Monday, June 28, 2010

I Love Being Lost in La Mancha

Ordinarily creating a study guide for students is a bit of a chore. However, I've always enjoyed fashining guides for my Lit into Film class. When Tom S. and I created the class a few years ago, we both thought it was pretty important that students have a guided viewing of the films, so that they would be prepared for discussion. Since we selected films that we really liked, it was no chore to comb through them for good discussion topics.

Two years ago, I began to convert my guides to Google Docs with hyperlinks, so that they popped out with YouTube and jpeg examples of film techniques that were merely defined in prior semesters. Putting the guides on Google Docs also allowed me to link them easily to Moodle.

This summer I have begun to improve the guides by using the screen capture software, Volia. I recently completed a study guide for Lost in La Mancha, a film directed by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe which "chronicle[s] the making of a movie that was never actually completed . . . Terry Gilliam's repeated (and repeatedly failed) attempts to bring the story of Don Quixote to the big screen." It's a wonderful documentary, a genre unappreciated by most students.

Voila has permitted me to inch through the film and pull out illustrative images from La Mancha. Viola allows for publishing directly to iPhoto, where I edit them before import the photos into the guide. I am very pleased to show off my handiwork and look forward to more summer fun with Voila:

Terry Gilliam on location in Spain-- Voila screen capture from Lost in La Mancha.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

So Now, Who Is the Expert?

The Big Sports Story
I have a voracious appetite of for online sports commentary, analysis, and rumors. Recently, whether Michigan State's basketball coach, Tom Izzo, would bolt to coach in the pros was the big story around her. At the news conference where he announced his decision to stay in East Lansing, the university president, A.D. and Coach Izzo all criticized "the media" for its role in hyping the story and running off half-cocked with unfounded rumors during the nine day "Will he or won't he?" drama.

The Old Guard
In response to these cliched jabs at the media, our resident dean of sports writing, Mitch Albom, metaphorically cleared his throat with a large harumph! and took the university to task for its criticism of those in his trade:

Look. An institute of higher learning already should know there is no such thing as a single "media" anymore. You cannot put credible newspapers or television stations in the same sentence as tweeters. You cannot lump legit Internet posts with a blog that begins in some guy's basement.

How ironic. If Albom was not so busy with his "entertainment plus news, traffic, sports and weather" radio show , book signings, etc. he might have noticed that his former sports writing buddies (as well as sportscasters) are hustling to become that blogging and tweeting guy in the basement.

What makes Albom an "expert" whose opinion on the Izzo decision has more value than others? He's a talented writer to be sure, but there is little evidence that he follows sports very closely with all his other lucrative distractions. While others lack the same talent for turning a phrase they have not lost their passion for sports. I'm more interested n their opinions. In this 24/7 news age, no voice should get preference simply because of an appointed position based on past journalistic accomplishments.

A Strained Analogy
What makes for expertise these days? I think about this question a good deal. I encourage my students to venture outside the box for their research, seeking untraditional sources of "expertise" for their CBL projects. My whole concept of M-Hub is premised about the importance of learning how to do this for future careers. Through my own initiative and my personal learning network, I have developed areas of "expertise" in educational technology. I actually have thirty hours of post-masters university work in a degree program in this domain. But the university credits toward a degree-- certainly the traditional way of measuring expertise -- are absolutely worthless compared to what I have learned independently.

So, yes Mitch, you write your column from a traditional perch under the Free Press banner (For all I know, you pounded out the words in your basement). But I no longer recognize your expertise on the day-to-day of sports. And since you don't deign to blog or tweet, I don't really follow you very closely. Perhaps your reputation is secure with all those folks who read ink on paper and see you photo above the fold. Good luck with all that.

Mitch developing his sports expertise at a Seven People You Meet in Heaven book signing. Flickr CC photo by [James]

Monday, June 21, 2010

You Don't Need to Know This

During Exam Days, I strolled past a teacher and young student who were engaged in a feverish conversation. I overheard a snatch of exasperated comment from the teacher: "You don't need to know this-- It's not on the exam."

