Google Apps, WP Blogs, Moodle

View from my place in bangkok Still trying to remember where my summer went, I find myself back in Bangkok and preparing for the year ahead. This could be a big tech year for my school. Things are in place to start really using technology in some innovative ways. Not that we haven’t in the past, but the systematic changes we’ve made this year will definitly add some ability to use technology in much more authentic ways.  We continue to roll out our 1:1 program this year with all 6-8th graders getting a MacBook Pro to start the school year off. Next year will be 9-12 and what excites me is we have 5th and 4th grade teachers already asking ‘how about us?’.  We’ve continued with our stratagy of building our online communication and blended learning enviornment around three key tools. Google Apps, WordPress Blogs, and Moodle. Google Apps: We’ve just finshed rolling out Google Apps to all teachers on our main domain so all students and teachers are now officially on the Google Apps platform making the ability to use calendars, docs, and sites that much easier and much more powerful. What is also great is the resources around Google Apps for Education, Google has done a good job of getting videos, handouts, etc out there for others to use…and at the same time keep innovating with their apps. Speaking of which another Gmail Lab extension hit sometime last week I think. It’s called Preview Pane and basically gives you the 3-column view like Outlook. Another great feature to help those who are use to this view make the transition. If you’re a long time gmail user this might not be a big hit…but for teachers transitioning from a desktop client it could be a stepping stone.     WordPress Blogs: I’m excited each year now as we continue to grow how we’re using blogs at our school (download the free PDF to the right for more info). This will be our 4th year using blogs. What I love most is that the blogs and blogging has never been a focus of the tech team or the school yet this year every 3-12th grader will have their own blog. My school does have a definition of learning though: Learning is the primary focus of our school and we recognize learning as a life-long adventure. We value meaningful learning where...

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Finding Common Ground

One of my biggest challenges this year is going to help the High School as a whole find some common ground on expectations for class work and interaction using our Moodle site. We use Moodle as an extension of the classroom. A place to handout work, to turn in assignments, and to have discussions via forms and chats. This will be our third year using Moodle at ISB. Up until this year teachers had the option how they set up their course, if they used Moodle at all, what type of documents and resources they places there, and how they interacted with students in that space. This year Moodle will be just what we do in the High School. The students are asking for it, the teachers are ready, and now I’m charged with the task of bringing all these sites into some common form for students to navigate when finding resources. The biggest issue is that Moodle is so flexible and each teacher so different that I’m struggling with trying to find that balance between what everyone should have and what individual teachers should be allowed to do themselves. For example should all the course resources go under a heading of “Resources” or should they be in the weekly blocks. Teachers do it both ways and both ways work, but students complain they can’t find the resources when they want, and I believe this has to do with no common system. So I’ll be struggling with this in the coming weeks. If anyone has suggestions or guidelines they have that they use with teachers that they are willing to share I’d appreciate...

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Preparing for the worst = opportunity

There is more than one way to get a school to start looking at online learning as a way to reach students. As an international educator, I have found no greater motivation to get the conversation started around online learning than planning for the worst…..school closure. In 2003 it was the attacks on the compound in Riyadh that led my school to think about how we were to educate students if we were to shut our doors. The following year we implemented Moodle and started training teachers. In 2005 we moved to Shanghai, China and within weeks of getting my feet on the ground I found myself in a meeting talking about how could we sustain learning if SARS was to return to Asia. Luckily SAS did not have to shut their doors during SARS but other schools had to and they were now looking for ways to sustain learning if the worst was to occur. Two months later we install and start using Moodle, we got a couple teacher on board and we started to build a wave of technology users. In my eyes that was the true start to online learning systems at SAS. Of course now they have a whole e-learning portal system and are going 1:1. A couple days ago I get an e-mail from the leadership team here at ISB who are starting to have conversations around H1N1 and what systems do we have in place that would allow us to carry on the learning process. There have been international schools that have already had short term closures throughout Asia do to H1N1 and just last week we saw our first confirmed case at school. These are not the best ways to bring attention to e-learning systems, but honestly I’ll take what I can get! 🙂 Here’s the problem with all three of the above stories. Online learning is not something you can “switch on” and do well. There is so much training to be done on both the teachers end and the students end that switching it on is the least of your worries. Why every classroom should be a blended classroom: Of course I could go into the learning theory on why I believe every classroom today, especially in the middle school and high school where students are more tech savvy should be a blended model of both classroom learning and online...

