Sunday, December 28, 2008

(Not!) Collaborating Using Google Docs

Today's post is derived from a document I have prepared for a January, 6, '09 in-service presentation:

If you are familiar with Google Docs, you were probably introduced to them for their many collaborative advantages. However, this has not been my primary use:

* Personal Notes. Since the documents are easy to access at work, home, mobile; I keep my "To Do" list and basic works in progress on Google Docs.

* Templates. Because it is so easy to revert back to the original version of the document, sometimes I create a template with Google Docs for evaluating student work. I build a simple evaluation sheet and then customize it for each student. Most recently, I required students to contrast YouTube "To Be or Not To Be" soliloquies. I critiqued their contrast papers using Google Docs.

* Slide Shows. I am no big fan of Power Point (There is nothing I hate than having a slide show read to me). HOWEVER, the Presentation application on Google Docs allows me to create simple slides, and . . . . A) Often I will find a couple of charts I want to share that day with my government class, and I will slap them into a slide show and present them conveniently to the class. B) I love the ability to create simple slide shows which I can publish to Moodle, so that if a student misses class she can still have the material. For example, check out the chapter 11 supplements for my AP text. I also have started to create multi media "quizzes using Presentation". For example, see Presidential Roles.

* Publishing to Moodle. I think one of the coolest features of Google Docs is the ability "share" by publishing as a web page. This means that you can link your Google Doc to Moodle as a web page. If you later need to update the information on the document (as I often must do for American Government) you don't need to go through the process of deleting the file from Moodle and uploading to Moodle again. This is not only a cumbersome process, but it is also difficult to keep track of which files are up to date. Here for example is a document I use in a simulation. This information must be constantly updated, and Google Docs has really helped me out, because I have several such documents for this activity.

By the way, material from the rest of my presentation may be found at Google Notebooks and Canning a Lecture with MP3s.

Please post any suggestions or reactions of your own!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Screens, Wikis, Networks. . . and Subversion

My Twittering has taken me hither and yon. I wanted to share some of the jewels I have found serendipitously.

Becoming Screen Literate This NY Times Magazine piece by an editor from Wired has rocked my world. The idea of teaching screen grammar and being able to search for graphics and moving pictures, cutting and pasting them into products is thrilling and mind blowing. It certainly was a rocket boost for a film teacher like myself, and one who has been dabbling in video this semester (See "My Voyage with Video").

The Networked Student This is a wonderfully conceived little video. It's exciting, daunting, and more than a tad idealistic. I endorse its emphasis on critical thinking over mastery of particular tools (they become outdated in the blink of an eye, these days). Teacher as Sherpa is a wonderful metaphor. Even if you don't accept the vision of the networked student, you will have to admit how powerful a simple video can be (worth a thousand words to be sure).

'Don't teach children facts ... they can search online' I stumbled across this little bit of back and forth in the Guardian of London. I smiled because it encapsulated points made at a recent faculty meeting here in Michigan. Read it and comment on where you are in this global debate.

Leary of putting some of your slacker students in the drivers' seats of the own educations? Then check out this little gem that I found: Teaching as a subversive activity Professor Pigliucci reflects on the book by that name which I read in Ed School when student centered education was once before at the forefront. Pigliucci is less inclined than avant-garde educators to believe that students would thrive if only their control-freak teachers would get out of the way: "You see, the fact of the matter is that teachers (when they are good) really do know more than their pupils. A lot more. Moreover, although one could reasonably argue that the world isn't naturally divided into philosophy, science, literature and other such “subjects,” it turns out that human beings simply cannot make sense of the world unless they are allowed to categorize it in one fashion or another." Check it out and let me know what you think.

If you are interested in helping students create their own wikis, check some recent developments at Wikispaces and Google Sites. Good stuff!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

At Long Last . . . . ebook Joy!

Ebooks have probably ranked as one of the biggest disappointments of my school's laptop initiative. It was imagined that the cost students leasing computers would be offset by reduced book costs and the back-breaking inconvenience of book bags.

Unfortunately such hopes collided with the unavailability of etext substitutes and student/teacher preference for books with paper pages. Case in point, when I was asked to review a new text this fall, the publisher offered to send me the 800 pages as a pdf. This sounded awful, and I insisted that paper masters be shipped to me despite expense, paper "waste", etc. (So sue me).

But I recently experienced an ebook miracle. Years ago I inherited a family heirloom-- a book written by my great-grandfather (pictured here), containing material about his unit's service with General Custer. Pretty cool, but when I examined it as a kid, I got the impression that it was some kind of reunion book with a neat dedication to Grandma. I subsequently stored it on a remote shelf.

My brother has been doing genealogy research with and during one of his updates about the family tree, he mentioned my great grandfather's book. I turns out that he came across it in digital form through google book searches. He told me that it is a fascinating set of civil war remembrances and was flabbergasted to learn that I had a hard copy.

After I checked Google, I discovered that other hard copies exist in such interesting places as the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library , West Point , Gettysburg College, the US Army Military History Institute, and most Ivy League Colleges. In fact the book had been scanned through the Harvard College collection. It turns out that the book is a valuable history of the war.

