May 11, 2011

My Preliminary Visit to SJSU

As I prepare to return to school as a student for the first time in a couple of decades, I have been checking out my new school.  I’ve spent some time reading the web pages, reading the official blog and keeping up with the Facebook page.  I get regular emails, mostly telling me thing that don’t yet mean much to me, but others that are extremely informative and intriguing.

I did say that I’m doing my Masters in Library and Information Sciences, didn’t I?  I will be attending, what I’m told is the largest School of Library and Information Sciences (SLIS) on the planet.  But, bigger isn’t necessarily better.  What has attracted me to San Jose State University’s SLIS, more than anything, is the innovative online learning environment.  In the off chance that you have actually been following this blog, you know that I have a keen interest in Educational Technology.  In fact, that is why first started this blog.  SJSU SLIS uses three primary technologies to facilitate learning: Illuminate (for synchronous large and small group meetings), Desire2Learn (an online course management platform) and Second Life (a virtual world where classes, students and faculty can meet “live”).  This sure isn’t anything like my last stint at University!

Another aspect of the program that differs significantly from my undergrad experiences is the diversity of the student body.  This program attracts students from all over the world.  That in itself was somewhat expected, but what did take me by surprise was the fact that the online nature of the program also enables it to attract a faculty that is equally diverse.  No longer is it necessary to attract the top faculty and provide incentive to move them to one location.  SJSU can bring together the top individuals in the field wherever they may live.  There are even a couple of SJSU faculty living in my own town.

The online environment is so key to the learning that the first course one is required to take is Online Social Networking.  As a veteran teacher, I’m eager to learn how these particular tools work in this environment and to experience a fully online learning environment from a student perspective.

The aspiring Librarian in me has been devouring another online learning tool that seems to be or have been integral to the school and some courses specifically.  I’ve discovered SJSU’s SLIS presence in iTunes both in Podcasts and iTunes U.  I’ve been listening to podcasts introducing a variety of Educational Technology Tools prepared by one of the classes a year or two ago.  I have also discovered a series of lectures available on the Podcast side of the iTunes store on topics relating to Library Sciences.  What a great resource and seemingly great primer for the work I will start in 3 months.

I have also been made aware of a great researching and writing resource published on the SJSU web site.  Although targeted at graduate students, I know that I will be recommending a number of the sites that cover research, APA style and grammar to my senior students.

If this weeks discoveries are representative of what is in store for me, I’m looking forward to quite the inspirational ride!

May 4, 2011


OK, it seems that I am bound and determined to post to this blog at least once every 4 months.  The one thing that I can promise is that I will blog more often in the future.  I will be required to, I’m sure.  But more on that later.

I am the kind of person that does get totally involved in what I’m doing and probably doesn’t reflect as much as I need to.  I certainly reflect in different ways and face to face conversation is my most common way to think things through.

Since my last post, I was lucky enough to attend a great conference in Chicago put on by Follett Software.  It was one of the few conference that I know of that combines library issues with technology issues and curricular issues.  There was time to talk about Follett’s products and as a Follet Software user, that was very useful time.  But it was also a great opportunity to learn about multiple aspects of my profession and meet a great bunch of folks from around North America.

Shortly after I returned, I was finally given the mandate at my school to move full-time into the Library.  As of this Fall, I will be heading up the Library at our Senior School.  This is an opportunity that I’m truly excited about.  It is rare to be given the opportunity to completely reinvent oneself in terms of one’s career within the security of one institution.  The key element that unites my previous role as a music teacher/director and my new role in the Library is that they are both vehicles to propel my love of learning and that is what I’m truly grateful for.  I will continue to work hard in the realm of educational technology in the school helping to develop better and more facile use of technological tools to facilitate student learning.  It seems that the Library is a natural link to technology as it moves to more of a learning commons concept.

The other exciting opportunity coming my way is that I will be embarking on a Masters of Library and Information Sciences degree this fall through San Jose State University.  I love the way that SJSU marries technology with education and Library Sciences.  I look forward to developing a clearer concept of the role and organization of the library in the 21st Century and how technology moves that forward.  If it says anything about the program in terms of it’s approach to technology, the first required course is a social media orientation course.

I’m looking forward to keeping you posted (hopefully more regularly!)

January 22, 2011

Managing Information

So, I haven’t posted in quite a while.  It’s been a busy year so far combining teaching music with running a library and exploring educational technology.  Unfortunately, this hasn’t left much time for blogging!

