A Glimpse of Next Year’s Students

(see the animoto)
Some of you may know that I had to leave my school year a few days early to help lead the Massachusetts New Literacies Institute in Boston. That meant not only not being able to say goodbye on the last day of school to my students but also, I didn’t get the traditional “meet and greet” my incoming students, either. Instead, I made them a DVD that my substitute teacher showed them and asked them to contribute a piece of writing and an illustration of themselves on a sticky note to a “wall” I created in the back of the room.

Yesterday, I finally got to my classroom to finish up some paperwork and cleaning, but I was just fascinated by the wall of notes, writing and pictures the soon-to-be sixth graders left behind for me.  In particular, I loved the self-portraits (which say a lot about a person). They only had a few minutes to work, but still … pretty neat.

I’ll hang the wall back up in August, to give myself a glimpse of the class that is coming in.

Peace (in the image),

Ning, Pearson and Who Own Our Content

It’s July and for many of us who have Ning sites, that means changes are soon to be afoot. I have a handful of sites that I have created in Ning for various elements of my writing, technology exploration and more. Most of those I am going to let vanish into the ether (really, though, do things really vanish anymore? Some echoes will remain in the far corners of the Net). These sites are too small to deal with, although I hate to see them go.

Ning now has a three-tiered pricing plan and for most of the sites that I manage (most for the National Writing Project), the middle tier makes the most sense, but I am still not completely clear on how the change will impact the way the site has run in the past. Can I still embed videos hosted elsewhere, for example?

When Ning announced it plan to move away from the ad-driven model to a pricing plan, there was an uproar of concern from educators who were using the platform for work with students (only 13 and older are allowed by Ning) and other educators. We liked “free” and wanted it to remain “free,” although free meant ads on our sites (which I paid to remove, whenever possible). Ning listened and promised that a company would be providing free “Ning Mini” plans for educators. Many of wondered who that would be.

It’s Pearson, and that has given rise to some mixed emotion in me. I won’t be using Pearson’s sponsorship program. I have done some work for the National Writing Project and Pearson (see my resource around using claymation in the classroom at a Pearson “Profiles in Practice” site). It was fine and I have no complaints. I did opt out of a video interview by Pearson once because I worried about how I was giving them something for free that they could use to gain revenue.

Apparently, you have to be an educator in North America to get Pearson sponsorship, and you have to brand your Ning with Pearson logo, and you have to create a “Pearson member profile” in the network, too. The sponsorship lasts for three years, too.

So, here is my question: Who will own the “content” on the site that is being funded by Pearson? Is it you, the owner (and students, if it is a class site), or is it Pearson, the sponsor? Or is it Ning that owns the content?

This is a crucial questi0n in this day and age of managing information on digital platforms. And the issue is not addressed in any of the Ning announcements, as far as I can tell.  I would worry that Pearson, while seeming generous, is gaining access to a vast data set of what teachers are doing, what students are doing, and then leveraging that access down the road. Pearson’s business is built on educational trends, remember.

On the Ning FAQ site, they pose the question of whether Pearson can contact your members directly through your site. The answer (which sounds good) is:

Pearson will not contact members without the Network Creator’s consent. Pearson may contact you, the Network Creator, directly from time to time, but these communications will not extend to your members unless you agree to do so.

Am I being too skeptical of Pearson and Ning? No. These are questions we have to ask before we put our work in the hands of a company who makes their money in our educational circles. Ask the questions and get the answers before you let Pearson into your site.

Peace (in the questions),

Using Cool Tools: Don’t “just do it”

(I wrote this last week at the New Literacies Institute and shared it at our site, but thought I might share it here, too.)

I’ve been thinking about this issue in light of the Cool Tools sessions in which we have gratefully been given time to learn and play around with a technology tool. For many, this may be a first introduction to Voicethread, Glogster, Jing and more. Once you get past the initial technical barrier (sign up, bandwidth, etc.), it’s easy to get immersed in the technological tool and then use that “wow” moment to want to integrate that tool into our Inquiry Projects. (Spend a few minutes building a wall at Glogster and you will see what I mean — here is a book review that I did on Glogster about The Socially Networked Classroom that I look at now and think, there’s too much going on here.)

I suggest a cooling off period, first. Let the “wow” moment pass and then think clearly about:

  • What are the aims of the project, lesson or professional development concept? What do I want my students/teachers to learn?
  • Does the technology enhance the learning experience?
  • Why am I using this particular tool and not another?

In other words, use the technology as a tool for learning and not just to use the tool. One mantra that I use with my students (but also, with myself) is: Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should do it. It’s easier to say the mantra than it is to enact it, but still, I try.

I suggest there are a few reasons why you would want to step back and reflect before forging ahead with a tech tool integration:

  • Students may become distracted if they, too, get caught up in the technology. Make sure the technology complements the learning you are aiming for. Provide focus and structure and clear expectations of your students. Again, is the tool the right fit for the goal? Remember: it is not the tool that is important, it is the learning (there I go, sucking the fun out of school again)
  • We should always be wary of advertising on sites we bring our students to. Glogster is one that has lately become bombarded with ads. We use Firefox, with Adblock Plus add-on (you should, too), but the last thing we need are schools to become yet another place where our young people are forced into the role of economic consumer
  • Web 2.0 sites die all the time, or get revamped, or change unexpectedly. This is a fact of life in the unsettled connected world. We don’t want to put all of our eggs in one basket, or one application or platform. (Corollary: always have a back-up plan for days when a site is down or the filter unexpectedly decides to kick you out.)

I don’t mean to suggest that you don’t integrate technology (I’d be at the wrong conference for that — perhaps the Luddite Convention down the road?) but I do recommend thoughtful integration, with the backwards design model of where do you want your students to be at the end and what tools can help engage them to do their best and most creative work along the way. Keep in mind: What affordances does the technology bring to the learning experience?

Meanwhile, the best way for us teachers and educators to figure all that out is to “play” with the tools ourselves. Put yourself in the role of your student (or your teacher, if your aim is PD) and work with a variety of tools to determine the best fit. This takes time, but it is worth it. Your own experience “creating” goes a long way to understanding the possibilities and limitations of whatever you choose to bring to the classroom.