NECC: Day Two – The Afternoon

In a stack of papers called Technology.

  • Jul
  • 06
  • 2006

Twice in one day, this is a Thoughts On Teaching first! You know this is worth reading.

I sat down to my first afternoon session with high hopes, ones that were met by a high-energy presenter (much like yesterday’s GarageBand presenter). Hall Davidson kept things light by walking around the front of the room, speaking in a casual tone. It seemed as if he was just talking from the top of his head, showing all of us how to push video onto a video iPod. This is nothing new, nor is it terribly difficult. What made this worthwhile was a very simple idea of how educators can use two very cool Apple products.

Video iPod

A video iPod can take the place of your VCR and, to some extent, your computer.

You’ve got a video on your desktop that you found online and you’d like to play it for your students. However, you don’t have a projector and don’t want all 30 of your students crowding around a 15″ monitor. Using iTunes, you can import the video from your desktop to your library, right click on the video, select “Convert selection for iPod,” and drag it onto your video iPod. Warning: you need to “Convert selection for iPod” in order to for the video to play on your iPod.

The process for converting a PowerPoint presentation into a movie is complex on a PC, simple on a Mac. Once the process is done, use iTunes to get it onto your iPod. Buy a cable and you can plug in your iPod to your TV. Sure, you lose the interactivity in that you can’t highlight words, you can’t move from slide to slide (that timing is preset once you convert the presentation into a movie), but you can pause, turn up and down the volume, all from the comfort of your palm.

Quicktime Pro

Yikes! I had no idea the coolness of this software! Buying Quicktime Pro ($30) means that you can cut up videos, edit video content, add videos together, imbed videos, change audio tracks, add audio tracks, and do a lot of other things that make it easy to take control of the video content you show your students. On a PC, you need something like Quicktime Pro to turn that PowerPoint presentation into a movie, but you don’t on a Mac (there’s a “Make Movie” option in Mac’s version of PP that makes life much easier). The ability to edit video content, adding and deleting things as needed, goes a long way to make it well worth the cost.

This also means that any video you find online in Quicktime format can be saved to your desktop, allowing your iPod to play anything you find, not just the videos that Web sites make easy for you to download. Anything you watch can be on your desktop, imported to your iTunes library, uploaded to your iPod, and played for your class.

Instead of a jumble of cords and connectors, without concern over connectivity issues, with no need to fumble around finding video tapes, teachers can manage all of their video content from a single compact unit. All of this video content can be shared between classrooms with ease and without worrying over a single copy of a video. While this method clearly has its limitations, not the least of which is the less-than-DVD-quality of the videos, there are some great possibilities here.

The Read/Write Web

Will Richardson kept my afternoon going with his likewise lively presentation, A Web of Connections: Why the Read/Write Web Changes Everything. He started off with a discussion about one red paperclip, hitting home the power of blogs. He continued by talking about Mash Ups, something that holds incredible potential for education in the hands of a creative teacher or student.

Richardson’s wording of the read/write Web is something I prefer to “Web 2.0,” a phrase I’ve already heard far too much here at NECC. I hate that phrase. Anyhow…

The idea of the day is that so many of the latest Web technologies (blogs, wikis, podcasting) empower students to share the ideas that they feel passionately about. Kids are creating school Web sites, recording scribe notes, creating projects, building networks, using tools to reach a much larger audience than has ever been possible.

The Web isn’t just a place people go to consume content; it’s a place people go to contribute, too. There are concerns, but I think that the number one thing teachers need to do, and something Richardson mentioned today, is use these technologies themselves.

Teachers will never see the educational application of blogs, wikis, podcasting, tagging, photo sharing if the teachers do not use those things themselves. Teachers who ask me how to use blogs in their classrooms are told one thing: use it yourself! Well, that’s not entirely true because I clearly can rant and rave about how to use this technology, but the primary way teachers will begin to take these things into the class is by using them for their own purposes.

Ubiquitous Learning

Another important point to remember is that what the Web presents now is the ability for learners to educate themselves anywhere, not just inside the confines of the 4 walls of a classroom. I would love for my students to have the ability to take my class when they want to, not when they are told to arrive. Certainly, there need to be some days of face-to-face class sessions, collaboration, lecture (yes, sometimes), presentations, tests, etc. But how much of course content really requires the student’s physical presence? Where are the distance learning options for high schoolers? Are college students and beyond the only people who can handle the awesome responsibility of learning at their own pace? Really?

Toward the end of his presentation, MySpace came up, a subject about which you inevitably have an opinion, even if you’ve never stepped virtual foot onto the site. “If we’re scared of [MySpace], we’re not going to teach our kids what they’re doing and how to do it in safe ways.” And as my school removes pictures from the school Web site for fear of what people will do on MySpace, my district blocks sites like MySpace, and the Deleting Online Predators Act threatens to make all online social networks illegal to use in public schools, a phrase that can be used to describe almost every site that does anything worthwhile educationally (discussion here), those words ring loud and clear. Go get a MySpace account right now and find out what’s going on. Every teacher needs to do this. Now.

Richardson’s point, and ultimately Davidson’s point, is that the world is changing, the Web included, and schools need to change with it. Reading, writing, creating, contributing, and learning have all changed. Have you?

I believe that the day will come when paper media dies, when all of our textbooks and ancillary materials will be electronic. Sites like make that a possibility right now and are sites that some teachers are already using to create organic texts for class, lists of reference articles and readings that change daily and are more current than any textbook ever will be. We don’t have the luxury to keep our lessons rooted in the old paradigm. Technology needs to be a part of what you do in school every day. Students are served a grave injustice otherwise.

As students grow increasingly plugged in, and classrooms increasingly tuned out (we don’t have wireless yet? the district actually dictates that wireless networks are not to be set up? they won’t even entertain the notion or discuss ways to keep things safe? what year is this!?), what we do in schools runs a very real risk of becoming completely irrelevant to the world outside of high school. Students already feel like high school does not provide an education that’s necessary or that relates to “the real world.” Confiscating cell phones, forbidding CD/MP3 players, disallowing them to check email, deleting IM programs from computers (which I have been guilty of in the past) only makes high school more detached from the world in which teenagers live.

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