Instructional Media or “What’s an Overhead?”

Mobiles in the Mountains

June 19th, 2010 · 1 Comment

I noted that a number of the more innovative projects where mobile phones are used (mobile, by the way, is the term used almost everywhere but North America) is in Australia, from the list we were given for this analysis. I immediately keyed in on Jarrod Robinson’s wonderful class records of their trip to Victoria’s Grampian Mountains National Park. Australia is a geographic wonder, and a short (sometimes very long!) drive in any direction often leads one to very unique environments in which to explore and learn.

Wow! The Grampians (named after a range of mountains in the highlands of Scotland) are an incredibly unique geological feature of the Victorian landscape, and one of the many reasons I really liked this project was my personal familiarity with the area. We lived in Victoria in 2007 and as as family, we took four trips to the Grampians combined, due to its unique environment. Ironically, it was 6 months into our year in Australia before I encountered a wild kangaroo. That happened on my first visit to The Grampians, where hundreds wandered freely in the bush and in the villages, like the Joey pictured above. Students grasp the unique connections between the geography and biology of a place when they are evident firsthand.

Every school child in Australia has an equal opportunity to go to “school camp” and my youngest son spent his week in the Grampians on a similar trip to the one featured in Robinson’s Victorian Certificate of Education Year 11 Outdoor and Environmental Studies Trip. This course is one of the courses that can be taken for high school completion for year 11 in Victoria.

Robinson’s classes recorded audio blogs during the experience, captured photographs, and then created Slideshare Presentations to synthesize their learning after the trip, which are embedded in the class Blog page.

Coincidentally, our school trip leaves Monday morning for a cultural and historical learning experience in Quebec City, a UNESCO world heritage site and the only walled city in North America. Students “peuvent pratiquer le français” and be immersed in “the joie de vivre” of Quebec. We’ll be broadcasting live fom my iPhone back to the school on

I contacted Robinson in a variety of ways, knowing that he is in the middle of report writing mode at the school year’s halfway mark in Victoria, an extremely challenging and difficult element of the Victorian school teacher’s job. He acknowledged my inquiry on Facebook and then later, answered the edited questions I posed:

  1. How did you mange to convince the Principal/Headmaster to allow the use of phones by students?
  2. Were there any other policy obstacles you had to overcome before doing this?
  3. What was the parental reaction to  this project?
  4. Were there any other challenges (technical or otherwise) that you had to deal with?
He replied this way:
  1. In order to convince the principal I showed her the actual software and idea in action. She was then in a position to see the potential and realise how valuable it would be for the learning experience. She gave me permission to trial it as long as it was under the direct supervision of myself.
  2. Our school policy at the time was against use of mobile phones within class. This trial was an exception to see just how they could be used for good.
  3. The parental reaction was quite positive, parents were able to log onto the website and listen to their kids blogs as they were happening. The students reactions were only temporary, the students thought it was cool but in the end their mobile phones are everyday items to them. I didn’t expect them to make a fuss over what they see is normal technology. As teachers we shouldn’t expect them to think these sorts of things are amazing….because in our students world’s…they are just normal…
  4. The only potential challenge I faced was ensuring that all students had access to a mobile phone. So before deciding on the project I surveyed students to find out the data and then based my decision on this. It turned out that all students did have access, which meant I could safely go ahead with the project.
A point that emerges from Robinson’s use of mobile phones in class is that, when phones are banned, they become a clandestine tool for mischief by students intent on circumventing the rules. Outside of the supervision of teachers, they will be used for purposes that easily slip towards the lowest common behaviour. When they are embraced as a learning tool, as a means to document and describe learning, then most students understand the purpose and the expectations and rise to the challenge. There is a lesson here for reluctant adopters of mobile phone technology in their programs.

Jarrod Robinson also has an excellent, award winning Blog in which he records other innovative methods for using technology in Physical Education, Outdoor Education, and Environmental Studies, all areas in which I have a great interest. He also presents at various Australia conferences and his innovative integration of technology into his classes is noteworthy. I’ve added him to my Google Reader list. He can be contacted in any of the following ways:

Email –

Twitter – mrrobbo

Skype – robbo6486

Tags: Internet Tools

What’s the purpose of blocking Internet content in schools?

April 22nd, 2010 · 3 Comments

The Google Map below is a collection of data points coded green, yellow and red depending on whether Internet content is wide open, filtered, or completely blocked in a school or school district. The map was created at the request of noted 21st century technology and educational writer, speaker and blogger Will Richardson. Richardson is author of Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and other powerful web tools for the classroom.

Have a look at the map. Are there patterns in the choices that Districts and schools have made about Internet services and how they are delivered, or in some cases, NOT delivered them to their staff and students? What’s the policy where you work? There is a growing body of research that suggests this may not be the way to go. Read on below.

View What do you block? in a larger map

A recent report for OFSTED, the UK government’s educational standards office, claims that students in schools that have their Internet locked down are far less able to manage their own safety due to lack of experience in making appropriate decisions. The report, The Safe Use of New Technologies, pointed out that that exemplary schools that had managed, open access to the Internet also had a plan for developing critical literacy and e-safety that were collaboratively developed by the school, administration and the community.

