Thursday, July 30, 2009

Teachers are like Twin Otters

Yesterday I spent the morning in Edmonton at the Alberta Aviation Museum to witness and be a part of aviation history. While serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force from 1951 to 1978, my grandfather, Maj. Jack E. E. Nichol flew many airplanes including the F-86 Sabre. This year marks the 100th anniversary of powered flight in Canada, and to celebrate, a team of people has worked tirelessly to restore a Sabre called Hawk One. This special Sabre was part of a demonstration team from 1959-1964, and is now flying across Canada at air shows and events. I was fortunate to be able to meet one of the pilots Lt. Colonel (Ret'd) Dan Dempsey who is also the team historian and former colleague of my uncle's with Cathay Pacific Airlines. Dan served with the RCAF and was one of the last pilots to fly the F-104 Starfighter. The highlight of the day for me was sitting in the plane that my grandfather flew over 50 years ago! (Check out my Flickr set of the event). While sitting in the plane, opposite the lucky hulu girl, I noticed that there was a Garming GPS in the cockpit which got me thinking... 

Last week I watched a news story on CBC about the great Twin Otter that was originally broadcast last February. I have been inspired by a blog post this summer by Wes Fryer who talked about airplanes and technology during his visit to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. After watching the story about the return of the Twin Otter, and spending an amazing morning with family and Hawk One I can now conclude that many teachers are like Twin Otters and Sabres when it comes to technology. 

How? I see many teachers who are like these planes. They are beautiful, do amazing things and are workhorses. The Twin Otter is such a good airplane that it is now being rebuilt using original plans and documents for use around the world. Over 650 of 850 Twin Otters built are still flying today, a true testament to their quality and usefulness, however as they are being built from scratch on the outside, they are getting totally renovated on the inside. New technology including mode
rn wiring, communications and navigation systems are making this Twin Otter "2" a plane that is relevant, functional and safe to operate today. The Godlen Hawk has a GPS, a hulu girl and a new seat from another plane to make it safe to operate. 

The same needs to happen with teachers.  

That is our job as early adopters. To help the Twin Otters and Sabres to be refitted with new technology that will
 help them to continue to be great educators. To help them see that without embracing the use of technology in the class they too may become like so many Sabres: left behind when newer planes (students) come in the doors of their classrooms and are demanding that the teacher catch up. This must be done delicately, but swiftly because education as a profession is already behind the 8 ball. Viking Air president and CEO David Curtis said in his interview with the CBC that their purpose is not to build a replica of the Twin Otter, but to build a contemporary aircraft. The same should apply to teachers and technology. If we try to replicate the use of technology in the classroom from 50 years ago to as recent as even 5 years ago, we will not be doing our best as educators. While it may seem that it is taking a long time and many of us want others to catch up, I need to constantly remind myself that many of these Twin Otters are already flying overtime and putting in long hours in the air. Giving them small, easy to install tools in their classrooms is a great place to start. I am also encouraged by how so many are taking it upon themselves to be refitted with new technology skills. These planes who are first in the hangar will eventually help to lead and pressure others to come in for an overhaul themselves.

Photos: Jack E Nichol (top), myself with Dan Demspey in the Hawk One (middle), my son Jack admiring Hawk One (bottom). 

Monday, July 20, 2009

Ed Tech Sandcastles

While here in the beautiful Okanagan Valley surrounded by dozens of wineries, comes a new type of blog post from me. A reflection on why education technology and it's careful use in the classroom should be like sandcastles. Yes, I said sandcastles. 

I found myself working really hard this past year to hone my skills with technology. One negative of the existence of all of this wonderful technology at our fingertips in the tendency to do too much or use too many tools. Thinking about this and watching my son play with the sandcastles at the beach I have been pondering some points to keep in mind as the new year starts. 

As with all sandcastles, eventually they're going to get knocked down by someone or it will rain and they will melt. Similarly, I encourage all those who are old hats at incorporating technology into their classroom or just starting out, not to get too attached to a certain tool. Be open to others that will improve the experience for you and more importantly, your students. Treat each of your projects as a sandcastle that can be rebuilt very easily because you have access to technology. 

Case and point was this year when I was using Animoto to make poetry movies. Students had to import the mp4's into iMovie, add text and transition, then over to Garageband to add voiceovers and music, and finally to Voicethread for peer review! It's tiring just typing about it. This was one sandcastle that wasn't going to last! The sandcastle for that project was kicked over the next semester when we used images which were added to an enhanced podcast in Garageband where they added all voiceovers and music in one application. Less headaches for me and the focus was more on the students' voice and oral communication of their chosen poems. 

What sandcastle will you kick over this summer in an effort to rebuild it and make it better? Event though your students may knock it over like so many of mine this past year, your willingness to adapt and build a new castle will pay off many times over.

Photo: My son Jack after kicking over a sandcastle! 

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Collaboration in Review- Nings in the Classroom

A very powerful and organic way to collaborate between classes around the world is through a Ning. For my multimedia classes, this was the "it" thing that hooked a majority of students. 

Starting at the Apple Learning Interchange
I searched for other teachers who were teaching with Final Cut and voila! Jim Billings was on the list. After a quick email and a couple iChat conversations we hit it off and both figured out our approach to collaboration. What was so great about working with Jim was that he is a very devoted teacher who is not afraid to try something new. He has an immense amount of
 knowledge with television production and editing, which was something I wanted to learn. I knew a few things about web 2.0 'stuff' which he wanted to learn, and honestly, I originally thought that it was I who would be getting the most out of this collaboration because Jim is such an expert in his field, and I didn't have much to offer. While this may be true on paper from looking at our experience, this is a common misconception among many educators. We each took away new knowledge and gained skills through sharing our experiences. If you are considering a collaboration using online tools  like Skype, iChat, a ning, Facebook or other tool, go for it! 

The Ning was a hit!
Students connected with it right away. Feel free to sign up here, and I'll approve you as an educator and you can snoop around to see the movies and products created by our students.  Some words of caution here: when you set up your own ning, don't allow students to have and much control as I gave them over their own pages or blogs. I would like to have a little more control in the admin settings to not allow personal page customization or allow them to comment on each other's home pages. At first I wanted to be more hands off with the ning and let it grow and change, but let's be clear- this was not intended to be another Facebook, and that is what some students wanted it to be. There were sometime upwards of 10
0+ photos from Photobooth posted for approval each day! We wanted a place to share videos and collaborate with on, not a social network. 
Expectations ahead of time are a must, which I will need to revise for next year. 

The Ning grows! 
We added an Apple Distinguished Educator colleague of mine from St. Catherine's, Eric Moccio, part way through the year. His students Skyped with ours and commented on videos we created. I look forward to working with the students from Eden High School next year. There are a couple other teachers who have expressed interest in having their students join the ning next year, which I would like to participate in an online Film Festival for our classes (Thanks to Jason Sand for this great idea!). 

Alternatives to The Ning
Could this be done elsewhere? Sure. Youtube could host all the videos on our own channel, but the security of the ning and login process keeps the videos relatively safe from unwanted outside views. This may or may not be appealing to you as an educator, so you'll have to balance your own need for protecting students online versus educating them and guiding them towards developing a responsible, ethical modus operandi while posting material. Students did like the control of uploading videos and watching their views and rankings increase.  For me the ning was a good solution because it was a one stop shop, and because they will go and post them to Youtube anyways when they get home. What alternatives might you suggest?