I have had the opportunity to meet a bunch of great people and learn so much.  Many of the people I’ve met have been online through a growing Personal Learning Network.  I have a reading list that will take me until my daughter’s retirement to get through and the number of projects that I want to get done are quickly surpassing any possibility of being able to get them all done.

One of the big, nagging questions for me relates to how the worlds of technology and library relate.  It seems to me that both concern themselves primarily with information management.  Libraries are changing but they remain the hub of information access in a school.  True, more and more information can be found online, but libraries continue to house multiple formats that present information in ways that serve different disciplines and different learners in unique ways.  A good library staff knows information resources and can help learners to access information efficiently and evaluate sources.  A good library is essential to the academic success of a school.

The people that I’ve been in contact in the world of educational technology are essentially working with changing ways to access and manipulate information.  How do we engage students?  How do we present information more effectively?  How do we help students to discover the information that they need?  How can we help students articulate their knowledge in meaningful ways through the use of technology?

To me, these two worlds have a significant crossover, yet most of the people that I run into are solidly committed to one or the other – Librarians who aren’t up current trends in technology and how they can utilize these trends to maximize the potential of the library and Educational Technologists who view the library as an antiquated stack of books housing out of date information.

Recently, I have had the opportunity to meet people who are successfully marrying the two worlds:  A high school teacher librarian is organizing a digital immersion program for his school;  A recently retired teacher librarian who helped me to develop a PLN and harness the power of Twitter;  A post secondary research librarian who is developing powerful online resources and is using social media to promote library resources.  These folks have all had a hand in helping my to refine my concept of educational technology in a school environment especially as it relates to the library, yet many questions remain.  As resources become more digital and accessible from anywhere, what role does the physical library space play?  It’s role as a room to house physical media is diminishing, but it’s role as an educational spaces is increasing.  With more advanced ways of accessing information, the need for specialists who can assist in that information assessment and retrieval is in greater need.  As learning becomes more collaborative, the concept of a silent, individual working space shifts.  We all still need quiet spaces to work independently, but we also need places to do group work.  As new technologies emerge, we also need spaces to experiment and coach others in the use of those new technologies.  Students as well as staff require skills training to keep current with research and information manipulation and presentation trends.  These skills are not part of most course’s curriculums yet they are required to succeed in many disciplines.  The library is the logical hub as how to access information is part and parcel of housing the information and information portals.

I am enjoying my quest.  It is far from over.  I welcome any thoughts, comments or questions that will help me on my journey.

October 22, 2010


I attended my first Ed Tech conference today.  The Computer Users in Education of BC conference offered a great keynote by Jeff Piontek who spoke on the 21st Century Learner.  As a total newb to all of this, I was happy to find myself seemingly in the middle of the pack in terms of knowledge and comfort in the area of educational technology.  I came away with as many questions as I went in with – perhaps more.  But I was happy that the questions changed over the course of the day.  Areas that I covered in the many sessions that were offered included blogging, Twitter, ethics and responsibility and general refinement and exploration of the concepts of web literacy.  I’m looking forward to hanging out at SFU tomorrow addressing managing your web footprint.

October 2, 2010

Low Tech is Good Tech

It’s been a crazy September, hence the lack of activity here.  As with any school, the start-up mayhem is staggering.  This year, on top of the normal school startup routine, we added many new personnel and ways of doing things that have added to the fun.  A new Headmaster and a new IT Director plus the most new staff throughout the school have made this the month of, “OK, what happens next?”

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking and reading about educational technology.  Our team of Technology Cohorts has been active setting up wikis, blogs and sites in addition to getting course work moved into SmartBoard-friendly methods of doing things.  The longer that I spend working with technology in the classroom, the more I’m coming to hate terms like “educational technology” and “technology cohort.”

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m somewhere between a digital native and a digital immigrant.  Maybe I’m second generation digital immigrant.  I am comfortable in the digital world having lived in it almost all of my life (I spent high school on a Vic20 and Commodore64 surfing bulletin boards and User Group Forums), but this isn’t the way my parents were brought up and, let’s face it, most calculators are more powerful than the computers I grew up on!  But what bugs me about the terms we use, is that they put the emphasis in the wrong place.

I don’t care about technology itself as much as I care about what one does with it.  Inevitably, if you get talking to someone about educational technology, you end up talking about the computers and the software, not what you are doing with it.  It’s like someone getting really excited about a hammer that they use to build a house.  Might be a nice hammer, but I want to see the house.

