Monday, February 23, 2009

Still learning!

I've been strangly silent this last week, but with good reasons. First of all, I spent three days on the road for a total of 19 hours of driving; my only thoughts were couldn't Scotty beam me from La Loche to Regina and then back! And then I was having a great time exploring tools I have always wanted to learn, but used "the lack of time" as an excuse to avoid; I've learned some, but I also lost some momentum with blogging.

I am pleased to announce major progress in my experimenting with Moodle (photo shows some of the work). I can now insert video and pictures, I can change the background, and I have a good working knowledge of the basics of Moodle; I actually think I have enough knowledge now that I could create an online class. I have also started a small professional learning community of teachers in my school interested in becoming moodlers! We are meeting on Tuesdays; today, we took a major step towards understanding ways to enroll a student. If all continues to go well, I might even be able to "teach" a class with it as early as Thursday. Not too bad for a week of asking myself, "What does this icon do?"

I also had a session with staff interested in learning more about technology last Thursday; seven of us met and I introduced the others to Google Docs. It was refreshing to talk about something we can do and use to be more effective teachers; I actually felt like I was a teacher leader instead of being the person to react to the crisis of the day. And the staff involved gave me faith that many of us in the profession are still learners! I'm thinking about exploring Twitter on Thursday.

I have also begun to play with making movies using Jing. It is actually quite simple except for one small problem; the free version of JING saves the movie files as a shock wave flash which you cannot import into moviemaker. All is not lost though as a visit to Twitter gave me several possible conversion programs that I can try that are free; I also got a response from Dr. Couros and he recommends purchasing Jing Pro for $15 for a year as it will save the file as a mpeg allowing a user an easier time with editing. Unfortunately, I have tried several different free programs and I have been frustrated time and again. Yet, the positive is that by sending a tweet I had 6 different people attempt to come to my aid. It is amazing that there are that many people out there that are anxious to help with no expectation for something in return. This network of people is as close to a utopian world as I have seen; people are positive, helpful, appreciative, and kind. It is a world I am now a part of because I want to be not because I have to be for an assignment. In fact, I'm not really sure what is evaluated and what is not being evaluated; it actually does not matter because I am getting something out of the experience and I am learning continuously.

For example, when I tweeted out that I was looking for a program that would convert shock wave flash videos to mpegs, @plind suggested It did not do what I wanted it to, but I learned if I wanted to convert a gif image to a jpeg I could with Zamzar. Zamzar does many conversions and I suggest if you are trying to convert a file that you try it first; it may save you a lot of time. I would also suggest that if you haven't used twitter to solve a problem, try it; there are a lot of helpful people willing to share.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The New York Times asks, "Do we need a new internet?"

Thanks to D. Lowry (@bbcrfc on Twitter) for bringing this article from the New York Times to my attention through Twitter, Do we need a new Internet? Just yesterday, while visiting a moodle tutorial site, I had a Norton's anti-virus offer pop up on my screen. I didn't think much about it as I closed it and went on with my tutorial; once I was finished viewing the lesson, I took a much needed break. When I returned to my computer, I was surprised to see Norton's telling me my computer's status was still good and that I now had a Norton's Icon (see attached image) installed on my desktop. Is this related to the New York Times Article? I have to admit I am apprehensive about it at this time. (If anyone knows, please comment!)

The article suggests we need a new more secure internet that would force us to accept the loss of some anonymity for the sake of security. Is this a bad idea? Those of us involved in social networking are giving up a certain amount of our privacy already so if it is a trade off between a more secure network and a loss of some personal information, I'm not sure it is bad. On the other hand, those who argue it should be protected make me wonder what are they hiding?

I guess the other side of the coin is what happens when when we have abusive forms of government that use information posted by individuals punitively? In such situations, the ability to hide your identity in the electronic world might be the difference between life and death. What is the answer then? How do we protect our personal identity and ourselves online?

