Sunday, April 29, 2007

NSCC Great Teachers Seminar

This coming week I will be attending the Nova Scotia Community College Great Teachers Seminar at the Annapolis Basin Conference Centre in Cornwallis Park Nova Scotia (the old CFB Cornwallis for those of a military bent).

The Great Teachers Movement, founded by David Gotshall, was created to "improve skills and to allow educators to ponder and adjust their methods, behavior and attitude as teachers of diverse teaching fields, experience levels and interests. The focus is not on the teaching of specific disciplines, but rather on the art of teaching itself. The emphasis is on the universals of teaching and on the special nature of those who are and will be great teachers. It is based also on the notion that, if properly tapped, the collective wisdom, experience and creativity of any group of practicing educators far surpasses that of any individual expert" (from the New York State Great Teachers Seminar 2004).

I am really looking forward to this week of reflection, discussion, networking, and yes decompression after a long academic year. I will be blogging my thoughts about the GTS, so hopefully you may gain some insights and benefits too...

Monday, April 23, 2007

Sir Kenneth Robinson - Do Schools Kill Creativity?

If you are an educator, you MUST put aside 20 minutes and watch this video. It is Sir Kenneth Robinson, world-renowned expert on innovation and creativity, speaking about "Do Schools Kill Creativity?" He makes great sense and will give you lots to think about. It is also highly entertaining as well.

This talk is available on TED is Technology, Entertainment, Design, a conference started in 1984 and now a global community, several million strong, focused on exchanging and spreading ideas. You can join for free and have access to all posted TED talks. It allows you create your own profile page as well where you can collect your favourite TED talks and communicate with other TED members.

Well worth a look for any educator. Hmmm...

Sunday, April 22, 2007

My Avatar, Myself

I've been active in Second Life now for about 10 months or so (in world I'm hondomac Dalgleish). In that time I have found that the lines between SL (Second Life) and RL (Real Life) have effectively disappeared.

I use the same language in both places (I am me and my avatar is me), when I see the avatar of someone that I know in RL, I say "How are you?" and "Don't you look nice". I have friends in SL who I consider to be just as close and as important to me as my RL friends yet I have only ever engaged with their avatars and in some cases do not even know their "real" names or where they are from.

Those of us who know each other in both SL and RL quite often remark on the "blurring of the lines" between the two worlds. We refer to conversations and activities without saying that they occurred in RL or SL. In SL our social interactions are firmly rooted in acceptable RL norms and behaviours. Why is that? Do we need these norms and behaviours in order to function in the brave new world of SL? Is it a comfort thing? I don't know the answers to these questions (yet).

The blurring of the lines was completed for me yesterday. I was wandering in a local shopping mall when I walked past a women's clothing store. Looking in the window, I thought to myself that the clothes were nice, but that the clothes at Dazzle were better. Only thing is, Dazzle is a Second Life women's clothing store, selling only to avatars and without a RL presence. There you go, I now just live in a slightly larger world than most others.

Go anywhere in SL and you will see structures of all kinds - office buildings, homes, stores, shopping malls, and they for the most part look like their RL compatriots - they have floors, walls, and roofs. Why is that? It never rains in SL (unless you want it to and even then your avatar doesn't get wet). More line blurring or the continued transportation of RL norms and behaviours into SL?

One of my main interests in Second Life is its educational potential. There are literally hundreds of educational institutions with a SL presence, and many of them are now offering credit courses in SL. Again though, almost without exception, their SL selfs are represented by painstakingly accurate reproductions of their RL campuses. While this might be great for helping learners get around, how much sense does it make for an avatar to sit in a classroom all day? I have found that the most innovative educational facilities in SL look nothing like a "traditional" classroom. Rather, they are open, modifiable spaces that can be made into whatever it is that the learners need - that's the power of SL - learn underwater, in space, inside a living cell - down with the classroom!!

So, do I live in two worlds or one slightly larger one expanded by my Second Life experiences? I need to think some more on this, but I know one thing for sure - I wish I looked as good in a tux in RL as I do in SL - boy that hondomac is a snappy dresser! Hmmm...

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Spring Has Sprung!

The Sun is out! The Sun is out! What a beautiful day here on the East Coast - 18 C and not a cloud in the sky. I spent a lot of time outdoors today without a jacket - sooo nice. Only problem is that now I will need to find my murse (man + purse = murse) so I can stick into it all the bits and pieces, the flotsam and jetsam of life (sunglasses, cell phone, iPod, headphones, PDA, keys...) that I've been stuffing into parka pockets the last few, long, dreary, endless months.

I also think that I have discovered a fascinating new law of nature. Here is my hypothesis - as the weather warms and the sun shines more, several interesting phenomena seem to occur with women's clothing - it becomes more form fitting, brighter in colour, hemlines rise, and necklines plunge. While I have no direct conclusive evidence yet, I believe that there is a direct correlation between these phenomena and the rise in the UV index, but I think that it's going to take several warm, sunny months of in depth research and analysis to prove.

I wonder if the NSERC has any grant money for this sort of thing - you know to cover the cost of scientific instruments and materials - sun screen, sunglasses, beer (for the analysis portion of the project), bug spray (don't get me started on the bugs), and miscellaneous expenses and tips for waitresses at sidewalk cafes across the city (my preferred research sites). Hmmm...

The Parking Lot, Or Hang On I'll Get Back To You...

I see and hear a lot of things that I think at the moment "hey that would make a good blog post", and then I usually forget all about them. So I thought I would star a "parking lot" post where I could jot down some of the things that I think would make a good blog post before I forget them. That way I have a place to come back to when I feel the need to post. It may also serve as a way to start conversations with readers of this blog. So without further ado, here are my first parking lot items:
  • 21st Century education - is there a paradigm shift happening?
  • Using Facebook as a learning environment
  • Conservative MP Introduces 'Clean Internet Act'
  • Seven Rules of Web 2.0
  • Using Facebook responsibly
  • Don't Tell Your Parents: Schools Embrace MySpace
  • ?...
I can't promise I wil ever post on any of these, but now I have a place to come back to for topics of interest to me, and maybe you too. Who knows, maybe I'll combine them into one big mega-post. Hmmm...

Games Don't Kill People, People...

I've been agonizing for a few days now about whether or not to even write this post or not as by now we have all become massively overwhelmed by the tragic events at Virginia Tech, and the tidal wave of media coverage that has battered us all week. But I have something I want to say, so please bear with me.

What happened at Virginia Tech is a tragedy beyond comprehension, the act of an insane monster, whose motivations and actions are beyond me. But what has happened since Monday has, in my mind been equally as tragic. That happening is the constant, all-consuming media coverage that has taken and created a media cottage industry, and I find it reprehensible. Why is that CNN and the other private broadcasters in North America (the US networks and CTV and Global in Canada), felt the need to trot out for our consumption every canned "expert" that they could find to analyze, go over, rehash, and flog to death the events at Virginia Tech. It was nothing short of a visual and auditory assault, particularly when they broadcasted the murderer's "manifesto". Talk about your 15 minutes of infamy - he is going on 6 days and counting.

But the item that has really hit home for me s the crazy notion that it was video games that drove the killer to do what he did. There is absolutely no evidence that he was a gamer yet "experts" like Dr. Phil on Larry King Live blame video games for the actions of a madman. What about gun laws that allow unstable individuals to legally purchase hand guns, to buy large capacity magazines (in one report the killer was thought to have had 30-round magazines and fired nearly 200 rounds), and hollow-point bullets that are designed specifically for maximum lethality?

As an educator who sees the values of games and gaming as learning tools for engaging the current generation, my job has now become that much more difficult when I try to propose the innovative use of games in my professional practice. Why is there this insatiable need for mainstream media to go on and on about a tragedy, employing so called experts as talking heads to fill in their airtime? Why cannot they just report the events like they are supposed to and then give people the time and the privacy they need to heal?

I don't have the answers, but I do know that the media has to stop their current tactics of inundating us with microscopic details about what has happened - no wonder there are copycats.

To end this on a positive note, please check out my friend Carolyn's blog post "What's Your Secret?". It's an amazing video done by a group of students from my college - it's worth a look and for me puts some perspective on this past week's events. A good way to end...

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Randommind - A Must Read

My good friend Carolyn blogs on all sorts of things educational in nature and more. She has great insight into education, learning, instructional design, Web 2.0, Second Life and lots more and has a great knack for finding the most amazing stuff from the Web and the blogsphere.

Check out the Randommind blog - she has some great things to say.

Stanford Humanities Lab's How They Got Game Workshop - Second Life

This is a video From the Stanford Humanities Lab’s How They Got Game Workshop with Linden Lab’s Director of community affairs Daniel Huebner.

