The iPad 2 For Learning: Not So Great for Video

My students have just completed a unit of discovery based on creating video news reports. The idea in the course is that students are trying to use the iPad, but not past the point of frustration; in short, they are problem solving when the iPad gets in their way. Students found that it was difficult to get decent video with the iPad and that the audio was very poor. iMovie on the iPad was deemed by students to be useful for sprucing up a single video clip for quick upload to Facebook or YouTube, but not for anything else. Additionally, video was difficult to get off of the iPad. Email attachments have size limits and, for some reason that I am sure is related to copyright protections, they couldn’t put any video file longer than one minute into their Dropbox accounts.

When students had video off of their iPads, they opted not to use our Lenovo tablets’ native Windows Movie Maker, which really is awful in Windows 7, but opted instead to edit the video at home on Macs with the full version of iMovie. I found this really interesting, and wonder if Microsoft hasn’t punted a bit on their formerly useful Movie Maker software as a concession to the primacy of Macintosh in this arena. The Windows Live adaption is just weird and I can’t understand how this is better for users. Final video products, which I will share once I ask students for permission, show decent fluency with the medium, but also show clearly the limitations of the iPad for academic or amateur quality video products.

The verdict is clear. No students said they would edit video on the iPad. Only three said they would shoot video with their iPad again, and several said they would rather use their smartphones. The limitations of the iPad for quality media production appear obvious.

Digital Footprints, Networking, & Conformity

My school recently did a digital footprint exercise with our students, asking them to Google themselves and check out Intel’s Museum of Me. I found our the exercise interesting not so much for the ah-ha moments, which some students had, but for what I didn’t see. Truly, most students are on board with the basic concepts of what might be called digital citizenship or understand how to cloak their poor decision making with anonymity, protecting their footprint while being a poor digital citizen. Basically, I didn’t see surprise; I saw students who pretty quickly grasped the concept of building a positive digital footprint so that a namesake on MySpace can’t cast too long of a shadow over their relatively good names.

However, they’re not too worried about college admissions or job prospects, and I think that what I want to call the Dan Allen Effect is to blame for this. Like a kid in a giant metropolis, they see the odds are in their favor and don’t see that the graffiti is likely to lead to big problems down the line. They’re happy to have all the other Dan Allens create so much white noise that they can operate happily unnoticed. I calculated my digital footprint using the tool linked to Moodle and I’m well over a terabyte and climbing. That’s a lot of white noise. I can’t decide if I agree or if I see this as a self-defeating, tragedy of the commons sort of problem.

The other piece that I have sympathy for is that they hear a message to conform and blow it off. Articles like the USA Today bit just sound ridiculous – post a list of people who share the same name as me? Looking past the redundancy that seems so obvious to me, does it look worse that I cyberstalk my namesakes or that some dude in West Virginia with my name also goes by Tweek on his forgotten MySpace profile? The subtext of these pieces is submit and be predictable.

What I like much more is a focus on the power of networking and networking literacy. Like Clay Shirky points out, transparency is a sharing of ourselves in order to get back more in return, what he sometimes calls reputational capital, amongst other benefits. Surfing through my different groups of Facebook friends, I quickly see the social norms of their closest social group and cultural context; the Kyrgyz kids are sharing Pan-Turkish media and political messages, the folks from my small town deride the hippies at Occupy Wall Street and shout for them to get a job, and the members of my Peace Corps group post messages of OWC solidarity. I would argue that these people are creating identities and reflecting their identities beyond virtual networks in ways that they also do in the bazaar, at the tackle shop, or while waiting for the barista. Kids do the same thing in social networks, reflecting the identities that they think will win them the most reputational capital, or cool points, and are at their best when they employ these tools ethically, to contribute and build.

Of course, kids are slow to see social pressure as a force of conformity and quick to view messages from the elderly (like me) as demands for conformity. My bet is that the kids who will try risky, thoughtless, or silly behaviors online to look cool at one moment for a particular group are the same who will try these behaviors offline. When I was in Berlin, I saw a great quote from Ludwig Mies van der Rohe: “True education is concerned not only with practical goals but also with values.” I wonder if, amidst all the furor about digital footprints and citizenship, we should focus more explicitly on the nature of the behaviors we value, on footprints and citizenship. I know that we do this already, but the relationship is so clear to our discussion that it bears mentioning. By teaching kids to use their power to be positive contributors for their own sake, if not for the sake of others, empowerment might overcome the urges to be destructive to self or others. If not, at least we’d be exposing the values we teach rather than keeping them implicit, which sometimes feels coercive to me.

On Arbitrary Division – A Visual Metaphor

Sometimes, humans don’t do such a great of classifying things. While the Twilight series envelops my reality, it may not be nonfiction, yet.  A Million Little Pieces is identified as semi-fictional by Wikipedia, which can serve as a comment on your choice of social concepts. In school, we divide everything up into distinct chunks and keep them separate.

