Monthly Archives: November 2005

A recent post from Doug Johnson, Personal use of the Internet, has got me thinking about appropriate use of this resource by students and access to appropriate material via the service provider's filter system. This has been a real hot topic amongst edubloggers during the past week or two and James Farmer's original post has taken on a life of its own. (Might be the most comments posted to an edtech blog ever!) So the two ideas have been swirling around in my head and I'm still not sure of my personal position yet. See, the filters here in Oz are designed with students in mind but educators use the same system and are blocked in the same way as the kids. The providers here use a system to filter sites called Bess produced by Secure Computing. So instead of making assumptions I visited their website for further information. From what I saw, the Bess filter uses a system of categories to rate all websites on a Control List which then determines what sites are either blocked or allowed. Guess where blogs fall? In a category called Personal Pages where the following description can be found and I quote:

This category includes personal home pages that share a common domain such as those hosted by ISPs, University/Education servers, Free Web Page hosts, etc. Blogging sites are also included. Personal home pages present a risk to viewers because content ranges from harmless to offensive, yet these pages are not highly trafficked, making them difficult to categorize and provide coverage for each personal page.

You can also use a tool there called the URL Checker where you can see what URL ends where in terms of categorisation. Edublogs ends up in Personal Pages, as does my blog. Weblogg-ed ends up in a different legitimate category Education/Reference, Forum/Bulletin Boards. D'Arcy Norman scored a Not Categorized as does James Farmer's own blog . Stephen Downes also ends up in Personal Pages. So it's a bit of a chook raffle about which blog ends up where and who will be blocked in a school or not. Now I need to check these blogs against my own school filter (Bess N2H2) to see if this is the same version and I think that administrator control can release a lot of blocked content that shoudn't be. I think I need to poke around a bit more but I do think it is something that needs addressing. I mean, if a teacher is getting keen on blogging and can't access any blogs to see what the fuss is about, they might not engage and move on. Likewise if there are too many barriers, then student blogging is unlikely to follow. I agree that there is a lot of trash out there that as a parent of a primary school aged child, I wouldn't like them to stumble across. But do I filter at home - no. Perhaps I should and there are definite taboo topics I think that we don't want our young children encountering on their own. And there is a lot of evidence to say that a lot of teachers aren't skilled enough to navigate their own way safely through the World Wide Web, let alone be totally responsible for the content their students encounter. I suspect there is an element of "Thank goodness there is a filter. Any chance of getting World Championship Wrestling blocked. I'm sick of my kids downloading images of wrestlers."
Which brings me back to the starting point with Doug's post. What is the internet at our schools? Is it part of the whole fabric where students can continue their online existence or is it just a powerful resource to be turned on and off by teachers' direction? I think we are all grappling with that one - some people can make statements with more conviction than others but our educators do need to try and view the online connection through their students' eyes and what it means for them. Hmmm....a lot more thinking to do.

I found a little snippet from this morning about a teacher receiving an award for his textbook-less classroom. Teacher gleans federal kudos for bookless classroom is one of the full articles I found when I Googled his name and it makes for interesting reading. The teacher, Gerry Mangus, class's test scores are way up and show that if teachers do the legwork in terms of using the technology to harness the learning, amazing results can follow. What could I do to get a class full of computers? That's where I hope I can use IWB technology to improve student learning as our network structure isn't set up for his model (nor is our budgets!) Still, the point is, the teacher makes the difference not just the supplying the computers and the online connection.

And who couldn't love a teacher who's into golf as well.

I have to admit it. All this talk about Skype and how easy it is to use and I had never even used it. Sure, I've had it downloaded and sitting on my desktop at home ready to use but it wasn't until Friday that I bought a new headset and configured my Skype account (graham_wegner). Why? Because I had noticed that the next EdTech Brainstorm was scheduled for the Australian friendly time of early Sunday afternoon. I actually didn't intend to participate, just thought I would listen live and monitor how people got invited to skype in and chat away. But I got invited to dial in and after a few times where Jeff Flynn said, "Are you there, Graham?" I got my mic sorted and I got to participate in the brainstorm. Now I'm pretty self conscious about the way I speak and the mute space I was in when I was talking on the chat was a bit unnerving and in my opinion, I did not speak very well and probably sounded like an Aussie drongo. However, it was an amazing thing and well done to both Jeffs and Dave at EdTech Talk for pioneering this sort of thing and being accomodating to someone who is still gripping on for dear life in the fastest learning curve of his professional life! I'll listen to the mp3 when it is posted later on and if I don't sound half as bad as I imagined, I'll post a link to my small moment of fame. I've been keen on all things edtech for many years but 2005 is definitely the year I've got the buzz of excitement back - where everything is fresh and new again. I must getting through to some of my colleagues because I received this comment on the ActivBoarding blog the other day.

I sent a comment to your most recent article but it didn't submit it.
Anyway you can see I'm trying...
Your enthusiasm IS infectious!

Twenty minutes is not a lot of time to get a concept across to an unfamiliar audience. Well, that was my job this morning as a presenter at the EChO (Early Childhood Organisation) Expo down at the Education Development Centre here in Adelaide. It was a half day event with the theme, "What's out there?" There were displays from the Multicultural Centre, speech pathology services, book sellers, Monarto Zoo and the Investigator Science Centre and I was invited to do 2 x 20 minute presentations on interactive whiteboards by one of the committee organisers, Suzanne, a JP teacher at my school and one of our ActivBoard teachers.

Had to set up yesterday afternoon with Brad Lewis, sales rep from Commander (Aussie distributors for ActivBoard) who brought along one of the 78 " boards to use for the demo. After we had finished, Brad had to go and I rearranged the furniture in the conference room to suit my presentation. I was lugging the last table out of the way when I was "chatted" by a security guard. He informed me that for Occ. Health and Safety reasons I wasn't meant to touch the furniture configuration. There were people employed to "set" furniture themes and if you wanted it changed, there would be a $25 fee! It was a bit late for any changing back and the conversation left me both a bit embarrassed and annoyed. Here I am, a DECS employee getting organised for a professional learning event in a DECS site on my own time and moving around a few chairs is a big deal! I was amazed that it was even an issue.

As far as my presentations went, well as usual I over prepared with too much emphasis on describing context when most educators just wanted to know how the whole thing worked. Some still had never seen an IWB in action and were totally amazed by the board's capabilities. I tried to focus on showing activities relevant to early childhood - alphabet jigsaws, simple fraction blocks, grouping like objects, CD-ROM games - and hopefully it hit the mark in raising awareness and further interest. I hope I get some feedback on my presentation skills - this is certainly an area I would like to get better at.

This is me in action - I promise you there was an audience just out of shot.

I ran an after school workshop on an Introduction To Blogging on Tuesday after school that attracted a crowd of three interested colleagues. Probably not surprising because there are less than four weeks left in the school year and most teachers at my school don't want any more professional development, thank you very much. And I suppose after the peak of 20 attendees at my Interactive Whiteboard Basics last week, the numbers could only go down.

Now, I'm no expert on this topic but I thought I'd base my workshop on my own journey into this new way of professional learning. I showed them my blog, and then I spent a fair bit of time checking through the inner workings of Bloglines. I'm a real convert to Bloglines after being shown FeedReader and using Abilon for a couple of months. I like Bloglines because I'm never at the same computer throughout the work day or at home. I also like poking through the public subscriptions of other edubloggers and finding new bloggers to read. So I'm talking away, showing them how to set up an account, chuckling at Dilbert feeds and fielding questions and the question I've been asked more than any other comes up, "How do you find all this stuff?"

I tried to explain the whole journey has led me to discovering all this stuff, how it's all about connecting the learning and taking charge of it yourself. I think they got it but I think it all could have been a lot to take on board at once. However, one teacher, who is an admitted technophobe thanked me at the end and said that she now knew what her teenage son was talking about and she realised that teachers needed to get their hands dirty and dive into the new internet technologies. Today in the staffroom, that same teacher was being ribbed a little bit about what she'd gained from my workshop by another attendee (who had started her own blog which is stalled after one entry) and testing her on some of the things I'd mentioned. But at least her awareness has been raised - she now knows what I'm talking about because the usual response when I talk about my blogging experiences and how I seem to "know so much stuff", someone will say, "Will you be running T & D on that next year?" A quote of David Warlick's beamed to Bloglines this morning via John Pederson says it all about the mindshift the majority of Aussie teachers still have to make.

If we are trying to help our students to become life-long-learners, then this is what teachers should be right now. The question, “Who’s going to teach me to do that?” should be replaced with “I’m going to teach myself to do that!”

Can it be so hard to want to take charge of your learning? Especially if you call yourself an educator.

I am lucky enough to be booked in for an interesting couple of days of training next week. It's called e-Portfolio Conference - Using Professional Standards For Teachers on the Thursday with a follow-on workshop the next day limited to 35 places. The featured speaker is Dr. Helen Barrett, of whom I was pretty ignorant when I first looked at the descriptor on the DECS Leadership website. So I found out that she had a blog, I checked it out. She promises to be a extremely interesting speaker and although her blog is very good, it will be good to hear her define the concept of e-portfolio in person. An e-portfolio can mean many different things to different people and I'm no expert (that's why I'm going). Leigh Blackall certainly has his opinions and believes that a lot of web 2.O technologies can do the same job or be called the same thing.

There's been a steady stream of talk around the idea of ePortfolios. I've been watching, interested in how the name alone is a good way to get people who are opposed to blogging, interested in what amounts to ... blogging! Amazing what a word can do.

