Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Student Spaces

I think that it is getting more complicated for school districts to decide what to buy or build and what to leverage for technology learning spaces.  iStock_000002030715XSmallThe past few years have brought so many options, many for free, out on the public Internet.  Tech savvy teachers are taking their students to wiki, blog, google docs, social networking, social bookmarking, video sharing, and other spaces on the public Internet.  There are so many fantastic tools available for free.

There are some challenges though with just using what’s out there on the Internet…

  • privacy law issues, especially for Canadians, and more so for British Columbians (obligation to protect student identity)
  • multiple digital identities to create and manage (this seems to be evolving though – often a user can login with their google, twitter, or facebook account)
  • different tools have different setup and navigation details = complexity for less tech savvy teachers (kids care less about this though)
  • complexity for parents – they have to gain access to, visit, and navigate multiple disconnected places likely with their child’s or their own digital identity
  • similar complexity for school principals

Buying / building their own learning platform can be expensive for school districts.  But, the benefits can be substantial…

  • comply with privacy laws
  • single digital identity
  • access / permissions based on secured student information for students, teachers, principals, and parents – a safe and secure space
  • consistent place or space for all making it more accessible to the less tech savvy – more efficient professional development is also possible – a base level for all to jump off from

iStock_000006664728XSmallI think the ideal system consists of both and not either or.  All students and teachers should have their own secure spaces that are interconnected automatically based on student – teacher relationships.  These spaces should support the general needs for teaching and learning such as…

  • document sharing and co-editing
  • blogging
  • wiki page editing
  • online discussions
  • content tagging,
  • auto quizzing
  • video and audio (pod cast) sharing

Internal spaces provide a safe haven for learning.  Some topics are more sensitive than others.  For example we’ve had high school girls health classes have online discussions in their virtual classroom about sensitive topics like sex, emotions, etc. – topics that probably shouldn’t be discussed openly on a public (even if secured) wiki, twitter, or Face Book.  With a safe and secure portal, teachers and students have options for working together more privately when they need or choose to.

From here, teachers or students (as they mature) could choose to also use and embed external tools where appropriate. flickr - langwitches - digital portfolio - 4859583721 I think that as students progress to high school, more of the tools they use to host their learning should be external.  That way they have a portfolio of their learning, a show case of who they are, to use to support their post-K12 life.

Ideally, there would be a mechanism to connect a student’s or teacher’s external content and interactions back to their internal secure space.  Perhaps to start with it’s as simple as embedding RSS feeds for their Google Reader and bookmarking tool.  This could provide a comprehensive view for teachers, principals, parents, and the students of the learning and teaching, in one space.  With some development, maybe there could be a page where students and teachers register external tools such as their blog, wiki, bookmarker, twitter, etc. with the portal and the aggregation of content happens automatically.  This mechanism would in essence glue the public Internet learning and teaching to the school district secure spaces.  Perhaps the internal secure space becomes the new “report card” that parents and their kids refer to to monitor progress.

Or perhaps the external and internal spaces will meld with something like SOCRAIT (published in Jan-Feb 2011 edition of The Futurist).  The author describes a really interesting learning platform that if developed, could fit nicely in to the environment I’ve described here.  SOCRAIT is a powerful idea for personalized learning.  I encourage you to take a few moments to read about it.

In our school district, we have the beginnings of some of what I describe in our my43 learning and work portal but we have a long ways to go.  For instance we don’t yet offer student spaces – our portal is very teacher and school centric.  I am specifically interested in what a student space should look like and include.  We, with Surrey and Victoria School Districts, am working loosely with Gary Kern of West Vancouver School District to conceive of a design for this.

I am interested in what others think of the idea of a safe and secure internal space connected to external tools and content.  I’ll leave you with some questions to ponder and respond to…

  • What features and capabilities do you think a Student learning Space should include?
  • Should students be able to customize their space?  If yes, what aspects (color, layout, background, RSS feeds, edit permissions, etc.)?
  • Should students be able to create blogs, wikis, discussion boards, document sharing libraries, etc. on their own?
  • What default sharing settings should be set for student spaces (class, school, level, District, other)?
  • Should students be able to share their content (blog, wiki, discussion board, documents, etc.) publicly outside the District?
  • Do you think an internal safe and secure portal is important for K12 education?  Why or why not?
  • What tools do you use to support similar learning and teaching activities?  Why?

