Wiki Podcast

Vicki Davis (a computer science teacher in Georgia) and Adam Fray (from Wikispaces) were interviewed by Steve Hargadon of (the podcast can be found here). They discussed using wikis in the classroom – a topic that has become near and dear to my heart.

Vicki has done some amazing things with wikis in her classroom, really bringing the spirit of Web 2.0 and wikis directly to the students. Her educational wikis are great examples as to how to make a wiki central to a class. I have been inspired by this podcast to take the integration of wikis into my AP World History classes a step further then I had initially planned. Instead of using one single wiki project closer to the AP exam as a review guide (as I did last year), I am going to start it now – building a bigger collective of world history knowledge that will help them prepare for the exam. Hopefully the students will buy in and participate.

I did like another point Vicki made about the difference between blogs and wikis. Blogs are for opinions and wikis are for facts. I really think that nails the standard using of blogs and wikis right on the head. In a recent post on her blog, she also outlines ways she uses wikis (each of these are fully explained on her blog):

  1. Lesson Summaries
  2. Collaboration of Notes
  3. Concept Introduction and Exploratory Projects
  4. Dissemination of Important Classroom Information beyond the Classroom
  5. Individual assessment projects

I have long used traditional web pages and even a blog to accomplish #3 and #4. Now I am using Moodle, which allows a different sort of collaboration and communication. I really like the idea of the collaboration of notes and lesson summaries, perhaps created by an assigned scribe. What I would like to see more flushed out is the individual assessment projects. The Design Patterns for EduWikis is certainly a good place to start. Wikis are an incredible publishing tool which provides teachers and students ability to easily create web pages AND collaborate online.

Crossing the Divide

On Monday I taught a workshop called Blogs, Wikis, and Podcasts to a room full of teachers from my district. I knew I was taking on a lot by trying to include all three topics (and RSS), but little did I know that I could have called it just Blogs and that would have been just fine. I spent the last fifteen minutes explaining the concepts behind wikis and podcasts, providing them with a set of resources for personal exploration.

Since NECC I have been focusing a lot more on reading the ed tech blogs out there (see sidebar). I immersed my self in Web 2.0 technologies – I’ve played with Writely, YouTube, and explored WordPress for the first time. I was in a pure ed tech state of mind.

I ended up experiencing a strange sort of culture shock. Most of the participants had never read a blog. There were some who struggled with basic Internet use.

I started the workshop off with an overview of Web 2.0, discussing the greater implications, the philosophy behind it, and its potential impact on education. Inspired by Dean Shareski’s workshop wiki, I decided to start with RSS. As the participants began to set up a Bloglines account, with varied difficulty, I realized how far educational world still has to go. NECC attendees get it, that’s why they are there. Many don’t understand and do not have the time to do it on their own. Schools and districts don’t have the time or money. Budgetary constraints keep teachers doing what they have always done.

The diverse set of teachers who spent six hours in front of their computers with me on Monday started to get it. Instead of delving into wikis and podcasts, most set up an account on and really look at how they might incorporate it into their classrooms – in two weeks when school starts. Everyone seemed to really be focused on trying to understand this technology in their specific context. English, art, PE, social studies, science, and special education were all represented.

In the end it really made me realize we have a long way to go. I don’t believe my district is any further ahead or behind technologically then the average district. These teachers represent the masses.

The digital divide is wide and deep.

As an aside, I developed a Blogging WebQuest for the workshop. First, the participants explored the nature of blogs in contrast to the mainstream media. We used the conflict in the Middle East as the content. Second, they looked at current uses of blogs in education and categorized their use. It worked well, providing a conceptual understanding while utilizing the technology being examined (they had to post to a blog as well).

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Moodle – I Spoke Too Soon

It looks like I spoke too soon.

