Communicating with Social Media

This morning, I listened to this George Couros interview on Connected Principals:

George Couros: Connected Principals Should Be ‘Learner Leaders’ from DML Research Hub on Vimeo.

In his interview, he touches on the acceptance issues of schools embracing teachnology, specificically social media, in the learning process.  As I feel developing the quitesiential “Community of Learners” also involes clearly and effectively communicating with parents and stakeholders (can you tell I’ve just finished job interview season?), I think getting families on board with the social media/school partnership is essential.

Here are a few lines from Mr. Couros I liked:

On filtering

“A lot of stuff that we don’t do is because of fear [of the Internet]”

“What [filtering does] is actually encourages kids  to use their own device for unfiltered access.”

“When schools block stuff, they also don’t talk about it, and what they’re doing is setting their kids up to do unsafe things either during school hours or after school hours because they don’t know any better because no one is talking about it because they don’t have to.”

On District Digital Identities:

“When I actually looked at what would be a logical hashtag [for the district]…we found that parents and community members were actually creating a digital footprint..a d igital identity for that school district, that was very negative.  So I looked it up, and I saw people that weren’t educators, weren’t able to tell the story of what is actually happening in schools, telling the story of that district…creating a digital identity for that district that is very negative.  We are on the other end of that spectrum where we don’t want that happening.  We encourage debate.  We encourage people being critical of the things we’re doing because we don’t learn anything when everyone agrees with us.  We want them to be engaged in conversation, but we want to be at the table, actively involved in the conversations, instead of outside the restaurant.”

So…

As I’m taking on a new administrative role, where do I go with social media?  Our district has and maintains an information-based website and Twitter account.  The district and middle school also have their own Facebook pages.  We have a lot of great things going on (and hopefully even more, soon!) in the district and elementary building that I’d love to share with our community!

I’ve seen the value of effective social media use in schools.  One great example was when Tecumseh Junior High School Principal Brett Gruetzmacher (@BGruetzmacher) used his building’s Facebook page to keep parents posted about late dismissal of students due to severe weather in the area.  We’re nuts for not having systems like that in place.

Surely, however, there are some downsides and things to be aware of.

What are some lessons learned from other administrators/districts/buildings about using Facebook/Twitter accounts to share information?  What do I need a heads up about?  What conversations need to be held regarding privacy, policy, etc.?

Thanks!

Thank You for Raising the Bar, Apple

This week, Apple raised the bar on the education-related expectations from the tech industry.  The introduction of iBooks 2 and Apple’s entrance into digital and interactive textbooks certainly turned a few heads and raised eyebrows.  And then the mud-slinging came.

Just as quickly as the blogs and tweets were posted announcing the details of the announcement, the nay-sayers were creating lists of all the things [they feel are] wrong with Apple’s iBooks Author and the textbooks themselves:  limitations of only viewing on Apple’s own iPads, no real ePub exporting options, Apple taking their 30% share, and of course, the EULA limiting who actually “owns” what.

Now just a second.

Thank you, Apple.  Thanks for putting in thousands of R & D hours, thanks for being innovative, thanks for having vision, thanks for being  tech giant who is willing to listen and explore new approaches.

You didn’t get it exactly right [in the tech giant of Ryan Malany’s eyes] the first time, but you did something.  You raised the bar.  Just like when you omitted the floppy drive from G3 towers and iMacs.  Everyone freaked out.  Nay-sayers pointed out 197 things wrong with it.  And years later, it’s tough to buy a [any brand] computer with one.

We’ve seen this before: you’ll take in customer feedback, you’ll revisit your first generation software restraints, you’ll update, revise, and release.  Other companies are probably already hard at work emulating your software.  They’ll release it [after you’ve done the back-work] at a lower costs with more options and people will continue to complain about Apple’s high[er] costs.

Thank you for being first.  Thank you for raising the bar, Apple.

Speech: Underused In the Classroom

Just a quick post about a rather underused OS X feature in the classroom:

Thinking back to the good ol’ days of MacOS 7.x (Yes, I’m old enough to remember…thank you very much!), what was the single greatest feature of Apple’s SimpleText application?  That’s right.  Its text-to-speech functionality (using MacInTalk or PlainTalk for the Apple historians in the room).

Boy, were those days fun, or what?  One could spend hours trying to get your Performa 5200 PowerPC to correctly pronounce your last name after several hundred attempts at spelling it phonetically.  And when no one was around, maybe, just maybe, you even had Ralph, Fred, Cellos, Kathy, Princess, or Bubbles whisper a few certain four-letter words at you.  Rebel, you were.

But alas, in my teenage mind, that was the extend of the functionality of SimpleText: digital swearing.

Then I became a teacher.

As my fifth graders work through the writing process, what’s the single phrase I use the most when Johnny tells me, “I’m finished.”?  Yup: “Have you reread what you wrote?”

So back to Johnny’s desk he goes to pretend to reread his work through the end of class.  Enter: Apple’s Speech System Preferences.  One of the great, updated features of Apple’s OS X is the ability to quickly highlight text on your screen, hold down your hotkey combination, and have a choir of voices read you your text (with eerily close voice inflections!) right back to you.

Speech

As I’ve been working on my grad school work, almost every abstract, journal, reflection, paper, or key assessment has had itself highlighted and read aloud before I print or submit.  Why not do that in the classroom with your students???

We all know that during the process of hearing your work being read back to you, you’ll catch gramatical mistakes, spelling mistakes, and better-phrasing opportunities.  Since a vast majority of my students’ work eventually makes it to a screen of some sort, why not make this a required step in the writing process?

Just a thought.

What self-check tech solutions have you used with your students?

Professional Organizations Update: I Caved

Last summer, I wrote about “Professional Organizations: Friends or Fees”.  Well, I caved.  During the fall, I took a one-hour graduate class about educational readings.  When the time came to find professional articles to read, I, admidingly, went to my principal and asked for copies of her professional journals.  And before I knew it, I was stretched out on my couch with a stack of ASCD’sEducational Leadership” magazines.

So when the time came to write my letter to Santa, I added “ASCD membership” to the list.  I figured it was easy for the elves to make in the workshop.  Low and behold, I was a good boy, and my girlfriend purchased a membership on my behalf.

February is a fairly edtechy month for me, as it brings Ohio’s eTech Conference.  Even better, my first Educational Leadership magazine (of my own!) is titled “Teaching Screenagers” and focuses on edtech issues!

Okay, so there is some value in professional organizations.  I certainly won’t let it replace my PLN on Twitter, but it definitely makes a lovely compliment to it.

MacOS X File System Prediction

For not really any reason other than hoping to drop an, “I told you so,” I’d like to make a prediction about how Apple will revolution their file system in their 10.7 update.  Everywhere we go with a keyboard these days, we’re asked to identify blogs, bookmarks, photos, notes, conversations, videos, and more with a new type of label: tags.  Tags give users the ability to filter and search through content based on the desired file having one (or multiple!) tags.  The concept makes any search a custom search, perhaps containing photos in one’s library that contains “vacation”, “Steven”, “animals” in order to find that sequence of photos of Steven feeding the seagulls on vacation.

Throughout this year, I find myself trying to find the most useful ways to organize my files for my first year of creating content for fifth grade language arts.  As my plans are dictated by a standards-aligned map, each IWB file, worksheet, assessment, notes file, etc., are all connected to single or multiple standards.  In addition, the content is often related to relevant information for the kids (Christmas content at Christmas, hunting content during hunting seasons, etc.).  Long story, short: I want to be able to label files according to what exactly the file contains.

Currently, I’m stuck giving a file a single name and placing it in some heirarchy of folders.  Until Apple chooses to take on this system of file labeling, there are a couple workarounds I can think of.  First, you could use the current file system to make folders labeled according to the tags that you may want to use.

Get Info

In each folder, you could make an alias, or shortcut, and place it in each appropriate folder.  This will make a file that points to the actual file.

Secondly, you could use a file’s Get Info option to place tags in the Spotlight Comments box.  This will allow you to use Apple’s Spotlight search engine to find files according to what tags you’d like to search for.

Make no mistake, introducing tagging into the file system would take some thinking on the programmers’ part.  Moreover, they would need to think about how files migrated to other operating systems would adapt their tags to a standard file name-based system.  Still, I foresee the payoff of adapting this approach to be extremely helpful to Mac users.  And if anyone can pull off a revolution, it’s Apple.