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First quarter reflection

Friday marked the end to the first quarter of the school year at ISB. As my first quarter here comes to a close I’ve started to reflect on the experience so far. There is a reason why international schools make you sign a two year contract. It takes at least a year to get your feet on the ground, to figure out where you belong in the school, and acclimate to the your new host country. Personally Thailand is feeling more like home daily. Our stuff has arrived from Shanghai and our apartment is feeling more like home every day. We’re slowly figuring out the language, the customs and just how to live. It takes time to adjust. It takes time to find the right milk brand, the fruit you want, the stores with the best prices, etc. On the school front I’m feeling a little disjointed at the moment. I feel behind the scenes we’re doing some good stuff. We’ve created a school YouTube account and already have 31 videos uploaded. We’ve bought a Flickr account for ES, MS, and HS. The elementary has already uploaded over 1,000 pictures. We’ve launched PantherNet PantherNet will be our educational portal when it is complete. When complete the image below depicts what will be in place for teachers and students. Moodle is already up and running, Elgg and WordPress MU should be in place before 2nd Semester and the wiki by the end of the year at the lastest. By the end of this year the school should have an e-learning portal in place that if it chooses to go 1:1 will be able to support the use of laptops in and out of school.  Even though the school has the hardware, human resources, and the e-learning space in place. It is still trying to wrap it’s head around this new learning landscape we now find ourselves in. What does learning look like? We’ve moved past trying to integrate technology, and looking at what learning looks like in 2008 and beyond. I think ISB is ready for that transition. We have the systems in place, we have the resources in place now we just need to take that leap and change our teaching methods and our learning outcomes to match the skills and ideas that students will need for their future and not our...

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A Week of Just In Time Learning

There is nothing like starting your week off with an e-mail from a teacher that simple says: “Moodle is not working…do you know why?” And then spending the next four days worried that you can’t fix it. It has been one of those weeks that I’ve relied on ‘just in time learning’ and my network of information to help me through what was a database disaster. I wish you could monitor learning and knowledge over time. Because my graph for the past four days on how Moodle works and mysql databases must have doubled. Of course I can’t tell you what I learned, because: 1. I don’t remember it 2. I no longer need that knowledge3. I probably couldn’t explain it right anyway It’s been an interesting week and throughout it I have tried to reflect on how I’ve used my networks to learn, share, keep motivated, and try to figure out the problem. Learning: As soon as the problem with Moodle was reported I headed straight for moodle.org where the free support forums are filled with issues, errors, and solutions to problems that others have ran across while using moodle. This network led me all over the web following links, reading postings, and trying out suggestions as I went. I soon found that learning to search within the forums took skill; understand how someone else might have phrased a question or answer and then sifting through the results was at times stressful. I soon realized that we do not teach students how to search effectively enough. We do cover searching in class…but it is a skill that we should practice frequently. Share: I used twitter to share with my network of followers what I was doing, what was happening and how I was feeling. This networked helped me in a number of ways: 1. They are educators, they understand how a system failure like this affects the learning process, and I could feel they understood my frustration and stress.2. My twitter network also turned into a learning network as three different followers offered support. Chris Craft even chatted with me and helped look for answers on his own (Thanks you Chris!).3. My twitter network also helped to keep me motivated by responding to my twits with motivational twits of their own, or just by simple stating “I feel for you.” Knowing that someone else understands your pain is...

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