Friday, March 30, 2007

A Question of Vision

I was trying to catch up on my reading this morning, and I came to a post on Derek's Blog about a new National Science Foundation publication entitled Cyberinfrastructure Vision for 21st Century Discovery, which is available for download here. It is a 64-page document, and I have just started reading it, but I was immediately struck by a statement from Dr. Arden L. Bement, Jr., Director of National Science Foundation. He said:
At the heart of the cyberinfrastructure vision is the development of a cultural community that supports peer-to-peer collaboration and new modes of education based upon broad and open access to leadership computing; data and information resources; online instruments and observatories; and visualization and collaboration services. Cyberinfrastructure enables distributed knowledge communities that collaborate and communicate across disciplines, distances and cultures. These research and education communities extend beyond traditional brick-and-mortar facilities, becoming virtual organizations that transcend geographic and institutional boundaries. This vision is new, exciting and bold.
It is, indeed.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


Thanks to Tim over at Assorted Stuff, I found a link to
Pete Reilly : Education's Hidden Messages. The post includes a list of some ways that our educational system is sending out the wrong message to students. Some of those ways include:

They are leaning that discovering and creating knowledge is beyond the ability of students and is really none of their business. ...

They are learning that the voice of authority is to be trusted and valued more than independent judgment. ...

They are learning that life’s answers lie outside themselves, in others. This lesson results, not only in students who believe others have their answers; but also that others are responsible for their problems. Students who have been taught this lesson take little accountability. ...

They are learning there is always a single unambiguous right answer to a question. If it can’t be measured, it’s not taught.

Unfortunately, I think that he is pretty close to being on the mark here. Even at the college level, too much is rote memorization -- especially in the first two years. I see my students agonize over upcoming tests, sure that they don't know the "right" answers. They never know what they are expected to know for the exam except that it is "Chapters 1-4 of the textbook".

The saddest part of what Reilly says, from my perspective, at least, is:
They are learning that risk taking is dangerous.

And, I guess, an awful lot of us past school age feel the same way.

Something has to change. And each of us, as an educator, has a responsibility to make an effort to improve the situation. We may not be able to eliminate the problems entirely, but we can improve the way we teach, what we teach and how we assess students in our own classrooms. It may not seem like much, but if enough of us do it...

(Crossposted from Moving Along)

Monday, March 19, 2007

"Next Blog"

After more than two years blogging on Blogger, I finally clicked on "Next Blog". I had always been curious but had never taken the time to check it out. I had heard horror stories of kids in school clicking on it and getting some inappropriate content, and I guess I figured that I wasn't all that intereted in what I might find. But tonight I clicked on it, and I was really amazed by what I found.

The first blog I got was in Chinese. I am not sure what it was about, but it had pictures of food and a few words in English. I thought that was pretty cool, so I clicked again and got a blog in Russian. And the third time I clicked, I got one in Portuguese. Finally on the fourth click I got one in English -- on Permaculture, of all things. The fifth one was in Spanish.

All of this got me wondering about the percentage of blogs that are not written in English. I know I have read about this before, but I don't remember what I read. I could see asking my students (adults) to do a little investigation on the subject. They could do informal research by starting at my blog and clicking "Next Blog" say ten times. For each blog they come to, they could be asked to write like an annotated bibliography in which they tell what language it is written in and, to the best of the student's ability to figure it out from photos or other clues if he/she can't read that langauge, tell what the focus of the blog seems to be.

This project could serve several purposes. It would give students a chance to do independent research. It would give them a reason to read a number of blogs, and it would give them the opporrtunity to write. Of all of these, though, I think I am most interested in the blog reading they would do. I have yet to really get my students to read blogs. This would be one way to give them a chance to see what is out there. From there, then, it might be easier to ask them to find a certain number of blogs on a topic they are interested in and read them regularly.

