Friday, May 29, 2009

Ten by Ten Top Techs

As the end of the school year approaches I've been tempted to make lists of this or that, so why not go all out and make a 10 x 10 list?

10 Lessons I've Learned at Age 55

Tweetdeck Top Ten: @bridgers, @cultofmac, @englishcomp, @jackiegerstein, @markwagner, @Milw_Mac_Guy, @ScottElias, @mcleoud, @potsie, @TweetingTigers

10 Necessities of Education Reform by Judy Willis

The 10 Commandments of Power Point. How can people possibly think that reading PowerPoint slides to an audience is an effective way to communicate? This post by David Pierce is a must read for those who use (abuse?) PowerPoint or teach it to others.

My 10 RSS Feeds Knowing that I would just get depressed if I loaded more and more feeds into my Google Reader, I always limit myself to ten. Click here for my current feeds.

My 10 Largest Delicious Tag Bundles: finish, blog, tenthings, google, dadcalx, AP, mhs, 13, technology

10 Reasons to Tweet: The nine I wrote about in Why Twitter? plus this obvious one that I forgot: # 10 Twitter is perfectly suited for mobile communications.

10 Sites I Check Daily

10 apps or sites that I've enjoyed learning to use this year: GarageBand, iMovie, QuickTime Pro, Google Docs, Audacity, WikiSpaces, Google Sites, Twitter, Presentation.

10 Compelling Reasons to Teach with Technology

"The 'Ten Truck' FDNY' Flickr Creative Commons Photo by stevejonesphoto

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Blogging on Podcasts

The final "project" that my AP American Government class completed is worth mentioning because it produced excellent results and is easily adaptable to a variety of subject areas. It was conducted entirely outside of classroom time, and the kids really liked it.

Students were asked to independently view a documentary film which related to our course. They were then required to produce a ten minute podcast which included a summary and dealt with such areas as

*Did the director betray any biases?

* What important things did you learn from the film?

* Name one or more weaknesses of the film.

* Would you recommend this film to others? On what basis? Explain.

The podcasts were uploaded to an iWeb podcast page. Students were then randomly assigned to review two of their classmates' podcasts and blog the reviews at the site. Here were the instructions for writing the reviews:

1. Whose podcast did you review and what was its length?

2. Was the main theme of the film explained clearly? What did you understand the main theme to be.?

3. How was the general pacing of the broadcast? Was the volume satisfactory? Did the student seem prepared?

4. Did the broadcaster seem informed and confident? Explain.

5. Describe at least two important facts or arguments that the student provided.

6. Did the film sound interesting? What came across as its strengths and weaknesses.

7. What other information about the film did you glean and/or what other stylistic points about the presentation were noteworthy?

The exercise produced excellent blogs, and once again I found that podcasting produced excellent writing. (Just listen to Allegra's superb review of The War Room).

The students responded to the transparency of the work and sampled each other's work beyond the requrirements. Each watched a worthwhile film, and quite possibly some have been enticed to watch a few more that their peers recommended.

P.S. If you missed it due to the holiday, take a peek at "Rick's Off to College Computing Tips" and forward link to families of graduating high school seniors. The post now followed by some worthwhile commentary from college students.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Rick's List of "Off to College" Computing Tips

If you read posts from the Drive-thru regularly, you have heard me extol the virtues of Twitter. But I also appreciate Facebook for the way it has reconnected me with former colleagues and students. Rick Strobl, the Photoshop mad genius behind Tom Schusterbauer’s demented profile pics, has been a regular correspondent. He and I are collaborating on a Weebly Site of web tools and are trying to get the Blog Squad off the ground. I have really appreciated some of his feedback on this blog and invited him to offer some timely advice to parents and students who are pondering personal computing needs for college. Please feel free to add your own "comment" suggestions to Rick’s tips:

“Parents (and students) are often confused about what technology they may need for college… I haven’t been able to find good information anywhere on the web . . . .

Most college dorm rooms are hard-wired for internet. Most students forget to bring along a network cable (at least 50 feet).
Many dorm rooms are now “wireless” (but make sure student’s laptop has a wireless card).

Virus Protection
Consider AVG (Grisoft) free edition online. Automatically updates latest virus descriptions.

Computer Disks
If your computer does not come with factory “restoration” CDs or DVDs, make an immediate set of emergency disks (follow the instructions that come with the computer). Invest in a binder-style computer disk holder. You will eventually need to re-install components or the entire operating system. Trust me!


