Sunday, 26 February 2012

Authoring Your Digital Self

edtech: hobbled and impersonal for your safety
I've written about owning your digital self in previous posts, but how that ownership happens is a function of how capable you are of authoring it.  Developing that authorship requires freedom of choice, you can't make full use of any medium if you don't have creative control.

I'm currently working toward my qualifications as a computer technology teacher, and this technical ability that allows for creative, deep use of technology is on my mind.  The magic of being technically skilled is misunderstanding that I want to move past.  Teaching technology means freeing up our access to it, and expecting anyone who wants to use it to be competent with it.  21st Century skills need to be as ubiquitous as literacy or numeracy skills.

When we are teaching writing, we don't prescribe the type of writing tool or the type of paper.  If a particular pen or type of paper encourages a student to write more, we're overjoyed to use it.  As soon as we can, we have students writing about their experiences using their own style of forming letters (within readability parameters).  We encourage individualization of this complicated process in order to assist students in internalizing these complex skills; their ability to form letters is one of the most unique things they do as a person.

What we do with edtech is the equivalent of only showing students cards with words on them and then declaring them literate when they can string together a sentence of words.  We don't allow them to personalize their learning, and so make it impersonal, simplistic and ultimately forgettable.

A school computer is about as inflexible and impersonal as a computer can be made to be.  If we're going to recognize 21st Century learning as complex, inter-related skill sets that need to be nurtured and developed over time (like literacy itself), then we need to look at how we are presenting digital  learning opportunities in education.

Our students currently teach themselves 21st Century skills outside education.  When they come to school they meet panicky (usually older) teachers and administrators who fear the magic box of lights and discourage any use of them that aren't understandable parallels of familiar analogue activities (word processing/type writer, powerpoint/slide show, etc).  Activities that don't have a pre-digital analogue are morally wrong / intellectually bankrupt / a waste of time... pick one and frown.  Edtech is designed around this philosophy of belittling digital change, and ignoring the development of teaching in technology.

appears every time we open up IE, which forgets
all your settings when you log out again.. #edtechfail
If we want our students to be able to author their digital selves now and in the future, we MUST free up the technology and allow students to customize their digital experiences.  The broken installation of Internet Explorer on my board computers (the only browser of choice) doesn't cut it.  Browser choice (complete with apps, mods and other personalization) makes all the difference in developing a skilled approach to accessing the internet.  It should remember your customizations as well.

This flexibility needs to go deep into software.  A student who has had access to multiple operating systems (Windows, OSx and Linux minimally) immediately has a better sense of how computers work because they are able to develop some perspective around how OSes make use of the hardware they are on, not to mention the software ecosystems each possess.

students all doing the same thing on the
same hardware, in rows...

A truly agile edtech plan also breaks apart the hardware monotony found in every board.  The minilab goes a long way toward addressing this while also addressing the software miasma.  The only time in their lives they will ever be forced to use rows of identical desktops is in school (or a 20th Century factory).  Preparing students for an IT environment that hasn't existed for over a decade is positively backward looking

Educational technology is not about ease of administration for the board's IT department, and it's not about fear mongering about privacy that never existed, it's about teaching students real, usable skills that will serve them in the future.

It would be nice if we started doing that.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Dream Apps

Over the last couple of days I've been wishing for a couple of Apps...

Idea #1:
Don't you wish you were a fly on the wall?
FLY ON THE WALL:  an app that lets you share live video from webcams at a conference you couldn't attend in person.  You get a flavour of a conference by following the twitter feed, and you can even interact with it, but you miss the moment to moment ideas, and you're ultimately limited to what other people consider important.

Fly on the wall creates a live stream that people can watch, similar to the Edupunk spreecast we did the other day.  This doesn't need to be a huge bandwidth deal, and multiple streams from the same location can be upvoted if they are better situated.  If people wanted to see the conference through the eyes of a friend, then their choice to stay with them would keep the feed active.  People could even offer voice overs or supporting commentary as part of their feeds.

The benefits to conferences would be obvious, they could even tier attendance and offer a discount rate through an official fly on the wall feed to conference presentations.  Virtual presence in conferences would become a regular part of the process.

Anyone want to have a go at this with me?