It's a great discussion on the background, history, philosophy, present, and future of Second Life. It's over an hour long, but really worth a view if you are interested or involved with Second Life, so put on a fresh pot of tea and get comfy...

(Video from Google Video)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

What Do You Mean It's Been Blocked?

The following was posted on Slashdot by Londovir:

"Recently, our school board made the decision to block Wikipedia from our school district's WAN system. This was a complete block — there aren't even provisions in place for teachers or administrators to input a password to bypass the restriction. The reason given was that Wikipedia (being user created and edited) did not represent a credible or reliable source of information for schools. Should we block sites such as Wikipedia because students may be exposed to misinformation, or should we encourage sites such as Wikipedia as an outlet for students to investigate and determine the validity of the information?"

In another case, the history department at Middlebury College in Vermont has banned students from using Wikipedia as a research tool. There are all sorts of other articles, news items, and Web sites full of stories of Wikipedia and other social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook and others being blocked or banned by K-12 school systems and post-secondary institutions.

In most case the rationale for banning these sites is that Wikipedia and other similar information sites are full of inaccuracies and errors because they are user created and edited. As for the social networking sites the reasons given are that they distract learners, are time wasters, and expose them to potential predators and other unsavoury individuals.

So, are these rational, informed decisions made to improve learning environments and protect learners, or is it the 21st century equivalent of book burning? While I think that the people who made the decisions to block sites believe that it is the former, I tend to see it as the latter - uninformed, unaware, scared people making quick, knee-jerk reaction decisions.

As for the inaccuracies and errors found in Wikipedia, several studies have shown that it is no less accurate than the printed version of the Encyclopedia Britannica, found in just about every school, college, and university library. When an inaccuracy is found in Wikipedia, it is fixed much faster than it would ever be in a printed version of any reference text or encyclopedia.

But for me the bigger issue is why block these sites at all? Isn't one of our responsibilities as educators to give our learners the skills to gather, analyze, and interpret the information they find. Wikipedia or a similar social networking reference site should never be the sole source for information, but it is a great place to start. Learners should develop the skills and knowledge to determine for themselves the accuracy of the information they find, regardless of its source, and as a source Wikipedia is better than many.

While blocking MySpace, Facebook, and other social networking sites may create an illusion of learners having more time in school to pay attention and be engaged in learning, it's just that - an illusion. They will be no more engaged in learning at all. What we (and parents) need to is educate learners on how to be socially and personally aware in an ever-increasingly social Web. Get learners to use social networking sites for positive, beneficial experiences - there are a lot of great things offered by these sites. I use Facebook for example to create and maintain alumni contacts with former learners - this informal social network has resulted in job and other opportunities for my current learners. Teach them the tools to be wise and safe when they are online. Blocking and banning sites will only make them more attractive and will result in uninformed and unsafe use.

So - no more knee-jerk blocking of sites OK? Take the time to understand the tools and technologies before you light up the bonfire. In the long run you will be doing everyone a great service...

(Photo - "fahrenheit burn" by mrtwism)

Blame It On Friday The 13th

(Photo by procsilas)

Ever have one of those days? You know the ones I mean - you wake up (late), get dressed, wear your breakfast, get changed, rush out to the bus (you are even later now) into a snow/rain storm (forgot the umbrella but will miss the bus if you go back for it), get wet, get to work and then the day gets worse? Computer glitches, coffee pot goes on the fritz (OMG - what do you mean there's NO caffeine?), and you get swamped by work and none of it goes well? You misunderstand everything people are saying to you, and that meeting you were supposed to be at started 30 minutes ago without you? Then you wear your food at lunch - (white shirt + tomato sauce = law of physics), and the afternoon goes just as poorly as the morning? You know - it's one of those "I should have stayed in bed days".

Well I had one of those days yesterday, but guess what? It wasn't my fault - it was Friday the 13th's fault. The PsyBlog has an intersting post "Is Friday the Thirteenth Unlucky?". In it the many origins of Friday the 13th are mentioned as are several research studies both supporting and debunking the notion that Friday the 13ths are unlucky. No definitive conclusion is stated, but after the day I had yesterday, I can tell you first hand that Friday the 13th is unlucky. I mean none of yesterday's disasters could actually be my fault. Could they? Hmmm...

Friday, April 13, 2007

Research 2.0

As we start to move more and more to an online world, we spend more time doing research and finding information on the Internet and through other electronic stores of information. This video, titled Research 2.0, discusses the issues of doing research in an online electronic world, including the pros, cons, pitfalls and advantages.

