I partner with organizations in helping to understand the changing nature of learning by working together in long-term, embedded professional development that prepares us all for our future, not our past.

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Jeff Utecht

Browsing

Thought I’d just state up front that this is a reflection post and not a blogging post. Something Will Richardson has been discussing over on Weblogg-ed.

I haven’t written in a couple days, but have been spending a lot of time reading and reflecting on what other people have been posting and discussing. I find myself thinking a lot about Will’s post on a new form of writing and think that he’s on to something big over there.

Also found another great blog to add to my long list of daily readings. Teach42 has some posts that intrigue me and now that Steve in podcasting again, I look forward to what he has to talk about.

Had a conversation about technology today and why technology doesn’t get used when it is dropped into classrooms without any training. I listened to Tim Wilson’s podcast today on ‘Laptops for All’, and was blown away by the 40 hours a year of Professional Development the teachers in his 1 to 1 laptop program received. That is heaven to my ears. To be able to train teachers in using the technology that is available to them, whether it is a 1 to 1 program or just a couple of computers in the classroom. Hopefully there will be some Tech PD in the near future for the teachers at my school, otherwise we will continue to purchase technology hardware and wonder why it is not being used.

Lastly, another great podcast by Tim Wilson over at the technosavvy site with Martin Dougiamas the founder of Moodle. I am a huge Moodle fan and loved this podcast on what the future of Moodle is. Thanks Tim and Martin for the great information.

While browsing Firefox extensions the other day, I happened upon the TextMarker extension. WOW, what a great tool for students to use while researching the web. Students can highlight text as they read a web page. Then when they are finished they simply right click over the highlighted text and copy just the parts they have highlighted to their notes. The best part is when the student pastes the highlighted text that it automatically puts the source web site with the copied text.

TextMarker

Another great use of Firefox!

I’ve been rereading George Siemens Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. I think this makes the third time I’ve read it in the past 6 months. I read it because I feel George is on to something here, and as I blog and continue to expand my own learning by “connecting specialized nodes or information sources” together, I find that the more I connect nodes the more I understand Connectivism.

In his paper George talks about the half life of knowledge and that at its current pace of “doubling every 18 months” knowledge is almost extinct by the time we learn or read about it.

I’ve been following the news lately on the bird flu thing and I am amazed at how fast the information about bird flu has been gathered and shared with everyone in the world. What amazes me even more is the research that is going on to try and find a vaccine for a strain of the bird flu that doesn’t exist yet. Thanks to the internet and the ‘flatting of the world’ as Thomas L. Friedman puts it. Knowledge can flow fast and free from researcher to researcher no matter where they are in the world. This information sharing speeds up the pace of research, which in return speeds up the pace of finding a vaccine. WKOW 27 out of Wisconsin reported this on Tuesday Nov. 2:

On Monday, UW [University of Wisconsin] researchers announced a possible breakthrough in developing a vaccine for the bird flu. While a typical flu vaccine takes 6-9 months to develop, the new procedure shows promise for cutting that time by more than half.

There you have it, the half life of knowledge. Something that use to take 6-9 months to develop now only takes 3-4 months to produce and maybe even faster like 18 days?

It is quiet amazing if you go to Google News and just type in bird flu or bird flu vaccine to see the amount of information that is being generated and shared.

If I was a high school science teacher or current events teacher, I would be having a great time teaching class right now. This is one of those topics that demonstrates that the Information Age is here and that this new Age means new possibilities.

I wish I could share this with all the teachers out there who don’t quiet get information literacy, or understand that information today and information skills are more important then any single subject you will teach. To teach students to find, gather, analyze, apply and assess information is a skill that truly belongs to the Information Age.

Reece Lennon wrote a comment to my posting yesterday on ‘What is the purpose of a school web site?’ I thought I’d take this one step further and answer some of Reece’s questions.

Principal As webmaster?

Why not? Part of a principal’s job description is “Communicate with parents, community members, and the larger school community effectively.” In the past this has meant creating and distributing monthly or biweekly newsletters, or an article in a local paper. Principals are already communicating with their clients, all I’m suggesting is maybe we look at changing how they communicate. I agree Principals don’t need more to do, but what if they could do what they already are doing only save them time and in a different media. With a web site like Tim Lauer has set up, a principal would need to know little more than cut and paste. Yes Tim has some cool integrated programs, but in its basic form his web site is just writing. Just another blog program manipulated to do what he needs it to do.

