Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Authenticity Rules!

After my long winded diatribe a couple days ago, I promised a follow up on what's so positive about my block 1 multimedia class, which has undergone a significant transformation in the past 5 weeks.

So we're busy. But aren't we all busy? I don't want students to be busy, I want them to be "engaged". This is the current buzzword sweeping education this month. This idea of engagement needs to come with some qualification, and most people are now adding to it and spout the phrase 'authentic engagement'.

Right now there is nothing more authentic for my television news crew that producing a daily program. I honestly wish I had started a student news team 2 years ago when my class dabbled in it for 3 short episodes.

So, what is cool and totally awesome about the news?

1. Engagement. From the director to the anchor to the camera operator, all have work to do, and these jobs are VERY interdependent. If one person doesn't come through then many are affected. If a reporter doesn't have a story ready for the news by 9:15am then the script writer has to rewrite the script, the audio engineer needs to know that they don't have a package to adjust, the technical director has to change the settings in BoinxTV, and the graphics creator needs to change the lower thirds on the news. I've started a wiki to help support the development of the news (thanks Kaminski for this idea!). Students will write their own job description and as time goes on and their role changes they will make changes to it on the wiki. It's going to be my first 100% open and editable wiki, which is a big step for me. I'm trying to get the students to accept the idea of leaving something behind to help the next group do a better job next semester.

2. Real Deadlines, real audience. Real feedback. We get the best kind of feedback there is: peer feedback! Everyday the news is watched on our youtube channel by our teacher advisory classes. If our audio levels suck or a transition between stories isn't smooth we hear it. In addition to this we have partnered with Jim Billings' North Little Rock High TV program and their students are giving us advice and mentorship with our fledgling program.

3. Capitalizing on the strengths of each student.
Right now I have placed each student based on what I see as a fit for their own abilities and interests. What has happened is that students who are behind the camera want to stay in front of the camera. Since the anchors get all the glory, I'm seeing many reporters wanting to have their own crack at it. We now have 6 students who anchor in pairs. Next semester we will have tryouts for anchors, and with the advice and work of this semesters students, we will have the set job descriptions available to help each student.

So far so good. Life is great at RTV News. I think that RTV is now going to be a staple of life at Cold Lake High School, and I'm happy to say its been because of the task put before the students to do each day.

And yes, we have our own coffee mugs!!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Trying to Assess where Curriculum Fails

So here goes. Just a few things up front. I'm not an assessment specialist, I have great people who I can talk to in my school and in my PLN who had provided invaluable advice and guidance in my career. I'm also a realist andhave enjoyed throwing out complete programs in the middle of my schools year this year. The results of this purging have been pretty darn cool. One of them is our daily news.

Where I'm struggling right now is the assessment piece. I think I'd like to get into some kind of portfolio assessment for students to demonstrate their competencies, skills and mastery of the outcomes, but there are a few problems. The first step to making things better is admitting you have a problem, right?

Problem 1: The curriculum. Joe Bower would be proud. What really hampers my ability to assess effectively is often the thing that is supposed to guide me and my students. The Alberta Education curriculum for Audio-Video is so void of substance and real action verbs (thanks Deana!), which can be a great thing for a teacher or a terrible thing. Right now when my students are putting together a 4-7 minute daily newscast, the curriculum is not working for us.

Take for example AV Preproduction 1 (COM 2105). The main outcomes (the bold ones) are words like: describe, identify, consider, discuss. The only one that actually is an actionable item that could be considered higher on Bloom's taxonomy is "present and discuss a production plan". Fail.
And don't get me started on the outcomes that ask the student to demonstrate consistent and appropriate workstation routines, or demonstrate basic competencies like communicating, thinking, and solving problems!

Problem 2: Right or wrong, the CTS outcomes in Alberta are developed for the one stop shop idea where students can get in, get what they need and get out. This doesn't leave much for a program that I want to develop with the Television Arts. So many outcomes from multiple modules are overlapping as we create our news program.

Problem 3: Television Broadcasting is only 1 module in the curriculum and credits in the province are tied to hours of instruction. I can work with this, but I need to be creative. There are several other modules that students will get credits for at the same time as COM 3165- AV Broadcasting.

Problem 4- Where's the substance?
The outcomes in the AV Broadcasting module are pretty basic, and the students have actually achieved all of them within in the first week! We are working on direct feedback from students in other news programs, feedback from the web, myself and the student news team themselves. Where is the curricular guidance for students to look deeply at the craft and art of TV production? Where is the connection to the real world? This is where I have to do a great job of connecting it to those in the industry.

Problem 5- Diversity of Occupations
I have at least 10 different jobs in my newsroom. All have their own challenges and tasks each day. They each have a detailed job description to follow that they helped develop. Students have been given certain jobs for now based on their strengths that they have shown me before the news began. All students have the opportunity to change what they are working on if they ask, but how long do they really need to feel that they have demonstrated proficiency or mastery of an outcome? Some don't need to demonstrate mastery of certain outcomes to do their job. Do I need to have knowledge and be able to help students achieve an outcome in math? No, there are math specialists for that. The blanket, one size fits all concept of our curriculum has the same flaw that our current approach to teacher PD: it is limited in its effectiveness because it only serves a small percentage of the population. Deep thoughts...

Putting it all together.
This post has been all over the place. Thanks for sticking with it. The outcomes in Audio Video just don't cut it here in Alberta. They are delightfully insufficient, and vague and basic all at the same time. It's frustrating. Now I need to focus on what I really want students to learn and to demonstrate because I know our news is going above and beyond what the outcomes tell us in AV production in Alberta. (All of this is my own doing for changing things up halfway through the semester.:))

Part 2 Coming Up
This is the negative, teacher B.S. side of what goes on in my brain and keeps me awake at night. At the end of the semester I need to report a percentage grade for a process and learning by the students that I truly believe in my heart and my mind doesn't need to be communicated in that way. What does an 84% camera operator look like? How do we know that an anchor is a 58% anchor? This isn't important.

Part 2 of this look inside the news will look at what is awesome and authentic and engaging (buzzword!) and keeps students excited to be a part of producing our show each day!

Thanks! Any thoughts, ideas would be appreciated!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

PLN to the Rescue Again

Last weekend I was staying at my parents house for the weekend with my family. As many nerdy father son duos do, the conversation got to web tools. My dad shared how he was going to get a guest speaker to Skype into his 4th year petroleum engineering course at the U of A. His issue what getting the speaker's powerpoint (booo) deck to display at the same time as the video of his guest.

