Sunday, November 30, 2008

Future Classroom: What are the Barriers?

Meet Elizabeth. The 17 year old junior wakes early so she can get a start on today’s tasks. After she logs on, she first looks to see if there is any feedback on her latest paper. Miguel likes her comparison of the bird flu to the flu pandemic of last century. Elise has a source that may help with her section on medical evidence. Elizabeth then looks to see if there are any new news items on her topic. Three since yesterday. Two look promising. Before she signed off she made a quick check to see if either of her partners found anything. Veronica? no. Hmm, Jonathan got one new source yesterday at 6.

After breakfast, she gets to school and goes to chemistry. The lab report is almost done, but she needs to verify a few facts. She logs on to the FHS Chem. custom search engine and quickly finds the information needed. Also, she sees another source that might help a friend of hers. She saves it to the search engine and notifies her friend. Before she leaves, she looks at the rubric for the lab and notices there is not a criteria for graphics. She knows that quality images can seal the deal…so she adds the category, knowing full well that her friends will undoubtedly fill in the criteria later today.

In US history she finishes recording the last narrative for her time line of the Mexican American War. She’s really proud of this, especially the two video clips, and talking to that woman from the Smithsonian didn’t hurt either.

Art class: She was curios as to what Amanda and Steve meant last night about the Dali painting. She had recorded her views last night and heard theirs, but was not sure what they meant. She couldn’t wait to get to class to talk to them.

English: Elizabeth already saw what Mr. Sloan said about her literary analysis on Sunday, and knew what revisions she had to make. At times, though reading the story to herself was difficult. Before she left class, she got the story from Mr. Sloan…she would listen to it on the bus home. Then she would get another article on the author. She could generate a list of keywords instantly to help her complete her research. She could hardly wait until tomorrow to talk to the Alabama kids about “background” in To Kill a Mockingbird, and she could let them know about the significance of Esperanza moving from Keeler to Paulina in House on Mango Street.

Algebra 2 found her completing exercises on line. She thought the activities were ok, (she liked getting feedback and answers right away) but Mom was really happy that her textbook fee was almost zero this year. Whatever she couldn’t finish in class, she could complete at home. And she was so happy not to have to lug that backpack all around; her laptop was no more cumbersome than a notebook.

After school found Elizabeth at her NHS meeting. They were working with three other schools in the county to create a film that would raise awareness of the need for a homeless shelter in town. Since she missed the last meeting, and didn’t know how to edit transitions, she clicked on the tutorial that showed her how to do it step by step. Fortunately, she was able to play that one hard part until she got it. She checked with her staff before making the new version available to the kids at the other school. She would have to wait until tomorrow to see what they thought.

After dinner, Elizabeth went to her room and made a few more checks around the world, made a few updates, touched bases with some friends. And then she came across that great presentation she made last week. Proudly, she clicked, and thought, “Maybe someone else can use this.”

Tech-savvy people will realize that EVERYTHING Elizabeth did can be done right now. Did you recognize all of the applications? In one day, Elizabeth blogged, used social bookmarking, used RSS, utilized custom-created search engines, contributed to a wiki, pocasted, contacted an authoritative source, contributed to a voice thread, downloaded an audio story to her mp3 player, Skyped with kids in another part of the country, used an open-source textbook, viewed a screen cast, and collaborated with other kids to create a movie…not for a grade, but to bring about change.

So why aren’t we doing this now?

Clearly, not everyone is privy to all of these tools. Undoubtedly, by the time this is published, several of these tools may be obsolete, and replaced by something better. So how do we get these tools into the hands of teachers, and most importantly, into the hands of students?

We all know that all teachers lie somewhere on the “tech continuum.” All schools have the “bleeding edge” and “technophobic” faculty members. Also, while districts make opportunities available, compulsory technology is perceived by many as an invasion of professional discretion, whether intended or not. Clearly, “Thou shalt use technology” is not the answer.

There are some answers though, I believe. First, more districts (including my own) are adopting a cooperative learning model for teachers, often referred to as “PLC’S” (Professional Learning Communities) which foster sharing among professionals. Last month I explained to a French teacher how blogs can be used in a classroom. She adapted and applied the skill to work for her own learners. When her colleagues saw her students’ results, they wanted to do the same. Without the collaborative environment, no one else would have known what great things that French teacher was doing. When I read Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point I never realized how true his theories were until I became a Tech coordinator. In a school of 230 teachers, there is no way to get to all of them. You need to trust your “Connectors,” like my French teacher.

The other way to get teachers to embrace these tools is to build a “compelling why” for the teacher. I witnessed one of my teachers poring over dozens of student emails, opening and saving attachments, and frantically writing comments. When asked, he told me that he had his students writing a collaborative paper…via email. Student one made an addition, passed it on to the next student, all the while copying the instructor…

After I defined “wiki” for him, his relief was palpable. The teacher had the idea, had the concept…he just didn’t have the tool.

And we must remember that they are just tools. Teachers are more likely to embrace these tools if we focus on the objective first. You don’t build a house because you just bought a table saw. You get a table saw because you need it to build the house. It’s about the learning…not the tools.

Don't Reinvent the Wheel

Teachers work hard. Because of this commitment, I have noticed that that some teachers are reluctant to expand their use of technology because “they don’t have the time.” A great way to get these tech-hesitant people on board is to show them tools that will SAVE time by using existing tools instead of creating their own. Here’s four:

Slideshare: A teacher decides to create a Powerpoint to introduce mitosis. So she goes through her notes, types up her Powerpoint, finds images, makes great transitions and, voila her presentation is done. BUT she could have saved herself hours and, perhaps gotten even more information had she gone to Slideshare, opened an account and searched for existing Powerpoints in their huge collection of presentations. Suggestion: use the advanced search feature to look for only “downloadable” files; that way you can modify the presentation to suit your needs. You will need to weed through some “student-generated” presentations but you will find some good presentations in there. Feel free to post some of your best.

Screencast-o-matic: You know those lessons: the ones where you take kids through the steps of how to format a paper or harvest images off the web legally. Instead of repeating the steps over and over, create a screencast so kids can watch ant listen at their own pace. After registering, all you need is a microphone and you can create a professional screencast that can be linked to a web page and viewed…whenever.

Rubric Gallery in RCampus: Generating rubrics is a painstaking, yet necessary process for teachers today. Chances are, that rubric for the upcoming project has already been made. Rubrics in RCampus are organized by subject and grade level. Several great features include: space to keep all your rubrics in their data base, the ability to modify existing rubrics, HTML source codes to embed a rubric into a webpage, AND the ability to actually enter the grades for the rubric on line.

Classroom 2.0: Created by Steve Hargadon. Think of it as “Myspace” for teachers. Create your own main page so others can “follow” you…post your webpage, blog url, delicious tags, and twitter name. (I’m jorech!) Classroom 2.0 allows you to join existing groups of like-minded educators on a variety of topics, or you can even create your own. I am involved in Digital Storytelling, Photostory 3, Digiskills, Open Source and I have started the new “Research 2.0” group. Discussion forums, blogs, and a site wiki are also included in this great networking tool. Also, participate in free webinars conducted by colleagues. This is a tremendous resource that is building as we speak. Hey, add me as a colleague!

Ok so do thse directly result in student learning? Maybe not. But if these tools can increase productivity for teachers, and make their lives easier, then the transfer to students is inevitable. Email me if you know of any other similar tools!