Friday, December 17, 2010

Say it Ain't So, Library Joe!


This morning, I read the following article the Minneapolis Star-Tribune website:

School librarians: Headed for the history books?

I hope not. I feel that our school library is a viable resource to teachers and students. True, it could be updated and more interactive technically, but I can say that about other aspects of our school - including my classroom, I suppose. Regardless, it's still a place the serves some important services to our students:

  • Information retrieval.
  • Structured Study.
  • Media Center.

Our library - we call it the IMC - has gone through some quick transformations in the past years, mostly to accommodate the technology infusion. We still have plenty of print media, so we need that person who has training and experience with how to wade through that mire of "old school learning" which we still value - and need.

When I ask students who are avid readers if they would ever consider an eReader, the answers vary. Some prefer the idea of having a book at the ready, reading when they can, not needed the versatility of the eReader. Others wish they had an eReader so that they could access more than one book at a sitting. The common thread is that none of them really think that books will ever go away. I think that's significant, considering that's an answer from digital natives. I don't think it's indicative of every student - and who knows if they'll be right. Kids who like to read still like the physical book.
Those of us who teach - well, those of us who have been doing this for a while - also know how important print media is, and we value those who are experts in categorizing, accessing, and interpreting all of those pages of information.

Let's keep our librarians, and let's encourage their continued training and practice of information technology . They are not just a "tradition" in our schools. They are a vital to the future of information science, and for our students' ability to navigate through the field of ever-increasing

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grade Smart Board?

Image credit: "Writing on a Smart Board." 02/22/2001; Jay Yoh
To paraphrase a good friend of mine, "I loves me my Smart Board." I do. I think it has a lot of potential, and I have been trying to tap some of those special features that make it so great. I have a ways to go, though, but I'm getting into the one that the school district so generously put in my classroom.

There are some in our school who don't use theirs at all, and it's not the folks that are just a few months or years away from retirement. Teachers who have been in the work force for ten years are shunning the dang things, and for what I feel are really unenlightened reasons:
  • It's too complicated.
  • I already have a data projector.
  • It never does what I want it to.
  • It's in my way.
  • I like my regular ol' white board just fine.
(One of these days, Alice - bang-ZOOM, to the moon!)

This worries me for many reasons, the main one being that there has been a great deal of money spent on the things - taxpayers know that we have installed these in our classrooms. They supported the decision. It's THEIR (and I supposed a little of our own) money that is hanging on the wall not getting used. The ones who don't like or use their Smart Boards defend their position with "well, nobody ever asked me if I wanted it in my classroom."

Segue here: the room really isn't ours. We get to use it, and the stuff that's in it. We don't pay rent for it, so we can't claim proprietary rights. We really don't get to say what goes into the classroom and what doesn't when it comes to infrastructure.

The other reasons really have to do with time and energy, which I'll be the first to say is at a premium in the life of the teacher. Yes, we have to devote some time to learning a new technology while something else (planning, grading, housekeeping, bill paying, etc) gets postponed. It's frustrating, but I feel it needs to be done.

Think of it this way: the ones we teach are digital natives. They don't know a time without mobile phones, wireless computing, digital media, online access, and so on. Doesn't it stand to reason that if we weenie out on learning something that they know and can work with, it limits their learning? Would we think about showing an old film in class only on a 16 mm projector because that's they way it was meant to be shown? How about creating handouts using a hand-crank ditto-master machines? (Mmmm ... smell the pretty purple words ...) Let's bust out the overhead projector and make a slide show out of hand-drawn transparencies? Or even better, create slides of our documents  using a camera and a copy stand, send the film off to the Kodak labs for processing, get them back in two weeks, and load up the carousel projector.

Or did those take a fair amount of time and energy to learn about those technologies too?

Any new technology takes time to learn and master. Take the time to do it now - it will pay off later. It paid off today for me. The copy machine in the workroom didn't process my MS Word file for copying, so I had to put the document on the Smart Board in my room. I was able to highlight the areas I wanted to emphasize, and edit the document right in front of the students. By that time, one of the lovely student office runners arrived with freshly printed material. No time wasted, and the material presented in a way familiar to the class. Winners all around.

Are you smarter than a smart board? Yes. Yes you are.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Dog Ate My Blog

No, really. That's why I didn't have a blog last week. I was sitting in my room, typing happily, and then I had to go answer the phone. I was away from my screen for only thirty seconds - I SWEAR - and when I came back, there was the dog, chomping away on the last bit of my blog. No lyin'. So that's what happened.

Hmmm ...

Yeah, I wouldn't buy that bag of crap either. It's just the symptom of something larger that I've been experiencing.

As an attempt to step-up my technology in the classroom (or 'teching-up" as we cried with fists thrust in the air last summer in the EIT class at UNI) I included some online writing options for my World Humanities class. I made this optional as not everyone in the class has access to technology, so therefore it was not mandatory for everyone. My only requirement was that if a student started out with this option, they needed to see it through to the end of the course.

We are on trimesters - the week before Thanksgiving is always scheduled for two days of finals for the Fall Trimester. It's a time when we all feel good about ending the first third of the school year, preparing to travel to family destinations for Thanksgiving, and just getting a break from one another. It's also that dreaded time of year when every single technology on the entire planet that students use to complete their final papers and projects just completely collapses into a molten heap of silicon and copper.

I know it wasn't in the papers - for some unexplained reason it never is. And strangely, it never affects my own phone, computer or printer. It also seems that this doesn't happen to anyone else outside of the school. But as sure as "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" airs on TV in November, the technological equivalent of the Titanic occurs the week before turkey day.

Unless of course students are using a convenient excuse to buys some time ... would they actually do that?

Let me make one thing clear: I don't think everyone who plays the "technological meltdown card" is doing so unscrupulously. Too many times I've gone to the printer/copier in my building to produce material for the day only to discover that - despite the many warning signs not to do it - someone has tried to photocopy a transparency and shut the machine down until the next service call can be made. I know it happens. I know it can't be helped sometimes. SOMETIMES.

I do my best to make sure that there are avenues for plans B, C, D and E to follow in case something technologically catastrophic occurs. The winner for this term was the kid who was convinced that he could do everything on his smart phone.  I told him that it was cool that he was trying, and I would work with him - but warned him to make sure that there was a back-up somewhere if his phone went down. Not to worry, he said. Never happens. And he was correct - until he needed to send an assignment and his service got cut off. He was certain he didn't know why, but an email to his parent confirmed what I thought was the case: he didn't keep his GPA up to the agreed level in exchange for smart phone service. The parents had it disconnected two weeks before finals to make sure he didn't have the distraction.

Honestly, I didn't see that one coming. I'm sure he didn't either, and because of this, he had to re-do (or perhaps start for real) his final assignment. The assignment was late, I had to make changes, and it was a pain for all.

