Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Twitter Chat at #MOedchat 2/21

I participated in a #MOedchat on February 2, and wow, it was a baptism by fire...but in a good way.

My first reaction was a feeling of community, as I joined a group of colleagues from across the state.  I had many chatters who went out of their way to tweet greeting to me, so I felt at home before the actual tweet chat started. It was nice to discover that there were so many dedicated educators who were as willing to share their ideas as I was.

When the actual chat started, it was a bit like being an old draft horse in a race with a bunch of thoroughbreds.  The pace was rapid, and I had trouble keeping up with the pack. Eventually, I decided to go ahead and post my tweets when I could, even if the conversation had moved on beyond the topic to which I was responding. I felt a pleasant wave of pride come over me as several people retweeted things I had said.  What a great rush of affirmation!

Challenges were plentiful. In addition to the rapid pace, I am not a speedy typist, and I struggled to keep my tweets down to the maximum 140 characters.  I also had trouble remembering to add hashtags for #MOedchat and for #MBU543, so I often had to repeat my tweets with added hashtags.

One of the best things I found after the chat was that someone had created a transcript of the chat in Spotify (http://storify.com/motechtrainer/moedchat-2-21?utm_content=storify-pingback&utm_campaign=&awesm=sfy.co_aEeE&utm_source=t.co&utm_medium=sfy.co-twitter). This gave me the opportunity to return to the tweets at a more leisurely pace and ferret out the links and remarks that I found particularly helpful.  

I still follow #MOedchat on my TweetDeck, and have added a few tweeters to my "follow" list.  I think the best way to improve the experience is really my own responsibility.  As I continue to participate in this and other chats, I'm sure my skill level with rise. Rome wasn't built in a day, as they say.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Web 2.0 Tools for Audio Editing – How Audacious!

After reading over the dozens of Web 2.0 tools in this week’s assigned text and lecture, I honed in right away on Audacity.  Here’s why…

My most rewarding experience as a teacher using technology involved digital audio editing.  I was the technical director for the theatre program at the high school where I taught.  My job, among other things, involved editing sound effects and music for theatre productions. I managed to finagle access to a iMac for my classroom, and the thing about the iMac that really tripped my trigger was the suite of software known collectively as iLife.  And in particular, two software programs within iLife: iMovie and GarageBand.

GarageBand was a multi-tracking audio recorder that resides in your computer. In addition to allowing you to layer sound upon sound, it also had musical instrument loops that you could cut and paste and manipulate to create original music. As a musician and sound production guy, I preferred to capture real audio with a microphone and layer it on, like I did with my old 2-track reel-to-reel tape deck.  But my students had other plans.  They all wanted to be Tupac Shakur.

Soon, I had students coming to me on lunch break and during my planning period…whenever they could find me…to get access to GarageBand and create their hip-hop beats and to record their def rhymes over the top of it all. Most of them were not even students I had in class, and quite a few of them were at-risk students who had never found anything at school that interested them.  But they were interested in this, so I gave up a lot of my prep time working with them.

Which brings us back to Audacity.  Audacity is a computer-resident multi-tracking audio program that is very similar to programs like Cakewalk, ProTools, and GarageBand. Unlike those, however, Audacity is free.  And if you are working with poor kids in a poor school district, free is important. But free isn’t much help if it doesn’t do the job, so I decided to run Audacity through it’s paces.

Anyone familiar with other audio editing software will feel at home with Audacity.  It lets you create multiple stereo or mono tracks upon which to record.  The visual bars of recorded material can be stretched and smooshed around to suit you. Sound clips can be recorded via built-in microphones on the computer (most laptops have them) or with microphones that plug into input jacks on the computer.  Sound from vinyl records, cassette tapes, CDs and online MP3s can be imported to an Audacity project as well. The original iMacs required another device, an analog-to-digital converter, to do this.  Another impressive feature of Audacity is that it accepts all sorts of different digital formats (MP3, AIFF, WAV, etc.) and will also output your project in many different formats.  So, you can burn a CD of your work to play in another computer, or you can download it to your personal data device (cell phone, iPod) or you can make CDs that will play on a CD player.  You can even export your project in a working format so other collaborators could add their bit of genius to the mix.  Imagine making an original song and sending it as an email attachment to a classroom in Western Africa, where another class could add rhythm tracks or background vocals!