Most college-bound students choose a “laptop” over a bulky desktop computer. Even though laptops have come a long way the last couple of years, most models are still considered watered-down versions of more-powerful desktop machines.
Spend as much as you can afford on ...
-- Processor speed (At least 2 GHz ?)
-- RAM (at least 4 GB)
-- Gigs on hard drive (at least 250 gigs)
-- CD Drive (Look for at least CD-RW plus the ability to watch DVDs)
-- Security cable

Office-type application (including PowerPoint-type presentation software) (But open source software like Google Docs is getting better and better.
AdAware (spyware eliminator)
LoJack tracker security (outstanding theft recovery capability)
Proper graphics card
Swappable cards (nice feature)

Laptop Graphics/Video Card -- Most PC laptops do not come with a dedicated graphics/video card (some are not even able to upgrade). Many students want to make movie projects for class, but most laptops are not able to process video movies. Strongly consider upgrading the laptop or purchasing a MacBook or MacBook Pro (graphics card standard). Also, there must be a way to capture the video from the source (camera or player). If a camera is not capable of USB or Firewire transfer, an external "capture" device is essential.

Additional Storage
Look for 4 gig USB drives for around $9.99
Consider 250 gig detachable hard drive for around $99 (also useful for backups).

Gift Cards
Use bank “gift” cards instead of credit cards for online purchasing. Some banks offer gift cards without added fees). Rechargeable gift cards are also a good option (but watch out for added fees).

Make sure printer has affordable ink cartridges.
Consider a portable printer saves space and friends don’t even realize it is a printer and won’t ask to borrow it!

Power Strip
Extension cord

Photo of Rick Strobl at the Big House in Ann Arbor, taken by Aaron Johnson

Friday, May 22, 2009

Blog Squad

Part 3 of 3
Sorry, Rick. I got you fired up over the prospect of a Web-Design club at school. I had visions of a service group of talented and curious design students who would learn about web design and then help groups in school where some still think p.r is tacking up a couple of posters in the hall and or setting out a stack of books at Open House.

Well, I circulated my idea and got tepid responses from a couple of teachers and four students. No administrative response to my emails. But the deal-breaker for me was my assignment for next year which does not build in any tech-specific time for staff development, school wide programs and the like . So all we have to show for my scheme is the neat logo you made.

However, I am certainly not going to let the limited imaginations of others keep us from pushing forward. At MHS each teacher has an obligation to be involved with an extra-curricular. And as I indicated in Part 2 , the little technical issues that arise during a major web project can be overwhelming. So I have dumped the club I was moderating and proposed the following to our principal and our dean of students:

What I would like to establish is something like a "Blog Squad" which would offer message board help to students who are having specific challenges with wikis, web sites, podcasts, blogs in our classes. Believe me, tons of little issues arise with projects using Web 2.0 apps, and they occur when class is not in session. Usually the problems are easy to solve and do not warrant tying up valuable tech department or class time. I envision that the "club" would initially recruit kids who are adept at Audacity, WikiSpaces, Google Sites, and/or Blogger and give them "genius" (apologies to Apple) status as problem solvers. Trust me, these geniuses are often not the same kids who make all the honor societies. This would be a service activity but it would not physically meet as a group. I would, however, want to hold a brainstorming session with interested parties like Tom J., Rick Strobl (who has terrific design skills), participating teachers, representative kids to try to figure out the best online vehicle for the message board (possibly a Ning?). At this time next year I would reevaluate. Perhaps we could expand to offer broader services, workshops, include school-wide help. Fran, Lynn, Alison, and I are generating a large pool of veteran wiki users. Ann's, Steve's and my students move on from our courses as veteran bloggers. Thus, the pool of helpers is growing.

On the other hand, I am also not afraid to declare that I have failed. The plan will die a quick death if a critical mass of users is not achieved by mid-semester. Final note: If this brain storm does not count as my "extra-curricular" at least I've just written a blog post for Larry's Opinion Drive-thru. Perhaps someone out there in the distant reaches of cyberspace will pick up on the idea and run with it in their school!

