Monthly Archives: June 2006

There's been an interesting discussion over at the TALO group about another discussion in an EdNA forum that, to paraphrase Alex Hayes, has turned rancid. The moderators of that particular discussion took action and deleted a substantial section of that thread, which has triggered another round of responses back at TALO Groups. I've been lurking at both after Alex's pointer and my read through of the original thread saw a poster go on the attack and indulge in a bit of mudslinging and cheap shots at the originator of the thread. It's a bit hard to follow now because of the deleted posts and I find forums hard to follow at the best of times. But the deleted posts caused quite a stir back at TALO headquarters and with 42 posts (and counting) a whole debate about online conduct and online moderation / censorship has emerged. A very educational and informative read at both venues....

This conversation has had me thinking about writing in this open and public online way and how more than ever it is important for me to set personal standards of self expression and to consciously hold myself to those standards. To me, that's not putting my ideals on a pedestal or comparing myself to others but rather not putting my words anywhere that could be misconstrued in a way that could backfire. I'll make mistakes in my quest to come to grips with this ideal but I will make sure that I put things right when I blunder. Case in point: I asked a blogging colleague to remove a comment today from his blog because he had the good faith in me to point out its potential for misinterpretation. It is his space and it's my responsibility to consider his audience and his blog's purpose before making a comment for comment's sake. So self censorship is a lot better than imposed moderation.

Maybe it's why I haven't really gotten into forums. You have to think through your written responses carefully because you are responding to someone else's ideas. That's why the original thread went rancid - someone's personal standards were on the slide and others' defensive hackles went up in response. In this case, the thread was heading towards self moderation as the antagonist had more and more posters bringing him to task - I think that is why TALO contributors are still discussing the process. I like the blog centred approach where I get to be the moderator and hold all of my musings in one spot. After all, what would happen if the most insightful passage I ever wrote was stuck in a forum? I do think it's true that when I read a blog for long enough, I gain a sense of who the blogger is, what are their passions, where they are coming from and therefore when I respond to their ideas / opinions / rants, I afford them an appropriate amount of respect. I know that in a few exchange of comments that I have been involved in, my approach has paid dividends with new collegiate links being forged and new insight achieved for me and for whom I was commenting on.

Those standards of self expression are useful face to face as well. Tonight after school was three and a half hours of teacher/parent interviews - 15 minute slots to explain the new Common Reports. It only takes a few minutes overtime here and a few there for parents to be waiting ten minutes or so behind their allotted start time. The majority of parents are understanding and appreciative but occasionally you know things are going to be tricky when you usher a parent in with the words, "Come in, sorry, we're running a bit behind time," and the response is, "No, you're late." I then know I'll have to use all of my best diplomatic skills to respond to the point scoring comments and veiled barbs and maintain my personal standards. Restraint can be an important quality. You can't always tell someone what you really think!

Leigh Blackall has bandied the free range philosophy to an educator's online presence before but revisited the concept again over the weekend. What prompted me to comment on his post was the fact that has been out of action all weekend, popping up for brief cameos every now and then but generally, being down when I was itching to post. In his reply comment, Leigh himself admitted that he would be a bit lost if blogger was down for more than a day but a free ranger would have a number of avenues to record his or her thoughts and ideas.

Leigh explains how he is envisaging this free range world would operate:

So you see, I think it quite a different and liberating thing to think about in terms of web publishing - comparing web publishing to graffiti and pavement chalk poetics. Once we're prepared to accept that time will wash even things digital, then we'll realise that for our presence to persist, for our markings to remain, we must remain active in remixing, reformatting, recreating, and republishing our works so that they reappear and reappear again - copied and redistributed by others across the Net.
I think its quite liberating to let go of the obvious - that digital means recorded, and think of it as a more fluid and transitory medium. The fact that a record or archive can be dug up if you really tried is just an added benefit, but its the here and now and what we say about before that catches me.

Because my own blog has developed to a certain stage, there is an element of
fear attached to the possibility of it all being lost in a server
meltdown and all that digital musings and growth being lost
permanently. I'll have to admit that for the first 100 posts or so of
my blog, I saved as a backup the complete webpage (complete with
comments; just as valuable) on my home PC - just in case! I've gotten
complacent since then and hope that James can weave his magic with and we can all breathe a huge sigh of relief. Ewan McIntosh thought that had happened to him a while back when his Typepad account went under and he was hoping to recover as much as possible via the different distributed versions that might have still been hiding in Bloglines accounts, SuprGlu pages and re-purposed posts on other blogs. Luckily, he got it all back but Typepad is a paid service and I reckon that if you part with your hard earned for online presence, then you are also paying for peace of mind. However, free ranging wouldn't want to be duplicating stuff just in case. That would turn more new users off than attract them to the global conversation. So the easier the tools are to use and to connect together, then free ranging is the way to go. I suppose does has a certain attraction but it's not the way to model this approach. Our students don't have money to splash out on domain names and server space, and our teachers will see it as too much trouble. So like so many edubloggers out there, I need to continue linking the different bits of my online identity together - free ranging is the way to go.

