Thursday, March 11, 2010

Making the Case for Social Media in Education- #edchat thoughts

The post below is a cross-post from a blog that Edutopia asked me to contribute. I want to thank them again for the opportunity.

The 3/9/10 #edchat discussion was another example of the most scrolling fun you can have in an hour on the Internet. The topic this time was "How can social media create real change in education?"

Right away, folks got busy reframing the question in more "real" terms:

@blairteach: Question might be better to say, "How IS social media creating real change in education?"

@dtitle: better topic... how will education keep up with social media and not be left in the dust

@unklar: I don't see any change at all at my school since the district is trying its best to block any and all social media

These additions brought to light the fact that we are struggling once again in education to keep up with the pace of a drastically changing society. Outside of schools, social media outlets are THE way that people now communicate, young and old alike (stop sending me chickens in Farmville, Mom!). The fact that we as educators even have to have discussions on whether or not social media is good for schools is sad. Social media just IS…'s life.

Despite this, inside the vast majority of our school walls, social media tools are blocked and filtered. Why? In #edchat, the general consensus for the answer to this question revolved around fear - fear of cyberbullying and inappropriate use by students. Many blamed the media for blowing the negative out of proportion. In light of these fears, @benpaddlejones summed up exactly where we need to shift in the coming years:

We need to stop talking cyberbullying and start talking cybercitizenship. Flip to the positive.

He's absolutely correct. Our focus in schools needs to shift towards responsible, positive use of social media. The giant elephant darting about in the shadows needs to be drug into the light. In a world where this type of communication is king amongst our students, we need to stop ignoring and blocking and start embracing and amplifying.

When the filters come down, will there be problems? Will there be inappropriate use by students and staff? Absolutely! As a parent of two young girls, I understand the fear that this type of shift can create. But my response is that I would MUCH rather have these mistakes happen transparently where learning can take place. Every mistake and misstep in social media is a brilliant learning opportunity for all involved. I'd much rather these mistakes occur in the open and with the support structure of caring adults, rather than in the pockets or bedrooms our students are currently making them.

So we have this institution that has permeated society but is still blocked by your school. How can you make the case for the filters to be lifted? Here are some points you might make to bolster your case:

  • It is quickly becoming our duty as educators in the 21st century to guide our students towards responsible use of social media. We teach sex ed, we teach healthy living, we teach about drugs, we teach character ed., and on and on. We do these things each and every day, yet we are ignoring the aspect of our students' lives that is larger than all of these things (and completely interconnected with them as well). It is our duty to our students to start modeling responsible use of social media and encouraging them to follow our lead. We can no longer afford the veil.
  • Social Media use is becoming our new first impression. In June 2009, a Harris Interactive Poll found that 45% of employers researched social networking sites of prospective employees. This was more than double the percentage of employers stating they did this type of research in June 2008 (22%). What this means is simple - when our students start looking for jobs or applying for college, their use of social media is going to be studied. We must act now to ensure our students are portraying their skills and creativity in a positive way so that they can separate themselves from the pack and create opportunities for themselves that they may otherwise be shut out from.
  • Connected, community based learning is important. By blocking social media use, we are depriving our students of a huge opportunity to allow them to learn in connected ways. Society is moving toward a model of shared knowledge building, where people from all over the world can interact, question, reflect, and reshape thinking in meaningful ways. #edchat itself is a perfect example of this very phenomenon. Blocking our students off from this opportunity is a mistake.
  • In five years, the filters will be gone whether you like it or not. The expansion of wifi networks linked directly into smart phones that are being carried by students each and every day is inevitable. They will have an unfiltered access point in their pocket, whether we want them to or not. Wouldn't it make sense to be proactive? Wouldn’t it make sense to guide our students towards responsible, productive use?

It is my hope that when the filters come down, transparent use will allow everyone in the school system - students, teachers, parents, admin - to grow and utilize social media in responsible, productive ways. Let's stop holding sparsely attended workshops about internet safety and start modeling the process of unlocking the power these highly relevant tools hold for both ourselves and our students!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Creating a flash game from Powerpoint

Worked through an interesting question today and thought I'd share how to do this.

I had an awesome 7th grade teacher come to me and ask if we could somehow turn this Vocabulary Powerpoint (it's not done yet- it's just a skeleton- she'll be finishing it up in the next couple weeks) into some form that could be hosted on the internet and clicked through in the way that it works when you start the show in ppt. My first thought was to try and upload it to Slideshare and see if it would: a) work properly, b) be embeddable from Slideshare. Well, it didn't work properly after uploading to Slideshare, so that didn't do the trick.

Then I thought it would be perfect if I could somehow convert the ppt show to a flash file. I've never done this (and there might be easier ways to do it), but here is how I did it:

1) Download/Install iSpring Free from here (this is a ppt to flash conversion program).
2) This embeds a new toolbar into Powerpoint. Open Powerpoint file and click the new "Publish" button on your toolbar
3) Tell where to save the file and choose what other options are appropriate for you. I unchecked "Start presentation automatically" since the file she gave me was more a clickable game.
4) After publishing, locate the new .swf file that it created.
5) Host the .swf file somewhere (or, if you're familiar with inserting flash files, embed the code to your site).
6) The direct link to the swf file should work! (Example here) - Keep in mind that this is just the skeleton so far- she has only done her Unit 7 words and only a few of those. She'll also be getting rid of the title slide so that it flows better

I can see this being a real easy way to convert some of those old PPT games that have been around forever into an easier, more portable way to use the game. Or, like this teacher is doing, creating nonlinear activities in Powerpoint and then being able to host them fairly easily on the web.

UPDATE: Just decided to try and find one of the old Jeopardy PPT's to see if this would work, and it seems to work well with it (check it out here). I think this could be a much better way for teachers to use their old favorites in ppt- students can have access anywhere there is a connection.

Update #2: Vanessa Cassie had her IT person send her this licensing info about the program, iSpring, above:

"Spring Free comes as a freeware for personal and private use only, for unlimited period of time free of charge. For commercial or educational use including any field that do not belong to sole private use: e.g. all kinds of use in the range of any profession, you must license the business versions."

Thanks for catching this Vanessa!

Because of this licensing issue, I did find the following site that gives some good alternatives for converting ppt to flash: 6 ways to convert ppt to flash

Monday, March 1, 2010

Targeting Multiple Intelligences with Technology

I'm a big fan of Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences. I know there is some recent research out there that is questioning the theory, and this is a good thing. But as a teacher, the theory makes sense of the children we see every day. I think this is exactly why this theory connects so well in education circles (this was never the intended audience for Gardner and his work when it began, but quickly grew in that direction as educators latched onto his ideas).

Just a few examples from my own experience that illustrate the many students that this connects with for me, personally:
-Seth, a kid that could barely read and wasn't interested in school at all...until you started talking about animals, nature, plants, hunting, tracking, etc. Total Nature learner that helped me unlock some of his other areas of need
-Cody, another kid that had a lot of trouble reading, writing, speaking, and with math as well. But this 2nd grader could take a lawn mower apart and put it back together again. We started using this kinesthetic expertise by letting him build words, phrases, and sentences in similar ways with manipulatives.
-The totally shy Ashley who was very much intrapersonal- would record her thoughts eloquently and worked well by herself, putting things together. Used screencasting to become an expert and allow herself to help others without needing to stand up and present...

There are many more out there from not just myself but educators all over the place!

The reason this pops into my head this morning is because I'm giving a session tomorrow on targeting student intelligences with technology. This is a real passion of mine, so I thought I'd share the handout/ideas I've used before and will be presenting tomorrow:

Hope these ideas help your students!