Some of the whistles and bells are powerful and sophisticated. You can change the tempo of a track (or a whole project) without changing the pitch. That means if you want to make an up-tempo vocal out of a slow one, it doesn’t have to sound like the Chipmunks.  Likewise, you could slow down a soprano diva’s track and not turn her into a baritone.  Audacity also has looping capabilities, so you can take a short piece of sound and have it play over and over again. There are mixing board-type effects, so you can adjust volume, EQ, and reverb, as well as bass boost, wah-wah, and the all important noise reduction filter. Experimentation is encouraged because there is always the “back” feature that lets you return to a previous version. All in all, it is an amazing piece of software engineering that holds its own against programs costing hundreds of dollars. 

Classroom uses would be almost limitless. Students with computers and internet access at home could work on projects at school and at home.  Even those with limited access to technology at home could record sounds or interviews on cassette recorders or inexpensive MP3 devices, bring those back to school and mix and edit those recordings on Audacity to produce quality NPR-like news pieces.  Collaboration with classes in other cities or countries would open all sorts of creative doors. Many classrooms use Audacity to create podcasts, and Audacity audio mixes could be imported to other Web 2.0 projects: blogs, videos, presentations and the like. 

We’ve certainly come a long way from the days of my reel-to-reel tape deck.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

METC Convention 2013

I was lucky enough to get the chance to attend this year's Midwest Education Technology Conference, at least for a day, and I came away with some valuable experiences. I facilitated two sessions and attended a third, and each had something great to offer.

The first session I attended was "Utilizing SMART Notebook II: Transforming Then to Now."  The session was hosted by Missouri Baptist University Adjunct Professor Sharon Sumner, and assisted by MBU Professor Amber Henry.  I had Dr. Henry as an online instructor, so it was nice to meet her face-to-face.  It was great to meet Ms. Sumner as well, since she will be teaching the Diversity class I will be taking in the second 8 weeks of this semester.

I am unfamiliar with SMART Notebook, II or I, so much of the content of the presentation was over my head, but I must say that SMART Notebook II looked like it had a lot to offer a teacher for classroom technology innovation.  There was a long list of features to SNII, but the ones that stood out for me were Sound Recorder and Digital Ink.  Digital Ink allows customized drawing options that can be used to create art that can be incorporated into whatever activities or documents you create, and you can even use the drawing tools on the fly with already existing documents.  So, you can highlight and circle points of emphasis and such. The auto-fade function clears your doodles automatically, which saves you the trouble of selecting and deleting your doodles.  And Sound Recorder allows you to record voice-over to a presentation or activity and/or attach it to an object like a picture. Sounds can be played by clicking on the object.

The second session I attended was "Transition a High School from a Traditional Model to a 1-1 BYO iPad Model.  The session was hosted by Principal Jonathan Bernhardt and other faculty from Lutheran High School of St. Charles County, in St. Peters, Missouri.  LHS is a school of just under 300 students, grades 9-12, and a few years ago, as part of their accreditation process, began to rethink the way they operated.  The end result was a move to a 4x4 block schedule and an iPad model where every student would bring their own iPad to school. The iPad became the primary conduit through which learning happened.

All classes make use of the technology, although there is a great deal of latitude in how teachers adapt and use it in their classes.  Most use Drop Box to provide lessons and assignments, which students retrieve, complete with something like NoteAbility, and return to the teacher via Drop Box.

Faculty, students and parents were all trained on use of the iPads through a series of small group summer training sessions.  iPads were leased, with an option for students to purchase them after two years.

It was truly impressive to see how the transition can happen in the real world, as opposed to a hypothetical textbook reference to transitioning.  Teachers demonstrated how they use the iPads in their classes, and the audience could post questions to the panel as the presentation went along.  I was impressed.