New technologies and new approaches with those technologies change rapidly - and we learn quickly. The lesson here is to make sure teacher and student are ready for the unpredictable, and to make sure that there is a reasonable Plan B when Plan A goes down the toilet.

Listen to this blog

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Using the Web 2.0 Force: Help Me, Obi-Wan ...

Image Credit: "Blue Light-Saber Special." Sean Dreilinger, 12/25/2006
I'm going to find out two things later today:

1) What happens to the grades when you enter them into the Web 2.0 grading program without saving BUT leaving your computer on and open to the program overnight, OR
2) How many new combinations of naughty words I can come up with if I can't recover the grades.

Or maybe both.

I've been reassured by those in the know that the program locks up after ten minutes of idle time, so they are likely there, and all I'll have to do is log back on and hit the save button. That doesn't help me right now - I wanted to finish entering grades at school today before the last day of the trimester. When I logged on this morning to finish off the last few assignments, there was a whole lot of nothing on the screen - no evidence of the grading I had completed the night before. I've taken a pretty powerful and convenient student management tool and ... well, I'm not sure what I've done with it. For me, at least, it's not helpful.

I have a colleague who can say the word "awesome" with the exact sarcastic tone necessary for this precise situation.

Web 2.0 tools are great, no arguing that point. They still require a bit of attention from the user, but for the most part, they take a lot of guesswork out of the picture. For example, in the time it has taken me to write this paragraph, I've seen the "save now" button at the bottom of the Blogger window flicker over to "saved" about three or four times. I haven't had to do anything in that regard.

Not so with the grading program - there is a save button and you have to manipulate it manually. The safety valve is the locking function after ten minutes, and the prompt you get to save when you changes classes or screens, or try to quit the program. It's good not to have the automatic save because you need to verify the grades before you save. I'm sure that whoever thought of this had no idea that there would be knucklehead moments like the one I created for myself. I just want to have the option of using "the force" to unlock my laptop - right now at home - from where I sit - right now at school.

I suppose there is a network setting, download or utility that can allow me to do that - but I don't care because the here and now is what is my concern. I won't rule out that I'll do this again, but I don't know if going through all of the work to set up my laptop to prevent this is worth it.

Web 2.0 is helpful. Only a handful of times has the network been slow or gone down, and that's only been at school. It's been something of an issue lately with the district network bandwidth being used up more and more with online teaching tools, and no real plan for expansion in then near future. That's when we could really use the force. The force to expand the bandwidth, to reduce unnecessary use of YouTube and other streaming that's not really used for classroom purposes, to eliminate drop-outs with the wireless network. Those issues are largely out of our control as teachers, but they do affect how we use our Web 2.0. When all of that is clicking, Web 2.0 is great. When it ain't, it ain't.

Every time we use a new Web 2.0 tool, we learn something - and usually make some mistakes. The mistakes will always give the reluctant teachers a reason not to continue using those tools, but it should also push us to find new ways to keep pushing for better implementation in the classroom. Even when we have "the best thing out there" such as PowerTeacher, there is always room for improvement and new learning. There will always be knucklehead-moment-producing people like me to show how even the most intuitive features can be rendered unconscious. Just don't let it ruin the party.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Anyone Can Run a Spotlight, Right?


Image Credit: "Chicago Poster." Stacia Drafahl, 2010
This week at Cedar Rapids Washington High School we proudly present our annual school musical. If you're in town, come on over and catch Chicago this Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 PM.

Before anyone thinks that I'm using the blog for some gratuitous publicity, the ticket sales are going great and there is buzz among the student body about show. The entire production staff is really proud of the cast, crew and musicians. I'd love for you to come if you can, but that's not this posting's point.

The thing about this week is that while I've been spending more time in the theater than I have in my classroom, I've also been thinking about recent assignments in my Instructional Design course at UNI. I find myself breaking down the tasks that I have my students doing and creating task analysis flow charts in my head as I instruct the kids on the light board how to change the cyc color from red to blue.

In a weak  moment I imagined that this is the first step towards insanity. I mean, really - I'm in a dark room with lots of changing colored lights, imaginary flowchart geometry swirling around my head, disembodied voices coming through the headset ... tell me that YOU wouldn't have walked out of there talking to yourself.

But, no, I have always maintained that I am an educational theater instructor, and this is exactly the thing I should be thinking about when instructing students in the technical theater subject area.

For example, we usually put our less experienced students in a backstage post where they can  learn by doing a task while observing the more experienced students perform their own tasks. Let's take for example our spotlight operators for this show. Spotlight operation is generally considered one of the least challenging aspects of technical theater; students who have done this task will tell you that operating the venerable Lycan 1206 takes some skill. Both of the operators are relatively new "techies" and have had limited experience backstage - and no real experience with spotlights. In eight rehearsals, they have gone from square one to two individuals who I would put behind a spotlight for a future show without reservations.

How did this happen? Here's what I think:

Their entry level skills would be:
  • Abliity to climb a ladder to get to the spotlight position (as we have students with physical needs, this is a skill that has to be taken into consideration
  • Knowing the basic stage directions (stage left, stage right upstage, downstage etc.) and being able to remember that those directions are the opposite to their orientation - they face the stage instead of facing the audience.
  • Being able to see and hear the actors on the stage
After that, we go through the basics:

Operation of the Spotlight:
  • Powering up
  • Safe handling (these units get hot)
  • How to pivot the unit successfully
  • How to use the boomerang (color changer)
  • How to use the shutter and iris (light-blocker)
  • How to use the aiming sight 
Spotlight Use Techniques:
  • Knowing what headroom is  
  • Keeping the spot centered on the performer  
  • Keeping the spot movements smooth
  • Knowing what a "cold pick-up" is and how to execute it
  • Knowing what a "fading track" is and how to execute it
Troubleshooting:
  • Replacing a burned-out lamp  
  • Repairing or replacing the plug
  • Replacing the colored gels
  • Cleaning the lenses
  • Cleaning the fan grills
  • Maintaining a solid physical connection between the spotlight and the batten mount
From there, we then go into the specific operation for the show we are working on, which can be up to 40 cues. It will be different for every show.

Image Credit: "Roxie" from Chicago; Leonard Struttmann, 11/09/2010
Mind you, this is one of the simpler technical theater tasks, and with every student new to running a spotlight, we teach them how to do this. It doesn't take long, but everyone of these steps are essential. Written down, it is clear that there is a clear system in place and we use it every time. Does this constitute successful instructional design, blind-ass luck, or a combination of the two? (On a few of our past shows, I'd have put my money on blind-ass luck.)

It feels good to know that what I've been doing successfully for going on 24 years now has some good, solid roots in instructional design. I understood that I was doing things right - I just didn't understand all of the whys and hows. Someday I may get around to the flow chart, but for now, I'm just happy to have a successful show to step back from and watch happen. And in case you're wondering if we have success with our spotlight operators, the photo above says it all.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Won't You Please, Please App Me?

