Things I Know 142 of 365: We can draw everyone into the conversation

I’m always up for a conversation. So long as it’s with someone else (and sometimes even with myself), a good conversation leads to me learning more.

And I really like learning.

Standing up to start my section of the keynote for the Ohio School Facilities Commission’s 21st Century School Design Symposium 2.0 today, I presented the audience with a slide devoid of title or name.

It read simply:

What do you want to know?

In the next line, I invited audience members to text their questions to the phone number on the screen or send a message to my twitter account.

The original plan was to follow the questions up later in the presentation and open my Google Voice account. Call it keynote formative assessment.

Due to some login issues, I wasn’t able to access my account while I was still on stage.

That was for the better.

Once I returned to my seat, I opened Google Voice and found several questions waiting.

“How do you run professional development to prepare SLA teachers for project-based teaching?”

“What do you use to clean your dry erase tables?”

“Any how-to tips for working with an odd BOE?”

In my 30 minutes, I hadn’t the time to speak directly and in a detailed way to the concerns each of the questions raised. If I’d attempted to do so, I would have missed the mark of what I was asked to speak about.

Still, each question shows at least the basics of curiosity surrounding the ideas that had been presented.

The texters were inquiring.

Any question worth asking is worth answering.

The same thing happens in my classroom. In fact, I’d wager the same thing happens in every classroom. Class discussion begins or the teacher asks what questions the students have, and the few noble souls pipe up.

Most of the time, it’s the same people. On particularly excellent days, other voices enter the mix.

Today, Google Voice helped me collect some of the voices and questions that would have gone unheard and unasked in class conversation. It was the tool for today, but it isn’t the only tool.

From time to time, when having a full class conversation around a text, I explain that my goal is to hear from all voices in the classroom. I explain the value I place on a plurality of ideas and that I’m genuinely curious as to what each student has to say.

When I asked today’s audience to share what they wanted to know, I was also genuinely curious.

In class conversations, I’ll often require students who don’t speak up in the physical spaces to share their thoughts (either a new idea or a reaction to a peer) on the class discussion board on MOODLE.

Those message board strands bear out some deeply thoughtful conversation.

That conversation is epically helpful to me as I attempt to understand each of the students in my charge and how they view the world.

Sometimes, I’ll jump in on the discussion board conversations. Other times, I’ll send a private e-mail in response.

Today, I sent a response to each text message I received. I might never hear from any of them again. I get that.

Still, when we’re banning and working to verbally diminish the power of new conduits of conversation in education, maybe it will serve as a reminder of the tools we have to draw more students of all kinds into the fray.

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Hi, you’re doing it wrong: Chat/Discussion

As I’ve explained, I started my master’s program a few weeks ago. Through an online program, I’ll have a Master’s of Teaching and Learning in Curriculum and Instruction in 14 months. It’s my first time in an all-online learning environment. They’re doing it wrong.

As I’ve mentioned, my course requires participation in three online chats throughout its 8-week run. I missed the first chat as I was in a tiny town in a small town outside East London in Eastern Cape, South Africa, and the Internet was spotty.

Wednesday, I returned to the States.

Wednesday, our second chat was scheduled.

After two days of travel involving 3 continents, I had my sister pull over on the drive from O’Hare back down to Springfield, IL and I signed on sitting in supremely busy McDonald’s of Pontiac, IL. (If you don’t think there’s a global information divide, compare that last sentence to this situation and get back to me.)

No matter the free Internet juice my MacBook was sucking down, it just couldn’t talk to the chat room.
As had happened during my first go, I’d log in to the WebCT chat room, one person would send a line of dialogue and the infinite pinwheel of death would appear.

This happened across Firefox, Flock and Chrome.

After 30 minutes of trying, I e-mailed “Education Specialist” to say I wouldn’t be making it to the night’s chat.

Here’s what happens if you miss a chat:

After missing the last chat, I opted for the second choice. I’d intended to go with the first option, but the transcript never got posted. I inquired about it on the discussion board. But, as I’ve now learned, “Education Specialist” doesn’t so much use the discussion board.

