Thursday, July 10, 2008

NECC Reflections 2008: Adobe Acrobat 9

Okay, this was a "session" on the vendor floor but I have just three words: Oh…My…Gosh….. This new version of Acrobat/Reader is amazing and, frankly, was one of the highlights of the conference for me.

· Embed video that can be read with Acrobat Reader 9 – yes, video in a pdf!!
· Nice bookmarking feature
· Make a Ppt presentation a PDF and preserve transitions and animations AND file size is a fraction of the original Ppt size
· Extended version allows you to add a sidebar video to presentations so you can narrate a presentation if you like
· Can create a PDF portfolio that can contain editable documents – looks VERY interesting for student portfolio work!!

NECC Reflections 2008: Grassroots Creativity: Helping Everyone Become a Creative Thinker

Grassroots Creativity: Helping Everyone Become a Creative Thinker
Mitchel Resnick, MIT Media Lab

Resnick REALLY gets creativity and its essential place in both work and play. While the focus of the tool he demonstrated (SCRATCH) is more elementary than what I was looking for he definitely makes you think about where creativity lives in work, school, and home. His constructivist approach and results are fascinating.

One nugget I took from this session is looking at the sharing component of SCRATCH. How much to our art/photography/computer graphics students share their work? We have a game creating class at our school and I’m trying to find out if our students put their work out there for playing, comment and critique. We’re missing the boat if our students aren’t sharing their work on a more global scale.

NECC Reflections 2008: It's in Your Pocket: Teaching Spectacularly with Cell Phones

It's in Your Pocket: Teaching Spectacularly with Cell Phones
Hall Davidson, Discovery

Hall Davidson, spectacular as always, gave a wonderful talk about what we can do with cell phones. I admit, I did not know about many of the things he demonstrated. A few that may be new or not:
· – podcast from your phone
· – live poll using the internet, chart or text, fascinating!
· Text 34381 and receive nutrition information back (e.g. McDonald’s Big Mac)
· YouTube now accepts videos from cell phones
· – transcribe voice to text (rti, etc.)
· Favorite quote: “Our non-working lives have been ruined by cell phones, why shouldn’t kids’ lives be ruined, too? Send them a quiz!!”

My reflections:
· I love the idea of using these tools and yes, almost all our students have a cell phone
· Big question: Who pays for this?? I can see parents looking at their cell phone bills after a few days of texting in poll results, etc.
· Really would have to have clear rules as to when you use them and when you don’t

NECC 2008 Reflections: Using Blogs, Podcasts, and Other Tools in the ESL/EFL Class

Using Blogs, Podcasts, and Other Tools in the ESL/EFL Class
Juan Rozo, Colegio Anglo Colombiano (Colombia)

Juan Rozo from Bogota, Colombia shared some uses of Web 2.0 tools in the ESL/EFL classroom. (In Colombia, English is EFL – English as a Foreign Language.) I can’t say there was anything earth shattering in this presentation but it was interesting hearing an approach from a non- native English speaking classroom. The concept Rozo best brought to light for me was utilizing podcasts of interest for students to increase the English speaking voices they hear…different accents, vernacular, etc. There’s a podcast in English about just about everything and they tend to be more interesting than typical, prescribed listening exercises. Also, leaving assignments orally on a website, interviews, audio plays, digital storytelling, etc. are other ways to enhance listening skills.

NECC 2008 Reflections: Opening Keynote

Opening Keynote
James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds

I found the opening keynote speech by James Surowiecki quite interesting. Much of his presentation came from material in his book The Wisdom of Crowds. In a nutshell, Surowiecki claims that the wisdom of crowds is great than that of its best and smartest members. He provided several anecdotes to prove his position. By the way, the first thing that must be understood is that the crowd must be diverse; diversity is the key to bringing different perspectives, ideas, experience to the table and therefore the overall wisdom gained by such experience that one person could not possibly have.
I found this concept of “the wisdom of crowds” compelling but wonder how one really acts upon it. When choosing leaders, one tends to lean toward the familiar, toward those most like us. While I am fascinated by the idea and inclined to agree, I think putting the concept into practice is a daunting task for most organizations. I wholeheartedly believe that diversity makes an organization smarter and better. But I also believe in hiring the best person for the job. I know that “diverse” and “best” is certainly not always a contradiction but they do seem to battle each other at times.

