Friday, December 05, 2008

MySpace Means No Space for Studen-Teacher

A federal court rejected Stacy Snyder's argument that her MySpace page is considered free speech and should not be used to dismiss her from a college teacher-training program. A high school Snyder was student-teaching out had complaints about professionalism and content knowledge but asked she be dismissed after seeing a MySpace page which had pictures of her drinking and posts critizing her supervisor. Because Snyder was dismissed from the student-teaching program, she could not complete the requirements for an education degree. Because the judge considered Snyder's position with the high school more an aprenticeship rather than an educational pursuit, the school was within its right to dismiss Snyder over the MySpace page. Also, it probably did not help that Snyder told her student about the page too.

I always tell students two things about the Internet:
  1. Don't post anything you would not want you mama to see.
  2. What goes on the Internet, stays on the Internet.
ARS Technica article

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

So long Pownce

The troubling economic conditions hit a little closer to home today when I received an e-mail from Pownce announcing their decision to close as of December 15th. I earlier wrote that I thought Pownce would be a great tool for teachers to use to reach out to both parents and students because of some neat features such as document attachments. Fortunately, the team at Pownce have found positions on the enginering team at Six Apart so they won't have to worry about this Christmas season.

Unfortunatley, this may be the first of other Web 2.0 applications that would be beneficial in the classroom or have become teacher favorites. Hopefully, when we get out of this economic mess the surviving Web 2.0 companies will be able to offer exciting applications for teachers and students. Until then we will just have to weather the storm by supporting each other as much as possible.

Good bye Pownce, we hardly knew you.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Telementoring brings experts to the classroom

People attend education conferences to learn new things and share ideas that can benefit students in the classroom. Another thing that make conferences interesting is looking at vendor booths to mainly see what they have to give away which gives sales people a chance to talk to you about what they have to offer you that will cure your educational woes. Most of the time the products being pitched either are too expensive, don't fit your situation, can't purchase it because your district just purchased a competitor's product, or you don't have the decision making authority. However, there are rare times that you find something new, exciting, and you actually can procure and use. For me today was one of those days.

Cynergi Systems, a company that provides multimedia technology solutions for the education market, announced a new solution that could provide more expertise in classrooms, South Carolina EduSpace. South Carolina EduSpace, according to company CEO Neil Willis, is a telementoring system providing experts in business or higher education the chance to speak to classes in K12 schools via teleconferencing. While teleconferencing is nothing new, the fact that Cynergi is providing this service to schools for free had my jaw on the ground. In a breakout session on the product at 2008 South Carolina EdTech, Willis explained the service will be paid for by advertising. A brief ad at the beginning of a session will be shown. Willis promised the ads will be appropriate for schools to show.

To book a speaker teachers will go to the website and view available speakers in the subject area desired. Teachers will be able to choose the best speakers based on ratings given to speakers by other teachers. Once a speaker is chosen, the website will act as a go between to arrange a booking. One school and up to three different speakers can be used at one time. All the participants need is a video camera capable of steaming video over the Internet. Each session is recorded and teachers will be able to download sessions for further use.

Currently, Cynergi is beta testing South Carolina EduSpace in four Palmetto State school districts but Willis says every county and school district will be able to use the service after January 1st. Also, businesses and colleges are being signed up to provide both speakers and sponsorship funds. Another thing to remember is this service is only being offered to South Carolina schools. It is great sign that businesses in South Carolina are investing money into education with an uncertain economy. Hopefully, they will soon realize this investment will not go bust as Wall Street banks did a short time ago.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Martian Invasion Warning

Last night I was listening to Orsen Wells and the Mercury Theater on the Air's adaptation of H.G. Wells War of the Worlds. This is the 1938 broadcast over the CBS network that created nation-wide panic as listeners believed Earth was being invaded by Martians. When I first heard the broadcast in the early seventies it scared the wits out of me. From that moment on, I was intrigued that a radio broadcast could panic not only a little kid but the entire nation.

After the broadcast, Orsen Wells told reporters there was no intent to create the chaos that ensued during the hour the play aired. Wells also said he was surprised people would believe there was an invasion from Mars. Years later, Wells told the BBC that he secretly wanted to demonstrate that people were too willing to believe what they heard on the radio and later television. Script writer Howard Koch, who later won an Oscar for the screenplay of Casablanca, reflected Well's sentiment in a PBS All Things Considered interview (Part 1, Part 2). Koch claimed that schools were doing a poor job in teaching kids how to think for themselves.