Most gratifying, however, is the thought that my great-grandfather's contribution to an understanding about the Civil War has been preserved and truly reborn online as an ebook. In fact, I invite you to glance at it: Seventh Michigan Volunteer Cavalry 1862-1865 by William O. Lee.

Its continued existence does not depend on slacker descendants like myself taking proper care of the aging paper copies.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Richardson Redux . . . . from the Trenches

Since Will Richardson visited my school, I have been following his blog closely. When I recently read his "The Ultimate Disruption for Schools" post, I was ready to call him out from my perspective here in the trenches. Please read his entire blog, but to summarize, in it he explains how he has been "smitten" by Mark Pesce's "Fluid Learning" Pesce begins by supposing "Our greatest fear, in bringing computers into the classroom, is that we teachers and instructors and lecturers will lose control of the classroom, lose touch with the students, lose the ability to make a difference."

Before completely digesting both blogs, the hair stood up on the back of my neck. It seems to me that academics and theorists often promote the highly idealized and Romantic notion of the pure and innocent child, whose natural curiosity and desire to learn gets crushed by the educational system. In this vision the authoritarian teaching establishment is determined to stamp out this zest for learning in the name of conformity and control.

While the stereotype of teacher-as control-freak certainly has some validity , the idea that teachers' fear of losing control is the reason they don't jump at the chance of letting students connect, collaborate, and create the curriculum is silly. I am skeptical of collaboration and student-centered activities for completely different reasons. In my experience children and adults often choose the path of least resistance, become easily frustrated with the new, and are not motivated moment to moment by long term goals. They do, however, often respond to structure and expectations. I resent it when the struggle to reolve issues like these becomes oversimplified as the battle of the individual (student) versus the Evil Empire (me).

But in fairness, when I re-read Will's blog a couple of day's later his own qualified conclusions more fully registered with me:

The question for me right now is shouldn't my school system be preparing [his own children] equally as well for a world where traditional college is not the only route to academic success? Shouldn’t my kids get some concept of how to gather their own information, find their own teachers, develop their own collaborative classrooms and write their own curricula? I mean at the very least, shouldn’t we let kids know that is an option these days?

This is pretty reasonable. While I remain skeptical about this terrific faith in young people to self-actualize through self-direction, at the very least we should make ourselves and our students aware of the new opportunities the communications revolution has given us.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Educational Technology 101 - The Joy of Podcasts

Tonight most of my tenth graders will be completing podcasts that are a requirement for a simulation that I run with my government students. They are evaluating the most effective strategies that were used while role-playing. I look forward to listening to them-- it's a nice break from reading, and generally they are prepared more carefully than the kind of written work they crank out on a daily basis.
In an earlier blog - Using Mp3s in Education - I posted instructions for making audio files using Gcast and Gabcast.

I'd like to reflect on some of the educational advantages that I have found with MP3's

*Kids are comfortable with them since they are so used to music files.

*They are as easy to post and send as any other file.

*Oral reports can relieve the time demands of in-class composition.

*Performance often brings out the best in students.

*The teacher can deliver information through audio files instead of repeating it through the class day. (Our students have laptops, so it is not unusual for me to watch them listen to me on their headphones!).

*Recordings provide a great back up for students absence or a bail out when unexpected school cancellations wreak havoc with lesson plans.

*The provide great variations for blogging.

*They can be used to quickly record, post, or send "minutes" from meetings.

I'm looking for new uses for this easy technology. Any suggestions or reactions?

Old Habits Are Hard to . . . Keep

Change is now. I started Delicious a month ago. I started Twittering two weeks ago. The links I share below were discovered through Twitter and organized through Delicious. And it was SO easy. As I've tried to convey to skeptical friends, we are in the midst of a radical communications' change. And as these tools become popularized, they become easier to use. So this isn't about not "getting" computers or the internet. It's about recognizing that there were 100,000,000 hits on YouTube in October. It's about understanding that the old industrial model of sharing news by grinding up trees and shipping them to our doorsteps is rapidly vanishing. It's about delighting in the easy ways one has of accessing and organizing information wherever you want it. It's about joining the global community at its own terms. Change is now.

I'm sharing links to short articles on communication. I found them all provocative and I hope something here provokes a comment from you!

College Admissions in the Google Age. My guess is that the marketing and admissions departments at universities are ahead of the educators in recognizing how communications are evolving.

100 million YouTube viewers This should be shared with anyone who believes that teaching how to understand communication through text should monopolize over even dominate the curriculum.

HOW TO: Make a Widget From Any New York Times Feed If you start your own blog, you'll want to know about this. My source in the publishing industry says that the NYT believes it will cease publishing on dead trees within five years. They are trying all kinds of technology at their site. Notice that I have planted a Times widget in my sidebar.

Rupert Murdoch: The internet won't kill off newspapers As one who subscribes to Newspaper Death Watch RSS, I found Murdoch's commentary to be refreshingly contrarian. He shares a vision on how newspapers will survive in the midst of 21st free media.