I suggested that he try Elluminate. He hadn't heard of it so I went to 'The Twitter" and asked for help from my PLN.

Within 3 minutes I had 2 responses from Jen Clevette and Alec Couros. So far I don't have a lot of experience in Elluminate, only a few sessions under my belt, and none as a moderator. Jen and Alec toured my father around all the features and let my dad upload his slide deck to try out. Inside 10 minutes my dad was sold on the tool! He's now excited to cancel his classes during the day when he's away on business and offer his class through Elluminate in the evening and teach from anywhere he is in the world.

Thanks so much to Alec Couros and Jen Clevette for your help in converting my dad. If only he'd be interested in recording the session for later use by students, but one thing at a time I guess!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Student News Day 1

So we managed to pull something off. It was a great first start for our news team in my block 1 class. The product wasn't really the best part of it all either. It was all of the roles students took on and how they were so into it.

I revamped my classroom setup to accomodate the daily news. The first realization that our director came to is that we need a better setup than this. Taking over the entire classroom just won't cut it. We are going to try in the theatre as soon as we get a set built. Here's what our second take of the day looked like. The fact that we post to Youtube each day definitely increases students' idea of what is good and what is sub par. I like this angle.

Still, we have some work cut out for us. Here's how we did it...

We used Boinx TV as our video switcher. For anyone wanting to get into student productions on a budget I highly recommend this product. The export options are very robust and the external feeds that you can bring into the productions (like Twitter, RSS feeds and even an IP security camera) are amazing! We bought the sponsored edition which adds a 5 second "Made with BoinxTV" credit after your production is over. It's a great deal and I have no problem telling people we use this product.

The best part of producing the news is
that students on the team are busy and engaged all the time! Today the director officially took over possession of 'the markers' which
write on the glass in my room. Planning in advance will be the challenge for my director to make sure all packages are editing and submitted on time, and the entire show is ready to go before recording.

I had 2 students on audio and lighting who lit the green screen and prepped the anchor with his lavaliere mic. Perhaps the greatest pressure was on the script writer who had to take the teachers' announcements from a google docs spreadsheet and write them into a script and then control the teleprompter while the anchor reads it.

Tomorrow we add our first news package about our pep rally and recent volleyball tournament as well as the weather. We're on our way, and with the help of student mentors from Arkansas we will learn a TON about news production!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Jack of All Trades...Master of Some?

Some things are going on in my brain since my recent trip to Arkansas. A LOT of things are. After ten years of teaching I feel like I've only hit my stride in the past three, but I'm struggling to wrap my head around the organization needed to offer the specialized, yet diverse and open media arts course that I would like to have.

In terms of what I'm struggling in my multimedia class, a couple broad statements might help set the stage for the point of this post:

1. I believe that students who see their teacher passionate about something are more likely to buy in.

2. I believe that students are more engaged in their own learning when they have input into the direction of their learning to specialize in areas of interest.

Statement 1: Teacher Passion
I might also call this being the 'Nerdy Teacher'. I remember those teachers that where so passionate about their subject that they lived and breathed what they taught. Hopefully my students can see this about me. It's important for students to see teachers as humans and having passions and interests. Passion for the job and subject comes in many forms, but if that isn't shared with students, there can be a disconnect. My issue is that there are so many things I'm interested in doing in the classroom that I find it difficult to focus my own teaching.

Statement 2: Student Input
Giving students the power to have a say in what they are going to learn: a 'new' concept in education! Within multimedia I have the fortune to be able to offer students the chance to design their own projects to achieve outcomes in the modules. The problem for me right now is working with students to be able to recognize and communicate their learning based on the outcomes. One direction where I see my course going is to an individualized learning model where students pick and choose their path through the course, developing an 'un-course' that is 100% customized. It's what I do when I want to learn something so why not let them try?

The biggest problem with creating a student customized course is the institution of school itself. First, I think students are pre-programmed and trained in school to be passive learners. They know how to play "the game of school." Students have become experts at dissecting really quickly what is most important in each assignment from what a teacher tells them. I see it around me all the time. Students are working on posters in the library for a parti
cular class. They spend hours of time making the posters look great because they are still getting marks for use of colour and neatness!! ARRRGGHHH! Very frustrating. In this case students know what's really important to the teacher is not the content, the concept, or big idea, but rather the flashy shiny stuff. I remember when Powerpoint was thought of by many as such a great educational tool. While it can be, too often teachers who didn't know how to use it as a tool, were enamoured by the glitz and awarded greater marks because of it.

So Where Does This Leave Me?
I recently commented in an email to Dean Senn (who is blogging now and that's just awsome) that this kind of thinking actually keeps my up at night. In the next few weeks I need to wrap my brain around how I'm actually going to pull off giving all students the power to decide of the projects they want to complete. Some might be doing animation, some might be doing TV, some video, and some won't know what they want to do. Perhaps this is why I feel like a Jack of all trades, and a master of some. (My own Jack is on the left)The reality of facilitating true student choice may be too much to handle for me right now, but I'm going to see this one through. The greatest detractor to a 100% customized course based on students needs is that it takes a ton of work. This is going to test my own organizational skills in this uncharted territory. I think I have an idea of how to combine the idea of student choice with my other desire to have students who work to develop skill sets they can draw from when they leave high school. All the while I feel like that to offer this diversified choice in class, my own skills are diminishing in value. Perhaps I'm going to need to get used to being the facilitator who fosters student interest rather than an expert in one field of editing or animation, or photography. More on that to come....

Any thoughts? Comments and suggestions are greatly appreciated on this one folks!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Presenting At Institute Day


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Letting Students Own Their Learning

Today was a busy day. So much going on at once and Jim has it down to a science, or art, whichever you'd prefer. I'd say its a little of both. Yesterday I was on camera and got to do a pan to key, and today I was in the control room. Jim took a few pics of the crew working for me to share with y'all (Arkansas is rubbing off on me!) He took the pics with his iPhone 4. The more he uses this device the more I want one, but that's for another post.

Students start class at 8:40 with a production meeting. The director, in this case it's a girl named Lashayla goes over who is doing what. It's her job to keep everyone in line, and she does a great job. You need to be friendly and approachable as a director, but know when to boss people into line. If students in positions are absent the rest must step up and get to work! Missing today was a camera operator so the sports anchor said he would do it. All sports and weather are recorded within 20 minutes of the opening production meeting. This is to ensure that all segments including story packages can be loaded into a timeline in Final Cut Pro prior to the actual broadcast. Weather and spots are both done in front of a green (chroma) screen to add graphics. The weather girl creates graphics for the background in Keynote and simply uses a wireless clicker to go from one graphic to the next with a quick cross dissolve. Today's weather was special because she included the weather from my home town, Cold Lake, Alberta for the North Little Rock High students to see.

One thing that impressed me is that Jim lets the students do their jobs. He's running around putting out little fires and giving 1:1 help to those who need it, but he stays out of the broadcast.
Students are given that chance to really own the news, and they do it well. After doing the news for a few weeks already these students really know their stuff. Jobs in the news room include the director, technical director, graphics creator, copy writer (scripting), sound controller, camera operators, anchors, and reporters of many kinds. ALL anchors must shoot, edit and submit news packages for the broadcast They are not simply talking heads. Anchors are rotated often so several people get the practice at that position.

This is the ultimate learning environment with REAL pressure. At the last minute the birthday graphic wasn't exporting so they couldn't do the birthdays and the segment had to be scrapped. The final script was already printed, so the director had to tell the teleprompter operator, the anchors and technical director to scratch it. They realized that a graphic for beside the anchor in a pan to key was on the wrong side so the anchors had to remember to get out of the way of the panning camera on their partner.

After all segments are pre-recorded and dropped into a timeline in Final Cut Pro the anchors go to work. They use the teleprompters to read the scripts, and introduce the packages. The audio went dead on one of the anchor's mics so they had to work to find a solution fast. All of this was going on at a furious pace while students from another school came by to observe the newscast. The sports reporter was then told that the audio was blown out on his package and he needed to rerecord it. He quickly popped into another room, got the levels he needed and dropped the revised package onto the server in Quicktime format to be picked up and put into the master timeline in Final Cut. The Daily News was ready to begin!

I sat beside the sound board and had a student whisper to me, "It's cold in Canada, eh?" and smiled. With only 15 minutes to go in the period the students where cutting it close because the news is usually around 7-10 minutes.

The real world pressure of getting the broadcast done on time really made them perform. Ths pressure is in an environment where students work hard and are supported by each other to do a great job. Jim has high expectations and therefore the students have high expectations. It was pleasure to see the behind the scenes of the operation at the Daily News at NLRHS! I'm going to take back so many great ideas to Cold Lake High School, I can't wait to share them with my students and let them work out how we can do the news so they can truly own their authentic learning.

Getting down to work at North Little Rock High

Monday at North Little Rock High School was awesome. Each class was full of action, especially Jim's block 1 TV production class. These students have the TV news down to a fine art. One student wasn't around so I got to operate a camera again. Students introduced a pan to key in this newscast for the first time. This involved me panning the camera to the left of the anchor while the Technical Director (a student of course) put up text and graphics that accompanied the announcement the anchor was talking about. I'll admit I was nervous, but pulled it off in the end.

In preparation for the newscast students were finishing editing segments, writing the script for the teleprompters, creating graphics, pre-recording the sports and weather segments, setting up the camera positions, adding the intro and ending credits. Each student is given a job to do for the news which are all supervised by the student director. This semester she is doing great work. It's a delicate thing to be a director to keep the others motivated while keeping them on task. Sometimes you need to be bossy and not be a friend. It's a cool environment to be in. After the show is recorded a copy is made for the entire student body to watch after the reading period. In the end the result was great, and my pan to key motion was just fine.

After school Jim took me over to a media company called Clear Channel. His friend Tom Wood gave us a behind the scenes look at their 5 radio stations in the building. Tom has been in the business as long as I've been alive.

We were appreciative of the insights that he gave us about how modern radio stations are staying current with listeners and what they are doing to be competitive against internet and satellite radio. Clear Channel is with the pack in terms of technology and even has it's own iPhone app for me to listen to back in Canada. Tom let us sit in as he pre-recorded a 15 minute segment about a charity whiffle ball tournament that will be played later on in the week. This visit really peaked my interest and gave me tons of ideas about starting a radio station via the internet at Cold Lake High School.

Monday, October 18, 2010

School Spirit Arkansas Style

Arriving in Arkansas this past Friday I was a bit nervous. I've been looking forward to this trip down to see my American friend and now co-collaborator/conspirator Jim Billings at North Little Rock High School for a long time. Amidst all of the heated debate of public vs. private/charter schools and the so-called crisis in education, what I found on day
confirms so much of what we already know about public education. Public education is sometimes about the standardized tests, reading scores and accountability but at North Little Rock and so many schools there is so much more than that. I challenge any reformer to try to put a test score on what I've seen so far.

Getting off the plane Jim threw me into his world. In the short drive I got a whirlwind overview of my week and within a few minutes we were at his school. This is a beautiful building.
Built in 1929 it is something to behold. The floors are amazing, the architecture is astounding. A walk in the halls really makes you feel like you're a part of something great.

I met a few students who were giving their time Friday night help broadcast the football game. Being from Canada I'm not used to seeing football on this scale. From the stadium, the fans of all ages dressed in Charging Wildcats gear to the giant rosters of both teams, it was a treat to see. The student section was packed. Alumni from the North Little Rock High School Class of '65 had reserved seating that night.

Despite the hopes of several young ladies, only one was crowned Homecoming Queen that night right before kickoff. All of the students working the cameras (which I got to operate!) were pumped to see their home team defeat the local rival team.

All of them gave up their Friday night to work the broadcast which is sent out to thousands of people on cable and re-run twice more on Saturday.

Jim has done these games for years giving students real life experience doing authentic project work. It was a great first glimpse of the work that he does and the dedication his students have to his program. Test that! Go Charging Wildcats!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Student Learning through Video Screen Captures

I'm away this week and I am only teaching 1.5 days in the next 9. Students current projects to create a 30 second radio ad and print ad for a 'client' in the school were due today. They have two final projects to complete in this unit.

The problem with being away so much is that the project assigned is is to edit a 90 second demo for a local dentist who flies a stunt plane, and edit it using Final Cut. Final Cut isn't something that you just jump into with students while they have a sub, but that's exactly what I'm attempting to do. Here's what I've got in store for them.

Students will:
1. create their own music in Aviary's Myna
2. learn to import footage into Final Cut
3. create markers and put edits on the beat of the music
4. select appropriate clips from the mass of 8GB worth of footage
5. learn to edit a sequence of clips together
6. add ending credits to their project

What's fun about this is that I get to tell the story of how we got the footage. We literally duct taped the HD cameras to the tails of the planes! I also laid down behind the plane and took a shot of the takeoff while taking several rocks in the face at the same time! Here's what the night version of our edit looked like. My friend edited it for the pilot who submitted it to be approved as a demonstrator at an airshow. I provided some Final Cut assistance with workflow and technical assistance while editing.

With this and one other video of a daytime routine edited for the pilot, I presented them as exemplars for what I was looking for from the students.

The twist on this project was that I am going to be away for much of it. Students will need to do all of the learning on their own. I chose to create video screen captures of the steps using Jing. Many of you have heard of and used Jing. The SWF files it creates are very small, the embed codes are easily copied and the 5 minute time limit on the recordings make sure you are concise and to the point. One drawback is that I captured such a large area on my screen that it's sometimes difficult to see everything that I'm demonstrating on the embedded videos on the class wiki. This is why I just linked the videos. I recommend you get a Jing Pro account, which I do, but was unable to get it to register with my email so I had to use the free side. It is still an amazing video and image capture tool.
Doing all of this took a TON of work, but in the end the final result is a decent series of videos for students to follow which can be used again and again. To assist the sub while I'm away I have also shared the names of 5 or 6 kids who are 'pro' at what they do, with previous Final Cut experience. They have agreed to be assistants to anyone with problems over the next 9 days, and even when I am back.

In the end I'm looking at what portion of the learning can be self directed and then supported with student expertise within the class. No better chance that when I'm away for an extended period of time!

The entire project is covered in detail on the project wiki page. Feel free to check them out. Any comments about the approach and assessments would be appreciated.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Arkanada Revived?

With so much of our time spent isolated in our class the power of the PLN has never been so apparent in my life than the Arkanada Project. I've been lucky enough to collaborate with Jim Billings from North Little Rock High into this, our 3rd year. As part of the project we also worked with another great ADE, Eric Moccio from St. Catherines. The first year was great, last year as quiet (I take full blame for this) and now I'm excited to get things rolling again.

The main communication method for sharing projects, ideas, forum, etc was our ning. Now that Ning is costing us money it's not an option. (I need more than the basic level of Ning because of all the video content). I'm decided that Youtube is going to be the medium of choice for sharing which cuts out another level of signup and account creation for students.

I'm on my way down to Arkansas this coming Friday. Luckily I've been able to get the funding for my flight and sub costs to go and participate in some of the best PD that I will ever get. It's what amounts to job shadowing but with a twist: I'm going to be put to work in everything that Jim does. They've even sent out a press release about my arrival!

September 7, 2010
North Little Rock, Arkansas......Jared Nichol, a teacher and rugby coach from Cold Lake, Alberta, Canada is coming to visit North Little Rock High School to work with North Little Rock television students and Jim Billings, television instructor at North Little Rock High School. Jared wrote a grant to fund his trip so he could experience first-hand, a high school television program from the lower 48 states. Jared and Jim Billings, both Apple Distinguished Educators, have been corresponding for the past two years. During his research, Jared located the North Little Rock School District website and the North Little Rock television students. Mr. Billings has been working with Jared and his students via blogs and video exchanges.
Jared will be in North Little Rock from October 15-22, 2010 to experience students at North Little Rock television produce a football game, the daily news, and The Good News show. He is excited about engaging students in a joint Arkansas/Canada (Arkanada) project.

Here are a few things that I'm told I'll be participating in:
1. Broadcasting a high school football game to local cable
2. Supervising and experiencing Homecoming at a US High School
3. Commuting 1hr + to school each morning
4. Touring CBS affiliate TV stations
5. Taking part in the students' television news broadcasts
6. Taking a Final Cut Pro Exam
7. Faculty staff meeting
8. Teaching students how to talk with a Canadian accent! :)

I'm sure there's more in store as well! Every couple of days Jim has been emailing me to tell me of another opportunity he's arranged with me. I plan to blog daily while I'm there including video for my students back home.

Stepping back for a moment it's amazing that we've been able to connect. It's really all because of the willingness of both involved to use technology available to us to SHARE our ideas. Jim has been a great mentor to me and hopefully some of what I've been doing has rubbed off on him too!

See you Friday Arkansas!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Connecting to Experts in Multimedia

One goal this fall that I have is to connect to experts in the 'real world' with everything our multimedia class does. Recently we had an awesome experience with James Schutz from Transcend Coffee. In previous Language Arts classes I have invited a poet to talk to my students, but this was the first time I've done it with multimedia.

James in the Marketing Director over at Transcend. I am a big fan of the coffee, and after I had tweeted that our class was looking to connect with people about advertising and promotions, it was suggested to me that James was the one to contact. We skyped a week in advance about what our class was up to and set up a time for him to Skype into my 2 media arts classes. He generously shipped us up a couple pounds of Transcend coffee (yum!) so our class could drink the coffee as we Skyped! (Is Skype a verb now? I think so....)

James and the Transcend crew believe in the power of SoMe. They are active users of Twitter (@transcendcoffee), maintain an extensive blog and have great video blogs that James shoots and edits. They are passionate about their product.

Students asked questions in advance on a Google Form and came up with pretty good questions related to advertising and design. Some were not on task, but hey, this is a high school option class after all. This little tool help gather all questions quickly and students were safe to ask anything without feeling awkward.

With caffeine pumping through our veins, we enjoyed hearing from James' story, about how he came to be the marketing guru at Transcend, what his educational background is, and the projects he has initiated since he joined the team.

The highlight of the session was when James spoke about the importance of identity, brand identity and the idea of having a great logo. In his words perhaps the greatest challenge of a marketing group is to come up with an idea for, and design a logo. Case in point is his description of how the Fedex logo is a lesson in simplicity as well as the importance of negative space. Take a moment to watch the "a ha" moment my students had with him!

It was one of those great teaching moments to see the students make the connection between what they had learned in class with something that is actually used in the real world. It truly made my year so far.