We should be thinking first about what it is that we want to do and then look for the right tool for the job.  Sometimes (often?) that tool doesn’t need to be plugged in.

If you’ve read any of my other posts, you will know that I’m a musician first.  I have taught music for 20 years and spend a fair amount of time on my computer in music notation programs and editing recordings.  We had a prominent composer come to my school a couple of years ago and tell the students that composing at the computer is bad.  I know that I felt uncomfortable with that statement and decided to explore it further.  My feeling was that if the notes are going to end up in Sibelius anyway, then lets start composing by opening Sibelius.  Seems to be an efficient manner of thinking.

The problem with this approach is that as soon as the program is open, your thinking moves into the how do I get the program to do what I want mode, no matter how comfortable you are with the program.  Sometimes, vast experience with the program is even more constraining.  You naturally start to think in patterns and sequences that work easily within the confines of the program.

I now much prefer to start my composing with a different type of technology.  I start with a pencil and piece of paper.  It might not even be manuscript paper.  I get the sounds in my head dow on the page.  Sometimes it might be a verbal description of what it is that I’m going after.  Sometimes it’s a drawing of the form of the piece.  Often there are snippets of melody, harmonic progressions or rhythms that will form the nucleus of the piece.  Once I have my thoughts together, then I can go to Sibelius and start entering notes.  At this point, I’m getting the tool to work for me, rather than having the tool dictate how I work.

Education is the same.  Too often we stumble upon a new piece of software or a cool gadget that we want to bring into the class.  There is nothing wrong with that as long as we are fully aware that what we are doing is exploring the tool, not using the tool to it’s fullest.  You have to play with the tool first to get to know what it does.  But when you get into the classroom, choose the right tool to get the results that you want – and it may not be the newest, flashiest thing you just spent $1000 on.  It might be a pencil and piece of paper.

One last thought from the world of music.  As a jazz musician, you spend a lot of time in the practice room developing ideas and skills.  When you get on the bandstand, the last thing that you should be doing is thinking about those exercises that you’ve spent so much time working on.  If those concepts are appropriate to the moment, they will come out in your playing.  If they are not, they are going to sound contrived if you force them into a situation that they don’t belong in.  Use skills and tools in the classroom that have become part of you through playing on your own.  When the time is right, they will become a natural part of your teaching.

Descending soapbox…

August 24, 2010

Are you listening?

One of the worst side-effects of the pervasiveness of technology in our lives is that we’re constantly multi-tasking.  (I know, honey: “Men can’t multi-task.”)  How often are we able to devote our full attention to just one thing?  I’m as guilty as the next person.  As I’m writing one document, I have iTunes playing away and if I hear the email chime, I’ll check.  I can be extremely distracted in an effort to not miss anything important and “make the most of my time.”  Well, of course, this means that doing many things poorly ends up becoming the principal mode of operation rather than doing one thing well.  Nowhere does this bother me more than in music.

Music “is the soundtrack of our lives.”  Everywhere you go, there is music playing.  On your car radio – in the mall – your dentists office – as background to every broadcast message you hear.  Music is everywhere.  But how much of it do we actually hear?  Do we ever stop and just listen.  Or are we so inundated with music in our daily lives that the last thing we want to do is put on some music when we get home and just listen.

How many people even have a home stereo system of any sort?  You know, a device that is devoted exclusively to playing music. How many people actually enjoy being totally focused on listening to a single piece of music?  I know that when I force my music classes to listen to music, there is always a segment of the class who have to comment, or are otherwise visibly bored by the fact that the music is the only thing going on at the time.  (email chimed and I looked – damn! I am as guilty of a lack of focus as the next person – or worse!)

I wonder how many people actually read my blog.  But if there is anyone out there, I would love to hear how you listen to music.  iPod? Home stereo?  Car stereo?  Background?  Foreground?

If you comment, I promise to read and respond.  I think that I can stay focused that long!!!!

August 9, 2010

The Future of the Book

I don’t know about you (how could I, I don’t even know who you are!) but I spend a fair amount of time wondering where books are headed.  I am a musician first and often think that the publishing industry is heading down a similar path to the recording industry.  I hope so.  What I like about the path that the recording industry has been forced down is that people are more in charge of determining what is quality in art rather than executives.  Personal taste and an ear for simply good music trumps the need to make money.  What is also happening, with major advances in technology, is that anyone can be a musician.  Not everyone can be a good musician, but anyone with the inclination to fire up GarageBand or a digital recording device can make music at some level.  This takes us back 150 year to the day when every home had a piano and if you wanted to listen to music you, or a friend, had to play it.  This gives the world a growing population of informed listeners.  To be involved in making music, gives you an appreciation of what you are listening to at a much deeper level.

