PLNs as a cool tool – from ReThink IT conference

It’s been a week of conferences and I am finally getting around to posting some of the outcomes.

Early last week, I had the opportunity to use prezi again for a 3 hour workshop about how and why to use multimedia tools for education:

Then late in the week, I was challenged to a cool tool duel against two other IT facilitators in Montreal. Below I relate my approach as I shared it in the CAIS community ning:

I also wanted to share the outcomes to the Cool Tool Duel that took place between JP Trudeau (Selwyn House), Vince Jansen (LCC) and me, Sharon Peters (Hebrew Academy).

As a way in demonstrating the power of an educator’s Personal Learning Network, I asked six global educators to hop aboard a FlashMeeting during the duel and share *their* cool tools. I had heard Alan November (the keynote) state many times the importance of including global collaboration as a way of promoting the skills our students will need in their learning careers. It seemed appropriate to demonstrate this to our audience of educators.

To that end, I invited John Thole (director of Edunova in Cape Town, South Africa), Derek Wenmoth (director of CORE-Ed, Christchurch NZ), Chris Betcher (independent school educator, blogger, author, podcaster, Sydney, Australia), Lucy Gray (U of Chicago, moderator of Global Collaborative Ning), Dr. Cheri Toledo (Illinois State University, author, researcher, webcaster), and Brad Ovenell-Carter (independent school educator, asst head, Island Pacific School) into our cool tool duel. With the time zone differences, this took no small effort, but I was very very pleased when all of them accepted the invitation unhesitatingly and enthusiastically.

A special outcome of the FlashMeeting (now recorded) was that these six educators had an opportunity to meet each other and grow their own networks. In fact, they were so excited about meeting, they started a Google Wave where their conversation continued!

Here are the tools that were shared between all of us during the “duel”:

John – Ning

Chris – Screentoaster, Layar, Wikitude

Derek – eXe, QRCodes for Droid

Lucy –, PlanetFoss, Planetfesto

Brad – Tweetie2 Tweetie 2 Review: The Best iPhone Twitter App, Period – Tweetie 2 …
, Kaltura – Open Source Video Platform

Cheri – The Differentiator

Sharon (I had a few lined up as backup plan):


Twitter Lists

Forty-Two Interesting Ways to Use Pocket Cameras (care of Tom Barrett)

Complete Guide to Google Wave

VUE: Visual Understanding Environment (I think Brad showed me this)

Google Fusion Tables


The other folk (Vince and JP):





graphic organisers




The Prezi I used for the Duel:

Chronicling Africa: Week 2 in Review

Week 2 in Review

This past week was particularly intense and busy. On Monday, we spent the day at a local private/boarding school which was hosting an ICT bootcamp for principals of one of the townships. The sessions were run by Edunova, our partners, over the two-day bootcamp period. We were asked to provide a session about sustainability of an ICT implementation plan over the long-term. On Tuesday, we began our four days of sessions for ICT facilitators of Khanya and Edunova (a Western Cape province-wide event). These are the facilitators that are assigned multiple schools and provide the ICT training and support for the educators in the schools of the townships. With about 60 or so facilitators present, each with a minimum of four schools, some with 35 schools (!) for whom they are responsible, we were potentially reaching a huge number of teachers. Many facilitators traveled from large distances in order to attend this event.

Throughout the week, we experienced no end of technical difficulties – Internet connections that would inexplicably slow down or die altogether, mysterious power outages, server errors, browsers and java that had not been updated enough to support the web-based tools, and so on. I experienced more tech difficulties this past week than possibly in my lifetime! The frustrating thing was knowing that the hardware itself was certainly robust to support what we were asking, but that it was mostly human error that was responsible in some way (by not updating or by putting too many barriers into a system to provide easy workarounds!).

The TWBC team managed to pull off a world-class set of sessions in these conditions nonetheless – with dignity and grace! Whenever we encountered a technical difficulty (at times merely within minutes of each other), we carried on without batting an eyelash and would either move on to something else or persevere in the existing conditions. One was left with the feeling that these kinds of tech difficulties were part of the everyday fabric of life in this part of the world.

Here is a breakdown of the schedule of sessions we offered:

Tues. AM – 2.5 hours of Emerging Technologies- newest and cutting edge stuff for classrooms (within scope of possibilities) – Made more challenging by computer lab constraints and power outages.

