Monthly Archives: February 2007

Changing Focus?


A bit dated maybe, but I ran across this post by Will Richardson the other day. It wasn’t as much his shameless plug 🙂 for the workshop I was interested in, but rather this somewhat off-handed comment: about a shift of focus from

classroom practice using these tools, which, by and large, I think has been relatively unimpressive, to personal learning practice. (Don’t get me wrong, there are some great examples out there, but they are few and far between.) I think had I written the workshop description today, it would have had even more to say not just about the how to but about the why and the process of building networks of practice. To me, that’s what really will translate into effective, ethical classroom use.

Why this comment, especially coming from somebody like Will?

1. Learning is changing, and yes it is becoming more personal.

2. Technology is playing a huge role in this process (no need to explain this one).

3. Consequently, learning should no longer be seen as something that is just done from 8:30 to 3:30 in a place called school. This blurring of boundaries has been written and talked about quite a bit, recently, for example, by Susan Patrick in her eTech Ohio keynote.

4. In general, formal educational systems (at least in the US), are still very resistant to the changes that are needed to truly prepare kids for the world they live in today, which, I think, is where Will’s frustration is coming from.

These ideas are nothing new or earth shattering in the current discussions in the blogosphere, but for some reason Will’s comment jumped out at me when I read his post. I guess I was a little surprised for it to be coming from him, but this may be yet another indication of how difficult it is to make changes in education.

 BTW, make sure to read the comments on the post as well…

Image Credit: “color magnifyer”, Hughes500’s photostream:

eTech Ohio 2007, day 2 – Rex Sorgatz, Group Think


Another interesting keynote today albeit a short one and a sparsely attended one, probably due to the inclement weather in Columbus today. This is really a shame, because even though Rex Sorgatz isn’t exactly an educator, he provided the audience with opportunities for the sort of out-of-the-box thinking that education needs as Susan Patrick called for earlier today.

Group Think: Online Community and Collaboration
Rex Sorgatz (, Seattle Microsoft (MSNBC). technologist, designer, journalist.


Don DeLillo “The future belongs to crowds”

There are many new ways to navigate and consume news (wisdom of the crowds). This talk is about how stories can be told by groups of people using digital media.

Potential to create a wisdom of the crowds, more heads are better than one.

Some “did you know” statements:

(did you know the first city had no streets)
Someone had to invent streets

(did you know the cigarette lighter was invented before the match?)
Sometimes ideas happen out of synch.

(did you know the fortune cookie was not invented in China?)
Sometimes ideas happen in the wrong place.

(did you know in the ‘70s NASA invented concepts of space station they didn’t think would ever exist)
The future is never what you expect it to be, but that’s ok

Wikipedia: revolutionized our thinking about how content is created.
70% of content comes from 2% of users (3,300)
No experts
1.6 million entries
200,000 registered users

Google Image Labeler:
Game, you are paired with someone else and label pictures.
Google uses the info to improve its algorithm for image searches.
It’s a step towards wisdom of the crowds.

Amazon Mechanical Turk (AAI)
You can create an application so people can do small tasks. E.g. sheep market. Designer paid people 2c each to draw sheep. He then sold each sheep as cards at $2 each.

Jim Gray (Microsoft scientist who disappeared): similar concept used to try to find him in the Pacific Ocean.

Concept: lots of people contribute a little bit to create knowledge (Google Answers, Yahoo Answers, NowNow, Ask MetaFilter).
Other examples: One Red Paperclip, the Million Dollar Homepage.

More practical examples:
Robocam: webcam controllable on the web, take pictures with it. Used to gather info and report it back to people.
Led to things like (community blog), average Joes reporting, committing acts of journalism, reporting much quicker and better than the major media sources.

Katrina: reporting by empowering people who were in the flood by having them tell their stories (, multimedia (3d navigable video) with blog (with a total of about 100,000 comments)

Photosynth (Microsoft Live Labs): pictures by hundreds of people. Using technology, you stitch them all together (interacts with flickr); there are four collections right now.

Big idea: many small ideas contributed lead to one big idea! Interesting session, many cool sites to experiment with…

Image Credits:

“eTech Ohio logo”, eTech Ohio:

“Escher’s Doorknob”, Peter Kaminski’s photostream:

eTech Ohio 2007, Day 2 – Susan Patrick Keynote; She Gets It!


I’m semi-live blogging this session, as there was no wireless connectivity in the Convention Center ballrooms. As I said yesterday, this is something that the conference should work on for next year. Can’t have a major tech conference for educators and not have connectivity :(. While for most readers there won’t be much new info, the presentation was engaging, and something that many educators need to hear to rattle their cages a bit (my comments in italics).

A National Perspective on Online Learning and Technology
Susan Patrick (North American Council of Online Learning)

According to Patrick, the most important area that is transforming learning is online learning and virtual schools. We’ll never be able to do what we have to do if we teach from bell to bell (i.e. we need to think about breaking boundaries). Also will be able to let the kids who excel get ahead, let them go.

Friedman’s The World is Flat: Ohio and Michigan are living it. The world is changing. China’s K-12 curriculum is completely digitized. Mexico is providing a laptop for every teacher, digitizing the K-12 curriculum (I’m looking for links to substantiate both statements; if you have any please send them to me or post in the comments). Because of these kinds of developments, we need to start getting a global perspective on our expectations. E.g. in Mexico 8th grade kids do advanced physics. There is no reason they can’t.

In April 2006, Michigan just passed a law stating that every child needs to have some kind of online learning experience, because most colleges and jobs now have e-learning components.

Students are starting to take courses online in K-12 because they are not available in any other way. This opens up options for kids.

Online communication between kids is different from f2f. They tend to clique less and interact more. Richness and interaction.

Patrick then used the following analogy to put the situation in education in perspective. You can’t take a farmer from 100 years ago and put him on a farm today due to tech/tool advances. The same goes for hospitals and doctors’ offices. Yet in schools we are still doing the same thing we have been for a long time, and a teacher from the past wouldn’t see too much of a difference in many classrooms of today.

Even so, we’ve invested money to the point were we have a 4:1 student:computer ratio. But do we want to share our computers with others on the job? Or go to a lab? Yet the environments in schools are set up that way (Others, like Judy Breck, have made this same comment).

Today’s kids are born in the age of the Internet. Virtual and real world are both a part of their environment. Students are in this dual frame of mind. Schools aren’t. Students see 24/7 access, wifi, and technology in the real world (e.g. there is more technology in a toothpaste factory than in our schools), but not in schools (i.e. there is a disconnect there between students and schools, leading to boredom and in a lot of cases, drop-out).

One of the solutions Patrick proposed is asynchronous online learning, where technology is not the ultimate goal, but access to the best teachers is, i.e. online learning. This area of education is growing:

2002: 40,000 registered learners five years ago, 5-6 online schools
Today, 27 online schools (3 in the last three months)

We can’t keep doing the same things in the same way. We need to start rethinking how we use time.

US: broadband can handle online learning now, because of 4:1, but will become a problem in the future (was part of the ubiquitous report at NECC 2006)

Industry: transform the environment, then introduce new technologies.
Schools: use the same environment and add technology (doesn’t work for hardware, training reasons etc.). For online learning you are forced to transform the environment of learning, funding models change, teacher development needs to be rethought, etc. This means CHANGE.

National perspective:

Michigan (online experience is a graduation requirement)
Florida (funded only for successful completion of courses)
Utah (funded only for successful completion of courses)

Online learning is not a replication of traditional programs. Asynchronous learning helps you to start asking the right questions: what is quality content, learning, teaching? So it takes transformation, not replication of what you already do in the classroom in an online environment.

Online learning in K-12 is 10 years behind higher education (3,000,000 in higher ed learning according to Sloan).
2003: 300,000
2005-2006: 500,000
2007: 750,000 (projected)
36% of districts in the US are offering online learning. Growing rates are ranging from 35-50% a year.

US high school graduation rate is 70%, 50% in urban areas. How can this be if we spend as much money as we do on education (2nd in the world after Switzerland; an interesting ranking of the quality of educational programs can be found here.). Kids drop out because we are disengaged (see e.g. this story from Colorado, and this 2006 feature in Time Magazine). We need to train teachers to use online environments. Kids need more options. The problem of disengagement is not going to go away. We need to break through the old ways of thinking to provide more options, quality, asynchronous options.

You need staffing and policies for oversights (see e.g. Colorado report, Idaho and Kansas audits are next).

Global economy is here, yet kids are isolated because they are not globally connected (e.g. studying Mandarin Chinese and hooking up with kids in China).

90% of jobs now require at least two years of college. Kids are no longer taking 4 years of math in the US. Need more than just two languages, like in the EU. The UK is digitizing its entire curriculum and putting it online. China is going wireless quickly (no FCC rules (which is good and bad)).

European Union: international baccalaureate for 26 different countries. Rigorous curriculum. Put gold standards of classes online and train master teachers to use it. Asia is already interested. Why is this not happening in the US? The largest cost for online programs is building quality curriculum. So the EU is creating classes once, in the US we are doing it over and over again because of the way our system is set up. Is this really the best way to go?

Papert quote: analogy of transportation and education. During the 1950s, the US was entering an unparallel era in global economy. Europe had the fastest trade ships. The US government wanted to redesign the steam ship to make it faster than Europe’s. The year they did it (1952), Europe sent the first cargo plane over the Atlantic, steam ship went bankrupt.

In education, are we redesigning the steam ship or are we trying to create the cargo plane? Too much we are still stuck with the steam ship and training teachers to run the steam ship, instead of going for the cargo plane.

You can take the best f2f teacher but can’t just stick them online. You have to rethink the curriculum, classroom management online, teacher training… Teaching online is very different from teaching f2f.

Synthesis of new research on K-12 learning report (2005):
1. online learning is expanding options
2. online learning works (research shows: equal or better to f2f)
3. online learning is improving teaching

Online learning is fundamentally about systems theory . A system will do what it is designed to do. So what we need is re-design, not tweaking an obsolete system. The last time the educational system was redesigned was at the turn of the 20th century. Today, 26% of kids make it through two years of college. People are working as hard as they can, but the system was designed to send 25% of kids to college. So… we need to redesign the system.

One word that kids use to describe high school: BORING. What are we as adults doing about it? We need to ask questions, we need to be curious, we need to change education.

In sum, nothing really new under the sun, but as I said in the intro, this kind of talk is something that all teachers, administrators, school board members, and policy makers should hear at least once. Society is changing, and it is changing quickly and radically. Technology has a lot to do with that. Kids are catching on quickly, education isn’t. As a result, many kids are not ready for the 21st century work force. It’s one thing to post your latest creation on YouTube. It’s quite another to use technology for job-related tasks.

Image Credit: eTech Ohio:

eTech Ohio 2007, Day 1 – How to Change the Ways in Which We Present


It’s amazing how fast time goes by. I haven’t blogged in about two weeks now and finally got the chance to sit down and do some writing after the first day at eTech Ohio, Ohio’s state tech conference.

 I wasn’t sure how to start this so I searched Technorati to look for blog posts about the conference, and ran across an old one by Chris Lott, called “Improving Etech Part I – Conference Sessions and Formats“. His main argument is that

One of the problems with Etech is that at the same time that the content is about innovation in technology and– essentially– communication, the format of the conference sessions themselves are incredibly traditional. The rare speaker that deviates from dispensing the traditional Death by Powerpoint cocktail most likely does the same with Yet Another Lessig-style Powerpoint.

He continues by challenging presenters to use some different presentation formats, and this is what made me reflect on what I did and saw today.  My first presentation (with my colleague Karen Swan) was about student response systems, and was pretty much a straight-up PowerPoint, were it not for the fact that we used clickers to make the presentation more participatory.

I estimate about 80-90 people showed up to see the session.  Why? I don’t think it was because the technology is so innovative, student response systems have been around for quite a few years. Instead, I think many educators are looking at student response systems as a way to prepare students for high stakes testing in a way that is engaging and motivating. While we have found from our own research that response systems motivate students, the question becomes what we are motivating them for.

Our second session today was titled “Ubiquitous computing: Creating 21st Century Learners“. While the premise was good, we only had 4 people who showed up, because the session had been left out of the program. As a result, we ended up with an hour-long discussion without PowerPoint slides, which was very refreshing. It’s not very often that educators get to sit around and just talk and brainstorm.

So what am I getting at here? I think that conferences suffer similar problems to what we run into when we are looking at using technology in schools:

  1. Issues of access (will there be stable Internet access; how filtered will it be; is it free for all participants; will participants bring wireless devices, etc.).

  2. The perception that a traditional presentation is the best way to get a lot of ideas across quickly, because we only have an hour with the audience we have, and this becomes increasingly pressing as the audience gets bigger; I’m sure those of you who have done large-audience keynotes can vouch for this one. (eTech Ohio is a large conference, with 6,500 participants in 2006).

  3. Teaching to the middle. Conferences, like classrooms, have participants with a wide range of abilities. I think we tend to present to the middle because that’s were most people are. As a result, many of the innovative educators (and others) get turned off by the average session (esp. if it is a traditional PowerPoint lecture), and educators who’ve just began to use technology feel like they’re in over their heads (this is one that has bothered me for a while, because I’ve noticed that I’m less and less interested in going to sessions at conferences and as a result I try to present more, or be active in other ways, to make attending worth my while).

Solutions? That’s a toughie. I’d love to see more hands-on, workshop type sessions that more flexible both in space and time (the recent Connectivism Conference is a good example). A conference should extend beyond its location and the days on which it is held. How to sell this to educators and presenters is another question, but I think some kind of blended approach would be workable, depending on the number of participants and what kind of tools participants would be able to bring (some kind of wireless mobile device being the key).

In addition, this could increase the number of participants as those who would not be able to physically attend could still participate. You would run into issues of registration fees that would have to be resolved.

 Anyway, just some reflections on day one of eTech Ohio, which just goes to show that those of use who are not or no longer classroom teachers deal with very similar issues when it comes to using technology for teaching and learning. I’d love to see your thoughts on this one.


Image Credit: eTech Ohio: