Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I've spent the last four days working pretty much non-stop on two final presentations. Up until I started this graduate program, I really hadn't used Powerpoint or Keynote very much, as a presenter or a teacher. But the slideshow format has been extremely popular with my instructors, giving me some time to fine-tune my skills and thoughts about the use of this tool. What I realized first, actually it was just reinforced, I already thought it, was that slides can be the most agonizing method of presenting information when they're full of bullet-points that get read back to you.

Luckily, I remembered a book that Howard Levin mentioned in a session at this year's Kamehameha technology conference in Honolulu: Presentation Zen. Promptly, I bought the book and started reading. I love the guidelines about not asking people to read slides and listen at the same time, including no more than six words per slide, and using high quality images that demonstrate ideas. Finally, Reynolds explains that if you don't need to be there to explain the slides, the material shouldn't be communicated in the form of a presentation.

What I've learned and practiced has me excited to bring presentations into my curriculum. Working on my own presentation has been the perfect critical thinking exercise, the decisions about the precision of words, the search for just the right image to convey emotion and idea, not to mention that preparedness to speak that all this preparation instills. And I'm wondering if there are others out there that use presentations as this kind of thinking exercise?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Dewey For Dummies

This is education philosopher week in my grad program. And I'm busy working on an essay in which I'm supposed to examine, based on my readings, the role of independent schools and their intersection with public interest and purpose. The philosopher that's been most interesting to me is John Dewey, not because of his timeless influence on American schools but because of the contradictions between his philosophy and the way it's interpreted and put into practice.

Watered down, my understanding of Dewey's philosophy is that education has no end; it's an end in itself. The more education a person has, the better equipped he/she is to make decisions and live life based on a broad, global perspective that empathizes with the most peoples' needs and ideas. His explanation of the interdependence of the individual and society reminded me of my recent rereading of Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind and its discussion of the same interdependence, not the individual, not the whole, something else. Dewey attempts to do away with the usual duality in education.

In practice, Dewey's vision looks like a series of ever-expanding, diverse experiences (ideas and interactions included). And what strikes me, based on my experience as a public school teacher in the NCLB era, is that this is exactly what public school is not, in many cases. Diversity is valued as a buzz word but not a reality; variety in ideas is neglected for practice of testable skills and aptitudes...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

After A 4-Month Vacation

It's been exactly four months since my last post, at which point I was feeling like I'd lost my focus. Originally, I started this blog to figure out whether it was viable to use with my students. It was/is. Then, I joined in with others writing about educational technology. That still interests me but it's confining as I'm not really a tech person; I'm a teacher, and now I'm getting an M.Ed. in private school leadership. I can feel my role and perspective transforming daily.
I've missed my blog the whole time but also felt as though it had taken time away from some of the things that I love and need for balance, namely surfing. But the graduate program has helped me see blogging differently. And being a student again in a program that's condensed an entire year of course work into six intense weeks has taught me a lot about myself as a learner, and even more about being a student in the 21st century. Needless to say, I have a lot to talk about, perfect time to revive WatsonCommon.
Related to keeping this blog, what I know about myself is that I need routine and commitment. I can't just say I'll post when I have something to post. So my renewed commitment to this blog is 500 words (max), 4 times a week. We'll see how that goes…
I want to start today by relating one thing I've been experiencing as a student, and hopefully some of you (if you're still out there) will have some anecdotes to share too.
A few weeks ago, I skyped from Hawaii to Boston with my colleague as he was giving an introduction to web 2.0 tools during an edtech conference session. He wanted me to talk about my favorite web2 tool and give some examples of how I use it. I went with wikis because I think they're so flexible, easy, and secure. I talked a little about global collaborations I've been a part of, and I described how I'd started a wiki for my grad school cohort (the same 29 people go through all the courses and Plan B action research project together). I thought the cohort could share resources and notes, follow up with more discussion, and organize a resource to use forever. It' been a great exercise for me to see how students make use of the wiki. For the first five weeks (remember, only six), the wiki was me taking notes, occasionally somebody would send me something they thought would be worth posting, and I would post it. But late last week, and more and more this week, others are starting to post links and ideas. The lesson for me is that when I ask my classes to use wikis, which I've done a bunch of times, I don't really know what I'm asking them to do because I had never done it until now. Does anybody else have experience using a wiki? I think it's different than using it with a professional learning community.