On-line PD – I’ll Get to the Point

In order for true quality professional development to take place, I think that we need to address some of the ways around which we think about professional development as educational systems.  Yes, it is certainly true that there are hundreds of on-line tools and resources available to enhance PD, but I don’t think that it would matter if we had hundreds of thousands of excellent tools to choose from.   These tools are simply the medium through which to facilitate PD.  If there is no unified direction of message, does it really matter what tools or media are used?

Herein lies the point.  There seems to be a lack of direction as to where we need to head in education.  There seems to be a lack of direction in aiming towards best practices in education, and there is certainly a lack of direction in how we should best utilize professional learning time.  Essentially, I believe this to be an issue of control, and I think it is time to let go.  Traditionally, educational systems and their leaders have prided themselves in their abilities to create quality professional development sessions that have been intended for the masses; a great majority of teachers.  I don’t think this works anymore.  We simply have too much choice, and that is a good thing.  Let’s embrace our power of choice.

It is time for educational systems and their leaders to understand that TEACHERS ARE LIFE-LONG LEARNERS. It is time to give up the control over how PD time is to be spent.  We need to pass this control over to the individual teachers who, as dedicated life-long learners, will ultimately decide what their best possible learning path is, and how they should best go about it.  This is how true PD will take place.  Teachers must be invested in their learning in order for it to take place. A growing number of teachers are finding many current PD opportunities are simply not engaging.

Scenario A.  A PD session is implemented with mandatory attendance from all staff members.  The PD session is designed in a sort of ‘top down’ approach in which the direction was decided upon by an educational leader.  The topic is yet another of several ‘new initiatives’.  The session is well attended, and many staff members contribute to the discussion, however others are not engaged, even sowing buttons on shirts in the back of the room.

Scenario B.  A block of time is set aside for PD opportunities to take place.  Staff members were given advance notice and ample time to ‘choose their own adventure’.  Some staff members have decided to drive to other schools in the system to meet with teachers with a similar focus.  One group in particular meets to learn photography techniques from a teacher who has already set up a successful photography program.  Other teachers decide to head to their classrooms.  One teacher uses his lap-top to watch a lecture from professor Michael Wesch via Ustream.  Another spends time watching a few TED Talks videos about creativity [like Ken Robinson’s, or Elizabeth Gilbert’s].  A small group of teachers meet to discuss potential recycling and composting projects to be implemented in the school.  One of the teachers in this group logs in to Tapped In, and they meet up with a couple of other teachers in another city who have already begun similar projects.  Another teacher browses through a list of new Web 2.0 tools and begins to play with software she was not familiar with.  Several others meet in the library for a more traditional and guided PD session and discussion about literacy.

From these example scenarios, it is my opinion that the second involves a higher level of professional development.  More teachers are engaged in their learning, as they’ve had control over the design of their learning path.  In order for this to happen, we need to change our outlook about PD.  We need to understand that professional learning can take place on-line.  We need to understand that PD can be solitary, and that professional learning can take place by watching quality lectures or YouTube and TedTalk videos.  It’s time to give the control of professional learning over to the professional who is to be learning.

On-line PD – TEDx Indie

There are an ever-growing variety of Internet tools, programs, and technologies that pose great potential for professional development opportunities to take place either on a local or global scale.  Over the last week or so, I have taken a look at the following:

In my last post I talked about about the VWBPE Conference in Second Life and how that led me to some professional learning about augmented reality.  I began to contemplate and consider how augmented reality is already becoming a prominent part of our digital world, especially with GPS tools, smart phones, and iTools like iPads, iPhones, and iTouches.  This led me to some reflection about augmented reality in the classrooms and some thoughts about the iSchool initiative.

