Archive for September, 2007

k12OnlineConference 2007

Saturday, September 29th, 2007

This conference is already getting a lot of buzz from other edubloggers, but I’d like to do my part. If you are an educator interested in using new two-way web tools with students, this is a FREE and flexible online conference with world class speakers, content, and opportunities to interact.

Go explore the trailers (yes, they have teasers for the sessions) and then spread the word:

Then use the flyer below to spread the news via email or even by printing it out and posting it around your school:

k12OnlineConference Flyer (PDF)

Links for 2007-09-29

Saturday, September 29th, 2007

How to Engage (and Write) A Good Blog

Friday, September 28th, 2007

This exchange of comments took place on one of my demo workshop posts and I thought it would be worth sharing here as a post in and of itself. I may share it with beginning bloggers in workshops in the future, and I’d love it if any other bloggers would leave any comments with their answers to Sally’s questions, too.

# Sally Says: September 26th, 2007 at 11:24 pm

I am new to blogging – I am interested in finding out more about how blogging is used for teaching and learning and also what the potential future is for this medium.
I have looked at a lot of blogs today, but often find that they are hard to engage with because of the chronological order of postings ? is this a common problem with blogs. What makes a great blog site ?
Appreciate any comments

# Mark Wagner Says: September 27th, 2007 at 10:56 am

Hi, Sally. Some teachers in my workshops do seem to be initially put off by the chronological nature of blogs. You might be sure to explore any links that say “about” or “welcome” or “bio” (or something like that) at the top of the page or in the side column. There are usually a few links to static pages that can introduce you to the blog and it’s author(s). Other than that, getting to know a blog is like joining a conversation – or getting to know a person; just read a few recent posts and then if you like what you see, check back (or subscribe) to see what that person writes about over time. Start leaving comments if you are engaged by what they are writing, especially if you’ve been reading for a while and are starting to get a sense for what that person is writing about.As for what makes a great blog site, there are lots of (differing) opinions on that. I’m in the camp that believes there are few rules, but that it needs to be more than an online journal of what happened when – or unsupported opinions. After a lot of exposure to edubloggers like Will Richardson, I like to say that blogging begins with reading or doing something, then reflecting on it, then writing about it, and finally receiving feedback on what you’ve written. (Of course, giving feedback to others is equally important). Also, I like to focus my efforts on two things: making a contribution (by posting original thinking – not necessarily profound or even unique, but from my perspective) and making connections (by including others in my blogging – by writing about them or for them, by linking to them, and by inviting comments). Beyond that, developing your own voice is as important (and natural) a part of blogging as it is with any kind of writing.

I hope this helps. And if you’ve got a blog going, let me know the address so I can follow along. :)

UPDATE: I just realized you included your blog address when you commented. Subscribing now… sadly, there’s no posts.

Links for 2007-09-28

Friday, September 28th, 2007

Google Docs Presenations: Limits, Benefits, and Questions

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

Over the past week I’ve had some really mind-stretching experiences with the new presentation feature in Google Docs. The best way I know to process these experiences is to reflect on them and write a post about it. I’ve also had many conversations via twitter with people I respect, and I hope this might lead to more.

My Experiences

My arewareness of Google’s new collaborative web-based presentation tool began last week when Vicki Davis posted an invitation on twitter for people to join her in a demo Google presentation. When a slideshow is presented online it includes a chat feature that allows the collaborators, the audience, and anyone else online to have a synchronous discussion. What happened was an eye opening experience for many of us who were in involved. Here’s the story in Vicki’s words. For my part, I participated in the chat and tried to ask some meaningful questions, but I didn’t throw myself into it to the degree where I was actually collaborating on editing the slides. I even wondered if when Vicki posted a tweet saying that some of the people involved didn’t understand collaboration she might have meant people like me. Regardless, it was amazing that so many people came together so quickly from all over the world to collaborate and learn together. In this case, though, there was no actual presentation going on. This was just a gathering of peers to play with a new tool. (Perhaps the coolest part was that the chat was archived in everyone’s gmail account. Sadly, this is no longer happening. I don’t have any archives of the subsequent chats mentioned below.)

