As We May Teach: Educational Technology, From Theory Into Practice

I am happy to announce that, as part of a joint project with the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI), I have started a new weekly podcast series. These podcasts will look at several models for the use of educational technologies, and how to apply them in teaching via hands-on examples. The iTunes U podcasts can be found at:

As We May Teach: Educational Technology, From Theory Into Practice

The first two podcasts in the series are now online. The first, TPCK and SAMR — Models for Enhancing Technology Integration, presents the two theoretical frameworks that will guide much of the rest of the series. The second, Power in Simplicity: Virtual Thumbtacks on Virtual Maps, shows how ideas from these models can be applied to educational uses of Google Earth-generated cartography. All of the podcasts have associated online and offline resources — the ones that accompany the first two podcasts are listed below. Each weekly podcast will be accompanied by a blog post here, containing resources, as well as an opportunity for people to ask questions and provide feedback via the comments.

While the specific software and examples have been selected to be particularly useful to Maine educators, I hope these podcasts prove useful to educators in other places. If you have any thoughts about the podcasts, post them in the comments — I really would like to hear from you.

TPCK and SAMR – Models for Enhancing Technology Integration
The TPCK Model:
TPCK – Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge
AACTE (Eds.) The Handbook of Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge for Educators. New York:Routledge, 2008.
The SAMR Model:
Ruben R. Puentedura. Transformation, Technology, and Education. (2006)
PK Examples:
John D. Bransford, Ann L. Brown, and Rodney R. Cocking (Eds.) How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. (1999)
Education Resources Information Center
CK Examples:
Science Daily
Institute of Historical Research – Reviews in History
PCK Examples:
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics – Lessons and Resources
Center for Applied Linguistics – CALdigests
TK Examples:
Apple iLife Support
EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative – 7 Things You Should Know About…
TPK Examples:
The Sloan Consortium – Effective Practices
Education & Information Technology Library
TCK Examples:
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics – MicroObservatory
VisualComplexity
SAMR Examples:
William Shakespeare. The Tragedy of Macbeth.
Flickr Shakespeare Group
Many Eyes
UpStage
Macbeth in Second Life
TK+SAMR Examples:
GeoGebra
NetLogo
TPCK+SAMR Examples:
Prof. Wyn Kelley: MIT OpenCourseWare – 21L.003 Introduction to Fiction
Prof. Oded Meyer: Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative – Introduction to Statistics
Prof. Edward L. Ayers: Virginia Center for Digital History at the University of Virginia – The Rise and Fall of the Slave South
Prof. Jon Beasley-Murray: University of British Columbia – Murder, Madness, and Mayhem: Latin American Literature in Translation
Power in Simplicity: Virtual Thumbtacks on Virtual Maps
PK:
MacEachren, Alan. How Maps Work. New York: Guilford Press, 1995.
PCK:
Monmonier, Mark. Mapping It Out. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.
TK:
Making Maps: DIY Cartography
TPK:
ESRI GIS Education Community
TCK:
Moretti, Franco. Graphs, Maps, Trees. London: Verso, 2007.
TPCK:
Stuart Sinton, Diana and Jennifer Lund. Understanding Place. Redlands: ESRI Press, 2006.
SAMR:
Google Earth
Google Earth Community

The Horizon Report at Five: Strategies for Innovation

At this year’s Educause Conference, Cyprien Lomas, Wayne Brent and I presented a workshop on strategic planning and innovation in educational technology. The materials from that workshop can be found below:

Visualizing Texts With Wordle

Wordle is a new free visualization tool that generates “word clouds” for any text provided. While the most immediately obvious use for the tool is to generate visualizations of tag clouds (such as those for del.icio.us), I’ve had quite a bit of fun seeing what happens when you supply Wordle with literary texts — here’s one example:

That particular image corresponds to the top 100 words in Macbeth, after removing stage directions and regularizing spelling. Analyzing the patterns that emerge will be left as an exercise for the reader…

With thanks to Alan Levine and Bryan Alexander, whose respective blog posts steered me to Wordle.

Of Fireflies and Ephemerality

I’ve been testing a new Web 2.0 application on the Scripting News website called Firefly. It allows visitors to the site the option of turning on a “chat layer”, where anything they type will show up for other site visitors in a bubble at their cursor position. The bubble is displayed for a few seconds, then fades out — hence the name of the application. Avatars are supported, and web addresses are automatically converted into links.
I have absolutely no idea whether the startup behind Firefly will make it — the application has been out in the wild for less than a day, as of this writing. It is also clearly an early beta: server delays and other bugs are definitely present, and some important features (e.g., spam prevention) are currently missing. Nonetheless, I would encourage educators to give it a try, and potentially consider signing up for the beta. Why?
Well, first of all, Firefly is one of the few Web 2.0 projects out there that emphasizes ephemerality, a valuable property for certain types of learning interactions that is frequently overlooked. True, the current version of Firefly stores a full log of all chat entries, but I have no doubt that this could be easily turned off. Even if it cannot be turned off, I suspect that — much as is the case with Twitter — the appearance of ephemerality will encourage types of interactions that are not seen in other forms of social software.
Additionally, I can imagine uses for Firefly that, while they can be accomplished otherwise, can be carried out in a particularly easy and lightweight fashion using this tool — here are two that occurred to me in the first five minutes of using the application:

  • Image/text commentary: participants in a discussion can point at portions of a photograph (e.g., a microscope slide) or a text passage, and type questions, answers, descriptions, comments, etc. next to it;
  • “Spatialized” text chats: a common complaint about chat tools is that, even with avatars and threads, it can be difficult for many people to follow the overall discussion. However, Firefly allows for using a picture as a “room backdrop” for text interactions: people can “move about” the room by changing their cursor position, so that they are typing in the vicinity of other people who are following that particular thread in the conversation. Even if this doesn’t happen, the addition of spatial cues should help people better follow the discussion, much as they do in the physical world. Of course, the spatial backdrop need not be an overhead photograph of a traditional meeting room: it would be both fun and productive to experiment with nature settings, maps, diagrams, etc.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this Firefly makes it past the end of summer…

A Cheatsheet for Second Life

Having been active in Second Life since early 2005, I have found it to be an exciting environment, with huge potential for educational applications. Part of my interest In Second Life is related to my research into Third Places; part of it is related to new approaches to learning made possible by virtual worlds; and part of it, to be perfectly honest, is related to the fact that Second Life is a lot of fun.
As part of this work, I have been helping newcomers to Second Life dive into the world as quickly as possible. One item that I have designed as part of this process is a “cheatsheet” containing keyboard shortcuts for the features of Second Life most useful to beginners. All the shortcut lists I could find online were both incomplete (missing important shortcuts), and over-detailed (containing shortcuts that only the most advanced and specialized users would ever need.) More importantly, the lists were generally not organized in a manner that would be helpful to a Second Life beginner.
Which is where this cheatsheet comes in. I’ve refined it over a series of training sessions so that it:

  • contains the commands that newcomers (and not-so-newcomers) will likely need;
  • groups together commands according to the task to be accomplished;
  • organizes the groups so that more fundamental commands are encountered in the first column, more advanced commands in the second column;
  • and works equally well for Windows or Macintosh.

The cheatsheet is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Third Places and the New Web

One of my research interests is cooperation in human societies: how it comes to exist, when and how it breaks down, and how to leverage it within the context of education. Of late, I’ve been looking at some of the structures of place that are intertwined with the functioning of cooperation, and how those structures translate into the online world. In particular, I’ve been interested in how “third places” are constructed in the online world, and how they connect to educational institutions.
I have uploaded the slides and audio for a talk I gave on this subject at the 2006 NMC Regional Conference. I will be interested to hear all feedback and comments that people might have, as well as links to relevant research.

A Gift From a Master

Every now and then, a book comes out that is so good, that I can only view it as a gift from its author. Two books of this caliber have recently come out: Edward Tufte‘s Beautiful Evidence, and Scott McCloud‘s Making Comics. I’ll save the Tufte for another day, and talk about the McCloud for now.