"Web Warrior" logo posted to my Facebook wall by Rick Strobl. Rick will guest blog on Monday with a terrific computing check list for the student who is going off to college. This is one that you will want to pass along to friends and family

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Web 2.0 Simuation Post-Mortem

Part 2 of 3
In part one (Taking a Deep Plunge into Google Sites) I outlined my new, tech-improved Congressional Simulation:

All of the game documents were distributed through Google Sites. In addition, each of the students created her own Google Site and was responsible for building the site with a character profile, daily journals, a summary podcast, and a "score sheet". The podcasts were created using the free audio recorder, Audacity. What is more, separate simulations were launched in three sections of American Government, involving 87 students, total.... (Click for the the full project assignment).

Here is an evaluation of the highs and lows:

* Technical Issues Trying to bring 87 students on board is, well, trying. Eventually everyone got going, but I was amazed at how many students did not check their own uploads. I would go online to check the work and encounter a problem, creating a series of email back and forths that tested my patience. My next post will propose one remedy to this problem.

* Accountability I have to figure out how to hold students accountable without repeatedly returning to the sites at various steps along the way. This was exhausting. But fifteen year olds still need progressive due dates to create a complicated final product. In our school procrastination is embedded in the culture, and to allow students to complete all the work in one gush would turn the whole enterprise into a fiasco. The time stamping provided by Sites' "File Cabinet" page may be a solution. Knowing their work will have a time signature may sufficient incentive for the majority to meet the due dates.

* Uniformity I was anxious to encourage creativity so it never occurred to me to have the students create uniformly named web pages for their files. This cost me considerable time searching for the work, particularly since Google Sites has a weak default navigation system.

* Podcasts The podcasts for the simulation were outstanding. It took forever to listen to all of them, but I could not have been more pleased. Students had trouble exporting files from Audacity and then uploading them. I think more time in class will be needed to work on this. My plan B was to have the students use flash drives, which became a clerical nightmare.

* Video The Presidents in the three classes were required to post video State of the Union messages. These were wonderfully creative. I might make video extra credit for the other players, next ttime.

* Creativity Many of the students "got into it" and developed creative sites as I had hoped. If you would like to sample one of the best all-around sites, click the Harvey Sartori screen capture in the upper right hand corner and you will be transported into our '09 simulation.

* Fun Though I was worn out by the process several students confided in the podcasts that they had learned a great deal while having fun. This was gratifying. I will conclude Part Two by offering this excerpt from Alison's podcast.

P.S. Part 3 proposes a "Blog Squad" to troubleshoot the little day to day problems that arise during a complicated Web 2.0 project like this one.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Taking a Deep Plunge into Google Sites

Part 1 of 3
Back on Jan 23, I presented an in-service to our English Department on Google Docs and Google Sites. At that time I had lots of experience with Docs, but had only fiddled around with Sites in anticipation of the big project I would launch in March. So, for the in-service I constructed a demo site and packed it full of multi-media applications.

Shortly after my presentation, one of my colleagues began using Google Sites, but it was not until April that I found myself up to my ears in them. This week's three posts will relate to that experience.

I have described my simulation in this space before. I began teaching American Government in 1993, and my Congressional simulation has been with me for the entire ride. It evolved slowly from semester to semester. But this semester I converted it into a web experience. All game documents were distributed through Google Sites. In addition, each of the students created her own Google Site and was responsible for building the site with a character profile, daily journals, a summary podcast, and a "score sheet". Podcasts were created using the free audio recorder, Audacity. What is more, separate simulations were launched in three sections of American Government, involving 87 students, total. I only collected one sheet of paper from each student, instead of the two shopping bags I usually hauled home. This was radical change: lots of apps, for lots of students playing a complicated game. (Click for the the full project assignment).

Part two will be the project post-mortem. And as you expect from the Drive-thru, I will share both the tech agonies as well as the tech ecstasies. In the mean time, you are invited to sample one of the finished Sites. Just click the adjacent screen capture of "Rep. Jerry Jarvis". Jerry is a fictional character created by one of my sophomores, Meghan.


Friday, May 15, 2009

Twelve Tweets

Twitter limits tweets to 140 characters based on the question, "What are you doing?" From the flotsam and jetsam of the Twitter stream produced by the 100 people I "follow", I have fished out twelve recent treasures for you to contemplate:

When people are in their element, they are in their most authentic selves . . and it is essential for our communities
The "Yellow Pages" was delivered this morning to my doorstep. What's the point?

I don't recall ever teaching "Man versus To-Do List" as a form of dramatic conflict when I was teaching literature classes.

