I’m about an hour away from heading back to Spokane (and yes back to farming) from Washington DC and the NECC conference and just had a great back channel chat session where like many conversations ideas start to come and before I know it….I have to think through a couple things.

In the back channel we got into a conversation about back channels. What are their purpose and how do you use them?

What I’ve seen is a transformation of what a back channel is and what it has become and what it can be.

So here’s my take on back channels and their different uses:

BackChannel: Here’s Wikipedia’s take on what a back channel is:

Backchannel is the practice of using networked computers
to maintain a real-time online conversation alongside live spoken
remarks. The term was coined in the field of Linguistics to describe
listeners’ behaviours during verbal communication, Victor Yngve 1970.

The term “backchannel” generally refers to online conversation about
the topic or the speaker. Occasionally backchannel provides audience
members a chance to fact-check the presentation.

First growing in popularity at technology conferences, backchannel is increasingly a factor in education where WiFi connections and laptop computers allow students to use ordinary chat like IRC or AIM to actively communicate during class.

So a back channel allows your students and audience to communicate “behind the scene”. It’s used to connect people and ideas around something being presented/taught. This is a true back channel. It’s behind the channel of communication that is the presentation.

Front Channel:

I threw this term out in a back channel chat I was in. A “Front Channel” (for lack of a better term at the moment) is using a chat as part of your lesson or presentation. It’s part of your lesson. You use it to field questions, it’s on the screen in front of the room and the participants/students are aware that what they write can/will become part of the lesson or presentation.

Feedback Channel:

Scott Smeech threw this out as we were talking though this at the Blogger’s Cafe. The idea that you use a chat with participants as a way to gather feedback about your lesson or presentation.

What I’m trying to do is break down the different ways to use a live chat in the classroom or presentation. Up until now we have called all of these “back channels” but I think they serve a different purpose. Sure, the tool is the same but the purpose and outcome can be different. Helping educators understand that there are different uses for the tool is important for them to wrap their heads around just how a tool can be used.

Thoughts? Feedback?

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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Last year I was pretty critical of EduBloggerCon. For me it was too big, too scripted, and…well…you can read the post.

This year….smaller, deeper, and more thoughtful. Exactly what I was hoping for and personally what I need to push my own thinking. It was one of those days where you went to one but watch others via Twitter. You wanted to go to all the sessions…and in some ways you did via the conversations that happened between the actual sessions.

Last year I said it was too big…around 250 people. This year around 75 people….not a bad size.

Last year it was to scripted….this year it was flexible, adaptable, and conversation based. Not adaptable enough for my taste but that was due more to the people that went than the organization of the sessions.

With empty sessions all over the wiki, nobody should complain that the conversation wasn’t what they needed. If you wanted a conversation the spots were available to put up a topic. I did just that wanting to discuss the changes that are happening with blogging because of Twitter and this whole “live stream” service (more on that later).

So….here are my take aways from EduBloggerCon 2009

Best Practice of PD (My live notes)
A great session that had a group of about 30 break into smaller groups, discuss ideas on what worked at our schools and then came back together to share as a group. We came to the same conclusions that it seems we always end up at:

  • Getting administrators on board is key
  • You have to meet teacher where they are
  • There are different approaches, no one right model/way to shift teachers
  • Change is hard
  • Change is frustrating

Build Your Own Tool (My notes)
A great session that allowed us all to dream about the tool we would create if we had a coder. That’s exactly what Mark Wagner wanted out of the session and has had success with when he rents a coder to create applications for him.

Where School Reform Meets Madonna:
This session was too deep for me to even take notes on….I was too busy thinking about the conversation that was going on. It was a great intense hour with one liners that filled twitter faster than any single one person could type.

My take away….or just good reminder…came from Scott McLeod when he reminded me that kids that are 14,15,16 years old are all about ME. How do we tap into that ME and make the world relevant to them? It’s where they are developmentally and it’s not a bad thing. These kids are trying to find out who they are, where do they fit, and the web and their web presence is a part of that. How do we tap into that ME, find what is passionate to them, and then find them an audience that makes learning relevant? It’s good to be reminded just where these kids are at. We talked about that they don’t use Twitter or blog because that is about spreading your message and not about ME. ME is about ME and my friends, it’s exactly what Facebook offers them…a place to hang out with their friends, talk with their friends, and be with their friends. Can we tap into this? Can we use this to our advantage? How do we use this in a learning enviornment? Should we?

