Saturday, February 14, 2009

Stanford University students want our advice

Monitoring and Control project activitiesImage via Wikipedia

Richard, a Stanford University undergraduate student, has joined the Future of Education, a professional learning network, and asks for advice about technology support for teachers. Richard is one of four Stanford students who have formed a group (class project?) to develop useful technology tools for teachers. Ric Barline and other teachers have responded to Richard's request for assistance. I am excited to see this distributed collaboration draw on complementary knowledge, skills and experience, so I add to the discussion:

I second Ric Barline's recommendations and appreciate the thought he has given to the broad range of Best Practice Strategies. I especially value his endorsement of project-based learning:
Project-Based Learning
The benefits of in-depth investigation of real-world topics make this approach ideal for acquiring twenty-first-century skills.
• Project-based learning and technology can go hand in hand. Technology provides the perfect avenue for students to organize and deliver projects. From the research to the delivery, real-world skills can be incorporated with the use of technology.[22] Unfortunately, the emphasis on standardized testing and state standards has caused many schools to drop their efforts to utilize technology in the classroom. Drill and practice, test preparation, direct instruction with a scripted text and pressure to meet all standards has caused teachers to abandon technology-rich projects and assignments.
I work as the iTeams Advisor in a middle school that has been part of the Maine Learning Technology Initiative since its inception (Seven years of one-to-one computing for all Maine 7th and 8th grade students). While teachers may want to use such strategies, project management can be daunting. We use strategies based in part on the TechYES and GenYES models, exemplary evidence-based programs. Boss and Krauss in Reinventing Project-Based Learning and their ReinventingPBL blog also provide useful strategies.

At the high school level, we are using Facebook and Ning to build from students' prior social networking skills and experience to establish learning networks. But at middle school and elementary schools we are constrained by legal and community standards. There, we are investigating Elgg, an open source social network over which we can maintain better control. Unfortunately, Elgg lacks some of the features that would enhance its value for support of learning.

Finally, how can we use these ideas to improve learning for all our students? Suzie Boss describes Bill strickland's approach:
In "Passing Empowerment Down through the Arts," in the current issue of Edutopia, Bill Strickland tells me about the journey he began 40 years ago when an art teacher changed his life. He's been changing lives ever since, first in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pa., and now in other communities across the country (and beyond). His unique vision combines arts and mentoring to keep young people engaged in learning, plus high-powered job training so adults can lift their families out of poverty. It's a potent formula for creating hope in the neighborhoods that need it most.

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David Tosh said...

Hi there - it would be good to hear what you feel Elgg is lacking to be useful in this setting?

I have just interviewed a group at Harvard who are using it, and they provided some useful feedback.


Dave Tosh

SC Spaeth said...

Thanks for sharing the link to your post about Harvard's experience with Elgg. It provides a useful basis for comparing experiences.

As a district, we are committed to expanding our use of open source tools to support Learning 2.0. Elgg is one element of our ZEDS initiative (Zimbra, Elgg, Drupal, Student information system). We appreciate the value of tools like Elgg and the community that supports its development and use.

Your response to my post is a great example of proactive engagement with your user communities. But notice that you are responding to my post in Blogger, not in my Elgg blog: MSAD 75 Community Site: Stephen Spaeth's Blog. In that blog, I am trying to model an approach to open learning and teaching.

However, if I had written the same post in Elgg, you would never have found it because Google does not index our Elgg site. For comparison, I searched for a unique text string in your Elgg blog and Google provided the desired results. So, in this case, it is not a fault in Elgg but a setting that we have chosen. Unfortunately, we don't have the capacity to examine the all of the implications of many of the choices we need make in this rapidly changing environment.

I also want to embed videos and widgets in some of my posts and documents but our installation of Elgg strips out the embed codes. So, I use Blogger until we can understand the security implications for changing the setting in Elgg.

The long-range goal for our iTeams development is to build student-capacity so that they can help us to answer those types of questions in the future. I hope for some of them to become proficient php programmers so that they can join your community of open source developers.