Saturday, July 25, 2009

Reflection: 2 weeks left in Wilkes EDIM 502 (Web 2.0)

I am the sort of person who tends to react first and then think about things later -- especially when it comes to trying frustrating Web 2.0 applications for which I see no immediate personal need or use. Last week's assignment was to try image editing with a free online application called Picnik. I'm not a photography person. In fact I've been on my first vacation away from home in 20 years in eastern Canada's most beautiful areas -- Cape Breton and the Gaspe -- and neither my point-&-shoot nor my video cam have been used.

Last week's Wilkes assignment was to edit 10 images in preparation for creating an online presentation. I was rushed and the free version of Picnik strips out a lot of the more interesting functions such as cloning and layering, so I tried a few effects, wrote the week's reflection paper, and put the rest off. However, this week, feeling that I missed an opportunity to learn more about processes and applications some of my kids would probably enjoy using, I decided to start over. I switched topics so I could select new photos that would lend themselves better to editing.

Here then are the text of this weeks' reflection paper and my online presentation. [Each of the photos has been edited using Picnik. On the last slide are the links to the original images so you can do before and after comparisons and judge whether you think the hours I put into this were well spent. Most of the images are licensed under Flickr's Creative Commons Share and Share Alike License, so in that spirit I've opened my presentation to downloading for non-commercial purposes. The only requirement is that if you use it in your classroom you wave a Canadian flag (lol!)]:

This week I resolved to approach the ‘problem’ of using this software in the same way one of my best student mentors would. I am thinking particularly of a fellow named Tom. Since I’ve introduced the use of Web 2.0 tools at our school, he has created some of the most stunning work I’ve ever seen. Tom’s approach to trying new software is first playful and then thoughtful. He begins by just exploring. Because he’s just playing, during this part of the process he’s completely open-minded and in short order discovers what is new and interesting in the program. As he plays, a vision of what’s possible for the project that I will have invited him to work on begins to coalesce. At some point he’ll transition from apparently directionless fooling around and experimentation to planning and producing his final product.

I have learned from watching Tom and other students work that I have to provide time for this unstructured discovery. It’s necessary if they are going to step outside their comfort zone when they take on the task of doing an assignment or project. Playing without the pressure of deadlines and grades allows students to just goof around and get to know the software and each other (if they’re going to work as a team). If I surround them with the normal structures of instructions and expectations too soon, they tend to stick with what they already know and never get to that new place of creativity and self-learning that can turn project creation into a journey of personal growth.

When I knew that the fossil topic could not be reasonably handled with 10 images, I recalled an old ‘script’ I had previously partially developed for a piece on ethical uses of online resources but had never finished. For this topic I knew that less would lead to more. The message had to be presented in a way that was stark and memorable to my students. I could have listed all the do’s and don’ts, but I’ve tried this before and it doesn’t stick with my kids. They think that because they see everyone else treating the internet like a free store, they can download and use anything they like.

Unfortunately, my students often have to learn the hard way that this is not acceptable. One of these instances occurred when several of them developed slides for PowerPoint for Peace. When I asked those who’d used internet images to show me their sources and bibliographies, they had to admit they hadn’t followed the guidelines. In fact they felt that people who post work on the net are asking to have it stolen if they don’t make it available to everyone to use. Needless to say these wonderful pieces of work were not submitted to the website because they did not meet the project requirements, and there were several very disappointed students who felt I was being completely unreasonable.

Those 3 experiences -- feeling I’d ducked out on last week’s assignment, reflecting on Tom’s creative process as he works, and having to disappoint the kids who wanted to see their work online -- were the impetus for this piece.

This week’s work has given me a greater appreciation for the creativity involved in building on the work of others -- i.e. using it to create something new that people will respond to in a positive way. It’s also beginning to please me to think that other people may want to use it not only as is but also as a starting place for building something new of their own. I know in September my students will look at me with different eyes when they learn that I was the one who created this presentation. Doing this kind of work gives me a footing in their tech-savvy world and an opportunity to share creative moments with them. That makes offering them these kinds of activities very special to me.