I suggested in my original post that maybe we need to revisit the qualifications of a principal. Maybe the job description needs to be rewritten for the 21st Century. Maybe it should read: “Communicate with parents, community members, and the larger school community effectively using electronic media.”

After all it was technology that allowed principals to write those monthly newsletters and it was technology that allowed them to put together an e-mail list and e-mail the monthly newsletter to parents, so why can’t technology once again change a principal’s way of communicating and make the information available to everyone on the web. It’s not something that will change overnight, but I bet over time we will see technology skills be part of the job description of a principal.

Mandatory Publishing on the web:

Reece commented on the “terrible concept” of making teachers have to post on a weekly basis on the school web site. Tim’s approach is quite simple. He allocates time at the weekly staff meeting for teachers to sit down and write a short paragraph of what is happening in their class. Not detailed lesson plans, or even a schedule, just a paragraph of the large concepts that will be covered. Take a look at the classroom notes and then ask yourself: “What is easier, writing a short paragraph that the principal sets aside time for you to do, or writing a weekly/biweekly or monthly newsletter?

“Communicating effectively with parents” is a standard job description in any teaching position so the fact that administrators make teachers communicate is nothing more than holding them to the job they signed on to do. I think Tim’s approach is much easier on teachers. I would be interested to hear from the teachers at Tim’s school to see what they think about the change. I know the 5th grade teachers at my school who have started using their blog sites as their communication vehicle with parents have found that posting information on their blogs saves them up to an hour a week having to find time to sit down and write out their newsletters and then dealing with the formatting and printing issues. The blogs allow them to simply write small chunks of information at a time and not have to worry about formatting issues. 10 minutes here and 10 minutes there now becomes productive time as teachers use it to jot down thoughts and post them to the web in an instant.

Reece sounds like many frustrated teachers who are feeling over worked and under appreciated for the work that they do. He’s not alone in feeling that technology is ‘one more thing I have to do’ instead of ‘one more things that can help me be more productive as a teacher’. It is a mind shift that needs to happen in teachers, but we are our own worst enemy because we ‘teach as we were taught’ and we were not taught in teacher school how to use these new technologies to help us be more productive and use our time more efficiently. Our only hope is that pre-service teachers today are learning that it’s not what you know that counts but if you can find the information and communicate successfully to others when you need it that counts. Only after this mind shift occurs will teachers truly become a facilitator of information not a dictator of it.

This is the topic of a meeting I have today with the other technology teachers in my district. So I thought I’d prepare for the meeting by taking some time and writing my thoughts down.

I’m glad we are stopping for a moment to look at what is our objective with a school web site. What is it we are trying to communicate and to whom?

I can’t help but continue to look at the school web site Tim Lauer has produced for his school in Portland, OR. The Meriwether Lewis Elementary School web site is a great model that I think we should take a close look at.

Lewis Elementary School

I have built and maintained my fair share of school web sites over the years but with the invention of blogging software and Web 2.0 there is a new revolution that is happening on the web and I think Tim has captured it rather well on his school’s page.

What I think is a very important concept, is that Tim is the principal of the school and is in charge of maintaining the web site. Why not? The principal is the main communicator of information coming from the school. I feel they should be the web master of the schools web site. The problem is how many principals out there really have the knowledge to create and maintain a school web site? (Maybe we need to review the qualifications of a principal?)

This is where I think open-source software comes into play. Tim Lauer uses Movable Type, a free blogging (although you can pay for added features) software program for his web site. He doesn’t have it set up as a blog, but he can easily and quickly post articles that reach the audience he wants without having to do a lot of work. Write and publish…a simple two step process for getting information to the school audience.

Tim also does a great job of using free programs to benefit his school. The ‘lost and found’ pictures are kept on flickr.com a new and great place to share photos. Parents can visit the photos and see if something their child is missing is in the school’s lost and found. And how about that calendar program he is using that is easily changeable and everyone can stay up-to-date with what is happening in the school. I can see a great use for this online calendar system as this month alone there have been three changes to our printed calendar. Those changes are then e-mailed to all the staff and then a paper copy is send home with all the students talking about the changes to the calendar. Think of the paper we could save if everyone used the online calendar to confirm when events were?

So back to the question I need to answer: What is the purpose of a school web site.

A school web site’s purpose I feel is simple: To communicate what is happening in the school. To allow parents, our clients, to see deeper into what is happening in the school they are sending their child to everyday. Tim is the only principal I know who expects his teachers to post at least once a week to the web site. Every teacher must post what is happening in their classroom. What a concept! To have everyone communicating the same way via the web in one easy to find location for parents. Now that’s the purpose of a school web site!

Last night my wife and I sat down to watch some TV. The first time we have done so in weeks. We flipped to a channel that was showing “Medical Investigation”.

As I watched the episode where the Medical Investigation team was trying to find out what was causing kids in a small town to get sick, I found myself intrigued by the research skills the team was using, and even more intrigued with the questioning skills that the team used. Every time they found a piece of information it led to another question that would lead them down another trail. By gathering the information analyzing it, applying it to the other information they had, and then assessing the results the team slowly found the answer to the question “What’s making these kids sick?”

So I stared thing about the investigation tactics we use in the classroom. A couple things came to mind.

Hardly ever do we ask students to gather information, analyze it, apply it to the problem, and assess the outcome all in one step. Instead we tell kids to first, gather ALL the information you can about a topic, only after you have gathered ALL the information should you start to analyze it and see how it fits, only after you are done analyzing ALL of the information should you apply the information to your report, and then the teacher will assess how well you did.

How much information do students miss by not questioning the information they have when they are gathering it?

Another though just hit me, isn’t this what video games do for kids? They don’t read the manual on how a game works, they start pushing buttons (gathering information), figure out what each button does (analyze the results of the information they have gathered), and then try to play the game (apply the information) and see if the can win (assessment).

So students go home from school sit down and apply all of these skills at once, not independently of each other like we make them do all day in school. No wonder students are bored. We make them take each skill and learn it independently when each skill really needs the others to make a whole picture emerge, and they already know how to apply those skills together, we just need to train them to do it for the information we want them to gather.

Just thinking with my stick

So I woke up at 4:00 this morning to join the techleaning.com webinar on The Tipping Point in K-12 Education: One-to-One Computing, Electronic Textbooks, and New Tools for Learning. A great presentation on the use of computers in the classroom and the power that one-to-one computing offers to schools. It was the first time I had taken part in a webinar and quite enjoyed the experience.

One thing that really got me thinking was the importance of an infrastructure being in place before a school district goes forward with a one-to-one computer program. As I evaluate my school I find that no such infrastructure exists for us to implement such a program. Yes we have high speed internet, yes we have many computers, but we don’t have an administrative infrastructure to oversee a large implementation as one-to-one computing would be. James Banks, Executive Director of Technology, Barbers Hill I.S.D. He is a full time technology administrator for his district, allowing him to oversee a large scale implementation such as a one-to-one computer program. This is a position that our school district is missing and I think really should be considered if we are to move technology out of the labs and into the hands of students. Without an administrative infrastructure how can we begin discussing the larger questions of hardware, software infrastructures that need to be set up before a program like this is implemented? Sure we have dedicated technology teachers, but they have a full time job teaching technology, asking them to carry the wait of implementing a true one-to-one program would be overwhelming and a very slow process.

I’d like to hear what other school districts have in place. Do most school districts have a ‘Technology Coordinator’ (for lack of a better term) as mentioned above? What is their official title and what are their duties?

On David Warlick’s blog the past couple of days there has been a great discussion about pre-service teachers and what skills should they be taught before being thrown into the lions den. 🙂

A follow up to David’s discussion was also posted on Christopher Harri’s Imfomency blog a great post from someone teaching pre-service teachers.

There are a couple points on both of these blogs that I have been thinking about and would like to comment on.

Dave writes:

However, I fear that if we take college students into these tools, without some specific and relevant questions to answer or problems to solve, then they may seem cool to them, but the skills will be strictly academic. I think these students should be presented with a problem.