Genre at Zurich Airport

Science is somehow different than mathematics, math is not language, history is not literature, athletics are not poetry, art is not history, unless it’s art history. The more I think about the compartmentalizing, stereotyping processes of the human brain, the more I believe that careful ordering of educational experiences can help unlock the potential of these processes. Rather than the current model of subject areas, an open model that was based on drawing connections between vast fields of information and experience might lead to learners able to solve problems in new ways (or old ways that predate subject areas!). Or, if not, it might be more interesting than our existing model of school.

Internet Privacy and Social Organizing

Having read the ZIS COETAIL offerings for this week and then Dr. Cornel West’s Twitter feed, the contrast between fears of sharing information online and the power of social movements organized through social media stands starkly apparent. Dr. West was arrested at the Occupy Wall Street protest with 19 others and is publicly sharing the information (@CornelWest) because this information has power. When compared to the advertising scare piece about the dangers of posting underwear pictures online, Dr. West’s use of technology speaks loudly about the potential of sharing. Others like @Newyorkist are reporting events and curating content from others in real time. Yes, people are noticing. No, they aren’t stalking the protestors or asking about their underwear. The Guardian has a section devoted to the Occupy Wall Street movement. John Stewart is taking on media coverage of the protests in a manner informed no doubt by information garnered from social media because he seems to actually know what is going on, which would be next to impossible for someone following only the mainstream news narrative. The fears explicit in the ad linked above are planted in reality – there is a loss of privacy in the digital age. However, we shouldn’t fear how powerless we are as a result; we should marvel at how powerful we may become as a result.

The second narrative has promise and power for students, as well. Howard Gardner perhaps overstates his case about the end of didactic roles for teachers, but his emphasis on teachers coaching ethics in digital contexts is spot on. Once students begin to understand the power of public discourse through social media, I think they’ll be turned on by the ethical power of action. I also follow Jeff Jarvis, author, new media columnist at The Guardian, and professor at City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism (@jeffjarvis) on Twitter, and am looking forward to reading his new book, Public Parts. Jarvis, as he wrote on his blog, argues

that in our current privacy mania we are not talking enough about the value of publicness. If we default to private, we risk losing the value of the connections the internet brings: meeting people, collaborating with them, gathering the wisdom of our crowd, and holding the powerful to public account. Yes, I believe we have a right and need to protect our privacy — to control our information and identities — but I also want the conversation and our decisions to include consideration of the value of sharing and linking. I also want to protect what’s public as a public good; that includes our internet.

Plenty of other thinkers, like Clay Shirky (and in video), were making this point before the Arab Spring made it for them. It’s not all bad.

Of course, students need to have the positive models that Gardner speaks about showing them that online spaces like Facebook and Tumblr are not private rooms, but public squares. We should model the best possible uses of these squares. This is a time of change – a photo taken of you might have me in the background, and that photo might wind up online, public, and out of my control. But I am reminded of a photo taken of me in profile and of a good friend who is smiling radiant and gorgeous on a sunny Sunday afternoon right into the camera of a stranger. Years later, she was stopped on the sidewalk in New York by another woman who was shocked, said “Oh my God! It’s you!” She took my friend’s address and mailed her the photo that she had taken (on film. Remember film?), a photo she had always enjoyed having tacked to a corkboard in her house. My friend mailed the photo to me in Kyrgyzstan.

Privacy is an illusion in analog, too, and the public nature of society is often as nice, or as powerful, as it is menacing.

I Flip the Classroom, Sort Of

I maintain deep and abiding distrust of the “flipped classroom” model, because I see it largely as just the same boring lectures with more time to drill, baby, drill in the standardized testing-focused classroom. However, I see the possibilities of refining and recording moments of direct instruction for students via video lectures. Since I am missing two days of my IB course this week due to an adventure day with grade 10 and an IB conference (oh, sweet irony), I decided to revisit the mini-lecture from today and record the rest of the instruction I would try to give individually or in small groups as kids worked over the next two classes via screencasting. The focus of the series is “Essay Skills,” focusing on dissecting a prompt, writing a thesis statement, and organizing an outline while revising a thesis statement.

I used Jing and put the videos together in Camtasia Studio, thanks to a free 30 day trial. I managed to complete all of the screencasting, but then found that I only had the audio for the first two pieces of three. I was aiming for around 15 minutes total in length for all three videos and that should be about right. I’ve really doubted how useful this model would be for kids in the reading and composition classroom and am interested to hear student feedback after my return. I’ve embedded the videos below and welcome any feedback.



