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

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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. 

 

Preview Pane 440x67

 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 students construct enduring understanding by developing and applying knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Increased understanding is evidenced by students who:

– Explain its relevance
– Describe how it connects to or conflicts with prior learning
– Communicate it effectively to others
– Generalize and apply it effectively to new situations
– Reflect critically on their own and other’s learning
– Ask questions to extend learning
– Create meaningful solutions

There are at least four bullet points that I can specifcally tie to blogging and even show evidence of over the past three years. What I love is some of our students are starting to connect posts together of their prior learning (point 2). When you have four years of thinking, artifacts, pictures, assignments all in one place it makes it easy to reflect on your learning and tie that to prior knowledge you have. That….is powerful learning!

Moodle:

As we continue to roll out our 1:1 program Moodle has become the foundation for our blended leanring enviornment. It’s great to see the administrative team on board with where we’re going as this year all high school and middle school teachers have a manditory 2 hour Moodle training to start the school year. A chance to really look at the design aspect of courses and give the teachers some time to create their content for this year. I’m excited to see if we can take Moodle and Blended Learning to the next level…..maybe even flip some classrooms. 🙂

 

Any school looking for an online blended learning enviornment I have to say this is a pretty powerful one. These three tools together give us a lot of flexability with our online learning space. I’d be interested in hearing what other schools have set up for their blended learning space. 

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 it.

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 learning…but you can read the rest of this blog for that. 😉

Let’s just look at it from a ‘preparing for the worst’ perspective. If your school or class is already use to using a blended model for learning, moving to a full time model either way is a much shorter jump than moving all the way without having a system in place. Both teachers and students understand how the system works, where to go, what to do. If online learning is just part of their daily routine in school, than we do not need to worry….we just continue on the journey of learning.

In all three stories above I’ve helped my schools start with Moodle:

  1. It’s cost is minimal (free, you just need a server).
  2. Setting up and getting classes going is easy.
  3. It’s secure (walled garden) which both teachers and administrators like and feel comfortable with.
  4. It can do everything you need in one nice package (Not everything….but everything you need)

All three of these schools are in a much better place today to deal with a school closure. Here at ISB most teachers in the middle school and high school have moved to some form of blended learning. Whether it be blogs, Moodle, Elgg, or Google Apps. What H1N1 will do is force the rest of the teachers to move there so we are prepared for the worst…not a bad thing!

The elementary school is always a bit harder, as students rely on more guidance when it comes to learning. Our teachers continue to adopt blogs as a communication device with parents and turning that into an educational learning communication to parents if they were at home with their students is not a far leap. Uploading worksheets, having discussions, and even giving advice to parents on how and what they should spend their time doing is a simple switch on the teachers part. The parents are already trained to look at the blogs for class information, teachers are getting better at understanding the software and uploading documentation, an open communication learning platform already in place.

We talk about needing a Sputnik type reason to change education. Internationally I’ve found mine! It might not be the best way to shift a school or teachers thinking around using online tools. But I’ll take it! In the case of SAS that simple step of installing Moodle lead to a shift in thinking, school culture, and their belief on what a blended classroom can do for both teaching and learning. It allowed new conversations, new ideas, and a new outlook on what was possible. So, as much as I hate to fear H1N1 I also see it as an opportunity to start new conversations and new ways of thinking about education.

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.

ISB e-learning portal by you.

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 past.

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 knowledge
3. 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 always helpful.

Personal:

I also had a personal network. Those people around me who could lend an ear, make a suggestion, or just listen to me talk through what I had tried and what I was thinking. My wife has come to understand that when a system like this crashes I am best to be left alone for hours days on end until I figure out how to fix what is broken. I also called upon other techno-geeks in the Shanghai area as we were having a meeting for the Learning 2.0 conference and I brought up the troubles I was having. They gave me some good suggestions, a pat on the back, and sent me home motivated to try something I hadn’t thought of.

In the end, Eagle Net is back up and working, but what I had to do to get it to work should not be tried…in fact I discourage it as it’s long, stressful, and I probably couldn’t do it again if I tried. Let’s just say lines and lines of database files were involved.

These networks made up my just in time learning for the week. Now as I reflect on this process I’m starting to think about what this might look like in a classroom. How do we help students to tap into their personal networks to learn the information they need when they need it. It’s an interesting concept I think as this is a short term memory skill and is much like cramming for a test. You learn everything you think you need to know for a short time period and then hours later you can’t remember what you read, or even knew. How does this differ from the long term memory we focus on in the classroom? We try hard to teach students to store things in their long-term memory. We want them to remember what we taught them in September for that test in May. However, is that how the real world works? Do we learn skills to remember them forever, or do we learn them when we need them and for a specific purpose, only to learn something new and different tomorrow?

At our school we are moving to a ‘just in time learning’ model for technology, where students learn a tech skill because they need it to complete a specific task or project. The idea behind this approach is that the students become their own network of knowledge, helping each other out using the skills they know, remember, and are building. Instead of teaching technology skills in isolation, they are taught within curriculum areas and on a need-to-know basis.

So maybe something useful did come out of Moodle crashing. The opportunity for me to reflect on the just in time learning process and how in a networked word with information at your fingertips knowing how to do it is a skill we all need.

[tags]21st Century Skills, Moodle[/tags]

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I feel sorry really for the 52 people that follow me on Twitter. Sometime Monday our Moodle installation decided that all the users are on a different server and it won’t allow anyone to login.

I’ve been twitting it since I started working on the problem 24 hours ago now. It’s been a great outlet for me as I know most of my twitter friends and followers are educational technology people that understand the frustrations when things all of a sudden break without warning.

The interesting part is some of my twitter friends have given me suggestions on things to try. Twitter as a support network…interesting concept.

Anyway…taking a break at the moment waiting for our hosting company to backup and then reinstall the April 28th backup of the database to see if that fixes it. If it does…I know the problem is in the DB if it doesn’t then the problem is somewhere in Moodle itself.

Cross your fingers for me as 1200 students and teachers wait to see if I can get this fixed ASAP.

[tags]twitter, moodle[/tags]

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So what happens when you put 1200+ Moodle Users in 88 courses and 560+ WordPress blogs all on the same shared hosting server? You exceed your CPU usage.

We have been getting this warning for a couple of months now, but as we continue to add more blogs and users in Moodle, it’s happening more frequently. Yesterday I was trying to help a 5th grade class learn how to add pictures to their blog posts, while another class was blogging in a computer lab, and a class of 7th graders where blogging about their YouTube videos. Not one class accomplished their goal for the lesson. I have talked to admin about purchasing a dedicated server just to host our educational services. They agree we need to do something fast before we lose the great momentum that we have right now around technology, so I’m looking for help. Can anyone recommend a good dedicated server company that runs Linux and supports php and MYSQL, has great support, and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg?

We don’t want to host the server ourselves for a number of reasons. One, none of our technicians are familiar with Linux and all the open-source add-ons. Two, it’s hard to beat the prices that some of these companies are offering with full technique support. Third, we are in China.

Even though the admin is behind the move and the cost associated with it, there is a very compelling argument that can be made on why these learning sites should be top priority. Student learning is (or should be) at the center of what we do, of where we spend our money, and where we focus or time and energy. These programs we are using go directly to the heart of student learning, extending the classroom beyond the four walls. Most of the discussions on Moodle happens after school hours. The blogs are accessed throughout the day, and looking at some of the times when posts were created also well into the night. We talk about wanting our students to be self-motivated learners and yesterday I ran into an 8th grader who has a blog. I asked him what service he used and he said he set it up on our school’s blog site. I found that odd, because to my knowledge there are no 8th grade classes using blogs. So I asked to see it and sure enough there it was. He said he set it up over the Chinese New Year holiday because he was bored and he’d heard others talking about the site.

We have students creating their own blogs, posting to them on their own, and reflecting on their school day because their bored at home? Doesn’t anyone else think that’s cool? We are dedicated (pun intended) to student learning here at our school and that’s exactly why we need to move to a dedicated server as soon as possible. Otherwise, we are standing in the way of student progress, reflection, discussion, communication, and learning.

[tags]moodle, wordpress, 21st Century Learning[/tags]

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So in about mid October I installed our own installation of Elgg. I did it for two reasons:

1. It integrated with Moodle which we already use. That way if a student had an account in Moodle already, they could us the same username and login to get started using Elgg. The two would be linked giving more flexibility for blogging in Elgg but keep the Learning Management System of Moodle.

