On the Digital World and Culture

When we look ahead to the sorts of things that could be happening (especially where every learner is saddled with an Internet-capable device) in our classrooms and beyond…

Online in 60 Seconds

I just caught this image in a Facebook post by Will Richardson and it made me return here to record and share a few thoughts.


I think the infographic above begs this question:

“If this is already happening- if this is a truly a baseline average of what is currently happening online in a rather generic way, how do we harness the power of participatory culture for learning?”


It begs questions relating to relevance. It also begs for discussion about meeting kids where they are. It also makes me reflect on the theme of a rather powerful meeting this morning regarding “culture.” Is the culture we seek to create in school… from scratch and of our own doing? Or are these questions also an element of the debate? How can we also credit the culture being created today, and not only bring students into the fold of our vision, but also join them in new places to co-create a culture of learning for the future?

From where I sit, it is no longer a question of if we should. It hasn’t been. A few are already embracing these channels for good, and have been for some time. In my reality of classrooms soaked in the ubiquity of personal computing, I could easily be misled into thinking this is already the norm in many places. I’ve seen some pretty wise examples of this firsthand with teachers I work with. Yet, the reality is:  the sort of smart, purposeful embrace of new media for learning I’m talking about is still existing only in pockets.

And yet, I think that if we aren’t yet at least asking these tough questions, we’re behind. Television captured attention in its day. Digital gaming was perhaps the next cultural crack to vie for the attention of youth. Today it is the web. Each of these entities was potentially more all-consuming than the previous…  or potentially liberating. Yes, much of what is in this graphic is still little more than noise. That says little of the potential here. I believe it to be your mindset that largely frames the issue.

Delaney With Hermit Crab


Do I think life and learning does or should exist solely in a virtual world? No. Not even close. Trolling back through the hundreds of posts here will show this to be true. I have been a life sciences teacher for 21 years. I have been a parent for the past six. I want all children to learn by touching, smelling and interacting with the real world. I want them to learn deeply and rather slowly at times.

I also want to credit the modern world that currently engulfs us. I want smart teachers leading the way. I want balance in these things. I have long been of the opinion that playing “defense” and plugging away on a path that doesn’t credit modern communication channels is just, well…  nearly malpractice. Truly embracing these changes might be down the path for you and your organization, but that doesn’t mean you cannot engage in these tough questions as you strive to build a nimble and complete learning environment for the young people you serve.

Thank you………..  drive through.



*Will Richardson, who has pushed my thinking for well over half a decade.
*Dr. White’s Leadership Team address today that heavily featured the topic of school culture.
*My wife, Erin (pictured above) for being that kind of Mom to our girls.



Possibilities 2.0

Give me potential or give me death.

~Sean Nash


A Patrick Henry moment

Yep, I just quoted myself.  It’s OK, I’ll take that one.  In fact, I think I’ll take it and run with it for a bit.  Check it out.  See, I don’t deal well with what one of my science department colleagues refers to as the “Negative Nelson.”  These are folks who jump quickly to the most negative outlook possible to begin any task, discussion or debate.  Now I’m certainly not talking about people who exhibit the valuable skill of being able to ferret out potential pitfalls in any new endeavor.  Karl Fisch, in a recent workshop at MICDS in St. Louis, referred to those elements of a system as the “yeah, buts.”  His willingness that day to confront potential snags head-on is one of the marks of any successful project manager.

That said, negativity used as a strategy to push back from the table (whether conscious or unconscious) in order to avoid change or conflict is a very toxic thing.  Life is too short and too difficult as it is.  Stirring up extra negativity in such a challenging career field is more than a waste of time.  In my 18 years as an educator I have had the benefit of working in environments that were so positive and supportive that I was constantly inspired.  I have also had my years where “clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right” is about the most polite way I can put it.  Negative Nelsons. Thanks, Jennifer.  That one is elegantly simple.  It made me laugh, and it made me reflect.  So obviously, I haven’t been able to get in here to write very much as of late.  Please excuse the rapid-fire unloading of thought here.  I’ll get back to succinct when I get more time.

“I would have written a shorter letter if I had more time.”

~Blaise Pascal

Why the “2.0?”

Now that I think of it, I probably could have just entitled this one “2.0” because this is now what this phrase means to me.  I’m not going to go off into the history of the quirk of using “2.0” to signify the newest iteration of…..  something.  Heck it is now used for pretty much anything:  Web 2.0, School 2.0, Library 2.0, Government 2.0, and on and on and on.  Tack a two at the end and instantly whatever you are talking about, planning, or selling becomes better, newer, shinier.  From my personal perspective, what at one point meant something to those pushing the envelope of using the Internet in education, now means means less.  The more you use something, right?  I get it.  I know.  After a while of having “2.0’s” ping-ponged about in the echo chamber of online communications… the meaning does tend to get stale.  If you subscribe to the tweets of some of the more connected edtechers out there, you’ll find more than a few who are just plain ol’ sick of the term.