Light bulbNotes from consulting with our Student Leadership Council (~50 grade 6-12) and the Riverside Secondary digital immersion grade 9 students are now available here.

Thanks for your help!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Parents want to know about technology and education

I have never done this before - open source a presentation.  iStock_000008573353SmallI was invited by our District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC) to present in January to parents on educational technology, the future, and digital responsibility.  Seems like a pretty straight-forward topic hey.

So, I am thinking of an outline something like this:

  1. Comparing / contrasting of school before technology and school today to show how things have already changed
  2. Talk about some interesting technologies that are available today but not necessarily existing in schools, yet
  3. Share some possible future scenarios of how technology could change education and create a wow effect
  4. Talk about what is happening today in our classrooms and show some interesting short clips that I’ve gathered from classroom visits this past fall of students and teachers using educational technology today
  5. Provide some context to digital responsibility and emphasize the importance for parents to know and be involved with their kids online life

I’ve seeded some questions here but please feel free to respond in any way you wish that you think would be good to include in the presentation.

If you’re a parent…

  • What would you want to see and hear?
  • What concerns would you want addressed?
  • What would you want emphasized?

If you’re a student…

  • What do you want your parents to know about technology?
  • What technologies do think should be in classrooms?
  • What help in using technology do you want from your parents?

If you’re a teacher…

  • What do you want parents to know about technology?
  • What help do you want from parents with your students use of technology?
  • What technologies do you think parents need to know about?

If you’re a principal…

  • What support do you want from parents for using technology in classrooms?
  • What do you want parents to know about technology?

If you’re a School District CIO / technology director / manager…

  • What do you want parents to know about technology?
  • What are your greatest concerns about technology in classrooms?

Thank-you in advance for your help, I really appreciate it!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Technology is a Game Changer for Learning

I know, it’s not about the technology.  We all say it.  But, I think we may be kidding ourselves.  Look around and you’ll see technology changing and challenging almost everything.  It makes things possible that weren’t necessarily even a thought before.  Think about the iPhone – did the millions upon millions of people “know” they needed it before it was?  Our modern tools, conveniences, and inventions today would not be possible to design, engineer, or produce without sophisticated technology.

For schools and classrooms there is often a debate about technology as a tool, technology as a skill, or even that there is no need for it.  We often suggest that technology is a nice to have but real teaching and learning can continue on without it as it always has.  In light of all the writing and discussion about 21st century learning, personalized learning, etc., is this really still the case?

“Technology can provide new options for assessment and improving learning outcomes.”, BC Premier’s Technology Council (PTC) – A Vision for 21st Century Education, p. 3, December 2010

New options for education are made possible through technology. 

“Today’s technology can provide instant feedback to students on their progress and students can use that feedback to adapt and improve outcomes”, PTC, p. 16

Instant formative assessment supports learning

This student would agree with that statement.

Many of us use the term “Digital Native” to refer to young people that have grown up with technology.  Some people believe that these kids have an innate ability to use technology.  I suggest they have a fearless approach to learning technology to meet their needs, needs that are often more social or entertainment oriented than about learning and work.  Later in the PTC’s paper we find this statement

It is believed that the “confluence of information and technology directly reflects the ‘new illiteracy’ concerns of educators: students quickly adopt new technology, but do not similarly acquire skills for being critical consumers and ethical producers of information.”, PTC, p. 35

This student suggests the same… 

Teachers have very important role to play
More now than ever, educators need to be incorporating and modeling the effective use of technology in their teaching.  They need to guide students in their use for learning and ensure they gain the 21st century skills necessary to be fully literate.

A friend of mine shared the following remarkable video via twitter a few weeks ago. 