I am in the fortunate position of working in an alternative, individualized education program so ways can usually be found to give our students course credits for completing Web 2.0 projects. Now that I am gaining a feeling for project-based work as well, I can build more of these experiences into my courses. Having tried them myself, I’ll be able to talk ‘artist to artist’ when I set and enforce the standards and limits within which the students must work. There is no better way to gain this kind of credibility in their eyes than to be a fellow struggler and to be able to speak from my own experiences about the power of discovering that inside the constraints lie the challenges that make success even sweeter. That’s what Tom can knows and what I am learning.

(Note: the presentation is best viewed full screen.)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Dingwall, Nova Scotia & Educational Vodcasting

I am sitting at the door of a cabin in the Markland Coastal Resort looking out over Aspy Bay which is near the northern tip of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia.

Dingwall 2


We've put in here so I can get my course work up to date before Friday. Below the cliff outside my door, the surf pounds in on the beach. Here the beach is sandy, but go a little north or south and it turns rocky. If I look to the right (south) I see the sandy spit and the cliffs over by Neil Harbour.

If I look right (north) I'll see the point of land we're going to for more whale watching in a couple of hours.

Cape Breton,Nova Scotia,Markland Coastal Resort,Dingwall

2 days ago we spotted our first ever whale(?s) from a gravel road atop a cliff on the way into a town called Meat Cove. I've lived on the west coast for over 20 years and had never seen a whale before. It was so exciting to catch sight of a water spout as the whale came up for air and then watch the arch of its back and tail as it dove under the surface. The weather is clouding over now and there may be thunder and lightning and torrents of rain later in the afternoon, but that should wait until after we get back into the harbour at Bay St. Lawrence. The tour operators have even invited Thelma, the wonder dog, along on their boat. She always travels with her own life jacket, just in case.

This trip is turning into a journey of contradictions. Some days we hunt for fossils (the oldest we'll see are over 500, 000, 000 years); on others we search for whales; and in about a week we'll be looking for another an idyllic spot with wifi service so I can get the next assignments done. What's amazing to me is that I'm perched on a bluff in the middle of 'Nowhere', Canada doing my homework which will be submitted to my university in Pennsylvania and marked by an instructor who lives in California. In Dingwall the water supply is doubtful (Thelma would not drink, and the locals say that gypsum from an old mine is leaching into the groundwater) and there's no fresh lettuce to be found in the town, but they have high speed wifi internet and cell phone service!

I wasn't asked to attend Google Academy.Oh well, it's their loss! I've registered instead for a 3 day workshop on making pod/vodcasts.

I wandered across the website of these 2 Woodland Park, Colorado, teachers some time ago and then managed to see them when I was at the CUE conference in San Jose last fall. If I were going back to classroom teaching, this is the paradigm I'd move towards. It uses technology to uniquely change what is going on in math and science classes. These guys deliver the general instructional part of their lessons via vodcast and then use class time for Q & A, guided practice, and tests. They also work on a mastery model, so students cannot move from one unit to the next until they have achieved a grade that indicates they truly understand the material.

What's unique here is that instead of telling the students what they need to know in school and then sending them home to struggle with the questions on their own, Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams, let the kids watch and take notes on the instructional material on their own and then work through the assignments in class. Students do what they can most easily handle on their own (i.e. watch a lesson and take notes) on their own. Class time is reserved for for what gives kids the most trouble -- working with the skills and concepts. This is such a simple idea it's almost scary. How powerful would the learning be in all our high school classes if we orchestrated the learning process by giving help and guidance to individuals and small groups during class time instead just dispensing information like so many talking heads?

The fact that kids are also held to a higher level of accountability -- i.e. they do not receive credit for incomplete understanding and inconsistently applied skills -- adds to the effectiveness of this model. Going through the motions of learning -- getting something on paper that shows an assignment has been tried, doing questions but never correcting them, listening but never formulating or verbalizing answers in class -- this just isn't good enough under a mastery model. The kids now have the chance to get the help they need, but they're also required to produce high quality work. It's a win-win.

