The Circle of Openess is Complete

Alan Levine, the magical CogDog, interviewed me a few weeks back asking about good things that happened to me because of the open way I share my work. He compiled a huge number of these stories for his presentation at the Opened Conference and they are well worth watching.

Amazing Stories of Openness

Watch the archived version of Alan’s presentation below.

OK, with all that as a set up here’s what I thought was wild about today.

I’m in Virginia watching the conference which is in Vancouver1 on uStream 2.
Up pops Alan’s presentation and I end up watching my own video interview which was a surprise.

At almost the same moment I see over twitter that Jim Groom is there watching me as I watch me.

Picture 4

I don’t know why this seemed so amazing to me but it did and still does. I see this as an amazing story of openness on so many levels and such a cool example of the beautiful way information can flow in instantaneous ways.

1 3,000 odd miles away and nearly 3 days of driving

2 because it’s a conference about openness after all

High Speed Film Making

We had a pretty interesting staff development team meeting on Wednesday. We met Lucas Krost the director of a local film company who’d won the 48 Hour Film Festival1 and had their film screened at Cannes.

So we spoke to him for a while. Lucas wasn’t a fan of school (if I recall correctly he was thrown out of five high schools). He told the story of how he eventually found editing and film work. It was a good story but nothing you haven’t heard in variations a number of other times. What was interesting was hearing how this group communicated and worked together to make a film in only 48 hours.

So here’s what we did following the conversation. We drew a genre from a hat and got our topic- 21st Century Skills. We then had 48 minutes to write our scripts and 48 minutes to film and edit. My group of 6 drew cop/detective for genre. The hardest part for us was coming up with the idea which took pretty much the whole 48 minutes due to differing ideas as to how to attack the project. We never wrote a script so all the dialogue is freestyle2 We then shot the thing in about 25 minutes leaving a grand 23 minutes for editing. It took a frustratingly long time to import the clips from the flip video camera. I first tried editing in Final Cut but the AVI playback sucked horribly. I didn’t have time to trouble shoot it so I moved to iMovie 7 which didn’t like them either. Starting to get frustrated I moved to iMovie HD which thankfully worked but all this switching ate up a lot of time3. Now the clips had to import, some speed editing and with a little fudge time during lunch we had our two minute movie which you can see below4

So what’s the point of doing this? Well the proof is in the doing and so is the ability to speak from experience.

Things Worth Knowing

  • Making a movie doesn’t have to be a multi-hour, huge ordeal- it’s doable in two or three classes if you adjust your goals and expectations. In a lot of cases, it’s more about the process of re-assimilating the information than in creating the final product anyway.
  • Restrictions help focus and drive creativity- I’ve said this before but some basic restrictions regarding length, genre, topic etc. really help focus teams and get them focusing on what’s really important.
  • Working in groups is hard- even for adults (or maybe especially). It’s no wonder most of the group work in schools fails. We throw kids into groups with little idea and less guidance on how to collaborate on projects like these. Working up to major group projects with smaller projects is a good idea. I’d keep the same teams. That gives students a chance to get used to personalities and roles as well as time for you to reassess groups or rearrange them if necessary.
  • Video is difficult- it might make sense to start with something easier. Think about it. Video requires you to think in terms of plot, dialogue, camera angles, music and a lot more. That’s a lot for a first project. I think building up to the video project with different projects that focus on specific aspects5 makes sense.

1 Each team draws a genre (science fiction, horror, comedy, etc.), a line of dialogue and a prop. Then they have 48 hours to write, shoot and edit their film.

2 Which explains, at least in part, why I’m a rambling fool.

3 the kind of thing you need to test out first to prevent unhappy surprises with your students

4 It is what it is. I include it mainly to break up all this text :)

5 I’m thinking you attack visuals first with a simple presentation. Really get into how images reinforce ideas. Audio with sound effects can be done in another project etc. etc. By the time they get to the final project with video they’ll have experience with all the components and putting them together will be a challenge but not the challenge learning all of them at once and putting them together would be.

Cute Cats, Dissidents & Your School’s Filter?

Cute Cats

I found this great post via O’Reilly Radar.

It’s basically the notes from a presentation at eTech. I found the ideas and applications really interesting. If you want to see examples of Web 2.0 being used in amazing ways to change the world, this is the post for you. It ought to lead to some deeper thinking about the technologies and their possible applications both in schools and elsewhere.

I thought this quote could apply to schools who are filtering in the typical “block all student communication” manner.

(referring to getting a site blocked) This is a good thing if you’re an activist. Most Tunisians don’t identify as activists and might not be engaged with politics. But, like Americans and Europeans, they’re interested in seeing cute cats being adorable online. When the government blocks DailyMotion, it impacts a much wider swath of Tunisians than those who are politically active. Cute cats are collateral damage when governments block sites. And even those who could care less about presidential shenanigans are made aware that their government fears online speech so much that they’re willing to censor the millions of banal videos on DailyMotion to block a few political ones.

