Sunday, September 27, 2009

Swine Flu!

Here is a great opportunity:

All of the schools in Qatar, including The American School of Doha where I work, have been closed for a minimum of one week because of the swine flu. Other nations in the area such as Bahrain have closed all schools until November. There is no certainty when we will start up again.

So, this means our school has become a great experiment in integrating technology. We have our own Blackboard system. Teachers are required normally to always post homework and other such announcements on the site, and students are required to check it regularly. This is occuring when school is going on normally. The real reason for having the system is for this type of emergency. As we are in an area of the world prone to war and other such emergencies our school needs a backup so we can continue teaching while our students are at home. We are now officially a pre-k through 12th grade school that is entirely online until we are allowed to reopen our schools. Our teachers and faculty are the most professional educators I have known, so it will be interesting to see how well they work in an exclusively online environment. Many of us did not know that students were at home until this morning when we arrived for work, so there is a ton of work that is being done to set up full instruction through Blackboard. I am instructing many people on how to best use podcasts, some other teachers are teaching others about Google Docs and various teachers are offering instruction in whatever technology they happen to be proficient in. It's all incredibly inconvenient, but exciting at the same time. There will be a lot of fun experimentation this week.

What is my job now that the facility where I work is no longer available for students to use? Where should I be focusing my efforts?

Please comment below to help me answer this question.

I'm going to post regularly this week on this topic so that I have a place where my experiences and thoughts are recorded. This is not a common situation, so I sould take advantage of it.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

simply a label

Robeert Bain, in the 5th chapter of Meaningful Learning Using Technology discusses the problem with big professional development terms such as "deep understanding" and meaningful Learning." He says that "These ideas run the risk of becoming mere expressions that stand for much, but provide little substance for the practitioners who must figure out how to achieve such lofty goals. Ironically, schools might be adopting "meaningful understanding" and "deep understanding" without engaging in the substantive conversations and investigations that promote deep meaning and understanding about these ideas themselves."

I have sen this happen in multiple schools. But I don't think this concept ends just with ideas and catchy terms. Schools might say that their students participate in meaningful learning without all of the teachers having a shared understanding of what meaningful learning is. In the same way, schools almost all claim they are regularly incorporating technology in to the classroom. But what does this mean? In my first school where I taught it seriously meant using power points to teach the students. That is all the admin was looking for in the way of tech integration. But what does it mean in different schools and what does it mean to different teachers in a single school?

As my school seems to be moving in the direction of a one-to-one laptop situation I ask myself what does each teacher think about tech integration. Some see simple powerpoints as engaging projects while others see classes creating podcasts as something worthwhile. Should all work be done on a cloud computing service like Google docs? Should the school have a shared platform like Blackboard that all teachers use? Is Blackboard effective enough to do everything? The questions could go on forever, and schools have to ask themselves these kinds of questions every few months. If they fail to do this, they will be teaching their students using methods that are no longer applicable to the use of technology in the real world. Not only do they have to evaluate where they stand on what technology to use and how to use it, but they must be communicating this information to all teachers and observing that all teachers are following the current and best agreed-upon practices. Yikes.

It's easy for a school to throw a sticker on their curriculum that says "with integrated technology"
but it is hard to make sure that it is more than just a label which means nothing.

Alexander, E., & Floden, R. (2006). Meaningful Learning Using Technology. New York: Teachers College Press.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Why not Orkut?

A question for everybody out there. Is it strange that everybody is pushing for the use of Google apps such as Docs and Sites in the workplace and in school (Both where I work and go to school are asking me to use it) but to bind us socially online everybody chooses Facebook? If we are using all of these Google products wouldn't it make sense to use Orkut (Google's social networking site) which probably has better integration of these other Google apps? It feels like I am forced to live in two online neighborhoods.

Does anybody out there have exprience with Orkut? Is it badly designed, or was it just too late to the social networking party and lost early battles to Facebook? Will Orkut become the next big thing turning Facebook into the next Myspace or (gasp) Friendster?

I think I will experiment with Orkut and post my findings back here. Let me know any thoughts you have about Facebook vs. Orkut in the comments of this blog entry.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

It's alive!

Ok, it has been for too long since this has been updated. Let's bring this thing back to life!