A few days later I jumped on the opportunity to try this tool in a workshop for school administrators. I blogged about it right away because this turned out to be my favorite administrator training yet. Having David Jakes and Sharon Peters and others show up in the presentation when I posted an invite to twitter was thrilling, and the ease with which we brought the world into the workshop definitely had an impact on the participating administrators. But, the experience in the room and the experience that Dave, Sharon, and the others had were very different. In the room we were still running our usual morning welcome activities – and I merely interrupted from time to time to point out what Dave and Sharon were typing… ultimately, they shared far more than the attendees could process. And other than the thrill of doing something new, I’m not sure what Dave and Sharon got out of the experience.

The next day, I had a similar experience when I used Google Docs for an introduction to blogging workshop for a small group of 3rd through 6th grade teachers. They all had laptops, so I expected this to be an even better experience for them. However, all but two did not have Google accounts – with a short time frame and other goals at hand, I didn’t rush everyone through creating an account. The key was for them to get an introduction to blogging. What was required was for me to introduce the concepts and get them hands-on as soon as possible. Even so, they were impressed (and perhaps a bit overwhelmed) when David Jakes and Hall Davidson and Jennifer Jones and others popped in. I know Dave and Hall enjoyed catching up in the chat… and they all shared more resources than I could ever have shared with a group of beginning bloggers. In fact, one lady remarked (in the first few minutes of the workshop at this point), “how do you stay on top of all this?” Unfortunately, the overwhelming amount of information was not the first impression I wanted to have on this group of new bloggers. So I began wondering if this tool was really right for my audience. Also, Hall and the others were really missing what was happening in the room. They lamented the lack of audio, and they couldn’t see all the websites and examples that I was sharing with the participants – so I also wondered if the tool was right for our visitors.

Finally, I had an absolutely mind-blowing experience last night – on the other end of the equation again. This time, Kim Cofino was making a presentation to parents. Others posted links to the presentation on twitter and I popped in. I wish I could go back and review the chat transcript to see who all was there (and I hesitate to try to recall and leave people out), but I know we had folks from all over the world, Pennsylvania, Chicago, California, Australia, New Zealand, and more… and the presentation turned out to be in Bankok. Even more surprising (for me), Kim was presenting the Internet Awareness and Safety slides I created for the Laguna Beach USD! (These are shared under a Creative Commons license, so I was thrilled to see them used – I do wonder if attribution was given, though.) As Ted Lai said, the feeling was something like starting a rumor and having it come back to you. In any case, again I think the experience in the chat was very different from the experience of the attendees. Those of us in the chat were learning a lot about the nature of the tool, but we had no idea what Kim or her attendees were saying. We asked if there were ways we could contribute or questions we could answer. We discussed this a little bit amongst ourselves and David Jakes had a great idea that others then jumped off from… he suggested that each slide should include a question for the visitors. (I had in the earlier sessions addressed questions to the visitors in the chat box a couple of times – with good results.) Even if this were done only periodically rather than every slide, this could be effective… and it would be a bit like writing questions for a student response system except that the questions could be open ended. Then the presenter could share answers with the crowd. All of this, of course, would work best if the participants had computers themselves.

Incidentally, at the same time this was taking place, I had a technical issue with iCal. It’s a new issue; there was one other post about it on the Apple support forums – a few days old and with no answer. I posted my details and prepared to wait… days at least. I posted to twitter, too. In minutes Ted Lai solved the problem and posted the solution to the Apple forum. That’s the power of twitter.

I hope these stories communicate some of the experience I’ve had, but I also thought some summary might be called for. I’ve begun to see some of the limits and surprising benefits of this tool. More importantly, I’ve started to hone in on some clear questions…

The Limits

Here are some of the limits of Google Docs presentations that have become clear:

  • There is no audio. Visitors cannot hear the presenter via the web without use of a third party application like Skype.
  • Though the presenter can control the slides (and participants can also move around independently), this is not a screen sharing or screen casting tool. Participants who are not present face-to-face can’t see other applications or sites the presenter shows.
  • Participants all need computers in order to participate in the online chat feature.
  • Participants also need google accounts in order to participate in the online chat feature. (I wish the chat worked more like the chat feature on Thinkature… input a nickname and we’re off…)
  • There is no archive of the chat (or at least not any longer). This was killing me yesterday and last night when I wanted to review all the resources people had shared… and today as I wanted to review who was even there.
  • The chat feature is of limited relevance to presentation attendees.
  • The presentation feature is of limited relevance to online visitors.