I’ve been working on projects using Digital Storytelling techniques since the nineties, and McCloud’s books have been a key tool in that work. Why? Well, first of all, digital comics are one of the many possible manifestations of digital storytelling. Setting that aside for a moment, though, there’s a deeper reason that McCloud’s work is important: his analysis of the craft is so rich and deep that it provides both a guide to broader topics in communication and the visual arts, as well as an exemplar for how to communicate about the workings of these fields.

All of McCloud’s books analyzing comics have been written as comics. His first book, Understanding Comics, dealt with the core syntactic and semantic elements that make comics work; the followup, Reinventing Comics, covered the potential for change and new directions in comics, including their transformation as they entered the digital sphere. Sounds pretty thorough — so why is this third book needed?

Making Comics fills in the gap between the general theory covered in Understanding Comics and the translation of that theory into actual comics-making practice. In other words, what is covered here is how the elements of comics are harnessed in the process of actually making them. This does not refer to the “here’s how artist X draws character Y” approach taken by a million dreary “You can draw comics too!” tutorials, but rather refers to how symbolic elements and aspects of person and place are chosen and translated into an actual rendering for the purpose of telling a story.

The audience for this book is most emphatically not just budding comics artists and comics enthusiasts — McCloud’s analysis of process in comics creation sheds light on a broad range of topics in the study of media and communication. In particular, any educators who are serious about these issues in the context of their own practice should definitely consider picking up this book — and its two predecessors. Me, I think I’ll try to make it to one of McCloud’s talks to thank him in person for his wonderful gift…

Transformation, Technology, and Education in the State of Maine

For the past few years, I have had the good fortune to work closely on a number of projects with the Maine Learning Technologies Initiative. The MLTI has provided all middle school students in the state of Maine with one-to-one access to laptops and software. The software bundle is rather interesting, since it encompasses far more than the traditional office suite, including software for music composition, systems modeling, digital storytelling, lab data acquisition, and structured information processing and sharing.

In recent weeks, I have had several people ask me about the current status of the project and its future directions. In particular, there has been considerable interest in how schools involved in the project plan to keep “pushing forward” to significantly enhance the quality of education that children receive. One part of the answer to this question is described in my slides and audio from a series of workshops conducted with Maine superintendents, which outline a model currently being used for this purpose. This same model has also been used in sessions with school principals throughout the state — the goal is to make sure that all schools use the laptops as an engine for educational transformation, rather than just a fancy textbook or typewriter.

As always, I welcome all questions and feedback.

Images of a Parade

It’s the day after Thanksgiving here in the US — usually called “Black Friday“, but which I’ve heard better described as “Sleep Off The Turkey Day” — and it seems as good a day as any other to get back in the blogging saddle.

I was looking over the New York Times’ coverage of the Thanksgiving Day Macy’s parade, and noticed that their slide show, while competently shot, was, well, somewhat lacking in the narration and emotion departments. I decided to try an experiment: what would happen if I ran a Flickr search for photos of the parade?

The results were astounding — not only were many photos far more interesting and compelling than the Times’ slide show, many were better composed and executed in formal terms as well. Compare this photo to the Times’ photo of Garfield — which do you think does a better job of telling a story?

What’s more, the Flickr search will only get better as time goes by — more people will post their photos of the parade, and more people will comment on them, pushing the interesting/unusual/powerful ones to the top of the stack.

Now, I am not suggesting that the Times should get rid of their photographers, nor that the quality of their work is subpar — but I am suggesting that something very interesting happens when a community (and Flickr is most definitely a community) shares its creative work in an open social space. And since this blog focuses on education, I would like to gently urge educators to overcome some long-held prejudices about work that takes place in informal spaces, and think about how these mechanisms can be harnessed for learning.

Avoiding Self-Delusion: New Technologies and Expectation Effects

I have posted the slides and audio for my Horizon Project VCOP talk on the subject of expectation effects. If you are interested in finding out how to separate a new technology’s true pedagogical merits from other factors that might influence its reception in the classroom, this talk may be of use to you.

As always, I’ll be happy to hear any comments or feedback people might have.