Other writers and bloggers have taken up the issue as well. In Computerworld’s online edition, the point that filtering has now become “soft censorship” is well made. Instead of teaching students what to do when objectionable or questionable material is encountered, it’s easier to just block it out. What invariably happens is that useful material is blocked too, in what amounts to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Recently, a well respected Canadian history magazine had to change its name. It seems as though its title, created almost a hundred years ago by the Hudson’s Bay Company, who published the history review at the time, was increasingly being blocked by school and library internet filters, as well as email spam filters. Teachers were often unable to receive materials from the magazine via email. A change of name was inevitable. By the way, Canada’s History magazine is a wonderful resource for any school library.

More incidences of how Internet filtering has blocked useful material from being accessed are being published around the blogopshere. Doug Johnson, a Minnesota school district Director of Media and Technology who also writes the Blue Skunk Blog, recently conducted a Twitter poll that turned up hundreds of examples of how Internet blocking unintentionally censored good information. The list goes from the silly, to the unimaginable.

So what are teachers to do? Maybe we need to be more proactive about who sets the criteria for blocking in our District, and about requesting copies of the criteria that are used to set the filtering, as well as the process by which it is conducted. Johnson discusses a number of very proactive steps we can take when the powers that be make teaching and learning in the 21st century a difficult challenge.

I suggest we take this bull by the horns. The best way to teach a person how not to drown is to give them swimming lessons. Maybe this is the approach that needs to be taken in the huge ocean of information we call the Internet.

For more reading:
Internet filtering as a form of soft censorship

Filtering for in and of on Education- presentation

A Simple Fix for Internet Censorship in School

How Internet Censorship Harms Schools

Censorship by Omission

May 6, 2010- Update

A great Blog on the ISTE site addresses the Internet Filtering issue in great depth. There are a considerable number of links to research, commentary and opinion about the topic. Read on! Let’s tackle this issue where we are and make the powers that be more familiar with the challenges, benefits, and outcomes of more open Internet resources in schools.

Tags: Differentiated Instruction

To Wiki, or not, is that the question?!

April 10th, 2010 · No Comments

I recently did a presentation at our school district’s Teaching with Technology Symposium on Web 2.0 resources for the classroom. I covered everything from Blogs, Wikis, RSS, and good old Google Docs to some other favourite Web 2.0 sites, like Voicethreads and Glogster (actually- I ran out of time before I got to Glogster!- what a shame!)

Instead of creating a standard Powerpoint presentation (I must admit I am not a big fan of Powerpoint!), I created the whole presentation in a Wiki, to show its flexibility and features. The power of the Wiki is that people who were at the presentation can easily access it if they missed a point, or want to delve deeper into the parts of the presentation I had to cover quickly or about which they wish to learn more. The parts I missed due to time constraints are available to the audience, and they can easily share the Wiki with their colleagues who were not in attendance. I hope they do. Furthermore, they can join the Wiki and add their 2 cents worth to it to, and any feedback they might wish to provide.

One of the powerful points I made about RSS and Google Reader, in particular, is that we can all be collecting information, reading relevant Blogs, and following other technology leaders and creating our own RSS feed to share with our colleagues. This is the power of Web 2.0- that we gather information, measure its relevance and share it with those colleagues who want to continue a learning journey together.

Here are my Google Reader Shared Items:

And for those interested, my Wiki “Les Enseignants Sans Frontières- Teachers without Borders” can be viewed by clicking here (in case you missed the link at the top).

Tags: Web2.0

eSchools News

December 9th, 2008 · 1 Comment

Not so much a blog, as newsletter, not a single podcast but a rich collection of video podcasts, the eSchools News ( is a rich collection of information delivered regularly to subscribers’ email inboxes.

Trying to develop your Disciplined Mind? Then visit the Best Practices link in the Home tab. Do you want to challenge your Synthesizing Mind? Then perhaps the “Special Reports” tab will have details of major issues and new technologies that need to be considered. Are you ready to test your Creating Mind? Then visit the Resource Center. Concerned that students are demonstrating their Respectful Minds and that their data is secure? The Security tab is for you. Are the effects of digital learning principled? What ethical issues are in the tech news? The SAFE Center is there too. A quick browse of topics has something for every teacher, administrator, and technology department, to assist students’ success and ensure ethical use of technology.

Beginning a new job yesterday that assists teachers and schools in their goals of technology integration, many issues have already been raised and discussed with my new team. eSchool News has information relating to many of them. When addressing these issues, it will be important to have the widest possible knowledge base when making technology choices, when faced with technology challenges, and when designing curriculum and technology integration.

The place to keep current is a free subscription to eSchools News.



Tags: Uncategorized

A Blog about Blogs…Did you know that Blogging Makes you Happier?

July 2nd, 2008 · No Comments

The Age (Melbourne) newspaper reports that new research points to the fact that blogging can make you a happier person. I am feeling happier as I type this. I bet the one or two people who read this are probably happier too.
If you want to read on, check this article out on the Age website.

Tags: Uncategorized