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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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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Review of My NECC Presentation

In my initial post about my presentation at NECC, I included a three links from people who attended the session and blogged about it. David Jakes over at The Strength of Weak Ties blogged about it yesterday and made some critical assessments that I wanted to address. I will probably sound a little defensive, but I am going to look at several of his major complaints. You may want to read his post before going on.

Point #1 – I implied technology should be used only when convenient.

Let me explain some of my technology integration background. I have been working at a school built in 1987 that has received new technology for student use outside of the computer classes once. Between 1999 and 2001, we received money from the California Digital High School program to purchase an open lab and several computer carts. In 2002, teachers in my district were all given a laptop. There was a special program before that for teachers to acquire a laptop if they attended a summer workshop without pay.

Other then a handful of teachers, integration of technology into the curriculum was, and still is limited. There are more teachers with projectors that use PowerPoints to deliver lectures, but most teachers at my school teach the same way they were taught. I came out of my student teaching experience with notion that computers were an essential part of education. I am now known as the history teacher who always uses technology. My casual comment about bringing “some technology into the classroom” did not reflect my feeling that IT IS “mission critical.” I have made it my mission and obsession to always bring technology into my classroom. I have also made it my mission to share those experiences at a couple dozen workshops and presentations in the last 10 years.

Point #2 – I said wikis were a tool that allowed anyone to make web pages.

I really think that as educators, especially those of us with limited resources, we should look at every tool as a tool. I know the spirit of wikis, I understand and believe in it, but I also know it is a tool that allows my students to publish their work on the Internet – something I could not have done in my history classes five years ago. The ability for students to collaborate is an important part and I do include it in most of the wiki projects.

Point #3 – I said kids know this technology and all technology.

I did not say that students knew about wikis, I said students knew how to use this type of technology – specifically blogs, MySpace, LiveJournal, and DeadJournal. These types of skills are easily transferable to wikis. I am also basing my comments on my personal experiences. Like I mentioned in my presentation, I spent 10 minutes teaching them how to use the wiki. If I tried that with a class of teachers, it would take longer – it has taken longer. I was more talking about the environment of the web, not the specific application.

Point #4 – I said I wouldn’t want them to build their own wikis.

For my projects (the Holocaust Wiki Project, WWI Battles, and a directed AP World History review) I would not want to give up the control that would come with students creating their own wikis. This also creates a community of users that would not exist in the same area if students all created their. Each year I have about 160-200 students. Doing these sorts of projects can be a logistical nightmare. Yes, I want some control, they are 15 years old. I also work in a conservative community that is very protective of its students and is not afraid to make complaints. I would rather be a bit more conservative so I can keep doing these sorts of projects – and what ever the next thing I want to do the coming years.

If students want to build their own wikis, all the power to them.

Point #5 – Design patterns are limiting.

The purpose of the EduWiki Design Patterns and the WebQuest Design Patterns (both were authored by SDSU Professor Bernie Dodge) are to give teachers ways to incorporate these types of projects into their classrooms without trying to reinvent the wheel. They provide options and direction. Students are not going to just magically create “collaborative content in response to an educational need or learning objective,” they need direction, a specific task, and a creative approach. The design patterns help provide models and to inspire teachers to be more creative then they might otherwise have been. They are not the only way to use wikis or WebQuests, nor do they claim to be. They are just some ways to use them. Maybe an anti-pattern needs to be added.

We need to remember that for many teachers (both old and young) doing these types of projects are tough to envision and create. Design patterns may just get a few more to cross that divide.

I also take a little offense at the comment “perhaps this is an attempt to force wikis into a familiar and comfortable teacher zone…” I have always pushed the limit. When I look out at the web for examples of K-12 teachers using wikis, I am one of the leaders and have some of the more creative uses. These projects are time consuming in their development and their actual implementation. It would certainly be easier for me to lecture and give a few worksheets. These projects look a little different. These patterns do not reflect standard teaching practices.