I was blown away at the power of this visualization technology.  At our last middle school design group meeting with the architects we were reviewing classroom design characteristics.  We are including a lot of glazing (windows) to create an open and transparent learning space.  I asked about the cost and technical difficulty of replacing the windows with digital multi-touch material once such options were available and affordable – it may not actually be that difficult...  Imagine being able to, on demand, have these windows be transparent (like a window) or a scene from history or some other place on earth to match the current lesson.  Also, the window could be a multi-touch interactive video surface – students could speak and interact with other students around the world, relevant to their current lessons.  I see the above video as being a feature of these windows, perhaps well before 2020…

Google just made available a database of books from 1800 to 2000 and a tool to compare word frequency.  This allows students to study historical uses and frequency of words in ways never possible before technology.  This example compares the use of “peace” with “war” in books from 1800 to 2000.  Try it yourself here.


Or how about this free interactive visual demographics tool from Gapminder.  Students can choose various indicators and countries and “play” out the statistics over time since the 1500’s.  It will also forecast into the future. Check out imagethe prepared lessons and activities Gapminder has for teachers to use.  Note that this is the same tool and dataset that was used to create Hans Rosling’s video that I included earlier.  The power of data visualization is available today for students and teachers.

If we are not making these types of technologies available to our students and teachers, we are missing the boat so to speak.  I believe that we have a moral imperative to change the game for learning using technology.  In Hans Rosling’s video there is a pretty compelling story about financial well being and health.  We know that education directly correlates to financial and healthy well being.  I believe that technology used effectively will provide the fullest and richest educational experience possible.  I believe that 21st century learning requires that effective technologies and robust access be made ubiquitously available to our students and teachers.

I’m sure there are those that will disagree with my perspective and I encourage you to share your perspective here.  Or perhaps you could share other innovative technologies that support learning.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Learning Today and in the Future

In my classroom visits I encounter all sorts of great examples of flexible learning environments.  I’m specifically interested in how technology is being used, good or bad, to support teaching and student learning.  What I increasingly see are natural, seamlessly integrated uses of educational technology and less of the standalone technology focused uses.  Check out this cute K/1 class learning about the number 10 using a variety of technologies, physical objects, and student interactions.

K’s and 1’s learning about the number ‘10’
This teacher created opportunities for kids to use a variety technology with other traditional classroom objects and tools.  It is important to note that the technology really does need to be in the classroom and not in a lab for the occasional “field trip”.  I had a great time that day – if I was a teacher I’m pretty sure Kindergarten would be high on my list of preferred grades to teach.

It is interesting how the notion of “personalization of learning” or “personalized learning” has taken the stage, seemingly around the world.  There seem to be a lot of opinions on what this should be.  At the recent BC Superintendent’s Assoc. meeting (see BCSSA Webcasts) this was a key topic.  Chris Kennedy wrote on this in What is BC Talking About?

To begin to develop a local understanding of this “new” agenda, our District recently did the 21st century thing and held a skype session with Andy Hargreaves (from Boston), our school administrators, and other partners.  Andy asked to write our own definition for personalized learning - I wrote

Personalized learning is tailored to the individuals preferred learning style and includes student choice in the method and tools used to learn and represent their learning.

Sidebar: I have written recently about other classrooms I visited where I’ve seen this type of learning in action:

Some highlights from our meeting with Andy include:

  • Moving away from standardized curriculum and tests
  • More creative and flexible learning
  • Learning is tied to agenda of innovation
  • More learning technology
    • virtual opportunities – bring people together from anywhere
    • assistive for special needs students
    • 21st century skills and global agenda

He posed some key questions including “How is learning connected to my life, what I want to be, what learning is for, how I can be in the world for other people, to what kind of world we want to become”.  Andy points out that these are not in BC’s agenda but need to be.

My kids (now all graduated) attended Thomas Haney Secondary School (THSS) in Maple Ridge.  THSS is designed to be a self-directed learning school and has existed since 1992.  They describe themselves in much the same way as people describe personalized learning: “all students learn at different rates and in different ways”, “students will learn better if they take some responsibility for their own learning”, “current learning should support students’ life-long learning” – perhaps the beginning of 21st century learning.  My kids did have a lot of flexibility and learned a lot of self-direction skills that are serving them well in their young adult lives.