Could a hoax on the scale of what Orsen Wells pulled off in 1938 happen today. The answer is yes. In fact it already has happened. CNN posted a report that Apple CEO Steve Jobs suffered a major heart attack. This report triggered a massive sell off of Apple stock driving stock prices way down for about an hour before the hoax was revealed. It was later learned a teen posted the fake story CNN picked up as a joke. This story also raised concerns about the validity of "Citizen Journalism." The lesson here is in this day of near instant information, people should check the validity of sources before acting on them.

As far as an invasion from Mars is concerned? Orsen Wells said at the end of War of the Worlds, "If someone rings your doorbell and is not there, it is not Martians. Its Halloween. Happy Halloween everyone.

War of the Worlds Broadcast Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A new way for students to get Smart

Last year our school received about 10 Smart Boards when we built a new addition. The teachers who were fortunate enough to have the interactive whiteboard in their classroom just love it and many of those who don't are envious. Now Smart Technologies are using Microsoft's new Touch technology to create the Smart Table for the education market.

The Smart Table is an interactive center for groups of students to do various learning activities. According to Smart Technologies website the Smart Table can be used to play educational games, cooperate on projects, create pictures or diagrams and other educational activities for groups. The site is also recruiting developers to create more applications for the device.

Engadget reports the Smart Table will go for $8,000 which might be a bit out of reach for school's facing inevitable budget cuts that come with tough economic times. Hopefully, Smart Technologies will have one at SC EdTech next week and will try to get some video.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Politics and Teaching

When I was teaching social studies at Hilton Head Island High school a few years ago we had two teachers in the department who constantly argued politics. One of these teachers was about as Republican as you can get. He constantly attacked Bill Clinton and then praised George W. Bush constantly. Another teacher who we will call Bob, would constantly counter and talk about what "those Republicans are doing." We all thought Bob was a poster boy for the Democratic Party. During the 2002 election I was tasked with lining up speakers for our school's election debate. The lady at the Democratic Campaign Headquarters I talked with floored me when she asked me how "that Republican" Bob was doing? My reply was, "you're kidding right?" The Democrat told me she knew Bob for many years and he was always a big Republican supporter. When I relayed the story to Bob he admitted the woman was correct. He then added, "but my personal politics does not belong in the classroom."

A blog post by Marc Lampkin reminded me of the above story. Bob further explained his job was to teach students to investigate the issues for themselves and play devil's advocate to get those students to back up their opinions with facts. Mr. Lampkin reminded me of a story of a New York teachers' union who sued to be allowed to wear campaign buttons after the school district forbid them. The blog post goes on a anti-teachers' union rant but the fact teachers wanted to campaign for one candidate or another disturbed me.

Parents send us their children to be educated not indoctrinated. They should be taught to find facts and determine what they believe is best for themselves. I have my personal political beliefs and I support one presidential candidate over another because after reviewing what both candidates' stances on issues important to me I have made my decision. I even wear campaign items, outside of school. However, once I step on school grounds, the stuff comes off and I am more non-partisan than reporters pretend to be. Last week I assisted with our school's mock election and was thrilled to do it. Once the students started voting, I was having as much fun watching the results come in as I will on November 4th. We even had Bulldog Barks video updates periodically posted on YouTube and a local newspaper's blog. It was all non-partisan and neutral. Hopefully, the kids had fun exploring the issues, debating who was better, and voting for the candidates of their choice. All under the watchful eyes of teachers who remain politically neutral.

For those of you who support Barack Obama or John McCain and believe the country will crash and burn if the other candidate wins, go ahead and knock yourself out showing your support. Show your support until you come to school, then teach the impressionable young minds to make their own informed decisions after looking at ALL of the issues from both sides equally.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I'm Joe the Student: Learning from The YouTube Election

Presidential campaigns have a way of defining changes in media. Franklin Roosevelt made effective use of the radio in his election bid in 1932. Richard Nixon was the first politician to use television to speak directly to voters in 1952. John F. Kennedy showed that preparing for the characteristics of television helped him during the televised debates in 1960. Bloggers pretty much decided the election in 2004. In 2008 it will be the use of YouTube or citizen generated media that has made inroads and I expect 2012 will see its effective use by a candidate.

Both campaigns used YouTube to post campaign commercials. John McCain may have started the rewriting of Fair Use policy when some of his posts from news shows were taken down after networks complained of copyright infringement. CNN and YouTube collaborated on having people video questions for Republican and Democratic candidates during the primaries. Now YouTube, PBS, and GroundReport are teaming up for Video Your Vote which encourages people to video their experiences during the voting process and are giving away Flip camcorders to make it happen. Yet the biggest surprise is how many people picked up a video camcorder of some kind and shot video that made some kind of statement for one candidate or the other because they wanted to. I receive information e-mails from both the Obama and McCain campaigns (I should disclose that my sister is a county chairwomen for John McCain) and while most of the e-mails are asking for money (which Obama can stop because he can't possibly spend $300 million between now and election day) the McCain campaign surprised me with a call for "I am Joe the Plumber" videos.