"There's an app for that."

This could be the catch phrase of this moment in time. Need to lose weight? There's an app for that? Sure! Convert measurements to metric? There's an app for that. Flight status? App. Virtual lighter? App. Mixing drinks? App. Turning your phone into a remote focusing device for you theater's light board?

Oh yeah, there's an app for that, too.

This week's rock star moment: using ETC's Virtual RFR app on my iPhone to power individual lights up and down in our theater as my students were focusing (aiming) the lighting instrument. No running back and forth to the light board, and immediate feedback to requests to turn the instruments on and off. It saved a lot of time, created a safer environment (no need to come off of ladders or lifts) and utilized an incredible option on our light board that we could otherwise not use because the remote focusing keypad is so dad-gummed expensive.

I was as the envy of my students - for a few hours, anyway.

Suddenly, my iPhone was working for me in instructional ways. I realize that I'm a Johnny-Come-Lately to the iPhone and educational app game, but the realization for me was just as "oh wow" as "Lammers using his iPhone to run the light board" was to my students last night. The thing has an amazing amount of potential, as I already knew. I finally was able to use it for job related activities. (Now I sound like the sixteen-year-old kid who has "just discovered" this great new band called The Grateful Dead and thinks that he is the first one to know about them. Humor me - this is exciting stuff.) 

I know there are thousands of apps out there for the dumbest things (I have a few of those, too) and thousands of apps that are valuable classroom aids - and not a whole lot of time to investigate. So, fellow reader, what apps are out there that would be of use in the educational environment, and how do you use them? At the risk of turning this blog into a wiki (is that legal in this state?) leave a comment with the app you use and a brief description of how it is implemented in your classroom. If you have a link to a website/blog/wiki/YouTube for examples in your comment, even better. Feel free to revisit and add more if you so wish.

If you app me out, you will be apping others and maybe just apping yourself, too. (I need a good pun generator - is there an app for that?)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Terrible Death to be Talked to Death


OK, so no one is dead yet. It's just "Teacher In-service."

Is there another term in the educational world that can suck the life out of an educator faster than that one?

The assumption behind teacher in-service is that it will improve teachers and their teaching. Who could argue against that? I don't know any colleague who would walk away from that opportunity.

Yet, the term has a stigma.

Here is my situation. Our school district is pushing hard the idea of Professional Learning Communities to create common assessments within each subject to improve student achievement. The model or framework that is being followed is the one created by Rick and Rebecca DuFour and Robert Eaker; one of their presenters regarding common assessment is Cassie Erkens, an English teacher form Lakeville, Minnesota who also is an educational consultant. The district has committed a great deal of time and money to make the professional learning communities a reality - a lasting reality.

Five years ago, the time and money was committed to Continuous Improvement models.

Seven years ago, it was Action Research Teams by schools and departments to develop standards.

About ten to twelve years ago, it was Mastery Learning.

About sixteen years ago, it was Outcome Based Learning.

All of these were initiatives to improve student achievement, and as of late, to avoid the difficult labels generated by the No Child Left Behind Act. None of them has lasted beyond five years (although it can be argued that Mastery Learning is an extension of OBE.) Veteran teachers have seen the track record of professional development that changes about every five years. "This is the next greatest thing that will save our district, our profession, and our students." Five years later, it's the next greatest thing. It gets harder each time the "next greatest thing" comes along for experienced teachers to buy into it. A pattern begins to develop and we begin to treat these initiatives as a fad.

The "ah-ha" moment is coming. Be patient.

Today's PLC in-service at the Cedar Rapids African-American Museum is a little different. One of my veteran colleagues, who has been through more of these "next greatest things" than I have, said:

"You know, most of these are the same damn thing - just different methods. None of this is rocket science."

A few moments after his statement, we were presented with a model for the process of common assessments. It looks suspiciously familiar to many of the models that are found in instructional design. Right now, our ID class is focusing on the Dick and Carey model. In my opinion, the CA model seems to have been influenced by this - as was, if I recall, the models of the process for continuous improvement, action research teams, mastery learning:

"What is your goal? What is your current status? What is the gap? How do you close the gap?"

Had I saved the reams of handouts from the last 21 years of teacher in-services, I'm guessing that many of the models and frameworks would look similar.

Ah-ha! These presenters haven't been bilking our district for millions of dollars! They've based their research on instructional design! (More or less.) We probably knew that already, at some level. I think this is where new teachers have it over the veterans. We vets may have seen more professional development, but it's easy to be jaded by the frequency of the next new idea. New teachers haven't learned those bad habits of preconceived notions, or perhaps they are more accepting of the new "next new ideas" because this is the first one they've experienced.

Think about your last in-service or professional development. Was it good for you? Was it good for your school? Colleagues? Your students? When we gripe about the last boring meeting, what is it we're griping about? The time away from students? The time away from what we're paid to do? The idea that you have a far better use of time than what's being plopped down in front of you?

If you ever get the chance to see Cassie Erkens, do so. If you have the power to lobby for professional development, lobby for her. Here's a short excerpt of one of her presentations:

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Clear as Mud: A Moment of Much Needed Clarity at ITEC 2010

I've had the great pleasure - and angst - to be at the Iowa Technology Education Connection conference in Coralville, Iowa. Great workshops, keynote speakers, learning sessions, human networking (on and offline) and everything else you would expect from a well organized group such as ITEC. A tip of a hat to the people behind it.

It has been invigorating, educational, thought provoking, mind bending and inspirational.

Until now, that is.

The last two sessions I attended were whirlwind presentations on updated Web 2.0 tools and social bookmarking. Both of these sessions where high on my priority list. Both left my head spinning, and not in a good way. I'm beginning to wonder how or when I'll be able to get my head around these great applications enough to use them in a helpful way instead of that curious way that we all have done with a new technology.

You know how it goes: you see something new and it looks interesting. It's just curled up there, looking harmless and cute. You poke and prod it for a little while until it wakes completely up and you realize that this is not a fuzzy cuddly thing that will be fun but a big hairy thing that has lots of teeth, a voracious hunger and perhaps even a fair amount of snot and drool. You run away before it can bite, and you tend to stay away from it. You now stand in amazement of others who have tamed the beast: "Wow - you use Diigo? And you're still alive to talk about it? Do they give you a medal for that??"

I'm getting time off from work, money for the sub, the registration and the mileage, and I feel conflicted, confused and unenlightened - and these were for things that I was looking forward to. (Don't get me started on the "What's New from Apple" seminar - the guy talked for 35 minutes about the voucher program. It was like watching "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace" without light sabers.)

Moment of clarity, courtesy of Vickie Davis, the Cool Cat Teacher during her keynote:

Don't wait to try the technology, but don't try to do it all at once. Take on what you can reasonably do. Find one thing to explore and do it today or tomorrow, but don't wait until Thursday or Friday.