Blocking banal content on the internet is a self-defeating proposition. It teaches people how to become dissidents – they learn to find and use anonymous proxies, which happens to be a key first step in learning how to blog anonymously. Every time you force a government to block a web 2.0 site – cutting off people’s access to cute cats – you spend political capital. Our job as online advocates is to raise that cost of censorship as high as possible.

Just in time tech . . .

Google spreadsheets now lets you share editing by sending out a custom form. This is a huge deal. No, really. Huge.

It solves so many problems I see happening all the time in schools. This is such a great way to get large amounts of information from all sorts of people of varying technical skill levels so you have it one place to manipulate. No need for the hassle of Adobe PDF and the complications of those forms or the need to create custom web forms of various types. It’s free and dead simple.

I’m going to use it to collect testing information on programs for our upcoming Vista move. Previously, I was going to use cforms ii (awesome WordPress plug in by the way- especially if you need to fully customize the CSS- see an example I did for the NSDC here- it is real so don’t fill out fake info please). But there’s no real easy way to share that information. You could give people the password to the blog but that’s no always a good thing and the information that’s there is really just for looking at or exporting. I wanted something more dynamic. I think you could write some custom php pages and pull the info out but that’s a hassle and it takes time.

I was going to download the data, upload it into a Google spreadsheet and possibly push it out to an Exhibit front end (yes, I’m still in love with them). Major hassle for me in terms of keeping things updated as I’d have to add to the spreadsheet with each new entry to keep things up to date. Blah. I considered trying to write an Applescript to do it for me based on folder update changes but that’s more time and, if you’ve ever messed with Applescript, it’s likely to be a hassle.

Instead, I set up the spreadsheet to feed my data into Exhibit and send out a form. As you can see below it’s got the option to change the field names in the form, add help text etc. I never have to update. Anyone can use it. So very nice. I’ll post my example when I get it finished.


The bridge between these two platforms has never seemed more interesting to me.

  1. Easy to use, free and friendly data entry.
  2. An easy to set up “database” backend – yes I know it’s not relational blah blah but it’ll do for 99% of things normal human need (and I wonder if you linked a series of spreadsheets in the right ways . . . )
  3. A visual and friendly web front end for user interaction with the data using Exhibit.
  4. You need to know NO programming to do any of this. Some html, css will help but no php, mySQL, no real languages. That’s amazing.

Now start thinking of the cool things you can do with students, how you could save your school and district hours of useless work.

Rome Built in a Day (Serious Fun)


The Machine Project, a gallery in LA, hosted the “24 Hour Roman Reconstruction Project” last month. The group had a ton of cardboard and “building supplies”, did some research to figure out the layout of the city and pulled together all the images they could for modeling the buildings, put together a building schedule, and went to town. The results are inspiring.

Imagine your class reconstructing a great city of civilization past, a series of chemical compounds, or some other seemingly insurmountable task that requires little skill, a good chunk of knowledge, and a great amount of energy and enthusiasm.

BoingBoingTV Video
Project Description
monkyatomc’s flickr set (photo credit)
selfconstruct’s flickr set

Of Chimeras, Tweets and Twittering

Twitter logo on a chimera statue

Jim Groom is now working with me at the University of Richmond. It’s his second day and we’ve already dreamed up enough projects to keep us in work for several years. It is great fun, incredibly geeky fun, but fun nevertheless.

Anyway . . . we were talking about the differences between various web publishing options and I mentioned that Twitter was a chimera in that it did several different types of web publishing very well. I’m clarifying that here in part because Jim encouraged a post and in part because I got to use an interesting picture of a chimera.

So, I’m still not solidly on the twitter bandwagon but we were comparing it to different things in terms of what it does and twitter did appear to have various body parts from other web options (not the whole of other options but recognizable chunks).

Two Heads

  1. Synchronous like IM – works pretty well, I wouldn’t want to hold hour long conversations this way but for short bursts it’s nice
  2. Asynchronous like, well, 900 other options – simple and to the point (like I wish I was more often)

The thing is twitter is, in many ways, both synchronous and asynchronous at the same time. That’s a neat trick.

Blogging Limbs

  1. Micro Blogging – obvious
  2. Link Blogging – similar to micro yet different
  3. Live Blogging – you could do the Apple Keynote this way nicely and it’s perfect for conferences

The Long Community Tail

  1. Keeping in touch – really nice for busy folk, if you’re both on great, if you’re not great. It still works.
  2. Questions/Requests – Need a buddy for a Skype trial? a Mac based screen capture tool? Twitter does the job nicely for these quick questions.

There are probably more but it’s getting late and I figure you’ll fill me in using the comments or twitter (twoodwar).

photo credit Claudecf

Walking the Walk . . .