Isn't prayer kind of the ultimate backchannel in some ways?

Social media is like grilling; sometimes it'll look done on the outside but not inside. Strategy is a must.

“The web has made kicking a** easier to achieve, and mediocrity harder to sustain. Mediocrity now howls in protest.”

Teaching creative thinking and flexibility etc is not extra curricular, it needs to be part of the core curriculum

I'm content stating that knowledge is a configuration of connections....

[A quote about using Twitter to backchannel at a conference]- "It is like passing notes during class."

Teenagers can't multi-task as well as adults because their brains are still learning how to process multiple pieces-

My biased realization- IT Teachers & Specialists who don't use Twitter are not keeping up to date.

labcbaker I think I'm in love...with Garageband.
ScottElias@labcbaker Ah, yes. GarageBand love.

"Tweet Tweeting Birdie Pin Badge" with kind permission of icklebird

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Education "Suicide Watch" (with apologies to Frank Rich)

Dramatic blog title? It's not totally off the wall. As a resident of Southeastern Michigan I have been following the wrenching decline, diminution, and possible deaths of GM and Chrysler with anxiety and fascination. When an acquaintance from Massachusetts referred to this process as "creative destruction", I considered it callous, even offensive.

On the other hand, I think I have been guilty of the same emotional distance as I have followed the Newspaper Death Watch. I spoke often and openly with the journalism students in my AP Government classes about their pursuit of a rapidly evaporating dream.

I was jolted out of my emotional disconnect from old media death-throes when the Ann Arbor News suddenly announced it would cease publication in July. Grandfather Baker worked for Booth newspapers his entire career and ultimately became editor of the Ann Arbor News. The end of the paper seems a slight against his memory.

But the problem seems so obvious, doesn't it? How could the a business model based on the processing and physical delivery of ink-on-tree-pulp to the nation's doorsteps be sustainable? The high-speed internet kicks the traditional newspaper's butt on the all important issues of immediacy and cost. But naturally, many of us are concerned real journalism will die along with the old media. Might this not have dire consequences for our democracy?

In Sunday's New York Times (which I read online of course) Frank Rich reflects on these very issues. In a piece entitled "The American Press on Suicide Watch" he chronicles the industry's "self-destructive retreat from innovation" and suggests that newspapers might survive this technological revolution, just as the movies adjusted to tv and music evolved in a post-Napster world. His darkest concerns focus on the future of investigative journalism and the inability of "blogs" to substitute for true reporting:

Opinions, however insightful or provocative and whether expressed online or in print or in prime time, are cheap. Reporting the news can be expensive. Some of it — monitoring the local school board, say — can and is being done by voluntary “citizen journalists” with time on their hands, integrity and a Web site. But we can’t have serious opinions about America’s role in combating the Taliban in Pakistan unless brave and knowledgeable correspondents (with security to protect them) tell us in real time what is actually going on there. We can’t know what is happening behind closed doors at corrupt, hard-to-penetrate institutions in Washington or Wall Street unless teams of reporters armed with the appropriate technical expertise and assiduously developed contacts are digging night and day.

Personally, I think the best chance of something like our old newspapers surviving is Kindle. Last week Amazon introduced the Kindle DX, which may set the standard for newspapers, magazines, and books the way iTunes has done for digital music.

What does any of this have to do with education? Much. In the short term, teachers can enjoy the tremendous windfall of free information being provided by old media as it offers free content online in order to lure advertising . Without this free-for-all my digital anthology project would be much more difficult.

But how different is the education "old school" mind set from "old mainstream media" titans who steered their industry into the rocks. "Old school"continues to privilege ink-on-paper, brick and mortar, one teacher to 30 students. Administrators treat school calendars and schedules as sacredly as the old-time newspaper editors treated "deadlines".

But news doesn't stop happening at deadlines and learning doesn't stop when the bell rings. Most in the ed establishment still conceive of teaching as something that happens when an old guy like me stands in front of students at desks and delivers lectures from the podium. For them, "technology" means the old guys does death-by-PowerPoint instead of death by chalkboard.

Since education is so heavily subsidized by public funds, it's not on the verge of dying as my teaser implies. But how can we suppose that a process so stale and outmoded can contribute to a thriving society which competes in a flat world of rapid change? We risk a great deal by clinging to the old ways.

"Old Man with Newspaper" Flickr Creative Commons photo by andreas.plesnik

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Digital Anthology for Poli Sci (or any course!)

