Thursday, December 16, 2010

Education & Digital Learning Current Awareness for December 19/10

A review of news and blog articles, commentaries, research, reports, and technology issues as they relate to education, digital learning, children and youth. Covering the week ending December 19, 2010.

Changes to Full-Day Kindergarten Program in Ontario

Kindergarten in FrankfurtImage via WikipediaDepending on where you first read of the Full-Day Kindergarten Program changes, the pros and cons can be, unsurprisingly, polarized.

The Ontario Ministry of Education Press Release talks about providing families with "more options for before- and after-school programs". The Ontario government "plans to introduce legislation that would, if passed, give school boards the option to deliver before- and after-school programs directly, or to make agreements with third-party providers to offer these programs on an ongoing basis."

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Rate Your Teacher....a Gates Foundation study sheds a little light on a thorny web practice

Logo da fundação Bill & Melinda GatesImage via WikipediaA Gates Foundation research initiative has found that students who rated their teachers highly also scored better on standardized tests than their peers.

Teachers whose students described them as skillful at maintaining classroom order, at focusing their instruction and at helping their charges learn from their mistakes are often the same teachers whose students learn the most in the course of a year, as measured by gains on standardized test scores, according to a progress report on the research. [NY Times, What Works in the Classroom? Ask the Students, published December 10, 2010]

These findings are part of the Gates foundation’s $45 million Measure of Effective Teaching study project. A joint partnership / project involving a massive team of social scientists and circa 3000 teachers from various districts across the US. The project is basically hoping to build a 'metrics' for identifying effective teaching: i.e. lay the foundation for managing future teachers and "overhaul" the current system. (Yup, the entire premise is quite scary, and definitely not "teacher-friendly" study if you're a good teacher but, for whatever reason, not necessarily liked by students.)

A Gates Foundation report on this topic was released earlier this year in June, Working with Teachers to Develop Fair and Reliable Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) .

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Education & Digital Learning Current Awareness for December 12/10

A review of news and blog articles, commentaries, research, reports, and technology issues as they relate to education, digital learning, children and youth. Covering the week ending December 12, 2010.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

K-12 Online Learning in Canada - The 2010 Report

The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) has recently (November 2010) released its State of the Nation: K-12 Online Learning in Canada report, 2010 edition.

Some key points:
  • In most jurisdictions, K-12
    distance education is not viewed as an educational option of choice, only one of necessity
  • K-12 distance education enrolment in Canada is somewhere between 2.8% and 3.4% of the total K-12 student population

  • In many instances, the method of distance education delivery is still using print-based materials

  • In many instances, the method of distance education delivery is still using print-based materials
Not exactly the picture we had of online learning in Canada, but it should be emphasized that much of the K-12 distance education in Canada is still treated as substitute "option" for when face-to-face learning is not feasible or economic.

There are some shifts happening, particularly in Alberta where it has started looking at creating an "online and blended learning" educational environment: no longer taking the view of online learning as a "distance education tool" but a foundation which can become the textbook and whiteboard of the near future.

The report provides a national overview, with the Ottawa Carleton e-School being the focus for Ontario.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

OECD's PISA 2009 Literacy and Reading Results

The logo of the Organisation for Economic Co-o...Image via WikipediaThe OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) just released it's annual report and survey, and Canada is in the top 10 (6th). PISA is a reading and literacy survey of 15 year olds in industrialized countries / economies - approximately 65 countries. The programme's conception of reading literacy "encompasses the range of situations in which people read, the different ways written texts are presented, and the variety of ways that readers approach and use texts, from the functional and finite, such as finding a particular piece of practical information, to the deep and far-reaching, such as understanding other ways of doing, thinking and being"...well, nice to know we're doing okay.

Here's a link to the Executive Summary of the PISA Results 2009.

The Ontario Ministry of Education released a news release on this achievement. But what really stands out for us in the PISA results is that girls outperform boys in reading skills in every participating country...that's truly an amazing stat.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Google Cloud Picker...I'm sure they'll change the name

A whack of media over the last couple of days on Google's new, upcoming, feature...Cloud Picker. An unfortunate name, and one I'm willing to bet they'll change as this feature matures.