Web 2.0 will save us

Why it doesn’t bother me

Let’s just get this out of the way first:  According to Global language Monitor, “Web 2.0” is the  1,000,000th word added into the English language.  So there.  It means something.  For the “How’d they figure that?“, click here.

I’ll be honest.  I hate it too by now.  It is the height of cliche’ in my head.  However, I think I am just sick of it considering how much I actually feel the need to use the term in my current job as an instructional coach in the middle of a constructivist reformation/technology integration pilot.  I try to use a ton of helper phrases to describe this entity as well: read/write web, social web, participatory web, and other.  Those are great, and do help, but I still need two-oh.

In a recent technology summit in our school district, an administrator actually started out one of the segments declaring that in terms of education, Web 2.0 “doesn’t really mean anything,” and that people really can’t agree on whether it will have an impact or not.  This is one statement I had to disagree with point blank that day.  Really, I get why it might seem less-than-concrete on the surface.  With utmost respect, to an educator not using the participatory web in the classroom (or anywhere else professionally) “Web 2.0” must look a bit like the wild west compared to the pricey and packaged comfort of a content management system like Blackboard, WebCT or E-Companion.  But think about it-  a constructivist classroom probably does look like Dodge City to the vast majority of people who were educated in the neat and tidy rows of desks in the American schools of our past.


What it means for me is that frankly…  I don’t have to wait for anyone any longer.  When I want to go, I go.  When my students are ready for something better (that fits good pedagogy) we go.  With a robust and lightly filtered network-  no longer did I have to wait for more software to be decided upon, purchased, server space to be allocated, or passwords to be doled out.  With Web2, I was able to immediately make a go at what I, my administrators, my students, and my parents thought was the right path to follow.  I could hone a web tool to my liking in a weekend.  I didn’t need to wait for a comprehensive plan filled with multiple opportunities for job-embedded professional development and one-on-one coaching.  I was ready, and I rolled on.

All of a sudden, more than at any time previously in my career, I was able to model myself as a learner in the classroom right alongside my students.  I was able to show them what it looked like to be a connected learner in the digital world of current information and communications technology.  Now I am ready to go back and help build that comprehensive implementation plan for our teachers and students.  I hope I am continually able to model those experiences in the other direction as well…  still as a learner modeling the navigation of our newly-digital terrain, though not only for our students but also for those who make far-reaching decisions for each of the students in our town.

We are climbing...

Positivity and possibility

I need positivity.  My engine thrives upon it.  I need open potential.  I need new possibilities.  Here’s why I decided today to “re-like” the terminology of 2.0:  It is just so full of possibility.  School 2.0?  Seriously, who isn’t interested in reforming the future for the largest open-schooling system in the world?  Don’t answer that.  Good point.  I’m sure there are plenty who aren’t.  But look how many really are.  Because of Web 2.0, the folks who want to step up and have a hand in the remaking of our outmoded schools, libraries and governmental participation models…   can.

Web 2.0 is still a novel and effective tool for democracy.  It is still a new way to interact via the Internet.  Why not let it remind you of the shiny possibility of doing something better the next time you try?  Sticking a two at the end of something doesn’t automatically make it better.  However, possibility is as contagious as negativity.  Spread some love, will ya’?


*Inspiration by h.koppdelaney on Flickr
*Web 2.0 will save us by Ben Sheldon on Flickr
*Web 2.0 is web 0.0 future by Will Lion on Flickr
*We are climbing… by Duane Romanell on Flickr

Collaborative social media: How do you do business?

Shifting practices

Not long ago, the MS Office suite comprised the bulk of computer applications in the world of mainstream business.  I have to admit that as a career biology educator and instructional coach, I have precious little knowledge of the “real” business world.  That said, this past year I have found my work overlapping many trends in business as I explore the efficacy of collaborative online applications in education.  I am deeply interested in them as a framework for professional development as well as for classroom utilization.

“Yeah, but mainstream businesses aren’t using the Web 2.0 stuff…  those are mostly a few cutting edge companies with money to burn.”