The next on-line PD resource that got my brainwave moving was TEDxTalks.  As most tech savy educators, I’ve been a fan of TED talks for a while.  Many of these lectures are quite exceptional, and I’ve often played TED talk videos in my classroom.  My favourite TED talks are lectures by visual artist and activist Chris Jordan, Al Gore,  and by Sir Ken RobinsonWill Richardson posted an early morning ‘brain dump’ after a mind jolting experience at TEDxNYED in New York.  As a fan of TED, I was already interested, and then Will’s list of speakers really had me intrigued: Michael Wesch, Lawrence Lessig, George Siemens, Chris Lehman, and many, many others.  What is this TEDxNYED?  I followed his link, and then another, and another, and I ended up on YouTube’s TEDx channel.  I was blown away by the number of very high quality lectures, and really just the very concept of TEDx.

TED has always been an excellent resource for professional development.  There are just so many great lectures on TED, and TEDx is a very welcome addition.  I browsed through, and quickly found a series of TED lectures from NASA.  After a few short lectures, I am now much more knowledgeable about the happenings on Mars, and about our advancement in the engineering science of robotics.  I haven’t managed to find any of the New York ED video here yet.  If you know where I can view them, let me know.  I’d like to see another lecture from Michael Wesch.

Want to know more about robots in 2010?

On-line PD – Augmented Reality – iSchool

The 3rd Annual Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education Conference in Second Life (VWBPE) took place on-line in the virtual world of Second Life last Friday and Saturday.  This conference was absolutely massive, and brought together educators, researchers, academics, and business professionals from around the world with a focus on 3D virtual collaborative environments and how they can best be used to support education.  Just one glance at the 48-hour schedule of this conference will give you a sense of just how massive this was, as it offered a vast array of topics  through more than 170 presentations in the virtual world.

Unfortunately my real life schedule didn’t allow me to spend very much time at this conference in Second Life.  However, I did pop in and out a few times to check it out, and did watch a lecture about the fascinating topic of Augmented Reality that was posted as a video by treet.tv.  I’ve learned a lot about augmented reality, and see that this is something that poses a lot of potential impact to education.  Augmented reality is essentially the data and information, aided by tech tools, overlaid upon the real world in real time.  This is the direction that our technology infused world is heading.  Tools like the iPhone and iPad have already made augmented reality a reality, and I suppose that it is only a mater of time before education finds a way to embrace this. I love this young man’s argument about this point.  I love this  iSchool Initiative argument because I believe that such a one-to-one initiative could be a solution to many problems that face education today.  iTools allow students to bring augmented reality into the classroom, and therefore all of the worlds recorded history at there fingertips, all day, everyday.   Its happening anyway, and it would be wise for education systems to take some leadership before we have chaos.

As it stands now, many of our students are showing up to class with ‘smart phones’ in their pockets.  And for the most part, we tell them that they are not allowed to use them.  There are a couple of very important issues to consider here.  One is of course an enlarging generation gap between teacher and student, or perhaps a growing disconnect between students and the system.  These smart phones are becoming an essential part of how many students communicate in this world.  When students bring these small computers into the class, the education system essentially responds with, “Well that is how you can communicate ‘out there’, but in here, we’re going to communicate the ‘old way’ [even if we have computers in the room].”  Of coarse this is going to cause some disconnect.  Another issue is the issue of equity and equality.  Some students are showing up with powerful Blackberries, others with iPhones, some with much simpler cell-phones, and still many with no technology of their own.  This is an area in which schools will very soon need to take some leadership in order to ensure that all students have equal access to the ‘augmented’ layer of information that the Internet provides.

I understand that this post is getting quite lengthy already, but I want to finish with a short example.  In my art room, many students depend on having a image to look at in order to practice their drawing or painting skills.  If students want an image, they often need to leave the room and use the computers in the library or computer lab in order to print an image.  When they return, they have a black and white image that they found through a Google image search.  They often get started with their drawing, but then come back again to ask if they can see the image in colour, or if it can be printed in colour.  Now, this year, I’ve had a few students who have a large image printed in black and white for their drawings, but use their smart phones to view images in colour.  Of coarse there are many ways to provide equal access to colour images in my classroom, and last year I had a student printing station set up [that lap-top has died].  The point is that it seems logical that all students should have their own devices that allow them to see images in colour, thus no longer requiring colour prints, and making access to this advantage fair and equal.  Student prefer to use their own devices, and are using them in class anyway, but the students that can afford the best phones, have the best access.

Our PD Problem – A Lack of Direction

On Will Richardson’s Weblogg-ed yesterday, he discussed Linda Darling-Hammond’s new book The Flat World and Education.  Will describes her book as being “rich with detail about everything that’s troubling about the US education system (and the potential fixes).”  A section of her book describes the deficiencies relating to professional development in American education, and she states, “the landscape of supports for quality teaching looks like Swiss cheese.” I find this an apt description also of Canadian education as well, certainly in my realm.  Darling-Hammond discusses the general inconsistency in the delivery of professional development – a problem that exists here as well.  Will shares some ‘extended snips’ of her book that clearly outline her point [which I recommend reading – here].

“When a profession’s knowledge is not organized and made available to the practitioners who need it most, advances in the state of both knowledge and practice are slowed.”
“If teachers, principals, superintendents, and other professionals do not share up-to-date knowledge about effective practices, the field runs around in circles: Curriculum and teaching practices are inconsistent, many poor decisions are made, and the efforts of those who are successful are continually undermined and counteracted by the activities of those who are uninformed and unskilled.”
“Students experience an instructional hodgepodge caused by the failure of the system to provide the knowledge and tools needed by the educators who serve them.”

When I read these words, I can’t help but feel that she is describing the education system of which I am a part.  Now, I don’t mean to be overly critical of my principal, superintendents, directors or other leaders in my system.  I am quite sure that most have very good intentions for education, as well as for professional development opportunities.  However, I don’t think that it is a stretch to describe our current situation of professional development in education as ‘looking like Swiss cheese’, or ‘not organized and made available’, and that teachers are ‘running around in circles’.

Darling-Hammond criticizes the American education system, saying that American teachers spend more time in the classroom and have less opportunity for professional development than in other nations.  In Canada, I don’t necessarily see that we have a problem in a lack of opportunity for professional development especially in terms of time.  The problem is not a lack of available time, it is a lack of unity.  Our professional development opportunities only contribute to the chaos that is keeping us running in circles and creating and instructional hodgepodge.  There is no cohesiveness of direction, there is no unified messages or guidance of message, there is no consistency of direction for best practices in education.  So as I don’t criticize the intentions of the leaders of my system, I do criticize the lack of consistency of direction.

Richardson criticizes Darling-Hammond’s book, noting that, “there is very little here in terms of a meaningful discussion around what role technology plays in educating for a “flat world.” Kind of ironic.”  He goes on to discuss his own work with PLP that he feels “addresses most of the issues that Darling-Hammond cites.”  My next post will discuss a variety of web tools and resources that offer great potential for professional development opportunities.  As I head in a direction of evaluating or critiquing such resources, I can’t help but think that these tools are simply the medium.  There are some truly great technological tools that pose great benefits to opportunities for professional development.  However, if there is no unified direction of message, does it really matter what tools or media are used?

Darling-Hammond advocates for state and federal intervention as a solution to these issues.  However she goes on to say that, “I’m not optimistic that will happen anytime soon.  We can’t seem to agree on much in this country these days.”  And I think that this statement points towards the root of the problem.  Do we lack consistency of direction because we have too much choice?  With research that points in so many directions, do we no longer have any direction of best practices in education?

The Legal Quicksand of the Internet

Let Common Sense Prevail!

The title of this week’s post is appropriate as I feel as though I am sinking and am just barely keeping my head above the surface.  This is a busy life!

Anyway, this title comes from one of this week’s content choices in EC&I 832.  The content for this block was presented as  a ‘choose your own adventure’ of sorts, and was divided into three choices:  one on information literacy in a digital world, another – a discussion of multi-literacies, and the third – about legal issues, copyright, and ethics of Internet use.  I browsed through much of the content for each of the three ‘adventures’ and found that each presented great resources about important issues to be considered as educators further implement web technologies in their classrooms.  Choosing the block about copyright and legal issues was relatively a ‘no-brainer’ for me.  This is a topic that I have been following and reflecting for some time, and I may have some strong opinions about. {Here is my original post on the topic.}

There are some truly great resource for teaching young people about copyright, copyleftlegal issues, plagerism (more), creative commons, and using images.  Perhaps the best resources on these topic are the following TED Talks video clips.

In this TED Talk, Larry Lessig, the Net’s most celebrated lawyer, argues against current copyright practices.  He discusses the point that today’s legal issues of ownership of knowledge is strangling our creative culture.  Although he states that neither extreme – complete control vs. piracy – is correct, he is essentially making an argument for creative commons licenses.

Another great video resource for this discussion is Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales’ TED Talk in which he explains the social methodologies and power of user generated content.

In today’s digital world in which the Web is compiled of user-generated content, the debate over copy protection has never been more heated.  Essentially what we have here is a debate over extremes of a copy protection spectrum, much like that of a political spectrum.

One one extreme there is copyright law, protection and ownership of creations and knowledge, complete control; “All Rights Reserved.”  On the other extreme there is copyleft.  There is piracy and plagerism; no control; no rights reserved.  In Larry Lessig’s TED Talk, he makes the point that one extreme begets the other.  A world of the extreme right, in which there is complete control of copy protection creates a reaction from the extreme left in which there is no respect for any copy protection rights and plagerism and piracy is rampant.  Such extremes and reactions exist in today’s digital world, and neither extreme is right.  Neither extreme displays any common sense.

Today’s youth have grown up immersed in media content.  Many of them have had digital technologies at their fingertips for much of their lives; many are ‘digital natives’.  Lessig talks about this generation as the ‘remix’ generation; who communicate by remixing and editing previously created content.  “This is how they communicate,” he emphasizes.  “They take sounds and images from the culture around us and use it to say things differently… These tools of creativity have become tools of speech.  It is a literacy for this generation, this is how our kids speak.  It is how our kids think, it is what your kids are as they increasingly understand digital technologies and their relationship to themselves.”  I know this to be true [and Lessig makes me feel young] as I am part of this ‘remix’ generation.  This blog, and just about anything else that I use to communicate, could be seen as an example of such remixing.  I am a visual thinker, and today’s tech tools allow me to create meaning and to communicate messages by reorganizing the Internet’s media content in new ways, to make new ideas.  This is a new literacy.

Let common sense prevail.  The viewpoints of the extreme right of the scale shows a complete lack of common sense in this digital age.  Views that state that permission must be granted before an image found on the Internet can be used are absolutely ridiculous and completely out of touch with modern reality.  Such rules make a great portion of the Internet’s use illegal.   We are already beyond the read/write stage of the Internet’s history, and are well into an age that would be better describes as the read/re-write age.  The majority of the re-writing, re-working, and re-creating that exists is completely innocent, and is not to be confused with piracy.  It is merely a new form of communication, a more visual, media enriched, and to-the-point reworking of existing content.

Let common sense prevail.  Here is a quote from ‘Net Know How, a resource used to educate young people about copy ethics.  “In this digital age, it is very easy to copy photos and illustrations from the ‘Net.  In fact, it is a process we discover when we “right-click” our computer’s mouse.  However, we must observe the same copyright compliance given to written property.”  This is an example of Lessig’s point that copy protection laws are strangling communication and creativity.  Common sense must prevail here.  Common sense should tell you that a vast majority of the images that are available on the internet have absolutely no commercial value, and as such, will get very little protection.  The truth is that the copy protection laws are in place for two main purposes;  “namely the protection of the author’s right to obtain commercial benefit from valuable work, and more recently the protection of the author’s general right to control how a work is used. …if the work is unregistered and has no real commercial value, it gets very little protection.”

As an artist, and a teacher of visual communication, I do value copyright.  The most important part of copyright is that it seeks to protect the creator’s right to control how a work is used.  This is very important.  However, I also value common sense.  On his page, 10 Big Myths about Copyright Explained, Brad Templeton writes that, “If you feel you need to violate a copyright “because you can get away with it because the work has no value” you should ask yourself why you’re doing it.  If your answer to this that you are attempting to illustrate a point, that you are continuing the dialogue, or that you are merely communicating or expressing yourself or your freedom of speech, the let common sense prevail.   Common sense should relate ‘no harm – no foul’.

Playing with Prezi

The latest tool that I have discovered and added to my virtual portfolio [along with Wordle, Animoto, Visions, 23, and Voicethread] is the newly developed presentation software known as Prezi.  Prezi is a new web tool with great potential, and has been discussed by many of the great bloggers in the community of Ed. Tech experts [‘edubloggosphere’? ‘edtechosphere’?].  I believe I first read about it on David Warlick’s blog, 2 Cents Worth.

Take a look at the short intro video by clicking the image above.  I love the idea and potential of Prezi, however, I haven’t decided whether or not I actually love the app itself yet.   Prezi promises to replace Powerpoint as a standard for presentations.  Instead of creating slideshows that flip from one slide to the next, Prezi allows you to create a very large ‘canvas’ and move around the canvas to present information.  It’s flashy, it’s interesting, and more captivating than a traditional presentation.  However, I’ve had some trouble, and the application seems to still have some ‘bugs’.  I’m sure it works just fine for straight text presentations, but I’ve had some trouble when inserting images.  Although Prezi promises that the program is easy to learn [in ten minutes], I’ve spent hours trying to get things just right.  In the end, I’ve got a presentation that runs great from my hard-drive, but when streamed on-line, it is quite choppy.  See below for the example I’ve created.

There are a few things that I really like about Prezi.  I love how the information is presented in a linear format as an interactive Flash video.  All of the presentation editing can be done on-line, right at Prezi.com, or you can download an off-line editor to work on your own computer.  If I manage to figure my way around some of the choppyness of the final video [perhaps my images are too large], I will likely use Prezi for all of my future presentations.  I’m currently working on a presentation for my EC&I 874 project, and I think Prezi will work great if it can handle the large images.

In this video, educator Ryan McCAllum, shows the true potential of Prezi with his interactive video explanation of Web 2.o in the classroom.

It’s a Love/Hate Thing…

There are times when I delve heavily into technology and times when I keep my distance.  I love technology.  I hate technology.   I think that perhaps it has always been this way.

Internet technology is quickly evolving and becoming more powerful.  It’s exponential development.  I think that just as exponentially as the power of technology is increasing, so too is my love for it and its potential.  Unfortunately, so too is my hatred of it.  I suppose that I’ve always felt that as technology evolved, it would eventually make things easier; the frustrations that I experience with technology would lessen.   However, as technology grows and develops, the opposite seems to be happening.  I use technology virtually all day, every day.  Although there are numerous and enormous benefits provided by the technology I use, it seems to be a constant stream of frustrations as well.  I am constantly aware of a pressure to keep current in an environment that is a constant torrent (pun intended) of revolutionary tools, widgets, gadgets, and applications.  At times, I even find myself admiring the few people I know that have managed to avoid today’s Internet and personal computer technologies altogether.

I think that I loved technology the most when I was a single young man with much less responsibility.  Keeping current with technology takes an immense amount of ‘play time’, and in those days, I had a lot of time to play with emerging technologies.  Now, I am older.  I have a very full life.  There are things in my life now that are far more important than ‘playing’ with technology.  I am a teacher.  I am a husband.  I am a father.  There is nothing more valuable and important in life than family and the time I spend with them.  This just makes keeping current with technology even more frustrating.   Of course, I’m not so sure that I would be able to live without many of the advantages that come with the technologies that consume me.  And so it will continue: my love/hate relationship with technology.

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