So I'll be keeping my naivety in check and seeing what our education system is wanting to do with this concept. I know that the term has bandied around and used in a number of settings to describe a variety of end results. One primary school here in Adelaide, Hallett Cove East was a bit of a mover and a shaker in this area, producing student digital portfolios in CD-RW format so that more work samples could be added to it. I went to a workshop there in 2003 where they plugged this concept pretty hard. And maybe primary schools have a different headset to what secondary schools or higher ed would envisage. As for what an educator's e-portfolio might look like, I suppose it is something that pulls together the reflectiveness and ongoing learning of a blog, with storage capacity of digital artifacts like I've got at RWLO. Anyway, I'm reading too much into an area where I have little practical expertise. I know that at leadership conferences and workshops I've attended, there is a big emphasis on the maintenance of a professional portfolio, a black folder where you stick all of your training certificates plus paper copies of job applications, feedbacks etc. but I have most of that stuff on my hard drive at home or backed up on CD. It should be interesting.

Everyone loves a top five list so which blogs would make mine? Well, the way I would judge it would be this way - when I open up Bloglines and see who's posted overnight (don't forget Australia is ahead of Europe and North America if only in time) there are some feeds I absolutely get perked up for straightaway. I'll either leave them to the very last (save the best to last type scenario) if I have a bit of time or if it's a bit of squeeze time wise, then I'll check my top 5ers first. So, at the moment, here's who I can't wait to read.

1. Weblogg-ed.

Probably a lot of people's favourites, Will is the king of edubloggers and has always a fresh twist on a lot of blog related topics. Always makes time and space for others to respond and I love his economical style of writing. Must have been patient to have been blogging so long with so few peers at the beginning compared to the seething mass of contributors now. And if he wants to check the pulse of the blogosphere, Will posts an issue and the responses pile in.

2. Teach And Learn Online

Leigh is like a lone maverick of Aussie edublogging, a gun for hire not afraid to wade into any issue and express his view. I could be wrong but being Australian helps to fully "get" his sense of wit - case in point about in his post about the Blacktownyoof. Again, not much escapes his radar (he was championing Gizmo a couple of months ago) and we actually need people like Leigh making the decisions about this country's edtech future. Somehow, I think he prefers the role of activist, pricking the consciences of others and being out of the mainstream herd.

3. CogDogBlog / D’Arcy Norman Dot Net

I know it's a copout to list two at the one position but both of these two guys provide great perspective. Both work in higher education but I love their technical stuff presented in layman's terms suitable for R-12 education. Alan is very insightful and D'Arcy's irreverence is healthy in an edtech world that can take itself too seriously.

4. The Open Classroom

If you want passion and insight from a classroom point of view, it's hard to go past Jo McLeay's well written blog. It's no surprise that her classes correspond with the equally talented Clarence Fisher's students and share life in Melbourne with the rest of the world. Read about the connections Jo makes with her students and you know they will be well prepared for digital life beyond school.

5. pedersondesigns / Remote Access

Another two favourites that I can't separate despite the very different styles. John Pederson coves a lot of territory and seeks to engage educators still dubious about life in Web 2.0. Got to love someone prepared to stir the pot! And Clarence is one of the most eloquent bloggers going, painting this detailed picture of life in Snow Lake almost in the style of a novelist. No wonder his work is constantly ripped and remixed and his media profile promotes student blogging at every opportunity.

So, who's your top five?

What comes after Generation Z? At my house, the digital natives get first access to all of the digital tools and the immigrants have to make do with their Pocket PC until they are finished. Case in point, my two year old son Joshua. He looks very comfortable zooming around in JumpStart Artist (free CD-ROM with a HappyMeal!) Luckily, his older brother was not on the scene.

I was going to originally post this as a followup comment to a post from Aaron at Teacher in Development but it got so longwinded I thought I would post it here and trackback to his blog.

Here in South Australia, our education system is run by a curriculum framework SACSA, that is outcomes based so prescribed textbooks are non-existent and in the primary sector especially, teachers are responsible for creating their own curriculum. The framework is the guideline and so, in theory, we have the kind of opportunity you're talking about as a constant. Where your post struck a chord is when you talked about bringing in content. I have a personal example for you. My primary school has a focus on German as a second language (interesting choice for a school of 40% third and second generation Greek background kids) and we have about half the staff skilled in the German language. If you can't teach German to your own class, then you are paired up with someone who can. My class German teacher is a regular junior primary classroom teacher who was worried about the motivation level of eleven and twelve year olds who had already said that German was their least favourite subject at school. So our solution - turn the students into teachers by setting them the task of producing an interactive German computer game that could teach basic German words (colours, numbers, body parts) to our buddy class of five and six year olds. Suddenly, the learning of the second language had a real purpose, the games were for someone other than their teachers. So, for my fellow teacher the decision about what vocabulary to teach was dictated by the class as they created the games in Powerpoint and FrontPage. The kids got a lot more out of that task in terms of German language development compared to a set curriculum from a textbook. And it was a lot more fun!