Skypecasting blogs, wikis and blended learning

It has been three weeks since my last post and most of the reason was my need to hunker down, focus, and finish my thesis. It has gone through a few revisions now and was submitted last Monday. Whee! What a relief to be over that hump. It represent a triumph of the human spirit and represents a great deal of encouragement from friends and family members. I will have to defend it to a thesis committee in the coming weeks but that doesn’t seem so daunting – yet.

In the meantime, I have attended a number of skypecasts and viewed some really great blogs – which I hope I can pass along.

As I face getting back down to business with my own students, I have been drawn to some of the more practical blogs and skypecasts.

Last week, I joined the Ed Tech Talk crowd to hear an interview with Terry Anderson, the Canada Research Chair at Athabasca University (Canada’s Open University). I had an opportunity to ask him what he thought about the future of blended learning (that is, online learning environments paired with face-to-face traditional classroom teaching) in the K-12 domain. I was pleased to hear that he thought it had a good future as this, to me, is the very best of approaches to learning.

Later in the week, I was able to attend Miguel Guhlin’s ‘On the Front Porch’ skypecast about best practices for blogging. It was interesting to hear other approaches to blogging in the classroom. Miguel does a terrific job summing up our conversations and including some excellent relevant links. The best part about all of this blogging stuff is its ability to archive such great resources for later reference! Please be sure to check out the links about Tracking Teresa and NetSmartz which became an interesting digression to our discussion that evening. I will certainly be passing some of this info onto my administration at my school!

The following evening I was able to attend another excellent skypecast hosted by Steve Hargadon with Vicky Davis (Coolcat Blog) and Adam Frey (Wikispaces) about wikis in education. Vicky has her high school students creating amazing wikis in her program – check out the wiki they are creating about Online safety practices. I find Vicky’s approaches to wikis to be innovative, creative and incredibly relevant to the students. Great job, Vicky! You have given me some solid ideas for my own classes. Upon further exploration, I like her wiki entries on mashups and how her students tackled it.

Now I am really getting psyched to get back in the classroom!

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The World is Still Flat, I need to find more cheese, & the new WWW

Okay, enough ranting in my blog posts– time for raves.

I have been doing quite a bit of reading as I continue to find creative ways to procrastinate writing my thesis paper. The rationalization that the reading somehow helps me with the writing process is somewhat valid!

Last summer I was the first person in my circle of friends and workers to read Thomas Friedman’s wonderful book The World is Flat. When I heard that he had updated and expanded it this year, it was the first pick of my summer reading for me. It was great to revisit his ideas as I looked through the book for the new material.

Much of the new material is in the area of education which is even more interesting and relevant for me. In the new edition, Friedman outlines four skill sets and attitudes that should provide our young people today with “the right stuff” for adapting to a flattened world.

As an educator, I would like to reflect on some of his ideas and throw out some challenges to those of us who teach our children.

It is not new news that the first skill set he presents is to “learn how to learn”. Adaptability and flexibility of the work force has been a key message for some time now. But how do we teachers teach this fundamental skill? Friedman suggests that we make our learning environments as engaging as possible. He urges students to ask around and find out who the best teachers are and take those courses, no matter what subject area they represent. The teachers who have the best rep amongst students, he reasons, are the ones who have the most engaging environments. And by fostering an environment of engagement, students will be more willing to learn.

One aspect of my thesis paper is in the area of self-monitoring skills which falls under the broader umbrella of metacognition. Part of my study examines how students could use self-reflection in their participation in an online forum to improve their academic performance. Many of the students had never really thought about their own learning styles or the habits or actions that they possessed while studying or doing homework. The majority of the students agreed that study skills should be a regular part of the curriculum – they are not in the standard curriculum at all in this part of the world. Getting back to Friedman’s idea, how can we teachers actively teach our students to learn how to learn if we are not including such metacognitive self-reflective activities? What kind of self-reflective activities and how much should we be including in our classroom practices?