Tues. PM – Social Networking for Continuing Professional Development and classroom learning and Professional Learning Networks – how to create self-driven CPD through online resources and establishing contact with global educators. We set up a ning for the ICT facilitators to use for collaboration and sharing of resources. They loved it! Very positive feedback.

Wednes. AM – Building ICT Vision – Whole-school planning; Building an ICT plan with partnership from various community stakeholders (very well received)

Wednes PM – Modeling ICT  integration – solid models/ideas/lesson plans of seamless integration of ICT tools and environments and where to find more (The facilitators marveled at how difficult it was to create lesson and unit plans and think through how to naturally embed ICT tools to support this – many examples were created by them that they could carry away with them to share with their teachers).

Thursday AM – Presentation of Google Apps for Education – Where Sharon discovers that IE6 does not support google docs (!!). Lots of technical difficulties, but we persevered and wowed the facilitators with the possibilities of google docs and other google apps.

Thursday PM – Practical considerations of using ICT with students — Classroom Management in the Computer Lab, basic troubleshooting, and contingency planning. We also offered a session on how laptops for teachers can be used practically in the classroom (1 laptop) to support learning

Friday AM – Choice of a session about SmartBoards (and the Wiimote Board) or training in Moodle

Throughout the week, we took advantage of the ning environment and asked the facilitators to respond to questions in the discussion forums and to blog their reflections on their learning. Very powerful!

Some of the resources we shared in the ning:

Edublogs worth reading:

School 2.0 in SA (Maggie Verster)
Zac’s blog
Sharon’s blog
Practical Theory (Chris Lehmann)
Open Thinking (Alec Couros)
Angela Maiers blog

Educational blogging platforms (free!)

Class blogmeister

Open Source Blog software (to be put on a server or school server)

Buddy Press

Visualizing Tools

Mindmeister (concept mapping)
Gap Minder

Educational Webcasting

Edtech Talk

Ning Communities

Interactive Whiteboard Revolution
Global Collaborative Ning

Open Source Software Alternatives

Of course, all of this makes it sound as if the organization of the week-long event was flawless and well-managed. Not so. I have discovered that three cross-cultural organizations attempting to work in partnership can be fraught with many difficulties. Communication breakdowns, confusion about leadership and ownership, heavy-handed decision-making…. all of these issues were very much apparent throughout the week. Honestly, there were moments when I just wanted to give up on the notion of philanthropic organizations working in developing nations. I have learned the hard way that there will be those who will not appreciate the sacrifices made by TWBC team members and will ask for more, more, more. A certain part of me has had to become hard-edged. Learning who and when to trust has become an issue that I have had to wrestle with quite a lot in the past week. Some of my core beliefs about aid in a developing nation have been challenged – some even shattered. It is difficult to balance these struggles with a reminder of the successes of the past two weeks and the overall goals of our organization – to work shoulder-to-shoulder with teachers in challenging situations for the goal of mutual empowerment.

Four more weeks to go….

Award-Winning Darfur Video Project: How to turn a teenager into a global citizen

Six years and many global projects later has brought quite a few special people and learning opportunities my way and for that I have been blessed and very grateful. The Darfur Video Project, supported by Take2 Videos for Students, was extra special.

Imagine what happens when a National Geographic photojournalist embeds herself in areas of global conflict for weeks at a time in order to provide high definition video footage to North American students so that they can create their own products. Karin Muller has made this commitment and has now produced two sets of footage and supporting materials from Chad/Sudan and Cuba. She has also made herself available to skype and email the participants of the project.

Imagine managing a group of exceptionally dedicated and engaged students who push themselves to producing the very best documentary for an audience of peers. These students sifted through nearly 38 hours of footage to select themes and topics which examine issues such access to health care and education as well as issues relating to the environment and gender discrimination in the refugee camps of Darfur and Chad. Their documentaries effectively blend image, text, music and even humour to depict the stories of the people in these difficult circumstances.

Imagine that an online social networking site has been created to support the students through collaboration, communication and showcasing their work. Students can upload podcasts of news events of the areas of global conflict, critique “rough cuts” of each other’s work and share reflections and resources.

Put all these ingredients together and you have the first place award-winning (ISTE’s SigTEL Online Learning) Darfur Video Project. With great pleasure, I traveled to Washington DC to accept the award on behalf of all those who made this such a terrific and noteworthy project. My students told me that their involvement in this project made a significant impact on their appreciation and understanding of the issues surrounding Darfur. Some of their reflections of what they learned along the way actually made me cry!