The Benefits

Despite these limitations, I’ve discovered several benefits, some of which I didn’t initially expect:

  • Google presentations are best used for collaboratively creating a slide show, just as Google Docs and Spreadsheets are best used for collaborative authoring and editing. Ultimately, this tool is a shared web-based file storage that allows simultaneous editing. The chat feature is gravy.
  • Even so, it’s never been easier to model the power of a permeable classroom. In each of the instances above, experts from all over the world were brought into a situation that would’ve previously been limited to just the people in the room.
  • Because of this, there really was a transfer of power. As a presenter, some of my power went to the visitors, who were then sharing other resources and making other comments (and sharing in the participants’ focus). As someone said last night, the presenter is no longer the smartest person in the room (or in more specific terms, the presenter is no longer the only authority in the room). Also, when a few of the face-to-face participants did have computers, they too had the power to interact with others, including other experts, during the presentation. I see this as a benefit, even if it is difficult to adjust to. I’ve always struggled with the fact that I advocate teachers giving the power to their students without actually modeling that myself in many workshops, especially those that are a presentation format.
  • The most striking thing for me, though, was the way posting a link on twitter could create a sort of “flash chat” in minutes, a sort of virtual flash mob… with an educational purpose. The power and benefits of this will take some time to really sort out.

My Questions

Here are some of the questions I’ve been asking myself and others about these tools. I’d love to read any responses in the comments:

  • How can this tool best be used to benefit presentation attendees? (… if they have computers? … and if they don’t?)
  • How can it be used to benefit online visitors?
  • Is this really a presentation tool? (Or, is this really a chat tool? And is it really a backchannel chat, which a lot of edubloggers are excited about right now, if the presenter can see it?)
  • Is this the best way to “present” information? (In other words, does the chat function add to a “presentation”?)
  • Is it the best way to facilitate two-way teaching? (In other words, if we want participation, why a presentation to begin with?)
  • What sorts of new things can we do with this hybrid tool?
  • And, what does it mean for ordinary teachers and students that they could potentially tap into a network of global experts who could converge on their online presentation at any time of day or night on a moment’s notice?

So what did I miss, overlook, or exaggerate? Let me know in the comments. I look forward to hearing about others’ experiences in the comments below – and as time goes by. Imagine, by the time NECC rolls around this will merely be a tool.

“My Favorite (Awesome) Teachers” Learn About Blogs

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

I’m back at Salem in Orange asking these three familiar questions (participant responses are in italics):

1. What is a blog?

An online journal… a source for information… a tool for discussion… somebody’s opinion… it’s interactive (we put stuff in and get a response)… 

2. What is the read/write web?

Interactive back and forth reading and writing – responses… online conversation – that stays… is it different form a blog? … open to everybody

3. What might these technologies mean for you and your students?

Communication… you get to know them better… relationships… feedback… it goes beyond the classroom.

Their wheels are turning and we’ve got some good stuff going into the workshop. We’re off. Please leave a comment related to how you hope you can use a blog in your class.

PS. Yes, the participants titled the post. ;)

My Favorite Administrator Training Yet

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

Yesterday Ted Lai and I led an AB 430 Module 3 training, which is focused on developing school administrators’ technology proficiency. I started leading these sessions back in January 2005 (with Jackie Francoeur at the time – in the wake of Mike Lawrence’s departure to CUE). I inherited a curriculum that was only a few years old, but naturally already in need of revision and updating. Over the next six months or so the presentations evolved gradually and when it came time to resubmit the curriculum to the state I prepared a complete re-write based on the new material. Ted and I have continued to introduce incremental updates, but yesterday included the most exciting enhancements in well over a year – and it was by far the most exciting day of AB 430 training I’ve been involved with. (Though the participants were not a terribly excitable group themselves, they seemed to get a lot out of it and the evaluation responses were very positive.)

For me, the following enhancements really added to the day… by generating all new experiences for the participants, and for Ted and I.

A Google Docs Presentation

Google Docs only recently added the presentation element and even when Ted and I were planning last week we hadn’t yet thought of including it. However, this morning before the training I uploaded the AB 430 slides to Google Docs. The slides are very bare bones so this worked extremely well. I had any formating issues fixed in about two minutes. During the morning portion of the day the participants don’t have access to computers (it’s discussion driven), so we could really only demo the online nature of it, including the chat (which we did from two different laptops). The breakthrough came when I realized that even though the face-to-face audience couldn’t access the chat, others out in the world could… so I posted a simple invitation on Twitter.

I was thrilled when a few minutes later (as the participants introduced themselves and a technology success at their sites) David Jakes and Sharon Peters showed up. I asked what words of wisdom they might want to share with administrators learning about technology. Jakes talked about the importance of his online personal learning network, and Sharon promoted the Women of Web 2.0 talk that was to be happening that night. I could see lights go on for some of the participants when they experienced the world brought into their workshop – and several jotted down the WoW2 show info, so I wonder if any attended tonight. (I hear it was a great episode with Bud Hunt, who if I’m not mistaken also popped into our presentation chat for a minute, followed by Chris Craft some time later.)

It was an amazing experience (for me) to be able to apply this new tool in a teaching context so soon after discovering and becoming excited about it. I’m grateful to everyone who piped in.

A Thinkature Mindmap

We usually run an (Alan November inspired) exercise called “Worst Fears, Best Hopes” on a white board, chalk board, or chart paper (the participants have a handout, too). We’ve tried to move it into an electronic medium in the past, but Word and other tools have been awkward (the training labs usually don’t have Inspiration or anything like it). Today, though, we used Thinkature (a web based collaborative mindmapping application) for the first time, and it was a fantastic experience, for two reasons.

First, it was easy for the participants to use, and it just worked. At this point we had moved in the lab earlier than usual to complete this exercise. We’d already introduced the new wiki (see below), so participants clicked on the link for the mindmap… then all they had to do was input a nickname for themselves and they were in. There was no need for participants to create an account! Then as I lead the discussion from the front I could see the mindmap growing behind me… in fact it was growing out of control… the best hopes side filled up even as I was just beginning to lead the discussion on Worst fears.

This was the second reason it was so fantastic. Ted and I were modeling not only the new tool, but some risk taking as teachers. We’d never done the exercise that way before and it was ok that there were some unexpected results. More importantly, the power to lead the conversation more or less passed from me… to the participants. They were creating like mad, and I really didn’t need to say anything. When we reflected on the process I think they got at least as much out of that experience as the actual worst fears and best hopes. At least I know I did.

Ultimately, the process needed more structure. We allowed time to clean up the messy and redundant map and ended up with something somewhat functional… with connectors between fears and hopes that that they saw as different sides of the same coin. Ted also suggested using small groups (instead of a facilitator lead discussion) so that the groups could brainstorm and then post their more polished ideas on the class space. We’ll have to try something like that next time.

Incidentally, I posted the mindmap URL on twitter, it generated some questions from others and I believe some edubloggers may have popped in as well, though as near as I can tell no one added anything to the discussion.

Here’s a link to the worst fears, best hopes mindmap (note, many of the cards look like they were created by me, but I didn’t type any of them… I believe Ted completed much of the final clean up using my account).

A Wikispaces Wiki

Now, using a wiki is not nearly as new to me as using the tools above, but I had only just begun using wikis for workshops before I left the OCDE in June 2006, and we’d always continued using the official binders. Now, though, Ted has recently moved the binders online, so here was a new opportunity to use a wiki with the participants. The really new thing for me was somewhat accidental… since the use of the wiki wasn’t planned ahead of time, Ted and I created it as we went. Then anytime we, our guest speaker (Steve Glyer), or a participant mentioned any tool, resource, or book… we added it to the wiki and linked to it – as we went! This was a really great experience because the wiki became not an official curriculum, but rather notes for that particular day. I’ve added bits on the fly during workshops before (and had participants – and even visitors – add them, too, but this was very different). Part of me wants to archive this page by date (in the navigation to the left) and then recreate the experience in the future, at least to some degree. On the other hand, it would be nice to have all these references at the ready next time – and then to build upon them as with a normal workshop wiki.

We weren’t perfect note takers of course and thinking back on the day there were many things mentioned that still didn’t make the wiki. Next time I want to get the participants more involved from the start.

