ISTE 2010 reflection

ISTE 2010. So, what were my impressions. In a word, big. Really big. Probably overwhelmingly big. The scale of a conference this size (17,000 or so attendees!) really is hard to comprehend from the outside, and difficult to comprehend from the inside too. There are acres of people and it’s a struggle to get into sessions. I was shut out from quite a few I wanted to attend as were countless others. You weren’t allowed to sit on the floor to get into full sessions, although this was relaxed in a couple of rooms where the numbers occupying floor space were too many to usher out.

You need to be organised, and I have to confess, I wasn’t. I’d been occupied with reports and end of term happenings, and then spent the time before I left getting the MICDS and ISTE presentation organised. I didn’t give myself time to study the conference program, and I should have. Note to self: do this before attempting a conference of these diminsions should you ever attend another one.

Edubloggercon: A great day, and a nice way to start a conference like this. Steve Hargadon chairs the day, but sessions are determined by participants. There was a session about the changes/monetisation of Ning networks. A representative from Pearson publishing was present to discuss the free networks that are only available to North American educators. I don’t think he was expecting to see an international presence there. Both myself and Julie Lindsay (who teaches in an international school in Beijing), expressed our concerns about the lack of support for teachers outside of North America. To his credit, the representative has sent on our concerns to Pearson and has said he will remain in email contact. Let’s wait and see. Interestingly, Adam Frey from Wikispaces sat in on the discussion. I use Wikispaces all the time, and appreciate the support they give to educators with their product. He spoke to me at the end of the session and said he’d talk with Ning about the concerns we were raising. I hope he does so.

Lots of discussion at Edubloggercon about the iPad and it’s usefulness as a device for schools to consider. There were people there talking of it becoming their 1:1 computing device and a lot of push back saying that it doesn’t have the ability to be a creation tool. It seems that people are relying on the developer community to create apps that are going to make the iPad more adaptable to the needs of students. Many people spoke of the benefits of the battery life. I can attest to this. I took an iPad with me to the conference and was amazed that I could use the device all day without having to look for a power outlet to recharge. I was anticipating that I’d use it rather than my laptop. It’s great as a web surfing device and handling email, but I was hoping to be able to edit Google Docs along the way and take notes that I could access from my Mac later. I was really surprised to see that I could access my Google Docs, but I couldn’t edit them. Talking with conference participants throughout the coming days, it seems that an app called Office HD for $7.99 is something that can allow you to edit your documents. People were pretty happy with how it works, but reviews on the App site suggest there are some problems with it crashing.

The best session for me at Edubloggercon was run by Monika Hardy and her students from Loveland, Colorado. They are doing great things at their school with an innovationlab project they are running from August onwards. Students will have time in their school day to explore the things they are passionate about and will be using whatever tools they need to get their message out there and contacts made. The students were inspiring to listen to. They are in good hands with Monika; she is a passionate educator who wants to do the best for her students. She is enacting in her school what many people talk of doing. Keep tabs on Monika’s progress. I would love to see my school make some connections with this program and do a similar thing.

Dean Groom ran a session about how you go about creating an iPhone/iPad app. It was very well attended and Dean presented in a no nonsense way how you access free code out there (and something called The Kitchen sink!) to assist in creating a app for the iTunes store. He made it sound achievable. It got me thinking that something like this would be a great inquiry week project for the students at my school. I’m going to need to find time to immerse myself in the process first to see if I can get somewhere with it so that I can support the students with their learning. Hmmnn…wondering when I’ll be able to manage that!

The Conference itself: There’s a bit of ‘Razzle Dazzle’ at a conference like this. Keynote presenters are introduced with a band playing music that doesn’t always coincide with the message being transferred. In Australia, we just clap. I found myself in a couple of sessions where speakers were evangelical in their ‘call to action’. I found it a little ‘full on’; maybe it’s a cultural thing. I haven’t been to conferences here in Australia that are like this. Early in the peace, David Warlick was asking how this conference differs from Australia. I said I felt like I was at Disneyland; I felt like I was being entertained. (I feel a need to explain this; I’ve noted David has indicated ‘ISTE as Disneyland for teachers’ as a possible post and I presume he is referring to my comment). Please don’t take this the wrong way; the presenters were relaying important messages that educators should be listening to, it’s just that it was full on, and maybe that’s just their style of presenting. And that comment was based on a microcosm of the conference; at that stage I’d only attended the Keynote and a couple of sessions. Let me preface that as well by saying the the keynote speaker was not providing ‘entertainment’, but the opening music on his entry was!