Professional Organizations: Friends or Fees?

During one of those insanely early (probably 10:00AM) classes somewhere around my junior year of college, one of my education professors passed out paper applications for ASCD and explained (Charlie-Brown-teacher-style) the value in preservice teachers belonging to professional organizations.  Sure, she explained the many benefits of a subscription to the organization’s magazine Educational Leadership (as if we all needed a little more late-night reading material), but we all saw through the smoke and acknowledged the fact that “Two-year member of ASCD” would look just dandy on a future resume.

Or would it?

I’d like to look at two points.  1) Does belonging to a professional organization necessarily make a stronger educator?  2) In the age of the Twittersphere, blogs, and wikis, are professional organizations still the tool to use to measure one’s commitment to personal professional (oxymoron?) development?

1)  As I start to think long-term about my professional career (redundant?), I realize that there are a few steps that I need to take now to help me out in the future.  One day, I hope to be sitting across the table from an interview panel for a building principal position.  What happens, then, when the superintendent says, “Ryan, please give us some evidence of your belonging to some education-related professional organizations?”  If the interview was tomorrow, there’d be silence.  I’ll admit it – I don’t belong to any.  Sure, I joined ASCD for a year or so back in college, but the membership renewal probably came and well, being a senior in college…I may or may not have had a few other things on my mind.  Since then, I’ve received a healthy serving of mail and email offers from NCSS, NCTE, NCTM (give me a break, I’m not even licensed in math!), NEA, and of course, my old friends at ASCD.  To each I have politely thought, “If I had the money…,” and relocated it to the recycling bin.

So what if I hadn’t?  What if I re-budgeted the needed registration fees and I said to that superintendent, “I have been an active member of NCSS for four years, NCTE for six years, the NEA for four years, and ASCD for seven years.”  Would the superintendent hand me a contract and say, “Oh, well he’s qualified!”  What exactly does it mean to be a member of a professional organization? Technically speaking, it only means that you have paid the fees and filled out the paperwork.  Typically, one can also assume that the member has received opportunities in her/his inbox for discounted PD and maybe a pretty monthly organization magazine or two in the mail.

One of the buildings in my district recently received an ARRA Title II-D 21st Century Learning Environment Technology Grant (I think that’s the full name?).   One of the many benefits of the grant is the addition of a technology coach to the receiving school’s staff.  In appendix E of the grant specifications, they list both the requirements and desirable qualifications for the technology coach.  Microsoft Word - Round 2 ARRA Title II-D RFP2_16 - Powered by Google DocsOne of the desirable qualifications is for the candidate to have, “Current and past membership in professional organizations (e.g., instructional technology organizations – ASCD, Phi Kappa Gamma, NCTM or OCTM, SECO, OCTELA)….”  Where, in that requirement, is evidence of authentic professional development?

2)  Make no mistake, I get a healthy dose of professional development in the form of readings, dialoge, and exposure to innovation.  Mine even comes daily.  The development of my professional learning network (PLN) using primarily Twitter (Follow me @mrmalany) has increased my exposure to the education world exponentially!  I can get daily, customized online “newspapers” from paper.li and twittertim.es filled with up-to-date articles, videos, screencasts, wikis, forums, and podcasts tailored to specific components of the educational community that interest me.   I can participate in (or just monitor) weekly #edchat sessions and am looking forward to upcoming #elemchat sessions starting this Thursday.  Although all of these collaboration networks to free, up-to-date, individualized, and are made up of some of the strongest educators from around the world, they still aren’t held in as high regard as paying annual dues to an “official” professional organization.  Maybe they should be.

Take this away:

My guess is that I am likely to fire up the registration pages of some of the real professional organizations and type in my credit card number sometime in the near future.  When the day comes that I am actually sitting across from a superintendent, I’ll have the answer she or he wants.  And I’m sure I will get some development from these organization.  But to that, I’ll be sure to add my two cents about the unique gains my PLN has given me.  It’s priceless.  And when I’m interviewing teacher candidates for my building: bonus points on the hiring rubric if your resume’s contact info includes an “@”!