The thing for teachers to learn from this is that people are finding new ways to communicate that are easy and cheap to do. I could write, shoot, and edit a campaign commercial for either candidate with a $100 to $150 camcorder that would look decent then upload it on YouTube. All this exercise in democracy would cost next to nothing but time. Take a look at what individuals have created on their own by surfing the campaign videos on YouTube. Think about how you can tap into that creative energy with your students. See if you can't create your own "Joe the Student" video that could change the course of history as much as "Joe the Plumber" might in this election.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Congress Gives Reason to Teach Media Literacy

Andy Carvin recently posted in PBS Teachers' Learning.Now that Congress has passed a rider to the Broadband Data Improvement Act that requires schools accepting federal funds to give mandatory online safety instruction. Schools receiving federal subsidies will have to provide education to students on appropriate online behavior and cyberbullying. ISTE has praised the move citing that "Education, not mandatory filtering and blocking, is the best way to protect and prepare America's students." While I am sure Congress will provide no funding for such an education program, this is a positive step. Readers of this blog have know that I have been advocating teaching media literacy so students can evaluate information for themselves so they can make better decisions.

I feel Library Media Specialists may have a problem with this move by Congress. Case in point: our seventh grade Language Arts teachers wanted to get a jump on preparing a research paper. This was done in part to prepare students for the writing portion of South Carolina's new PASS test which is given in March. The teachers approached our new LMS about helping with teaching research skills, something our previous LMS would have not done. One move that disturbed me was the fact she restricted students to using DISCUS, South Carolina's website of "approved" information sites on the web. Almost every LMS I know gets very irritated when students go to Google when starting a research project and nearly go ballistic when students land on Wikipedia. They always goad students to use DISCUS because they believe it is the end all be all of online research.

As I observed students using DISCUS while researching their various topics and holding my tongue at the same time. In fact, I was even assisting students in using DISCUS in finding information. The problem I saw was students were not getting enough information to write their papers. It was disturbing to me and students were getting frustrated. Later, I discussed the situation with the teacher of the class who agreed that information was limited but students would go home and use Google anyway. My next thought was, "What about the students who don't have Internet connected computers at home?"

This project continued to haunt me. Those who have read past posts in this blog know I have constantly advocated media literacy. I feel sites like DISCUS run counter to this need students have. Now before every LMS comes down to Bluffton to string me up we should think about this. Our news media is now becoming one-sided politically, either on the right as many believe Fox News is or on the left as MSNBC is making no secret of its left leaning bias. Unfortunately, our news media would still like for Americans to believe it is "fair and balanced." A print reporter told me earlier reporters need to be objective. That is nice until you are watching either Bill O'Reilly or Keith Olbermann. Then you need to have media literacy skills to properly determine if what they say is fact or opinion (actually it is entertainment). Also, so-called citizen journalism, such as blogging, is growing more and more but not necessarily for the better. The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating on whether a blog post falsely claiming Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, had a massive heart attack was a deliberate and illegal attempt to influence stock prices for the benefit of parties unknown. While other online news sources refused to post the erroneous information, CNN's iReport did post the story causing a drop in stock prices.

The moral to this story is students need to see bad information and learn what makes it bad information. Students need to view two news sources with opposite points of view politically and learn how to verify the claims made by the two sources so an informed judgement can be reached. The days of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite are sadly over. They have been shoved aside by the likes of Keith Olbermann, Rush Limbaugh, Al Fraken, and Bill O'Reilley who are more interested in getting ratings by any means necessary. It would be sad the next President of the United States was elected because because the American People believed him to be a popular cult icon and not because they examined the issues and chose the candidate most matches their core beliefs.

Friday, October 10, 2008

I'm Back

Earlier this year I announced my blog would move to However, due to some recent problems I have experienced and changes in my situation, I am moving back. It is good to be back home. You may still visit my Edublogs site for posts done in the interim.

Award Winning

Last week I was notified by the South Carolina Association For Educational Technology (SCAET) that my experimental class, Web Media Productions, won a Technology Innovative Program Award in the Middle School Category. I will have the honor of accepting this award for H.E. McCracken Middle School at the awards luncheon at SC EdTech on November 7th.

Although I applied for the award, I am still surprised when I got the notification we won because the impact was on the total student body was small. However, the lesson was not just for students. One course goal was to prove two things to teachers . First, web applications can be used in any subject. Students created projects using a variety of applications in Math, Reading, English, and Social Studies. These projects were shared with students' respective teachers. The second goal was for teachers to see these projects could be achieved in a timely manner without the use of a computer lab. Students worked on computers in other teachers' rooms. I wanted to prove technology-based projects could be done with some planning, recoginzing resources, and teamwork.