Moment of clarity, courtesy of Angela Maiers via a retweet from Dr. Leigh Zeitz:

Don't try to get good at everything-learn one thing well (And then share it with someone!).

Moment of clarity, courtesy of Simon and Garfunkel:

Slow down, you move too fast. You gotta make the morning last.

(No, they didn't present, but if they did, they would have sung this for sure.)

Not in any order, or even it its entirety, here are the things I would like to dive into and figure out:
Diigo, Soshiku, TimeToast, Blabberize, Aminmation-ish, SmartTools ... and the list goes on. I would also like to learn more about GoogleSites, WikiSpaces, SketchUp ... and that list goes on.

This list will keep me busy - but I'll keep it simple and focus on one at a time. 

What one will I play with tomorrow? Probably the one that I know the least. Next week? Who knows?

What technology will you begin to learn tomorrow? What technology was the "best new technology" you learned about at ITEC 2010?

Once again, thanks to the ITEC board for putting together the best educational conference I've attended yet. I'm already looking forward to next year.

Image credit: Mud Mud Golden Mud; Haribo's Photos, April 22, 2008.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Which Emoticon Means "I Have to Go Pee?"


This is one of my favorite web comics - Doghouse Diaries - that is published three days a week. A little off beat, but usually dead on the mark when it comes to pointing out the foibles of the modern day human.

It brought to mind an event that happened the other night during an online work session with the members of my group in the Instructional Design class. I happened to be at school Monday night - it's Homecoming week here, meaning I have duties all week long that keep me here later than usual. I decided to do my online chats at school. While working with my group, at about 10:00 PM, I lost connection to the internet.

Wanna guess which school district does its computer upgrades and network fixes during the evening starting at, oh say, 10:00 PM? Mind you not every night - apparently just those nights when I need a connection.

I lost it. I frantically texted one of my classmates Cathy O (read her blog Cathy O's Observations) to let her know what had happened and that I wasn't blowing off the rest of the class. I so wanted to have a web cam of me clicking away at anything that would allow me back online - of course my computer was OFFLINE already so the web cam would have been pointless, but hopefully you get what I mean. I didn't want to be seen as a slacker just because my connection let me down. Thankfully, I have a very understanding group. We'll be at it again tonight - but I'll be at home, safe and sound with my own connection.

I don't really feel like chatting online is better than in person. I don't. I'm a social person, like the good folks in my Instructional Technology Cohort. I prefer the face-to-face chatting. Online education, though, requires it, and most of the time it's a good thing. Most of the time, the internet connection is working. Most of the time, the speed of the chat very close to real-time communication. Most of the time, when someone asks a question, you get to see their question before you see someone else's reply to that question.

Most of the time. Nothing's perfect.

Referring back to the comic, it makes me wonder how many people wander away from the chat to do their biological business, take a phone call, or get a beer (or another beer in some cases). Yes, I have done it, but I'm usually stressed out about it in case someone calls me out on a specific question, so I'm away for just a few minutes. 

What about side-chats, tweeting a chat, or just flat-out doing other things while chatting? Is that multitasking, or is it distracting? I know how I feel about students in my classes using their phones - which is about the same thing as we online students sidechatting or tweeting during class. We just feel like it's justifiable because we are Instructional Technology students. We're supposed to be doing this, right?

BTW, while I was writing this, I had Tweetdeck, Gmail and Wikipedia open and operating. Nobody emailed or tweeted, and I didn't search anything, but by God I was ready!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Who's Up for a Quick Game of Galaga?

I've finally found someone who understands me - the "thirty-years-ago"me.

If you have ever played video or computer games - especially if you are in your forties and spent a lot of time (and a significant part of your college fund) in video arcades - you really need to check out the work of Jane McGonigal.  She is currently the Director of Game Research & Development at the Institute for the Future. Her interest and area of study focuses on how online gaming - in great numbers - creates new collective intelligences. In short, she claims that gamers possess a unique set of abilities culled from their leisure activity.

I'll wait for a moment while you gasp loudly and regain your senses.

McGonigal has developed online games where players put the skills they've acquired while gaming to - wait for it - solve the problems that face our world. REAL problems, not the ones that we all faced while we searched fervently for the chainguns and rocket launchers in our DOOM-iverse. One such game is a simulation called "World Without Oil" in which you have a finite reserve of oil and you play using your own habits of consumption. The idea is to stretch that reserve as far as you can. I have yet to play, but rest assured I will soon.

Is there credibility in the idea of taking the collective wisdom of gamers who have spent a good deal of their lives saving imaginary worlds and applying it to saving the one in which they live? Critics say that the current reality is not shooting aliens, stealing cars, or rescuing princesses. Advocates say it's precisely that mindset and those strategic abilities that we need to substitute "saving humanity from The Covenant" with "saving humanity from its own missteps."

How do you feel about gaming and the potential possibilities of creating a generation of world-crisis problem solvers? Is this reaching out to the Millenials and addressing their needs, as Dr. Z Reflects asks in his current blog, or is it simply an elaborate argument to justify the hours of time spent in front of a game console? See what Ms. McGonigal has to say for herself in this 2010 TEDTalks.



By the way, about the time Jane McGonigal was born, I was likely hanging out in the now long-gone Silver Dollar Arcade in Fairmont, Minnesota, honing my X-Wing fighter skills and making my student loan burden that much bigger. Not that it makes any difference, but there's just something about a person who has made her life's work about my youthful indiscretions. More power to her.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Secret Agent-Of-Change Man

Think about how many times you have heard people say things like the following
  • Change is difficult to accept.
  • You need to get out of your comfort zone.
  • If more people would spend less effort staying in the same place, we would see great things.
  • "Status quo" is a four letter word.
  • "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." - Einstein
Now answer this: who are the people saying these things, or when do we hear these things? Likely it's the people who are promoting change - and their motivations, whatever they may be, are almost certainly seen as suspect by the people who being asked - or forced - to change.


The start of a new school year usually carries with it some sort of initiative or mandate to change something within the district. No Child Left Behind certainly has a major impact upon schools and school districts. Missed benchmarks and uncompleted goals force educators to figure out a way to improve student learning - in this case, raise test scores. Other initiatives that school districts try to implement to better student learning come in all shapes and forms. The assumption is that something has gone wrong, or needs improving - change to the rescue.


I recently spent three days in Minneapolis attending the Solution Tree conference on implementing Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). I had planned to blog about this experience right after the conference, but upon reflecting upon the speakers' messages and reviewing the materials that I took from the conference, I knew I needed more time to digest things. There was one clear and common idea that ran throughout the conference: change is not an easy thing. PLC's require everyone in your "community" to communicate closely, work together often and buy into the program, whatever it may be: developing common assessments, creating an inclusive curriculum, specialized programs designed to raise student achievement, student success initiatives, etc.