Lost: Electronic Toy

A while back, my friend Thomas shared this creative video with me:

(Heads up: lyrics are PG-13)

As someone who has left both an iPod and digital camera on the back of my car, losing the devices (and their contents!) forever, I now do a much better job of labeling my digital devices.

In other news, I received another flash drive last week.  I’ve added the 4GB Kingston to the plethora of other flash drives I’ve acquired over the years.  With improvements to “cloud” computing and my use of my MobileMe, Dropbox, and GoogleDocs accounts, I find myself transferring files with flash drives lots less.  Nonetheless, there are still times where grabbing a flash drive is the easiest option.

That being said, how many times have you left your flash drive in a USB port and walked away?  It happens.  Usually I’m the first one back to the device and retrieve the drive.  But what if I’m not?

So this morning I came up with this idea.  Yeah, I’m sure I’m not the first.

ZIPPY1

I chose to make a PDF as it’s pretty much a universal format.

Zippy2

Again, I’m sure this isn’t too revolutionary, but it took all of 45 seconds to potentially save the loss of vital and/or sensitive information (like the chapter 16 presentation!).

Shorten Your Facebook Fan Page URL

Last June, Facebook allowed users to shorten the URL that directs friends to their individual site.  Instead of friends or potential friends having to search for a particular user using Facebook’s search feature, they could instead be directed to go directly to a friend’s page at facebook.com/usersusername.  Essentially, it is supposed to be a time and space-saver.

With more users creating “fan” pages for everything from small businesses to community clubs to classrooms, Facebook allows the same URL shortening service if your page has 25 fans or more. The process is simple.

1.  While logged into the account associated with your fan page, visit facebook.com/username.

2.  Select your fan page from the “Page Name” drop down menu.

Facebook | Username

3.  Create a unique username and check availability.

Now you’re set to send your users to the shortened URL!  This is much easier for publications and publicity, although Facebook offers several options for electronically promoting your pages.

Feel free to visit (and “like” or “fan” or whatever we’re calling it this week) my classroom’s page at www.facebook.com/mrmalany.

Also look for more information from Ryan Collins’s blog on why/how teachers should create Facebook pages.

It Just Looks Good!

Imagine this scenario:

You put a blank piece of a paper in front of a 12 or 13 year old child and ask her/him to create an illustration that represents her/him.  A collage, a diagram, maybe a map?  Surely they’ll include a person or two (your more advanced drawers may even go beyond The Stick Man).  They may even add a little shadow or dimension. Nevertheless, unless, by chance, you happen to be working with a future Van Gogh, the resulting illustration may be refrigerator-worthy at best.

And that’s where Web 2.0 come into play.  I contend the following:  Students (and adults for that matter) enjoy profile, document, and media creation using Web 2.0 apps because it just looks good.

Students are able to create content that is neat, organized, and makes the creator appear as an artist!  Take, for example, a recent project my students worked on.  They used an internal, open source social network called elgg to create “fake”Greek Projects_ Zeusprofiles of historic Greek figures or Greek mythology characters.  The students entered “about me” info, made up contact details, explained their location, predicted “interests,” etc.  When they were finished, they “friended” me so that I can see their profiles.  The old-school alternative? “Make a poster about your Greek character.”  I’m going to predict the latter assignment’s product to be sloppier, harder to share, and I’ll go as far as predicting: boring.

Another example.

When we studied Buddhism and Hinduism and I gave the students lots of options for presenting their group’s topic, an overwhelming majority chose someBuddhism Presentaion. _ text, images, music, video | Glogster sort of Web 2.0 app.  One of my Buddhism groups chose Glogster to make what I call, “virtual posters.”  Just as if I placed construction paper and a tub of markers in front of the group, they planned, designed, and created a canvas of content to share with others.  Their canvas, however, had animations, cheesy graphics, roll-over sounds effects, embedded videos, etc.  They took their traditional (and by ‘traditional,’ I of course mean, ‘boring’) methods of conveying information to the next level.  It didn’t matter who had better handwriting or if they ruler lines were straight or even if the marker they’re using started to run out of ink halfway through the third bubble letter!  Taking their content to the web provided a cleaner, more manageable and collaboration-friendly working environment.