The last session I attended was "Video Creation with Free Online Tools," with presenter Don Goble, who teaches video production at Ladue High School.  He began his presentation with a look at the theoretical foundation of why we teach video production in the first place, and then followed up with a look at free online tools that can be used to make videos.  Unfortunately, I had to leave before he got to the applications and how-to part of his presentation, as I had to get home to meet my granddaughter's bus and to let my grandson's home nurse leave for the day.  I can understand why he wanted to build a theoretical framework before getting into the nuts and bolts of video production, but I didn't personally need theory.  I've taught that stuff myself for years. What I wanted to see was the new technology, and I'm afraid I couldn't stick around for that.

Final reflection on METC 2013:  Next year I really want to attend both days and take greater advantage of all the options.  I feel as if I barely scratched the surface, and next time I want to dig deeper.  This convention is an amazing resource for educators who are focused on the use of new technology in the classroom.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Social Networking: finding your corner of the digital sky

My initial connections with social networking were, well, social in nature.  I used MySpace to post songs I had written and recorded, and then started using Facebook for posting my thoughts and sharing what was going on in my life.  I post YouTube videos as a marketing tool for my guitar building hobby.  But through it all, I never really considered the potential of social networking for educational applications.  Part of the reason might have been that I've just come off of an extended run of unemployment, and before that I was in a teaching situation that really didn't lend itself to flexibility in what I did in the classroom.  Still, the truth is I didn't think about things like building a PLN or open classrooms and the like.

Now, of course, as a MET student, I think about it all the time, and as I have said on a number of occasions, the possibilities seem limitless.  How does one find the social networking sites that serve them best?  That is the real conundrum. Sometimes you have to dig through a lot of manure to find the pretty pony.

Among the new social networks I have tried in the last week are two, Classroom 2.0 (classroom20.com) and English Companion (englishcompanion.ning.com), that brought me to the conclusion that you have to hunt for the network that works best for you.

Classroom 2.0 has a lot to offer, but my experience on their site left me feeling disoriented and unfulfilled.  It features member pages, forums, groups, and a large archive of podcasts and video from the worldwide virtual conferences it sponsors.  It seemed promising at first, but the more I tried to interface with the various offerings, the more I ran into technical difficulties.  I had to download Blackboard Collaborate to stream videos, and that was unsuccessful.  I found myself chasing from one site to another in a chain of links, each one requiring an additional sign up for membership. And often groups I thought I might find informative were very small and limited or intended only for individuals who were enrolled in a specific course at a specific school.  Overall, I came to realize that, while Classroom 2.0 might be an ideal social network for some educators, it wasn't my cup of tea.

When I  came to English Companion, I felt like I was home at last.  I majored in English and taught high school English and Theatre for several years.  I am presently on the staff of a writing lab at a community college, where I help students improve their writing skills and learn to write research papers.  At English Companion, everywhere I turned I found information, discussions, and educators who were focused on the same things I am.  The groups were much larger than those I saw at Classroom 2.0, and they were specifically aligned to areas that I found interesting and engaging.  Groups like "Teaching with Technology," "College Developmental English," and "College Freshman Composition" truly met my needs.  They were also easy to access and gave me valuable connections to people who had the experience and skill set to help me. What a great place for me to grow my PLN!

It seems pretty obvious in hindsight, but I don't think I fully realized it until I started digging deep;  not every social network is going to be suitable for every educator.  Don't be discouraged by the sites that aren't a good fit for you.  Keep looking. With all the variety out there, you will find your corner of the digital sky.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The more I get involved with Twitter, the more I long for a classroom where I could actually put what I am learning to use.  I used to teach high school English, and I think the idea of creating a Twitter account for a fictional character would be really fun and educational.  Students could demonstrate an understanding of the thoughts, feelings and psychology of the character as well as keep a running account of events in a story. You could even have two or more characters interact on Twitter, perhaps creating teams within the class that would each have a character as their avatar.