The project was displayed at last week’s National Educational Computing Conference in Washington DC; many teachers expressed interest in participation in next year’s project. The footage and materials from Cuba will be made available in late August. If you are interested, please contact Karin Muller and Take2 Student Videos. She is a very special lady with great vision and passion for her work!

The videos of the students speak for themselves:

Find more videos like this on Take 2
Find more videos like this on Take 2
Find more videos like this on Take 2
Find more videos like this on Take 2

Part Two: From Ridiculous to the Sublime – Twitter

Thanks to Marj and Brandy (fellow nomads in the course) for their advice for my second pass at Twitter. Marj passed along some academic research reports on this phenomenon (some of which were hidden behind a wall) which demonstrates the fascination we have with this communication tool:

Java, A., Song, X., Finin, T., and Tseng, B. 2007. Why we twitter: understanding microblogging usage and communities. In*Proceedings of the 9th WebKDD and 1st SNA-KDD 2007 Workshop on Web Mining and Social Network Analysis* (San Jose, California, August 12 – 12, 2007).
Krishnamurthy, B., Gill, P., and Arlitt, M. 2008. A few chirps about twitter. In *Proceedings of the First Workshop on online Social Networks* (Seattle,
WA, USA, August 18 – 18, 2008). WOSP ’08. ACM, New York, NY, 19-24. DOI=

Huberman, B., Romero, D., Wu, F., Social Networks that Matter: Twitter Under the Microscope. First Monday 15(1), Jan 2009.

Honeycutt, C., and Herring, S. C. 2009. Beyond Microblogging: Conversation
and Collaboration via Twitter. In *Proceedings of the 42nd Hawaii
international Conference on System Sciences – Volume 00* (January 05 – 08,

Just like so many of the tools out there, it is not inherently valuable to learning – it is what we DO with it and HOW we use it that makes it valuable. And just as with so many other tools, educators have been at the forefront of creating, innovating, and thus exploiting learning opportunites with the tools. I have learned a great deal from these innovators – twitter has permitted me to have vicarious access to their thoughts and experiences in a way that is more immediate, I think, than blogs offer.

In this screencast, I explore just how viral twitter has become, reasons for twittering and some advice and tips from twitter experts.

I am also attempting to embed Jing in the blog post. However, after multiple tries, am giving up for this time!

Twitter Take Two

Twitter: From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

I haven’t yet decided whether it was in a moment of sheer madness or sheer genius that I signed up for a course in emerging technologies two months ago with George Siemens and Dave Cormier as the instructors to the online course (out of the University of Manitoba).

As part of the course, we have been asked to provide a presentation on one of the applications that could be said to represent an emerging technology. I believe I was the only one of the course participants to claim twitter as my presentation topic.

I settled on the title “From the Ridiculous to the Sublime”, although I was tempted to use “How Twitter Saved My Life and Made Me Lose My Job” (this is a joke; I am gainfully employed!).

Twitter remains an object of ridicule and disdain as well as ferocious loyalty and praise.

In my five minute Jing screencast, I demonstrate my twitter home page and show off a few of its capabilities.

However, those five minutes went by screamingly fast, so I wanted to briefly include a few other questions here in my blog.

To understand JUST how viral twitter has become, you might want to look at the links I have collected in my delicious bookmarking.

Why are we fascinated with Twitter? My response is based on my observations of teenage behaviour (I have access to quite a few of those!). The need for instant gratification from our network is huge. Being able to receive almost instant feedback about our thoughts, ideas and experiences, as well as our questions is a powerful force.

Why are we repulsed? For those of us who want more – deeper, and more thoughtful from our communication may find twitter quite mundane and even narcissistic. For some time after I returned from Africa, I found it hard to take.

How is twitter a learning tool? The value of twitter definitely relies on the quality of the network – those that you are “following”. I happen to think that I follow some amazing folks who challenge me and make me think. Most of whom I follow are educators. We help each other out when we are confounded with problems and seek answers. We support each other when we are feeling down or frustrated. We share resources with each other and alert our network to breaking news around the globe. Twitter has become replacement for email because I have found recently that “direct messaging” a person in my network gets there faster than an email (or as fast).

Where does the learning take place? I think the learning takes place in the short, abbreviated conversations we have with each other. We don’t always agree with each other, but we can challenge thinking and offer different perspectives. Often I have to resort to emails when 140 characters just isn’t enough.

