Saturday, March 25, 2006

Posing interesting rhetorical questions

There haven't been more annoying blog posts since the CUE Conference in Palm Springs for a myriad of reasons. One is we have been working on the beginning stages of implementing the Global Communications Grant. We received the official paper work from the State Department of Education and the District accepted the grant at the last Board meeting. To this end; on Wednesday, 3/29, we will be meeting with teachers from the various academic disciplines to find ways the Global Communications course can collaborate and provide support to those courses.

Well, sometimes working in the EdTech field you get to the point where you see things happening professionally that others don't and realize things are going in a certain direction and you want to move your organization in that way but find it difficult to do so. This is the situation I find myself in after the past 6 months. Based on conferences I have attended; books, blogs and other material I have read and conversations I have had with many people involved with EdTech and education in general, leads me to believe that the course we are currently pursuing is the right one.

I know that many of you are asking why are we getting all of these blog postings? The biggest reason is that I hope at one point you will see one thing that you can use and take it and use it in your class. Or you might decide to start your own blog for your students, this is a little different than posting homework in School Loop, because it brings in outside sources to your curriculum. I want to liken it to when I taught Social Studies and found that article was in the newspaper and wanted to make sure I shared it with my students that day. Blogging allows you to do that everyday, or once a week... So, the question becomes: 'To Blog or not to Blog???" That will get the ball rolling, but whether you start now integrating technology tools in your classroom not or not, there will be a time when you will be forced to do so. Many of you have suggested that we hold off on doing some of these things, because students don't have access to these tools. Recent studies have shown that close to 2/3rds of U.S. housholds have access to a broadband connection, therefore we must move the 2/3rds ahead and do what ever we can to assist the other 1/3. To do my part I have received a donation of over 50 computers we can GIVE to students. Just so you know you are not alone, Bill Bowe has taken to call me, 'Lord Voldemort' of 'Harry Potter' fame due to blog postings you have received.

So, in the best Rod Serling voice that can be mustered.... "You are about to enter another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. Next stop, the Twilight Zone! "

I submit to you three points in space and time: The Blogosphere, RSS and Podcasting.

The Blogosphere is the general term given to the community or social network of blogs. Blogs can have many different purposes and meet the needs of their authors and readers/receipients. The biggest idea behind blogs in education is three fold. First, you are asking students to gather information in someway, whether that be from RSS feeds (Discussed later), individual blogs or from some other online or hard copy publication. Secondly, you are asking students to internalize the information in some way, whether you call it to synthesize, remix or mash. When you and your students start this process, it will be a little strange at first, but after the first time or so, it will be come much easier. So, how do I get started? USA Today printed a short article on starting to blog, using three tools, one of which is 'Blogger'. Blogger is what I use to produce this blog.

The second part of the equation is gathering information, whether it's something that has been around for awhile or something that is recent and topical. Information that has some history to it is easy to find, but you also need to be concerned with bias and propaganda. If it is something that is current or topical, you need to have a way to collect the information in an organized way. The most effective way to do this is through Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds. Almost every newspaper, blog, journal or other written word on the Internet is cataloged in some way. Today, most of this content is available through RSS, but you need to have some way to collect the feeds you are interested in. To do this you need a news reader or aggregator. To create this blog I use an online news aggregator called Bloglines. Through Bloglines, I subscribe to about 15 different feeds, when new postings are placed on those feeds, a short synopsis of the article is sent to my Bloglines account. Through Bloglines, I can scroll through the captured articles quickly and decide if I want to open the entire article. I can also save articles to read later. Many of the articles you find linked to articles I write on this blog, I get through my RSS feed on Bloglines. To see if a website you read regularly has an RSS feed attached to it, look for the little orange symbol, like the one above. There are other ways to find and read current information on the Internet, but I'll save those for another time.

Podcasting is the combination of several different technologies, allowing anyone to create their own multimedia content. Podcasts can be strictly audio, or can include slides, .pdf documents, video or art. Podcasting uses RSS to deliver podcasts to subscribers, but instead of a news aggregator (like Bloglines) to collect the content, most people subscribing to podcasts will use iTunes, regarless of computer platform. (PC or Mac) There are no limits to the types of things you can send out to students or to other teachers using podcasts. In the near future, we will be looking at using Podcasts to send staff development tutorials to you, so all of you can see the power of Podcasts. Many colleges and universities are using MP3 players and Podcasts to make lectures available to students after the class.

Each of these tools has the ability to create a richer and deeper learning experience for both teachers and students. Teachers can create content that they can use over and over again. They can give access to students at home or have a podcast to explain an assignment for a student that has been ill. Students can use these skills to create their own content and make it available to anyone in any place. If we want our students to become self-directed citizens of the world, we must allow them to connect to people regardless or time or physical location.

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