2Pac in the classroom

It really made my day to see ianvirgil actually print out and use the TuPac poster from this post (which was inspired by Dan’s post ). Funny how distance no longer matters- as they’re both in CA and I’m way to the right in VA.

I’m feeling a mixture of pride (I love when things I’ve done are actually useful and used) and envy.

Not being in the classroom sucks at times. There are certainly benefits but I really miss the kids and those moments when things really click in the classroom. It’s frustrating at times to do all this thinking about teaching and to have such a better understanding (as well as more tools) than I ever had before yet to be without a class of my own.

I’ll have the chance to work closely with Terry Dolson and her Core class next semester. We’ll see if that helps.

Signs of Insanity – Musings on Standards

The building I work in. Conducive to insanity?

So now that I’m in college you’d assume I’d be happy to be away from the irritation and hassle of state standards (like the SOLs). It turns out I actually missed them. Have I lost my mind?

Probably, but I found myself arguing this morning that we should be taking advantage of the accreditation process (think NCLB for colleges only with no tests and the majority of the “proof” being created by the profs./admins- basically prove to us that you deserve to be accredited) in order to get people to change their teaching, integrate more technology etc.

That led me to realize how much I relied on the SOLs (VA’s state standards) as a lever to get into classrooms. Those standards helped me in all kinds of ways. I played good cop/bad cop and gleefully used the SOLs as the bad cop.

“Look,” I’d say “I know that the SOLs are requiring you to do blah blah blah. That’s really hard. You’ve got no time. I know. I think I have something that can help . . .” It was incredibly useful and it gave me a structure when talking to teachers who taught content I didn’t know that well.

I didn’t think I had that in college and, truth be told, it made things much more difficult. As it is college faculty have far more freedom than teachers both in terms of content and teaching styles/methodology.

I can certainly make very passionate arguments regarding the use of certain technologies in teaching but how could I start these conversations? I’m not a cold call salesman. I don’t chat people up and then suddenly say “I know I just met you but have you considered radically changing your teaching style?” I’d much rather create some content that addresses a need I know they have and then show it to them and say “If you’d like to talk about this or use it let me know.”

What I was preparing to do was sit in on a lot of classes to get the feel. I’m still going to do that but now I’ve got a framework of things these professors have to do. I can look at these major markers and then look at what will help them meet then in general and only have to tweak things based on individual classes.

Now I’m saving time and have a “big stick” that I’m not holding to motivate people. Instead, I hold the carrot of ease, engagement and ego. My way will help them meet that need easily, engage their students which improves product and makes teaching more enjoyable and finally, provides them a chance to show off the great work they’re doing in their classes.

Change often needs both a carrot and a stick.

Now my question is- do we risk eternal hatred for technology integration by associating it so closely with a process/idea that so many dislike so strongly?
Is it a disservice to the faculty and the ideas to push these changes on people who clearly don’t want to change? If so, what other options do we have to create change in any real and timely manner?

Photo source me.

Malawian H.S. Student Builds Windmill Generator


William Kamkwamba had to drop out of high school because his family didn’t have enough money to cover the fees. Comitted to continuing his education, Kamkwamba found a local primary school with a large donated library. He read everything he could get his hands on, but was taken by a book on energy production that included plans for creating a windmill generator. His blog is a wonderful account of his successful attempt at providing power to his home and the homes of his neighbors.

I was inspired by this story. The “internets” have been a key component to connecting Kamkwamba with other solar engineers and the larger world–helping him improve on his original generator. His windmill is the perfect example of 21st Century skills in practice.

via BoingBoing

Awesome – Univ. of South Florida on iTunesU

Univ. of South Fla. Page in iTunes U
If you haven’t checked out iTunes U, I strongly recommend you go there immediately and look at the University of South Florida’s College of Education content. I’m amazed at what they’ve been up to. It’s lots of high quality video content covering tech integration lesson plans, student centered audio books in English and Spanish and a variety of tech tips covering social bookmarking, flickr and a lot more.

This is a huge amount of content and virtually all of would be incredibly useful for staff development in school systems anywhere. It makes me wonder how much awesome work is going on between colleges and school systems that could be applied nationally but isn’t for lack of a publicized and easily searchable distribution network.

That brings us back to the whole idea of universal tagging . . . and this comment by Tarmo Toikkanen (my new hero- really go look at the concept map). I didn’t see it for a while because it was caught in the spam net but it means that far smarter people have been working on this for a while and re-inventing the wheel might not be necessary. Worth thinking about anyway.

Regarding this tagging issue, I’d like to point you to the CALIBRATE project ( and specifically the work carried out in work package 1 ( Their task in this 3 year project is to build mapping tools that will map the curricula of various EU (why not world) countries among each other. So that in effect you could tag a resource using your local vocabulary, and then anyone from a different locality could find it using their respective tag. If you want to contact the researchers, they can be found here: