5 Resources to Investigate

It’s a week after Educon 2.6, and I’m still wading through my notes and thoughts from the experience. That’s pretty much what I expect from that conference now, and it’s one of the reasons I didn’t follow up the Educon experience with the OETC double feature this year. In reflecting on the weekend, there are five resources that have surfaced that I want to investigate further. These are things that may be really helpful in accomplishing my goals this year. I don’t know a lot about them yet, but I think they’re worth a closer look.

I hadn’t heard of this before, despite the fact that we’ve used some of its components in the past. Gamestorming is a set of protocols for collaboration through game-like activities. We see this kind of thing all over the place in Educon sessions, because they’re focused on quickly getting ideas from many different perspectives, bringing the best thoughts together, and forming strategies and action plans from that collective wisdom. These resources and this book seem very useful, and we’ve already applied some of the concepts in a planning meeting we held yesterday.

At CITE, we’re planning some revolutionary innovations that have the potential to fundamentally change how education happens in our school district. We’re going to be working with a lot of different people with many different perspectives over the next several months to make that happen. We’re going to need strategies like these to ensure that everyone is heard, all of the fears and concerns are acknowledged, and that we’re on target to do fantastic things for kids.

In talking to students at SLA, they described their use of Canvas and Slate. Canvas is their learning management software: the tool that organizes assignments, assessments, and student work online. But I hadn’t heard of Slate. Several students referred to it, but didn’t really have the technical background to describe what it was or how it worked.

Fortunately, several members of the Slate team were on hand, and I had the opportunity to chat with them. Slate is an open source project to improve interoperability between different information systems used in schools. In our school, for example, we use Progress Book for grades, the Dasl student information system, the Moodle learning management software, and Google Apps for education. None of these products communicate well with one another. If a teacher posts an assignment on Progress Book, it doesn’t automatically show up in Moodle. If a student shares a Google Doc with a teacher, it isn’t tied to an assignment made in Moodle. And each of the products has separate calendars that don’t communicate with each other at all.

Slate is an open source project to try to make these systems work together better. They’re the glue between them. By taking advantage of Application Programming Interfaces, they work to make the transition from one tool to another as seamless as possible. They’re just getting started now, and it looks like they’ve only worked with Philadelphia schools. But I’ve exchanged a couple emails with the team already, and they seem to be excited about investigating some of the challenges we have and helping to provide some guidance (or maybe even some tools) to help them work better together.

Taking this idea a step further, the coordination of disparate systems for learning resources and assessments is an even more daunting task. Most of the publishing and textbook companies out there try to get schools to buy in to their entire ecosystem. When schools pick different tools from different providers, those tools don’t work together.

Think of it this way: if we decided to use Google Apps for email, and Microsoft’s Office 365 for productivity apps, we would have a horrible time trying to make everything work together. Google wants you to use their productivity suite. Microsoft wants you to use their email. Neither company is very interested in working with the other one, because they are competitors.

In the education world, this is an even bigger problem. Pearson and McGraw Hill don’t really like each other. Add to that the state-mandated platforms for testing and the decisions about resources for each subject area, and you have an integration mess. inBloom is trying to fix that. I am very skeptical about whether this is even possible, but if they’re making it happen, it’s worth looking at. This video explains this whole thing a lot better than I can:

220px-P2PU_LOGO_Medium_RGB-02[1]I hadn’t really payed much attention to Peer to Peer University until Dave Cormier started his Rhizome class in it a few weeks ago. While I’m not participating in that class at all (apart from heckling from afar), I did sit in on a testing session for the Unhangout software Dave is using to try to form breakout groups in Google Hangouts. The software is being developed by some smart folks at the MIT Media Lab, and I didn’t understand how all of this fit together until Educon, when I had the opportunity to talk to panelist Philipp Schmidt. Dr. Schmidt is the executive director of P2PU, and he also happens to be a fellow at the media lab. Suddenly everything came together and started making a lot more sense.

But back to what P2PU actually IS. Anyone can create a course. They’re not accredited in the traditional sense. That is, you can’t put a bunch of them together and end up with a bachelor’s degree in Collaborative Awesomeness. But you can create, share, and take courses online, most of which are collaborative and participatory (the right kind, as I described here). And some of those map to the badge system, which we’re working on implementing for professional development in our district.

So, maybe there are some pieces to our professional development puzzle that P2PU already has in place. That would be awesome. Our teachers could take those classes. We could validate the learning against our own badge system. Teachers would be showing evidence of their learning, and modeling NextGen classroom practices. And we wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel.

But while we’re at it, and we ARE reinventing sliced bread, we could also share those projects through P2PU and help teachers beyond our schools benefit from our work as well. So the collaboration works both ways.

Fantastic. But more research is needed to make sure it’ll work for us.

Project Red
I hate web sites that make you create an account to see any of their content. Let me just say that from the outset. I hate paywalls, and even if you don’t have to pay, the walls seem really unnecessary.

Project Red is a research-based effort to improve the use of technology in schools to improve student performance and reduce costs. The good news is that they’re trying to cut through the hype and marketing and trends and crap that seem to dominate the conversations about educational technology. We have to buy Chromebooks because everyone is buying Chromebooks and we don’t want to be left behind. You can replace “Chromebooks” with your technology of choice: iPads, SMART Boards, Palm Pilots, Digital Cameras, Alpha Smarts, ….). Let’s work on effectively implementing the technologies that actually have a positive effect on student learning, and improve schools’ efficiency in the process.

The bad news is that they’re building a community. You can’t build a community. There’s no recipe for creating a collaborative community. They’re organic. They have to be grown. And while the accounts may help get people engaged, a lot of folks just aren’t going to bother.

Still, it’s attractive. And I want to take a look.

If WordPress supported embeds, I would put this video here. But I can’t do that, so you’ll have to click the link to see it.

That’s four Educon-related posts done. One more to go…