Interesting webcasts from Downes and Warlick

As an interesting diversion to the thesis-writing I am now attempting, I have recently been viewing two webcasts – not light stuff!

David Warlick’s presentation on “Telling the New Story” at NECC was videotaped and is now available as a webcast. I have gone through it twice now and still scratching the surface of some of his ideas of the literacy in the twenty-first century and how to teach in the twenty-first century. Some of his material was not new to me (his coverage of Friedman is great and always relevant), but the idea about the “long tail” was new and interesting. I think I have heard it referred to recently but did not understand the context. Now I get it!

Stephen Downes’ now has an audiocast, E-Learning 2.0: The New Tools with PowerPoint slides available – not for the faint of heart! It is approaching two hours in length (be prepared!) and as someone else has already pointed out, could be a whole course on its own. It is very up-to-date for those who want to stay relevant concerning web 2.0 tools.

The phenomena of webtops and personal learning environments were new terms for me and I want to explore these terms more carefully. I wonder how personal learning environments are different from the term knowledge management system. I need to visit that PLE blog in earnest to understand.

Both webcasts (and I use the term loosely) will certainly have me thinking and connecting for days to come. Summer is a great time for teachers to incubate new ideas….

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Bad Review of Telus Canada

Usually I reserve this space to discuss my thoughts and ideas about social computing and educational technology (hence the blog name!), but today I just have to vent my spleen about the way in which my cell phone service provider of SEVEN years (surely this going back a LONG time in terms of cell phone use!) Telus Canada has so profoundly and abjectly let me down.

I am no power user of the cell phone. Somehow I have resisted the temptation to become part of the cell phone culture. Most of the time I do not even have my cell phone with me. There is a part of me that just doesn’t want to be found at all hours of the day and night. So, for the last three years, I have been one of those pay-as-you-go customers and it suited me fine.

However, when I knew I would be going to California earlier this month and that my teenage daughters would be on their own for a part of that time, I very conscientiously upgraded my Telus account from pay-as-you-go to a monthly contractual account SO THAT I would could both make and receive long-distance phone calls. The day before I left for California, I spent half an hour on the phone with a Telus agent and explained to him very carefully my reason for the change which supposedly took effect immediately.
When I arrived in California, in San Francisco – aka Silicon Valley – which HAS to be one of THE most wired places on earth, you can imagine my surprise when my cell phone could not pick up a signal. And so it went on… I arrived a few days later in San Diego. Still no signal.

Because the convention centre where NECC was being held was wired, I was able to call home using Skype (you can skype NA phone numbers for free until 2007 – BRAVO Skype!). Of course, no one could call into me because my cell phone would not pick up a signal. Using skype, I phoned my dad to wish him a happy birthday only to discover that my mother had had a serious health crisis and was hospitalized. No one was able to reach me with that information. That was when my ire was aroused about my Telus problem.
I contacted Telus at that point and inquired about my lack of service. If I understood correctly, the technician told me that because I had not updated my phone for their roaming signal on their network BEFORE I had left Canada, there was NO WAY I was going to receive a signal. And he implied that because my phone, which he was able to sense somehow (old records?) was so old it wasn’t going to work even then.

When I returned home to Canada, I emailed and phoned Telus to complain and to threaten termination of my relationship with them if they did not address my concerns. I never did receive a reply to my email (how professional is that for a service provider??). In my phone conversation, they agreed not to charge for the 10 days without service IF I would sign a long-term contract (as if!!), but they would not agree to updating my seven year old obsolete phone. They passed on my complaint to someone higher in the organization who, I was assured, was supposed to get back to me in between 48 and 72 hours.

I am thinking – okay, I did not receive their service for over 10 days because of their mistake and ineptitude and have to pay for it UNLESS I upgrade to a longer term contract. Why would I do that? Why would I extend my relationship with a service that has already so profoundly screwed up? How is this addressing my concerns? How is this assuring me of their sincere regret of their mistake? Is this the way big companies do business with ordinary consumers?
That 72 hour period has come and gone. Still no word back from Telus and somehow I am not surprised. I guess they are willing to lose a customer of SEVEN years, but at least I have some gratification in using my public space on my blog to give them a bad review.

Telus did not inform me that my phone needed a special program from its system to sense roaming towers when I was in a different country. They had a system that was able to sense that my phone was too obsolete but they did not inform me of that and pass that information on to me. Telus did not want to admit its failure and address my concerns. Instead they left me high and dry without service when I very much needed it and was willing to pay extra for it. I had done my part to insure that service, and they let me down – abjectly and profoundly.
I am bemused at their incompetence of allowing a loyal customer of SEVEN years just walk away WITH a grudge. Caveat Emptor!