How Google is Unlocking the Hidden Ad Value of Old Media describes an amazing archive for print publications, searchable online.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

My Voyage with Video

My personal technology goal for the current school year was mess around with digital video. I had no experience with it and no real idea of how I might use it, but after having a year of success with audio, I thought I would give it a try. My wife helped out immensely by giving me a Flip for my birthday.

Here are the video experiments to date which have produced something worthwhile:

YouTube for Shakespeare - Actually, before I began shooting original video, I stumbled onto some Shakespeare scenes on YouTube. I realized at once that I'd overlooked a source of enrichment for my students. I posted them online as a course resource, and in one case selected four different versions of the "To be or not to be speech" by Hamlet and assigned students to compare/contrast the portrayals.

Vanity Reigneth - I turned the Flip on myself in order to produce some blogs. The production values were dreadful, but this has motivated me to learn some basic editing with iMovie in the near future. More importantly, I learned about working with those memory hogs-- video files. After struggling some with posting files to my web site, I came to appreciate the ease of uploading to YouTube and Google Video and the advantages of embedding, etc. My "Palin Panic" vlog also served as a model for my AP Am. Government class (see below).

Tutorials - Thanks to Will Richardson I've discovered the tutorials offered in YouTube for many applications.

AP Gov't Vlogs - Six of my AP students have vlogged on political issues ranging from the election campaigns to the auto bailout. This has provoked great discussion in class, but has not been efficient or smooth since each time the student has borrowed my camera and I have posted. I would love feedback and suggestions on a better process.

What up docs? My most gratifying experience has been the interaction of google docs with YouTube and Google Video. I have enjoyed the ease with which I have been able to insert video into google doc presentation. Rather than projecting these slide shows, I have published them for individual use. In some cases they have been posted to Wikis. More recently, I have published them directly to Moodle. My favorite to date is a video quiz on residential roles created with YouTube clips: . After the students have taken this quiz individually, I can project it like a Power Point for class discussion. The ease of posting these presentations also make them useful for make up work.

I've only just scratched the surface this semester and would love to learn what other folks are doing.

Monday, December 8, 2008


If you are over thirty, you may be able to relate to this. My usual approach to mastering something has been utterly linear. Whether it meant reading an owner's manual from cover to cover (yes, really) or prepping a new text by going though chapter by chapter, my idea of learning or gaining mastery meant not skipping any steps. And this approach has served me well in very instances. But recently, I have been letting go of some of these habits. For instance, I started playing around with Twitter. As the site explains, "Twitter means you can step in and out of the flow of information as it suits you and it never queues up." It also means you can't master it or maintain a linear correspondence.

OK, so I have been dabbling with Twitter. Well, last Friday I got the idea of setting up a colorful Twitter page design. Since I am a complete doofus with graphics, I looked for help online and found a template for Keynote, an application I owned but with which I had no experience. So I learned just enough about Keynote to discover that I could import a jpeg background for the page. I remembered recently reading that millions of digital photos were available on Flickr. This is probably not news to you, but it was quite a revelation to me. I opened an account, chose a couple of candidates for my Twitter design, digressed and selected some Third Man picts for my Film Class, chose the "Blue Sky 2" picture for Blogger, and contacted all the photographers concerned. By Sunday all had replied with permissions and I was able to show my finished Twitter page to the chap who had supplied me with the "Apple White Bricks" picture that gave uniqueness to my page. I learned a lot, but not by any sort of predetermined step-by-step.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Wrap that Red Herring in Paper

At a break during the in-service he hosted at our school, ed tech guru Will Richardson, inquired of one of our building administrators whether our school might consider going “paperless” since our students are now mandated to have laptops. Subsequently, Will blogged about this topic (Get. Off. Paper.)

To cut to the chase, the idea was floated to our staff in an email. I took this to be an discussion starter, but it was evident at our next faculty meeting that many people took this literally.

I think this was a red herring. First, it is clear that Richardson’s role is to serve as a provocateur. I think our administrator was also acting in that spirit. Nothing wrong with that. It is interesting to think of how we might be relying on paper out of habit. But if this was intended literally, it makes no more sense to me than saying we will go phoneless, twitterless, moodless, vcrless, or face-to-face less.

From my perspective we are in the midst of a communications revolution. Yes, the ebook is on the rise and the newspapers are in decline. But this is not to say that paper is useless. Making digital corrections on my students’ “papers” is s-l-o-w. Jotting a note to myself on a post-it is faster than powering up my laptop or iTouch. Collecting a pop quiz or creating a prompt for a class discussion is easier with slips of paper than machinery. Some may stake a “green” claim for going paperless, but I don’t think this holds up very well on closer examination, given the trouble with recycling electronics, and I would propose that setting a goal for reducing paper 15-30% would be much more reasonable.

On the other had, I think some of the staff members seized on going paperless as a red herring. Since it was relatively easy to demonstrate that paper had some advantages they did not have to overcome an argument that going digital also has many advantages in numerous circumstances. Instead, they could self-righteously contend that banning paper would strike a crippling blow to the classroom.

Thus, what could have been a very stimulating discussion degenerated into silliness.

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