Idea #2:

I'm the sun!
Gravity: a web3.0 app that shows me as the centre of the system and social networking comments in orbits that are closer if they are more important to me.

Tweets that mention me are closer than general tweets, tweets that refer to demonstrated interests orbit in closer.  Over time this app would get a sense of what my interests are and float in 'interest comets', making suggestions on items that should suit me.  Facebook, twitter, Linkedin and Google+ (as well as other social networks) would be synced though Gravity to push objects of interest into your orbit.

A well trained Gravity system would feed you the must see and keep out the flotsam of your social networking feeds.

Idea #3:

Deep Reader: A web app that blocks distractions while you adopt a deep, meditative reading pose with online material.  The interwebs are a distraction engine.  Trying to read online is a difficult process with constant interruptions.  Deep Reader holds off the onslaught while giving you the time and mental space to really grok an author's thoughts as you used to on paper.

The problem with deep reading isn't reading a screen, as any Kindle or Nook will show you, it's trying to read while being in a medium that encourages a shallow surfing of information.

Deep Reader gives you a space to read as you are meant to.

I'd love to see those three.  Got any more you'd love to see?

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Confessions of an Elearning Pariah

The OeLC Conference approaches and I'm considering the agenda.

I find elearning in my board to be a tricky proposition.  I'd like to do it, I've spend a lot of time (much of it my own), working on elearning in way or another.  I've adopted many web2.0 tools into normal classroom situations, doing wikis in English, Nings in media arts and message boards in everything from English and computers to career studies.  I've also worked in multiple LMSs from Angel to D2L.

Having an online location to share resources, information and communicate with students, whether in class or out, is where education should be.  I don't run a course now without having an online means for students to reach me.  It comes in handy in everything from exam review to student absences to extended absences due to vacations or overseas exchanges, and saves me and my department(s) hundreds of dollars a year in paper.  Last semester I did $17 in copying, the top copier in our department was over $350.

I don't need to go to a conference to learn how Jing works.  I'm already a carpenter, I don't need to learn how to hammer nails.

I'm a 21st Century tool who really enjoys digital learning opportunities, and I want to be involved in how these learning processes, which are in a seminal phase, are being developed; elearning itself has barely begun!  I've found the best opportunities to do this through social media and PLN building, and ECOO and OTF conferences rather than within elearning.

Which brings me to the OeLC conference.  I'd like to go, but I'm not actually teaching any elearning classes.  I'm not teaching elearning classes because the development of elearning in our board has been, at best, inconsistent, and at worst actively dismissive.  Teachers who go out of their way to take the training, find nothing available to teach.  I've found myself teaching elearning or blended learning (elearning supported courses in physical classrooms) only as a pinch hitter, either doing courses no one else wants (summer school) or taking over courses that other teachers were given.

For someone who has consistently (even before my current board began elearning - in a previous board) demonstrated an interest in elearning, I've found opportunities to teach it to be vanishingly small.  Whether politically or financially motivated, this shifting ground makes it hard for me to get excited about this conference.

In the meantime I'm creating language around elearning for our union (OSSTF).  Our contract is about to be negotiated and the union is very suspicious of elearning and what the board will expect teachers to do with it.  Their track record around elearning expectations hasn't been spectacular, and there are real concerns about how elearning will be used as a means of watering down teaching, or forcing multiple classes and higher class sizes on single teachers.

The rock and a hard place feeling has been around for me since I began teaching.  As a new teacher who left behind a career in IT, I found myself digitally literate in a profession that seemed (s) to pride itself on not being.  One year I'm trying to overturn board doctrine around digital access, only to have them say back to me (word for word) what I'd been telling them previously.  I'm OK with that as long as the changes are happening, other people can play the politics.

The union also wants to try and slow what I see as an inevitable societal shift.  Both union and board still word their contract negotiations around brick and mortar, industrialized, 19th Century teaching habits; I think both sides find the clarity of bells, sages on stage and physical classrooms comforting.  They make a lot of noise around student centered learning, digital education and experiential classrooms, but they don't write this into the rules we all live by.  Contractual language is couched in the way we've always done things, it's safe and familiar to both sides.