The second theme Friedman presents has to do with possessing qualities of passion and curiosity. Those students who display these qualities are much more likely to succeed in a flattened world than students who rely entirely on their IQs. Certainly I would like to contribute to the passion and curiosity of my students. I have to ask myself – do I possess those qualities about the topics I teach? Do I transmit passion and curiosity as I communicate?

The third skill set has to do with getting along with others and possessing good people skills. Again I will ask, what are we doing to build those skills in our classroom? How much collaborative and cooperative work are we encouraging? How do we evaluate these skills? Are we modeling these skills to our students as we work alongside our fellow teachers and administrators?

Lastly, Friedman presents a fourth theme of nurturing right-brain skills and credits Daniel Pink (A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age) for many of his ideas about this. Left brain skills involve more analysis and sequence-handling while right brain skills involve synthesis and forging relationships. It would appear that right brain skills involve more creativity, artistry and emotional expression than the left brain skills and these are the differences that will set apart those who can succeed in a flattened world. How do we encourage our students to use more right-brain skills? How do we get an educational system that focuses so much on science, mathematics and standardized testing to include more right-brain skill-stretching activities?

Friedman also presented many examples of what it will take for businesses to succeed in a flattened world and a potent warning for those who resist the changes that will become necessary to survive. I wondered as I read it if our school system should be heeding those same warnings and preparing themselves for the inevitability of a different world. I read or heard somewhere in recent memory someone say that it takes the school system 50 years to catch up to the present day in terms of pedagogical philosophy. Let it not be so!

A friend passed along the little book “Who Moved My Cheese” which was a great read for me and very validating for my own approach about change and how to manage it. It should be made mandatory reading for anyone who is resisting change and I think particularly of teachers who are not yet ready to embrace any new technology tool.

Coming of Age The other book I have just finished reading is Coming of Age: An Introduction to the New World Wide Web. Thanks to Jennifer Wagner for passing it along. It is a free book, available on the link, co-authored by 14 educators who share their use of web 2.0 tools. Wow! It is full of tips and resources as well as good lesson ideas. I mentioned it the other day to the forty or so teachers at the University of the Southern Caribbean before even reading it and now I am glad I did. I hope I have the opportunity to guest lecture again next week because now I can speak of the book with even more enthusiasm and depth. I highly recommend it to any and all teachers!

The book was particularly good for me in the area of podcasting because that is probably the topic of which I had the least background and the most questions. Hey, I even finally learned how to get a podcast on my spiffy new iPod! I have downloaded all the NECC 2006 podcasts (linked to the site, but you can find them on Itunes under “Podcasts”) so that I can enjoy them on my morning walks.

For me, the most engaging of the contributing writers was Ewan McIntosh. His essay stands out a bit from many of the others because he tackles not just the how-tos or the what-is of the web 2.0 tools, but analyzes the societal movements, particularly of young people, because of these new technologies and the power of connectedness that they enable. He even tackles the very tricky issue of defining what are information, knowledge and wisdom and what differentiates them from each other. And critically, what are doing about teaching our students about information literacy? I hope he doesn’t mind if I quote him:

The problem for Scottish teachers, and almost certainly for those elsewhere in Europe at the moment, is that the R&D of today is taking place in the same countries that jumped on our bandwagon [of the British Industrial Revolution]. I feel we’re seriously missing the boat on the information bandwagon through our education system’s reluctance to adopt ‘risky’ (in their eyes) solutions that have potential. Meanwhile, our students are living in a vacuum of knowledge – the knowledge that really matters to them in their futures – because their elders are not actively seeking to put in the effort to make risky projects work.

Amen to that! In my opinion, what is fueling so much of the reluctance is the widening gap between the digital immigrants (those above 40 or so who have little exposure to social computing) and the digital natives who have been raised the twitch generation. Unfortunately, it is the digital immigrants who are teaching in the classrooms and setting policy.

So there are my fave book picks, at least for this week. Now I am off to join in the skypecast for the dreaded DOPA issue and Blackboard patent….

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