Now that we have successfully invited an expert into the class via Skype, I am thinking about where this should go. Without a doubt, I want each project we do to have a connection to an expert that can help us with a greater understanding or 'real world' picture. Even the phrase 'real world' has a catch. It implies that what we are doing in my class isn't a part of the real world. Maybe we need to stop thinking of our classes as something so separate and isolated from the outside world. If I was trying to learn about advertising as a professional and I needed help in designing a logo, I would do just as our class did: find an expert who did and ask them to consult with me and assist.

That's a whole other can of worms for another post....

Perhaps my next challenge will be for students to make a connection to someone or some company to get expert opinion and support into our classroom. Any ideas as to how to approach this?

Thanks again to James Schutz from Transcend Coffee for his time and expertise. I look forward to working with him and sharing over a cappuccino soon!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Getting to work- Communicating What We Know

What a great day today. Students were tasked with analyzing an advertisement for a lawn company that might be one that was found in an old version Yellow Pages. It is a terrible advertisement. I 'borrowed' the image from the web. The only caveat was that their analysis had to include why the advertisement did not follow many of the principles and elements of design.

Many thought this was a piece of cake. I wasn't going to let them off that easily.

The preface to the activity was about most of them had completely forgotten about the elements and principles of design. I told students that it was OK. Why they had forgotten was another issue. I hadn't given them context. Telling me that that colours "don't look good" wasn't going to cut it.

Redesigning the old ad is not really about the ad. It's about learning to communicate their learning. I wandered today asking them to tell me about why the ad 'sucked'. The difference was that they had to tell me which element or principle they were addressing. Some of them weren't too happy with hearing that I'd come back when they were prepared to talk elements and principles using the language they had learned.

Today we also started to learn Aviary's photo-shop style app called Pheonix. Students essentially 'played' to learn the program and some tried to start their advertisement redo.

Tomorrow we'll hone our skills with some online tutorials for Phoenix and students will start to create their new advertisements.

Evaluation of their advertisements will come from their own communication of learning. They will put the old and new ads side by side on a larger sheet of paper. From there they will annotate where I should observe how they used their knowledge of the elements and principles of design, what really shines about their new ad. Basically they need to defend their choices using the language we are using in the class. These products will go up around the class as reference for future ads they will be creating.

How can I add to this? Is there a peer activity we can do this week to provide deeper understanding?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Student Involvement In Planning- Next Steps

This post is selfish. It's meant to share my next steps but also to help wrap my brain around the 'big picture' of what my multimedia class is going to do for our Multimedia Foundations course.

So far it's been awesome, but messy. I've had to regroup this weekend and take a step back to approach things differently.

I've combined 2 modules into this Multimedia Foundations course. Students are on board that they need to know some basic things and demonstrate basic skills before they move on. The premise of my class is that after a student takes an introductory course they are free to put their efforts into specializing in areas that are of interest to them.

From this there are a few BIG IDEAS/UNDERSTANDINGS that need to exist for students to be successful. These are nothing new, but have been a part of my planning.

Understanding 1: Students need to be aware of the curriculum, and be able to communicate how what they are doing at any given moment is contributing to their learning.

Understanding 2: Involving students in the planning process and having students customize their own learning is a way to engage them in the learning process.

Understanding 3: Providing real world context/connections for students is very important. It answers every high school student's question, "So why do we have to learn about this?"

Wow. I've summed up what I'm trying to do into 3 statements. Hmmm. Let's not forget this is talk. Talk is cheap. Have you taken a look at the last outcome of most modules in the CTS curriculum that is new this year? It's at the bottom for a reason, because it's not seen as important to those who designed it. It reads:

"Make personal connections to the cluster content and processes to inform possible pathway choices"

Compare that with my Understanding #3. Interesting.

So as Will Richardson said, "Yeah, so, what you going to do about it?"

The plan has now changed, and still involves students heavily in the planning of this unit. Combining COM 1005 and COM 1015 has allowed me to create context for the students from outome #2 of the latter module:

"Students will explore the impact of media has on society..."

This statement has become our 'theme' for our foundations course. It is a great platform from which to scaffold up to the deeper outcomes that we are working towards. I asked students to share all the ways that they are involved in the media. The list was huge.

I then asked them to identify how we can get a message out. Again the list was huge. To tie in the 'real world' I asked them if they were going to get the word out about a new sport or club in the school how would they do it. Most answered posters, web pages, radio, video commericals, the TV screens in the school, etc. The focus of the unit was right in front of me. Our Multimedia Foundations course is going to be about the world of media, and more specifically- advertising.

Let's put plan C into effect. Or is it D. Here is it. I'm sure it will change again.

1. Students will learn about the elements and principles of design and typography. In context we watched the 'riveting' film Helvetica about typesetters and font creators. Kids who didn't fall asleep say how passionate people are about their craft. Students will also use 'Google' to start their own learning about the principles of design.

2. In context, students this week will use the principles of design and typography to create posters promoting the multimedia class. Essentials understandings from this will be how layout and font selection can convey different messages.

3. Students will learn about designing an advertising campaign from experts in the field. Our first contact is James Schutz from Transcend Coffee in Edmonton. He is their marketing director, and has previously owned an advertising agency before joining the Transcend team. Darn good coffee as well! They will even mail it to you! I'm still looking for others to connect to as well, so if you know anyone, email me! coolpoolteacher(at)

3. Students will seek out 'clients' in the school to design advertising for. This could be any number of clubs, sports groups, one student even said that he'd like to design a PR campaign for our new principal! I hope my principal takes him up on that offer to see what the students can do!

4. Students will design their advertising campaigns starting with print. The COM 1015- Media module specifies that students will develop fundamental skills to relay a message is a variety of forms including photography, print, web or audio and video. The extension of this will be to create radio and video commercials for an audience. The culminating activity will be to put it all together and create PSA style videos for our local MD of Bonnyville Peace Officers to use in their resource officer work in elementary schools.

5. Along the way the students and I will develop the class 'standards' for presenting their products. From 'the verbs' will come the presentations criteria. Students will be "preparing and delivering" and 'discussing and critiquing'.

How will students know what they know? How will students communicate their learning? Good questions. Another post perhaps? I'm looking for advice in combining checklists, student self awareness of their competencies, blogging, and developing rubrics for my assessment.