How much more “mainstream” can you get than Best BuyWill Richardson pointed to the above video a couple of days back on Twitter, and I have held that browser window open since that time.  I really enjoy some of the language found within.  For example, one gentleman interviewed said that Web 2.0 applications allow the workforce to “…try a lot of different things, fail really fast, and then try things again.”  I dig that attitude in almost any endeavor.  To me it is pretty clear that being fearless and willing to innovate is a big plus in much of the business world as well as in education.  I also like the fact that another interviewee listed the following things as benefits to social media applications being implemented within the company structure:

  • better loyalty
  • less office politics
  • ability to meet other individuals passionate about the same things
  • ability to stretch an idea across an entire organization

fail gloriously

Shifting schools

Now which of those things is not good as well for a school faculty?  Of course blind loyalty leads often to the Abilene Paradox, and this is never a good thing.  However, other than that, I’m betting that this list of four things is something all school administrators and staff would value in their world as well.

Those four items, as well as a few others, are a target of our school’s shiny new social network- Virtual Southside.  This site was piloted by a cohort of 20 teachers and administrators at Benton High this year in the midst of an academic technology integration program.  Starting next year, with our entire staff online in the program, this site will be a major part of how we conduct asynchronous staff professional development.  Today I interviewed several cohort members about the benefits of working within our social network this past school year.  A short list of their replies about our foray into social media is as follows:

  • develop general comfort with social media
  • ability to collaborate asynchronously
  • differentiated professional development
  • makes all staff a “professional developer”
  • makes professional work transparent
  • allows feedback from a wider dynamic of personalities
  • provides an archival record
  • creates an avenue for extrinsic motivation

virtual southside

Nearing the end of our first year employing social media in our school and in our classrooms, I am excited to see some of the benefits rolling in.  In my opinion, the featured video showing similar strategies in a mainstream business model provides another interesting nod to the value of utilizing these strategies with our teachers and students as well.  Are collaborative social tools being used currently where you work?  What role do you see for social media in our schools and with our students?

Artwork thanks:

*Thanks to Stephen Collins for the “fail gloriously” slide image.

Connectedness Has Colleague Seeing Pink

Below is the text of an e-mail I received from a favorite colleague, Terri Johnson, a day ago.  This is a fun little glimpse into one of the many connections being made worldwide by teachers in my district this year.  While I could go on about positive global connections made by colleagues in the quest to create personal learning networks- this time I got a really nice little play-by-play.

Pink Shirt Day

I had to tell someone–and I knew you’d appreciate it.

A series of serendipitous events:

  • 1. You taught me the value of Web 2.O.
  • 2. I finally started using Twitter.
  • 3. Following lots of great people.
  • 4. Barak Obama tells all Americans to try to help others-volunteer. (I read about it via Twitter and watching live streaming at CNN.com etc.)
  • 5. Thought, OK! What can I do? What can my students do?
  • 6. @teachmescience on Twitter Discusses National Pink Shirt Day to put an end to Bullying.
  • 7. I recall Pink Shirt Day being mentioned on Channel One last year.
  • 8. Start a discussion in my Teacher Advisory Class about the Pink Shirt Day and Bullying-they decide we should promote it at Truman.
  • 9. We’ve made posters, kids have created Commercials to run in the AM at Channel TMS (our student run news program.), and are creating pink “labels” for kids to pass out and wear on the date-February 25th.
  • 10. I mentioned this to @teachmescience via Twitter as a thank you for the heads up.
  • 11. She mentions this via e-mail to the Radio Station who started Pink Shirt Day.
  • 12. Evidently “National” meant Canada.
  • 13. Said radio station just e-mailed me asking to set up a telephone interview for Wednesday Afternoon.

How fun is that?!?


So, apparently, she and a couple of her students did a radio interview on the Christy Clark show during school today on CKNW AM980 in British Columbia, Canada.  Unfortunately, it was far too wild of a day for me to listen in, but I hear it was a great experience for all.  A little research on my end led me to the website for Pink Shirt Day, as well as Christy Clark’s page on the topic.  Apparently, this little movement aimed at ending bullying is gaining quite a head of steam, as Ms. Clark says on her site:

“I encourage all of you to wear something pink to symbolize that we as a society will not tolerate bullying anywhere. I wish I could take credit for this idea but it comes from two incredible Nova Scotia high school students.”

Terri-  of course I’m hoping you’ll pipe in here to give up a few more of the details.  Way to dive in an immerse yourself with like-minded professionals the world over.  And what’s more…  involving your students every step along the way in real social action.  You are modeling some pretty powerful connections.

*UPDATE: This just in, an audio link the piece (about halfway through).

The Educational Remix- At Odds With Copyright?

Allow me to be frank-  as busy as my world is right now, the requirement to read “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi was a very frustrating thing.  With a stack of ten or twelve books with immediate professional impact to juggle  -just waiting on my desk-  this read seemed frivolous.