Thanks very much to my friend and colleague Lana, who originally passed this video on to me.

Lots to think about. Hmmm...

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Which Serenity Character Are You?

Thanks to my friend Leah for this one. Here are my results of the Serenity personality test:

You are Malcolm Reynolds (Captain)
Malcolm Reynolds (Captain)
Derrial Book (Shepherd)
Dr. Simon Tam (Ship Medic)
Zoe Washburne (Second-in-command)
Wash (Ship Pilot)
Jayne Cobb (Mercenary)
River (Stowaway)
Kaylee Frye (Ship Mechanic)
Inara Serra (Companion)
A Reaver (Cannibal)
Honest and a defender of the innocent.
You sometimes make mistakes in judgment
but you are generally good and
would protect your crew from harm.
Click here to take the "Which Serenity character are you?" quiz...

Firefly was one of my favourite TV shows and Serenity was recently voted the best sci-fi movie of all time in the UK, beating out all of the Star Wars movies. Hmmm...

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Is There A Classroom In My Future...?

Stephen Downes is an amazing guy. He works for the National Research Council (NRC) in Moncton, New Brunswick where he specializes in online learning, content syndication, and new media. He also produces the OLDaily newsletter (subscribe TODAY!), and has several blogs including "Half An Hour" where he writes about various educational and technology topics. If you are an educator, you MUST consider Stephen's writings as required reading. His insights and opinions are thought-provoking and provide clarity in what has become a very complex field.

In one of his recent posts, "To The School Or Classroom 2.0 Advocates", he makes the point that:

"technology allows us to change our approach to education, from one where we segregate learners in specially designed education facilities (classrooms, training rooms, schools, universities) to one where learning is something we do (and what educators provide) in the course of any other activity.

The idea is that 'School 2.0' is the first step toward being non-school, and that our objective should be to use technologies to leverage our ability to personalize learning, and in so doing, facilitate students' learning while taking part as full citizens in the wider community."

This really struck a chord with my own beliefs of the future of adult education (although I will concede that this could apply to K-12 as well). What I think Stephen is describing is personal Learning environments of PLEs, an individualized and customized approach to learning that I think is the future of adult education and our role as educators. PLES will provide learners with greater opportunities for learning success as they will permit learners to learn within an environment that will maximize their learning as it will best suit how and what learners learn.

Stephen goes on in his post to talk about the future of schools and classrooms - schools and classrooms are a creation of the industrial age. This makes a lot of sense to me - schools and classrooms are really just another type of factory - the product is knowledge (and hopefully learning, but this isn't always the case). So what are the implications for me as an adult educator? I think that the main one is that I need to be ready and able to help learners create their PLES and as we move more and more towards "Education Without Boundaries" (one of the key tenets of my college's strategic plan), I have to be more adept at existing in traditional classrooms, blended deliveries, online learning and learning environments not yet thought of. Don't get invested or stuck to the delivery location or method - be dedicated to the learning.

Stephen makes another point that struck home for me:

"Educators need to realize that today's students are exposed to much more television, online communication, and other electronic communication, than they are to traditional classroom instruction. School, even as it is, makes up only a small percentage of their learning. It plays virtually no role in values formation, culture and self-identification, language learning and art. If school provides any learning of science, mathematics, geography and history, it is only because the students' cultural environment is almost completely bereft of those subjects. Their performance in those subjects - and especially the latter two - shows just how abject their learning has become."

Boy does this explain a lot about my learners when they first come to the College. We need to find ways to bridge the gaps that learners have as a result of their school experiences. Stephen suggests offering students limited full-time employment while still in school. Hmmm...

Amazing stuff Stephen, thanks for sharing with us.

(Drawing - School20 By Stephen Downes)

No Reason - I Just Like the Picture

We had a "Frozen April Shower" here last night, with about 20 cms of snow. It is my constitutional right as a Canadian to mutter under my breath about the weather, but I thought that for a change I would take the high road and not do that. Instead I just posted a picture I took (with some tweaking courtesy of Paint Shop Pro) of the snow falling. No real reason - I just like the picture.

Reading, Writing,...Hey! - What About The NEW Literacy Skills?

