment
* How are students successful in this environment
* How does staffing look in regards to the union issue?
* LMS’s.
* How do we monitor students and teachers
* Assessment of students? How is authentic?
* Pacing of students as they move through a course
* Funding of your own students/funding of students from outside of the district?

There is a lot of demand and a lot of need out there

* state requirements
* credit recovery
* Kids don't have issue with the online learning, we do.

How do you grow your online school and maintain quality

* million dollar question
* constant battle to maintain that balance

Florida Virtual School is funded based on student success

* at their own request
* measures in place to maintain academic integrity

What is student success in an online school? Is there a way to track student performance over time?

* SAT, ACT prep courses and affect on scores
* Do online schools show success in this area?
* Is the very nature of an online learning environment contrary to standardized testing?
o should these students be measured in another way?

Blogger is giving me issues. Here are some more ideas:

Class discussions via YackPack.

* Whatever LMS we choose, it should have the ability to me module or node-based, so we can add things like YackPack or Skype directly into them.
* elluminate is another that FLVS uses.

College Reach-out Program

* priority funding with FLVS and priority access to students in this group who are at-risk or designated for this program.
* This type of program provides students who might have slipped through the cracks or missed out on a traditional school "track" on getting themselves in position to reach the college level.
* Underserved students are viewed as not a good fit for online learning
o not true-- a populare misconception
o FLVS has data to show that students in minority populations do very well on standardized tests after having been associated with FLVS.
o Stereotype eraser, and students who might otherwise shy away from academic success, or are shunned due to social stereotypes (behavior problems, bad decisions, social stigmas) do very well in an online class.
* The idea that students are "embarrassed" to be smart in some schools due to social pressures, can be "invisibly smart" in an online class while still maintaining their social status (the sagging pants phenomena)
* Migrant students benefit from FLVS through Dan Bolton--Angels Helping Hands who provides inexpensive laptop computers to them so they can participate in online learning.

The prevailing opinion is that online learning is for the bright kids. It also attracts students who are looking for a free ride.

* 29-day grace period for students to drop the class. This usually weeds out those looking for a free-ride.
* This system also represents under-achieving students.

Initially, the focus of online learning was on the higher-achieving students, but the trend is to move away from this and to "serve the underserved."

Internet connection speed also plays a part in the creation of course content

* providing equal access for all members of the class to materials is essential to the students feeling of success and belonging in the environment.
* This could be meted out in the beginning of the class or at initial enrollment through a survey that informs the school how each student connects to the internet.
* Funding options for students with limited access to technology need to be explored.

Student support

* mentoring programs that involve community support or corporate support.
o many companies require that employees mentor students
* The need for students to rise to meet a level of success mandated by an online school, rather than being held back by it is crucial, and providing support measures, either through mentoring or through built-in measures.

Publicity and Marketing also play a huge role in the success of your online program if you plan to open it to those outside of your district. Even within district, buy-in from counselors who trust the program and push it in their meetings with students will make or break the school.

As for how to "teach" so far the best quote is "You will not work less, you will just work differently."

In addition, a rather depressing statistic for me, the Northeast is the least progressive in the area of online school proliferation when compared to the rest of the nation.

* is this union related?
* If so, this will require a lot of relationship-building with unions and with other stakeholders.
* The idea that this will change the working environment is unquestioned, but will it impact negatively?
o what will the hours of a virtual teacher look like?
o how will that be worked out in a teacher contract?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Virtual Schools

I am on the flight down to Orlando to attend one of the Florida Virtual School's training sessions. A few months ago I pitched the idea to our Director of Curriculum as a means to combat our growing student population and impending construction schedule at our high school. As always with conferences, I have so many questions as to how and what will be covered and in what way.

What I like about the idea behind a virtual school is that it looks to be a natural springboard to allowing students to create their own learning experiences. We are dabbling into Course Management Systems next year using SAKAI with a group of seniors, and I wonder if that will be how we deliver our online courses, provided we go that route after this trip. Through an online course, the ability to decentralize the learning process, taking some of the didactic monopoly away from the teacher and placing the onus to learn and explore onto the student, begins to become much easier in my opinion. As long as the environment is set up so that the students can customize some of the space for learning and adding links, feeds, and their own content, I don't see how this could be a misstep.