Finally there are teachers who've figured out how to make the time to really give students the instruction they need and then how to hold those students accountable for their learning. And I'm going to hear all their secrets next month from Aug. 4-6. The workshop is called 21st Century Learning that Works. I'm so glad the Google Academy people turned me down!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

My new Wilkes course is called Web 2.0. Ironically I chose to do it while travelling home from NECC through rural Canada where there can be very little or no internet service. July 3rd at midnight was the deadline for applications to Google Academy and applicants were required to create a one minute video. I chose the topic ‘Motivation’ and had visions of a combination of slides and student voices interwoven in some magical way, but as time became shorter and shorter, I decided to use some footage of a young woman named Christine that had been taken as she was working on her last project in Earth Science 11.

Christine came to our school because her family had decided she needed to leave Meritt and live with her grandparents here in Surrey. She had only a few courses left to graduate and finally ended up with me for her last one. She had failed Biology 12 twice and was understandably worried about being able to finish on time. As I watched her try over and over to make sense of the text material in the ESC 11 course we’d chosen because it was easier than Biology, I began to understand just how serious her anxiety was. She almost could not look at the student booklet without having a panic attack. As the completion deadline cam nearer and nearer, she became more and more shut down and the mountain between her and graduation became bigger and more impossible to climb. Fortunately I have the freedom to come up with alternative assignments and there is a happy ending to Christine’s story. She spoke so well in the interview that I decided to trim her 11+ minutes down to the 1 required by the Google Academy people and use that for my application.

The trimming took 2 days. Adding titles and music to the video took half a day. Posting to YouTube had me tearing my hair out. I figured thousands of people do this every week so I only left about 2 hours for the task. (tick…tick…tick…). I started with an flv file (BIG MISTAKE) and watched the little upload symbol rotate for 1 of the two precious hours. After I read the directions, I tried again with an MP4 file. This time the load line zipped across the page. “Success!” I thought -- but no -- 5 mm short of the end, it stopped and flipped me the infamous ‘unknown error’ message. The video would not upload. I tried again and again. I changed to MP2. I changed the aspect ratio. I changed from regular to widescreen. Nothing worked.

With 15 minutes left I went online and found that this is a ‘well-known’ problem that can be avoided by using the ‘batch load’ feature even if you have only 1 measly 1 minute clip to put up. There is a ‘video for dummies’ posted in YouTube. Batch loading required that I download Gears. This resulted in a near fatal error -- the machine had to be shut down completely or risk final demise if I didn’t do it fast enough. I had to chose between losing all the great thoughts I had typed into the application form (which could not be saved and could not be posted without the YouTube URL) and losing my computer. I shut the it down.

As I waited for the reboot, the penny dropped. One post I read in the forum was so thoroughly written up that the person had included her browser details. She was using Firefox --- browser --- Firefox -- browser -- Firefox -- Firefox! I knew what the problem was.

Several months ago when I was trying to write assignments in Blogger using FF, my professor was not able to read them. In June, when I tried to post a Google Calendar in a Google Doc using FF, my husband was not able to see it. In both cases the fix was to move to Internet Explorer. I knew those Google Apps seemed happiest when composed or created in IE, so I decided to switch browers and give it one more try.

By now the midnight deadline had passed; however, I am staying with a friend who lives almost as far east as you can get in this country. We look out her window at the Bay of Fundy. I am in the Atlantic time zone, but my home is on the Pacific coast. I watched the video load in less than 3 minutes (not such a dummy after all, eh?), redid the application, and submitted it with a note inside saying that I was playing by Pacific (home turf) rules and hoped they would still accept my application.

I have not heard anything back, but I did learn how to post to YouTube – just use Internet Explorer and the process works fine.

Here then is my first YouTube video, entitled Christine Speaks. She’s talking about the difference having an alternate assignment -- one using an easy, easy online web page building tool called Squidoo – made in her life.