I in my e-mail explaining my absence from Chat 2, I said I’d keep an eye out for the transcript. Subtle, I know.

Chat 2’s questions for discussion were:

Some potentially beefy material.

Before I read the transcript, I checked back to see what the requirements for participation were…non-existent.

On the other hand, I found this:

While no set requirements for participation exist, we are to write a synopsis of what we’ve learned in the chat and copy and paste it to our “Chat Log” along with our compiled responses to the weekly discussion forum.
I’m a bit worried that option 4 here runs in contrast with option 2 for those who missed the chat. Seems even if I opt for option 2, I’ll still need to include option 4 which is the same as option 1 above.

Here’s where I’d normally make the argument for putting all information in the same place, but I don’t have it in me right now.

Baffled, I’ve turned to the transcript.

Here’s how the discussion began:

The response to that one was kind of ugly.

The answers, by the way, Active Learning and Classroom Management. The first one makes me chuckle every time.

Then “Education Specialist” said:


But not everyone had finished typing the first strands, so it was a mix of strands  in what was an actual request to repeat specific information back to the instructor.

In the middle of it all, someone asked a question about an upcoming assignment and received the reply:

Burn.

It was difficult to read the rest of the transcript. “Education Specialist” would yell each successive pre-announced question and my peers would type their responses back to “Education Specialist.”

Here’s the only feedback I could find:

Warms the cockles, no?

Forty-seven minutes in, and it was over.

Kaput.

In this course, we’ve read (or were assigned to read) multiple chapters about making learning active, moving from a teacher-centered approach, making learning authentic and multiple modalities.

Then, in one of the 3 times we’re all in the same “room,” it’s straight-forward teacher-centered call and response. Desperate for any actual evidence of, you know, chat, I took a tally.

In the discussion that took place before “Education Specialist” left the room, peers responded directly to one another a total of 5 times. Those responses were generally along the lines of “I have used that tool and find it very helpful as well in the math classroom.”

Hardly the free, open and democratic exchange of ideas I work to facilitate in my classroom.

Chat can and should be a much more powerful tool for facilitating learning from varied geographic areas.

Election Night 2008, I sat in Chris’ living room with my laptop, logged in to a moodle chat room open to all SLA learners for discussion of the history that was being made. People were throwing out commentary, questions, answers, tips for the channel with the best coverage. When it got down to the wire, a rich conversation started about how some news outlets were calling the election whilst others were not.

No pre-fab discussion questions were needed. Something interesting to talk about and learn from was happening and so we got together to explore it.

This week, seasoned educators from around the country were asked “What techniques do you utilize to manage classroom behavior?” and 3 people responded with 10 lines of text.

Every second of the 47 minutes that chat was being facilitated could and should have been dedicated to just that question. Teachers from multiple disciplines talking about what they do to set and maintain the climate of their classrooms, and we spent maybe 5 minutes.

This isn’t active learning. This isn’t inquiry. This isn’t constructivist. This isn’t, well, it just isn’t.
“HOW DO YOU INCORPORATE THE THEORIES OF VYGOTSKI, PIAGET, DEWEY, ERIKSON AND OTHE THEORISTS INTO YOUR CLASSROOM[?]”

Better than this.

Hi, you’re doing it wrong.

Hi, you’re doing it wrong: Course Design

As I’ve explained, I started my master’s program three weeks ago. Through an online program, I’ll have a Master’s of Teaching and Learning in Curriculum and Instruction in 14 months. It’s my first time in an all-online learning environment. They’re doing it wrong.

This is the front page of my current course:

This is the discussion forum:
You’ll note there are multiple threads. That’s because not everyone in the course responds to the weekly discussion questions through reply.
Here’s a classmate’s response post:
Here’s my attempt to preemptively stop all of my classmates from posting their discussions and responses as file attachments:

The “Education Specialist” has a thread about each upcoming assignment, except one that was due last Sunday. On the syllabus, it’s due next Sunday:

On the due date sheet, it was due last Sunday:
In the course dropbox, it was due last Sunday:
In the discussion forum, where we’ve been alerted to how to complete all assignments, not a peep:
My e-mail:

The “Education Specialist’s” response:
The page that has heretofore gone unmentioned in the discussion forum:

Each course at SLA uses moodle as a content delivery system. From time to time, I’ve attempted to use Google Calendar or other means of delivering due dates and course assignments. It hasn’t worked. My learners have looked in one place. If I put it in one place, they know where to look. It makes the actual work easier if they don’t have to search for assignment due dates and descriptions.
The same could be said for this course.
In short, they’re doing it wrong.

Computer said no

Part of getting on the ground here is encountering new surprises. It’s part of what I love/hate.

The Eastern Cape project has offered a special challenge.

I must first state I’ve had only basic formal moodle training. Everything else has been figuring it out as I go. The fact that it’s an integral part of daily life at SLA definitely gives me a leg up on many others, but I’m no moodle maven. (I don’t even own the scarves, robes and crystals I’d imagine such a maven would possess.)

When Charles, our main liaison with the Eastern Cape Department of Education, asked for training integrating the Learning Objects different e-Personnel and teachers have built into moodle, it fell to me.

Super.

I’m up to a challenge.

The idea is to create intranets within the schools in the province with computer labs, install moodle and have the LO accessible to all teachers within the school.

Some initial roadblocks: the intranets don’t exist, a plan for moodle installation hasn’t happened yet, there may be others.

Still, I sat in the dining hall yesterday working with the sample LO Charles had given me.

I wanted to claw out my eyes.

Here’s what I learned:

The objects were created in a free Microsoft software called Learning Content Development System. They pull in video and graphics and text. They create interactive guided lessons. They export into SCORM. They don’t play nicely with moodle. (That last one was a bit of a bugger.)

Awesome.

I spent hours trying to figure things out.

My favorite piece of research brought this reply from a MSFT Moderator on the forums:

Hi Takabanda,

LCDS is designed to create content that can be hosted in the SharePoint Learning Kit (SLK).

In addition, we continue to test the content in other Learning Management Systems. We’ve heard varying reports about issues with Moodle and we do not have steps to resolve the issues some course authors are encountering with Moodle at this point.

Unfortunately, we don’t have specific steps to for Moodle.

Thanks,

Stephanie

I had some bad news for Charles.

I sent this tweet out:

Minutes later, I got this response:

@Microsoft_Cares attempted to help, as did @mwacker, and I’m grateful for it. Still, in the end, it was for naught.

I handed the issue over to my teammate, Chris, in whose wheelhouse this problem more naturally lives.

Nada.

While I’ll leave Matthew Arvin out of it, Microsoft should still look over their shoulder when in allies.

Districts here don’t have budget for SharePoint Learning Kit. More to the point, there’s no budget for the upkeep nor bandwidth for the updates. Offering the first part for free and the second for pay is a bit of a bait-and-switch.

The flipside of that is the need for a clear ICT plan and research of the tools chosen for implementation. I certainly realize that. I’ve pointed it out as well.

I can’t help but have a bitter taste in my mouth thinking this is another example of corporations eyeing districts hurriedly moving to “catch up” with other districts/countries as profits over people and ignoring the global implications of leading them to waste the limited funds they possess.

Yes, buyer beware.

It’s reciprocal.

Seller, operate in good faith.

Learn out loud

A while back, Jabiz Raisdana tweeted,”I hate that teachers always tell students to write but very few teachers actually do it themselves. For pleasure that is.”

While I would and did argue against the idea it happens as infrequently as he contended, I do enjoy doing the work I ask my students to complete.

A few weeks ago, somewhere in my network, someone mentioned DailyLit.com. A nifty little site, DailyLit will send contiguous passages of a selected book to your e-mail account or RSS feed on a schedule you set. While some of the books require a minimal fee, many of them can be read for free.

After nosing around for a bit, I told my students to browse the “Classics” section and subscribe to books that piqued their fancies.