The iPad 2 for Learning – Podcasting Project Reflection

My Digital Journalism class has finished their podcast news reports and the process was as interesting as the products. We began this project by listening to model podcasts, such as Radiolab’s amazing short “Four Track Mind.” Once students listened to some models, they edited our English department’s oral presentation rubric, resulting in this modified podcasting rubric, which I expect to modify further. Students sought to build upon earlier news reports in these podcasts, so the subject matter was not an obstacle.

Students worked in a variety of processes. Some students recorded all their audio on the iPad in Garageband. Others downloaded free apps, recorded in those apps, and offloaded to laptops; still others recorded everything on their 1 to 1 laptops. In my opinion, the most fluent and engaging podcasts were those created entirely in the iPad. Students couldn’t upload their podcasts to their blogs via the Posterous iPhone app and the files were too big for Dropbox, so they emailed the files to themselves and uploaded them. Each student reflected briefly on the process and product once they were finished and all podcasts linked below include a reflection. All podcasts shared here are shared with student and parent permission.

The podcasts show incredible attention to the conventions of media, suggesting to me that “digital natives” may not come into the classroom equipped with media creation skills, but that they do bring with them a vast experience with media consumption and a finely tuned sense of how to sound cool in a medium. The structure of our course is discovery learning, so students struggled a bit at first, and then built a good deal of fluency in the podcast medium in only a week or so. This podcast features excellent aural variety, an engaging voice, good sound quality, and smooth editing. The subsequent reflection is here. This podcast mimics many aspects of the Radiolab model and even spins some conventions onto their head, messing around with a lighthearted sense of ironic awareness even in their first attempt. The second example is also a pair project, self-selected by the students. One student took the lead and allowed the other to stretch his legs a bit with the language and acting portion of the podcast, but also covering for some technological discomfort on his partner’s behalf. The reflection briefly alludes to this. For their current video project, all students will produce a single video, even if working in groups, in order to build skills in this introductory unit. The final podcast example is smooth and straightforward, lacking the depth and complexity of the other two, but featuring good use of details and facts, as well as a clear speaking voice and subtle use of radio-style conventions. The final reflection shows depth and specificity about the process employed.

The iPad works well for podcasting, but even as I made one myself as a teaser for a “Speed Geeking” professional development opportunity this week, I found that I liked playing with music on the iPad but preferred building the podcast in Audacity. In our current video introductory project, I see more laptop use. Students seem to be recording video on the iPad and transferring it to MovieMaker. We’ll see what they wind up doing in the end.

Affective Teaching & The Mustache

That's not a dead mouse.

Sometimes, the silliest things become big and define moments for students in ways we can’t possibly anticipate. Take, for instance, my mustache. After a month of rallying my colleagues to grow beards in order to raise money for prostate cancer research – and we raised roughly $700 in internet and cash donations – we had a beard auction for the student body, in which they could choose a teacher, make a bid, and determine how that teacher would shave for the last day of September. We had spirals, mutton chops, handlebars, a particularly epic swirl, and the letters X-C for the cross-country coach. I got the sweet, sweet mustache.

I approached the mustache with humor, shaved most of my hair to accentuate the Sargent Slaughter-esque nature of my visage, and went into the day with a new-found energy. Kids laughed. Kids tried not to laugh, and I fixed them with a steely gaze until they laughed. We had fun.At one point, I relieved a teacher who was giving a test for a few moments of bathroom reprieve, and I said “My mustache is watching you punks,” as they huddled over graphing calculators. A girl replied, “We’re watching your mustache.”

At the end of the day, as I prepared to leave for home, I ran down to the PE office for my clippers and saw the cross country team returning from practice. They actually crowded around, chatting and joking about the stache. I told them to drink it in, as it was the mustache’s last moments on Earth. A few kids went “awww.” I trimmed, shaved in the bike commuting locker room, and returned my clippers to the coach for the aforementioned X-C shaving. When the kids saw me, a roar of disappointment rose from them. They actually mourned the mustache. It was really amazing. And hilarious. What their collective groan at my shaving told me was that they appreciated the break from routine, the connection with their teachers in a silly way, and the leveling effect of a goofy act on the part of the teacher.

I am not an affective teacher, preferring to stick to the business at hand, having fun, but maintaining a certain distance that allows for a mutually respectful relationship with kids. This month of shared silliness has not necessarily brought students closer to me, but it has brought me closer to them, which may help me bridge gaps that would have existed or been perceived by certain kids. I think I’m a little more human today in their eyes, and I think that’s a mutual victory. I guess I’ve learned something that this guy knew all along, and I’m better for it.

Project Based Learning – How Structured?

When it comes to reflecting on my own examples of Project Based Learning activities that I have designed in the past, little of it seems to be doing “new things in new ways.” I have viewed PBL as a means to achieve old ends in new-ish ways, meeting standard and benchmarks in a more student centered way that is sometimes constructivist, but often prescribed. PBL is so often just an extended, active version of the mindreading demanded by teachers; guess what I want you to know becomes guess what I want you to know how to do. Of course, I have some good PBL units that allow for discovery, but these are messy units, with loose time frames and challenging appearances for anyone beyond the classroom, like administrators.

If we take for granted that “Social and recreational online activities are jumping-off points for experimenting with digital media creation and self-expression,” then a way to do something new in a new way is to allow for students to control and design outcomes based on their interests and fashioned in ways that can be social while meeting learning targets (35). Fears about transgression online seem unfounded and often remind me of Puritanical fantasies about how sweet we were as kids. I haven’t thought that most kids are behaving any worse online than they are in analog, and this seems supported by the “Living and Learning with New Media: Report of the Digital Youth Project”:

In our work, contrary to fears that social norms are eroding online, we did not find many youth who were engaging in behaviors that were riskier than what they did in offline contexts…We do not believe that educators and parents need to bear down on kids with complicated rules and restrictions and heavy-handed norms about how they should engage online, particularly if they are not attuned to the norms that do exist among youth. Simple prohibitions, technical barriers, or time limits on use are blunt instruments; youth perceive them as raw and ill-informed exercises of power. (37)

A way to change PBL to become more real, more authentic, more student-centered, more constructivist, more “new,” is to let go entirely. This would be very hard, very messy, and entail authentic risks – kids might not learn at a quantifiable rate, and they may learn only that which they want to learn or need to learn from their own perspective. I think this is probably what they do anyway in the teacher-centered model until their spirit is broken and they become compliant. Will Richardson wrote yesterday about designing schools for kids, not adults. He wrote “We’ve been taught to hate ambiguity, that only one answer exists, that if we have enough money, we can game the test. We’ve been taught that learning ends once the test is mastered, that our passions don’t matter, and that numbers rather than goods tell our educational story.  Yet, this is what we perpetuate because for the adults, it’s the easiest path.” Instead, adults could get out of the way and allow for peer-based learning contexts:

Peer-based learning is characterized by a context of reciprocity, where participants feel they can both produce and evaluate knowledge and culture…More expert participants provide models and leadership but do not have authority over fellow participants. When these peer negotiations occur in a context of public scrutiny, youth are motivated to develop their identities and reputations through these peer-based networks, exchanging comments and links and jockeying for visibility. These efforts at gaining recognition are directed at a network of respected peers rather than formal evaluations of teachers or tests. In contrast to what they experience under the guidance of parents and teachers, with peer-based learning we see youth taking on more “grown-up” roles and ownership of their own self-presentation, learning, and evaluation of others (39).

This would lead to a stepping back for teachers, allowing others, including the students themselves, to become the experts. For most teachers, this would be a nightmare. But, even when I think about the writings of Ruby Payne on poverty that I read in my first Master’s program, I imagine that a structure like this would work in high poverty schools often labeled “failing” under our current system, schools that can be admittedly grim places for kids and adults alike. If students were engaged in real peer networks that included adults fluent in the skills and discourse of the area of interest, they would learn languages and modes of operation within different cultural contexts that would expand their abilities to work successfully beyond their immediate cultural context. These networks operate in the following manner for teachers:

Unlike instructors in formal educational settings, however, these adults are passionate hobbyists and creators, and youth see them as experienced peers, not as people who have authority over them. These adults exert tremendous influence in setting communal norms and what educators might call “learning goals,” though they do not have direct authority over newcomers. The most successful examples we have seen of youth media programs are those based on kids’ own passionate interests and allowing plenty of unstructured time for kids to tinker and explore without being dominated by direct instruction. Unlike classroom teachers, these lab teachers and youth-program leaders are not authority figures responsible for assessing kids’ competence, but are rather what Dilan Mahendran has called “co-conspirators,” much like the adult participants in online interest-driven groups (39).

Co-geeking out is what this “co-conspirator” might mean, and if the teacher isn’t the appropriate geek, then the role of the teacher is to allow the student to find the right geek or help guide him or her to a knowledgeable geek. As the report asks in conclusion, “what would it mean to think of public education as a responsibility of a more distributed network of people and institutions” (39)? All educational contexts could function in a more decentralized manner and, while this would mean a giant leap of faith for a conservative body of people – the conservators of culture mentioned in “Shaping Tech for the Classroom” – but would be a move into a new culture that is happening anyway, one shaped by the youth who live in this culture already to differing degrees.

In designing PBL, I wonder about ways to build an ecosystem in which kids can interact online, socially, within the school context, to learn skills of online interaction if they aren’t beyond “hanging out.” Then, good projects would lay out learning goals, provide models along a variety of possible outcomes, and then allow students to plan a timeframe and reach out to networks of interest, exploring or operating fluently, depending on their level of skill and comfort. Outcomes may be assessed on rubrics created by the student and “co-conspirators.” The teacher becomes a facilitator or coach in this model, giving up control for the possibility of greater student engagement and authentic learning.