OK, we are all acquainted with the 3Rs - Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. They have been the foundation of our educational system for, well forever. Unfortunately I think that the foundation is cracked. A large majority of the learners I see coming out of the K-12 system lack the literacy skills in reading, writing, and arithmetic to be successful at the post-secondary level. So much so that we spend a lot of valuable time during the first year of their diploma programmes trying to improve these essential skills.

But it's not as simple as just improving the 3R literacy skills and it's about to get worse - there are a whole new set of literacy skills that are just as important or in some cases more important for learners to be successful in this new information age. From my perspective we have to add the following skills to the set of basic literacy skills needed by all learners beyond the 3Rs:
  • Typing
  • Information gathering
  • Information analysis
  • Safety and security
  • Privacy
If you lack typing skills in the ever-increasing synchronous (and asynchronous) online world, you cannot communicate. If you cannot communicate, you will have difficulty learning. E-mail, chats, IM, games, virtual worlds - they all require an ability to type to keep up with and follow multi-threaded conversations - typing is the new talking.

The Internet has become the single largest source of information ever known to man - the amount of information is staggering and learners need to not only know how to find information, but how to analyze it for veracity and accuracy as well. These two skills are just as important (or more so in some cases) than reading and writing are. If information cannot be found, and analyzed for accuracy, relevancy and currency, then learning will not happen.

Learners (all users of the Internet actually) need to have skills that will keep them safe and secure. Security of personal information, who to trust, what to reveal about your self are all important issues as we move forward in an increasingly Web-centric educational world - this also ties into Privacy skills - what should be private, and what should be public is an essential and basic question that every user of the Internet must answer. In order to answer that question, learners must have the skills to make informed decisions about their online presence.

So what can we do as educators? We cannot ignore the 3Rs - they are still required skills, but we must also be aware of the the "new literacy" skills as well. If our learners are not adequately prepared and practiced in all of these literacy skills, how can they truly be life-long learners which is ultimately what as educators we are preparing them to become? Hmmm...

(Photo - Keyboard ~ Blur by Striatic) (Photo - Reading by Maxey)

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Managing Information - Turn Off The Fire Hose!!

I suspect that we are all suffering from information overload, or as I like to call it - drinking from the fire hose - you get to swallow a little bit of information - the rest just gets you wet.

This was brought home to me this morning when I asked friends if they got my e-mail. The answer was "which one?" followed quickly by "turn off the fire hose!!". I was overloading them with information and not doing a very good job of even telling them what information I was even talking about.

So how do we manage information in this age of always on Internet, TV news, radio, and print media? I know that my information gathering patterns have changed significantly over the years from print to audio, to video (TV), to print again (the early Internet) and now to constantly streaming pushed multimedia content (Web 2.0) that I get to customize myself, creating an information nirvana for a data junkie like myself. I must receive on average over 200 e-mails from different sources (and with multiple e-mail addresses of course), although I will admit to merely reading the Subject lines of the messages and filtering out the ones of no or little interest (or the duplicates) to my Delete folders.

And then there is my latest information goldmine - the RSS aggregator - with Netvibes I am now receiving hundreds of feeds a day. Again I am mostly looking at titles and synopses and reading only the ones I think are relevant to my interests. On top of all this e-mail and RSS information, I read the newspaper every day, watch TV news, and get information sent to me by my friends - no wonder I always feel a little damp around the edges...

I tend to share what I find with friends and colleagues. The problem is I get carried away with my own enthusiasm and turn the fire hose on full, and everyone is just too busy to go around wet all day. How do I share what I think is neat, cool, essential, or just plain hmmm... information? My filtering system seems to work for me (or am I just kidding myself and missing more than I find?). So is it blogs, RSS aggregators, Google Groups, or some yet to be seen Web 2.0 "killer app" that will let me share the information I find and not get my friends (or myself) drenched by the information fire hose? Any thoughts, any ideas?


Sunday, April 01, 2007

Blog Power Redux - Some of My Favourites

If you look at my blog archive, you can see that this whole blogging thing has really started to gain momentum with me. Not only am I writing posts, I am using other people's blogs more and more as information sources. There are many blogs that I now read on a regular basis and I thought that I would share some of them with you. So here, in no particular order (actually grabbed from my Netvibes tabs) are some of my favourite blogs and their authors (bloggers?). Check them out for yourself:
As you can see a long and varied list focussed primarily on technology, education, Web 2.0, and Second Life. Check these out and if you have a favourite blog or two (or ten) let me know about them. Share the wealth...

(Photo from Kosmar)