I often joke with family members that my dream job is to be the principal of an online school. But in actuality, listening to Roger Schank's address at the SITE conference as recorded by Wes Fryer, the idea that such places will exist as a normal and vital part of our school community is here, and happening all over the place. Schank is right, although at this point, being a revolutionary like him might land me in some funny places within my district and state. This is an idea that is worth exploring, and that is precisely why I will be down here over the next two days.

What we do with this, whether we keep it in house or decide to open it up as an option for students from other districts, is to be determined. A lot of that I think will be decided for us as the people from the Florida Virtual School explain how they began and how they fund their operation. Even if we don't use this immediately, I am glad that we are even at the level that we are thinking of pursuing it. A while back I wrote about School 2.0 and where I am at, and this ties in. This is a big step for us, and it shows exactly where we stand on moving toward a school environment that is not only modern, but relevant as well.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Online Portfolios

A colleague of mine asked me the other day whether or not I knew of anyone that had on online portfolio for other teachers, administrators or prospective employers to view. It got me thinking about the nature of what we are all doing here.

One of the principles that is most important in the transformation to school 2.0 is that of ethics and what Will Richardson describes as "being clickable." I am going to venture to say that my online portfolio exists in the content I create, and how I am able to collect that content via the feeds and links that extend from my blogs. If we are asking our students to be aware of the content they create and to adhere to an ethical standard, I am hard pressed to find a better example to give them the the blogs that we keep.

As professionals, a portfolio is essential. In one of the schools I work in, we are given a yearly "brag sheet" to list all of the accomplishments that we would like included in our yearly reviews. While the content I create here is not done for the purposes of recognition on a yearly review, it is nonetheless something I am proud of, and would want to share with colleagues, supervisors, and yes, future employers if that should ever come up. Portfolios, like these spaces here, also give us the opportunity to reflect on our practice. What goes in? What stays out? That decision making process in itself forces us to contemplate our daily and yearly progress as a teacher or administrator.

As is the case with me lately, I still have to wonder if there is some better method out there. A quick search in Google under portfolio's in education reveals some interesting things. One that immediately catches my eye is that from Ohio State University's Faculty and TA Development center. Outlined at the site are some very effective reasons for keeping a teaching portfolio to show the depth and scope of what you have taught. But nowhere does it say that it should be digital or not. Another search under portfolios online, yielded a company called blueskyportfolios, who specialize in creating online portfolios for executives and artists. This resonates, and while I might not want to shell out the money for their services, their layouts appeal to me.

I think I have hatched a new professional development class for my district....

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

We all make mistakes when we are learning

This picture, originally featured in Russell Davies blog, found it's way to my Reader through Metacool.

As Davies says on his blog, it's incredibly disarming, yet it's a fact that is often lost in the shuffle of daily life in education, especially as the children get older. We need to think on this one for a while and let it marinate. How many of the situations you faced today would look different through this lens?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

From the home office

Thanks to Carolyn Foote for tagging me with this meme:
List the top 5 to 10 things that you do almost every day that help you
to be successful. They can be anything at all, but they have to be
things that you do at least 4 or 5 times every week. Anything less than
that may be a hobby that helps you out, but we are after the real day
in and day out habits that help you to be successful.

This is momentous; one because this is my first opportunity to have been tagged by someone, which shows that there are definitely people out there at least hearing what I am saying (a very cool feeling); and two because my wife and I often talk about what we need to do to become the people we promised each other we'd be when we made the big decision to create a life together. So, without further ado, here is my short list:

1. When discussing something, realize that I might know what the "last word" might be, but be brave enough and wise enough not to say it.

2. Read much more than I write.

3. Earn your showers: this sounds foul, but it refers to the fact that there must be some part of a day that is dedicated to physical activity.

4. Get down on my hands and knees and play whatever my two-year old tells me to.

5. Smile when I am not expected to.

6. Make light of stressful situations at work, because it does not have to define us.

7. Make lists, and complete them religiously.

8. Play with new ideas.

9. Set aside time that is dedicated to making me a better member of my family.

10. Booby Traps (and I thank Charles Youngs for this one). Build pleasurable experiences into my days. Naps, ice cream, etc. can be planned for as well as spontaneous.

