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November 2007 marked my return to NYSCATE after many years. I hadn’t gone since the NHEEP consortium which financed participation in the conferences dissolved. Energized by putting together our school website on a shoestring with third party webhosting and open sourced software, I wanted to share, so I proposed a presentation and it was accepted.

Presenting at NYSCATE was rewarding. I felt that participants genuinely valued what I was presenting. Many were technically oriented teachers from small districts where “many hats.” One was still using static html pages for their school website and was excited to find another option–open source content management systems that were easier to manage and update. Others found it refreshing to attend a presentation were nobody had something to sell. Still another remarked that the presentation was the highlight of the conference for him. One disappointment was that even though I left the door open for further communication through this website (the moodle portion), none took advantage. I’d like to know if attending my presentation led to any real change. Finally, with the presentation, scheduled for the last day, I found it difficult to focus on the rest of the conference.

The one big thing I took from NYSCATE was that if I didn’t start trying out web 2.0 applications as a user, that I would never “get” it. I dutifully signed up for NYSCATE’s Ning and Twitter. As a result, I found other Ning communities and have become particularly active in Classroom20. I also started this blog. The blog led to an exploration of tags, technorati, and new ways to connect with others. I am still in touch with a few people that I met there. Of course, it also led to setting up blogs for my class and my students.

Overall, participating in NYSCATE’s annual conference was a very important experience that has changed my teaching. I look forward to participating again next year as an attendee and presenter.

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NYSCATE created a social networking space on Ning for the 2007 conference. About 140 conference attendees have signed up and there has been some discussion of the conference and educational technology.

I did a little poking around the Ning site in general and I have found some other social networks that I have since joined. The first was Ning in Education. Ning in Education is a network dedicated to issues pertaining to using ning for educational applications. Issues such as Ning configuration, safety and privacy. It also appears to serve as a conduit for educators to express their concerns and needs to the folks that run Ning. A case in point, is that through the efforts of participants in the network, Ning will take the ads off Ning communities that serve grades 7-12. There are COPPA issues that they are working to resolve for students under 13. Ning in Education also pointed toward other great educational resources on Ning.

Classroom 2.0 is a very active community with over 4000 members. There’s really a lot of good information from other educators integrating technology in education–Web 2.o Technologies in particular. I recommend that you join this particular network.

I also set up a Ning social network so that I could get a sense of what can be done with the administrative controls. I was looking for reassurances that would help placate the fears of our tech committee. I discovered that you could make the site visible only to members and that membership could be on an invite only basis. Furthermore, it permits you to moderate and approve video and image uploads before they are displayed (although not text postings). Finally, as mentioned above, there is a procedure for getting rid of the advertising on school networks.

I will continue to explore the social networks on Ning, examples of school uses of Ning, and the ins and outs of administrating such a site. I will also be installing the open-source alternative Elgg soon and blogging on that soon too.

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When I brought up the idea of using Social Networking Software for our school, the first reaction was, “Huh?” After I described it as being related to MySpace, one committee member shot me a disdainful look and said, “Why would you want to do THAT?”

I explained that it is a tool for collaboration and interaction that our students already know and understand. Further, if we want he kids to use these tools that they are already using in a responsible and hopefully productive way, we need to demonstrate appropriate and safe use of these tools. I told them that we could set it up initially so that only our students and teachers have access to such a site through Ning or Elgg.

This allayed some concerns, but another brought up the idea that we cannot supervise what goes on in real time. I agreed that we would have to carefully monitor activities. I mentioned that my students already have the ability to message each other through one of my Moodle courses. This is monitored regularly as the teacher has full access to a transcripts and the same could be done with Ning or Elgg. Furthermore, we cannot monitor all student behaviors in the school itself and problems arise because of this. Just because there are problems from time to time, we do not prohibit movement through the halls. If there is a problem, we have to look into it and try to find the facts. Online, we have logs and transcripts that tell us exactly who said what and when they said it.

Finally, our superintendent came to my support, and the others gave reluctant assent. I have permission to investigate the use and try social networking on a limited and restricted basis.