Edu Blogging:
Lastly was a discussion I lead on where is EduBlogging heading and/or is it dead already?

It was a good discussion that talked about how the conversation is changing. That at a point in time we use to actually take time to read and leave comments on blog posts. Now we read, and retweet blog posts. We talked about how Twitter is the new aggregator and is replacing RSS as a way people are getting their information. On this blog for example, I have more readers that come via Twitter then I do via the RSS feed.

Because of Twitters live constant scrolling feed, we also talked about how the “life span” of a blog post is shrinking. I use to get comments on a blog post lasting weeks. Now I post a blog, it gets a comment or maybe two in a the first 10 minutes, gets retweeted for about 20 minutes and then it’s old news. I’ve also been running tests about the timing of blog posts. Being in Thailand I found that blog posts that I posted on my lunch hour had fewer views then those that got posted late at night. I have a theory this has to do with time zones as most educational twitters are in North America. So I’ve set different blog posts to go live at different times and have found that I get more readers on a blog post if it is posted around 3pm EST. This is a great time to release a blog post as educators on the east coast are just getting out of school and checking Twitter, while educators on the west coast are checking Twitter over lunch. Depending on the blog post I can see views fluctuate by the 100s.

Now…please do not think that I’m all about the number of readers. It’s just an experiment that I’ve been running (and seeing I’m posting this at 11pm EST we’ll see how it goes) to see if the “life span” of blog posts are getting shorter…so far….I think they are.

We then talked about our students blogging and what is the reason for it. David Warlick brought us back from a rant at one point to focus on that all of this, whether blogging, or twitter, or facebook updates, it’s all about conversations and communication. Yes, the conversations are changing. But in the end we’re just communicating with different tools. Whether it’s paint drawings on walls in a cave or quick 140 character Twitter messages. We have an internal need to communicate and that’s the fundamental skill we need to be teaching students.

So those are my “official” take aways from today. Of course all of these conversations have been had before, and could have been had on the web. The real reason I’m here are for all the conversations that can’t be had via the web. It’s shaki
ng hands, giving hugs, and just catching up. It’s the quick conversation over lunch or over a drink. It’s the time together with people that is the reason we all decend on Washington DC. I look forward to the rest of the conference and just being with other educational technologists.

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NECC is just a few days away which means the chatter is getting louder. I always love listening and reading first timers to NECC. It will be my fourth NECC and I’m looking forward to the conversations…always the best part!

As it gets closer I’m starting to set up my computer to best follow the conversation and thought I’d share my 5 Tips to a successful NECC.

This is the key to a great conference. People are so friendly and don’t feel like you need to be invited into a conversation. If you over hear someone talking, explaining something, or chatting about an issue that interests you…get involved! Introduce yourself and take part in the discussion. Conferences are about meeting people, putting twitter names and faces together, and geeking out! Don’t be afraid to ask for help, ask a question, or start a discussion. The Blogger’s Cafe and other cafe areas are great places to just hang out and be with other educators.

2. Get Twittered!
If you have been waiting to “get twitter” this could be the time and place for you to get it. Twitter will be the communication tool of choice for many and it will be a great way to keep up with the conference. The problem will be following the conference via Twitter as I have a feeling the conversations are going to be fast and furious. The best thing I can recommend is to get a twitter desktop application that allows you to set up and follow search terms in twitter. I use Seesmic Desktop but would also recommend Tweetdeck. Both will allow you to search for a term and then add a “deck” that will auto update and tweets with those words or terms in it. I suggest setting up two search terms. #NECC09 which is the tag for the conference and NECC for those who just mention the conference.

By using a desktop application it wil auto update and you won’t have to spend your time staring at and refreshing a web page.

If you find the information via Twitter to fast or not what you want you can refine your search by adding other words. For example do a search for #NECC09 and 1:1 if you only want updates from NECC about 1:1 computing. You can customize your stream of information anyway you want it. Remember Twitter is a live stream of content created by people. You just need to decide what content you want to follow and then follow it!

3. Live Chat!
Keep your eyes and ears open for back channel chat sessions happening during presentations. The URLs usually come via Twitter or by word of mouth in the session itself. If you find that nobody in a session you are attending has set up a back channel chat….then you can set one up yourself and use twitter to post the URL of the chat site.

Two great quick sites to use for back channel chats:



Play with both of them before you arrive at NECC so that you know how they work and you can be an active member in the chat.

4. Blog!
Take time to write down your thoughts about the conference. Blogging is a great way to reflect on your learning and conversations throughout the days. David Warlick wrote a post on how to use tags while blogging at the conference.

5. Take a time out!
Don’t feel like you have to go to every session. I did this my first year and ended up so tired by the end of the day that the conversations that went on in bars and over dinner I missed. Take some time to miss a session and join in conversations in the hallways and in the cafes (see #1). Also know that the conference doesn’t end when the lest session is over. There are twitter meet-ups, blogger meet-ups, and just plan old meet-ups all evening. Find a group and enjoy DC!

So those are my 5 tips to a successful NECC conference. What are your tips to a successful NECC?

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(Full Disclosure: I am the Educational Ambassador for Wetpaint.com)

http://www.masternewmedia.org/images/wetpaint_logo.gifLast Friday I was invited by Wetpaint to stop by their Seattle office for a “show and tell” session as well as discuss how the educational site was running and the needs of educators who use Wetpaint.

The Show and Tell was fun as each department showed off what they were working on. We got a tour of the new home page that launched that day by the development team. The publishing team invited me up to talk about the use of Wetpaint in education. The Wetpaint team was very enthusiastic to hear how their product is being used in education. They asked questions about how educators use the site and how it could be improved for educational use. It was a great hour that I got to sit and watch as the wetpaint team came together in a relaxed “show and tell” atmosphere to share what they had been working on and where they were headed.

I also was able to meet the CEO Ben Elowitz who thanked me numerous times for my work in supporting educators on Wetpaint.

The most meaningful part of my visit came with a 30 minute sit down session with key people at Wetpaint discussing the COPPA issue.

COPPA has been a pain in Wetpaint’s side since it was passed in 1998. We disucssed COPPA and ways that we might be able to allow students under the age of 13 to sign up for accounts. What is really frustrating to me as an International educators, is that the COPPA law does not apply to my school in Thailand yet our students can not take advantage of this great learning platform due to a US Federal Law. Because Wetpaint is located in the US (Seattle) they must comply with the law. It’s not Wetpaint’s fault, it is just the way it is in this digital age. It will be interesting to see if over time countries that have more relaxed rules get more technology start-ups.

As I sat discussing the issue with Wetpaint employees it was easy to see that it is not Wetpaint the company that is making things difficult but rather lawyers who get paid to keep Wetpaint safe, and the law itself. It was a great brainstorm session and I walked away with a deeper understanding of where Wetpaint is in trying to sove the issue, frustrated by the law, yet optomistic that we’ll be able to find a solution to the issue.

Wetpaint has done a great job supporting education over the years first with allowing ad-free wikis, then giving educators 250 uploaded files. They are also supporting the wiki workshop I’m running this Sunday at NECC by flying out support help for me all on their own dime. You have to love a company that is willing to not only give up revenue on their product but support education to the point of flying somone across the country for a one day training of 28 teachers.

The other great news is they decided to keep my on as the educational ambassador for another year. A great honor in helping to support some 2500+ educators who belong to the educational wiki. If you use Wetpaint it’s a helpful community to belong to. 2500 educators supporting each other with issues, ideas, and sites.

Thank you Wetpaint for your dedication and support to education and children everywhere!

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Well, the last day of the 08-09 school year is here. A half day for both students and staff before we all fly out to either summer vacation spots or our home countries for the summer.

Living and working overseas is funny that way. You wonder why prices on airline tickets go up until you are trying to buy a seat on a plane the day after an international school gets out and there aren’t any….on three different airlines. πŸ™‚

Looking back over my first year at ISB, it has been a learning experience. I’ll admit that the transition from Shanghai to Bangkok wasn’t as smooths as I thought it would be.

When we first went overseas to Saudi Arabia we expected everything to be 180 degrees different then what we knew. We didn’t know what to expect and of course your mind wonders to the worst of it. So when we arrived in Saudi and found that really….things weren’t that backwards, it made the transition to a new country much easier.

Then came Shanghai were again, not knowing much about China, and having seen CNN and the reports of what it was like, kept our expectations in check. Never did we think that we would live in a beautiful 31st floor apartment over looking the city. Also, the transition was made easier because our good friends from Saudi, Andy and Amanda, were headed to the same school as we were. We had a built in support system, friends to help you work through the transition to both a new city and a new school.

Bangkok has been a different and difficult transition. Seriously I think it’s a study into human nature. πŸ™‚

Before moving here to live, we had visited Bangkok no less than three times. Thailand is the vacation hub of Asia and of educational conferences in the Asia region. So between attending conferences in Bangkok and vacationing on the islands of Thailand you get swept up in this tropical paradise….which Thailand is….if you are vacationing.

There is a difference though between vacationing in a place and actually living in a place. Your day to day life, as much as you wish it was a vacation, isn’t. Where do you get this, how do you get that, where do you go for this, that, and the other thing. We all have this dream moving to Thailand that we’ll vacation on the islands or at the beach every weekend….but then daily life hits you straight in the face and the next thing you know…it’s June and you haven’t been to a beach or an island once. πŸ™

Of course this is my story and many others have made it to the islands, or beaches multiple times, but for me…it seems life has gotten in the way.

Then there is the school aspect. Moving to a new job in a new school is always a transition. We have these perceptions of what the school will be like, run like, feel like. In the international world, word spreads about schools, which ones are good, which ones to stay away from. Which schools have their act together, and which schools are struggling for leadership. You come to a school with these perceptions of what you expect it to be and 9 times out of 10 I’d say that a school/work place never lives up to the perceptions we have about them as educators and expats. What we think it will be like and what the daily business is like are two different things.

I’ll admit I’ve struggled this year to find where I fit in at ISB. The first 6 months between adjusting to Bangkok and adjusting to the school made for a stressful time both at school and at home. I became very negative at times and had to continually check myself and my feelings. Of course this cycle has a name. The relocation adjustment cycle is something that many people feel when they relocate to a new city and/or new job. I’ve known about the cycle even had training on understanding the phases one goes through. My problem is, up until now I don’t think I ever really experienced the cycle…or at least not to the degree I did this year.

But in the end the highs and lows smooth out, life isn’t so bad, you find your place and you end the school year looking ahead to what next year will bring.

Personally I’m in a much better place moving out of school housing the first of May and into a beautiful house that we are renting less then a 10 minute walk from school. Having your own place and making it your own is one step to feeling more comfortable in the relocation cycle. Here is a video of our new house, we love it and it’s been a huge step in making Bangkok feel like home.

Second is the feeling of understanding the school system. Of buying into the school’s vision, the technology vision and understanding where your role is in that vision. It’s been a great year working with one of the best Educational Technology Teams in all of Asia. As frustrating as this year has been we’ve made some progress this year. Kim captured must of what we’ve done as a team this year in a recent post and keynote that we did together called Moving a Community Forward. We were able to build on the work that Dennis Harter and Justin Medved did before us and as we start planning for next year we’ll continue to slowly move ISB forward one teacher at a time, one class at a time, one administrator at a time.

We’re losing Stephen Lehmann as our IT Director. Stephen has been at ISB for 12 years and 10 as the IT Director. His vision, his passion, his leadership truly moved ISB out of the dark ages and has created a learning infrustracture that we will be taking adventage of for years to come. Much of what ISB has been able to accomplished in the use of technology at the school rest on the back of Stephen.

Overall it’s been one heck of a year. A year that saw me traveling at least once a month to conferences, or to do presentations. A year that started with the Learning 2.008 conference in Shanghai and ended with a trip back to Shanghai to start planning 2.010. In between I went to Jakarta, Hanoi, Kota Kinabalu, Qatar, Portland, Kota Kinabalu (again), and Lisbon. I also taught a total of 4 graduate level classes (and I wonder why I didn’t have time to go to the beach!).