I can see where students who are not particularly motivated to keep a reading log might be very happy to post a running string of Tweets about the book they are reading.  And the length limits would motivate those for whom a more lengthy entry in a reading log is overwhelming, while for others it would be an interesting challenge to express themselves in concise, cogent ways.

The reading in Richardson and Mancabelli was exciting, but also left me with concerns and questions about the roadblocks to making the transition from traditional to networked classroom.  I loved reading all the success stories of teachers who made the change and can't imagine ever going back to the way they used to teach.  I was also happy to hear them speak of the mistakes and stumbles they made along the way. However, examining the seven qualities of networked classes left me wondering about the potential for difficulties, particularly regarding transparency.

I don't think Richardson and Mancabelli truly addressed the issue of rights to privacy in a classroom where live video is streaming, for example, or when a worldwide audience gains access to the names and, to a certain extent, the thoughts, interests and aspirations of students.  I think, too, that students who know they are in a transparent situation may be self-conscious, which suppresses their contributions. Other students might unthinkingly self-reveal inappropriately or deliberately act out in response to having a global audience. As a teacher, I don't know how comfortable I would be with full transparency. Not that I have anything to hide, but it's sort of like how you feel panicy when you are driving and see a police car, even when you aren't violating traffic laws. I just don't know how comfortable I would be with the whole "Big Brother is Watching You" issue.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

It took a lot for hoop jumping...a lot of one-step-forward-two-steps-back...but I finally managed to sign up for Twitter and download TweetDeck.  I've already found dozens of people and organizations I want to follow, and I'm beginning to build a Personal Learning Network of educators to help me boldly move into this vast cyberspace.

I'm anxious to see how useful this tool can be for a teacher.  As a newcomer to this sort of technology, it is reassuring to see that other teachers have gone before me, blazing a trail for me to follow.  As with most new things, I find myself questioning whether I am doing all this the right way.  I wonder, too, if there is such a thing as "the right way" to navigate the digital world at all.  Perhaps the truth is there are any number of right ways, and my task truly is to find MY right way.

Well, time to saddle up and ride the wild software.  I'll be lookin' for y'all out there on the range.  Happy trails!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

When I was reading my assigned chapters from Personal Learning Networks (Will Richardson and Rob Mancabelli, Solution Tree Press, 2011) a few things jumped out at me.
First was this:  'When texts and teachers are all over the place, however, it becomes crucial that learners of all ages be able to answer the questions "What can I believe?" and "Who can I trust?" during every interaction online." (p.26)   Boy, does that ring true!  The same was always true of the print world, but when anyone with a computer and internet access can post information online, it takes the level of misinformation to a new level.  My practical suggestions to students regarding the reliability of a web source involves determining 1.) If other sources support this information, and 2.) What is the motivation of the poster?  Is he or she sharing the information from an altruistic point, or is there some agenda involved?  Finally 3.) What is the educational and experiential background of the poster?  Expertise in one area does not translate to expertise in all areas.

The other point that stood out to me from Richardson and Mancabelli was the importance of focusing on quality rather than quantity in our connections. "...with the literally billions of potential sources at our disposal right now, it's imperative that we find those that offer the most return for our time investment"(p.36)  Finding the pretty pony in amongst the horse manure can be a challenge, but it pays off in the end.  A good connection tends to lead you to other good connections through its links.

Perhaps the best definition of what exactly Web 2.0 tools are and what they do can be found in Web 2.0 How-to For Educators (Gwen Solomon and Lynne Schrum, ISTE, 2010)  It stresses the collaborative and creative nature of work done through Web 2.0 tools "Web 2.0 tools go a step beyond to offer ways of creating, collaborating, and distributing the final product and then interacting with an audience." (p.5)  The question for me, though, is this:  In an educational system that stresses individual effort rather than group collaboration, how do you convince administrators, parents, and indeed the students themselves that collaboration is a good thing.  I have had many students lament over group projects where they feel they did all the work and others reaped the benefits.