Sometimes I blog and wonder if my words make any impact. Then I am comforted by the thought that one reader often takes the words to heart. . . . Me!

This happened again recently after I posted Teaching Literature Unbound. In it I described Jim Burke's Weekly Reader-- A Digital Anthology. Afterwards, I found myself musing about the types of lit I might include for an English class. Then I hit on the realization of how valuable a digital anthology would be for my AP Government and Politics class.

I have have always included a "reader" companion to the text for this course. Typically it costs about fifty bucks. And even though I regularly order newer editions, many of the articles typically seem dated in even the newest collections. A digital "reader" could be current, free, and include multi-media.

Since having this brain storm I have thrown myself into the project. I've drawn from four main sources so far:

Academic and news articles-- Gale Student Resource Center

Video Lectures-- Academic Earth & NY Times Video Library

Podcasts-- iTunes U

I am using Google Docs to collate my materials. The hyperlink feature (see Hyperlink Heaven) allows me to pull all the resources into one space. After seven years I have a pretty clear idea of the kinds of topics I want to include for my students. As I pull together the resources, I also compose critical thinking topics, which I compose in a different color text)

Next school year, besides saving my students fifty dollars, I will break by anthology into course packs which correspond to each unit. Students will have direct links to the resources with attendant topics to write, vlog, blog about (according to instructions).

From the teacher's point of view, the anthology can continually be refreshed and tailored exactly to each year's course.

If you have suggestions, please comment. If you would like to see a section of my anthology, just shoot me an email:

Screen Capture of "Academic Earth". Thanks to our Jonell, our Dean of Students, for passing this link along.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Drive-thru Weekend Take Out

Monitoring Gmail Labs

If you are a Gmail user, you would be doing yourself an enormous favor to check out the features at Gmail Labs. Among many other add-on features, Google now allows you to
* access your inbox offline.
*create a Google Document from an email.
*mark messages as read without reading them.
*undo "send" (five second delay).
*add a button that lets you send a reply and archive the conversation in a single action.
*insert images into an email.
....and much more.

The labs have been churning out new features like crazy. To stay abreast, I recommend that your subscribe to the Gmail Blog. It's the perfect blog, because the team only reports when it has something to say (Just like the Drive-thru?).

Using PowerSchool Comments Creatively
I’ve always disliked the programmed “comments” options that electronic grade books provide. Currently I use custom comments in PowerSchool, but often unconventionally. For example, I will use the comment section to log notes on participation or other classroom behavior. I may use the comments to indicate that a student didn’t bring notes for an open note quiz, or neglected to take advantage of an extra credit opportunity. Of course, I make plenty of positive comments to students, but recording some basic facts about shortcomings for my own records is very helpful at conferences with parents or counselors. They are less likely to float theories of how the teacher may be the cause of the student's under performance if the teacher has noted specific occasions where the student has been unprepared or distracted. I have found this documentation extremely helpful for "cutting to the chase."

Handy Storage at
At our school, teachers use Moodle to post files that students need for class. But when the students use Wikis or the teacher needs to host larger files than your Moodle administrator will allow, it’s nice to have another third party storage option. I’m a big fan of They provide one gigabyte of file storage free (upgrades to larger storage options are reasonable). After an easy upload, the tools for embedding, sharing or downloading the files are highly intuitive. If you are a regular reader of the Drive-thru, you’ve come across more than a few hyperlinks to files.

P.S. The Drive-thru continues to publish on M,W,F for the rest of the school year.

"Take Out" with generous permission of americanvirus

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Real Projects with Real Challenges (and Kicks)

Nothing could be hotter in Web 2.0 instruction than "Project Based Learning". While neither one would satisfy purists, I have redesigned two American Government projects this semester loosely based on this approach. Relative to what I have offered in the past, they are much more student directed, collaborative, and packed with technology. And they were cool enough to submit with my successful ADE application.

I described the Civil Rights / Liberty Project in "Larry's Adventures in Wikiland, part one" and then evaluated it in part two. I am currently wrapping up my Simulation Project. At this juncture, I have some general conclusions to share:

* I am not remotely interested in hearing a guest speaker or curriculum coordinator taut project based learning unless they have designed at least one and come down into the trenches to guide a group of learners through the experience. If not, these "visionaries" have far more to learn than teach.