Final thoughts…

Again, I apologize for being defensive. I appreciate David’s comments and understand his points from a theoritical standpoint. I just feel the reality and practicality is not always in line with the ideal. I have spent many hours planning these projects out and actually using them in my classroom. I also know that after 10 years of teaching, these have been some of my most successful projects for a variety of reasons.

I am a big believer in the Internet as community. Through Moodle and the wiki projects, I have successfully foster a sense of community in individual classes and across all of my classes. But, I also know the reality that I teach in a lower-middle class suburban high school in California. I have standards I must address. I have students with varied amounts of motivation. I think that exposing them to a variety of technologies, even in a somewhat limiting form, is better then not and better then not giving them some sort of structure.

NECC Has Left the City

NECC has left the city. For the last three days, the National Education Computing Conference, put on my ISTE and sponsored by CUE visited my city of San Diego. I have wanted to go for the last few years, but a variety of circumstances got in the way. This was year. As a first timer, I was amazed with the great diversity of sessions, the famous faces of the ed tech world, and the massive number of venders.

One of the major ongoing themes of the conference was the importance of Web 2.0, the read/write web. There were dozens of sessions on blogging, a number on podcasts, and a handful (mine included) on wikis. They covered logistics, specific implementations, generalized applications, and pitfalls of these new technologies. The message was clear; this is the new toolset we need to utilize. Our students are growing up in this environment, we can’t ignore that fact.

In the vender area I was surprised to see the shear number of online community services available to individual teachers and school districts. I also saw two Moodle service companies that do installations, customization, and support. What a brilliant idea. The software is free and the support from is free, so the only costs you have involve server space and transportation for training. Not bad. Hmmm.

I went into this conference with the idea that I might be job hunting (I even threw together a resume). As much as I love the classroom, I seem to want something more. However, after I wandered the hall for a couple hours, I realized that the corporate world, both big and small is so cut throat and so desperate for business. People were being bribed with t-shirts or the chance to win an iPod to sit through a ten-minute presentation about one product or another. As a presenter, I received about ten e-mails prior to the conference from venders wanting me to plug their product during my session. I also realized as I wandered from session to session, that the exhibitors were mostly stuck down in purgatory that was the vender hall. I ran into a few people I had known earlier in my masters program, both of them in the corporate world – they said they knew what the new ideas were, but they had no experience with it. They weren’t the ones expanding their experiences through cutting edge sessions and then applying it to their classrooms or schools or districts.

As I drove that 23 miles home today from NECC, it became clear that I would not become a corporate shill – not that there’s anything wrong with it :). If I leave the classroom, it will have to be in a way that still touches teachers and students directly.

Choose Your Own Wiki Adventure – NECC 2006

I’ve given a number of presentations and workshops in the last ten years, but today was the most significant. As I waited in the front of rom 31 B/C for my session to begin, I wondered how many of the 337 seats would be filled. As 12:30 approached, I was becoming hopeful that it would be a good-sized crowd. When I finally began the presentation, I was shocked to see people standing the back and sitting in the aisle (not quite every seat was taken, but it was close). My usual groups are around 20-30 people. Sometimes more, sometimes less. I once did a presentation to four people. It was a lot of work for four people. Once I got started the jitters I initially felt disapated.

I spent the next hour discussing the use of wikis in the K-12 classroom. I called the session Choose Your Own Wiki Adventure because the largest part of the session focused on the Holocaust Wiki Project. This project has students create a branching simulation about the Holocaust. I also reviewed Wiki basics, drew from Bernie Dodge’s EduWiki Design Patterns, and showed my other two Wiki projects, Strategies of WWI Wiki WebQuest and AP World History Review Project.

Overall, I was pleased – it was probably one of my best presentations. I felt like I connected with the audience and most people stayed throughout the whole session (I know leaving a session part way through is a conference habit). I didn’t leave enough time for questions, but a number of people stayed after to discuss some specific elements of the projects. It was supposed to be podcast, but there was a microphone problem and apparently it wasn’t salvageable.