I understand so little about how virus' get started and about how to protect my computer from them. It seems like the anti-virus programs are only somewhat successful in protecting our machines; and it seems like there are malicious individuals in the cyber world who are ready to make people miserable by abusing the system and the people who use it. I know if this were our telephone system, governments around the world would be anxious to fix it; there would be a public outcry to do something to eliminate the hidden hazards.

I thank god we have some very intelligent people working to oppose the abusers; where would we be without them? I also think, maybe, the time has come for a new internet. I know I'd be prepared to sacrifice some of my identity for the sake of using the internet the way it was intended without the needless fears that we are warning children about, but fall victim to ourselves!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

19 Minutes that could change your thoughts about School

Several weeks ago I noticed a link in my EC&I 831 course readings regarding creativity. The link was to a speech given by Ken Robinson who asks do schools kill creativity?

I put off watching the video because it is a longer one (19 minutes) for youtube which has got me thinking, "What's happening to my attention span?" But that's another blog! I also have to admit I don't consider myself to be the most creative person in the world and arts education usually leaves me feeling uncomfortable. I'm not a singer, dancer, or artist; I think if I had the opportunity, I could have enjoyed life in drama. So, in a nutshell, I believe I avoided the video because I believed it was about something I was not very good at doing.

However, after listening to Ken's speech, I really wonder what education has done to me and what do I perpetuate as an educator! I wonder if the education system imposed on me reflected Ken's ideas of encouraging creativity, would my life had turned out differently and been more rewarding (at least to this point). Even in this text, I indentify myself as not being creative, yet now I have doubt. It could be that my creative side has been "educated out of me" as Ken speaks of in his speech.

There is so much in the speech that I will likely re-watch it. For me the key concepts were: school is educating creativity out of students, school is preparing students essentially the same way it did during the industrial revolution, and school is stigmitazing being wrong.

I encourage my readers to check this video out; I guarantee you some laughs if you do, but, more importantly, I think you will come out of it with some really tough questions about what is school doing to young people.

I also have to thank Ken for a great line. It goes something like this, "If a man speaks his mind in a forest and no woman hears, is he still wrong?" Watch it! It will make you think!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Internet Ethics or Couros Causes Concern!

I've been thinking about internet ethics as a result of the discussions during Alec Couros' EC&I 831 class on Tuesday, February 10, 2009, titled Popular Issues in (Digital) Media Literacy. My thoughts actually began the night before when I noticed a blog that closely resembled another (I am not prepared to identify them here) and I began to ponder the idea of plagiarism on the web. With the cut and paste world we live, it is simply too easy to "borrow' writings from another person and claim ownership by making it look like your work. Don't get me wrong, I am totally fine with someone valuing my words enough that he might want to use them, but give credit or provide it as a link to your thoughts on the topic. I know many of my ideas for blogging have sprung from others, but I make sure I credit those who got me started.

Anyway, the class on Tuesday was timed appropriately for where my thoughts were going. I had begun to question the idea of ethical internet behaviour. From my point of view as an educator, I believe there is a higher standard for me. I wonder if all users should be held accountable, but I realize the reality is that you cannot police such a thing. Nevertheless, I wonder how many people consider themselves to be ethical in their use of the internet especially the social networking aspects when in reality they are involved in what may be considered unethical behaviour. For example, during class we were shown a video titled "David after Dentist" that was posted by the child's father. Some people were quick to condemn the father and I admit I was leaning that way myself until someone mentioned that it could have been posted for grandparents. But because of anonymous viewers sharing what they saw, the video gained popularity and spread throughout the wired world. While I am still suspicious of the father's motives for posting the unflattering video of his son, I am now wondering more about the ethics of us, the viewers who made it go viral. There is no doubt that the child in the video will have to live with this event his entire life whether he likes it or not and some really caring conscientious people in the world have helped make it possible by passing it on. Is that ethical behaviour for a person to share something about another person that could be potentially devastating? If the father is wrong for posting it, we are just as wrong for spreading it! I'm glad my most embarrassing moment(s) as a child were not captured on film and shared with the world; would people take me seriously now if they saw me in moments I would like to forget?