So here I am, an active web2.0 teacher who doesn't particularly like LMSs, finds himself outside of whatever the board wants to do with elearning (if there is actually a plan), constantly finds himself pushing against pointlessly restrictive board digital policy, and who continually butts heads with his union colleagues who see elearning as a debilitating attack on the sanctity of their profession.

... and there's this conference coming up...

Thursday, 16 February 2012

The State of Educational Hashtags, FEB 2012

I've become quite habitual in my use of hashtags, and haven't really been exploring the edges.  At conferences I'm diligent about following and using the correct hastag, but when it comes to topic specific ideas, I tend to resort to the basics (#edchat #edtech).

I thought it time to look into the current state of edu-hashtags and try and dig up some new resources for them.

An interesting post on the reach of various Education hashtags.  Personal favs from those lists:  #edchat #edtech

Twitter U: lists of Education hashtags with explanations.  Hashtags of interest:
  • #TUfuture: future trends... sounds interesting (and up my alley)
  • #TUtin: tech integration in specific teaching areas
  • #mlearning: mobile learning using mobile tech
  • #vitalcpd: effective use of tech in the classroom
  • #elearning: dedicated to... fish!  No, just kidding, it's about elearning
Hashonomy: the science of hashtags (in beta right now).

Some Canadian specific hashtags... #cdned: general Canadian education tag.  There are some BC ones that I don't follow too much, such as #bced, though I should.

Anyone got any Ontario educational hashtags or other Canadian specific ones?  Not that I get that wound up about geographically specific tags - they tend to not get the point of the internet (common interests matter more that geographical proximity).

Reply with any I missed!  I want to poach your hashtag knowhow!

Monday, 13 February 2012

Tough Durable Tech

Tough tech!
This is one of my favorite bits of digital technology:  A Casio Pathfinder wrist watch.  What's so cool about a watch you ask?  They're SOOO 20th Century!

Well this one is also an altimeter, barometer, compass and thermometer.  It's also a stop watch, alarm clock and just plain old watch.

But none of that is what makes it cool.

What makes this piece of tech one of my favorites is that it isn't tethered to anything; it's one of the few pieces of digital technology that I own that is entirely self-contained, and that's somewhere that I want all my hardware to go.

This watch is fantastically accurate, but what makes it even better is that it picks up a signal and keeps itself atomically accurate.  It's a watch that never has to be set.

It's also a watch that never has to be wound or have the battery replaced.  The face is also a solar panel that recovers enough charge out of even a well lit room to recharge itself.

On top of all that, it's virtually indestructible.  It's encased in a rugged body that can withstand a car driving over it, it's freeze proof to well below zero, waterproof to diving depths and probably bullet proof as well.

Fragile energy vampire!
What I've got here is a tough, self-reliant piece of technology that always works no matter where I am.  When I look at my choices for computers, tablets or even smartphones, I'm looking at fragile, energy vampires that are lucky to work a day in regular use without the need to draw from a socket.

Faster is nice, but I'm also looking for tough and self contained.  Until I can lay in the bath with my e-reader or turn to my phone without seeing red low battery warning lights, the digital tech isn't nearly as tough and self contained as I need it to be.

The edtech question to ask is should we be putting fragile tech into the slippery hands of teens and children?  The repair/replacement rate of these fragile little digital flowers are going to be much higher than they are in the steadier hands of adults.

Until digital tech is as tough as the analog it's replacing, it's an edgy proposition to push it as the main focus in instructional tools.

In the meantime, Casio keeps evolving the tough tech.  Soon enough I'll have a watch PC that will communicate wirelessly with peripherals and power itself (hope hope).

Casio is also heading into something other than watches!  If there's a phone, perhaps a gshock tablet can't be far behind!  That'd take on those slippery student fingers, and look tough while doing it!

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Internet At Home/Internet At School

All stats are derived from the November 2010/January 2011 Centre Wellington DHS blended learning career studies pilot (102 students in four sections).  

More than 75% of my students have high speed internet access at home.  This internet access offers stable multi-megabit per second through-put, allowing for instant web access.  These students have none of the headaches of a closed educational network with network drives, secure individual logins, forgotten passwords or thousands of people trying to share their connection.  They are used to instant on, always on, fast internet.

With that access they play the latest games, many of which include multi-player massively online environments and astonishing graphics where they socialize with many people simultaneously.  Their home computers use the latest OSes almost exclusively and include the latest drivers and software.  An unusually high percentage also live in Apple OSx or the latest Linux distro.