Read that last sentence again - I've colored the text to set it off. Are these the sort of things that a motivated teacher would pass up? No. They all sound like they are great things that are aimed at improving student learning. So why would anyone resist?


Change. Change is coming. Change is on the way. Change what you are doing. Change your broad vision. Change your thinking.


There's that damn C word again. Most teachers are the master of their domain - the classroom. Sure we get visited by an administrator every now and again to make sure that there is quality instruction going on, and we create our yearly professional development goals to satisfy the community that we are working to improve every year. We are like cats - creatures of habit (and I suppose you could create a "coughing up a hairball" metaphor somewhere, but perhaps a later blog will do this) who don't like changes in their environment.


So, how did your school year start off? Was there an influx of change that demanded a rethinking of what you do (see my good friend and colleague's blog Cathy O's Observations) or are you the fundamentalist who is railing against change because it's cramping your style and your teaching? Or are you somewhere in between?


And ask yourself: Are you an agent of change?

Image credit: "Boris Badenov," Rocky and Bullwinkle, 1960, Jay Ward Productions

Monday, June 28, 2010

Four Fried Chickens and a Coke - and some Dry White Toast.

You're heard the saying "from the sublime to the ridiculous." It's the latest revelation that I've had regarding Instructional Technology - and it's only a revelation insofar as it's something that I sort of understood but not not seeing the "why" up until now.

The best metaphor that came to me was the scene from the film The Blues Brothers where Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) enter the Soul Food Cafe and place their standard order: Jake orders four fried chickens and a coke; Elwood orders dry white toast. When the waitress/manager (Aretha Franklin) takes the order back to the kitchen, the cook (Matt "Guitar" Murphy) knows exactly who's out there just from hearing the order.

It seems improbable that two people - brothers, in this case - would have two drastically different preferences in the same environment. We face this everyday as teachers - more so when we factor in technology. We don't just deal with Jake and Elwood - we deal with Matt "Guitar" Murphy, "Blue Lou" Marini, Tom "Bones" Malone and everyone else in the band. They all want the same outcome through different means. Some students will gorge on the new and exciting technologies introduced to the class while some will stick with the hum-drum safety of what they know.

It's tempting to point to the student who overindulges in the material and say "wow, now there's someone who is a hungry learner" while snickering at the others that play it safe. Let us not forget that there is a price for overindulgence. Somewhere there needs to be Prevacid or Nexium, or even Lipitor if it gets that far. That's where I see us as teachers. We can't always stop the heartburn or heart attack, but we play a crucial role in designing effective lessons that use technology in a positive way to prevent the overload or misdirection. 

The same is true for the dry white toast folks. They stay in their safe harbor because they know it works. Getting them to try new things is not at all unlike trying new foods. Set down a bowl of Panang Curry before the toast eaters and they won't budge. Put a little jam on the toast, and they might go for it. Getting them to try the technology must be done the same way - going from MS Word to SecondLife will be too much; Google Docs will seem very familiar to then, so they'll go for that. Along they way, they'll see the online collaboration and sharing features, and become used to those. Baby steps, but all going forward.

Before enrolling in the Instructional Technology cohort, I thought I was the four fried chicken guy. I thought I was an innovator in technology - even heard that from my colleagues. Now I realize that I was munching on the toast - maybe with a little jam, but that was it. I know I have a long way to go, but with the idea of Instructional Design guiding my choices in the classroom, I feel like I'm going to like the chicken.

Along the way, i found the following from TomBrienProfessional. It's the soundtrack from the Blues Brothers scene along with 3-D animation that does a great job of mimicking the actors in the scene. I only wish he would have done the next segment in the kitchen.

BTW, thanks to anyone from ISTI who is reading this via Dr. Leigh Zeitz's recommendation.  If he made all of us from his EIT Summer 2010 course sound wonderful, well ... who am I to call him a liar?



Still Image: The Blues Brothers, John Landis (Dir.) John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd (Perf.) Universal, 1980
Video: TomBrienProfessional, May 31, 2009

Friday, June 18, 2010

I like Steve Jobs. So why does he hate me?

Let me start by saying if you want to pick sides now, here is where you need to go:

Steve Jobs lovers, click here. (It's also a nice spot to visit if you're interested in audio and video learning.)

Steve Jobs haters,  click here.

Perhaps hate is too strong of a word. I recognize that software has to change, but I've been a loyal Apple fan. The radical change from iMovie HD to iMovie 7, 8 and now 9 was just not in my best interest. The last straw came today when I decided to continue to show my loyalty by upgrading to iLife '09. That took me a 45 minute trip to the computer store and set me back eighty bucks. Then I found out that I couldn't upgrade until I signed on to Mobile Me, the service that allows your mobile devices to stay synced with your computer. While the first 90 days are free, you still have to give them your information and set up an account. After I did that, it took 45 minutes to update the software from a CD.

I don't have to tell anyone in the EITS 2010 that I don't have two hours to upgrade a program that came with my MacBook and that SHOULD BE AVAILABLE BY DOWNLOAD. (I know - the Geek Squad would point out that a 45 minute CD download was probably eight times faster than a download, I know.)

Steve, what did I do, buddy? How can we make this better? I still want to be your friend.


Photo: http://swapnilkamat.com/speaks/?cat=24

My Inner Curmudgeon Says ..


I had to stop myself earlier today when I was commenting on Brandi's blog (Well Isn't That Peculiar) regarding a visit to her nephew's elementary classroom (where she observed seeing technology in action.) My "inner curmudgeon" started talking and it was going in this general direction:
"When I was that age, we didn't have cell phone, PDA's, wireless anything, laptop computers, or any other gizmos. We had books, pencils, paper, and we raised our hand when we wanted to say something, and we waited until we were called upon."

What my inner curmudgeon doesn't get is that what is going on in that classroom is way different from my elementary classroom - and I don't mean the technology. We never saw kids who had Assbergers or who had ADHD. The word inclusion was probably applied in a different situation. If you were a visual learner, tough. Here's the material - get busy. If you were lucky (and this is where I reveal my very nerdy past) you got to advance the film strip by turning the knob when the cassette tape beeped. I have no idea if the classroom that BDay talks about is the exception or the rule - but it sounds like a pretty good place to be.

I should probably say my inner curmudgeon is significantly older than I am. We sometimes believe the same things, but generally he's a kooky old guy who shakes his fist a lot while railing at the system.

The school I attended didn't really have computers until I was in the tenth grade. (Mr Iris did have a Heathkit computer that he put in a plywood box and attached to a console TV in the electronics room, but I don't really count that one because it worked about half of the time - and even when it was working, we just played a Pong-like game.) When we got  to use them, we played hard - sometimes pre-programmed games, sometimes we were writing code - basic. The first successful program my friend and I wrote was a resistor color code calculator. (If you want to know what I'm referring to, click here.) You would enter the color codes on the resistor, and the program would give you the resistance value in ohms. I can't tell you how many hours we spent on it or how many misfires we had - but when we got it to work, we were amazed. Ah, the heady days of early personal computing.

