Monthly Archives: April 2010

School’s out Friday

Last week I featured Rives and his 4.am conspiracy plot tale. In response, Angela Stockman let me know about this one from Rives, ‘A story of mixed emoticons‘. I used it with my Year 9 class this week and it led to a spirited discussion about the morphing of language over time and how symbols can transcend language barriers. The video is embedded in our class Ning and we have a forum discussion based around it. What was really wonderful was looking at the faces of my students as they watched this tale unfold. They were so focused and all of them had that open mouthed half smile you see when people are genuinely engrossed in something amusing. Those are the classroom moments I savour.

Hope you have wonderful plans for the weekend ahead. Can’t say I have much planned, but let’s face it, any weekend is a good one!

Enjoy.

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Students 2.0 – the first session

Tonight I jumped a hurdle. A few of them really. I was moderator of an elluminate room running the introductory session of Students 2.0. Anne Mirtschin, wonderful woman that she is, had provided me with quite a bit of training over the past week and it was thanks to her that I felt reasonably comfortable about running the session.Thanks also need to go to Adrian Camm who helped out with this session in a moderator capacity to ensure it didn’t fall over!

I fully expected there to be no-one with me in the room. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. Seventeen people attended, all of them teachers from Australia and the United States. Some, like Monika Hardy from Colorado, got up at 3.15 in the morning to attend. One of the students from my school was trying to get in but had problems with elluminate on her computer. This is going to be the biggest challenge facing this initiative; establishing the student base that will make the whole thing viable. Hopefully the teachers who were there will be able to generate interest amongst their student body and we may see them getting on board in weeks to come.

I put together a short presentation as an introduction; you can find it embedded on a Wiki I’ve created to support the sessions I’m going to be running in the coming weeks. Here’s a rundown of what’s on offer;

RSS – finding what you’re interested in and bringing information to you. May 5th 7.30pm AEST
Blogs – Learn how to set one up and write a post that gets you noticed. May 12th 7.30pm AEST
Google Docs – storing and sharing your information in the cloud. May 19th 7.30pm AEST
Ning and other social network environments – how to work and learn with others. May 26th 7.30pm AEST
Wikis – for storing, sharing and showing what you can do. June 3rd 7.30pm AEST
Twitter – not just small talk. Using Twitter for learning purposes. June 10th 7.30pm AEST
Social bookmarking -organising your learning. June 17th 7.30pm AEST

This is all a bit of an experiment at the moment. It may work, it may not. Hopefully it will prove to be valuable for students; we’ll just have to wait and see how things pan out. The session was recorded, but my limited understanding of elluminate means that I’m not sure how to find the recording and get it linked into the Students 2.0 site! Hopefully, Steve Hargadon can help out with that for me.

I hope students will find the space and see the possibilities of directing their own learning with the support of teacher mentors. Time will tell.

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School’s out Friday

This is the poet, Rives, speculating on the mysterious hour of four in the morning. It’s worth hanging in there for the entire 8 minutes of his performance, just to appreciate the effort that’s gone into sourcing the material for this clever and very amusing TED Talk. Wouldn’t this make a great investigative activity for a group of students, who just might find that they could immerse themselves in the hunt for appropriate examples. It’s a task I’d find fun. It could even be a really useful team building exercise for staff on a Professional Development day. Imagine groups coming back to deliver their findings on the mysteries of different hours of the morning!

Long weekend ahead for Australians as we commemorate ANZAC Day. I hope your weekend treats you well.

Enjoy. : )

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Ning, Elluminate and what I know now…

Two events of the past week have brought some things sharply into focus for me. One is the discussion surrounding the monetisation of Ning, and the other is the problems I am having with my computer and Elluminate. Yes, they seem poles apart, but bear with me, I’ll explain the connection. (at least I hope I will!)

I surprised by all of the fuss surrounding Ning’s decision to begin the process of charging for what were previously free networks. I’ve seen tweets suggesting it will be the death of Ning. I just don’t think that will be the case. I think Jason Rosenthal and Marc Andreesson are making sound business decisions that will probably guarantee the continuation of Ning rather than its demise. In fact, if decisions like this aren’t made by providers of what are currently free open source software alternatives, then we may well see more applications we use in schools go the way of bubbleus or flowgram.