In any case, if you’re interested in what we talked about with site administrators for six hours today, check out the (unofficial) principals’ wiki and feel free to contribute other resources… like Lucy Gray did. ;)


I’ve never experienced such a powerful (and effective) intersection of leading a workshop (my “teaching”) and tapping into experts in the field (my “learning”). There’s no question that this was facilitated by using twitter. The Google presentation was cool, but without visitors in the sidechat, it was really only a run of the mill presentation for the participants; and it was twitter that gave me synchronous access to a network of possible visitors (IMing a few individuals to demo on the fly has never worked as well). And though the participants really got to experience Thinkature themselves, the experience was definitely extended for me due to the interest on Twitter (I noticed Bernie Dodge was using it with his doc students tonight, too). And it was an added bonus that Lucy came over from twitter to check out (and join) the wiki. To boot I actually learned a bit about twitter today – from one of the folks I added last night, Sherry Crofut.

In any case, I haven’t written such a long post in a while. It’s safe to say this was my favorite administrator training yet (in almost three years)… there were many other small successes throughout the day in addition to these. Also, this just might be my favorite blog post of the new school year – so far. :)

Links for 2007-09-26

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

NECC Sessions DUE October 3rd: Time To Dream It All Up Again

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

The deadline for submitting a session proposal for NECC 2008 is October 3rd, 2007 – next Wednesday. Edubloggers have already started writing about this… Warlick before anyone else I think (though I couldn’t find the post with a quick search); he seems to plan ahead more than most. I also saw someone (somewhere) post about how hard the NECC application is and I completely agree. A few other posts prompted me to comment tonight, and my comments have been shaping my thinking about this year’s submissions. Here’s two of the comments I left this evening that capture my thinking – influenced by many others of course.

In response to Will’s post Thinking Disruptively About Conference Presentations, I posted the following (note: I’ve added hyperlinks to compliment the original comment):

Great post, Will. I think you’ve captured something that a lot of us have struggled with… how to model this new kind of two-way learning while still getting the point across in 50 minutes – not to mention still getting selected by the conference planning committees.I like the 15 minute preso followed by discussion format. In fact, it reminds me a lot of Dave Winer’s hypercamp idea. I’ve wanted to see an educational hypercamp for a long time, and the edubloggercon was very close. It would be great to bring the format to NECC as a grassroots movement – however small it might be.

As for the formal submission process, I don’t see why we can’t be a bit subversive (as Tom March might say [streaming media link, NECC Live 2006]). We can still submit our topics with just as detailed a submission as we might usually… and then run the session in the format we prefer when we get there (if we’re selected, of course). Eveyone expects that the content of the session will be updated to account for the intervening nine months (despite the flaw ddraper points out in the system)… so why shouldn’t the format of the session also be modified to account for the lag between something like the edubloggercon and a formal box to check in the NECC submission process?

The remaining problem might be (and Draper didn’t touch on how NECC apps are worse than many other similar conferences) that NECC online applications are just too darn detailed.

In any case, I hope you (and many others) take the ideas you posted to heart and that there is a whole new breed of session at NECC in 2008. :)

A great conversation has developed in the comments to Will’s original post, so click on over and check that out, too, for greater breadth of perspective.

Then, in response to Vicki’s post Declare war on the Ruts, Boundaries & Comfort Zones, I wrote the following, which in my mind compliments the thoughts above:

Vicki, the most striking part of this post (for me) was the quip about buzzwords. With the NECC deadline approaching (and the CA CUE deadline just past), I’ve been feeling like my own workshops were in a rut. I’ve moved from slides to wikis for the most part, but often with the same basic structure. And even the workshop titles/content are feeling old (at least to me). So this post has struck a chord with my resolve to lead all new sessions this time around.I also look forward to seeing what everyone else imagines in the next week (and the following nine months), too. In some ways, this week is a very important one in our field, isn’t it? Educators around the world will define what ruts we stay in and which new paths will be explored. Hopefully the good new stuff gets accepted…

So this week it’s time to go away and dream it all up again. I hope the edublogosphere, and educational technologists (actually educators) in general really bring it this week. ;)

UPDATE: Just this evening (perhaps because of Will and Vicki’s posts and others) folks started twittering about putting together panel presentations for NECC. As I read through all the tweets I found myself wondering if collaborative planning for sessions will play a big roll in this year’s NECC – and if it might not even be an essential element of the “new” NECC session. I know any session I could submit would be very dependent on others’ work and contributions (standing on the shoulder of giants, as they say), but I wonder if I’ll wind up including more of a collaborative planning element myself…

And yes, that’s a U2 reference and an Oasis reference in the same post. :)

Links for 2007-09-25

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007