My seventh graders are early in this process.  Unfortunately, they’re not used to expressing themselves academically with digital media.  I’ll admit it: they get caught up in the process and the content suffers.  For now, I’ll let that go from time to time.

Next year it looks like my building will have some “guided study halls.”  Maybe I can teach a Web 2.0 class?

Goodbye User Accounts

A couple things have happened over the last couple weeks that have me thinking.  It all started with the all-too-common news that more cuts were coming our way in the district.  Long story, short: if May’s levy doesn’t pass, our district’s technology department, consisting of a technology administrator and a recently-added technology assistant, will lose the latter of the two positions.  As our technology administrator cautioned the Board of Education at the March meeting, the loss of this position will force him to make drastic cuts within the technology hardware, support, and programs that are currently offered.  One such “program” is the fact that each student in our district (2,000ish K-12) has her/his own student account/login on our MacOS district server.  This allows students to login, configure settings (desktop pictures seems to be the favorite pastime of the month), store photos and documents, and personalize Dashboard widgets.

About the same time, the stars aligned and district’s technology assistant delivered six IBM Ubuntu-running ThinkPads to my classroom.  This was in addition to the two that I already had in my classroom.  I also have two iPod Touches (one school-owned, one personal), my MacBook Pro, and two OS X eMacs, an OS X Intel iMac, and six Ubuntu-running thin-clients (old, gutted iMacs).  In short, quite the hodgepodge! I’m proud to say that students leave my classroom experienced in multiple platforms!

On the iPods and “new” ThinkPads, the students aren’t able to access their user accounts (sure, they can FTP to them from their student dashboard page, but who really does that?).  Despite that flaw, I was able to setup an entire two-day lesson.  Here’s how it went:

Students were in groups of three with each group assigned to a machine/device.  They were given a guiding WebQuest packet (note: to all of you die-hard WebQuesters, I’m sorry, but I often break the traditional mold of what a true “WebQuest” is supposed to be!).  They accessed the appropriate

Ancient Rome WebQuest Answer Form

links on my classroom website and completed the assignment.  They then transfered their responses a Google form I has setup using GoogleDocs.  Each group submitted their responses and it made for easy grading.  The lesson turned out to produce some great exposure, educational dialoge (often arguing over and defending answers) between students, and great formative assessment for me before our final unit test.  Oh, and the kids enjoyed it.

Okay, the meat  of the post (for real).  I made a HUGE observation during each of my six classes.  The students who were on iPods, my laptop, or the ThinkPads were hard at work a good four or five minutes before the students logging on to the MacOS machines!  Seriously.  As each group went to their respective macine/device, some students only had to open the lid of the laptop and the browser was ready to go with the first website!  The other groups faced a variety of hurdles before their screen displayed anything educational.  These included forgotten passwords, misspelled usernames, students “locked out” because they forgot to logout somewhere else on the network or the last machine they were on had crashed, startup applications (at some point, many of the students have set iCal to open upon startup), etc.  Okay, now they’re logged in.  Next came group discussion over which browser to use, Safari or Firefox.  When Firefox won, there was the wait while the app checked for plugin updates, gave errors about past sessions, and restored tabs from said sessions.  MEANWHILE, their classmates who didn’t face user accounts were already adding Roman numerals and watching embedded presentations about gladiators.

The moral of the story:  Let’s dump the user accounts!  I certainly realize that from a managerial point-of-view, their are some essential components to user accounts that make them ideal for a school setting.  These include tracking/monitoring activity, storing usernames and passwords in the browser, setting bookmarks, and probably many others that tech administrators require.  That being said, my job is to teach.  Watching half my class become engaged in the content a full five minutes faster than the other half is enough of a selling point for me! With my students completing more and more word processing and presentation design using [online-stored] GoogleDocs, a personalized Documents folder on a student-account is quickly becoming obsolete!  With the elimination of our computer class next year (again, cuts), students no longer have a class dedicated to photo, video, or audio management and won’t be needing dedicated server space to house that content.

I love the idea of user accounts.  I love each child having a unique username.  I love the idea of students personalizing their computing experience with themes, desktop pictures, widgets, etc.  I love the idea of students securely storing their personal content.  But unfortunately, I also love the idea of time-on-task. Let’s maximize it.