NECC 2008 Reflections: Open Minds, Open Education, and a View of Open Culture

Open Minds, Open Education, and a View of Open Culture
David Thornburg, Thornburg Center

David Thornburg of the Thornburg Center is one who never fails to be passionate about his topic; he clearly loves education and loves kids. In this presentation, he shares the beauty of Open Source software. A few of Thornburg’s points:

· As the cost of hardware decreases, the escalating cost of software is an increasingly significant part of our technology budgets and we have to pay attention to it.
· “Single platform software is anti-child” – Thornburg believes a student should be able to access the same software at home as at school or anywhere else regardless of platform but many are serving the platform, not the child.
· We need access now, more than ever, for every learner in the world
· Technology is changing faster than pedagogical practice
· Question shifts from “Given current classroom practice, how should technology change?” to “Given current technology how should classroom practice change?”

My reflections:
· I think the “question shift” is interesting…we’ve often said instruction should drive technology and not the other way around. But, perhaps, there is a place for looking at technology first if for no other reason than to open our minds to possibilities not available to us 5, 10, 15 years ago.
· While I understand the point, I’m not sure I like the broad brush painting of single-platform software development as “anti-child”. Those are pretty harsh words to hear at an educational conference…some people are just makin’ a living.
· I’m concerned about looking to open source for everything. Some open source software is truly essentially the same as its more expensive competitor. However, some of it just can’t match up. I’m concerned that my district might move to an open source concept-mapping software because of the exorbitant price of the industry standard but I have yet to see open source / web based options that really do what the more expensive option does. I don’t want to sacrifice the educational benefits of packages because we can find a “similar” free one.

NECC 2008 Reflections

I thought I’d share a few thoughts about some sessions and NECC 2008 in general. Overall, I had another good experience at NECC, learned some new things and built relationships with colleagues…all good stuff. Here are just a few general comments with more detailed session comments to follow:

  1. I felt like the things I wanted to learn about were represented at NECC. Most of what I wanted to accomplish, both on the vendor floor and in sessions, I did.
  2. Going to NECC with a team is great. You can share so much more and generate more ideas. If your district can swing the cost, I highly recommend it. There's a lot of value added in sending more than just one or two people.
  3. While I hate to think that anyone would have to be excluded, I cannot help but suggest that something must be done about the size of this conference. I love telling friends and family that I’m at an educational conference that draws 15-20,000 people ("Wow!") but there just aren’t enough sessions to go around. Fortunately, this year, several of my goals involved exhibitors so I could always go to the floor if I couldn’t get in a session but I showed up 45 minutes early for one that was closed already. I think this is going to continue to be a problem if it’s not addressed. Showing up 30 minutes early to a session only to find it's already full was a regular occurrence.
  4. I hear comments from people that the sessions don’t serve them very well and their most valuable time is networking and conversing with people; well, heaven help us when engaging in conversation with colleagues isn’t one of our most valuable activities! Many of the people I hang with are definitely past where these sessions will take them, but there are clearly about 10,000 more people who are still learning from even the most basic session (myself included); they – we- still need NECC and such conferences.
  5. On a practical side, San Antonio is a GREAT convention town…good convention center, plenty of hotels, restaurants, etc. to accommodate a conference of this magnitude. Thank you to a great host city!

This was my 6th year at NECC; it has been, and I hope will continue to be, one of the highlights of my year. I’m grateful to my district for sending me and more and more of my colleagues so that our experiences can be even richer.