* Projects (if they are going to be worthwhile) are very labor intensive upfront. Naysayers will love hearing this as it serves as grounds for them not to go near the stuff.

* Both of my projects would have benefited from collaboration in the planning and execution stages. Project learning cheerleaders will love hearing this because they extol collaboration. (Which is fine if someone else in your department is remotely interested in project based learning).

* It is impossible to debug the project in the design stage. You simply have to go through the pain of a steep learning curve with your first group of co-learners.

* Anyone with an ounce of credibility will acknowledge the pluses and minuses of these projects.

The Negatives

* As I reported in The Digital Natives Aren't Restless, conducting projects with Web 2.0 technology doesn't assure participation. During the wiki project, groups complained about deadbeat members and during the simulation there were students who simply did not post content to web sites.

* The set-up and orientation for online work was far more daunting than I imagined. Keep this in mind when you launch tech projects. All kinds of little bugs appear forcing the teacher to be resourceful with work-arounds.

* Because I enjoy designing systems, I have a tendency to over-complicate in the planning stage. I am learning to simplify and allow the students to complicate with their own ideas.

*Due to my own curiosity and naivete I used WikiSpaces for one project and Google Sites for the other. Thus I went through the set-up headache twice. Next time I will probably use one application for both enterprises.


* You really do get to see another side of your students. I get so tired of English teachers who talk about the "good" kids (The avid readers who arrived to their classes with strong writing skills). With tech projects previously unseen talents for communicating emerge.

*It is quite possible to develop tech aptitude without "teaching" it per se. Once the applications are in place, the kids do a nice job helping each other with bugs and inventive solutions.

*Perhaps because it is new to me, evaluating the projects seemed
less like work. The projects contain terrific variety and many are creative in terms of layout and design. The time did not drag as it does when I check "papers." Tonight I carefully checked thirty web sites. I've also come away with a vivid impression of each student's work.

It's great to be able to switch into a one-on-one mode with students, guiding them and making suggestions. The process lends itself to email. The students who are engaged can take their ideas as far as they wish. I've shared a few tech tips along the way. I have a greater sense of guiding through a shared mission, like a coach.

I remain very enthused about the projects and have every intention of developing them and expanding their use into other courses. But I also wish to firmly communicate that this is heavy lifting. Teachers need more than encouragement and tools to engage in project design. They need time, modeling, training, and support. We don't need cheerleaders.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Why Twitter?

Our after school in-services have been placed in moth balls, but I was musing the other day about what topic I might choose if I were to present one tomorrow. The answer? Twitter. My AP students make Twitter jokes to me because they know I am a slappy about it. But they, like most people who haven't engaged in "tweeting" don't get it. Since Oprah got with the program many "journalists", like Maureen Dowd of the Times and Mitch Albom of WJR have expressed bemusement by it. They don't get it either. Folks use it for many reasons, but I find that Twitter is wonderfully adaptable to individual needs. It may not be for you, but if you are in education, I recommend trying this hot micro-messaging network for the following reasons:

* Twitter provides me with stimulating professional reading. After a month of refining who I "followed" on Twitter, I filtered my stream to include a set of educators from around the world who were making great recommendations of blogs, articles, applications, etc. that have become about 95% of my professional reading. The more I filter this set (I cap "following" at 100), the better my information stream becomes.

*Twitter is a rich source of ideas. I could not post to this blog three times a week without Twitter. Since my network is so diverse, I am constantly exposed outside-the-box ideas that I could not be exposed to any other way. I have fun (or vent) on Facebook, but I learn much more through Twitter.

*Twitter is a way to connect with others who share your unique interests. I can tweet my Web 2.0 fascination out of my system on Twitter, and I am reassured by those I follow, that others out there who feel the same passion.

*Twitter is very low maintenance if you wish it to be. I check in on Twitter three or four times a day, but usually for brief intervals. The profile page is very limited and basic so there is little upkeep. It is a much less self-conscious style of interaction than Facebook.

*Twitter is less personal than Facebook, so there are no social consequences for unfollowing a person. (I only know about 5% of my Twitter friends personally). Most users don't select privacy settings, so you can "follow" another person without asking permission. And if someone follows you, there is no obligation to reciprocate.

*As I discussed in "Back Channeling. . . .", Twitter is often used at conferences by attendees to communicate with each other about presentations, sometimes while they are under way. This is adding an entirely new dimension to these events.

