Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. ~ John Dewey

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Today I find myself in downtown Minneapolis after driving in last night from working with educational leaders in northern Iowa. I was looking forward to getting out and walking around the city, but it so happens I arrived the same time a winter storm has hit with high winds and what’s this white stuff I see falling from the sky? Yes….two days ago it was 60F today 38F and by Friday when I leave back to 63F. A little cold for my tropical blood so I’m doing the only logical thing you would do…..hanging out at a laundry mat catching up on laundry and thinking.

I’ve been very impresses with how far Scott McLeod, Jamie and Nick have been able to move Iowa educational leaders in the conversation of what needs to be done to keep education relevant in rural America. 

As I’ve talked with Scott and the educational leaders I’ve been working with throughout the state I keep coming back to Clayton Christensen book Disruptive Class (a must read!). He talks in the book about how disruptive technologies start by filling a niche need that is not mainstream. But they gain momentum fast and by the time mainstream knows what hit them they’ve become irrelevant (my basic paraphrasing of the book).

Iowa finds itself trying to compete in a world where populations are moving to more urban settings, leaving rural states like Iowa looking for ways to stay relevant. I met one Superintendent who has 700 students covering something like 400 square miles and their population is increasingly getting smaller and older. How does a small rural community compete in a wired fast pace world?  

You teach students to connect and be creative.

The number of schools/districts that have gone 1:1 in the past couple of years is about to reach 100 a 50% increase from the year before, and I have a feeling the adoption rate of 1:1 in rural states like Iowa will continue to outpace those of urban states in the near future. 

You then look at online learning and what the book Disruptive Class really focused on. That as these rural areas shrink they can’t afford full time teachers to teach every subject and online learning fills the void of offering classes that cannot be offered or supported locally. 

We talked about ways that these educational leaders could connect their communities that are spread out over great distrances. Of course Facebook came up in our conversations and instead of the usual “We can’t do that” that I’ve been hearing in the US for the past 3 years, there was a different conversation. This time one around “How do we do that?”

We discussed how much of their population, even the elder generation are probably on Facebook. Most figured probably upwards of 80%. If your community is in Facebook, and they won’t come to you for meetings, training, or to get information on bond issues, etc. Then you need to go to them and that is increasingly becoming Facebook. You don’t have to like it, you don’t have to agree with how they handle your data, but with 500 million users and 80% of your local population already connected, you can’t ignore it either. 

We also had some great conversations around the use of cell phones in the classroom. Even in some of the poorest of rural areas educational leaders where estimating that in 4th and 5th grade probably 30 – 40% of students have a cell phone. 

We discussed ways to use the camera, text messaging and my favorite idea: QR Codes

I’m going to come out right now and say that 2011 will be the year of the QR Code. We’re seeing them pop up more and more and as industries like aerospace continue to adopt them as a way to give out electronic boarding passes they’ll become more mainstream. 

It’s been fun to talk with open minded educational leaders and have conversations around the future of learning. We continue to say we need to get the leaders involved in these conversations and the work that Scott and his colleagues are doing in Iowa is opening up opportunities for change. 

For the first time in my three years of consulting with American schools I’m feeling hopefully that the conversation is changing.

As Day 2 of the conference gets started I’m sitting here in the Blogger’s Cafe reflecting on Day 1.

As usual I spent most of my time at the Blogger’s Cafe chatting with new and old friends alike.

I did go to one session yesterday. Scott McLeod’s session on disruptive innovations.

Now I went to the session to support Scott and to hear what he had to say, but really I could have found the content he was presenting on the web at his K12online presentation.

We talk about how content is out there, how if you want to, you can find the content. So why do we come to this conference? If the content that is presented here is accessible anywhere anytime what’s the reason we’re here?

What’s the reason we come together face to face?

I’ve talked about this before on the blog and I keep coming back to this idea that when we gather at a conference like this, or in a classroom, that the conversation, the relationships, are what we are looking for.

One of the reasons educators give for virtual schools being bad is that students will loose that social connection….I’ve never heard a teacher say, “But they’ll lose the content”.

Yet, we build conferences around content not connections…about hour long sessions and not about the socialization of being together……and we’re suppose to be the most connected of the educators out there. We are suppose to be the ones who “get it” and yet we see conferences as content not as human connections.

There is a reason we come together face to face. We are social animals we want the social connections.

That’s why I spend most of my time hanging out in the Blogger’s Cafe. That’s were the social connections are made, the conversations that I have here cannot happen on the web…they are organic, they are real, they are friends new and old.

It’s getting the opportunity to meet Leo and Sachi LeFever from CommonCraft. Or the Co-founders of VoiceThread. It’s these connections that bring us together.

Does the same apply to our classrooms?

Should our classrooms be planned around conversations rather than around content?

How do we make this change?

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A comment left by Dan Christian yesterday on my post about the changing landscape of blogging. Has me back here thinking about my job as an educational technologist.

First I think we need to understand how I view my job and what I think the job of an educational technologist should include.

