Digital Learning Cohort & September Summary

I'm very excited about a new group at Orono: the Digital Learning Cohort! This cohort is comprised of 15 middle school teachers who are dedicating this year to exploring new ways of applying digital learning in their classrooms and sharing their experiences with their peers. As part of the process they will be blogging about their experiences using Blogger, so I  thought I'd dust off my own blogger blog to participate and model.

I'd like to start by recognizing the awesome work my colleagues are doing in the realm of instructional technology. During the 18 days I was on-campus during September (I was MIA for a week, attending a graduate seminar about instructional video production...more on that later) I had over 60 in-person meetings with teachers, regarding instructional technology. Here's a word cloud of the topics discussed:

I use a Google form to record notes about every meeting I have with a teacher, so that I can follow up when necessary and analyse needs for professional development and/or self-help content. I love that "Student" is the largest word in the word cloud - they are center to our profession after all!


Don't pity a shelter dog...feed one!

If you watch any TV, you've probably seen Pedigree's heart-string-tugging commercials supporting the adoption of shelter dogs. It's a beautiful montage of dogs that ends with the slogan "Don't pity a shelter dog, adopt one". Unless you have ice in your veins, the commercial most likely leaves you with the desire to help a shelter dog. While we're not all in a position to adopt one, Pedigree has made it easy to help feed one: for every person that likes their Facebook fanpage, they will donate one bowl of dog food to a shelter. Want to help more? For every blog that posts about their adoption program (today is the last day!!) and then tweets about it with the hastag #dogsrule, they will donate a 20-pound bag of food to a shelter!

If you are actually considering adopting a dog, you should definitely check out Pedigree's Adoption Website - it has a lot of great articles to help anyone make an informed decision about adopting a dog. They even give months-worth of dog food to those who adopt from a shelter.


Traits of a Techie: How You Too Could Become Awesome*

Techie /t'eki/

Term for a person who possesses greater than average interest in technology, especially the latest and greatest high-tech gadget; not to be confused with their spandex-wearing, oft pointy-eared cousins, the Trekkies.
  • Curious

    Techies are insatiably curious. Always seeking to answer “What if,” a techie relishes new experiences and is often the first to test the metaphorical waters.  Hand a techie the latest gadget and she will like have it figured out in minutes, no manual necessary (though the nerdy techies will read the manual front-to-back later, to see what they missed). This not because of some freaky techie intuition (okay, maybe a little), but because a techie is not afraid to try, try, try again. Forget learning curve, techies tumble straight up.

  • Learned

    Technology changes so fast that it is impossible to stay a techie without continuing one’s education. Whether by taking classes, reading blogs, attending conferences, or just conversing with other geeks (technological or otherwise), techies are always learning.  As a result, techies know a lot of stuff.

  • Sharing

    If only to demonstrate their superiority (arrogance is one of a techie’s less-than-awesome traits), techies love sharing what they’ve learned, Exhibit A: the internet. Techies also like sharing their stuff, see open source software and bitTorrent. Overshare? Yeah, techies are good at that too – no luddite could’ve invented Facebook or Twitter.

*Caution: Becoming a techie can lead to de(con)structed household appliances, the occasional emergency room visit, and low bank account balances. If you experience a SciFi movie marathon lasting longer than 12 hours, please see mother nature for alternative programming.


Changes in Education: Strengthen VoTech Programs

This post is part of my Critical Changes series, a collection of observations from an un-jaded newbie in education.

Change 2: Strengthen Vocational and Technical Programs

Call them what you will - votech, industrial arts, applied academics, shop class - we need programs where kids learn hands-on skills, use tools, build things, fix things. When the economy takes a hit, and subsequently school budgets, these valuable technical programs are often the first to go, in deference to traditional core classes. Or in a sad compromise, tech programs are morphed into supposed STEM programs where doing the science/engineering/math on a computer constitutes using technology. However, when the economy goes sour, what a person really needs is a marketable skill, not a comprehensive knowledge of Shakespeare.

This is not to say we should cut Humanities or any other core class, but rather trim around the entire pie of academics instead of taking out an a specific slice. Tech classes are great sources of differentiation, especially for spatial and kinetic students; in many ways, tech classes are a different approach to learning the material taught in core classes. Projects like building a birdhouse may seem reminiscent of summer camp craft time, but in actuality are real-world applications of theoretical knowledge – one must be literate to read instructions and blueprints, use science to hypothesize and test different designs or materials, understand math to calculate dimensions and angles, etc.

In addition to financial and administrative support of tech programs, there needs to be an attitude shift away from high school votech programs being considered as a last resort for struggling students, and from technical & community colleges being considered the lesser post-secondary option for students. Not everyone is suited for a 4-year liberal arts college, and a liberal arts degree is not applicable to all jobs; when last I checked, Harvard does not offer courses in metal-working, but every construction site needs a welder at some point.


Changes in Education: Hire People, Not Services

In this rapidly changing world it is critical for schools to adapt, to change in ways that will better prepare students for their future. So, the question is not whether schools should change, but rather how they should change. Based on my observations as an insider in the education world, but also as a newbie who brings a fresh perspective, I have a few ideas of changes to be made, which I shall henceforth present in an intermittent and seemingly random series of posts; here is the first.

Change 1: Hire People, Not Services


Hiring a service is like renting an apartment: once your lease is up, you’re left with nothing buy an empty checking account, all the while you had to live by the limitations of sharing a resource. Hiring a person, on the other hand, is like buying a house: take good care of it and you’ll likely get a return on your investment, while also being able to make any needed modifications to make the house your home.

School districts often outsource work, e.g. website design, to businesses who by their very nature as a contractor serve multiple organizations. Services are generally prepackaged, with limited customization, as businesses need to be able to serve all their clients while still being able to make a profit. However, rather than paying tens of thousands of dollars for cookie-cutter products, school districts should pay tens of thousands of dollars to hire an employee who has a vested interest in the district and can create products custom to the needs of it’s teachers and students.


Google Calender: Display Only Public Events -- EASIER WAY

The inner-workings of my mind are quite the imbroglio, which often causes it to make things more difficult than they have to be. Take my previous post, which showed how to make a feed of public events from a google calendar: useful if what you really want is an RSS feed of public events, but if what you actually need is another dynamic calendar that contains said events and updates with changes, here's a much easier solution:
  1. Create a second calendar for just the public events
  2. Invite that calendar (using the calendar ID address found under Calendar Details) to every public event.
  3. Accept invitations.
Voila. Much easier. Though, I still suggest checking out Yahoo Pipes for filtering and mashing up RSS feeds; it is an awesome tool.