Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The good old pioneering days

I remember getting the ICT bug back in 1995, I was at an Intermediate school in my first year and they had just put in a suite of computers and server for what I can imagine wouldn't have left much change from $100'000. I have to admit that most of what I was doing at that time was using the technology to print shiny and bright new resources for my classroom, many of these I then photocopied. The same year we had a planning day whereby each teacher created a unit, it was collated into a book and each teacher was given a copy (My introduction to school collaboration). I bought my first desktop computer soon after for $3500 with a whopping 32MB of RAM and 2GB Hard drive (Ouch!!). The following year I was Deputy Principal at a nearby Intermediate school and set about getting a suite installed there (but better ...evil laugh). I had to have all the latest software and of course the internet. We made up rules and guidelines as problems arose and trust me there were lots of problems and as the technology rush came from the corporate world saying buy! buy! buy! I was all too willing to try out the newest gadget with a resounding yes! yes! yes! (Bill Gates was God). It was an amazing setup but in the year 2009 not a scrap of that technology still exists and I couldn't have burned enough CDs and done enough backups to save all the work I'd done in the past for use today ... 
  It seems like such a waste but in reality it was a progression that many schools were going through and there were no alternatives. I like to consider those days as pioneering. Basically, we found out what we didn't want happening with ICT in the classroom, augmented our programmes with ICT a bit and dreamed of the possibilities of what could happen in the classroom. New Zealand's curriculum was evolving at the same time and teachers were used to expecting change. With the introduction of web 2.0 and a sound ICT infrastructure nationwide we dreamers are starting to see everything happen that we wanted more than a decade ago.

  • I own a printer but don't use it except to occasionally scan something.
  • I have a lease laptop - thank you!! Imagine how hard it would have been integrating ICT if teachers didn't have laptops - obvious but brilliant none the less.
  • All my planning is online and can be shared with other teachers via a weblink.
  • I don't have to do all the work on a project because we collaborate now and someone always has a great example to work from.
  • I have way more friends. Geeks are the popular kids in the playground now.
  • We don't have to buy software anymore because someone wants to give you their product for free.
  • I can actually work from home if I want to and sometimes I really want to.

Perhaps you have a past experience to share.
P.S: I remember when they put the 'C' in I.T

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Why use Google Apps for cluster communication?

I'm preparing to work with a cluster of schools this year and one of the areas for development is infrastructure. To state an obvious truth we need to communicate and collaborate effectively. One of the first tasks I will be undertaking is providing everyone with a Google account alongside the professional development and support they need to use it on a day to day basis. There are several reasons for wanting to do this.
  1. It makes sense to have everyone using the same tools. Each school will have its own I.S.P and email service separate to each other, meaning we would have to use third party software to do what can be done within Gmail itself. Schools can use Gmail as a common communication tool and still receive emails from their current school address.
  2. By having a Google Account and online identity early on, members of the cluster can start plugging into learning opportunities more readily. Cluster members with be able to subscribe to feeds and make comments on blogs as an example.
  3. As a facilitator I can share my calendar and keep track of docs across schools with Gcalendar and Gdocs.
  4. Data aggregation: iGoogle aggregates data from a variety of sources into a single Homepage. This is a perfect way of sharing and disseminating information across a cluster of schools. It's all good and well creating and publishing something wonderful if you don't have the means to share it nor the audience to view it.

There is so much more, so I'll summarise and discuss other Gapps in future posts.

Google has developed a wide range of applications that can be used to collaborate effectively with colleagues in the workplace. In today's technological age the workplace has been redefined to include 'Anywhere, Anyone and Anytime'.One of the initial challenges of the information age was the volume of information being produced and the confusion that resulted when people tried to make sense of it all and work together. Typically, emails were sent out with documents attached and individuals edited their copy and brought it along with them to a face to face meeting. The attendees at the meeting then collaborated on the task at hand to produce a single document with consensus. This method works but there is a better way, it costs less, saves time and confusion, nobody misses a meeting and ultimately produces a better result.

The following video demonstrates how google docs works and employs this type of collaboration.

This video provides an overview of Gmail the hub for Google Apps

I was investigating creating a Ning for the cluster but not being an expert would be interested to hear your thoughts on team collaboration and infrastructure.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Leadership and Management:

I have read Steven Covey’s ‘7 Habits of highly effective people’ at least a dozen times. As I begin in my new position as an ICT facilitator I am drawn to the concepts outlined in his book. With 10 schools and over 100 teachers to work with, the dynamics, range of experiences, capability and paradigms people hold towards learning will be extreme. It makes sense to promote a system of leadership guided by principles that we all understand alongside the skills, knowledge and tricks of the trade we will be developing during the contract. I see many parallels between the 7 habits and the new curriculum and with ICT becoming an increasingly more collaborative experience for learners; it will be an excellent lighthouse for our interactions.


Habit 1: Be Proactive
Change starts from within, and highly effective people make the decision to improve their lives through the things that they can influence rather than by simply reacting to external forces.

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
Develop a principle-centered personal mission statement. Extend the mission statement into long-term goals based on personal principles.

Habit 3: Put First Things First
Spend time doing what fits into your personal mission, observing the proper balance between production and building production capacity. Identify the key roles that you take on in life, and make time for each of them.

Habit 4: Think Win/Win
Seek agreements and relationships that are mutually beneficial. In cases where a "win/win" deal cannot be achieved, accept the fact that agreeing to make "no deal" may be the best alternative. In developing an organizational culture, be sure to reward win/win behavior among employees and avoid inadvertantly rewarding win/lose behavior.

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
First seek to understand the other person, and only then try to be understood. Stephen Covey presents this habit as the most important principle of interpersonal relations. Effective listening is not simply echoing what the other person has said through the lens of one's own experience. Rather, it is putting oneself in the perspective of the other person, listening empathically for both feeling and meaning.

Habit 6: Synergize
Through trustful communication, find ways to leverage individual differences to create a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. Through mutual trust and understanding, one often can solve conflicts and find a better solution than would have been obtained through either person's own solution.

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
Take time out from production to build production capacity through personal renewal of the physical, mental, social/emotional, and spiritual dimensions. Maintain a balance among these dimensions.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Our Nation

Our NationBased on the game 'Age of Empires', Our Nation is an online environment where students are thrown into a past world. Divided into separate tribes of varying talents, they discuss and complete tasks to build and strengthen their nation. Starting with the very basics, they must tell the story of how they came to this new land and record on their scroll (wiki) any developments they have made.

The Herald of Nations (teacher) unfolds new instructions, activities or scenarios each day.

This is an integrated inquiry unit with the intention of investigating the elections with a twist. Students work towards developing their own values, slogans and policies. Other themes include trade and exchange, conflict and Tiriti O Waitangi as the Imperial Nation is introduced to assert their influence on all others.

The wiki platform used in collaboration with other web 2.0 technologies provides the opportunity for classrooms around the world to join in and start developing their own tribes.

In reflection this unit was excellent in delivering what I like to call a play area for students to explore and roleplay complex issues like leadership and conflict. We explored how to run meetings and have a debate. If I were to do this unit again it would be in the second term due to the fact that the fourth term had too many distractions and I would be sure to invite other classrooms with plenty of warning in advance.

To find out more about the project, visit the Our Nation wiki and be sure to read through the teacher notes for a full explanation.