Those that I tag follow below.
Success is a interesting word, and Carolyn phrases it perfectly when she says that implying that its opposite is failure is a sketchy thing. Success to me is such a personal decision, meaning that when you decide to be a success and when you decide that you are a success, depends solely on your readiness and your definitions. External definitions of success place such undue stress on us, but are often what derail us as we move through life. Have you ever reached a measurable level of success and felt unfulfilled? For me, it was receiving my master's degree. When I finished it, I remember feeling that nothing had really changed, that, yes, I had worked hard to achieve this, but it wasn't as momentous to me as it was to say, my mother.

What I had in mind at the time, and still today, involves much more than that. I had decided that my success depended less on that degree, and more on my actions after that degree.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Some very useful advice

Like most of us, I am trying to see where the whole social networking piece fits into my world, and Steve's Hargadon's two sites, Classroom 2.0 and School 2.0 have so far been great sources of information and resources. In my first attempt at posting to my page, I cross posted a series of questions about creating Web 2.0 buy-in from teachers and administration from my Tech Dossier page in order to solicit some additional feedback. What followed from Carolyn Foote appears below, with her permission. It's great stuff.

I've mentioned this here in another discussion but I think bringing the administration into the conversation and having their enthusiasm and support can be huge.

Our new principal set up a Vision committee to plan for the graduates of 2020 and invited all staff, parents, and students to join voluntarily. As part of those discussions, we kept running into the issue of "time" which is significant in the school community.

She has worked with the district to create time in the schedule for the next school year...and we are looking at completely revamping the schedule the following year to build staff development time into the week. We have seen several schools who do this by having an early release one day a week or a late start, so that teachers have some common staff development time.

This is a real dilemma--change in education works best when it is somewhat grass roots, or when you have some staff on campus that can help "bring everyone in" so to speak.

I think it also involves starting small or with some specific projects with specific campus innovators.

Another great idea I posted about in the previous comment is Charlotte Public Library's 23 Things.
They gave incentives to their staff for participating, and because it's on the web, it's all self paced.

We're thinking of trying a smaller version, like 13 things.

At our campus, our tech coordinator and I (i'm the librarian) have been doing a weekly 20 minute workshop on Wednesday mornings and afternoons that teachers can voluntarily attend. We branded it, (modeled after Project Runway), put up flyers, sent email reminders, and our staff could gain credits by attending. Each session we do one small web 2.0 topic.

We certainly haven't reached everyone, but about a fifth of our faculty has attended and from departments all across the board. Some people come to every session and some to just one. But it's been a way to get some of the tools out there, demonstrate and discuss their use, and let people run with it and we offer support.

Teachers can visualize the possibilities once you show them something, and just doing one "theme" per session makes it easier to digest.

We're considering having a community-wide read this summer for parents, students and teachers as well, with a book like Whole New mind.

It is a struggle though, and there are so many things competing for teacher's attention, and some are still so uncomfortable with the technology. That intimidation factor is huge.

Time is on our side

I was intrigued by a comment left on A Plethora of Technology the other day. Originally, I was pointed there through Karl's post about Barry's short video about the time we spend in our classrooms. Here is that video

After viewing the video and realizing that Barry and I belong to NJECC, I got excited at the prospect of knowing the geographic approximation of another blogger so close to me. But what really piqued my interest was the comment that followed mine on the post, left by Mickey dealing with the actual content of the 180 days or 150 hours of instructional time needed for credit. It concluded with the following paragraph:

I agree with you that specific instructional time is at a premium. However, short of extending the day or increasing the days in the academic year, this will continue to be a dilemma that has to be worked around as best as we can within the constraints of school structure. Knowing the key big ideas (essential questions) that students need to know and basing instruction on those big ideas, should be the direction that teachers and administrators set their sights on. If quality and instruction and engaged learning is happening, not only do test scores fall into place, but students learn much more than any standardized test can purport to assess.