The ever-brilliant US Patent and Trademark Office has apparently granted Blackboard a patent for…well…pretty much anything remotely related to learning management systems. (e-Literate: Blackboard Patents the LMS)

With dozens of learning management systems, both commercial and open source, out there, I wonder how far Blackboard will go. Can they stop an open source movement like Moodle which has legs that stretch far beyond

My pessimistic, people-suck side (as a history teacher, I’ve seen a number of instances throughout the ages where people haven’t always done the “right” thing) thinks that Net Neutrality, DOPA, and now this will really change this place called the Internet. I hope I don’t look back at 2006 as a time with great potential that was crushed by corporate interests and government regulations supporting corporate interests.

Who is listening to the people these days?

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Identity Crisis

When I first started this blog almost two years ago, I really didn’t know what I was doing. I figured I would post a couple entries and never go back to it. While I haven’t been the most active blogger, I am up to 160 posts. I’ve hit topics about my students, classroom management, technology projects, union issues, and random stories about my kids. While I haven’t publized this blog (it is not linked from my homepage), I have posted my name and a simple search turns it up. I never wanted to be too specific about students or co-workers. No doubt some of my students have found it, but only one ever made a passing reference to it – so far. I understand the desire for some not to reveal their name (and have at times wished I could be more blunt), but that just wasn’t for me.

With the evolution of this blog I have decided that I need some sort of name change. I am still a history teacher, but I am also an educational technologist. Now that my district’s labor issues have been resolved, I see myself writing more and more about technology integration into the classroom. All the other topics are still far game, but this is the direction I have been going.

So far I have come up with:

  • a technology-using history teacher
  • a history teacher and an educational technologist

OK, so the my choices aren’t great. Any suggestions?

I’m also hoping to do switch over to wordpress once I figure this name thing out.

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Why Moodle Matters Even More

With the passage of HR5319, the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA), by the House and probable passage by the Senate, it looks like the federal government will do its best to try and regulate emerging technologies. In a nutshell, this bill will require schools and libraries to block social networking sites or risk losing federal money.

Like many things the federal government has done in the last few years, the fear factor is central. We must fight those online predators – where ever they are hiding. As a father, I agree it is a bit scary. I also know my kids will go to a park without my wife or myself sometime in the future (they are 3 and 5 now). We have been teaching them not to talk to strangers since they could talk so they will be able to explore the world a bit without mommy and daddy (or Big Brother) looking over their shoulders. We now have more to teach our kids, don’t talk to strangers at the park AND online. Simple. We can teach this lesson at home AND we can teach them at school.

As a blogger and a teacher who has used Web 2.0 apps with my students, I also know there is a big difference between what I have done with wikis and the students’ personal use of MySpace. However, this bill could place both of those uses in the same category. Essentially DOPA outlines criteria for sites that should be blocked by schools and libraries, if it

1) is offered by a commercial entity 2) has online profiles 3) has journal or blogging features 4) elicits personal information and 5) enables communication among users. (from Firewheel Design).

In addition to MySpace, it looks like many forms of public Web 2.0 apps could be included – Blogger (Blogspot sites), wikis (PB Wiki, Wikispaces), Flickr, YouTube, and even Amazon. Pretty much everything new. In education we are already struggling to get cutting edge technology into the hands of students. Between lack of resources, lack of professional development, reluctant teachers, reluctant adminstrators, the massive emphasis on standards, and the test-driven educational system, integration of these new technologies already faces an uphill battle. Yet, most of our students are online often and the evolving American/global job market is placing a greater emphasis on technology and information management.

Who is teaching them how to act out there? DOPA doesn’t include any measures to educate only to block access. Of course, most students probably chat and update their MySpace at home, so this measure is ineffective to begin with.

So that brings us to Moodle. It is not a commercial undertaking. It does have online profiles, blogging, asks for personal info, and enables communication among users. But, it does it in a closed network. It can be easily set to block access or, at least, block contributions from non-members. Students can learn responsible online behavior in the safety of a classroom. It is an amazing tool, but it also not the same as blogger or pbwiki or youtube.

Is this ideal? No. It is ridiculous that the legislators, whom are mostly digital immigrants – at best, are passing laws and judgement on technology without fully understanding the implications or consulting with actual librarians and teachers. If you missed Senator Steven’s (the committee chair in charge of Internet regulation) comments on the Internet, you can view it here. Be afraid, very afraid. In the end, we still have the responsibility to try and prepare students for the real world. Today’s real world includes social software and Web 2.0.

More information on DOPA can be found at:

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More Teacher Organization

Reason #321 I will probably not pursue a PhD in my lifetime. I struggle with academic writing. I spend hours writing paragraphs. I come up with what I think are great ideas, but then fight to clearly articulate them. In the end I am usually satisfied, but for me that process is deadly.

Anyway, I have been slaving over the article I am writing with one of my former MA professors on knowledge management for teachers. After looking at everyone’s comments from a couple posts ago (Thanks, they were very helpful!) and reading some of the popular and academic literature available, I have developed the following criteria for a knowledge management system. (Numbers 1-6 are for a personal system and 7-10 are necessary for a collaborative system).

A KMS must have

  1. The ability to store multiple types of resources.
  2. The ability to easily revise descriptions and artifacts in addition to storing multiple versions of a specific artifact.
  3. The ability to add annotations and comments beyond the descriptions.
  4. The ability to categorize and tag all entries.
  5. A simple interface to input and upload information.
  6. A simple interface to search by category and tag.
  7. Individual logins for each participant.
  8. Safeguards so artifacts aren’t mistakenly deleted by another user.
  9. The ability for participants to comment and annotate artifacts from different users.
  10. The ability for participants to track recent additions and changes.

I’m feeling pretty good about this (and have spent way too much time on it), but, if you are a teacher and you have a suggestion or comment, please leave it. We are working on a final draft this week.

Unfortunately this article is only a discussion of ideas with a couple possible solutions. There is no silver bullet for teachers out there. I’ve looked at the most popular content management systems and it doesn’t seem like they could be easily adapted. The best solution I can come up with is a blog. WordPress or Moveable Type (personal license is free, but if you want more then one author you have to pay) fit the list of criteria nicely. I would love to build my own system from scratch, but, unfortunately, I am only a geek – not a supergeek programming guy. Anybody know a guy (or gal) who is and has extra time on their hands? It could be a great project, there is probably demand, from what I understand, there are a few teachers out there.

Once this article is done, I can start working again on my NECC presentation. They placed me in an insanely big room. So please come if interested, there will no doubt be seats!

Walking Forward

Yesterday I walked in what will probably be my last graduation ceremony. I had decided not to do it – my undergraduate graduation was a pivotal experience and this just wasn’t the same (I’m 34, 10 years into my career, etc.). Then I was selected as the “honor graduate” for the department and discovered I was actually going to be sitting on stage during the ceremony. It was quite an honor. Afterwards, the Educational Technology department had a reception where I had to say a few words. Below is the speech I wrote, however, I am not one to read a speech. I did it so I didn’t ramble on – the gist was the same, but the verbage was a bit different.

Thank you. I am honored to be here. I took a bit longer then most to get through this program – five years – and I have met so many talented and wonder students and faculty members.

Three major words have defined my stay in the North Education.

1. Let’s start with Diversity – When I started, I thought I would be taking classes with other teachers. I was surprised to find nurses, instructional designers, elementary school teachers, corporate trainers, and people from the navy and coast guard. Some were just out of college, some changing careers after 20 years. My interaction with those people in the ed tech department widened my world view and strengthened my experience.

Then you get to the faculty. Where else could Bernie and Allison be in the same department and sit around the same table?

2. Word number 2 – Dedication – In order for you to be here today, you had to have been dedicated. This was not an easy program. Most of us worked our day jobs, before heading off to class at night. We shuffled appointments and time with our friends and family to meet with groups to finish class projects or study for the comps. We spent endless hours tinkering with Dreamweaver or iMovie so our finished projects were just right – even if we were the only ones who noticed it. We digested learning theories and spent. And we spent a very long weekend trying to bring it altogether in no more then 3500 words each.

3. Finally we have Evolution – This department isn’t just teaching us the cutting edge technologies and theories, they are helping to define it. And we are helping. All over the Internet, people link to projects we have created. We not only learned the fundamentals of instructional design, but I think we have the tools and the know how to keep up with the changes.

So now it is finally time for us to reintroduce ourselves to our families. Wow, my boys have really grown. Family members, welcome them back. If they start saying words like Blogs and wikis know those are real words, and ADDIE is one of our central instructional design models – no it isn’t the department mascot. Fellow graduates, thank them. Thank you.

If you are looking to get a MA in Educational Technology, then SDSU is the place (Here’s a great look at the program). They offer campus and online programs.

Mind the Technology Gap

I had a meeting yesterday afternoon and found myself stuck in traffic (something I don’t usually experience in my five mile commute to school). During that time I did some reflection on a handful of experiences of the last couple days that show there is a certainly a technology gap in education and probably the rest of the country (and world for that matter). Generally there are five types of people who interact with technology. (Please note: these stereotypes are not indications of intelligence!)

  1. The person who doesn’t interact with technology on purpose.
  2. The person who knows how to check e-mail, maybe pay bills online, use a word processor, a work specific application, and do Google searches. Just enough to be dangerous (as my principal recently put it to me). There is limited (and sometimes no) understanding as to how the computer works or what to do when something goes wrong.
  3. Then there are people who are pretty tech-savvy when it comes to understanding the fundamentals and how the computer and applications works. They have a strong understanding of the Internet and can be proficient in web design or some other type of technology or media. Many times they are people involved in the theory of using technology, but will hire someone in the next work to do the dirty work. These people are geeks; they might be “cool” geeks, but geeks nonetheless.
  4. Last, there are the supergeeks. These are the people who can not only build or troubleshoot a computer, but also can look at the heavy code (not html) and tell you what the problem is. They are the ones who are making open source software or working for Google or Microsoft. A lot of times these people in the first two groups don’t understand anything these people say.
  5. There is a fifth group. They are the geek-supergeek combination. They are heavily involved in the theoretical side of development, but can code with the best of them. Plus they can communicate their ideas to people in all positions. I only know of a couple of these people.

It seems that a good chunk of the population within the sphere of education sits in or around position two. Many times they think they are closing in the third position – but those people usually aren’t. I think one of the essential characteristics of someone in the third position is acknowledging Socrates’ key belief, I know, I know nothing.

I believe myself to be in that third group. I have a decent skill base and a good understanding of many of the newer technologies available and how they theoretically work. However, if you ask me to do it from scratch or ask me to fix a MySQL or php or C++ problem, I will give you one of those sideways, tilted looks my dog (and two-year old) gives when I ask a complex question.

At my meeting yesterday, this division was clear. I was unveiling a new feature to a web site I manage and while the idea was very cool, it probably is not ground breaking. As I talked about knowledge management, social bookmarking, tags, open source software, and some other jargon, I realized that I was talking over their heads. They even began discussed paying me to go a national convention to present the new revised web site. Within a group of educated people who were meeting to help better an aspect of education, I created a buzz. It was certainly nice (good for the ego, right?), but I look at it as something that could be much cooler if I had a supergeek to help me fine tune and customize the software further.

The second experience that inspired this technology rant is a reaction to a link posted on my old AP World History web site. During the social unrest within the Muslim population of France last fall, we had briefly discussed the topic in class. Then I found an insightful blog entry from an American who had lived in France for a number of years. I linked the article so interested students could read a different perspective then the main stream media’s coverage (in AP Word we are big on point of view). Apparently, the blog owner needed some extra cash and since I linked to his site last November, he added some advertisements to the sidebar – including some very inappropriate links. A parent of student who is not in my class found the link and e-mailed the principal. Once I was alerted of the problem, I immediately deleted it. However, the page was in the parent’s browser cache and was still there the next day. There was more concern expressed about the matter when the parent believed the link was still in place.

I think that situation has been resolved, but it certainly illustrates the need for us to be careful (I am a bit embarrassed by the whole thing).