Saturday, January 31, 2009

Facebook Class for Parents

The main message that I give to parents regarding mentoring children in their use of internetworking/social networking tools is to, "Roll up your sleeves and use the stuff." It is really, really difficult to have effective conversations with people regarding subjects that we know nothing about.

This is the great thing about a a free class being offered over at Stanford beginning on February 19th. Parents and community members get the opportunity to learn more about Facebook by actual using the tool. Click here for more information on this excellent opportunity.

From the class website:

"Class 1 - Feb. 19: The ABC’s of Facebook: New user to fanatic

Class 2 - March 5: Ten steps to protect loved ones on Facebook

Class 3 - March 19: Friending, posting & updating: Life skills for the future

Class 4 - April 2: Five ways to stay ahead of kids on Facebook

An optional lab comes before each class, where parents can work hands-on with Stanford students who will coach them in using Facebook.

We will share the times for class after we poll parents to figure out what works best for most people."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

ePortofolios for a Web2.0 World

Below is a short presentation that I have yesterday at our first Bay Area Independent School Tech Coordinators meeting up at Lick Wilmerding School in San Francisco. It is on the topic of Mahara as an open source software solution for ePortfolios. I thing the presentation isn't really about Mahara as much as it is about the importance of creating ePortfolio platforms for students to share the wonderful work that they're doing in portable audio recorder died yesterday prior to my talk, so I re-recorded this at the end of the day today.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Moodle + Mahara ePortolio = Mahoodle...a few thoughts

Early in the school year we were tasked with finding an ePortfolio environment that we could use for a pilot group of teachers who wanted to create an electronic version of their paper/printed portfolio/assessment document that they've typically completed each year. The goal was to create a space where faculty could contribute their portfolio and interact with peer portfolios with the goal of creating some additional interdisciplinary/inter-grade level interaction.

Our goal was to leverage our new Moodle virtual learning network in some capacity, as this was a space some of our early adopter faculty members were already working in. So we evaluated Exabis and Moofolio, which are both third party portfolio modules that appear in Moodle as blocks. We had a sandbox/test moodle network that we experimented with these modules on (I strongly recommend that you have a sandbox moodle network that is used to test out these 3rd party modules prior to bringing them into your live environment).

While we liked both Exabis and Moofolio, we received a little resistance from some faculty in terms of the look and feel of the tools. Both are effective tools, but neither will win any awards for cosmetics.

We eventually stumbled on Mahara and like the notion of integretion with Moodle. At this point "integration" with moodle only refers to single sign on. Once a user authenticates to Moodle, she can click a link to the ePortfolio system and not have to worry about signing in again. Moodle 2.0, due out this summer, offers some promising next steps as far as integration with moodle goes. It was selected by the Moodle community as the standard ePortfolio module for Moodle 2.0. From what I gather, this will allow users to very easily push some of the artifacts that they've posted in Moodle classes over to their Mahara ePortfolio space.

We have about 10-12 facutly authoring their portfolios in Mahara right now (my portfolio sample is visible online here). We created a group in which these early adopters may contribute their portfolios for comment and review by other members of the ePortfolio pilot community. Most faculty are still in the process of assembling their portfolios, but the real value will be the commenting and feedback that each of us can provide to members of the community. In addition to commenting on the entire single page view of a faculty member of the community, the system allows individual artificat commenting as well. If a teacher shares a photo of her student's artwork, members of the community can drill into that photo artifact and leave a comment.

I should also say that Mahara serves as a digital repository for portfolio samples. Media files and static files may be added to personal workspaces, tagged, organized and eventually shared in a portfolio view. RSS feeds from external sources are also supported, so if users already have a workspace that generates RSS feeds (blogs, photo streams, social bookmarks, wiks, video/podcasts, etc) these can be displayed in a portfolio as well.

It is important to note that the software and hardware cost of our Moodle learning network and the Mahara ePortfolio is a whopping $0. Both software packages are free and we're using free server software as well (Cent OS, PHP, Apache on a 5 year old Dell server). We have a sharp software engineer on staff who built and configured our Moodle/Mahara network (props to Adam Contois!)

Now that we have cut our teeth with this platform and with the concept of faculty ePortfolios in a social environment, we're getting ready to explore the following questions:

1. Are we ready to do this with students?? It is becoming clear that as students create more creative and collaborative work that we will need new assessment methods and platforms. Fine arts teachers have always struggled with applying traditional grading metrics to the assessment of creative works...many of our content area teachers are are now experiencing this same challenge. Fine arts teachers have used portfolios to have students showcase and evaluate their work...some of our content are teachers may begin looking at ePortoflios as an authentic assessment tool for the same reasons that fine arts teachers have been using portfolios for years.