In reading this comment, I was automatically hooked on two things:
  • the solution to this problem was too obvious to be the correct one--personal learning environments designed by the student and hosted by the school district or center of learning.
  • Where was "Mickey" coming from? I needed to know this because in order to formulate a response, I wanted to know what type of learning situation he or she was involved in.
The first point above seems readily available to any district that is willing to commit one or two people to learning how to install, manage, and set up a Moodle, Drupal, or OpenAcademic module. Allowing for the extension of the classroom outside of the 150 hours or 180 days through the use of these learning management systems will work to help foster the environment that Barry was originally talking about in his Montclair State class. Time is solved through student involvement in learning outside of the 40, 50, or 80 minutes we see them.

Then, after using the Blogger profile, I came to find that "Mickey" is immersed in solving very similar problems with redesigning his or her classrooms, and has done some great thinking on the skills he or she sees as important for students to know as they move beyond high school and into the world (check out this post) Here are Mickey's thoughts on the what a learning environment might look like.
Just conceptualizing what a school might look like that addresses learning in a way that allows students to be immersed in learning that is meaningful, preparing them for future dilemmas, is nearly out of the realm of my thinking. Yet, our school is contemplating this very idea as we plan for a new school where schooling is done differently, which has a science, math and technology focus, and that is a place where community involvement is the norm. The requirements of such a school will require that the planners have a strong technology and science background as well as a vision that will guide the design process. The ideas of what the future holds for our students is critical as designing takes place. Thinking about what my classroom needs to look like, not only physically but also what typical instructional periods will look like are extremely important for the design.
In this description, I would also add the idea of a personal learning environment to the mix. Students, in this idea of School 2.0 will need to let go of the instructor as lone expert model just as much as teachers and administrators do. Giving them the freedom to create their own learning environments, seek out experts beyond the classroom, and access the incredible amount of information freely available to them (MIT OpenCourseWare, LectureFox, etc.) will do more for bringing them in contact with the set of skills they will need to succeed in an unmapped future.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

I can't stop visualizing!!!

To continue the recent spate of obsessive gushing over ways to visualize data (by me), here is something that just came across my network. It's called Visited States. There is also one called Visited Countries for those of you with bigger travel resumes. It's always fun to see your travels displayed in visual form. Here are my states:

create your own visited states map

What's yours look like?

The projects page of this site also has some other endeavors that the creator of the site, Douwe Osinga, a Google Engineer based in Zurich, has created using Google's scripts and API's. Worth taking a look at.

Cross-posted at the Tech Dossier.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Data Visualization

I am not a numbers guy, not by any means. So much so that when someone asks a math question (even simple addition) in a meeting, I just look around the room and wait for the numbers to magically appear out of someone else's mouth. You can imagine my surprise then, when after reading Greg Farr's post on Leadertalk yesterday, I have been consumed with trying to get my district's data to play nicely within a widget-type application.

Patterns, I can recognize. Numbers mean nothing to me, and haven't since poaching tutoring sessions off of Raj back in calculus class in 1993. However, placed within a visual context, I can make sense of things and they begin to become real for me. For example, tell me a student is absent today and it means no more than any other day, but show me average student attendance plotted against some other variable, like night-time sporting events, and the numbers translate into habits.

Farr's idea of making public the school's essential data so that it is alive and "in your face" for lack of a better word, takes transparency to a whole new level. Instead of an intuition that teachers may have about the number of students in the hallways, real data tells them what the attendance numbers are, and better yet, if it is in the form of a widget that lives on their desktop, it is unavoidable. When data comes to you, it means something different than if you only go looking for it when you need it.

The second step of getting this data to the staff would be making it look all pretty and dance for them. Need twenty minutes of well-spent time? Watch this:

Gapminder is an unbelievable idea, and this truly makes patterns visible, and as Rosling says early on, fights misconception rather than ignorance. Right now, I am searching for some way, with my meager hack skills, to take our data from our SIS, and visually represent it for our staff (looking into using Many Eyes and Swivel). I love this idea, and I will settle for low-tech if I have to for now. Taking that representation to our desktops will be the final frontier. Imagine that, all of this from someone who ducks and covers when math is in the air.