What pieces am I missing? Where would you go with an opportunity like this in front of you?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Student Involvement- Great news, Not so Great News

As outlined before I truly believe that students need a say in their learning. I was and still am prepared to make that happen. There has been a small hiccup that I'm going to share with you. This is not going to stop me from achieving our class goals.
Here's what we've done so far.

1. Students are talking the talk. Starting last week we began looking at the curriculum for the first time. The curriculum for my area of interest is brand new this year. The foundation course called COM 1005- Visual Composition (PDF link) is a very general and flighty document. Students began the day by looking at the outcomes in bold and telling me which ones they thought were the most important and why.

Clues to the importance of the outcomes were in keywords, I told them. Students discovered these words were produce, present, and participate.

I asked them why these words gave them the impression that the outcomes were important, to which they said, "Because we're actually doing something". Following this they identified the major outcomes from the second module that we will be weaving together with COM 1005. There were 3 outcomes there as well and the keywords identified were explore, analyze and "prepare & deliver".

2. Students then made a T chart of the outcomes. On one side they put down the outcomes that were knowledge based outcomes and on the other the outcomes that were verbs (because writing them all out again would be just silly, I was told).

3. I asked them to create a list of the types of things we could do to achieve these outcomes. I got TONS of different responses. By the end of this conversation the block 1 class had a grand plan to weave all the projects into a HUGE television variety style program incorporating all the different student projects. WOW! I was blown away.

The afternoon class was different and they all had different ideas from film noir to commercials that were parodies and everything in between. They were restless. They were tired of writing ideas down on paper. They were sliding into a passive aggressive mutiny of the process I was taking them through and were not 'feeling' it like block 1 was.

It's amazing how the dynamics of one class are different than another. They were voting with their behaviour.

Crap. My utopian bubble has indeed been burst. Why oh why wouldn't EVERY single student want to be a part of dissecting the curriculum? Silly Mr. Nichol.

We had bitten off more than we could chew in those few days. I was so busy getting them to analyze the meanings of word in the curriculum that I had neglected one simple fact. All these words didn't mean a darn thing without context. Students needed examples.

I had a nice chat later in the afternoon with Neil Stephenson who is one of my go-to assessment gurus. I told him I only needed a minute and our conversation ended up being 40 minutes. I owe you a beer Neil. He commented that what was important was partly the verbs (present, deliver, analyze, etc), but students still needed to know about the essential understandings of the fundamentals. How they share these understandings in context is where the verbs come from.

I was going at it from a completely different angle, and in the process may have done a disservice to my students. I think guiding students through the outcomes is still very important, but it should have happened after a few other things. Thankfully there is still time to regroup!

It's time to change gears a bit, and focus on the skills found in the curriculum. From these skills I can scaffold up to the analyzing, presenting, sharing of student work.

There may be some further clarity of this process later on. For now, enjoy the ride!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Crazy Collaboration Idea

I've got an idea.

I think it's a pretty good one, but I need your help.

I need help from a lot of people. Especially students and like minded teachers. Even if you don't teach the same courses as I do you can give your input.

So here goes...

I want to get students and teachers together in the same room (mine) to have them help me plan the direction of my media arts program for the upcoming year. All of the CTS (career and technology studies) modules (opens PDF) are changing this fall in Alberta. This is an exciting time for me but also a scary time.

Traditionally teachers (including myself) try their best to offer the modules that best fit their expertise, comfort level, as well as available resources and technology. I'm very fortunate to have a great lab and access to 12 video cameras for this fall. Until now I've always seen these modules as start-stop, individual entities that don't have a lot of commonality other than a natural progression from level 1 modules to level 2 and level 3 (eg. Video production 1, 2 and 3).

I've been musing about changing how I assess students to a system where students must communicate their competency and mastery of skills described in the outcomes found in the modules. The problem with this is that there are so many overlapping skills between the modules that I would need to create a course where skills demonstrated in a project we are working on may come from several different modules.

So this is what I'm thinking about for my approach to my class this fall. This is the part where I need your help to jump in and give me advice. This is where I should be talking to great elementary teachers. They do this all the time:

1. I want to create projects that students are genuinely interested in and are excited to come to class to participate in each day.

2. I want projects that incorporate outcomes from as many as 5 CTS modules in each one.

3. I want learning that is way more hands on for my students. Tactile, get dirty and make mistakes kind of learning.

4. I want students to understand the outcomes and be able to show their learning through discussions with their peers and others, through blogging and sharing of projects online to develop a web presence, and not through any sort of traditional testing.

5. I want students to tell me how they think they should be evaluated/assessed in the course. They need the freedom to design projects that will best showcase their skills and learning.

That's not too much to ask is it?

My plan to move towards this is currently in the works. My first step is to start a dialogue (buzzword alert) with the students. I've created an event called "My MultiMedia- a Student's Voice on a Facebook page. I've contacted a core groups of 4 students who really enjoyed MM to spread the word about what we're going to do next Monday. I encouraged them to post the link to the event on their walls and text their friends who want a say. Here's how I described the day:

Always wanted to tell Mr. Nichol what kinds of things he should be doing in his Multimedia Class? Come prepared to share ideas, look at the outcomes of the program and think creatively about what media arts looks like at Cold Lake High School.

With all the CTS outcomes changing for multimedia this fall what better time to take a fresh perspective- yours!

How often do you REALLY get a say in how a class in High School runs? This is your chance!

In addition to this I promised really good snacks and a pizza lunch. Gotta feed them!

Where do we go from here? In preparation for the day I am meeting with a couple of the students to talk about what they think about how the day should run. I don't want to have them participate in 'teacher tactics' for group discussions that we often use in class if they don't think it's going to work. I want them to set the agenda with me to have ownership of the process.

What will the day look like? I don't know right now. I'm half expecting the day to crash and burn. This would be fine with me. The learning from that could be just as valuable. I'm tempted to leave the agenda open and start simply with a few key phrases:

"Describe your experiences as a student in multimedia class"

"What sucked about multimedia and what things were good?"

"Where do you think the class should/could go?"

"Now how do we get there?"

Comments and assistance in this process are greatly appreciated.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sweet Tweets and Facebook in the Classroom

The iPhone 4 is a desireable device that I would love to have. I currently have a perfectly working and amazing device in the 3GS that is only 9 months old. At this point in time the Minister of Finance (my wife) and I have decided to sink the almost 800 bucks that v. 4 would cost into a new MacBook Pro this fall. For those people who have been 'lucky' enough to sign on with Rogers, Bell or Telus as new customers with the iPhone 4, the plans they have been signing offer 6GB of data. Telus was slow to respond to the other 2 carriers but eventually added a "bonus" 5GB soon after the iPhone 4 release.

Unfortunately the offer was not extended to existing customers.

This made me quite angry as an existing customer for 10 years with Telus Mobility. I'm not going to debate one carrier over another here or that one has better plans. I live in rural Alberta and for a long time Telus has given me great service and coverage.

I just wanted that 5GB. I began referring to it as "my 5GB" to friends and colleagues. If you give to one, you need to give to others. Seems like a naively reasonable argument right?

So off to the web I went. I found a forum where someone had posted a screen shot of their rate plan and described how they got the 5GB added to their existing account. The next was to Twitter and I asked if anyone was an existing customer and had received the 'bonus 5GB'. There were a few and one in particular caught my eye because they had been calling and emailing and tweeting for a week to try and get their 5GB.

So last week I started my conversation with the Telus Mobility Twitter account @telussupport. Most phone companies in Canada have hopped on Twitter for 2 main reasons. First is to use mentions of their company as a way of monitoring what people are saying about them. I realize that 90% of the tweets about phone companies are complaining about poor service, but this is still valuable information. More to my liking, these accounts have been set up as a way of creatively dealing with issues customers have. This benefits them because in the end it saves me time on hold waiting to talk to someone, and it tells those working the Twitter account that I am someone who is connected, web savvy and willing to try alternate ways of accessing this assistance using SoMe tools.

The first contacts with the gentlemen on the other side of the @telussupport account yielded no results. I tried many angles including referencing the forum post again. I was told simply: "We are unable to offer you that promotion as it is for new customers only."

I wasn't done.

The next step was kinda fun for me. I
asked @bottleblonde40 to send me a screen shot of their a
ccount profile from Telus which CLEARLY showed that she had indeed received that bonus
5GB of data on her account. She oblidged.
I sent the original with her name on it to the @telussupport account. I've blocked it out here but you get the idea. She clearly had received the extra data.

Surely this was the proof that was needed to get the bonus 5GB, but to my surprise the @telussupport person had another ace up their sleeve which went a little like this:

Come on, really? You can't look up the person's name and find out if they had or hadn't been given the 5GB bonus? My thought after that was, "OK, perhaps they don't have the authority to do this, let's add some more fuel." I proceeded to reference a conversation that @telussupport had with that same customer, which they also sent me a picture of. Keep in mind this is
someone who was a complete stranger who came to my aid over Twitter- AWESOME!

This was proof that Telus had indeed given the Bonus 5GB to an existing customer who had only been with their plan since FEBRUARY. Surely the evidence was overwhelming that Telus DID give existing customers the 5GB addition to their plans.

I didn't hear back for quite a while after that. In fact I had to contact them again asking to have someone call me. I was told it would take 4-6 hours. A clear brush off. Unwilling to let this drop I agreed and then started the wait and went on with my day.

At 2pm that same afternoon, 5 hours after making initial contact I got the message that would get my "my 5GB". Tatiana from @telussupport was now working the Twitter account and asked if she could call me. Within 10 minutes my phone rang and 5 minutes later I got "my 5GB" added to my account.

Why me? Why bother? They could have ignored me just like many others. The difference here I believe was Twitter and social media. Looking at my twitter account they could see I tweet, blog and participate and share freely on the web. In the end it may have been easier to work with an existing LOYAL 10 year customer that create a disgruntled one who may tweet and blog about their negative experiences. Many others have tweeted to cell phone companies, airlines and businesses to get results. It's just good business to use the same tools that your customers are. Tatiana asked me to fill out a survey that she emailed to me. It turns out that the Twitter support department is a trial and up for review. She told me that if we would like this service to continue, please let them know that we value it, so I did. It was entirely more enjoyable to communicate over Twitter rather than be on hold for hours at a time.

What does this have to do with education? In some ways Telus is providing an example of where teachers need to be- using the tools that their customers are. Take stock in the fact that many students spend hours on Facebook each day. Why aren't we using Facebook in education? Most school districts block it. Would districts block a site that is always used my teachers like their SIS (student information system- Powerschool, Students' Achieve, etc)? Not likely. In a way, Facebook is the SIS for teens right now. They can get access to their personal info, check on the progress of others and communicate with each other in a one stop web app. I asked our babysitter (who we give the wifi password at our house to for her iPod Touch, because she's awesome) if she uses MSN to chat with friends. She looked at me a bit strange and said no, because they do it all on Facebook now. How many teachers out there still think all those darn kids do is sit and chat on MSN? We are missing out on a valuable opportunity for connecting to students by not using Facebook here people!

Have you experienced something similar with a cell provider or other company where Twitter helped? Please share! What is your stance on Facebook in the classroom?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Missing the Boat Once Again

This post could also be titled, "Does The Device Really Matter?" more on that later...

A recent tweet linking to this article really got me fired up today. Not because of the technology, but because of what I see as a vision for technology that has missed the boat.

I'm not going to get into the have-have not debate of private vs. public education. This is a purely unsolicited comment about the article. The school that has decided to pilot iPads in the classroom is Morristown Beard School. The headmaster should be praised for making a decision to try out the iPads, a new device that has turned heads wherever it goes. It was the "it device" at ISTE this year!

Where this article turns sour for me are the comments made about not choosing laptops which to Alex Curtis create a communication barrier...

"When the clamshell comes up, it's literally a barrier between the teacher and student,'' Curtis said. "That barrier does get in the way. You want eye contact.

Curtis loses me here with a flawed argument that laptops are a barrier to learning. I think it's 100 year old teaching/delivery methods that are barrier to learning!

A number of things come up when considering this quote. (These generalizations are in reference to Curtis and his mindset and perception of technology in education, and not the teachers at the school. It sure would be neat to talk to one of them after this announcement though!)

1. If the laptops are a barrier to eye contact, how are students learning? Does Mr. Curtis have visions of laptops creating walls between a teacher lecturing at the front while students furiously take notes from a Powerpoint presentation laden with paragraphs of text on each slide? IF this is the case he's missed the boat. I've personally ignored teachers lecturing by setting up my textbook in front of me. This is nothing new.

2. What is the physical environment of the classes in his school? Are they all in rows? Are they engaged in project based learning looking at "Big Questions"? It doesn't matter what the students are using, because if they aren't working and investigating together, then the iPad, laptop, netbook or desktop is a glorified paperweight.

3. How are teachers being supported in their own learning? Taking officials to Cupertino to see how the iPads can be used in the curriculum is one thing. The front line teachers using them is another thing. I just hope that some teachers got to go on that trip! If not, they've missed the boat.

Where are they on point? In the second half I am hopeful after reading about the geosciences teacher who comments that [the iPad is]:

"a new tool and when you change your mindset and see it as an extra resource, then it becomes exciting to think about how it opens up new avenues.''

In the end, it doesn't matter what the tool. We didn't go crazy when a student showed up to class with a pen or pencil, mechanical or wood did we? I'm hopeful that this school will perhaps give their students the option of a laptop, netbook or iPad in the future.

After year one of our own laptop project in my school I share the belief with many that the cost of devices and student saturation will soon mean that any device should be able to be brought into a school to be used as a learning tool. I understand that when initiative like this the new and exciting district officials and principals want to publicize them as cutting edge and innovative. Let's just make sure that they are reminded not to miss the boat with the intent of technology integration.

What are your takes on the article?

Image courtesy of motionblur on Flickr

Sunday, June 27, 2010

iPad as a Tool in Education- Edubloggercon 2010

My first trip to Edublogger con was great and disappointing all in one day. After wading through and walking away from the conversations about wikis, I took on iPads as an educational device.

The organizer of the discussion chose to go ahead and examine the iPad's size, weight and specs. This was something that we all knew and was a complete waste of time. His intention was to spend 10 minutes on the physical structure, and he was true to his word. My colleague, Terry Kaminski even tried to steer the conversation to the apps and teaching with it, and was told that was coming, let's talk about the screen size. #fail

Next the apps were discussed and people shared which one they were using to take notes with and check Twitter with. I shared how I think the app TaptoTalk would be great on the iPad for non verbal special needs students because often there are fine motor skills that need help as well. The size of the iPad is perfect for special ed!

The most entertaining aspect of the discussion was how the educators in the room banded together against "the tech guy" who kept going on about the security of the device and how it could be authenticated on his networks, but not without great difficulty, and that netbooks were the cost effective answer. He clearly was alone in his thinking.

Finally the talk went to teaching with the iPad, and from my observations the jury is still out on this one. Many praised it for it ability to be what the kids would love to use, but few have experience with it over a period of time in the class. If a student showed up with one this coming September I would be happy to try and make it work. With HTML 5 coming soon, I would hope Google Apps and other cloud programs would work better on the iPad. It's almost like it's ahead of it's time by 9 months.

Another issue that came up was synching and getting apps loaded on the devices (if you had a class set). This is a big concern due to the user agreements that restrict each purchase of the app to only one installation on one iPad, and how to synch many devices with many purchases of a single app. Hey, most of these awesome apps are under 5 bucks and as teachers we don't mind paying a small amount 30 times for a class set as long as it's easy to do.

So do I have an iPad? The answer is no. The reason? There are 2. First and foremost I have a lot of gadgets and my wife would kill me if I bought another one this year. Also, I wanted the camera in version 1, but it won't be there until version 2 or later. Think of the amazing possibilities for students to video blog, take video and edit it in an iPad specific version of iMovie, use iChat (Facetime) and Skype to work with other student around the world, the list goes on and on. I'm a media arts teacher and so anything that takes video and allows me to edit it and post it within a short amount of time is golden to me.

Ideally the iPad will transform from a media consuming device to a media creating device with newer versions. This is why the iPhone 4 is so attractive as a viable video camera and editing solution in one. If you need proof, watch this video filmed entirely on an iPhone 4 and except for some audio, edited entirely on it as well! No camera for me is a serious misgiving of version 1. I guess that's easy to say from my point of view as I sit here on a Macbook and type on the old keys!

I took the last 10 minutes of the conversation as where we should have been from the beginning: looking at the iPad as another tool students are going to show up with and want to use. We need to be ready for it and allow it on our wireless networks! Overall the device is so new that I don't think anyone fully knows how it can be used as a tool in education.

How could it be used in your teaching?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Wikis Dying? Not Likely

I had a great day at Edublogercon. I love the format. As a newb, I've known about it since the first one, but I'm as fresh as a daisy this year.

The original title of this blog was going to be "The Fan Boi Stuff Has to Stop". I sat on the post for a night and then thought about changing my title. Here is what I originally wrote. I left it here because part of me still feels very strongly about the topic of wikis in the classroom:

My favourite quote from the event was that we are not to be in awe of anyone. It was commented we should not feel intimidated or fearful to go up to talk to any of those who we admire so much because of their contributions to education and ed blogging. This is awesome!

Then I went to the "Are wikis dying session".

I voted with my feet on this one. After a few minutes I found that there was this Wikispaces fan boi-ism that was going on. Before I go any further, let it be said, I could be seen as a hypocrite here because of my own fan boi tendencies. I do have an Apple tattoo after all.

So there it is. My first impression of the session was that it was a bunch of people who were sucking up to the Wikispaces founders. And partially it was. It appeared to be a shameless opportunity for Wikispaces to do some market research and plug their product. And why didn't people say this is what sucks about wikis? Why didn't anyone mention pbworks or other wiki prodivers? Maybe I should have stayed longer. But you have to look on the bright side of things, right?

Positive discussions ensued about the process of introducing other peers to wikis and their uses. One person hit the nail on the head by mentioning that we might even have more success with wikis with newbs in schools if we show them Google Apps first. I agree with this entirely. There are few better ways to introduce a rookie to web tools than Google Apps.

Perhaps my favourite comment was from Jeff Utecht who said " A wiki with four attachments is just a web page with links. A wiki is about allowing people to collaborate and create content around a specific purpose or idea." Go read his blog about wikis. I have often fallen into the trap of saying I'm using a wiki for my classes, but in reality it's just a way to disseminate information and links to my students. I will be very mindful of this now because of this session.

Are wikis dying? No, I think they are still one of the most flexible web tools that we have at our disposal today. I will continue to use them as a communication tool and as a tool for student learning.