Blogged with Flock

I love this idea of public photo sharing. It's great even if I don't do much of it. Checking out D'Arcy Norman's flickr faves or looking through Brian Lamb's trip to Croatia is amazing. I even subscribed to Doug Noon's flickr account rss feed and I get his 9 latest images on my Pageflakes page. So reading an article on digital photography by Terry Freedman got me thinking the other day about getting my class out in the yard to take digital pics of maths in real life, in their local environment. I grabbed five of our basic Kodak C300 cameras and got the class into teams of five to go and get ten mathematical pics in a 20 minute timeframe. Well, most groups were back sooner than that and we dumped the pics onto my laptop desktop and had them up on the IWB in ACTIVstudio annotating and discussing the maths involved in the first few pics. The first one was of a hopscotch layout and the kids identified area, perimeter, symmetry, intersecting lines, shape and number patterns. It was a great lesson.

Looking back through the pics, it struck me that for the short time frame the kids had, the brief scope of the task etc. that some of the pics showed some real photographic flair. So, for your enjoyment, here's a RockYou show of 10 of the best out of the nearly 50 snapped from 9.20 - 9.35 am on Wednesday morning.

[rockyou 29923108]

It's great to be reading some Artichoke again, challenging my meager brainwaves and prompting me to get tapping on the keyboard here in earnest. I loved this line from Foreshadowing an Attack on The Blu(e) Fairy:

A trivial concern perhaps, given some of my conversations with the other Blue Fairy, but I find it interesting nonetheless to think about what we accommodate in our “day to day” work in the fairyscapes of education, and how much of what we do each day betrays what we believe.

The bolded bits are Arti's own but the bit that rings true for me, especially when I start slipping into negative mode (see last post). What this phrase does for me is bring up the thought that's been lurking (perfectly acceptable online behaviour) in the recesses of my mind that I'm actually a big hypocrite in so many aspects of my beliefs that run contrary to my actual actions. Here's a few examples:

  • I love the concept of open source software and try to use and promote the existence of programs like Open Office and Cmaps and Firefox but when I want to sync my Windows Mobile 2003 based Pocket PC to read blogs offline, I need my Internet Explorer to link up my Mobile Favourites.
  • I talk up the importance of blogs and the global conversation but have yet to jump the hurdles to do blogging fully with the kids I teach.
  • I talk about the fact that if schools are to use Interactive Whiteboards as an effective technology we need to move on from using it as a teacher controlled tool - I know my own classroom practice doesn't reflect the innovation needed to be true to this.
  • I explore the ideas behind e-portfolios but don't have one myself!
  • I complained about Edublogger Awards being elitist but secretly would have loved to have been nominated in some form.
  • I like to talk up innovation but am slack in getting my work documented along the way.
  • I bristle at people who insinuate that blogging requires a commitment to finding time they don't have but never actually admit how much time I spend crafting my ideas and posts using methods and grabs of time that others might not bother with.
  • I work hard to ensure that our MYLU presentation is equitably negotiated but impose my preferences on the others (hosted on a wiki, my presentation stamp on the flipchart, my choice of theory framework to hang our ideas on).
  • I really am in awe of how my voice has been heard in this global conversation, how many people link to me, leave me comments, have me on their blogroll but still feel envious when others are the ones making impressions on topics dear to my heart or have way more Bloglines subscribers on their feed.
  • In the same vein, I blog for my own reasons and not for a perceived audience but still get really peeved when Bloglines feeds from incsub and drop off the map and I don't see my posts and comments popping up.

So I've opened up some of my own hypocrisy for my loyal readers to peruse and I challenge you as well. I'm a hypocrite - how about you?

Photo credit - Target Sign by seekaltroutes Flickr Creative Commons images.

Will Richardson posted recently about getting a digg-style site for edbloggers that gathered together posts from the edublogosphere and ranked them on popularity amongst readers. It seems to be popular with a lot of well known and well respected edubloggers (or should that be edubloggers) but I am not sure that I like the idea or will be making it part of my regular reading. Why not? My hat is off to people like Will who really make things happen and his influence is well earned. But a couple of key phrases that I've become familiar in my brief stint in the blogosphere seem to be at odds with this concept - the long tail and the echo chamber. I said as much in my comment on his blog:

If you take the long tail approach to the blogosphere, then much that is of immense value to a smaller pockets of educators will get ignored in the “most widely read gets pushed up higher in the rankings” type of reading that a Digg style site would promote. This could be a very echo chambery place to use another cliche, and one of the beauties of blogging is finding the nuggets of thought that can only be discovered through “connective writing.”

