Tag Archives: knowledge

Wrapping Up Flat Classroom Certification

I remember the first experience I had with Vicki Davis and Julie Lyndsay. It was the first NetGenEd Project, a couple of years ago. I have even written about it a few times. It all started when a couple of administrators had asked me if I would be interested in participating in a Flat Classroom Project. To be honest, I am not sure that they thought my application would be accepted. I am glad to say that it was the beginning of a valuable professional relationship with two of the busiest women I know.

Still, in the school where I work, I was the teacher that would most likely have the desire to do something as progressive and outside-the-box in my classroom. Also, with a background in edtech, I also have the strength of will to persevere through the inevitable obstacles that would lay along the path of participating in a globally collaborative project that leveraged so many Web 2.0 tools. They were right, I am glad to say, and I was accepted. Better still, it began a valuable professional relationship with two of the busiest women I know.

Since then I have done another project, that time the original Flat Classroom variety, and now intend on it being an annual part of my practice. Yet, one one of Vicki’s statements has stuck with me from the very first teacher orientation meeting, “The thing about working on the bleeding edge is sometimes you bleed.” That sentiment was all that I needed to get hooked, because that is where I wanted to be, asking my students to take big risks, solve complex and messy problems, and sort out more of the meaning and value after some immersive wayfinding that provided no tidy, easily found answers. I want them to do some scholarly pioneering. Thus, being a member of the first Flat Classroom Certification course has mirrored that desire, as well as being a valuable peek behind the curtain of how the wild ride is built from the ground up.

Participating in a globally collaborative project that has been designed by someone else, with a set of criteria, expectations, and assessment strategies, is an entirely different experience than building one. This course peeled back the finish of all the Flat Classroom flavors and showed the how they were built and why. Then we participants were asked to begin building our own.

The process of designing a globally collaborative project is no small task. Defining a problem or topic that is accessible around the world requires a kind of depth and breadth of vision and awareness that not as altogether common. It crosses disciplinary, as well as geographic, boundaries. Teachers designing and operating in this new unbound educational space need to be both generalists and specialists. More than anything though, they need to be expert learners, modeling an openness, curiosity, and cultural sensitivity, not to mention a facility with the technology tools that have flattened our world.

As onerous as designing a project modeled on the Flat Classroom approach can seem, the course provides a scaffold for meeting the challenge. More importantly, the course was a constant reminder to me that building, and even managing projects of this nature, is a recursive, iterative process. It is truly rooted in a design ethos. Prototyping ideas, testing them, assessing, revising, collaborating, expanding the network of connections, revising more are all aspects of “flattening” and expanding a classroom through designing a project.

Picking up on the notion of collaboration, this course allowed the participants to instantly become part of a Personal Learning Environment and Network. In so doing, all of the teachers involved are actively modeling precisely the kind of learning and practices that global collaborative projects like the Flat Classroom Project demand. Just being a participant offered a platform for collaboration, and collaboration by its nature is a recursive and iterative process, sharing and building on the sum of the course’s parts.

Coinciding with the drafting of their forthcoming book, Vicki and Julie continued their vivid efforts to make their groundbreaking work even more transparent then they are already wont to do. They share because their vision is broad and deep, and their evangelism holds a sincere recognition that they cannot be agents of change alone. Connecting classrooms around the globe and promoting collaborative efforts of inter-cultural synthesis requires an ever-growing network of like-minded educators. This course provides the seedbed for that network to take root and grow. While this course is only one of many efforts, the community of educators that has begun developing has fostered relationships that will remain long after completing the course. I encourage anyone that has the opportunity to take it to do so.

Freshmen Technology Seminar Designed as an Introductory Foundation

This year, my school has opted to conduct what is being calling the Freshmen Technology Seminar, which is comprised of six hour and a half periods that are meant to introduce incoming student to a host of digital tools and practices. It is ambitious and plans involved way more material than can possibly addressed in that allotted time. Unfortunately, I was not really involved in the planning of the program or its forthcoming execution. I must admit that left me a little salty, since I definitely could have offered a lot to the initiative, but like most issues in schools, it came down to things like money and teaching hours. Hopefully, I will be engaged on the periphery, which is looking likely.

Looking over the material, my first concern was that it was going to be primarily spent getting all of the students set up with all of the proper accounts with various tools, most notably Google. All students are getting a Google account with our own domain, which is a boon. There is a fair portion of time that is devoted to that. However, the group of educators that participated were certainly more ambitious than that, which is a testament to them and the kind of staff at our school. Of course, they have grown ultimately too ambitious and are likely to be spending a lot of time working out the kinks as they reflect on how it goes in retrospect. It only just began this week. So I will be monitoring it closely. Plus, despite my somewhat wary tone, I actually think that it is a pretty laudable effort regardless.

My main contention is that the kind of material that has been packaged in this seminar cannot be effectively distributed in the time frame or isolated from practical applications. The technology tools are in some ways the sole content of the course, which always seems flawed to me. Moreover, there is no mechanism, as of yet, to systematically embed any follow-up with any core classes. This leaves me wondering about the overall effectiveness and how it can even be measured. In talking with a few colleagues involved, it does look like there will at least be a definite chance for me to build on some of the introductions quite quickly. In fact, I have been waiting to do a few related initiatives in my classes until this got rolling. Thus, I saved some precious class time and avoided potential student confusion by having the students get multiple redundant accounts.

It is safe to say that the Google accounts will be used readily and Docs will once again become a core tool used in my class. Two years ago I had all of students submitting their work via Google Docs but had to subsequently shelf the practice due to all kinds of network related issues last year and knowing that this seminar was going to happen this year. Moreover, the associated Blogspot accounts will get almost immediate use in my class as I migrate one assignment in particular to a regular blog post. Additionally, the research and copyright sections of the seminar will dovetail nicely with the end of the semester, and all freshmen classes will engage in research projects first thing in the new semester.

The one thing I have always been able to say about the school where I work is that it is a rare instance where initiatives like this completely fail. Even when things are put together on the hoof, our staff is resourceful, committed, and talented enough to find ways to make things work.

Unit one is entitled “Your Digital Footprint,” which is primarily associated with online behavior and at least in part concerned with digital citizenship. The lesson is pretty spare. So, we’ll se how it goes. I am definitely planning some reverse mentoring as I fold the material into my classes and will share some of my findings.

Trends of xWeb: Catching Up in PLENK2010

I have been doing a little bit of catch up in PLENK2010. Considering some of the future trends and directions that the web might take reminds me of just how much we tend to overestimate the near term and underestimate the long term.

After recently giving my students the Nicholas Carr article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” to my high school freshmen English classes and asking them to write about it, I have been thinking about how the Internet has been developing. It was interesting to get a window into the thinking of fourteen year-olds on the topic the impact of the Internet. A few had some keen perceptions, like wondering why Carr didn’t consult anyone there age that had grown up with the Internet their whole lives. It was a fair point, after all it is precisely kids of their generation that are likely to be responsible for the next seismic shift in Internet development.

In the meantime, I am not sure how many major jumps we are likely to experience with the eXtended web, xWeb, or whatever it is likely to be called, in the near term. There does seem to be a clear momentum towards the increased application and extensibility of data. So perhaps it will be akin to the Web 2.0 blogging evolution, which simplified the ability for people without extensive coding ability to use tools that allowed them to publish with relative ease. Perhaps, people will be able to use and manipulate data with greater ease, without the need to have actuarial mathematic understanding. The rise in certain aspects of mashup culture would suggest this to me.

Additionally, it seems to me that those most prepared to benefit from all of this are large corporate entities. As more and more data is collected that facilitates some of these evolutions of the web, completely redefining our notion of privacy, it seems to me that it cedes a lot of power to entities like Google, Facebook, and the next iteration of their like. This leads me to believe that the near term is likely to be more of a slower creeping, rather than a significant leap. Of course, it only takes one remarkable breakthrough that emerges as if out of nowhere, that could radically disrupt this notion.

So how will this impact education and educational practice? For one, I think it increasingly complicates things on a fundamental level. The breadth and depth of understanding, as well as the number of skills involved in learning, is swelling at an extraordinary rate. I liken it to the difference between what a medical student  needed to know to become a doctor twenty years ago versus the volume of information required today. Perhaps, a better contrast would be the difference between a medical doctor and a veterinarian.

Plus, existing educational disciplines do not provide easy accommodation, at least at the secondary level. A lot of the new knowledge and skills that will quickly become necessary for students don’t easily fit into existing departments. My concern would be that some technology or computer class becomes a kind of junk drawer of classes, in which an institution tries to jam everything. That scenario worries me a little.