At home they tear across the internet, downloading, uploading and multi-tasking with ease.  They are able to select a browser based on personal preferences and then load it with apps of their own choices; they are able to author their access, which is a key component in developing digital skills.

Then they come to school.

At our school they get to share our school bandwidth with fourteen hundred other people in the building, and then it gets funneled down to the board office where it's shared with dozens of schools and thousands of other people.  And when that single link (single point of failure) fails?  The whole board goes dark.

"School internet sucks" is a standard description of the experience.  At school you know you will click on google docs and wait, and wait, and wait.  When you're typing in a googledoc you'll sometimes see no text, and wait, and wait, and wait.  In many cases, this is the only time students see web pages timing out. This even happens with text pages, not just media heavy stuff.

The school network uses an image that has a pile of Ontario Ministry of Education software installed on it, but it's not what they use at home.  Microsoft Office?  No, you get Wordperfect (which isn't).  Trying to balance all of that software so that it plays well together is an ongoing challenge, and what many of our techs spend their time doing.

On top of all of it, when you login to a school computer you're greeted with a pixelly WindowsXP screen.  WindowsXP?  Students remember that, it's the OS their parent's used when they were small children.                                                   
Internet at home.

Internet at school.

One of the fun things at school is trying to find drivers for an OS that hasn't been sold in years, but we're not allowed to use anything else.  Got a new peripheral?  Better BYOD, because it ain't gonna plug in to the school machines and work properly.  The hardware is new enough, but the operating systems running them are an anachronism.  We buy new i5 laptops, delete Windows7 with all the current drivers off them and install WinXP with generic drivers because no one builds drivers for new equipment for an operating system that's been out of circulation for years.

What to do?  

Correct use of computers in school are not a function of limiting network and machine functionality.  Teachers need to teach with computers, not use them as distraction.  An engaged, observant teacher in a digital classroom demonstrates and directs correct use.  Centralized Soviet style board IT management does not, all that does is offer a digital effigy to be hacked; it's a dare.

The screen as a private mind-space is a misunderstanding of many digital natives.  Labs need to be set up with the teacher desk at the back so all screens are visible.  Students need to be aware that their screen is not a private space when in school, and they need to be sharing what they do with everyone in the room.  If they aren't willing, then they are probably doing something that they shouldn't.

Bring your own device should be encouraged, even actively supported by the school IT environment.  A diverse, personally authored access to technology should be the goal.  In many cases students will buy their own tech in order to get what they want, but there should be no digital divide in school.  The mini-lab would address this, allowing students with limited access to technology a choice in how they access information, and an opportunity to begin to develop their own sense of digital authorship.

Students can sign up to a high speed, multiple path network with built in redundancies and intelligent throttling by signing up the MAC addresess of their devices.  This would still allow for security and personal responsibility in their use of the resource.  A student who shows that they cannot make productive use of the network would find themselves throttled in bandwidth until they demonstrate a more efficient use of the tools.

This could even be tied to something as easily quantifiable like previous semester report card grades.  Students with failures are MAC blocked from Facebook and non-school related youtube video until they are passing.  When they notice how much more freedom and speed a digitally focused student gets online, they might begin to self-direct their digital serfdom into digital self-control.  Higher average students are offered greater bandwidth and more freedom.  Network through-put is a limited resource, using it as a reward for best work is not a bad idea and allows us to maintain a lean, efficient, faster online environment.

An intelligent network with no single points of failure and guaranteed bandwidth for learning tasks is entirely possible.  What prevents this is a stubborn, 20th Century mindset around industrialized, centralized use of networked tools.

With some teacher intervention and nuanced technical support, we can make schools a place to learn how to dance in the datasphere and develop digeracy, instead of being an anachronistic joke.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Best advice on blogging

Fourteen months into Dusty World and I'm approaching 5000 views, which is exciting.

When I started blogging after ECOO 2010, I did some reading about just how to do it.  A couple of suggestions have borne up well after fourteen months of blogging, but they aren't your typical how-to-drive-page-views blog advice.

This isn't a how-to-make-a-successful-business-blog type post.  There are piles of how to become a pro-blogger advice columns out there; this isn't that.  I didn't start blogging to make money or win fame.  If you're looking for a how to monetize your blog and push traffic type thing, then I'd argue that you're a shallow git who doesn't get what this really is.  Blogging isn't supposed to replace traditional media with a new way for a few people to target, market and sell to many, blogging is democratized publication.  Old, industrialized media is dying.  This isn't a bad thing, stop trying to be like them.

To that end, I found a piece of advice early that has allowed me to keep blogging regardless; always write about what you want, the way you want.  This works for me in a couple of different ways.  The main reason I'm still at it over a year later is that I find writing about problems, solutions and challenges in technology and teaching to be cathartic.  Blogging gives me perspective, sometimes it prompts responses that help me see a way through, and ultimately allows me to be better at what I do.  These are all ends in themselves; reason enough to blog right there.

I also never feel like this is work, more like therapy.  I know I'll probably feel better after blogging, so tend to want to do it.  I've found that blogging tends to result in a very direct style of writing that clarifies thoughts and my feelings on issues (you can't go on and on in a blog, it's the wrong format).

I don't shy away from a philosophical approach because I'm representing my peeps.  I am what I am and write what I write, I wouldn't expect everyone to read it, I wouldn't want them to.  I'm aiming at a specific reader (thoughtful, educationally and digitally curious), and I'm fine with that.  If I wanted page views I'd write college humor blog entries (but that would be work).

Another suggestion I read was write often (and don't forget to label your entries so people can find them).  Once you've built up a library of entries, the views will find you.  This has been the case.  Looking at the stats, there is always a bump on a new post, but the archive gets more hits now than even the new-entry bump.  Keep writing, eventually you'll build up enough content on enough subjects that people will find you.  Your entries get shared, and shared again, you start to see views from all around the world (which makes me wonder just how Canadian-centric my thinking may appear), and before you know it, there are many avenues to your blog, not just you pushing it out on your social networks.

Publishing your writing puts it out there.  It makes you want to put your best ideas forward.  I proof my entries, and try and make them technically correct because I never know who might end up reading them. Diary or journal writing for yourself doesn't drive you in that direction, that's a different sort of therapy.

As an English teacher, I feel like blogging makes me a better writer and gives students a chance to see how I do what I'm expecting them to do.  So many English teachers don't write, or don't offer students access to their writing... it strikes me as a bit hypocritical.

In the meantime, I find myself, a digitally skilled student of philosophy and history, living at a pivotal moment in human history; the birth of a digital revolution that will rock the world in much the same way (and much more quickly) than the industrial revolution did in the past two hundred years.  The world is changing in ways we can't even begin to foresee, and I'm teaching in it!

It's an exciting time to pick a timely new medium and enjoy using it.  Blog well my friends.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Taylorism In Edtech

I've just taken over as the tech-support teacher for my high school after a brief absence.  I don't generate technical problems, so I was right out of this jet stream until I came back in to manage it again.

Our first issue involved our student database system (Maplewood) being programmed to drop inactive students after 90 days of not logging in to the network.  Why 90 days?  No apparent reason.

In semester one you might be taking shop, phys-ed, co-op or food school (amongst many), and find that you are never asked to log in to a school machine in the course of your studies.  Or you might simply have followed the board's new BYO-device policy and use your own machine.  Semester 2 rolls around and suddenly you don't exist and are unable to login, and neither do hundreds of your colleagues.  On the first day of class you fall behind.

The emails started on the first day back and didn't get resolved until three days later.

The purpose of automation is to reduce repetitive, pointless work and make us more efficient.  This particular piece of automation created pointless work and reduced efficiency in teachers and students across the building, not to mention my time and our technician's time.

Why not set the shut down to six months, safely moving you into semester 2 before doing the automatic account shut-down?  Because the people who set up this system are not educators, they have little or no idea how the schools they service are scheduled.  If you don't know (or care) how something works, you're not likely to support it very effectively.

It's a kind of interdepartmental blindness that results in the left hand having no idea (and no patience) with what the right hand is doing.  This kind of systemization might seem cheap on the surface and satisfy an accountant's spreadsheet, but it's hardly efficient or effective.

In order to support a system, the person operating it should have lived with it.  There are plenty of teachers who understand school needs that don't necessarily want to teach in the classroom.  I'd rather see them managing our network than someone with no ED background who has little or no idea of even simple needs.

Efficiency isn't always about hiring the least educated (and cheap) person possible.  You can actually save money with quality.

Wanted Word: DIGERACY

@banana29 just came back from the OLA super conference (where she presented this).  Thousands of librarians from all across Ontario (and Canada) came together for a huddle.  They are pretty keen technologists and aren't remotely Luddite, but one of their issues was using the word LITERACY to describe a lack of familiarity when using technology.  Literacy is not the right word, we need something a with better etymological roots.

A lot of other words are trying to describe the gap we are beginning to see between people who use technology effectively and those who are used by it.  21st Century Fluencies is a big one, but it's a mouthful.

Literacy, numeracy; we need a *acy word to link to technological skills in the same way that literature was linked to *acy in our last big media evolution in order to describe the important new skill set needed around reading and writing.

Digeracy might work.  It implies a wider connection to digital fluencies and doesn't point to a single platform or skill set.  Cyberacy doesn't have enough consonants in it for me, and technoracy doesn't work because it points to too broad a concept (this isn't about technology as a whole but rather the digital evolution of information).

Digeracy points to a person's fluency in digital environments.  Their ability to understand the flow of information and how to interact with it efficiently.  While familiarity with hardware and software might help in specific instances, digeracy refers to a wider comfort level with digital information.

A person with high levels of digeracy is able to pick up new equipment and quickly work through its strengths and weaknesses in order to optimize their use of it.  They are able to access information in a variety of software environments and quickly understand the capabilities of the digital tools they are given.

Someone with digeracy might specialize in various bits of software and hardware, but they have developed sufficient breadth of skill that they are able to pick up any digital device and make it sing.  Their comfort level is sometimes seen as magical by others.  This extends beyond individual devices and platforms to knowledge of how to make best use of networks as well.

Like a fluent reader and writer with literacy, or a mathelete with numeracy, the technologist with digeracy is comfortable enough to swim in the digital ocean, to experiment with what they haven't seen before and quickly come to terms with it.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Own Your Digital Self

William Gibson (@greatdismal himself) on our changing mindscape:

At the last Educational Computing Conference in Ontario, there were a lot of presentations on digital footprints.  In every case, a few, older Luddites were struggling against a perceived loss of privacy while everyone else was being (as @greatdismal says above so well) 'benignly assimilated into the borg.'

This is one of those moments where you need to recognize a seismic shift in perception.  Two hundred years ago you weren't private, you were a public object identified by your clothing, where you lived, how you spoke, who you were related to and what you did for a living.  This common knowledge defined you.  Saying that you didn't want any of it to get out because you wanted privacy would seem bizarre.

Thirty years ago, you were all of those older ideas of social identity advertising yourself as you moved more efficiently in motorized transport.  Some few found their identities ruled by media, but this was a function of how limited access to that media was.  Three decades ago the first bits of digital information where hanging on you, like your phone number (publicly available in a phone book, and still available through other means if you were struggling to retain the privacy you never had by going unlisted).  Later on fax numbers began to follow us around, and then things got busy.

In the early days of the internet, digital information about us blossomed.  Unlike earlier, industrialized media, the two-way internet pushed everyone into the lime light.  Work emails, then personal emails, then work webpages, then personal webpages, then social media came along and surrounded us with constellations of public information.  We can try and bury our heads in the sand, not participate, not take control of this data, but it won't succeed in removing you from this equation.

Whenever you make a financial transaction, or communicate, you're adding data to your digital shadow.  You have a choice to author that data, but if you choose not to, it'll end up authoring itself, or even worse, someone else will author it for you.

Those digital footprint seminars all came back to the same idea: the most powerful thing you can do in a rapidly expanding world of data is be yourself and present yourself as you want to be perceived.  Burying your head in the sand doesn't show your best public side to the datasphere.

As you may have already guessed, resistance is futile.

Looking for an interesting sci-fi angle on this?  Daniel Suarez' DAEMON & FREEDOM novels will knock you into the 21st Century with some radical, technical plausibility!

"The Matrix is everywhere, all around us, even in this very room.  You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television, can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes..."