Now I gotta get back to tracking down a new cell phone service provider…. Let’s see if Rogers or Bell would be happy to have me….

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Laptop Institute 2006 – Watching the wiki from afar

I had a really tough decision to make a few months ago. My school generously sends staff members to one “big” conference each year for professional development. Should I return to Memphis for the Laptop Institute Conference which I had raved about all year? Or do I check out the really big one, NECC, in San Diego this year? While I have no regrets about my visit to NECC – a great conference with fantastic networking opportunities, I am feeling a bit left out as I watch the blogs and wiki entries pop up this week from Memphis. The Laptop conference started in earnest yesterday and already the notes I am reading are making me drool.

David Warlick, a visionary and pioneer in educational technology, brilliantly created a wiki for all the notes that are being taken by the conference attendees. I discovered this yesterday as I was cruising through Jennifer Wagner’s technospud blog – thanks for sharing Jen! David, I do hope that I have a chance to meet you someday (came so close in San Diego!) – you gotta come on up to Montréal sometime!

I blogged last year’s Laptop Institute conference and it was an enriching experience – my first attempt at covering such an event. It became an artifact that I could return to again and again as well as share with others. To all of you blogging and adding wiki entries at Laptop this year, thanks so much for your insights! It is being appreciated! Have fun in Memphis!

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My visit to Google Campus on July 10

Me at Google

Yes, yes, I know that many of you have been waiting to see this – and here it is!

Google Campus

Those who know me are aware that I was really excited about attending NECC 2006 in San Diego between July 4th and 7th. A special thanks to my school, Lower Canada College, for supporting me in that! However, I was even more thrilled to be invited to lunch at Google Campus in Mountain View a few days later. My bro-in-law, Dave, works there and was quite happy to extend the invitation and show me around. I am such a geek!

Google patio at lunch

I discovered that Google Campus has more than 20 buildings spread over several blocks and intermingled between other Silicon Valley companies’ buildings. We had lunch at Café 7, one of seven cafeterias on the campus. Café 7 had only been open for three weeks and the “7” implies food from the seven seas.

Well, yes, it looked like a cafeteria. We entered, picked up trays, and went through the typical queue of a cafeteria. Just about there, the resemblance ends.

For a starter, I opted for the salad of baby greens, roasted corn, blue cheese and a Japanese lemon vinaigrette. The chefs behind the counters happily tossed all for me before handing it back. From there, I chose the Mulligatawny soup with drizzled yogurt and cilantro. I couldn’t then resist the Morrocan tangine of potatoes. And for the main course, I was greedy and chose both the stuffed roasted quail and grilled Alaskan halibut. Somehow I found room for dessert – mango pudding, cherry and white chocolate chip cookies and apples in phyllo pastry (“beggar’s purse”). Pretty impressive for a lunch.

And absolutely free for Google employees (and their guests! I like being a cheap date). While we feasted, the head chef, a recent Google acquirement, visited the tables and chatted amiably with the clientele. It was clear he took great pride in the food served. I was told that he had been head chef at a very chi-chi restaurant in The Bay area but had been successfully lured to Google.

When I asked my bro-in-law, Dave, about this spectacular provision of food, he pointed out that by providing really good food, Google was encouraging its employees to stay put on campus for lunch thus lessening the time spent traveling for food elsewhere and also providing more opportunities for collaboration amongst employees. However, as one can imagine, Google employees are a relatively sophisticated and cosmopolitan collection of people, so the food that is offered has to be of a very high quality in order for them to be enticed to hang around. I was told that Google currently employs about 10,000 people (worldwide) and the average experience level of a new Google employee is about ten years, thus putting the mean age of Googlers at about 34 or 35. That makes Dave (my husband’s older brother) one of the old guys who actually has children (three in fact!).

I was assured that the other six cafeterias were equally fantastic in quality. We walked over to two of the other buildings to take a peek at them. As we were walking over, I noticed quite a few people whizzing past on scooters. I had to ask. Yes, Google provides scooters so that the employees could get to meetings in other buildings faster.

Scooters at Google

Because it was lunch time, quite a few of the Google staff were out on the patio enjoying the beautiful sunshine. I noted the beach volleyball set-up and the two endless pools for swimming laps. We walked around a bit inside two of the other buildings. I was not permitted to take any photos indoors (I was not surprised), so all of my photos are of the outdoors at Google Campus.