The next pictures in the presentation of the Oswald murder (see pictures above) awoke a memory of a former student that I taught over 2 decades ago. She had told me a story how some bullies had pasted (with glue) her face onto a nude picture and were showing it around town. She was humiliated and felt shame even though she had done no wrong. Flash ahead to the world today; photo manipulation in the digital age is easy to do and is happening with and without the knowledge of the person in the photograph. I actually am not against it if it is done by the person with rights to the photo or with permission from the person with rights to the photo, and if the person in the photo has agreed to let their image be altered (I gave permission here) and published. However, when you take a picture of a murder and you manipulate it for laughs, have you crossed a line? I immediately was struck by the manipulated image of the Oswald murder and I thought of his family. Do people consider their pain? Do people consider themselves as being disrespectful of life in general by laughing at a tragedy? Does the voyeuristic nature of the internet have us doing things we would not do if we were there? Are lives being ruined by maliciously altered images?

My consciousness about the internet and its potential harm was raised on Tuesday. And if I have advice, I will refer you to THE CORE RULES OF NETIQUETTE and rule number one, "Remember the human."
The image of me with many arms was created by Shelley Deck @

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Another example of a PLN at work! Can you help?

I wasn't planning to blog tonight, but thanks to Sarah Hill I learned something that I didn't know about Google Docs. Furthermore, because I've been playing around with Jing I can show it to you. In the picture to your left, you can see a corner of the Google Docs page and you will see under 'new' the word "Form." If you click on it, it allows you to create a questionnaire that you can post in a blog or onto a wiki (and probably other stuff that I don't know about yet); you can even e-mail it. I was just amazed and immediately began to think of possible applications this tool could have in my practice, but I'm really not so sure how it will work. So in the interests of my own learning and because I am a man and refuse to look for directions (yet) I am asking you to participate in helping me understand this google feature. Simply click on the where are you from Google Form and answer the two questions attached. Then submit your answers.

While you are at it you might want to visit Sarah's blog and complete her Google Form. You see if you participate in this little experiment you become a part of my personal learning network (PLN) and if you visit Sarah's site WE have become cogs in her PLN. This is the power of social networking; we can learn from one another and we can help each other when we are need. If you need more convincing, you haven't been paying attention!

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Promise of Yesterday! A Paperless Office!

A colleague of mine some years ago (the first part of the last decade of the previous century) and I had conversations about what lay ahead of us due to advances in technology; one of our beliefs was that with advances in computer technology we would see much less paper on the job. Boy were we wrong! I have been swamped my more and more paper in my work as an assistant principal as you can see by the photo on top. Today I disconnected from the internet, rolled up my sleeves and began to make sense of all the paper in front of me. I worked for hours sorting and filing and, oh yeah, swearing (you didn't hear that mom).
And as I worked, I thought back to last night when I was looking at my Google Reader Account. It was a mess and needed some organizing. Well in a matter of seconds I clicked on 'manage subsciptions' and I had the 22 blogs I follow organized into 4 folders; it was sweet! If only I could do that in my office!
Well as things unfold, you come to knew understandings and it occurred to me that perhaps "Google Docs" could be the answer. Do you think it is possible to get every administrator and teacher working collaboratively on documents posted in Google Docs? Do you think we could persuade the thousands of people who want our attention or access to our students to use Google Docs as a way of sharing their information with us? I dream...I dream...I dream.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Online Teachers need online student teaching!

I've spent a lot of time over the last year thinking about online learning and supporting students in online classes. I have looked at this primarily from the point of view of working with the student. I also have to admit my bias was that students taking such courses needed strong independent working skills, strong motivational skills, and above average computer skills. The students I work with are mostly aboriginal and speak an aboriginal language as their first language, and consequently, I was concerned that online classes would require too much reading. Well semester one has come to a close and the students that enrolled in online classes from my school are either still in progress or they have given up entirely on the class they enrolled in. However, I'm now not so sure that my bias about success being dependent on entirely on student skills was fair. My thinking was expanded again today by Karl Fisch and a blog he wrote in December titled, Online Student Teaching?