There’s no doubt in my mind that monetisation of services and content is the biggest issue facing the Web today. We’ve seen Rupert Murdoch make noises about charging for newspaper content and I’m sure we will see more moves in this direction from other providers. Darcy Norman, an Educational Technology Consultant from the University of Calgary, made the following observations about the impact of Ning’s decision;

WordPress/BuddyPress and Drupal and any of a long list of others can provide the functionality of Ning. But, in order to protect yourself from another potential service change/interruption, you really need to provide a server. At some point, you need a Dreamhost account or something similar. You need to copy files to the server. You need to configure a database and tweak things. This is where the people that use Ning in the first place are lost. They can’t/won’t do this. We can argue until we’re blue in the face, saying it’s easy, saying it’s cheap, saying it’s necessary, but the vast majority of people simply don’t want to manage the technical layers beneath what they see in the web browser. Ning is betting the company that these people will reach for their credit cards to prevent having to deal with technical stuff.

Darcy’s right. I won’t be doing this. I don’t want to manage the technical layers. What I want to do is help my students make connections and understand that this provides them with a new way of looking at how we can learn today. That requires a considerable effort in building a community of learners. An effort that means I don’t have time for the technical layers. So, if I want to use a platform that enables me to do this, then I guess I’ll be paying. And you know what, there’s a part of me that thinks I should. People invest time and money providing us with platforms that we are utilising and they deserve compensation for their efforts.

So where’s the connection with Elluminate, you may ask? Well, I spent close to five hours the other night trying, with the help of some wonderful people (Anne Mirtschin – you are one of life’s angels on earth – you truly are! So are you John Pearce!), to troubleshoot an error message that was stopping me from accessing Elluminate rooms. Was I any closer to an answer at the end of those five hours. No, I wasn’t. I had to postpone the start of lessons in Students 2.0 as a result of it all.

So what’s been brought into focus for me?

This.

I don’t have time to work through issues involving the technical layers and I certainly don’t have time to learn everything that people working the back end of computers know. I work the front end, and I don’t mind having to pay something to make sure it works smoothly for me.

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School’s out Friday

I tried to catch some of the TEDxOntarioEd event last weekend, but got there just as they were going off air. What was playing was this TED Talk, recorded at TEDIndia in December 2009. It’s Alexis Ohanian, who co-founded Reddit, a social-voting news website. This is the story of Mr. Splashy Pants, and how the Reddit community helped to make him a Greenpeace marketing asset. It’s a wonderful, fast paced and funny insight into how social media works. I defy you not to smile as you’re watching.

Enjoy your weekend. I’ll be contemplating the future of my Ning networks (!) and thinking about the classes that begin in Students 2.0 next Wednesday evening. I’ll also be planning for the SLAV Shared Learning Conference at Etihad Stadium next Monday where I’ll be delivering a presentation about Cybersafety.

Rest up.

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A change in the Ning – Free takes its toll

The networks are all a flutter today with the news from Ning that they have slashed jobs and will be charging for use of their networks in the very near future. Read this from Jay Rosenthal, newly appointed CEO of Ning;

When I became CEO 30 days ago, I told you I would take a hard look at our business. This process has brought real clarity to what’s working, what’s not, and what we need to do now to make Ning a big success.

My main conclusion is that we need to double down on our premium services business. Our Premium Ning Networks like Friends or Enemies, Linkin Park, Shred or Die, Pickens Plan, and tens of thousands of others both drive 75% of our monthly US traffic, and those Network Creators need and will pay for many more services and features from us.

So, we are going to change our strategy to devote 100% of our resources to building the winning product to capture this big opportunity. We will phase out our free service. Existing free networks will have the opportunity to either convert to paying for premium services, or transition off of Ning. We will judge ourselves by our ability to enable and power Premium Ning Networks at huge scale. And all of our product development capability will be devoted to making paying Network Creators extremely happy.

Although I have to admit to being taken aback by this news, I can’t say that I was entirely surprised.

I’ve been speculating for quite some time on the ‘free’ model of enterprise many of us are familiar with and expect from the Web. This is a model that I don’t think can be sustained, proof of which came with this announcement today. So what will it mean for those of us running Ning networks?

Plenty.

Do we continue the networks and pay the fees? Do we lobby Ning and ask them (implore them!) to do as Wikispaces do and provide a free platform for education that doesn’t include ads? Do we export the data and look to a platform like Elgg to fill the gap? Do we wait and see who might see this this as an opportunity to launch a platform that will see large take up from disenfranchised Ning users? Do we sit back and wait to see the plans that Ning have promised they will send to network creators in the next two weeks?