The assignment was simple – for each passage that popped up in a student’s inbox or feed reader, that student would then take about 5 minutes to write their thoughts on what they’d read. The responses lived as a journal on Moodle which allowed me to keep track of their thinking and comment along the way.

Now, I don’t know if anyone else has this problem, but I sometimes run into assignments I feel as though I’ve explained perfectly and come to find out it might not necessarily be the case.

Such was it with the journals. Students were copying and pasting key quotations, writing summaries of the passages, responding with one-sentence posts such as, “Boring.” Not the literary exploration I had planned.

This brings us back to Jabiz, that intrepid teacher.

When I first started looking around DailyLit, I’d tested out the site and signed up to receive Henry David Thoreau’s Walden.

May I get real for a second?

Not to malign my qualifications as one who teaches words and letters to younger generations, but I’ve tried to read that friggin’ book 4 times and failed miserably each time. Horribly, really. I mean, these guys had a better go of it than I did when wrestling with H.D.

I created a forum in each class’s Moodle course entitled “Mr. Chase’s DailyLit.” Each day, I do what I ask my kids to do as I muddle through this classic of American literature.

Somedays, it’s not pretty:

021/114

Thoreau continues to go on and on about how he got his food. This section concerns itself mostly with bread and how he made it. One particularly grating passage reads:

Yet I find it not to be an essential ingredient, and after going without it for a year am still in the land of the living; and I am glad to escape the trivialness of carrying a bottleful in my pocket, which would sometimes pop and discharge its contents to my discomfiture. It is simpler and more respectable to omit it.

Yup, that’s all about yeast. I’ll not lie, I had to force myself to stay focused whilst reading this. It’s far from the philosophical tone Thoreau first used when beginning the book. Still, every once in a while, he’ll throw out a sentence like, “Man is an animal who more than any other can adapt himself to all climates and circumstances,” and I’ll think, “You needed to go on about making bread for paragraph after paragraph to figure that one out?”

I still marvel at Thoreau’s use of words, but I’m increasingly frustrated by the content he’s wasting them on. If I had to guess, I’d say this is about the spot I stopped reading this book the last time I tried.

Then, though, there are days like today, when I get so excited by what I read that I have to run next door and find someone else who’s read Walden so I can have a discussion – days when my journal looks like this:

026/114

I’ve got to hand it to H.D. He’s certainly not afraid to throw down some truth. From today’s passage: Often the poor man is not so cold and hungry as he is dirty and ragged and gross. It is partly his taste, and not merely his misfortune. If you give him money, he will perhaps buy more rags with it.

I feel as though he wrote that and then stood from his desk and yelled, “There, I’ve said it, consequences be damned.”

Thoreau is arguing that by being charitable toward the poor, we are truly harming them by furthering poverty. “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root, and it may be that he who bestows the largest amount of time and money on the needy is doing the most by his mode of life to produce that misery which he strives in vain to relieve.”

Damn.

Lest his readers think he’s only interested in condemnation, he follows it up with this:

I do not value chiefly a man’s uprightness and benevolence, which are, as it were, his stem and leaves. Those plants of whose greenness withered we make herb tea for the sick serve but a humble use, and are most employed by quacks. I want the flower and fruit of a man; that some fragrance be wafted over from him to me, and some ripeness flavor our intercourse.

I love that imagery, “I want the flower and fruit of a man; that some fragrance be wafted over from him to me, and some ripeness flavor our intercourse.” It takes me back to any great lecture I’ve ever attended or any conversation with people who were my intellectual superiors. There is something to be said for being in the presence of those who completely grasp the richness of their lives, who see nothing but potential and then work to achieve it. I understand what Thoreau’s saying here, though I don’t know how it fits with my own belief structure. Does this mean I don’t continue the habit of giving the money in my pocket to the guy on the street on the off chance he will use it for good? Arrrgh, damn you H.D. for making me think.

The more I read of this book, the more I think I would like to have known him.

I do enjoy learning out loud with my kids.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pablosanchez/3143055944/