Fisch argues, and I paraphrase, that it is only reasonable to expect that if teachers need to be trained to teach in face to face situations then it is logical to expect that teachers need to be inserviced or trained in the best practices of online instruction. Brilliant. Why didn't I think of that before?

I know Dr. Friesen questioned me about cultural adaptations to the curriculum being offered to the students I was supporting, but I now think I failed to consider that question. I realize that the students need to shoulder some responsibility for their learning, but I think it is fair to say online teachers need to reflect on their practices as well and question their effectiveness if students are having difficulty completing the online course. I think online schools need to make sure their teachers have suitable training behind them before they are hired.

I happen to know that there is a conscientious group of online teachers offering programs to my students, but I wonder if their experiences rival my own as a teacher. I entered a classroom 23 years ago expecting a class full of students that would basically be at about the same level. I had no experience or training in cross cultural education, and I was asked to teach a Native Studies 10 class without ever taking any aboriginal studies classes; I am embarrassed to admit that I had no Special needs knowledge when I began teaching. I was not nearly prepared for the classes I was assigned to teach; I wonder how many teachers are teaching online classes without having the training behind them. Are they like I was, doing the best they can while learning on the job?

I have been encouraging staff to look at online platforms for course delivery like Moodle; I now feel guilty for thinking it was even possible without some kind of professional development. I guess my learning continues and my list of weaknesses grows longer! Thanks Karl for another valuable lesson learned.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Good Reason to Twitter!

I've been chatting with @plind (Penny Lindballe) tonight on Twitter and was overwhelmed by some things she put me on to through links in Twitter. I felt very much like a student as she was throwing links out at me faster than I could view them (and @plind I visited them all). She did what Shareski was advocating last night - she shared her time and her knowledge and I am better off because of her willingness to share. The best part is she was able to expand my thinking by linking me to someone who has influenced her thinking. It's awesome.

One of the links she posted was a particularly impressive blog. The blog called The Fischbowl was titled simply "What if?". If you read nothing else from my blog, go to this link. It might just rock your world. The issues discussed in the blog were written in 2006, but are so relevant to my world and I'll bet yours too here in 2009. I plan to put a paper copy of 'What If' on the staffroom table; I know it won't be popular with some, but I also know it will make people think!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A strange Connection! Aboriginal Values meet Web 2.0 Values!

This is a confusing world. As a child, I remember hearing my parents urging me to share with others, while my Christian upbringing pressed me to give, but the society I grew up in pushed me to get ahead of the other guy, compete, and be the best. Strange messages swirled around me outside of my home: "Nice guys finish last", "He who has the most toys wins." "Win at any cost!" "It's survival of the fittest." I'm sure this rings true for many others and I think it is fair to say that the messages we have gotten from society in general have made many people more individualistic, more committed to "What's in it for me?" thinking, and I think less connected to their fellow man.

Over the course of the Community Based Master's Program I am part of, I began to hear another voice that I had not really heard before. It was the voice of aboriginal thinkers. I heard about generosity and for the good of the community over and over (and trust me I know these values exist in all cultures). Traditional Aoriginal teachings seemed to be consistently about doing what was good for all; the self had a responsibility to the group. It is such a different way than that of the capitalistic western world (and one that I think many Aboriginal people would agree has been eroded in aboriginal communities influenced by western thinking). Yet, I still see examples of this generosity today. For example, in the north, it is not uncommon for communities to raise money through auctions to help families that have suffered a loss; I grew up in a culture that believed it was shameful if you could not afford to bury your loved one. My wife (she is Dene) regularly has relatives that share a catch or a kill with her; she routinely goes to their assistance in times of need. When she does, I catch myself thinking, "What will that cost? I realize now that that thinking is a scar from my own socialization as a child raised in a capitalist world.