Who is twitter for? Twitter is for anyone who wants to build a network of excellent minds whom they can tap into.

Why do I use twitter? I will be honest here – much of what I twitter falls into “social twittering”. However, I am a firm believer that sociability (or sociality) is an important ingredient to learning. I observed this amongst my teenage research participants for my thesis work. My twittering often involves an exchange of information and ideas as well. I try to share as much as I “take” from my network. And I cannot stress enough that it is the quality of folks in my twitter network (those that I “follow”) that make the difference between narcissistic nattering and conversation that matters.

I would love some feedback on this brief presentation about twitter! Apparently, I have to improve this preso for next week’s class, so where did I lack clarity? What information is lacking? Let me know!

Chris Betcher and Interactive White Boards

Chris Betcher and I have been colleagues online for over two years due to our mutual interest in global projects and social tools of the Internet, but I finally had the great opportunity to meet him face-to-face today for the very first time. When I heard he had plans to come to Montreal while on a visit to Canada, I asked to meet him, of course. And then when I found out he was in the midst of publishing his first book and it was about Interactive White Boards, well, I seized an opportunity. Interest in Smartboard (Interactive white board) training is at an all time high here in Montreal. Just like many so other places on the globe, interactive white boards are being installed (or have been installed), but solid professional development on how to use the IWBs is lacking.

My own Smartboard skills have grown stale. I will readily admit this. Chris and I had a lively conversation about whether there is more to this technology hardware than what it seems. He convinced me there was. So I asked for a personal tutorial which grew into a workshop that drew more than 20 educators on a holiday break. So it was that Chris was invited to my school in order to present a 4 hour workshop to educators in the Montreal area. I was impressed that so many gave up a day of their Christmas holidays to attend this workshop.

And it was good! I have observed myself that bringing in an outside expert seems to resonate more with teachers than their appreciation of a local yokel, at least as a catalyst to discussion.

It was a successful day on a number of levels.

First, I was challenged to ratchet up deeper thinking opportunities for my students. It is not about the playing around with tools and buttons – it is about creating visual and audio materials that we can use to draw our students into meaningful discussion and engagement. Chris showed us that the interactivity of the Smartboards does not occur on the white projected screen at the front of the class, but in the classroom as we interacted with each other to create and share knowledge, insights, ideas, and so on.

Secondly, Chris challenged the workshop participants to consider taking responsibility for their own professional development and showed them many ways in which they could do that. Knowing how many top level Quebec educators were in that room was heartening to me. They agreed! Of course, I am hoping that they will explore some of those professional development strategies themselves and that they will, in turn,  influence other educators.

And finally, it was encouraging to me to see educators from so many different areas of education meet in one room to discuss how to create better learning environments for our students. Our participants ranged from public to private, early elementary to adult vocational, new teachers to heads of school, and from novice to quite advanced users of smartboards. The expertise represented was phenomenal. How often can we meet that range of educators in one place? We need to do this sort of thing more often. Chris wisely pointed out that we needed these opportunities to share our expertise and grow from each other, but also that we have tools to also communicate with other such educators around the world. He showed us which tools could facilitate that.

Just checked my twitter reports from the last few hours. Special thanks to those who checked out our Ustream livestreamed video (begins about 10 min into video) of the workshop from across the globe. We had visitors from Utah, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, Maine, London UK, New Hampshire… and a very special visitor from Nepal!

How about that? Just over two years ago, I met Chris Betcher through other online friends and today he made an incredible impact on some of the best leaders in education in Quebec. Who still doubts the power and potential of a PLN (see Alec Couros’ recent post on this!)?

Here is a compilation of the resources we discussed today. Please share more through your comments!

How has your PLN changed the educators in your sphere of influence? This would make an interesting study!

Connecting Globally with CCK08

Since returning from Africa, I confess that it has been hard for me to express myself online – whether through twitter, my blog, Facebook and all the other social networks to which I belong. I am still processing the experiences of Africa, the “what’s next” with maintaining meaningful contact with my colleagues in Africa, and how to resume living in my here and now. And, of course, I have started a new teaching position at The Study – this has become a new priority as well.

I have been weighing in on the value of online social networks and all the other tools of what we call web 2.0 as well as reassessing to which network or community I will give my time and effort. It has been a valuable time of sifting and sorting and I suppose it will continue for a while.