Actually, I was only following on from what Sean Fitzgerald originally stated in his comment at the same post (two insecure Aussies, maybe?) but his words really rang true for me.

Sorry to be the naysayer here, but I think the CrispyNews idea and the wiki are just going to end up in unnecessary duplication of resources.

Wikipedia works because it covers everything. The minute you try to narrow down a field you get problems - someone sets up a resource about Education 2.0, someone sets one up about Educational Technology, someone sets one up about Elearning, someone sets one up about Edublogging and before long you have mutliple projects with each garnering a bit of support for a while then sputtering out.

This goes against what I thought Web 2.0 is about - decentralisation of resources, rather than centralised repositories.

I think you were heading in a better direction when you were talking about creating a common tag - but even this approach suffers from the definition problem - what’s edublogreading-rated and what’s not?.

I think we are better off finding ways to aggregate existing resources, rather than build more resources (which only point to other resources anyway). And it should be up to us a individuals to decide how we aggregate existing resources, not use a tag someone has nominated.

Also, can this site prevent against self promotion (although no-one I've ever read gets paid per reader) and an entrenchment of a edublogging elite whose words and wisdom are held to be of greater value than others? I'd rather that blogging be a great leveler and a way of different stories being heard. Maybe I've just got hangups from not being in with the popular kids when I went to school! I'm beginning to really understand where Mark Ahlness was coming from when he declared his revamped blog reading list. Like Sean said, let the individuals decide how to aggregate their own choice of resources. Maybe EdBloggerNews will be a great success and get a lot more educators blogging and reading. That's a good thing. But it doesn't have to make it my thing.

Yes, finally the report writing is over. Thanks to the new Common Report mandate issued by our former Federal Minister for Education, Brendan Nelson, we have compiled the most comprehensive reports for our students ever. Now that's not a bad thing but it strikes me that the so called Common Report isn't so common after all. The original concept involved the use of A-E gradings with the C being the place to be, working at year level. However, with the loggerheads disagreement between our teacher union and our department (disclosure, I am an AEU member) a lot of schools have looked for alternative ways of presenting this information. So, while some schools have towed the line, others have stood their ground while the dust settles. Our reports here use three columns for reporting - working towards, working at and working beyond year level. My son's school has five columns ranging from requires assistance up to excellent and the depth and amount of personalised comment is wide ranging as well. Another school I've heard about over the grapevine was using a software program that was designed to merge all the different elements together. It was supposed to save time but it has proved so quirky that teachers have been advised only to work on their reports in school time. So, again, to my point, there isn't much common about these reports this time around.

But I'm glad I'm finished.

Got the lowdown on the DECS eTeacher program from our district eTeacher, Kay Clifford from Blackforest PS at our bi-termly district ICT meeting. Basically, there is one eTeacher in every district in South Australia, released for a day a week for two years. Their mission – the planning of “e-events” using the web based platforms of Centra and Moodle. Interestingly both are closed environments and only one is open source. Kay is part of a group of 4 eTeachers working on unit/event called "What a Load of Rubbish.” After planning the e-event, in the next term, the eTeachers work within their districts. Initially, the eTeachers work in groups to produce mini-events that are trialled within the eTeachers' own schools. Kay shared with us the planning (paper) proforma of the unit of work, which I recognised as a template from my involvement in a Quality Teacher Program in 2001 called “RBL and the Internet.” Assessment of the e-events was a hurdle the participants had to negotiate, but in the end, it was decided that would be the classroom teacher's responsibility. Kay also talked about the use of Google Earth as a way for the students to examine each others' local environment as part of the unit of work. She then showed us the unit of work on the Moodle site with activities, polls, quizzes etc. Kay then showed us how Centra works from the organiser's end but it's only limited to 20 participants at one time so it will be interesting to see how the e-events can be implemented. I did apply for this position but Kay was the winning applicant. After seeing what's involved, I think that the Grant is the better deal for me as I think that allows me to explore the big picture about the future of technology within our education system with greater freedom. Using prescribed tools to produce units of work isn't what I would have wanted to do in that role anyway, but it will be interesting to see how the e-events unfold.