*I am amazed by how often Twitter is first with the "news" of something big going on in the world or small going on in Web 2.0.

*Twitter is an easy way to float an idea to get feedback or develop an online audience. As I write, I am up to 95 followers. I tweet whenever I post a blog. Unsurprisingly, my blog readership has grown with my Twitter following (and they are the types of readers I want!).

*After you have acquired a following of your own, Twitter can be a great way to get a quick answer to question you may have. Suppose you were a history teacher who had networked with others like yourself. You could pose a quick question about a resource, method, or fact; and get instant answers in return.

If you decide to try it, be patient. Most folks find that it take 3 weeks or so to get a feel for it. The best way to network is to check out who the people with your interests are following and then follow them yourself.

I enjoy the jokes about Twitter and make plenty myself. But for me, it has been more than a passing fad. If you join follow me @labcbaker

The Drive-thru will continue to publish on Monday,Wednesday, Friday for the rest of the school year.
"Ode to Twitter...." Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Thomas Hawk

Friday, May 1, 2009

Building Virtual Audiences for Students

Teachers' Lounge Series, part 4 of 4

Ron and I were talking about podcasting several months ago, and during the course of our conversation he inquired about my course web sites. He expressed an interest in developing a drama department site, and I've been nagged by the thought ever since. My course sites were pretty easy to develop with Apple's iWeb-- It's user friendly and I had several months experience.

I think course web sites are important because 1) They allow a much better view of the class than a mere paper syllabus. 2) People simply expect to get detailed information online these days. I think a 1:1 computing school like mine should put as much well designed information on the Web as possible.

In creative areas like drama this seems particularly desirable. But why should it be on the drama, poetry, or music teacher to design and maintain the site? Shouldn't a school's community resources be used to actively support the efforts of our artistic teachers and students as they try to build their audiences?

As I've argued in "Tooting Your Horn", students respond to performance and since those outside our walls are coming to expect information about us at their fingertips, why not show them the best of ourselves? To illustrate how effective this can be, I've found four different high school sites that I would hold up as examples.

I loved the student art portfolios at the Conestoga H.S. site. It is my impression that
the department has taken the initiative to archive its students work this way. Most extraordinarily, it appears that each student has designed her own page with links, so the media itself communicates the message of this department being exceptional.

The Parkview High School drama site is absolutely packed with production photos and slide shows. I would have loved to see some video, but obviously they are exhibiting their students in the next best way. Northampton High School Theater Net appears to be a beautiful work in progress. Simple tools have been used to create an elegant design for a site packed with information. They are beginning a wiki, which contains a very interesting layout. Imagine how such a wiki could accommodate student memories of their experience with a play or club at your school.

The Wooster High School Music Department won't perhaps win any awards for design, but I was blown away by how much actual music I could find there. What is more, the site contains very creative ways to make connections with members and alumni. I loved the "history" page and the way bios of middle school teachers are included on the staff page. The site is dynamic and fun. If I had a young child in the district I would conclude that my child would have a great experience if he or she were part of this program.

I have a couple of reflections before I conclude this topic that I keep pounding like a drum (see
vlog/blogs and Staff Development, part 3). First, I'm in two departments which work very hard at our school's open houses to recruit students. Yet, in both we lay out our texts in order exhibit what we are doing. It seems to me that exhibiting our students' accomplishments gives far greater testimony of how we stand out. Secondly, I recently sought waivers from a few parents in order to exhibit their kids' videoes online. One student told me that her dad had balked. Fine, except this same student had been recently featured in our major daily newspaper with photographs, and unlike my exhibit, with full name and personal information. I think both examples indicate that many of us still cling to printed paper as a privileged way to communicate. From here in the trenches this seems irrational and the sooner we take advantage of broadcasting our students' achievements ourselves, the better.

As I postscript, I note that I am interested in starting a Web Design club at our school to help folks like Ron show off the fabulous work that his department does.
I envision club members could benefiting from mentoring by alumni and parents in our school's extended community. I already have a prospective partnership with a web design ace-- my friend, Rick (Who will be guest blogging on these pages soon).

But to tell you the truth, I am skeptical about pulling this off. Ambitious projects like these need the support and encouragement of folks throughout entire school. I think we all have to embrace the reality of the communications revolution and make the vey best of it.

"E.E.D.L.M.V." Exhibition by moi Creative Commons photo courtesy by Simon Pais-Thomas

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