Quite a while ago, I signed on for the Connectivism and Connective Knowledge Online Conference hosted by George Siemens and Stephen Downes. Just reading through the introductions of several of the 1600 (!) who have also signed up has been like a breath of fresh air to me. I will be using my blog as a place to reflect on the content and experiences of the conference.

It seems there are a few people who are also viewing the conference through the lens of connecting developing nations. Below are some links that address these issues of digital and education divide:

The Impact of Social Media on now-developing Countries a slideshare presentation by Inge de Waard

Digitally Divided – a video shared by Tom Wambeke


Report released: Towards Empowerment, Respect and Accountability

A report commissioned by the Québec English School Boards Association has just been released in my province about a study on the impact of the Internet and related technologies in English public schools in Québec. The results of a survey which went out a few months ago were shared – I, for one, blew a huge sigh of relief. At the time, I felt the survey was designed to stir up fear-mongering and demonization of the Internet and I said so where I was permitted to contribute in the survey.

Fortunately, the results were positively in favour of the benefits of Internet over the negative consequences. However, the digital gap between educators and students was very much apparent. This corroborates other studies I have seen about educators’ use of online tools and environments in this province (and elsewhere).

Some quotes from the report, “Towards Empowerment, Respect and Accountability”

The following statements offer a summary of these findings:
• The majority of all respondent groups do not believe that the Internet
negatively impacts students’ social lives, is causing harm to positive social
development or is the cause of the majority of social problems

• The majority of all respondent groups do not see Internet behavior as
inherently more anti-social or more dangerous than face-to-face
• Only 4% of teachers surveyed report having been a victim of an on-line
incident by students (and only 5% of an incident by parents).
• The majority of all respondent groups do not agree that the Internet and
other technologies are having a negative impact on their school culture.

While the breadth of responses was informative, the Task
Force was most interested in the positive response by the majority as demonstrated
• The majority of all respondent groups believes that the Internet and other
technologies have a positive impact on education
They offered, however, some qualifiers:
• The majority of all respondent groups was unsure or agreed that students
were unsure how to evaluate the quality and/or accuracy of on-line
sources and that students are unsure what constitutes cheating when
cutting and pasting from on-line sources.

• There was a perception gap between teacher responses (majority agreed)
and student and parent responses (minority agreed) when asked if
teachers effectively integrated technology into their teaching practice.

• The minority of all respondent groups felt that teachers, parents and
students use technology to communicate effectively with each other.

the majority of teachers disagree that:
• schools do enough to help teachers integrate technology into their teaching practice

The bold-faced text was my emphasis. While I was delighted with findings of the report in terms of results of perceived positive impact of Internet technologies, I was struck by the apparent digital gap between teachers and students. Another recent study I have seen (yet unpublished) corroborates the fact that teachers in Québec are not anywhere near as Internet-savvy as the students they teach.

This report goes on to make strong recommendations and here are some of my notable picks:

  • Intensify efforts to teach students strategies to search for, evaluate the quality of, and cite correctly on-line material. Implicate to a greater extent schoollibrarians in this key process.
  • Encourage all partners – students, parents, teachers, administrators, library and support staff and commissioners to pursue progressive and responsible learning opportunities about the Internet.
  • Encourage young technology users to work with adults to teach them more about the technologies, and show confidence in their expertise.
  • Re-think curriculum delivery in a digital age by taking advantage of the new pedagogical opportunities that technology offers. Be especially mindful that this involves giving teachers the time, resources and professional support needed to be successful in transforming their teaching practices.
  • Adapt and implement traditionally successful instructional approaches and policies that encourage learning and positive interaction in today’s technologically-evolving environment (i.e. the information tools might have changed; human nature and behavior hasn’t necessarily changed).


  • Incorporate technology as an important component of new and existing policies.
  • Take a leadership role in promoting the integration of technology in the classroom
  • Require pre-service training in information literacy and related issues of technology use; and support on-going in-service school training on these same issues.

Great suggestions! I only hope that those in the right places in making education policy (small-scale and large-scale) will have the ears to hear and the will to do something.

Fundamentally, though, I suspect it is when educators themselves show initiative in becoming digital and information literate that we will see the huge digital gap shrink.

The report can be found online here.

Workshops on google site

Today I am presenting two workshops for the RECIT (IT) consultants in Québec. The content for the workshops – Cool Tool Duel and Copyright Remix – can be found here:

I thought I would give Google sites a test drive for these workshops and, so far, I am mostly impressed with its ease of use and flexibility. Feel free to leave comments on the pages (be nice!)