Moral Obligation

In late March, Vicki Davis posted on whether or not it was school's responsibility to prepare the students for the outside world. Her post was in response to a quote found on Dangerously Irrelevant made by a school administrator which went something like this:
the school district is legally obligated to protect our students from the outside. It is not legally obligated to prepare them for the outside.
Her stance, one that showed moral obligation to prepare rather than legal obligation, was well echoed in the comments on both her post and on Scott's. And, in my opinion, it should have been. This idea that just because we block sites in school, and just because we don't use certain mediums within the classroom, that students will not have access to them and will inherently use them ethically is obscene. We need to create these "teachable moments" in a controlled and observed atmosphere, so that by example we can teach ethical internet conduct.

This is echoed from From Wes Fryer's post today: Free Speech on MySpace

By inviting students to create and share digital stories about Oklahoma
history with others in our state and around the world, we’re working to
help equip students with the skills they’ll need for the 21st century.
Digital learners don’t just need TECHNICAL skills, however, they also
need to develop (THROUGH PRACTICE, not just theoretical classroom
discussions) ethical decision making skills.
As we design our curriculum to include 2.0 technologies, especially those with collaborative, social, and synthesis-oriented aspects, we have to include some time for the demonstration and discussion of acceptable uses, as well as the implications for unacceptable uses. This case that Wes brings up here is one that would gain immediate traction in any high school American History, government or civics class because of its Constitutional and societal issues. However, when that curriculum was designed, was there ample time given to consideration of these type issues? Probably not. That does not preclude the discussion, but will there be time allotted for it? Going forward, the role of the technology integration specialist, or tech coordinator should increasingly be one of consultant in curriculum planning. Here is where a sizable chunk of the work needs to be done, and the classroom integration can occur with the proper discourse included.

The idea of preparing students for the outside world, for making them contributing members of this democracy, needs to be fleshed out in the philosophy of a district. Very basic questions like "What types of students do we want walking our halls today, tomorrow and in ten years?" do not have simple answers, but they are most definitely the right questions to be asking of your stakeholders.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Progressivism, Again.

From the Joan Adler of the Green Acres School, via the Washington Post ("Teachers Can Spur Learning by Listening"):
Imagine a classroom where children are saying, "I have an idea! What
will happen if we try to run this motor with three solar panels instead
of just one?" rather than "Do we have to know this for the test?" or
"How am I doing?" In a progressive environment, children are listened
to, and their ideas are considered valuable and worthy of further
consideration or investigation.
A few years back, when I was finishing my master's, we were required to submit our mission statement as part of our teaching portfolio, and I remember mine having a lot to do with grounding my teaching in reality, where my students would leave with something useful, tangible and that made sense to them in their world while still taking a part of mine with them. By saying "my world" I meant the world of what I thought of as the world of knowledge--that which was contained in books.

Reading Adler's quote, it is easy to remember several times since the penning of that mission statement where I did not create that environment, and where that idea of validating student curiosity could have been subjugated by desire to give information. As a matter of fact, my first public school teaching job was partly a basic skills position where I was given six students and asked to do whatever I needed to to get them to pass the GEPA. After I finish here, I am going to dig up that portfolio and that mission statement and give it a good dusting off. What has changed about how I deliver information? I know one thing, it most likely will not exist solely on paper.

Would your fellow teachers or your staff have anything different to emote in their mission statements? How would you revise your mission statement if you were asked to do so?

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Sunday, April 8, 2007

My take on teaching technology applications.

Anyone for a think aloud? A lot of discussion, as much as I could glean from the limited access I have had over the last few weeks, has centered on the question that David Warlick originally asked:
Are computer applications something that should be taught in a
class, or something that should be learned by the students, independent
of a class curriculum?
This couldn't come at a more appropriate time for me because I recently began meeting with our computer applications teacher and with the curriculum director for our district There is a push to redesign the class from both sides. But where do we go? I responded on David's blog with the following:
Speaking from a personal standpoint, I would like to see a computer
applications class taught, but not from a Microsoft Office standpoint.
…Why not use the Comp Apps class to introduce the students to some of
the great data mashups out there, or some of the online office suites
that this generation might see in their work experiences? Instead of
doing away with it, we should use it as a vehicle for change, to teach
problem solving skills as they pertain to choosing the best application
for a specific endeavor. In this era of unknown problems and uncertain
solutions, demonstrating how to find the right app will be a useful

And this point was echoed on Chris Lehman's blog a few days later:

But I’ll take it one step further. We have to be careful about teaching
applications, because applications change. Let’s teach tech literacy,
and teach kids to do graphic manipulation where Photoshop is a tool,
not an end… we need to teach kids to use these tools, yes, but we need
to make sure the kids understand that the specific tool is merely a
means to an end, and merely one means to that end.

From my perspective, we look at this class as part of the business department, where the focus is on giving students the necessary skills to perform successfully in a business environment. For the last decade or so, the requisite skills barely deviated from the Microsoft Office suite. I can see this radically changing over the course of our students careers, from a desktop suite to an online, moveable, scaleable, and customizable platform in the form of OpenOffice, Zoho, Zimbra, or Coventi. In looking at these few examples over the last couple of days, what strikes me immediately is the Read/Write aspect of them that is missing currently from our Computer Applications curriculum.

My incomplete reading of Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat has fortunately given me some insight into the nature of what we may see emerging as the future of work flow in the 21st Century: a project started in San Luis Obispo may be edited by a worker in San Antonio, signed off by a manager from his living room in San Sebastian and sent to printing in Macau. This idea is better stated by David Williamson Shaffer, via Padraig Nash at Epistemic Games
The United States is outsourcing standardized jobs, and will continue
to send them overseas until, in the very near future, the only good
jobs left will be for people who can do innovative and creative work.
Yet in the face of this dramatic economic change, our schools have been
spending more time on basic skills for standardized tests and less time
teaching children to solve challenging problems and think in innovative

What about giving the students the ability to see many applications then be given a problem, or series of problems and ask them to choose their application to solve the problem? At Science Leadership Academy, they attack the problem by coordinating their computer applications class with their subject area needs, so if the English department needs the students to know certain applications by a certain date, the computer applications teacher takes care of that. This could be my answer.

Lastly, I stumbled upon this "Unknown Quote" recently and I can't reconcile it. Does this fit our schools?
"School is the place where kids come to watch teachers work."

Not if I can help it.

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Saturday, April 7, 2007

I have some explaining to do..

In the same vein as Eric at Sicheii Yazhi, I feel the need to account for my lack of participation in the conversations lately. While I differ from him in my purposes for blogging, stepping away has done more for me than just give me a lengthy "to blog" about list.

My family grew recently, and my daughter Audrey is now a member of our wonderful world. She came a shade over three months sooner than we were expecting her, so we have been busy sharing time between our son, work, and the NICU. Needless to say, finding time to keep up with my reading and dialogueing has not been easy.

Hopefully, as things move forward, Audrey does her job of growing, and a better balance is achieved in our lives here, I can re-immerse myself to some degree in thinking and contributing to the discussion.

Thanks to all those who have accessed this space and continued some of the thoughts here. I do appreciate your time and efforts.

Here is a sneak peek at Audrey:

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Monday, April 2, 2007


This link showed up on Clay's Daily Diigo snippets the other day and followed it, and I am thankful that I did. Regardless of its classroom applications, Voicethread is an invaluable resource. If you haven't been to their site and played around, here is a short preview of what you can create there:

The premise is fairly simple: upload images, record your voice as you narrate the story, or the story of that image. However, it gets even better when you share it with others because they can add their take on that image as well, and it all becomes part of the story. As soon as I began playing around, the possibilities became immense for me. Personally, I instantly started remembering pictures of events that took place in my childhood that my sisters and I have differing opinions on, thus completely different stories. This allows for multiple points of view on the same image. In that vein, pictures of conferences (there is a direct import from Flickr feature here) where discussions can be furthered using audio form and then posted for more collaboration long after the initial meeting.

If we want to take this into the classroom as a creative tool, or as an analytical tool, we can. Have students create stories with multiple points of view. Group storytelling takes on a whole new dimension here. Or, take picture of major current events story (I like what the folks at Daylife are doing with photojournalism), and have your students add their audio take to it. Shazam! Instant talking points for class discussion.

I love this stuff!