I am almost finished reading 21st Century Skills: Rethinking How Students Learn (Leading Edge) (recommended to me by Doug Sheppard) which includes a multitude of authors writing from diverse perspectives on this topic.  Examples the authors advocate for include Professional Learning Communities, Problem Based Learning, Project Based Learning from places such as Singapore and Hi Tech High.  Some quotes from the book that resonate with me:

“in the 21st century, the most valued mind will be the synthesizing mind—the mind that can survey a wide range of sources; decide what is important and worth paying attention to; and then put this information together in ways that make sense to oneself and, ultimately, to other persons as well”, Kindle location 602

“Those who can synthesize well for themselves will rise to the top of the pack; those whose syntheses make sense to others will become invaluable teachers, communicators, and leaders”,

Kindle location 607

“The notion that anyone can get deep, rigorous, high-quality learning in a system that treats students as assembly-line widgets is implausible. If we are serious about the kind of learning needed in the 21st century, redesigning our schools is imperative”, Kindle location 1176

“the skills of learning to learn, problem-based learning, decision making, and technology should be woven into the subject-matter content, not merely as implicit tools used to navigate a unit of study, but rather as a set of invaluable lifelong learning tools, explicitly taught and purposefully imbedded into meaningful core curriculum”, Kindle location 2004

“there are no students and no teachers. Instead, learners fill the classrooms and project rooms and are supported in their work by facilitators. The school has adopted a new language to describe the new roles of both students and teachers. Students are now learners responsible for their own learning; teachers are now facilitators, responsible for designing projects and assessments and guiding and coaching learners and learner teams on their project work”, Kindle location 2414

I could keep including quotes but rather I encourage you to pick up a copy of the book and read it for yourself as I think the book represents the best current and diverse thinking on this subject.  I leave you with a few questions for you to comment on…

  • What definition would you provide for personalized learning?
  • What examples might you share where you think this is occurring today?
  • What might teaching and learning, using your definition, look like in 5 or 10 years?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Our Students are Immersed in 3D Learning

We are fortunate to have very creative teachers in Coquitlam School District.  A couple of our middle school teachers (at Banting), on their own initiative, discovered Quest Atlantis, a 3D immersive learning environment.  Quest Atlantis (QA) is “an international learning and teaching project that uses a 3D multi-user environment to immerse children, ages 9-16, in educational tasks” developed at the University of Indiana. 

Meghan describes how QA supports her students learning
Meghan Enga provides a great overview of how her students are using this.  She is partnered with Cory Cleto (another teacher at Banting Middle school) and her class on this initiative.

Quick side bar, it’s amazing how easily these kids are able to talk about what they’re doing and learning.  With no preparation, warning, and very little prompting, they take us on their own personal learning journeys.  How cool is that.

Dr. Sasha Barab is the principle researcher for the Quest Atlantis project.  From Dr. Barab’s website we learn that

His current work involves the research and development of rich learning environments, frequently with the aid of technology, that are designed to assist children in developing their sense of purpose as individuals, as members of their communities, and as knowledgeable citizens of the world.

From the QA website we discover that “QA combines strategies used in the commercial gaming environment with lessons from educational research on learning and motivation.”  So, let’s start the journey with Jonathan. 

Jonathan takes us to Africa to research land use
He’s working on the quest Ms. Enga shared with us earlier – he goes to Africa and investigates land use options.  There is an apparent need for an animal reserve but a conflicting need for the villagers to use the land for food.  Jonathan takes us into the virtual world and shows us a small piece of the fairly complex learning journey he takes to figure out how to advise the decision makers in that African community.  Note that what he shows us is only the tip of the iceberg – these quests are very involved and multi-layered.

Melissa learns to resolve an argument
Next, Melissa shows us how, through Quest Atlantis, she comes to her conclusion on how to resolve an argument between skaters and bikers.

Kids are able to work at their own pace, in school, from home, etc.  There is a distance learning teacher on Vancouver Island who often chooses to support and help kids and teachers in the virtual world.  There are classes around the world involved as well so kids do encounter students and teachers from other “real” cultures in the course of completing their quests.

The system tracks student learning and informs their teachers of their progress.  Teachers receive completed tasks and steps in their virtual inbox for review and evaluation.

I strongly encourage you to visit the QA website and explore the information there.  You can download and experiment as a guest.  It is a very interesting learning model that you may find useful for you and your students.

Perhaps you have experienced online immersive learning environments and can share your thoughts with me. What do you think about these kinds of learning tools?  Do you think they have potential to increase or enrich student learning and engagement?