I will probably install Elgg on our school’s webhosting account over the next few weeks. I like the fact that unlike  Ning, it will not have advertising.  After I get the feel of the environment, I’ll probably set up something with my fifth graders and those of one or two local districts for some kind of an on-line collaboration.

Here an interesting link to Wired Magazine’s website discussing the use of Elgg in education. I’m sending it to the other members of your tech committee to help answer the question, “Why would you want to do that?”

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I returned from the NYSCATE 2007 Conference reinvigorated with fresh ideas as to where to take my class and our school in terms of education and technology. I felt ready to renew my efforts to incorporate podcasting and wikis with my students. I had done some work with both of these in limited, halting ways in the past. Yet there are a couple new areas that we have not ventured into: student blogging and use of “social networking” such as found in Ning and the open source Elgg. This required a sign off by the tech committee, so I called for a meeting.

We convened last Tuesday after school. The committee was interested in the Smart Board technology, the on-line AIS (Academic Intervention Services for children failing or at risk of failing state tests) possibilities. The tone changed when I started discussing students creating content for the Internet.

I started by saying that my fifth grade students really wanted to create websites and that I thought blogs would be the way to go. The mere mention of blog made several in the room cringe. They chimed in with the usual objections:

  • What if they create inappropriate content?
  • What if they post personal information?
  • There are bad people out there…

I assured them that we can install WordPress MU (Multiple User) and it could be configured so that a teacher would have to approve content before it is published. This helped quiet some fears, but they still wanted to keep the blogs password protected so that only select individuals could view the blogs.

I protested that one of the most important motivations to a writer is a sense of audience and that cutting off access would defeat the purpose of this exercise. Furthermore, I wanted to enable comments so that students could see the reactions of their audience and interact with readers. Again, the same objections were raised. I asked that if the comments too could be moderated by a teacher would it be acceptable. I got grudging skeptical acceptance with the qualification of “Don’t expect me to have any part of this.” I continued saying that we already allow students to submit material to our school website that is published upon administrative approval.

Fortunately, our school superintendent was supportive and felt that with these precautions in place that this would be a great idea. He was able to see the power of ownership and audience that this would provide for the students.

So, over the next few weeks, I will be setting up WordPressMU on our hosted web account, learning the ins and outs of users, permissions, and administration. My next obstacle may be parents to whom I plan to send a very carefully crafted letter. I fear that a few may object. I guess I can offer to password protect the directory in which their child’s blog resides.

Of course, my next proposal–social networking software drew even more objections and fears–some that I had more difficulty answering. I’ll discuss that portion of our tech committee meeting in an upcoming blog.

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I enjoyed this year’s NYSCATE (New York State Association for Computers and Technologies in Education) Conference last week. It was great to hear and see what other educators are doing with technology. For me, the highlight was presenting.

My presentation was on using open source server software and commercial web hosting to create educational websites. I had never presented before and I was a little stressed, but I feel that it went well and I had the feeling that several attendees walked out with information that they would be using at their schools.

Those interested in more information about the presentation can visit the Jumpstart course on this site where you will find a Quicktime Movie of the presentation, the handouts in pdf form, as well as links to some of the resources I referred to (a work in progress). There are also a few discussion forums that I hope will draw participants whether or not they attended the presentation.

I also particularly enjoyed Will Richardson and Gary Stager. I saw part of their final keynote discussion and saw the rest via podcast. I also attended one of the one hour session presented by Gary. I have to say that I now feel rather inadequate in terms of my integration and use of technology in education. I have to hand it to both Will and Gary for their discussions and their willingness to get up close and conversational in their one hour sessions. Unfortunately, I could not attend Will’s as I was presenting at the same time.

I’m going to work in earnest to incorporate some of the new ideas into my life and instruction, as well as redouble my efforts to implement things that I have done already more frequently. I just installed a WordPress Blog on this site and will be customizing it and adding technorati and digg style tags to the site as soon as I get my head around the concepts.

I look forward to future such gatherings and plan to present again, and perhaps expand upon what I have done in the Jumpstart session. I also might go to the Hudson Valley Conference this March in Hoosick Falls.

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