I understand the strange pressures that would cause a teacher to urge a student not to know something, and furthermore, I've conducted reviews for exams where students have expressed a real eagerness not to learn anything new or interesting which might not be on the test. But if you think about it, these kinds conversations are symptomatic of something pretty dreadful, aren't they? The assessment tool itself is limiting the range and depth of knowledge.

While it is easy to be cynical about this perversion of education, it is much more challenging to come up with more valid means of authentic assessing student understanding. I find myself at a challenging crossroads. As I reported in Raising the Bar . . . ., I am very happy with the intense evaluation process that I have developed for my students' Challenge Based Learning projects. But I still lean very heavily on conventional testing in other areas of my courses. (Ironically some fellow staffers members have the impression that I don't use books, paper, or testing at all).

But I would like to continue to ween myself from conventional testing, or at least present alternatives to it. My latest endeavor involves a collaboration with a new teacher. We will be teaching all the American Government sections next year. Ironically, we met to discuss our plans on the very same day that day I overheard the "You don't need to know this" remark.

Our intention is to guide our students in building a giant Fall election project. Right now, we are brain storming our ideas on a shared Google Doc, and she already has really stimulated my thinking with some great assessment suggestions. Ideally, I would like to allow my students to choose from a menu of activities and assessments so that the entire process is relatively self-directed.

Readers at the Drive-thru will hear more about this in the future, I'm sure. In the mean time I will welcome input at this blog, on Facebook, or through private email.

"March 6" Flickr Creative Commons Photo by lorenabuena

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Disruption Versus Inertia

Open courseware is a classic example of disruptive technology, which, loosely defined, is an innovation that comes along one day to change a product or service, often standing an industry on its head. Craigslist did this to newspapers by posting classified ads for free. And the music industry got blindsided when iTunes started unbundling songs from albums and selling them for 99 cents apiece.

Absent someone being assigned the explicit role of thinking about innovation, most of us spend our time doing our work. And the daily drubbing drives out creativity to reflect on what we could do differently, what we could do better. Which is why we need an explicit focus on innovating the system itself.

2010 Horizon Report
Traditionally, a learning environment has been a physical space, but the idea of what constitutes a learning environment is changing. The “spaces” where students learn are becoming more community-driven, interdisciplinary, and supported by technologies that engage virtual communication and collaboration. This changing concept of the learning environment has clear implications for schools.

Tony Wagner
Virtually all forms of work in American life today, are based to some extent, on team structures-- all work, that is, except in education.

"113 - Puzzle Texture" Flickr CC Photo by Patrick Hoesly

Monday, June 14, 2010

iPads and Red Herrings

My wife and I love our new iPad. I use the word, "our," loosely since the iPad is in Barb's possession about 95% of the time. She strongly preferred to read the New York Times on my MacBook Pro instead of her corporate issue P.C. Since I am not good at sharing my toys, she bought the iPad with the primary intent of using it for reading, passing on the Kindle because she wanted color.

The iPad is a terrific media player. And as I'm sure you know, its release stirred up a bit of a frenzy in the press-- lots of feature articles about the Kindle and iPad signaling the end of books. This in turn has created great anxiety, anger and even despondency from book lovers. It's been a bit extreme.

Now look, I come from a family of book lovers. I am an English major with a Masters in English Ed. I have taught lit classes for thirty-five years. I don't hate books. And it's not like they are going to disappear, tomorrow. The ebook police will not be raiding homes, seizing paper books, and tossing them into giant bonfires like something out of a Ray Bradbury story.

I also get it that many readers have strong emotional attachments to their tattered copies of Hamlet or The Great Gatsby. I have a few keepsakes like those on my shelves. For that matter, I prefer paperbacks to ebooks if I'm taking lots of notes or need to thumb through for a passages. Nevertheless, my book reading has picked up since Amazon came up with their Kindle App for my MacBook Pro. (No more headaches from that tiny paperback type).

But I'm hearing and reading a lot of rubbish from the nostalgic supposed book lovers. Some are behaving as though these media players are an assault on the very essence of literature. Can't they see that ebooks will do as much to save books as to kill them? Ebooks don't go "out of print." And since forests don't have to be felled, lumber pulped, paper printed, bound, shipped, etc.; the economics and the ecology of the new model is sounder, isn't it? Those who wax nostalgic about browsing through shelves at book stores, should temper such sentiments with memories of calling or driving all over town for a copy of this or that.

Even though I teach in a 1:1 school, my students drag enormous, bookbags laden with tons of texts from class to class. You can't tell me that if their texts were available on an iPad or Kindle that this would be a wonderful improvement. I require one textbook myself, and it is available as an ebook. Alas, most of my students have preferred the traditional text because they have to do so much scrolling on their HP Tablets. I get that too.

But the folks who deplore the ebook really do need to recognize that the joy they received from reading did not come from the smell of decaying paper or lugging their dog-earred paperbacks around. The iPad and Kindle do not presage the end of literature or even book lovers.

"Red Herring" Frickr Creative Commons photo by "No Matter" Project on our iPad

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Baker's Half Dozen

I enjoy trying out the toys in Gmail Labs ("a testing ground for experimental features that aren't quite ready for prime time"). Just go to settings in Gmail and click the labs tab and a long list of options appears. One very useful gadget is the "undo feature", a setting which allows for up to 20 seconds of pause time after you hit the send button. I've clicked the "undo" more than a few times, and the way I see it, no email is likely to suffer from the delay of an extra few seconds.

Recently I was participated in a conference call involving dozens of educators. This was scheduled using Doodle. Check it out-- It is a splendidly simple piece of software that can be used for whipping up a poll. If you are setting up a meeting poll your members with Doodle and it will produce a matrix showing you the optimal meetings times. Pretty cool.

Have you been bewildered by Ning's announcement to eliminate its free social media sites, followed by a the mysterious statement that "A major educational company has offered to sponsor Ning Mini Networks for educators"? If your confidence has been shaken in Ning, perhaps you would like to try Spruz, which seems to offer similar functionality.

I've only been playing around with Voila for a few days, but I am already hooked. It is an inexpensive screen capture software made for Macs by Global Delight. Voila allows you to "capture and record anything on your screen." It also comes with an easy to use annotation tool kit. which I find very helpful for creating presentations and classroom resources.

Speaking of free accounts, some of the bloggers that I read have referred to Instapaper. If like me, you hopscotch all over the place when you read online, this might be a handy tool. It's simple to register for an account. Then drag a bookmarklet to your toolbar. This will create a "read me" button. When you are scanning an article and want to save it, click the "read me" button and Instapaper will save it for you.

My last recommendation is for pop music lovers. Downplayer offers ten free downloads a day, Monday through Friday. It's easy and fun to preview the songs. If you feel as though your playlist is stale, spend a few weeks sampling from this site and you will discover some new music. The free feature has hooked me into spending some cash on albums, just the way it's designed to do.

"Six" Flickr Creative Commons Photo by duncan

Monday, June 7, 2010

What Motivates Us (and our students)

I was quite delighted to come across "The surprising truth about what motivates us" video produced by the RSA. It's a wonderful animation of a compelling ten minute talk by Dan Pink. It contends that clear evidence shows that bonus money is not an effective motivator for complex cognitive tasks. Instead, autonomy, mastery, and purpose are the keys to better performance and personal satisfaction.

Though this video is aimed at a business audience, the implications for education are enormous.

Students: Let's apply the lessons of "What Motivates Us" to our students by substituting grades for bonus money. Most of the students I teach are motivated to get good grades, but the system too often does not motivate these same students to learn. They memorize information or ask the teacher, "What do you want". They think nothing of copying each other's homework or notes. They read Sparks Notes to pass their literature assignments. It's a game.

The themes of the video dovetail perfectly with my Challenge Based Learning experiences. I saw students genuinely excited about the quests they were shaping. In several cases they went far beyond my expectations. And by giving them control they took their topics in different and far more imaginative directions than I might have assigned. (The stopped asking me what I wanted when it was clear I wouldn't play the game). Knowing that they were creating for the benefit of others and knowing that they would report their ideas to their classmates, made a huge impact on their motivation.

I think the video explains in part why teachers are so resistant to change: 1) They enjoy their autonomy in the classroom and their sense of mastery over the material. Pink's work also has important implications for staff development: change will only be achieved through motivators of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. It can't be imposed top-down or through a regimented design.

M-Hub This project has come together so quickly because it taps into these motivators, particularly the sense of purpose. When we go live, M-Hub will benefit the entire school community. Already, students and staff have devoted many hours to the project. Will it help their "grades" or effect their pay? Of course not. Speaking for myself, I've been far more engaged in it than some of the things I get paid to do.

I would love to hear your reactions to the video.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Music that's Licensed for Student Projects

In my last post I described research I did for an art student who was looking for a web site to host her online portfolio. (She has since chosen

The student was also concerned about finding the right electronica music for her edgy site. Therefore, I enjoyed putting 33 tracks of
Creative Commons music on a flash drive, knowing that I could offer them to her without copyright infringement.

Each of my tracks came from my own go-to source, Magnatune. By subscribing to their "Free Song of the day" email list I had gradually acquired the electronica music. All of these songs are licensed as free-use with attribution for non-commercial video blogs, podcasts, and anything a student makes for academic purposes while attending school. For the past several months I have used their music for instructional slide presentations, videos, and podcasts. (You many be listening to it on this site right now as you read). Magnatune selects its artists with care, and the quality of the recordings and doonloads is excellent.

I hadn't visited the Magnatue site for a while. But my research spurred me to revisit. I discovered that Magnatune has adopted a subscription service. After an exchange of emails, I learned to my delight, that with one $15/month subscription, the students at our school may access the site for student classroom projects. Their are only obligated by the CC license to include attribution.

As you must know or suspect, many students (and sometimes their teachers!) are inclined to use music without permissions. It's much easier to discourage this illegal practice when one can offer a quality, legal substitute. My art teacher friend snapped one up a subscription at once and our associate principal was glad to pay for it.

I recommend that you check them Magnatune. They have a very fair business model for their artists, not to mention interesting listening options. Given their generous disposition toward our students, I hope they thrive.

P.S. Starting next week, the Drive-thru will publish on Mondays and Thursdays until September.
Screen shot of Magnatune home page.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Resources for Online Art Portfolios

I was approached recently by an art student about publishing an online gallery of her portfolio. She wondered what sites might best display her work. I really enjoy researching little projects like this and thought that I would share my recommendations to her and her fine art teacher, @idrawandpaint

One of my top recommendations,, came by way of my one of my AP American Government students. Her cbl project group produced an online voting demo called Operation iVote which had a stunning look. When I asked the web designer of iVote, about her experience, she said that is "the easiest thing ever to use and would be perfect for something artsy like a portfolio." is a flash based web design creation site. I inspected some of the free templates and samples at the site and they were very impressive. (I did not explore the pay options or features).

I also asked for input from ADE listserv and received a number of suggestions. Matt Cauthron of the Digital Arts Academy invited me to visit a treasure trove of galleries. His students use Take a look at his students' portfolios in progress! An online stroll through these galleries and a peek at the directory assured me at once that offers the tools for creating an avant-garde portfolio.

Incidentally, the young art student who intends to build this online site also wishes to include electronica music. She is hoping to secure permissions for this and wondered if I had any suggestions. My attempt to help her led to a solution that has since become available to our entire student body (a sample may be playing for your now). I'll discuss Magnatune in my next post.
Screenshot of Michael V. Manalo's curriculum vitae created with

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