All things we need to consider. I’m waiting to see the message from Ning for creators. I’m hopeful they will not been driven by monetary incentive and will see a need to support the education community. I’m not entirely confident this will happen however. I suppose we all need to get on the Ning discussion forum and do our bit to lobby Ning to think of the education sector and the good work they can do to support student learning with the use of their networks. Chris Champion has said it very well with this comment he left in the Ning forum discussion;

I am a creator of both free Nings and a “Premium” ad-free point my domain ning. The premium Ning represents a conference with paying customers – for a $360 annual cost, we have a network that we don’t have to host. Is it cheap? No. We could have done Elgg and dealt with more administration issues, plus about $80 in hosting. But Ning is nice because people who are already Ning members don’t have to create new accounts, learn new things. It works because people are comfortable with it. Unfortunately, we might find that the ONLY place people use the Ning is our premium site. So be it. As long as it doesn’t cost our users additional fees (we build in the fees when we price the conference), they won’t mind.

The other side is that I work for a school. I as well as another teacher use Ning to provide a protected social network in which students can share ideas, projects, and learn appropriate behavior and candor on a social network. This particular use is far more important to me than the Premium ning I manage.

I call on Marc Andreessen and Jason Rosenthal to follow the model of Wikispaces: grant K-12 schools the continued use of Nings for the classroom without ads, and at no charge. Do I think Ning is worth a few $ monthly? Yes. Would my school pay? Absolutely not.

Marc – I paid for Netscape way back before it was free. I was one of the few who paid because I am a developer (and computer science teacher now) and I recognize the value of hard work. But I also recognize the opportunity to provide teachers and students with great resources. I hope you do too.

Effectively, the message from this is that free can’t work. We have to become accustomed to the fact that if we want the Web to work for us, we have to outlay something to make it happen. I’ve been reading the work of Jaron Lanier and he extols this message. We need to be paying attention and we need to accept that this is the playing field we are operating in. Open source software has risks associated with its use, and we may find this is what will happen to other platforms we use that are currently free. The monetisation of the Web is an issue we all have to face, and it may be that it is time for us to start outlaying the cash to make it work.

The pity of all this, is that once again, it will be those that can least afford to lose out who will lose out. The schools whose budgets are tight will not be able to sustain their networks, and kids and their learning will suffer. It’s also a pity for all those educators out there who have stuck their necks out and successfully used Ning networks to assist their students. They’ve often had to lobby school administrators to move out of walled gardens to do this. This move by Ning provides grist to the mill to all those skeptics out there who will gleefully redirect them back to platforms like Sharepoint that don’t support the collaborative learning that you can achieve in a Ning environment. I do hope Ning is listening and will do their bit to support the education sector.

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ACEC 2010 reflection

It’s been a very busy school holiday period for me. The Australian Computers in Education Conference was held at the Exhibition Centre here in Melbourne and I had three presentations to deliver, one each day of the conference. No rest for the wicked!

It’s always great being able to attend conferences like this where people from your online networks congregate. Talking in sentences longer than 140 characters can be a lot more meaningful! I was looking forward to hearing keynotes from Alan November and Gary Stager. I’ve heard Gary before and knew he would stir up some debate, and he didn’t disappoint. Gary has been visiting Melbourne for over 20 years and was here when MLC became the first school  to go 1:1 with laptops. Gary was (I think) asking the audience to look to the examples from the past and learn from them rather than try to reinvent all the time. While I think there’s some benefit in doing that, the means by which we can use technology for learning purposes has come a long way in the last few years, and some recent examples would have been beneficial for the audience. I found myself agreeing with Gary, but he lost me momentarily when he launched into an attack on Twitter, something I’ve heard him do before. He doesn’t see the value in using it for networking purposes and obviously, I hold an opposing view. And I was running a session called ‘The What, Why and How of Twitter‘, that afternoon! Gary made some contentious statements, one of which suggested that our Government obviously doesn’t like teachers very much. There were some audible mutterings of disagreement re that one around me, but I talked to others later who thought that was perfectly valid. Gary’s keynote was recorded by the amazing Steve Collis, who helped people participate virtually by ustreaming his own sessions and the sessions he attended. Visit his ustream channel to check out Gary’s keynote and formulate your own opinion. Gary has written a post about Steve Costa, who was instrumental in the launch of the first laptop program in the world at MLC (Methodist Ladies College). It is a very complimentary piece recognising Steve’s efforts and I would encourage you all to read it.