I love the American term, giving a “shout out” so I just have to give a shout out to Al Upton and the MiniLegends who I saw in action today down at Glenelg Primary School. Al is one of the best teachers here locally pushing the edtech envelope and seeing his kids getting into their blogging today was excellent and gets me to resolve to get it up and running with my class for the second half of the year. Thanks for letting me have a “Captain Cook” today.

A while back I applied for a DECS ICT Research Grant with a focus on developing Teacher E-portfolios In A Web 2.0 World, due to my interest in this concept combined with my blogging adventures. I've posted before about e-portfolios and their very idea has attracted opposing views about their worth, purpose and future. I've also fed back ideas to Aaron in Mexico City as he rolled up his sleeves with his students. Some of his ideas are very close to what I was proposing in this research grant. Now the grants are only A$4000 and it is called action research which in my book goes a little along the lines of a great Will Richardson quote from one of the early Edtech Talk shows with Stephen Downes where he talked about being in the business of "throwing something against the wall and seeing if it sticks." So it's not big higher ed., Ph.D, ethics committee based research but a chance to fund (mainly through using the money for release time to read, explore and record) regular teachers who want to check out an area of technology focus. Why e-portfolios? Well, I've been to the conference, I've met with the focus group, has great tie-ins with my work on this blog, it's contentious (ask Leigh and Alex) and is just begging for a Web 2.0 makeover. It also has the potential to tie in with teacher lifelong learning and documentation of that learning and it was identified as being a topic that could be a priority for the funding. So I rolled the dice and submitted.... and got notification today that it is a goer. Here's a chunk of the submission that swayed the powers-that-be to give the money (converted to time) to go and explore my idea.

Can Web 2.0 technologies be used to build practical teacher e-portfolios that reflect professional standards and lifelong learning?

My proposed research.

I have spent the past year exploring the impact of Web 2.0 technologies (blogs, wikis, rss, podcasts, digital stories) on my own learning and classroom practice. During this time, I have read varying points of view about the role and format of e-portfolios as a tool for teachers and students. With this in mind, I attended last year’s E-Portfolio Professional Learning Conference where Dr.Helen Barrett was the keynote speaker. At the conference I had the opportunity to view a number of e-portfolios developed by South Australian educators. Whilst all were of a high quality, my own experiences in learning with Web 2.0 tools, including the development of my own professional reflective blog, have made me wonder if a e-portfolio could be made more dynamic, more able to demonstrate learning in progress, more flexible if a “small pieces, loosely joined”¹ approach was utilised. I have also become aware of different educators’ viewpoints via blog posts both supporting² and criticising³ the e-portfolio concept. Like myself, there are other educators caught with their opinions somewhere in the middle.⁴ I have reflected about this in online form on my blog.⁵ Three factors I see standing in the way of wide spread adoption of e-portfolios by educators are time, cost and ICT technical skills. If these factors can be addressed using free, user friendly web applications, I believe that the potential of this format has a chance to be realised. This research would explore those possibilities using me and a couple of volunteer colleagues to develop several models of e-portfolio.

¹ “A Unified Theory of the Web - by David Weinberger”

² Post by D’Arcy Norman.

3 Post by Leigh Blackall. Post by Aaron Nelson.

Post by Graham Wegner.

Should be fun (oh, and informative, educational etc.)!

The four MYLU classes have been coming to grips with the PBL wiki where we have been storing all of the learning "artifacts" of our unit on "What Does It Mean To Be Australian?" As they have gone about their task, I have been discovering quite a bit about what wikis can do and just as importantly, what they can't do. Bear in mind that this is about 120 users working and making page edits over a 3 day period each week. So it's not your usual wiki project - it's a bit of an experiment - but please note the following.

  • All images uploaded must have unbroken file names - no extra period or spaces, kids normally name files like Aussie Inventions.jpg and forget to use an underscore to link the words.
  • Each image uploaded must have a unique name - a child from Learning Area 21 who uploads an image named Aussie.jpg on Wednesday comes back a week later to find their image looks different because the kid from Learning Area 22 uploaded another image and chose that same exact file name on Friday.
  • Two people can't work on the same page at the same time on two different computers. It doesn't work! I originally thought it would.
  • Images linked to at home display as desired but can be blocked by the filter at school resulting in those ugly "This image cannot be displayed " boxes.
  • Kids are shocking with passwords and requesting an e-mail remainder doesn't always work.

Apart from those few things, we (students, teachers, me!) have learnt a lot about how wikis work and whether they are a good vehicle to unpack Australian Identity on. We certainly boost wikispaces traffic on certain days peaking at No.2 for page edits (currently  number four today - see graphic) last Thursday. A few weeks to go and it will be interesting to see if it all becomes on unreadable, unnavigable mess or a relevant document on our learning open to the world.