It’s probably a reflection of the sessions I chose to attend (and being a Teacher-Librarian you won’t be surprised) but there was a strong message coming through that we need to focus strongly on digital literacy skills and understandings. Howard Rheingold had the best term that I’d love to be using at school, but I can imagine some would feel it inappropriate. He calls it ‘The Art of Crap Detection 101″. Thankfully, you can view this presentation online.  (and you can visit here, to see other presentations ISTE has released for public viewing) I missed it as I was involved in my poster session while it was being delivered. Howard seems to have partnered up with Microsoft, who have created a very useful guide for teachers called ‘Critical Thinking in the Classroom‘ that you can download as a PDF. You can also access lesson plans and handouts from the site. They have worked closely with American Teacher-Librarians  and students in the process of creating this, and it looks useful. Some of their examples are US centric, and I brought this up in the session. They acknowledged that they do need need to put on a Global hat when they are creating resources like this so that they can be useful everywhere, in all school systems. The session made me think more about using Bing with my students; it looks like they are doing some interesting things in their labs.

It was great having the opportunity to catch up with Joyce Valenza again at this conference. Joyce is visiting Melbourne in July and is presenting for SLAV. I would encourage you to send your staff along, and not just your Teacher-Librarians. Joyce is a dynamic presenter who has a raft of advice to offer about how you integrate new ideas into teaching and learning.I was able to help with the backchannel at the ‘Learning Tools Smackdown‘ that was hosted by SIGMS (Special interest group Media Specialists). The wiki supporting this session is a fabulous resource, as is the Twitter hastag #SIGMS where you will find the resources referenced collated as live links. It was really wonderful seeing Teacher-Librarians and Ed Tech integrators sharing what works for them in their schools. All of the presenters had put so much effort into the wikipages they have created. I can see this being a very useful resource to take back to my staff.

And that brings me to probably the most valuable resource at this conference. Twitter hashtags. Whether you were there in person or attending virtually, the hashtags supporting the conference are a veritable mine of information that can act as your professional development opportunity in the coming weeks. Hashtags to search via Twitter include #iste2010 and #iste10. You should also check out the Diigo group, ISTE 2010; many educators have been adding links there that you will find useful. One of the problems with any conference is that you are just one person and you can’t go to everything. Being able to access information post-conference like is invaluable.

I had a great time meeting people from my online community. Some I’d met before, and some were people I was meeting for the first time. Meeting Jeff Agamenoni was a highlight. Jeff is such a nice guy, both online and in person. I shared a really fun night out with Jeff, his family and Dean Groom. Thanks for your hospitality Jeff and Joanie, and for driving me back to my dodgy accomodation! I shared a great conversation and was so pleased to meet Richard Byrne who writes ‘Free Technology for Teachers’. Richard’s a very nice guy who is doing great work to support the teaching community across the world. I really enjoyed catching up with my PLP friends, Sheryl Nussbaum Beach, Will Richardson and Robyn Ellis . Once again, thanks Sheryl for your hospitality.

Sue Waters and Frances McLean were rocks for me. I loved sharing time shopping, eating and laughing with them. Frances and I even managed to see Toy Story 3 together! Dean Groom, Judy O’Connell and June Wall were also fun companions to be around. Thanks for sharing time with me. I do think we all tend to gravitate to one another because we’re Australian; you look for the common thread in unfamiliar surroundings, and the accent and shared understandings are connective glue.

I ran a poster session on the last day of the conference. I wasn’t too sure about the format, but it was worthwhile. I spoke to many people who were interested in applying Ning environments to their school settings and who seemed to appreciate the fact that I’d embedded the presentation into a wiki and had added a voiceover to help them with their understanding. Hopefully people elsewhere will find it useful too.

Denver is a beautiful place, and a conference like ISTE is incredible. It’s an experience to be had, that’s for sure!

ProCon – Secondary School debators take note

I’ve spent a bit of time looking at ProCon, a website that has as its mission;

 “Promoting critical thinking, education, and informed citizenship by presenting controversial issues in a straightforward, nonpartisan primarily pro-con format.”

It’s origins are from the United States, so Australian schools will find it limited to some extent, but it does provide good overviews of controversial topics like Drugs in Sport, Euthanasia, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, the US decision to invade Iraq, the Death Penalty and various others. These are issues students in my school investigate so I’ll be pointing them to it when they are in the process of formulating their research.

They provide a one minute overview page, did you know facts, and in  some cases top 10 pros and cons about issues. Here’s a screen capture of part of the Israeli-Palestinian page;

procon_screen_capture

I’ve had a look at their about us page to try and find out more about the creators of these pages. There are a number of contributors and if you click on their names you are taken to a profile page where their educational backgrounds are detailed. You can find on this page information about the researcher who is handling topics on the site. All of these researchers can be contacted via email addresses that are available on their about us page. You can sign up for RSS feeds, share the pages and even follow them on Twitter – they are procon_org.

If you’re in a school in Australia and looking for a site that explores current issues, you should consider getting  a subscription to Echo Education Services. It’s a small organisation doing a really great job for Victorian students but their services are valuable for other Australian States and Territories. Here’s what they do;

What is Echo?

The Echo’s information content is drawn from newspapers and the Internet.
Echo selectively indexes three major Australian newspapers and provides a searchable index on-line.
Echo also publishes regular issue outlines. These are analyses of newspaper treatment of events, controversies etc. The outlines set out the arguments for and against (as put forward by journalists and commentators) and provide background information on the particular issue.
The issue outlines also contain links to vetted, relevant documents and sites on the World Wide Web.  

What I have found particularly helpful are the issues outlines pages. The lady who compiles these pages is an English teacher. She scans the newspapers for current issues and puts together a very detailed analysis drawing on the information she has obtained from various newspaper reports, all of which are referenced at the end of her outline. They have recently started including YouTube content to provide the multi-media angle so necessary in today’s ever increasing digital media world. I can’t tell you how many students at my school this lady has assisted. Students who are finding it difficult grasping what is required in a critical analysis of a media issue are very often shown the way from her insightful and easy to access information.  I was fortunate enough to be able to relay my thanks to her personally when I attended an in-service Echo ran a couple of years ago, She was genuinely surprised. Their service is very cheap; a subscription costs around $340.00. Well worth the investment. 

Check out both of these resources for your students to use. Thanks to Richard Byrne for sending me to ProCon.

Kickyoutube – Easy download solution for YouTube

One of the best ways to start converting colleagues to the wonders of the Web is to introduce them to the vast array of content on YouTube that is suitable for education purposes. If you work in a school with a slow connection then you will be familiar with the circular loading indicator that can stay like that for what seems an eternity. Not conducive to good classroom practice unfortunately. By the time it loads your kids are in their next class!

Solution.  Download the video from YouTube using a conversion tool. I’ve spoken of keepvid before which has been my preferred option. This has involved me going to the keepvid site and copying and pasting the YouTube url once I’m there.

Better solutionAlec Couras, ably assisted by Melanie Gibb, alerted me on Twitter to kickyoutube. It is quite simply the easiest method I’ve seen yet to download a video to a different format. All you need to do is delete the ‘au.’  (or www.) in the url and type the word ‘kick’ in front of the word ‘youtube’  and then press enter.  Kickyoutube is enabled and you are presented with a toolbar with differing options for file conversion.  You select your preferred option and press go and your download begins. Dead simple. There are even options for conversions for the iPhone and PSP as well as the garden variety options.  Some options may not be available at the time and they will not be highlighted if that is the case.

kickyoutube1

The following screencast gives a good visual explanation of how it works;

Richard Byrne, who writes at Free Technology for Teachers, (and just quietly Richard, you are a blogging dynamo! Do you ever sleep?) has posted recently about YouTube’s new initiative with downloads. Here’s what he reported;

YouTube is introducing a download option on some videos. I haven’t seen any official announcements from YouTube, but there are some videos on YouTube that now have a small download link located just below play menu.   

This is an even easier option, but like Richard says, it’s not available for all videos at the moment. All you need to do is click on the download link and a file download to MPEG 4 format begins.

It will be nice to return to school with some new and very easy options for downloads from YouTube to share with my colleagues. We may not even need to do this with some changes that are afoot. We are moving from a 2mg internet connection to  20mg and I can’t wait to see what a difference that is going to make for our school and our connectivity. I’m expecting great things!