My journey through the Community Based Master's Program has taken me to new places and I have been reflecting on ideas that Aboriginal people have exposed me to. It started in a class as I was challenged over and over again to see things from an Aboriginal perspective. Then a colleague shared a list of Dene Laws with me; I immediately was challenged by the first law, "Share what you have." But I decided I would begin to move to be a more giving person in school.

These are small things that I consciously did this school year to be more giving; I have found 25 cents when a student was short for a drink, I have shared candy (that I had deliberately brought to school) with students in my office (even the ones in trouble), I have offered bottles of water to colleagues that look like they needed it, and I have expected nothing in return. However, what I have gotten is a feeling that I was doing the right thing - it felt good. I was sharing and making a strong human connection at the same time.

Today, after listening to Dean Shareski's presentation to my EC&I 831 class, I realized that sharing extends beyond what we have. Sharing knowledge is also sharing something of value. Perhaps, the world of Web 2.0 will move society back to the notion that we should share openly without condition for the good of our world community. Perhaps communities will become less insulated from the human condition that surrounds them and become more globally conscious. Sounds like the 21st century thinkers may be taking us to a world view that is not unlike that of traditional Aboriginal values; a strange connection indeed!

Just for the record, here are the Dene Laws. Sorry I do not have a source but I believe it has come out of the North West Territories.

Dene Laws

1. Share what you have.
2. Help each other.
3. Love each other as much as possible.
4. Be respectful of elders and everything around you.
5. Sleep at night and work during the day.
6. Be polite and don’t argue with anyone.
7. Young girls and boys should behave respectfully.
8. Pass on the teachings.
9. Be happy at all times.

La Loche Community School – Dene Building is proud of its Dene roots. We think the world can learn lots from the Dene people and we are striving as a school to honour and respect the Dene people, their language, and their traditions.

Image taken from

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Picasa and Widgets!

If you've visited my blog before, you will be noticing a couple of changes today. For one, you can follow my last 5 comments on 'Twitter' and you can see the 10 pictures that I placed on 'Picasa' yesterday. For those new to blogging, those add-ons are called widgets; for me personally, it is another link to my life and internet activities that you can view. I have to admit, the pictures I've placed have not explored my family life and I'm not sure how far I will go that way if at all. Ethically, I think I should get permission from them before I do anymore of putting my life with them out in the "World Wide Web"! However, I do see it as an opportunity to explore the world around me.

I hate to admit it, but Twitter is addictive once you start using "TweetDeck". Twitter by itself really lacks intimacy; TweetDeck has you chatting in no time. Yesterday, I had a couple of longer conversations; one about Disney World and attractions in Orlando and another about 'Picasa' or 'Flickr'. I also managed to have a conversation with Alec Couros about things he would like to research with his Twitter Followers. I also learned that the Sarah Hill Alec talks to his EC&I 831 classes was demonstrating Twitter to a friend around the same time Alec was buying produce in a store! Twitter takes you from the ordinary life stuff we do to making connections about the things you want to learn.

For example, I learned about Picasa and Flickr through contacts on Twitter! As a result, I came to the conclusion that both are really about the same. However, because I have a 'Google Account," it was easier for me to go with 'Picasa.' I had actually experimented with Picasa before, but I can't remember my username or password for that account. I assume the images are still out there. That old cliche "use it or lose it" applies here!

The more I do, the more I realize these 'tools' and 'programs' are helpful to the way we communicate, they give us an opportunity to find people with similar interests, and really they provide the user with an archive of their activities on the internet. Picasa will help me organize some of the pictures from my past that I've been scanning and Widgets will help me make my Blog a little more interesting (or not). But when I show it to others who do not know this world, I can be a little smug and say, "Look what I've been learning!" LOL. To the staff of LLCS, I'm willing to help if you want to get started!