Over lunch, I asked Dave a lot of questions about what a typical day for him would be like and he admitted that he spent much more time collaborating in meetings than other jobs he has had. Collaboration and connection are big themes for Googlers. He talked about how Google’s main vision was about connectedness and bringing connectedness to people on the global level. I couldn’t help but bring up George Siemen’s thoughts on connectivism. I recalled running across a white paper that Siemens had actually written for Google. It is an interesting read and I promised Dave that I would pass it on to him. Google seems to regularly bring in guest lecturers and Dave mentioned a few that had impressed him. Malcolm Gladwell (of Blink fame) was one of them. Can’t wait to check him out!

I have always been impressed with Google because it has managed to stay on the cutting edge of Internet technology in a very competitive environment. Not only do they have a search engine that rocks, they have created a number of social computing tools which they offer for free. Also, they demonstrate concern for environmental issues by providing incentives for their employees to go “low-carbon”. Dave was toying with the idea of giving up his precious bmw to take advantage of the Toyota Prius programme that Google has. One of the cafeterias – Café 150 – uses resources and supplies that can be found only in the 150 mile radius of Google Campus so as to cut down on the shipping of food and thus be a “low-carbon” alternative.

Google Patio

At the end of the visit, I thanked Dave and told him that it had been a truly celestial experience. And I meant it. I’m such a geek (or at least a wannabe geek!).

Standing on the shoulders of giants – GSN Awards Dinner

The other night (Wednesday, July 5) I had the rare privilege of sharing dinner with an incredibly talented group of teachers from around the world at a beautiful restaurant in Old Town, San Diego. We had been invited there by the board members of Global SchoolNet to celebrate the GSN Teacher award winners for 2006. As a finalist, I shared the table with former award winners, and present award winners Marsha Goren (Israel) and Jennifer Wagner (California). What an opportunity for rich discussion and shared experiences of global collaborative learning!

I had met Jennifer at the Laptop Institute last year and it was a pleasure to renew our acquaintance. She is brilliant and prolific in the school computer lab and will be presenting again this year at Laptop Institute. She was kind enough to loan me her power supply for my Dell laptop for an afternoon – a lifesaver! Hopefully we will keep in touch in the future!
I sat next to Yvonne Andrés, president and CEO of the Global SchoolNet Foundation who has been a pioneer in computer exchanges since the early 1980s. Sitting across from me, was Karen Eini from Israel; she is the powerhouse who created the Friends and Flags program several years ago. Karen was born and raised in Montréal and will be there next week so we are arranging a meeting to discuss possible collaboration in the future (I hope). She is very inspiring in her passion and dedication to her project.

Many inspiring stories of computer and Internet collaboration were represented that night, but perhaps the most inspiring was that of Harry Konnor Tetteh who was also present at the dinner. Harry was visiting San Diego from Ghana – West Africa. He had been the coach to the GSN CyberFair entry (silver medallist), Arts of Music. The school in Ghana did not have Internet access so Harry travelled a number of miles from the school to an Internet cafe where he would upload the research the students had completed to students at John Muir School who would put the information on webpages to be viewed on the Internet. Harry so believed in the power and importance of global collaboration through ICT that he spent a good deal of his own money to gain access to the Internet. We who have high speed Internet access for less than a dollar a day (a very small percentage of our overall income) perhaps cannot appreciate that Harry’s Internet expenditures represented a significant percentage of his monthly income. He truly sacrificed much more than just his own travel time to make the collaboration between students take place. The resulting website is rich in content and information about the important link between culture and music in Ghana.

Board members of GSN shared their memories of the earliest days of pioneering computer collaboration between students in schools. Their passion and vision for global partnerships has certainly been passed on to a new generation of teachers who have more tools and opportunities than ever before. Founders Yvonne André and Al Rogers unveiled their latest development for GSN – iPoPP – International Projects or Partners Place.

NECC Session: Global VOICES – from July 7

Global VOICES : Videoconferencing Opportunities, Information and Cultural Encounters

Jody Kennedy
Friday, July 7 – 2:30-3:30

In spite of the late hour of the conference on the last day, this session was well attended by a variety of other educators. Jody Kennedy invited five of her colleagues to co-present with her to provide a better scope of the Global VOICES presentation. Jody was well supported with a bevy of her own administrators attending this session.

She first related how initially her school was open to using new technologies to teach and was just getting comfortable with this when the tragic events of 9/11 took place. They realized that these technologies afforded the opportunities to explore making connections globally with other students around the world.