I have a greater appreciation for programmers and app developers. I couldn't hope to tell you what the first step is to creating an iPhone app, but then again, a month ago, I couldn't tell you what I needed to do to create a blog - or why I would want to create a blog. Now I feel guilty if I don't feed my blog every three days or so. (Don't hold your breath for a Blam App anytime soon - but just don't rule it out completely.)

That said, this is my 20th year in education as a full time teacher, and my 23rd involved in educational theater. I was told, not too long ago, that I am considered "old school." That hurt. I don't use a chalk board - I have a dry erase board AND a Smart Board. That doesn't sound old school to me. I would be if I said something like "When I was your age, I didn't have dry erase markers and fancy electronic gizmos - we used chalk and slate and pencil and paper and that worked just fine." Except that we did have calculators, which we were told would diminish our mathematical capabilities, and computers that would demotivate us, and portable music players that would deafen us and rot our brains.

"When I was your age, a computer's OS was on a disk that you had to insert into the computer before you started it up; our calculators only displayed numbers; our music was stored on analog tape cassettes that could only hold 90 minutes of music." I think the student of 2010 would regard this statement just as old school as the student in 1980 would have regarding the pencil and paper remark. Certainly they laugh at the notions of the Apple IIe, the TI-30 and the Walkman.

In 2035, I suspect the curmudgeon would be saying "when I was your age, we used these things called iPods that held only two weeks worth of continuous music; we used our fingers to text and our personal learning networks weren't beamed directly into our brains. And in Bartlett Hall, the internet and TV needed cables to access." (OK, couldn't resist tossing that last one in.) I might be off with "Vulcan mind meld" PLN thing, but I'd be willing to bet I'll be close with the rest.

The one thing I won't do - honestly, it's because I can't do it - is try to think what would remove the "old school" label. I am who I am - but It won't keep me from trying to keep up with the technology.

Photo: http://www.rockcheetah.com/blog/images/statler-waldorf.jpg

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

So, I Have My Geek On - Where's The Party?

I have never been so immersed in technology as I have been during the past two months. Yet, there is a nagging thought that tells me I am late for the party. Indeed, I may not even know where the party is. One thing I do know - for me, this is Geekdom - and I don't even have a fraction of the toys that go along with that state of being.

Where do the Geeks live? One place that I suspect they frequent is Second Life, the virtual world of avatars, Linden dollars, and ... freaky things, for lack of a better description. Some of us are recording Jing videos or creating Podcasts. Lots of us manipulate photos or videos digitally, and have been for years. And it's mandatory for Geekship to network socially one more than one space.

Today we got to see the Great Geek Bunker of the Cedar Valley. The folks at TEAM were kind enough to offer us a tour of their facility -  an underground facility that houses servers for many clients, able to withstand an F-4 tornado. Our course instructor Dr. Z simplified the facility - as he so often does so well - as nothing more than a high-tech garage. The people at this facility have the job of maintaining the servers for many clients and the internet for this part of the country.

Yeah, that internet. I assume you're familiar with it.

I won't say that TEAM employees aren't under some pressure to keep everything going, but they HAVE to keep everything going. Medical records, communications, banking records, corporate histories, this blog - all the essential stuff to your life probably flows through or is backed up at this site. These guys aren't just Geeks. They are Super Geeks with the academic credentials to back it up. They've had their Geek on for a while now. Good to know there's someone out there who works hard to keep things going.

BTW, the image that you see comes courtesy of Mini Mizer 3.0 at ReasonablyClever.com. Wanna get your Geek on? Nothing says Geek better than a Lego avatar.

Monday, June 14, 2010

This Ain't Your Father's College Experience. Hell, it isn't even mine!

Today began the final five days of our Emerging Instructional Technologies class. We're all here in Cedar Falls for the week, 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM, with lots of outside of class networking. Some of us are staying in the dorms so we can extend the quality time that we start in the lab.

It's been twenty-five years since I've lived in a dorm, and quite honestly, the room I've been assigned is eerily reminiscent to N270 Hillcrest at the University of Iowa. 1930's era construction, sink, bed, desk, dresser and window. (OK, I do have AC which is a nice touch, but otherwise not much different.) Some inner part of me is giddy about it - or was until I had to unstack the desks and dismantle the second bed so I could move around the room. Still, it was OK - setting up a new space for academic pursuit, sans posters of REM and The Replacements. The coup de grace was the Internet connection, the very lifeline to our course work and material.

That isn't working tonight. Seriously.

I'll spare everyone the rant of looking for any signal - three of us are at The Other Place on the Hill in Cedar Falls where the wi-fi is working, the pizza is hand-tossed and beer is cold - and just cut to the chase, which isn't a rant. There is a team of professionals here at UNI who are dedicated to making sure that every student has access to the tools of technology. Wireless access, dorm access, whatever. They do it day in and day out, and quickly.

Stand by for the cliche: when I was in college, the technical folks were either data entry people or the people who manned the computer labs - computer labs that had second generations Macs and PC's. Oh, the horrors. I suppose when my dad went to college, the tech people were likely telecommunications upkeep technicians - I'm guessing, of course, but I'd bet that I'm close.

The dorm rooms may not have changed, save for that little CAT 5 jack on the wall, but the way we deliver and receive our information is completely different - and better. Today's class was spent working with Twitter, Google Dogs, Skype, Diigo - and that was all before 3:00 PM. What we can do with our information - gathering, organizing, sharing, creating, saving - is like never before. What will the 2010 graduate think of her graduate experience in 2035?

I'm hoping the internet in her dorm is working by then.

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/litlnemo/3263025568/

Monday, June 7, 2010

Are You Crying? There's No Crying in Educational Technology!

Last week, it happened again. A solemn, forlorn student, looking blankly and helplessly at a screen after several vain attempts at trying to get something to work they way they wanted it to work. A moment comes and I hear that so often uttered statement:

"Mr. Lammers,  I think this computer hates me."

Yes, it does. It hates you like Arnold Schwarzenegger hated Linda Hamilton in The Terminator. In fact, your computer has just initiated a countdown sequence that will destroy every computer and network on the earth. That's how much it hates you.

Which, of course, I didn't say. Instead I reminded this student that computers don't act, they are acted upon, and they are machines that are sometimes prone to mechanical failure, not fits of emotional rebellion. Sometimes what is done can't be un-done, but most of the time, the damage can be reversed. You must be patient, you should back-up your work often, and you should learn the ways of The Force. (I actually said that one. At least it got the student to laugh a little.)

Other comments will from students will include (but are not necessarily limited to) "this computer sucks," I'd rather be using my PC/Mac," and my all-time favorite "this thing it taking forever." I wish I still had that Radio Shack TRS-80 computer that really did take forever just to boot up to demonstrate how far we've come. ("You want forever, kid? I lost a good three months of my high school career just waiting for the damn blinking "OK" to appear on my computer screen.")