Not only did I have to read the book (one of nine in six weeks) but I have to crank out a formal paper and an “author presentation.”  Before you pull out the tiny fiddle, rest assured that this is a positive post.  Like any of the other requirements of my little grad program that don’t seem to professionally apply right at the moment, I usually choose to steer the task toward a place where my learning can benefit someone else in our school’s learning network.  For this presentation I decided to try a different technique for integrating text into an Animoto video:

(*update 6-5-11: I changed the embedded version here. I swapped out the YouTube version for this one. You’ll have to wait a bit for it to load via Animoto, but watching it in full screen mode this way is much improved.)

The above clip is my version of a biographical “author introduction” for class.  However, since the book itself is tightly autobiographical, it made little sense to parade an endless list of factoids in front of 18 adults who all read the same book… and at least a few of whom had Google in the pockets.  The last tidbit to know here is that this is a graphic novel.  Within the pages, the author allows beautifully stark images to tell a good amount of the tale alongside the words.  It really is a masterful work about……  well, I’ll let you watch the clip and see.

Rarely do I dive into the minutiae of the nuts and bolts of a creation like this.  Sometimes I sort of ignorantly assume that others will analyze the creation of digital media by simply examining how it presents itself.

Technically speaking, this is what I did:

  • Sat down with the cover of the book after reading and matched basic graphical elements to the style of the book using Adobe Photoshop.  I wanted everything to “match” the book.  Why?  Don’t ask.  I’m a sucker for design details like that.  I’m weird.  I know.  I tried to match the colors, the fonts, and other subtle design elements present.
  • Copied these design elements over into Keynote where I assembled all of the presentation materials as a traditional slide show.
  • Trolled iTunes for a bit of Iranian contemporary folk music to use as a soundtrack.  I know absolutely nothing about Iranian music.  Therefore, I wanted to simply find a track that mirrored the stark simplicity of the novel itself.  I think I found a good one.  I like it quite a bit, really.
  • Exported all slides as .jpg images into a folder on my desktop.  This took less than a minute in total.  Also- this conveniently numbered all images consecutively.
  • Uploaded all images to Animoto.com.  Because they were already arranged in slideshow-order, no further shuffling needed to be done.  All that was left to do in Animoto was to select certain images to be “spotlighted,” followed by an upload of the .mp3 file for the soundtrack, and choose one of three overall presentation “speeds.”  Animoto then does the rest.
  • I ultimately remixed the video again to change speed and rearrange a couple of the highlights.  (one text-heavy slide displayed far too quickly)

Applications & Repercussions?

In the end, I felt like I created a pretty cool little video.  It certainly took a bit of time to do as a first run, but was largely automatic once the original slideshow was completed in Keynote.  Actually, this little clip made me so happy that, well… it almost makes me want to go back and re-read the novel.  To be perfectly honest, Persepolis is a pretty special work of art.

If you are new to this blog, you may think I have a exorbitant love for educational uses of video…  especially this one little free online tool.  In reality, while also juggling Lawrence Lessig’s Remix, a fascination with mashed-up content seems to be fresh on my mind.  That, and a recent discussion of the read/write/remix culture of 2009 in Doug Johnson’s session on copyright at METC 2009 last week.  In the Q&A afterwards I brought up an experience I had this past year regarding Animoto, UMG, YouTube and the YouTube content identification program.  In fact, Doug recently published one of his latest “Fair Use Scenarios” on this very issue.

Hossein Alizadeh and Madjid Khaladj


A New Hope

I think we are starting to see some really creative resolutions to fresh new uses of content…  that benefit all involved parties.  Even this video contains most of a copyrighted song entitled: Passion by Hossein Alizadeh and Madjid Khaladj.  Can readers of this blog download the song to an .mp3 later?  No.  Can they burn a copy of the song to play in a CD or DVD player?  No.  Is this educational use a mechanism to potentially generate more interest in the music as well as the book?  I hope so.  I wouldn’t highlight it if I didn’t think it held merit.

I decided to post the clip here after I realized that this might be a really cool way for an instructor to build interest in a book that an entire class might soon read.  (yes- like it or not, we still do this)  In fact, perhaps this is a really good way for a media center specialist, or librarian to pimp a set of newly-acquired novels to prospective students.  Perhaps it is even a way for students to reflect and then share a book with their classmates. (virtual booktalk?)  I think this could be a really great student-to-student viral marketing tool for discovering new reading material.

What do you think?  Is this song repurposed to a reasonable degree?  Does this use infringe upon the artist’s right to generate income from the song?  Does this use in any way cast a negative light on the work?  Is this kind of edu-marketing for students a reasonable educational use of the content?  Please share your thoughts on these and any other questions you see fit.

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