I have to say I was expecting more from Alan November’s session. And it has nothing to do with the fact that he asked if we knew about Ferris Bueller! (My Twitter comment was ‘Yes Alan. We know Ferris Bueller. We are part of the modern world.’ Honestly!) I’m not referring to the content, but the level of preparedness. Alan’s keynote felt under prepared from my perspective. Keynote presenters get paid a significant amount of money, a whole lot more than the nothing I was paid for three presentations, and, I was expected to pay to attend the conference. (Not even a free conference dinner was coming the way of any people who generously offered to present. Thanks to the Independent School’s Victoria (ISV), I was able to access a grant to go.) Alan hadn’t pre-loaded videos from Youtube, we had to watch as he leaned over the lecturn and did search on the fly. Sorry, but I want to see a keynoter who has thoughtfully prepared a presentation for an audience who have outlaid significant money to attend. Even preloading these videos saves valuable time when you are trying to make a point. Alan was making some good points about the value of providing meaningful feedback to students and was referring to the research of New Zealander, John Hattie. Alan believes that the use of technology can assist in providing immediate quality feedback, using devices like clickers that enable you to monitor student understanding of key concepts. I’ve never used polling software in my classes, preferring instead to work at getting the climate of the classroom right to encourage the sharing of ideas, but maybe it’s worth trying. Alan spoke at length about the need to teach our students search skills that will enable them to dig deep into the Web and extract returns that are meaningful. I hope people in the audience were listening and go back and utilise the skills of Teacher-Librarians to assist them with this. Alan did relay a positive message, and that’s important, to me anyway. I want to come away from a conference feeling inspired to try new things, and I think Alan did that for some people.

I went to Greg Gebhart’s session about Cybersafety. Greg definitely knows his stuff; any presentation I’ve seen him deliver is full of detail and helpful advice. I do wish that he would include some reference to working actively with new technologies so that we can embed digital safety lessons into classroom practice by modeling safe and ethical use. That’s a message educators need to hear. Greg was telling us how ACMA has recently employed more people to help with free internet safety sessions for schools. There’s a definite need for this, but I think the need far outweighs the manpower ACMA can provide. It’s going to have to be educators who take on this work in their schools. I’d like to see ACMA providing slideshows on their site that educators can access to assist them with the transfer of the digital safety message.

John Burns is a iPhone (probably now iPad too!) app developer who shared with us his methods for getting an app created and into the Apple App store. Wow – what an experience listening to what he’s done. John created the ‘Measure it’ app, that featured on an Apple ad on TV. I purchased that app because of that ad!! This presentation made me think- it really did. Firstly, it got me thinking of the need to teach our students the basics of coding so that they aren’t intimidated and can venture into creative work like this. (Gary Stager delivers the message about the importance of teaching code too.) Secondly, it made me think of what I could have been putting my energy into these last couple of years or so! Maybe I’d be rolling in it if I’d invested in me instead of sharing my knowledge with everyone through here! Maybe; but would I be happy? I’d love to answer ‘no’, but the answer just might be ‘yes’.  ; ) Check out John’s very helpful site where he linked to many of the sites he uses to assist him in the process of app development. (if you’re on a Mac, he recommended you view the page in Safari).

It was great to see Chris Betcher delivering a keynote (Yay – an Australian on the stage for a keynote. All too often a rarity in this country!). Chris left the audience with a positive take on the changes occurring and how all educators can become involved through participation in learning networks.

Judy O’Connell’s presentation ‘Content used to be King’, was supported with an excellent slide presentation that she has kindly shared on slideshare. I’m embedding it here in the hope that you look at it and follow some of the links that take you to other search alternatives you can use with your students. Judy’s discussion about the semantic web and the potential it holds for the way we interact with the Web was insightful. Thanks for an excellent presentation Judy.

I presented three sessions. One each day. Like I said, no rest for the wicked! All three can be accessed on the wiki I maintain that supports any work I’m doing. You can find it here. The presentations were ‘Virtual Learning Communities – Time to get connected‘, ‘The What, How and Why of Twitter‘, and ‘Creating a Virtual Learning Community using Ning‘. I’ll try and embed the presentations in this blog the coming days. I just can’t believe how long already it’s taken me to get this post written – that’s what happens when you catch your breath on the weekend after a conference and head back into the first week of school and the business of working full time.

The end of the conference brought with it a very pleasant surprise for me. I was one of the recipients of the inaugural ACCE Australasian Education Media awards. Chris Betcher was also awarded this honour. ACCE’s purpose behind creating this award was to acknowledge the contribution of Australasian educators who support the learning community through blogs, wikis, podcasts, forums, mailing lists, virtual communities and other internet resources. I’m extremely honoured to be the recipient of this award. It means so much to me to have the work I’ve been doing to share my learning with others recognised. I do try very hard to support educators and to be encouraging of people who are new to technology and what it has to offer us as classroom practitioners. My thanks go to the Australian Council for Computers in Education for acknowledging the work of educators who share what they do for the love of it, and the desire to see teaching and learning practices reflect the world we are living in.

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