Why do we do this? Why do we subject ourselves to learn a technology that is flawed - albeit better than it was long ago - and then turn it loose on our students? Sure, they may know more about Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and other social media, but it's up to us to take that knowledge and turn it toward the "bright side" of the force. Again, why?

Because without a little direction, the technology is merely a toy. Something to divert us, to titillate us, or to just pas the time. Oh, what a waste.

Can you write a paper on a blog? Probably not according to the Chicago Manual of Style. But can you formulate a thought and get feedback? Sure. Research? Probably, given a little direction. Answers to questions? Again, yes, with a little preparation. All of that can lead to formal papers, dissertations, essays and other scholarly writing with a little planning. Just a little.

It amazes me that with just "a little" forethought, direction or patience you can find a vast audience for your work - and thus create something better than you possibly imagined.

Forgive me for drinking the Kool-Aid, but I think the amount of access at our fingertips can be tapped to just about any one's advantage. If this masters program teaches me anything, it's that the tools we have access to are pretty powerful.

Which leads me back to what I read on page 9 of Disrupting Class (Christensen, Johnson, Horn) about when a country (which I read to mean "educational system") goes from "developing" to "established." Our country is in love with the technology because it is fun, it keeps us in contact with each other and lets people know what "is on our minds." We're established, we've accomplished advanced medical practices, we've gone to the moon. We've done our homework. What we are largely missing is the amount of information we have access to that can expand our knowledge to almost limitless proportions. Certainly a number of creative thinkers can point us in the right direction. The problem is that we still have people who are at that precarious moment that I illustrated at the beginning of this post:.

"This thing hates me."

There is no crying in Instructional Technology. There might be a little angst, time invested, trial and error and - OK, I'll admit it, I've done it before - yelling at inanimate objects of technology. But we shouldn't cry. We'll get there, those of us who are behind the curve. Play, experiment, try the applications in places they were never developed for. Keep notes. This is just as academic as hacking through Keats, Chaos Theory, imaginary numbers or the Malthusian Theory. The only difference is that it's just a lot newer.

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/striatic/2192192956/

Friday, June 4, 2010

We Interrupt this Program ...

Forgive the lack of links, theoretical discourse, or new innovations or ideas in this post, but this is worth noting.

Today I posted my finals assignment on the blogs I set up for my courses; I created my sub plans in Google Docs and shared them two different ways with my sub and my department head; I created a map to our destination in Google Maps and shared that with the people who are diving there as well; I updated grades in PowerSchool; I helped a colleague edit a photo in Picasa. Now I am posting on this blog. All done on Web 2.0 applications. (OK, technically Picasa is a download, but it utilizes its Web 2.0 access liberally. It's like Web 2.0.)

I won't stand on the hood of my car, extend my arms and cry "I AM THE KING OF THE WORLD," but I'm feeling pretty Web 2.0 right now.

Well, heck, since it's Friday, here's a hint to what my next post will be about. I promise that one will have links, reflections and anything else that is for the good of our cause. For now, enjoy the weekend!

Image: http://images.intomobile.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/walter-cronkite.jpg
Film clip: A League of Their Own. Dir. Penny Marshall. Perf. Tom Hanks, Rosie O'Donnel, Bitty Schram. 1992. Columbia Pcitures. Clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t48brs4QRjY



Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Made it, Ma - Top of the World!

Well, here I am - at the top of the blog list, at least for a little while. I'm feelin' a little Cagney-ish right now.(Wow, what a view!) Anwyay, after giving myself a few days off, it's time to get back to the blogoshpere. Some doings in my classroom since my last post have given me a better insight into blogging.


After a few days of having my disgruntled juniors (because their senior classmates have graduated and do not have to come to the last week of class) create blogs and do some exploring in the blogoshpere, I have come to appreciate the managerial side of blogging. I am following the format of our Emerging Technologies class blogsite at UNI for my classes - posting instructions to the class, requiring them to read the blogs and comment as they go along. We've been formatting, downloading, linking, commenting, and troubleshooting. It's been as good for me as for them. We've been working through the problems together, and the techno-geeks in my first class have been my best resource for grinding through the troublespots.


This is where it has always been "dangerous" for me when I introduce a new technology. Inevitably, something goes wrong, I forget a step, the server doesn't have the same settings as my home connection, the network goes down, the computer freezes ... and these things are not insurmountable - just annoying and disruptive (in the bad sense.)  Right now I'm in a place where the students have about the same level of understanding about blogs that I did three weeks ago - which is about three weeks ahead of the students. Correction, three weeks ahead of most students. This is the "danger" I am referring to.


At what point does the kid who knows more than you regarding technology turn from "asset" to "antagonist?" At first, you're happy to have that student around because you can perhaps have them teach the skill, program, or whatever. If it's the right sort of student, they understand that they are helping. If you get the kid who is eager to show everyone how stupid you are, then you have what Oliver Hardy would call "a fine kettle of fish." I'm fortunate because I have leveled with my classes about this being recent information to me, and that we should view this week as a workshop to figure out the best practice or approach to blogging. This seems to be successful so far.

Several years ago I read something called High Tech Heretic:Why Computers Don't Belong in the Classroom and Other Reflections by a Computer Contrarian by Clifford Stoll. (Here is an interview with him from about ten years ago that will give you an idea of his opinons.) It's mostly a long rant as to why we shouldn't be using computers in schools without much citation. One question he raises is valid, though, and it's one we've been tackling in the ET class: How do you keep up with an ever-changing entity? Or, if you prefer Stoll's tone, how can we expect schools and teachers to keep up with technolgy that's largely obsolete the moment it hits the classroom? Time seems to be the enemy, but honestly, when have teachers ever had enough time to learn, read, write, correct, plan, or workshop? It has to be part of the equation of learning and teaching. As we evolve as teachers, so do the tools (or maybe it's vice-versa - anyone care to comment?) It's true that we have to prioritize our tasks - but I think as we gain experience, we gain insight into makeing those priorties make sense, and we manage to learn new things like technology.

Now that I think about it, trying to keep up with technology is a little bit like Cody Jarett in White Heat - staying one step ahead of the law and getting away with it is akin to staying one step ahead of your students and keeping things on track. What you want to avoid is the spectaular explosion at the end. Top of the world, Ma!

POST SCRIPT: Dangitall if the sound on the clip from White Heat in that last link doesn't work. I'll see if I can get a legitimate clip of that scene.
Image: http://www.electricsheepmagazine.co.uk/features/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/whiteheat.jpg

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Does This VoiceThread Make Me Look Fat?

OK, let's be honest: who cringed when they saw themselves on their VoiceTherad video the first time?

Come on, don't be shy - who cringed?

