Tale of two teachers

Above: : I stop at the local hotelier on the way home to relate my marvellous tale.

I met an English teacher from another school at a conference last week, who startled me by proudly stating over coffee that he banned computers from his classroom, ‘I want them writing, not typing!’, he proclaimed as if that was a great line.  I must admit I was nearly shocked and must have showed it.  I asked him why, particularly since his school and the parents  had invested a fair bit of money in ensuring that every student had a notebook computer which they could use in all their subject, except this one of course.

I said all the usual things you might expect, that wasn’t the computer a great tool for writing?, that surely the creative and collaborative opportunities might just interest you a bit?, that this was a tool that students generally enjoyed working with and seemed particularly useful in an English classroom? Wasn’t he interested in student’s blogging, or redrafting easily, or sharing their work with others online? I probably should have let it go but I persisted; what was it about the computer that so offended him that it’s very presence should be cast out?

In the end it seemed it was three things (I simplify):  that a computer is a typewriter and students don’t type their final exams, they handwrite them. That some students were playing games on their computers when they should have been working on their English. That some students were paying more attention to their computer than their teacher (lookatmoi!!!)

If you’ve been reading this blog for more than three nanoseconds you’ll know how well that went down with me and I think I might have even said something like, ‘I wouldn’t want you teaching in a school I was in’ or something to that effect. And this man is probably a good teacher, well liked and respected by his students. We parted company soon after, going our different ways across the biscuits and Nescafe.

I know another English teacher, from another school, who has taken it upon himself to lead and develop the other English teachers at his school. He began using OneNote as an organising tool for himself about five years ago, and then with his senior English classes. He used his tablet PC to annotate and review student work and email it back to them and he started blogging for them, and sharing his blog with students from other schools, gathering thousands of ‘hits’. Late last year he started producing some audio podcasts for his students on key aspects of the course. He’d get the students to download them to their computer and some would put them on their ipods to listen to later. This week he sent me a link to a screencast he’d created using Screencast which was a visual and audio overview setting up the structure of an essay for his senior English class. He’s been playing around with Camtasia too, as a tool for helping students build skills.

It’s not the done thing in the education profession to criticise other teachers. It’s anti-collaborative and just helps to push people into extremes of perspective and hide-out with their ideological pals in the staff-room or the computer room.  (See my earlier post about identity!) Any talk of teacher appraisal or performance quickly has to answer to questions about team-work and the importance of teachers learning together, not competing with each other.

Fair enough too. We’re not cookie cutters and getting into quantifying what a single teacher has contributed to a student’s learning journey is a slippery slope. Still, I know which of those two teachers classes I’d like my own children in.

New Tools

I’ve commented on Twitter about a couple of these things but I thought it worth detailing here some web 2.0 tools that I’ve been impressed with lately and that have become party of my daily work on the web.

NING

Ning is a tool for you to create your own social network.  I didn’t get it at first. I thought: what for? Do I really want to compete with Facebook? I envisaged maybe using it as a site to connect the extended family. I tried once to set up a multi-user blog on WordPress for the family and half of them failed the login test! So I turned to myfamily as an easier alternative.

But recently I started using NING in a couple of different contexts; a group of like-minded cyclists first up, then in a network of learning technology teachers. It began to make sense. Forums, multiple blogs, pictures, videos, even chat. You can set up a network in a few minutes, and teachers are beginning to use it with their students.

NING describe NING like this:

Ning empowers people to create and discover new social experiences for the most important people and interests in their lives.

Ning was started with a simple premise: when people have the freedom to create a new social experience online, uniquely customized for the most important people and interests in their lives with no effort, no cost, and infinite choice, the world is a better, more colorful and certainly more interesting place in which to live.

With Ning, people are creating new social experiences that are:

* Infinitely customizable
* Beautifully designed
* Easily created and moderated

By providing people with a better way to discover and stay connected to the most important people and interests in their life, Ning represents a new chapter in how people create, organize, and communicate online.

Tonight I joined Classroom 2.0 Ning, ‘the social network for those interested in Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies in education.’ I thought I’d give them support and join in; then realised they have 24,000 members in that network already! Okay, maybe I was wrong about Ning.

ning_classroom2

Transferr

Transferr is a pretty way to organise your favourite web sites as icons on your start up screen. They say:

Transferr is an online application which allows you to add your favorite websites as icons to your own personal page. You can customise your icons with colors, share them with friends and drag and drop them to keep them in order. You can also organise your icons into tabs which allows for your own organised system

Okay, I know that Safari and Chrome do something like this by default, but it’s only the sites you most often visit, not necessarily the ones you want to keep in your head. And what about the tabs you can create with pages on things that interest you? Note below I’ve got tabs on cycling, shopping, tek, curriculum etc. To be honest, I tried this out thinking it would last about a week. But it’s been over a month now and I’m still using it.

A long while ago now I created my own start.htm page using Dreamweaver, based on the simple Craigslist template. A couple of colleagues along the way have asked how I did it and wanted one themselves, but couldn’t be bothered with the html. I can now show them this.

transferr

Jing

Over the last few weeks I’ve had the need to create some screencasts and went out looking for the best tools. One of the wikis I’ve been working on has as its audience member of the public often with very low tech skills. I needed to SHOW some users how to edit a page, insert an image, link to other pages.

Jing is a great solution. A free tool that allows you to create screen shots or screencasts up to five minutes long.

They say:

Elegant and simple, Jing’s minimal feature set keeps the focus on instant sharing. We think it’s the perfect companion to the casual, fast-paced online conversations we all have every day.

It works beautifully, has a pro version if you want more features, and links to Camtasia if you really want to get into editing it all. But,  as a simple tool for capturing screenshots or movies, it’s hard to beat.

There’s a number of YouTube videos around showing how it works. (search JingProject) This is one:

I would talk about Feedly too, a Firefox extension that works with Google Reader to create a magzine like start page, but I’m not qualified. I just started looking at it today. I love it already, and will talk about that some other time.