Too bad I may not have students to try this with next semester.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

7 virtues of blogging

Kathy Sierra has posted a link to her slides from a recent conference presentation. They are, as usual, great. She talks about seven virtues of blogging if you want to develop a global microbrand. Even though I am not trying to establish a global anything, the advice is good. The virtues that really struck me were Be Generous and Show Respect. Kathy says, in part:

the fact that anyone comes to our blog at all is incredible. We must be grateful and try to give something of value in return.


Don’t post for quantity, post for quality. If you don’t have something that you believe is worth the reader’s time, think twice about posting.

If I were following that second piece of advice, I probably wouldn’t be posting right now! But these, and the other five virtues, are things I try to keep in mind as I blog.

But I would like to modify Kathy’s list a bit to make it more applicable to the way I blog. Here goes:

  • Be Grateful - Appreciate the fact that readers have taken time to read and comment on your blog. Take time to let you know you appreciate them and their ideas. One way to do this is to return the compliment and comment on their blogs.
  • Be Humble - Make sure you give credit where credit is due. Acknowledge those who have influenced your thinking. Remember that you can learn something from almost everyone.
  • Be Patient - Accept the fact that your blogging is going to be a process. Most of us, at least, have to grow into it. Don’t look at the well-established blogs and think you have to be like them, as good as they are right now.
  • Be Brave - Talk about the things that interest you — even if no one else seems to be interested in them right now. You may discover other people who are truly interested in the same things and visit your blog precisely because you are talking about a particular topic.
  • Show Respect - Remember that diversity is what makes the world beautiful. Just as we wouldn’t want to live in a world with only one type and color of flower, we shouldn’t want to live in a world with only one set of ideas. We should all feel free to express our opinions, but we should always remember to do so in a respectful manner. Don’t get involved in name-calling or ridiculing others.
  • Be Motivating - We can all use a little help from our friends from time to time. Don’t spend all your blogging time complaining or criticizing. Try to offer possible solutions to the problem — or at least ideas as to why the problem exists. Leave your readers with something positive.
  • Be Generous - Support new bloggers by reading them, commenting, and then linking to them in your blog, too. It costs you nothing but a little time, and it could really help someone who is just starting out.

I think we could each explain these virtues in different ways. I would be interested in knowing how you would define them.

Note: Starting with this post, I am cross-posting on Random Thoughts and Moving Along, my WordPress blog. I am fairly certain that I want to combine the two blogs, and I really like WordPress better than Blogger anymore. I will let you know when/if I decide to stop posting here entirely.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Check out "Their Space"

Derek has an interesting post in which he talks about a publication called Their Space, which is available for download here.

The document makes a point that I think is a valuable one. It says:
If digital media in schools is to move beyond the ICT
suite and become truly embedded across the curriculum then all
teachers need to feel empowered to use it creatively. School leaders
need to build up support and professional development to ensure
that all staff feel empowered to use the technologies that resonate
with their students.
This seems to support what Miguel worte about a few days ago when he said we should introduce 1:1 laptop initiatives with faculty and administration rather than with the students. I wrote about this before.

I found the document interesting. I hope you'll read it.

Update: There is a podcast available here.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Start at the top

Miguel has hit on one place where the trickle-down theory really might work. He proposes starting a 1:1 laptop initiative with teachers and administration long before trying it with students. He says,
The change in district perspective is what important and that that perspective is communicated and adopted by parents, teachers, administrators. That perspective has to be that we're going to learn differently and everyone is a part of that learning process. Teaching differently will come over time as we learn more.
This seems so logical to me. Starting with the students -- before teachers and administration and parents are on board -- doesn't have much of a chance of succeeding. But if we, the adults, change the way we view education and technology, we will be much more likely to create substantive change in our teaching and our students' learning.