I know I did the other night when I first posted, and this is something that I observed from several of my students when we began working with the built-in web cams for the first time today. "OMG, get me off the screen!" seemed to be the one I heard the most. What I failed to grasp at the time was that there was a much smaller percentage - and I'll start paying closer attention to the specific numbers for research purposes in the future - who seemed pretty comfortable with the whole thing. At the very least they didn't verbalize their discomfort as the others did so clearly. So naturally, it got me thinking about our choice of response for VoiceThread (and other web media modes.)

We use things like VoiceThread because we are encouraged to try all of the different possibilities an application gives us. How many people out there decide to write their posts rather than voice record? Or video record? As a Language Arts instructor, I've taught the idea of revision before you put forth the final draft to your audience, so it seems natural to me to write, revise, revise again and then print - or post as the case may be. I've done it already about a dozen times since I started writing this entry. Revision gives you a lot of chances to get it right before you post or print. With audio and video, you can re-record your post - but it's not quite the same. Unless you go through a thorough editing process, you may delete a potential post because you've rambled on for six minutes -as I did with my initial posting on VoiceThread - but you may forget to include a particularly good nugget of commentary from your initial post as you record the second - or third, or fourth - version of your posting. I'm guessing like anything else, you may learn a few tricks to avoid this the more you use it.

The other end of "video discomfort" is the idea that we sometimes don't like our own skin very much. I will say as a short guy with a weight problem, some days I'm not as comfortable with my physical self. Most other days I am who I am, and that's that. Perhaps that's the deciding factor: Is today a good hair day? I'm posting video. Do I look like hell? I'll writing blog instead. 

There is help out there, though - naturally, on the internet. This blog found on the Mashable.com website is a very helpful and straight forward guide to making good video blogs.

What are some of the other factors that might keep people from using one type of media posting versus another? 

Image: Original photo, Bill Lammers, May 26, 2010

Monday, May 24, 2010

Social Networking Responsibility

One thing that I tend to do when I come across something new to my world is to read up on it, get my head around what has to happen to make it work or useful, and then I delve into whatever it is. (You really don't want to be around me when I try spending more than $100.00 on something.) Because of the requirements of my Emerging Technologies class, I didn't get that sort of time with using Twitter. This forced me to just "get in there and use it;" although it's not hard to use, it's the way it gets used that still has me acting cautiously.

As I have previously blogged, I think Twitter can be dangerous in the wrong hands. "Dangerous" may not be the best word here, but I equate this technology to a bullhorn in a crowded theater. Most people will not use it in a capricious manner, understanding that the bullhorn is there for a specific purpose or situation. A few people, however, will grab it and do something useless - perhaps even irresponsible - with it and cause a ruckus. The bullhorn itself isn't the issue, but the availability of it to everyone is.

Tweeter is something that not everyone needs to use - or even should. Twitter can be a harmless diversion, an effective tool, but it can also lead to situations that aren't necessary or intended. As I was listening to NPR this morning, an item in their newscast mentioned that while labor issues within British Airways were being negotiated, one of the union representatives was Tweeting during the actual negotiations - and they broke down in part because of that. BA Strike News Was it part of labor's strategy to leak Tweet updates so that negotiations wouldn't go anywhere, or was it someone who was unable to handle the responsibility of having information at their fingertips exercising poor judgment and use of their mobile device? Either way, it brings the technology to the forefront of a "proper use" discussion.

Proper use of social networks and mobile devices is something that we as teachers deal with on a daily basis - with students, parents, colleagues, and administrators. It will always be a challenge to try to define what is appropriate and what isn't. Students don't always know how to handle the responsibility that goes along with the freedom of texting, Tweeting, Facebooking and so on - and schools aren't always thrilled to be the ones to define or instruct that responsibility.

Is there a happy medium?

My Latest Ah-Hah Moment

Tonight is one of the final events of the year for the Performing Arts Department - the Frankfurter Festival. Essentially, it's a weenie roast with entertainment - an end of the year celebration of student performing arts and a fundraiser for our parent group. It's a nice evening for the students and parents. My responsibilities as the Technical Director to the Performing Arts is - with the help of my ever-dedicated crew of Performing Arts Technicians - to set up the lights, sound and staging for the event. We get the afternoon of to do this, so while it's a lot of grunt work, we manage to have a good time as well.

We host this outdoors in our courtyard, which went through a renovation a few years back through the generosity of the 50th Anniversary fund raising campaign. With the new lighting and sound that came with the renovation, it makes for a great outdoor venue.

This is the sticking point: it hinges upon the weather. We do have an indoor option - not as nice, but it still works just fine - that requires us to move a lot of equipment in another direction, and sometimes on short notice. On a day like today, where the weather gurus say there's a 50/50 chance of rain, we start watching the weather forecasts and Doppler radar around noon. Given the amount of sound and lighting equipment, we tend not to temp fate with the rain gods.

This means I need to communicate with the student crew on a minute-by-minute basis (well, relatively minute-by-minute). Most have cell phones, some with internet access. Few, if any can have their phones on during classes, but I full well know that some do. Is this a cause for Twitter?

This is where I issue a "Rant Watch" for the readers. I never thought Twitter was anything more than a narcissistic venue. In fact, most of the Tweets I see are in the media from celebrities or sports figures, and most of those are "me me me me me" sort of things. I've been pretty sure there is more to Twitter, but I really hadn't seen anything to suggest otherwise. So, up until this week I had never Tweeted.

Today the light is on. Tweeting could be the answer to communicate up-to-the-minute changes. Is there a better option? This could be my emergence from the 20th century.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Not Your Father's Ballgame

(Originally Posted 5/17/2010)
I have an idea for a new sport. It’s like baseball, except for the following:
· 21 players are on the field at the same time
· The field is sixty miles wide by 75 miles long
· All players have both a bat and a glove
· The bat is actually a type of rail gun capable of hurling the ball many miles
· The glove is actually a unimaginably powerful magnetic device
· All players wear an electronic eyepiece that helps them see the ball better and an earpiece that keeps them in constant contact with the coach
· Players and the coach can communicate with hand signals to coordinate the action
Sound exciting yet? Here’s where we make the game a bit more challenging:
· The coach can see and speak with his team, just not necessarily at the same time
· Not everyone’s bat fires the ball at the same speed
· Not everyone’s glove has the same magnetic power
· A player can communicate with other players when they hit the ball, but that information will not get out to everyone at the same time – in fact, some players may not get the information until they see the ball heading straight for them
The rules for this sport are pretty simple:
· Hit the ball as best you can
· Catch the ball when possible, and then hit it as best you can to someone else
· Scoring is dependent upon the accuracy of the hit
Seems like a sport like this would be impossible to play, yet there we were tonight, doing our damnedest to make it work. The critics of distance learning may point to our experience and say “get back to the classroom, all of you,” but I want to play this game more and not just get better at it but actually get good at it.