2. Are we ready to expand this with teachers?? I don't know the answer to this question. I do know that everyone likes choices and options. The fact that participation is voluntary means that we have community members who are motivated to engage in this method of reflection and review. My hunch is that this will grow organically over time due to the social nature of the platform.

3. What are our next steps?? Well, we'll continue to see how this grows and develops over time through organic approaches. People telling their stories via informal hallway conversations usually leads to new folks who want to participate in the community. We're also seriously considering bumping up to Moodle 2.0 this summer which will offer more robust connections with Mahara. Down the road we'd like to offer different themes in the network for users to choose from. Not a big deal here, but we do know that individuals like to personalize the look and feel of their learning spaces.

Computer/Server Setup:
CentOS (open source Redhat), Apache, PHP, Moodle, and Mahara
5 year old Dell Power Edge 2650 Server (click here and here to see a photo of our moodle server)

Note: I gave a presentation to the Bay Area Independent School Tech Coordinators gathering yesterday at Lick Wilmerding up in San Francisco. I will update this plot post with a link to the video from my presentation just as soon as I have a moment.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Thank you Educon...


...modeling what is possible now in education and educational conferences (I know many people have remarked that the community doesn't seem to have made much progress beyond educon 2.0, but I disagree...the modeling that you are doing has an impact). streaming each and every session so edu-nerd-peoples like myself could be a part of the experience.

...announcing that you are going to have the conference again in 2010. I really hope to be there in '10, but if not I know I'll look forward to having the opportunity to participate remotely (and who knows, maybe skype will have hologram-presence technology by then and I'll be able to participate that way!)

...demonstrating that a wonderful learning experience can be planned and implemented with free/low cost software like wikispaces and mogulus. your students the opportunity to participate in a variety of ways, from camera/tech work to student panel presentations. We were watching, and in our own way we will implement similar opportunities for students in our own communities.

...showing that the school 2.0 movement is about community connections (students, parents, teachers, etc) and NOT technology.

...putting Gary Stager on your Sunday panel. Gary is dead on when he says, "I want every child in our country to enjoy the same educational experiences that President Obama's children are experiencing at Sidwell Friends School."

...Chris Lehman and his awesome learning community team at SLA for making this unbelievable conference a reality for two years in a row.

There are many, many other things to be thankful to the Educon community for but right now I've run out of time and ideas. Feel fee to leave some additional Educon thank yous on your own blog or in the comments if you'd like.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Ustream on the iPhone Coming Soon!

This is incredible. Ustream on the iPhone (3G only, though) is coming very soon! You'll now be able to listen live to the Gator Radio Experience on your iPhone...wOOt!!

Check out the Ustream Blog for more information on their cool iPhone app!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) CD

I'm in the process of building up a "FOSS CD" that we can give or check-out to faculty, students and students here at my school. The idea is to load up with CD with useful free and open source applications that users may easily install on their personal windows or mac computers. Yes, I know this software is all freely available for downloading via the web, but I was thinking this just might make things a little easier for folks to get some of this software installed on their computers.

I'm looking for a little help from any readers of this blog to help me evaluate whether I'm missing out on some obvious titles for the CD. Now, I don't want to include every last free and open source application that is out there as I feel it will then be difficult for the user to figure out which ones they should install. Instead, I'm thinking of just including the big ones that involve things like screen capturing, image editing, office software, etc.

With that said, if you can think of anything I'm missing, please leave a comment and let me know.

Mac and Windows Software:
Jing Screencasting
Open Office 3
Google Sketchup
Audacity audio editing along with Lame mp3 plugin
Scratch Programming
Alice Programming
VLC Media Player
GeoGebra math modeling
Skype VOIP Software
Pidgin Universal Chat Client
Firefox Browser
GIMP Image Editing

Windows Only
Irfanview image editing utility
CamStudio Screen Capturing

Mac Only:
Skitch Screen Capturing/image editing tool
QuickSilver fast app launcher

The following apps are also being included as of 1-14-09:

NVU HTML editor
Opera (I'm amazed at how fast Opera loads pages and I always wonder why I don't use it more)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

365 Photo Challenge Check-in

I'm enjoying this project thus far. While I've taken a few duds like this one and this one, I'm pretty happy overall with the way things are going. This photo of the sea lions in Santa Cruz, California might be my favorite photo thus the project moves forward, I hope to get a bit more involved in the 365 community so I can gain some tips and idea for future photos. Consider taking the 365 photo challenge even if you've missed the first 11 days of the can just go an extra 11 into 2010 (weird to say "2010").

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Earthcast09 24 Hour Webcastathon

The Earthbridges Community 24 Hour Webcastathon is scheduled for Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009. At this point the community is in the very early project planning phase and more details will follow soon, but at this point we'll pretty much follow the successful recipe that we used last year. If you'll remember, we followed the 24 hour day as it passed through Greenwich, England with folks from around the world taking turns moderating hour long blocks.

If you think you might be interested in participating in Earthcast 09, please go here and fill out this brief online form. My goal is to get the Earthbridges Community together for our first planning session at some point in January. Please note: This is relevant to ANYONE who has an interest in this don't have to be affiliated with a K12/K20 organization to be involved in this project.

Please pass this along to anyone who you think might be interested.

Below is the YouTube video created by Jason Robertshaw that we used to help promote Earthcast 08. Click here to listen to some of the recorded audio from last year's Earthcast webcastathon.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

7 Things Meme

Parents as Partners team member Cindy Seibel tagged me for the "Seven things you didn't know about me" meme that is making its way around town. I've dropped the ball on a few of these in the past, but I figured I'd give this one a go.

So here are seven things that you don't know about me:

1. I'm a cat lover. As a matter of fact, my wife and I have three. All three are rescue jobs and they've all worked out great. I'm always amazed by the entertaining things that cats do, like when our brown tabby Bucky worked his way into our dining room table centerpiece a few months back (we still can't figure out how he worked his way into the centerpiece without shattering it).

2. I like bikes. I have seven of them and I ride this one to work as much as possible.

3. I'm Facebook contacts with friends from all different periods of my life, family members, past/present parents, past/present students, past/present colleagues, and other teachers spread around the globe. I've really enjoyed using this platform to keep up with the latest doings of everyone and I'm always amazed by the cool things that happen as a result of these connections.

4. I taught elementary school in Milwaukee Public Schools prior to working as 38th Street School's computer lab teacher starting in 1998. In '98 I had a few second grade students in one of my classes write and submit book reviews to the "World of Reading" student book review site. We did this via our only Internet enabled computer, and of course it was connected via dial-up. I think it is pretty cool that these book reviews are still online.

5. I've completed 10 marathons. Actually, I'm lying. I've completed 9 marathons and one 50 mile marathon (the Ice Age Trail run in Wisconsin is an ultra-marathon). The last marathon I did was the Boston Marathon in 2000. I burned out on distance running and got tired of always trying for a new personal best. It got to the point where I wasn't having any fun so I stopped cold turkey. I miss all of the characters that I met along the way and the healthy lifestyle. Someday I hope to run another one, "just for fun."

6. I'm from a family of six kids, three boys and three girls. I'm 5/6 and I have 13 awesome nieces and nephews. Here is a photo of my sister's three little boys.

7. Now for my most embarrassing 1984 I gave up a ticket to see the Detroit Tigers play the San Diego Padres in Game 4 of the World Series so that I could attend a homecoming float party. Very lame, I know. This is a BIG regret of mine! Luckily, I was able to "slay this dragon" a bit in 2006 when I attended Game 2 of the Tigers-Cardinals series in Detroit with my brother, my best friend, and my best friend's wife.

The following seven folks have now been tagged:

Jeff Johnson
Derek Baird
Steve Taffee
Scott Meech
Collette Cassinelli
Robert Rowe
Patrick Woessner

365 Photo Challenge...I'm in!

I've decided to give this project a shot for 2009. I'm going to try my best to take a photo each day of the year and post it over at flickr with the tag 365photos. I posted photos from each of the first three days of 2009 and a bonus photo of my wife at Point Reyes National Seashore on New Year's Eve (click the link or see the embedded slide show below).

Here is what I hope to gain from participating in this project:

1. Many of the folks who did this last year mentioned that by taking a photo every day they improved their photography skills. I hope the same happens in my case!

2. I hope that I improve in my ability to notice some of the little things that I often overlook each day.

3. Participating in this project should help me make a case with my wife that I need a new camera! I'm guessing most of my photos will be taken with my iPhone and I'm not all to impressed with the colors and detail on my first few pictures. This very well may be the most challenging goal of them all!

4. Many other folks from around the globe are participating in this challenge as well and I'm looking forward to checking out their work and getting ideas for potential photos of my own.

Good luck to everyone who is participating in the 2009 365 Photos project!

Friday, January 02, 2009

"In Defense of Wikipedia" a guest post by Megan Conn

The following is an article that was published last month in our student newspaper, Counterpoint, and is being republished in this space with permission of the author, Megan Conn. I think you'll find this to be an incredibly well written piece with a very interesting perspective on the whole Wikipedia issue. A nice outcome of Megan's article is that we are talking about putting together a little study group consisting of faculty and students who will work toward publishing an original Wikipedia article (or work on an existing entry that is in need of additional content). Props to Megan for her fantastic work on this article and thanks much to her for allowing it to be posted in this space. Megan will check in on this posting periodically and will respond to relevant comments if she has the time.

Enjoy Megan's article.