This goes back to the concern I and many others have about new tools being misused to just do the same old same old in the classroom. In a teacher's defense, though, it is hard to do otherwise without being really comfortable with technology and using it regularly in your own life. That comfort and regular use would come as a school district institutes a 1:1 plan for teachers and administrators and they, as Miguel says,
then change the way everything is accessed and how the "system" works. Go electronic on everything as much as possible.
Miguel talks about the need for a comprehensive plan to make sure all this happens, and I am sure that would make it easier and more efficient. But sometimes I think plans -- too many plans, at least -- can take the joy out of anything. And I also don't think we need to wait for plans, really. I think we can create change by creating a tipping point in each school. If nothing else, that may encourage institutions to develop a plan faster than they would have otherwise.

Read Miguel's post. It's another good one.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Time to reflect

I have been trying to go back and look at posts that I have clipped in Bloglines the last few days, and I ran across this one by Anne Davis in which she reports on a TRLD Conference speech by Ellin Oliver Keene about giving students time to think and teaching them about thinking. I was struck by the obviousness of this, the simplicity of it. And yet, looking at my own classroom, I wonder how much I do it.

I know that I feel a tremendous amount of pressure to have something "happening" in my classroom all the time. It has to be something we can all see for it to be real, too. Reflection doesn't seem to fit the bill. And yet I know it is important. Obviously, this refelction could take the form of journaling, but sometimes that just doesn't seem appropriate.

I was told once that there wasn't much sense in me sitting with my students in the computer lab as they worked on different activities. The feeling was that there should be more direct instruction going on. And yet, if I don't see where students have questions, how do I know what to teach them?

I wonder sometimes if this isn't somehow connected to our discomfort with silence. We seem to feel a need to fill the void silence creates rather than appreciating its value in our lives.

Wherever I end up in my next job, I want to build time for reflection into it. Sounds simple, doesn't it?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

New Beginnings Ahead

Last week I received some news that I had been expecting, but it came as a shock at the same time. The decision has been made to close our ESL program at the end of the semester. That means that after six years here, after taking an idea on paper and turning it into a successful ESL program, I will be unemployed.

As I said this was not really a surprise. Other big programs in our area and across the country have closed, so it was only a matter of time before ours disappeared, too. Our enrollment has been on the decline for the last two years at least, and it no longer pays the salaries of myself and my colleague.

And it has been a very good six years for me. I have learned so much about myself, about teaching, and about establishing a program like this. I have had the support of the institution to make conference presentations both in this country and abroad. I have developed as a professional in ways that I could never have imagined six years ago.

And now it is time to move on. At this point in time, there is no clear plan. I am applying for jobs both locally and elsewhere in the country. I think it may be time to reinvent myself a bit. Since ESL programs have been cutting back for awhile now, I am looking at different kinds of positions at community colleges right now. It is exciting -- and a bit sad at the same time. I know there is something else out there for me; I just have to find it!

Monday, March 05, 2007

My student's blog part 4?

I forget how many times I have posted about my student's blog, but I am happy to report that comments are now up and running on his blog. The comments that were made earlier and which he received in email messages seem to have vanished, though. Oh well...

I was really pleased with how quickly James Farmer responded to my questions. If you aren't using edublogs/uniblogs/learnerblogs/eslblogs, you might want to check them out. I especially like them for younger learners and ESL students.

Locked out of my own blog

I tried to post on Saturday, but I was locked out of my blog. It was suspected of being a spam blog. It wasn't until about 30 minutes ago (Monday afternoon) that I was able to log in and post and have my posts appear on the blog. I could only blog about it on my other blog until now.

I have been toying with the idea of migrating this blog to WordPress. I am seriously thinking about it now. I will let you know if I decide to do it.

I have already migrated my portfolio blog to WordPress and deleted the Blogger portfolio. It went really smoothly. (Thanks for the link, Aaron!) I know there are some things that don't work in WordPress as well as they do in Blogger (embedding video, for instance), but I am not all that likely to need to do that. I remember back in the early days of this blog, Nathan pointed out that not everyone can access embedded audio and video, so I try not to do it.

Anyway, I'm back!