How does this work with the publishing industry?  It has always been easy to write.  We all write, every day.  Shopping lists, class notes, email messages.  But we don’t write creatively with the intent to share our writing.  With blogging, wikis, collaborative ebook writing and emerging self-publishing services, anyone can write to share.  The more you write, the more you appreciate what you read.  Again, we have a growing population of informed readers deciding what is good quality writing.

We are also aided by technology in terms of how we read and write.  We are in closer touch with a vast number of writers via the internet.  We can collaborate with other writers and readers through any number of wikis and services like LibraryThing and GoodReads.  And it is all getting infinitely more portable with the proliferation of ebook readers, netbooks and the iPad.

Another bunch of people who think a lot about the future of books hang out at The Institute for the Future of the Book.  Check their website out to find out where they think this is all going.  In particular, check out this post about the iPad being more of a book than a computer.  Makes a lot of sense to me!

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July 31, 2010


As I’ve been exploring various aspects of e-education, I can’t help but wonder about privacy of identity and work when dealing with K-12 students. There is a need for balance between protecting the safety of our students and allowing for the benefits of online collaboration. What better way to learn a language than by speaking to someone who speaks that language fluently. A myriad of opportunities exist for our students to do this. What about sharing work online and receiving feedback from other students around the world or from experts in the field that the students are working in? There are places to engage in intelligent debate on any number of topics with experts and students throughout the world. There are more opportunities to learn on a truly global scale than ever before but as soon as you take advantage of these opportunities, you open yourself up to any number of risks.

There are any number of predators online that he we hear about in the media on a daily basis. If you listen to the news, nobody online is who they say they are. Most people on the Internet are harmless, but as in the rest of society, there are those who are up to no good. We can teach the students to protect themselves, but the predators are good at what they do and students will get drawn in.

Everything that is written online is permanent. Anyone who is interested in knowing about you can build up a profile by searching the web. If a student gets drawn into a discussion and innocently says things that can be taken out of context, these words are documented and come back to haunt him later in  life. There is paranoia about how future employers and government agencies can use information based on profiles developed through the Internet. And know matter how hard you try, this information is permanent. A short trip to the WayBack Machine will prove this point.

Of course, there is also the issue of theft of intellectual property. A student’s hard work can easily be stolen by others in the same class or half-way around the world whether the intent is to share the work or not.

It is a tough line to walk with our students. How do we ensure the safety of our students while still allowing them to reap the benefits of learning online? With everything, there are risks it is how we deal with those risks that is key. An Art class may walk through the neighbourhood to draw the local architecture. As soon as they step foot off campus they run the risk of being hit by a car. Does that stop us from taking our students across the street? Not typically. We teach the students how to cross a street safely and ensure that the crossing is as safe as possible (ie. we cross at a light rather than sprinting across the freeway) and hope for the best.  Likewise, we need to teach the students of all the potential risks of using the internet, set up the environment in as safe a manner as possible and trust that all will go well.  You can’t stop the drunk driver as much as you can’t stop the hacker or online predator.

The problem with learning on the Internet is that the risks are not as clearly identified and the manner in which these risks present themselves changes seemingly daily.  Facebook is evil and can only be used for cyber-bullying.  That is what some think.  Facebook, Twitter and whatever the next big thing is on the internet are only tools are not, in and of themselves, evil.  I have kept in touch with a number of ex-students through Facebook.  I would have lost touch long ago without it.  For me, it is has some great benefits.  But, of course, there are the stories of students and teachers becoming the victims of vengeful people who take out their frustrations in a very public way.

The best we can do is learn as much as we can about the new technology and teach responsible use.  We shouldn’t ban it, although responsible filtering is entirely appropriate in a school setting.  The more the students know, the better they can deal with whatever comes down the pipe, whether it be in physical or cyber-space.

July 20, 2010

Teaching Backwards

Photo by Patrick Haney

Something that Alan November said last summer has been resonating more with me recently.  I can’t remember the specific quote but he essentially said that school work should be done at home and homework should be done at school.  Technology allows us to rethink how we work with students by allowing us to remove the traditional constraints of time and location.