First and foremost we are educators. Our job is to educate. Our students range in age from 60+ to less than 5 years old. Our mission is to teach them how to use technology to learn, create, be more productive or make a task easier. The only way we can do that is to have a solid understanding of what is out there, that tools exist both as part of the computer’s operating system and on the web that allow us to do our job easier, to learn differently, or connect us to people, thoughts, ideas that we never had access to before.

What? My Technorati Authority rating is down to 188? Wait? How? It was at 198 just hours ago? To make matters worse it was at 251 in June.

What happened? Where did all the links go?

Don’t worry…I have a theory…here me out.

First of all please do not think that I am all hung up on my ranking within the edublog community. No, I just find the whole thing fascinating. So here’s my thought.

1. Before someone talks you into creating/organizing/hosting a conference make sure you’re prepared for the work ahead.

2. Once you are prepared for the work, double the time you think it will take, multiple that by two, and then you might be close.

3. Always remember you are doing this to better education (or educators) or so you hope.

___________________

It’s the day before the conference starts and big thanks to my Principal and ISB for giving me the week off to be here in Shanghai to finish planning for the conference. I really don’t know how I would have done it otherwise.

There are about 6 main organizer and then about another 6 helping us out on the ground. We have a total of about 550 people coming if we include everyone even the 60+ middle school and high school students who will be helping out with tech support.

It’s been a crazy conference and at the last planning meeting we found ourselves about 100 people over what we were expecting.

We started looking for more presenters and before I knew what had happened, everyone was looking at me.

Hence I’m now doing three presentations. If that’s not bad enough they’ve put me in the same sessions with the rest of our invited guess (OK, I did have some say in that part).

Now, it’s an honor to be considered to present along with the invited guests, and at the same time trying to organize and present at the same conference is not recommended.

But here I find myself the day before the conference scrambling to create/remix some presentations.

I’m doing three:

I just love this picture of my opening talk on why we’re thinking differently. It’s a talk/discussion on the theory behind what is pushing us into this new way of learning. It’s based a lot on George Siemen’s work (who was suppose to be here but couldn’t make it). Educators seem to like it as it gives them a frame to try and understand that we (technology people) are not just pushing this stuff because we like it, but because it’s our world today.

My other two presentations are down and dirty stuff that educators can take with them.

From Print to Digital: Learning to Write for the Web

10 Digital Tools for Digital Educators

I’m really excited about the 10 Digital Tools presentation. Our presentation times are only 45 minutes long. This session looks to introduce 10 tools, and then allow educators to use the 7 unconference sessions to learn more about the tools they might find helpful in their classrooms.

Many people have commented on the 45 minute time slots as not being enough time. As presenters I think when you are at a conference like this that honors conversations over presentations you have to rethink what it means and how you engage people. Use the unconference times to extend your thinking. Hit them with something hard and deep, and then take the 5 hours we give you to engage in conversations around your presentation.

Yes it’s short, but we are not looking for a sage on the stage, we’re looking for facilitators of thought and learning.

It’s a switch. It’s the same switch we have asked teacher to make, and now as a conference we’re asking conference goers and presenters to make that switch as well.

This is all “Beta” of course, but that’s what teaching and learning is suppose to be in this day in age right? We don’t have all the answers, heck this whole conference format might not work, but then again………

Ready or not……it’s time to change!

This week at techlearning I’ve continued the conversation I started last week about the Problem with Blogs. After reading and reflecting on the comments left by others…I’ve updated my thinking on the subject and give further thought to some of the comments.

Here’s a taste of the new image:

Read the rest here.

[tags]conversations, blogs, 21st Century Learning[/tags]

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The middle schoolers of teentek, and all our middle schoolers for that matter, are HUGE into this flash game.

Monday I couldn’t keep the boys off of it. Every time I turned around
someone had it open and was playing it. So I took a step back into the
corner of the room and just watched (Seriously…I went and stood in
the corner!) I watched as they slowly opened the game back up and
started playing, I observed them, watching their actions and
interactions with the game:

“You made this level?”
“Yep!”
“How’d you do that?”

“There’s a level builder you can download and create your own levels for the game.”

That was it, my in. So I went to the kid who made the level and as I approached the game got minimized.

“Bring that back up…you made this?”
“Yeah.”

“How did you do it?”

“You just download the level builder and place the different markers
where you want them. The trick is placing them perfectly so that you
don’t have to even move your guy…he just bounces off these and misses
those and wins all by himself…that’s how I created this one anyway.”

“How long did this take you?”

“Oh, about 4 hours.”

“So, could we download this level builder here at school and create
levels and release the game on teentek with teentek levels?”

“I guess, the cool part is the file is only 1.65mb. There are 1000s of
levels here and the file is still that small, isn’t that amazing?”

“Yeah, that is amazing?”
“What kind of licensing is on the game?”
“I’ll check that Mr. U.” another student says as they run off to grab a laptop.
“It’s freeware and it says on the web site ‘distribute like hell’.”
“OK, so why don’t you teach these other guys how to create levels and we’ll try to release the game next week.”
“SWEET!” with wide eyes

That was Monday. Today I had two other students approach me. One wants
to make a game that teaches you how to kill spam on your
computer. The other is a skateboarding game. What’s the learning
happening here? Is there any? How about the engagement with technology?

[tags]gaming, conversations, teentek[/tags]

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