At first I thought my ideas did not take. Adminstration opted to create a much bigger web media class. However, a few teachers approached me about using web applications such as blogging and podcasting. Computer lab time will again be at a premium this year but hopefully teachers will be creative in using "out-of-the-box" ideas in doing technology-based projects. Maybe this award is deserved after all. Yeah Me!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Other Side of Podcasting

I know this is a bit late coming since we are in the first few days of October but life has been hectic for me around school this first couple of months.

This past July my family went to visit a sick relative in Birmingham, Alabama. While we were there my son told us he had never been to a zoo in his life. I found that rather incredible but it was true. Fortunately, Birmingham is the home to fairly modest zoo so my son and I made plans to go. My first stop, as I do with all attractions I visit now, was the zoo's website. Naturally, the website had photos of the various animals, visitor information, educational opportunites for individuals and groups, and ways to financially support the zoo. There was also one other thing that interested me, a podcast tour.

I know that places like zoos, museums, and other places have been using podcasts to enhance or educate potential visitors for years now. However, I have either been creating or listening to podcasts about particular subjects of interest to me. The Birmingham Zoo's podcasts were designed to enhance a visitor's experience to the zoo, a first for me. Fortunately, they have an option to subscibe to the podcasts via iTunes which made uploading them into my MP3 player a snap.

When we got to the zoo, the first thing I checked to see if I had was my MP3 player then my camera. It was exciting as I walked up to view an animal and found out there was a podcast about it. The recording usually was just about a minute or two but during that time it told me way more than the brief written display near the animals habitat. I was able to learn far more about the animals than I would have without the podcasts yet it did not take much more time than normally walking through.

I looked at some other attractions in my area and unfortunately I found none of them did not have companion podcasts. Hopefully they will consider adding them. It is a great resource.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Moving On

This semester I will be teaching a course to 6th graders on Web 2.0 Media Communications. The students will learn how to use blogs, podcasts, webcasts, and online videos in their classes. For the blog part of the class, I have selected Learnerblogs for the students, Edublogs product. To keep things together I am moving Teacher Bytes over to Edublogs as well.

Here is the new link to Teacher Bytes:
Please update your news feeders and bookmarks.
Here is the first posting on Edublogs:

See you on the other side.


Friday, January 11, 2008

New Year's Prediction: Laptops for Everyone

One trend we should see in 2008 is notebook prices will drop. Last year MIT's One Laptop Per Child group finally started shipping its XO to developing nations. This was supposed to be the $100 laptop marketed to help children of developing nations acquire technology. The XO wound up costing around $200 but it did prove functional laptops could be manufactured at a cheaper cost. Intel is also marketing its own low-cost machine to other countries and ASUS is selling low-cost laptops on the open market.

Well the genie is now out of the bottle. Engadget reported former OLPC Chief Technical Officer Mary Lou Jepsen has left the group to form her own company. The goal of her new start-up, Pixel Qi, is to produce a laptop with a cost of $75. While a $75 laptop might be a bit of a stretch for now, even producing one for $150 would be step in the right direction. Also, Pixel Qi plans to sell its machines on the open market, something both OLPC and Intel are not doing right now. If the machine works well new customers will be lured in by its price. This will force other manufacturers to produce lower cost machines as well and parents who have been reluctant to buy laptops for their children may start if the costs are below that of a Nintendo Wii or iPod.

OLPC is making a mistake by marketing its XO to other countries, although Birmingham, Alabama schools are making a large purchase. Schools districts wanting to start One-to-One programs but were afraid of the costs might be willing to take the plunge. This would lead to a lower cost of the XO because of economies of scale. OLPC will eventually realize they need to market to American schools to stay alive but will it be too late as the competition heats up?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Sony PSP To Get A Keyboard, Finally

According to an ARS Technica posting, Sony announced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) the PlayStation Portable (PSP) will finally be getting a keyboard. This is potentially good news for educators since the PSP already has wireless Internet capabilities. Students can now use online applications such as Google Docs to do assignments along with some Internet research. Other features of the PSP include video, audio, RSS support and newer PSP 2 models have video out ports to go along with its gaming function. Sony also said the PSP will also be able to use Skype which allows voice communications over the Internet which would be good to communicate with other classes. Camera and GPS support are also coming and could be useful classroom tools. The only thing the PSP will lack is a book reader which may not happen anytime soon because Sony already markets an electronic book reader. However, the fact that Sony sees the PSP as something other than a gaming and music player is a step in the right direction.