Jody wanted to explore the use of video conferencing with other schools but had several hurdles that thwarted her attempts to make this happen. Some of these hurdles include lack of funds, lack of resources, safety issues, and especially meeting curriculum standards. She invited a number of similarly-minded “players” – people who had the connections to make a video conference happen. Many teachers and subject matter experts cooperated and collaborated in order to achieve the goals of the project.

A significant attempt was made to create an inter-disciplinary cross-curricular project. Her vision is to provide global citizenship opportunities by inviting 10 schools from around the world to participate in the global run. Students clocked their steps and miles during the month of October. Once the data was collected, it was passed on to the math classes to be interpreted mathematically and build mathematical skills. The students wrote informational essays about the culture they were matched with. Money raised from the walk was sent to a needy village in Kenya. A new school was built there with the funds raised.

Jody presented a video that documents the development of the project for every month of the project with the culminating footage on the school in Kenya that was built from the funds raised.

This is clearly an amazing project that shows what vision, passion, persistence, collaboration and availability of technology tools can do to bring an exceptional learning opportunity to students in many different cultures. Audience members of the session were impressed with the complex learning situations this project provided.

In 2004, a non-profit consortium was created to assist this program. Each partner contributed their unique skills to help the project achieve its goals.

The slogan of this project was Global Run Project: Taking steps to support the Millenium Development goals.

The sponsors Tandberg and the Rotary Club pitched in one dollar for each mile that the students walked. The Rotary Club already had the relationship with the village in Kenya so this provided the immediate conduit to the partners.

Next year, they want to partner with many other schools for a similar project.

DVDs of the video that was created to describe and chronicle the project was made available to the session participants.

One of the major partners for this project was Global Education Motivators – another portal for global collaborative partnerships.

NECC 2006 – Research Paper Presentation – Social Interaction Patterns in Online Learning Environments

This is a presentation based on the research paper of Sophia Tan, Coastal Carolina University (SC).

She discussed her work in the context of distance education so many of the problems with online courses are related to problems of disconnectedness to a face-to-face community.

She posed the research question: How do people form relationships online?

Past studies have pointed out that social interactions benefit learners (Lou, Mackay and d’Appolonia).

Past research has been performed mostly on traditional courses.

She hyposthesized that the selection criteria for online participants to interact with each other by personal characteristics, social presence, social integration, knowledge, and learning environment.

Results are consistent with predictions in the literature. Interaction is based on the motivation for academic growth and interests rather than physical attractions. This makes sense if one is not seeing the other participants f2f.

She recommends that traditional teaching should become more blended to avoid the tendency for people to choose friends based on socio-economic status, race and gender.

Sophia and I had a good conversation following the presentation about how blended learning is truly the optimal approach for best learning practices. It is very encouraging for me to know that I am not the only voice in the wilderness about the many benefits of a blended learning environment.

NECC Workshop: Show Me the Tools (Speed Learning)

Some funky tools highlighted in this session:

Projects Registry for Global SchoolNet  – where to find collaborative partners. I will certainly be posting my projects there as soon as I can!
Free email with no ads and no banners – a great easy email to give students if they need an email address in a jiffy – 

Online bookmark organizer that permits shared folders – great for collaborative projects! BackFlip

A truly funky online photo- and video-sharing utility that permits collaborative sharing – I liked the way it provides the code to attach to blogs so you can attach your video to a blog!

We all played around for quite a while with PhotoShow by A good competitor to PhotoStory 3 because it permits you to add all kinds of neat animation gizmos to your slideshow!

Yvonne Marie Andres shared some amazing tools to support global collaborative learning projects. Besides the many online tools she showcased, she also presented some important strategies for conducting these projects successfully.

First she said it was very important to establish from the outset which tools would be used to support the project and to test the tools beforehand to be certain that they work in the school contexts. This I learned the hard way this past year!

She discusses the convergence of knowledge about project-based learning and the availability and accessibility of the Internet. Once again, she mentioned the very successful collaborative project between the school in San Diego and the school in Ghana (who did not have direct Internet access but had to work through an Internet cafe).

The whole science of collaboration is growing and is being highlighted as an important skill for our students.

Podcast Bangladesh

This was the first session that I attended at the NECC 2006. I covered this session wearing the hat of an eSchool News reporter, so you can find my blog entry posted there.
What I didn’t mention in my report was that Julie Lindsay, the presenter, used the term “ubiquitous computing environment” to describe her school’s one-to-one laptop programme, but she also qualified her use by adding “for curriculum integration”. I am not off the wall with my thinking on that phrase! I must have heard that phrase and subconsciously absorbed it.