In Defense of Wikipedia

Megan Conn

Copyright 2008 - Megan Conn

So you're assigned a report on [insert something you know nothing about], say, the origins of the radio. What do you do first? If you're like many people, your first step might be to search "radio" in Wikipedia or Google (where the first result is the Wikipedia entry anyway). In the Wikipedia entry (also known as a "wiki"), you'll find a detailed, illustrated article that covers the etymology, history, uses, and electromagnetic spectrum of radio, complete with references, further reading, and external links. To many people, this combination of general information and helpful links may seem like the ideal first source in a research project, but few teachers at Castilleja and other middle and high schools will accept Wikipedia as a trustworthy source. However, Wikipedia is a valuable resource that should be considered worthy of citation, rather than being categorically dismissed.

My support for Wikipedia developed beyond simple appreciation for its helpful articles on a wide range of subjects this summer while interning at CK12, a nonprofit company in Palo Alto that is creating a tool for users to build and customize their own high quality, free online "flexbooks" available in various formats, including wikis. While these books originate with seeded content (more on that later), their benefits are similar to those of Wikipedia – they are free, easily accessible, and can be constantly updated by the user. In addition to working closely with the wiki format of editing and presenting information, we had the good fortune to meet with Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, and hear from him about Wikipedia’s development.

Wikipedia began as an offshoot of Nupedia, Wales’s first attempt at creating a free online encyclopedia. Unlike Wikipedia, Nupedia was built on seeded content; that is, experts in various fields volunteered to create the Nupedia articles. The articles then underwent a rigorous system of peer review and copy editing before they could be published. Though the process ensured high quality content, the intensely involved and painstakingly slow process resulted in Nupedia publishing only twenty-four articles in its three and a half year lifespan. In contrast, after less then eight years, the English language Wikipedia has 2,635,766 articles and now attracts more than 684 visitors annually. In all, Wikipedia has over 10 million articles written by 75,000+ contributors in more than 250 languages. Even without these statistics, it is clear the Wikipedia has had far greater influence than a small-scale, tightly controlled project like Nupedia ever could.

The fact that articles on Wikipedia are created, developed and edited by thousands of users around the world is clearly its greatest strength in terms of range and variety, but is also its greatest weakness because it opens to the door to the main argument against it: that it’s simply not accurate. To address this question, various groups performed studies aimed at quantitatively define Wikipedia’s accuracy relative to other sources. In an analysis for The Journal of American History, Roy Rosenzweig, director of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, found that Wikipedia was equally or more accurate than traditional encyclopedias in many articles; for example, the biographical entries were generally well done, while articles on more general themes could be less accurate. Another such study was done by the well-respected science journal Nature, which had field experts review side-by-side articles on a variety of science topics, one from Wikipedia and one from Encyclopedia Britannica. They found that serious errors were split evenly between the two sources, although Wikipedia had slightly more minor errors. On average, they found 2.92 mistakes per Britannica article and 3.86 for Wikipedia, or about a third more. Nature concluded that high profile errors on Wikipedia were “the exception rather than the rule.” Wales responded, “I was very pleased, just to see that (the study) was reasonably favorable… it puts the focus on the broader quality and not just one article." He did note that the error rate for each source was significant and suggested the need for increased review. The study also reminds all researchers that no source is an absolute, infallible authority – errors are everywhere.

And one of Wikipedia’s major benefits is that such errors, once identified, can be easily and immediately corrected by any user, in contrast to the lengthy, expensive, and wasteful process required to edit and reprint paper encyclopedias. Wikipedia can also be instantly updated with recent developments and newly discovered information. In addition, Wikipedia is accessible, convenient, easy to use, and free. Its format is another of its strong points; Wikipedia articles are clearly organized with a table of contents as well as heading and subheadings. Wikipedia also provides hyperlinks to other relevant articles, embedded directly into the text. These links, combined with the references, external links, and further reading, enable the reader to learn about related topics in a single click.

In all, Wikipedia has proven to be an innovative tool for sharing information that should be considered a viable source in many settings. While it should by no means be the only source of information, it should be accepted when used in conjunction with other sources that support its information. And in the cases where Wikipedia is inappropriate, such as in college-level writing, most educators already agree that students should have moved beyond citing any kind of encyclopedia to using primary sources. It’s time to stop using Wikipedia as a first source and then hunting around for the same information elsewhere so you can cite it. And if, heaven forbid, you find an error in Wikipedia, take the initiative to correct it! The solution to the "Wikipedia problem" is not to exclude its vast stores of knowledge from academic work, but to increase the number of contributors to improve its quality and deepen its breadth. Wikipedia should be saluted for its noble goal and considerable progress towards making information available to everyone. As Jimmy Wales puts it, "Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That's what we're doing.”