There were three people in attendance who blogged about the main elements of the session at the Tech Savvy Teacher, Educational Technology and Life (he also took the picture), and Ed Tech: The Blog. Thanks guys for the reviews!

I posted the PowerPoint and important links here.

I don’t think I’ll make Atlanta for next year’s NECC, but maybe in 2008!

Wiki Project Follow Up

Overall the project (see the last post) was a success. Student groups were assigned a topic, they researched it, wrote a short article that was posted on a wiki, and then they validated each other’s articles. During the validation process, if there were mistakes, from factual errors to typos, they were fixed immediately. I did some review of the changes (under the recent changes link that comes with MediaWiki) and was overall impressed with what they changed. I was afraid that most groups would gloss over the articles they were to review. This is a group of Advanced Placement kids though; I know the validation process would be more difficult with college prep students. With the AP test now just two days away, they have another very specific resource to review.

There are two aspects to this project worth noting. First, conceptually, it is basic. The students research (mostly with their notes and textbook), and then write it up. The cool twist is the ability for students then to edit each other’s work, without having to share word documents (a nightmare!).

Second, it is easy. Yes, I have a tech side to me, but there are plenty of free resources that are actually easier to set up and use then the method I chose. I pay about $80 a year for my own domain and server space. I do have access to my district’s server and still host a majority of my materials there, but I have found having this personal space important (for one, I would have been foolish to post union related blog entries). Plus, it gives me access to features not available to me through the school.

The wiki engine I used, MediaWiki, practically self-installs. All I had to do is provide access to a MySQL database. This was easily done through an interface provided by the server company. Then I uploaded the wiki files, initialized it, and then it worked.

There were a couple changes I had to make to the config.php file in order to make sure only my students were able to edit, add, and change information. Then I had a TA enter the user accounts by hand (I could have allowed the students to do it, but I like to control their user names – let them choose and who knows what you will get).

On the first day in the computer lab, I give a basic tutorial (5-10 minutes) on how to change their password, make changes, configure the text, and save. Then they start working. Like I mentioned in the last post, this project could easily be done in Seedwiki or Wikispaces.

Any questions – let me know.


So here we are two weeks away from the AP exam. We are done with content, but we are in the midst of six days of state and NCLB testing, limiting my interaction with my AP kids. After trying to figure out the best way to review for the exam, I finally decided upon a mini-Wikipedia-like project for three of my eight precious review days.

I drew from the Snapshots and Comparisons section of the AP World curriculum overview from the CollegeBoard, assigned groups, and set up a wiki. It fits the micropedia wiki design pattern perfectly.

Essentially, each group is given a topic that we have covered in varying degrees over the course of the year. Once they have research the topic and created a short and concise article addressing the important elements of topic, they are to post it on the wiki. Then, in phase two, the groups go through and validate two other articles – making corrections and additions where needed. If all goes as planned, by next Friday (five days before the exam), my students will have a solid collection of study guides.

I do another wiki project on the Holocaust (which I will be speaking about at NECC 2006 in San Diego) and have been considering the Wikipedia-style wiki idea for a while. This project just seemed to fit. My use of Moodle throughout the year has fostered an informal online community that goes across all four sections of my AP classes. Plus, this way the students are able to divide the work over four classes allows me time to still do some directed review in class.

I am using MediaWiki (the same engine as Wikipedia) installed on my server. The installation was a snap. While I am pretty tech-savvy, I am useless when it comes to code, Unix, and anything more complicated then html. My server has a tool that sets up the MySQL databases for me. Once that was done, I just uploaded the files and configured it through FireFox. In the MediaWiki help files I found code I could add to close registration and only allow registered users to post. This way no one else can contribute or cause us any problems (the openness of Wikipedia just doesn’t suit a high school project). I could have used the free SeedWiki or WikiSpaces, but I am a control freak when it comes to these projects and with the wiki on my server, I can exert all the control I want!

The first day went pretty well, most groups just did research, but a number began writing in the wiki. I’ll write more next week as they continue to take shape.

If you would like to see the work in progress, go ahead. Have a suggestion? Please comment!