As a student, how many times have you come from a lecture and known that you missed taking down some important bit of information?  The speaker was saying so much that you couldn’t possibly get it all in your notes, or you got distracted at a key moment or, more likely, drifted off and later heard others talking about something you missed.  Likewise, have you ever got stuck trying to complete homework only because you realize you don’t quite understand what you thought you did and it’s three in the morning and there’s nobody to help?

The reality is that lectures, which can be an important part of the transfer of knowledge, are easily recorded and disseminated via digital means.  A teacher can record not only the words, but also the images, of almost any topic that they need to speak on and post these lectures on a web site for easy retrieval.  The student can listen to the lecture (or parts of the lecture) as many times as they want.  If they drift off because the teacher’s voice is about as exciting as Ben Stein’s, no sweat, they can go back and pick up where the snoring drowned out the teacher’s voice.

This allows the students to be more active in class and allows the valuable time and location dependant material to be dealt with when the student and teacher are together. The students and teachers then spend their valuable time together in class working on application of the knowledge.  Application makes knowledge relevant and helps it to stick.  When the teacher and other students are in the room to help each other, there is immediate help then when disaster strikes and the student gets stuck.  Less frustration.  Teachers can monitor the work as it’s being done and help understanding immediately. More opportunities for students to teach students.  More meaningful interaction between students and teacher.  Good all ’round.

Will every teacher do this?  Of course not.  It’s more effective to do a demonstration in science when it is live, rather than recorded (mind you, there might be an argument for filming those explosions coming out of the chemistry lab!)  There are certain courses that are all about application and an in class demonstration of a concept that can immediately be applied is perfect.  Sometimes concepts are complex enough that working through them together is a better approach.  But even then, wouldn’t a pre-screening of the topic the night before the class make the work in class more effective?

What are the down sides to pre-recorded lectures? It takes prep-time to do it.  Don’t teachers have enough on their plates?  Sure.  But there are multiple approaches and ways to think about this.  #1 Once you have the lectures done, it makes the following year much easier.  And class time then doesn’t need to be as teacher-centred.  #2 Who says that the teacher has to record all of the lectures?  What a great learning experience for the students to have to teach each other!

More and more teachers seem to be moving to this model.  You can see the evidence on elementary school, high school and university web sites.  Do you teach this way?  How do you make it work?  What are the positives and negatives for you?

July 14, 2010

The World is Open

I like working in a library.  It is my job to take recommendations on books, investigate them and buy the ones that are appropriate for the school’s library.  The people that recommend books are experts in their fields.  I have science teachers, math teachers, english teachers, art teachers and many others who know way more about their field than I do recommending books.  The down side is that I have to learn to read way faster if I’m going to read everything we buy, let alone read everything that is recommended!

Sometimes I get to stumble on a book that I just can’t put down.  The World is Open: How Web Technology is Revolutionizing Education is one of those books.  The author, Curtis J. Bonk, is an educational technology evangelist.  He is a devout proponent of the value of technology in education.  He uses the acronym We All Learn as a springboard for his discussion of the impact that technology is having on education.  This is how the acronym is defined:

W – web searching in the world of e-books
E – e-learning and blended learning
A – availability of open source and free software
L – leveraged resources and OpenCourseWare
L – learner participation in Open Information Communities
E – electronic collaboration
A – alternate reality learning
R – real-time mobility and portability
N – networks of personalized learning

Each of these sections are given a full chapter with examples from a variety of institutions or companies that have implemented or developed these technologies.  Bonk is able to add a twist to even the most traditional (if that word can be used in the context of educational technology) applications of the concepts that he is dealing with.

I find some familiar in each chapter but am often confronted with a way of using technology or a way of thinking about education that shifts my thinking in significant ways.  What I like is that Bonk is an education evangelist first and a technology advocate second.  He seems to be constantly looking at teaching in ways that were not possible in the past due to limitations in cost, location or time.  Technology can reduce or eliminate these constraints in many instances making access to information across the ages more readily available and viewpoints from every corner of the globe accessable without the huge monitary and time expense.

The complants about the book are minor.  At times Bonk is a little too evangelical for my tastes, but I get over this easily.  As with any print publication, it is out of date before it hits the ebook stores, but the trends are relevant even if the statistics are slightly out of date (the book was published in 2009).  Finally, I have to treat the book like coffee.  One cup at a time so that I can process the information properly and never to close to bed time or my brain won’t shut off when I go to bed!

If you are interested in the book, it is available in hard cover and in ebook formats from all of your regular ebook suppliers.