Spot on Dave! Without a problem who needs an answer? I can walk into any classroom, give someone a great tool like blogs and if it does not solve a problem for them they will not use it. There is no need for it. But if teachers are trying to come up with a way to have their students write for an authentic audience, then you can introduce the tool as a way to solve the problem. The tool is then used, as the teacher can see how it helps them overcome a problem they were facing. This is how I approach the teachers in my building. I can go in, talk about RSS, Blogs, Wikipedias, etc but unless the teacher sees those tools as solving a problem in their classroom they will not use them.

For pre-service teachers I believe the same is true as Christopher writes on his blog the tools pre-service teacher know how to use and haven’t even heard of:

What did they know?
-Basic computer operations (how to turn it on)
-Word
-PowerPoint
-The “internt” (read IM and e-mail)
Not so sure?
-Excel
-Searching on the internet
When asked what search engines they used, the room rumbled with “googlegooglegoogle” then one brave soul spoke up and said “sometimes Ask Jeeves.”
Never heard of it?
-Blogging (one had heard of LiveJournal but never did it)
-Wikipedia
-RSS
-NOVEL (the set of databases New York provides for free to all schools/libraries/colleges)
-LII (Librarians’ Internet Index – and newly redesigned!!!)
These answers don’t surprise me a bit, because these pre-service teachers never had a problem that needed them to learn RSS, blogging, more then basic Excel skills, etc. I would be interested though how many of them use a chat room or text on their mobiles. These two tools help students solve the problem of communicating with people and therefore they spend the time needed to learn how to use them.

For both pre-service teachers and teachers already in the field, there needs to be a reason to use the tools, a problem that needs to be solved that technology can help solve. After all, that is the beauty of technology, it is here to make our lives easier, not frustrate us and make us feel as though we ‘have to’ use it.

If (and maybe someday I will) I ever get the opportunity to teach pre-service teachers I will teach the class in a problem-based learning (PBL) format (Lots of stuff out there on PBL take a look). PBL in its simplest form is learning how to learn. For one, it allows learners to be faced with problems that they have to find the answers, tools, and lessons best suitable to overcome the problem. Two, because: ‘teachers teach how they were taught.’ Some break away from the mode but most do not. We need to teach teachers how to incorporate PBL into their classrooms and use authentic audiences with their students before we can worry about what technology tools they might use.

Final Thought:
Dave writes:

I think that kids these ages are technology literate, but not necessarily information literate.

I must admit that I had never thought about it that way, but Dave is right, kids these days are technology literate, they know technology and how to use it in all its forms, but are not necessarily information literate, and the tools like RSS, Blogs, Podcasts, wikipedias, etc are information tools not technology tools. As teachers, it’s our job to teach students information, and I believe these information tools can help us do that. Again there has to be a reason to incorporate these information tools into the classroom. Without the reason or the problem, students will continue to not know these tools exist.

After reading David Warlick’s post: Innovation Learning for a Flat World, I got to thinking about the games that our students play on a daily basis and how right David and Bill MacKenty were about the language that these short-cuts use. So, I went out to the internet and in less than five minutes I found a short-cut to a very well know PlayStation2 game.

After you finish one, try a B, A, IB, IA, or S license (1-16) or rally. The ghost racer will be on. If it confuses you, press D-pad Up to toggle it off or on.

When I was working and living in Saudi Arabia I knew a 10 year old boy who was really into PS2 games (Gotta get into the lingo) He would come home from school and sit on the computer for hours looking for the newest short-cuts to his favorite games. After he found them, he would print them off and run upstairs to play the game for hours on end. Once he had mastered the short-cut he would call his buddies and they would all get together showing each other the newest short-cuts for the games they liked.

I like the thought on David’s post about rules in video games being something solid that kids ‘bump up against’ at the same time kids know that if they work hard enough and spend enough time looking for it on the internet they will probably find the short-cut around that rule. To me this sounds like a skill they might learn from their parents. We bump up against rules sometimes, say for example tax rules. As adults what do we do, we look for ways around the rules to make our lives easier. So what skills are these short-cuts teaching our students? That rules where made to be broken? Or that if you put enough time and energy into something, you can overcome the obstacle that is in your way?

Off the top of my head