2. We were having more and more teachers wanting to blog and I was/am trying to find away to keep all those blogs in one place. We had 5th graders using Blogmeister, Middle Schoolers using their own WordPress installs, and another teacher using Edublogs. I wanted to try and find away to put all the blogs from the two campuses in one location and allow the students from both campuses the ability to interact with each other, comment to each other, and join communities with each other.

As much as I love the concept behind Elgg it’s been frustrating to work with. Not two days after the first class signed up with it we started getting an error message on our shared hosting site. It kept saying we were exceeding 20% of the CPU memory. I’ve trying to find an answer for this, send a number of e-mails, and posted it in the elgg.net community only to find out others have been having this problem as well. After 2 months of this happening and because it sits on the same site as our Moodle install and the error knocks Moodle down for awhile, I’ve decided to change.

Then there is the community thing. I love the idea, but in a school setting the administrator needs to have more control over those communities. You can’t delete them once they are created and anyone can create a community. In my opinion the admin interface needs a little more work, being able to quickly find users to reset passwords and such.

I know it’s still in beta and I take full responsibility for jumping out there with a program that isn’t fully developed yet…but oh the pain.

So, I’m in the process of setting up a WordPress MU site. I’ve been working with WordPress for over a year now and understand the coding a little bit. It also just has a bigger community, so answers are easily found within the MU support forum. Just a quick look through the support forums shows that edublogs own James Farmer has done a lot of work and continues to help WordPress MU become even better.

Now I’ve got to get my teachers away from using group blogs. They are having a hard time trying to figure out how to manage 70+ blogs. Instead they create 4 blogs and make every student a contributor to that blog. Which you can do, except that you have to add users one by one and only the admin can do it. So 1 1/2 hours later we have our first 72 users. Hopefully I can start getting teachers away from this group blogging format and into a individual blogging mode and really allow students to become creators and contributor to the world of knowledge.

[tags]WordPress MU, Edublogs, Moodle, Elgg[/tags]

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I came home tonight looking forward to going through my aggregator and getting some other stuff online done. But I made the mistake of stopping by some of the online projects going on around the school. Needless to say my learning tonight came from a bunch of middle school students. I’ve spent the last two hours shaking my head. Why don’t more teachers see the power in these tools.

First a great project got started today called the International Environmental Symposium. It’s a Moodle course that we are hosting that involves some 153 7th grade students from Brazil, California, Saudi Arabia, and China. I’ve been working with the teachers the past couple of weeks getting the class ready to go and student accounts created. Tonight students had their first two assignments, and I’ve been sucked in. First up was a simple introduction forum but read some of these:

My mom is Swedish but my dad is Indian. My nationality is Swedish and I have lived there for 12 years. I came to Riyadh last year.

My name is [Student Name] and I come from the United States. However, I currently attend the Shanghai American School in Shanghai. I am twelve years old, in seventh grade, and was born in California, near Los Angeles, but my family moved to Shanghai when I was four. Because of this, I identify with a blend of American and Chinese cultures.

Hey Everyone! I’m [Student Name]. I was born in North Carolina, USA, and movd around a lot in america to pennsylvania, virginia, and iowa. After finishing 4th grade, i moved here to Shanghai, China, and i have lived here for around 2 and a half years. I am 12 years old. My dad grew up in india, but went to college in america . My mom grew up in minnesota, USA, so i’m half american and half indian. China is my first foregin country that i have lived in.

These are the third culture kids that we teach internationally. All 153 tell a similar story, How easy will it be for these students to adjust to this new world. They are already flexible. Most of them have lived in may different places.

I then headed over to check in on Courtney’s Blog. Some of you might remember Courtney, she was at all four of my LAN parties for the K12online conference. She has started a blog with her students called Science Geeks. We’re still working out the bugs, but it’s looking great so far. She is having them read and report on science articles they are finding on the Internet. So far I’ve learned about Space Umbrellas and a new basketball made of plastic. If you get a minute stop on by and leave a comment, or just learn some cool and unusual facts about science.

These are two great projects that have just gotten underway. It will be fun to watch them grow and to learn from the new information. The power of sharing and collaborating, all made possible because of the tools we now have available on the Internet. Don’t try and tell me that the Internet doesn’t change everything…I’ve got proof it does!

[tags]SAS, 21st Century Learning, Moodle, Blogs[/tags]

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