I’ve spent this year focused on bringing social learning to the masses. Which was a goal I set for myself. It wasn’t about pushing the leading edge as much as helping educators around the world, where ever I could to wrap their heads around this new learning landscape. One that is constantly changing and I myself do not yet fully understand (which is what keeps it exciting!). I hope I’ve been able to do that. I hope the e-mails, the discussions, the blog posts, the skype calls, the presentations, the podcasts, the help with Wetpaint Wiki Educators, all of it has helped at least one teacher somewhere feel a little more comfortable teaching in this new digital age of learning.

Of course the learning and teaching doesn’t stop with the end of the school year. I’ll be at NECC in a couple weeks and then in Boston for the Building Learning Communities conference the end of July. In between those times the blog might be a little quieter then usual as I spend time with friends and family and at Safeco watching the Marniers and soaking up the rays of the Pacific Northwest.

So here’s to looking forward and finding what’s new on the horizon and helping education and educators around the world continue to push forward into an ever changing world.

Yes, I have once again changed my Twitter Desktop App…and yes I’ll probably change again in the future. That’s part of why Twitter is so much fun. You get to explore, try new ways of looking at your data, your searches, your stream of information.

Twitter is a playground to me. It has been since I started using it in 2007 (man that seems so long ago!). It’s been fun to watch it grow over the past couple of years and hit the mainstream in the past couple of months. I’m excited to see where it goes, but in the mean time let’s keep playing!

I downloaded the Seesmic Desktop Application a couple weeks ago and had a play with it. I enjoyed my time with TweetDeck and still haven’t uninstalled it, but after Kim had me try Nambu which is a Mac specific Twitter Desktop App, it sent me on a search for a new one.

Many people don’t get Twitter. Even after signing up for an account people still have a hard time understanding how it works, or why you’d want to use it. I think using a desktop app is the only way to truly understand Twitter and use it successfully.

Because Twitter has gone mainstream it makes it a nice news feed, friend feed, and information silo. Using a desktop app like Seesmic allows you to create groups of users, follow search terms, and keep track of a lot of different content easily. Seesmic has a great set of videos to get you started.

For example I have a column that follows any mentions of the Mariners (it is baseball season after all!). I have a couple different columns of users. People often ask me how I keep up with so many followers. My answer is simple….I don’t. I quit trying to keep up with them a long time ago and instead I’ve taken a data mining approach to Twitter and I’ve created groups that work for me.

I have a group called “My PLN” if you’ve in education and you’ve shared a link that I’ve enjoyed or happened across you get put into this group (2 clicks and 2 seconds). I have a group called “My Peeps” these are my close friends and colleages I work with. It allows me to keep a close eye on say Dennis Harter my colleague and what he’s tweeting about.

The other nice feature of Seesmic and most Twitter Destop Apps is that it allows me to easily unfollow or block spammers, making it easy to manage my profile from within the Twitter App itself.

Then there is the added bounce of being able to update your Facebook status within the same application, now if only they could add FriendFeed updates…they’d have the trifecta!

On my Mac I run Seesmic in a Space. It gets a space all to itself and simple runs in the background. I go to it when I need something, have a second to catch up on a conversation or need information on something happening in real time. I go there when I have something to share, when I feel like I can add to the value of others stream of information or when I simple want people to know what I’m doing….after all that was its original use.

TwitterCamp still has the most potential

TwitterCamp was the first AIR app that I installed and today I still think it has the most potential for use in schools, conferences, etc. I was glad to see that it was updated last November to work with the new and improved Twitter. I love that they have now released the code to the open-source community to help improve on. There is no other app that displays Tweets the way TwitterCamp does and it engages people when put on a big screen. Now that it seems to be working again (still testing it as I type) we could have some fun with this at NECC09. Now….were do we get one of those flat screen TVs? πŸ˜‰

(Thanks to Brian Smith who captured this picture of Mark Wagner taking a picture of TwitterCamp running at NECC07. The first bloggers cafe and we hijacked the flat screen. Who’s idea was that anyway?)