What is it? It's an online storage product that connects several of Google's services under one storage space, e.g. YouTube, Docs, Maps and Picasa photos. Basically, a sort of online drive (G Drive anyone) which allows for easy insertion of docs and objects into many of Google services like Blogger and Google Sites.

Education & Digital Learning Current Awareness for December 4/10

Research & Reports

International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNOCL) - Two New Reports

The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNOCL), November 2010

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Big Victory for Website Accessibility in Canada

Supreme Court of CanadaImage via WikipediaA massive win for those with vision disabilities in Canada, as Donna Jodhan, a special needs consultant who is blind, took the Canadian Federal government, and their "inaccessible" web sites and services, to court and won: see our previous article on this.

It was a constitutional challenge which has now put the Federal government in the position of having 15 months to make its websites accessible to visually impaired users: an unenviable and expensive task given the size of their web presence, but they only have themselves to blame, they should have started this years ago.

Here's a link to the 83 page decision now available on CanLII, Jodhan v. Canada (Attorney General), 2010 FC 1197.

I can't help but think that this will filter down to other jurisdictions in Canada, quickly, and that Ontario's Information and Communications Standard, when finally packaged and ready to file as a regulation in 2011, will have a more progressive compliance date.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Personality tests for teachers, cyberbullying white paper, and other education news

Teachers "to be given personality tests" - UK
The UK Department of Education has just released an Education White Paper - The Importance of Teaching, which recommends that would-be teachers take aptitude tests and undergo personality screening before being accepted.

UK Department of Education, November 24, 2010

Cyberbullying Materials by Common Sense Media
US media watchdog group for kids, Common Sense Media has some useful looking resources on cyberbullying:

Common Sense Media, November 24, 2010

Africentric school principal to return
The nation's only Africentric school is in Toronto, and it also appears to be dealing with the politics of being the only one of its kind...

Toronto Star, November 26, 2010

Use of the internet in higher-income households - PEW Internet and Income Study
A rather "obvious" study in the big picture context, but does provide some nice bits of data on the varying levels of usage, access (e.g. Broadband, mobile), and intensity of use.

PEW Internet, November 24, 2010

Friday, November 19, 2010

Facebook Blamed and Advocated by Educators, Ontario and the Poor Student Dilemma, Cellphones in the Classroom - Some of this week's news & articles

Traditional university education to be supplemented by options
You might be surprised to hear that according to the United Nations, the percentage of adults who have attained a tertiary education is 46 per cent in Canada. This compares to 55 per cent for Russia, 39 per cent for the United States, 30 per cent for the United Kingdom, 21 per cent for Greece, and 10 per cent for Italy. Canadians rank among the most educated individuals in the world.

Hamilton Spectator, November 19, 2010

Monday, November 15, 2010

Ontario Launches Bullying Awareness And Prevention Week

Ontario Ministry of Education Launches Bullying Awareness And Prevention Week. Today's press release designates the third week of every November as Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week.

Packaged as an "opportunity to raise awareness of bullying-related issues and make a difference in school communities", it appears to be part of the Safe Schools Strategy; which includes initiatives like linking up with the Help Kids Phone, a national program which provides some useful services.
Also of note is the The Keeping Our Kids Safe at School Act, which came into force this past February, 2010. The Act itself gives quite a bit of leeway and power to Boards and principals, a necessary measure and, hopefully, backed-up by sound policies and guidelines.

Bullying is a major issue for educators right across North America, espcially cyber-bullying. A recent national survey (US) on bullying, The Ethics of American Youth: 2010, found that half of US high school students say they've bullied someone in the past year, and nearly half say they've been the victim of bullying. The study was prepared by the Josephson Institute of Ethics, surveyed an astonishing 43,000 high school students, and asked them whether they'd been physically / emotionally abused in a way which really upset them.

Here are some recent articles on bullying legislation in the States, to give us an idea of how our neighbours to the south are handling this thorny issue:

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Financial Literacy in Ontario Schools

Financial literacy will be integrated into the curriculum in September of 2011. The initiative was a key recommendation of the Curriculum Council and the report of the Working Group on Financial Literacy, will teach students about about saving, spending, investing and managing money, and will be taught from grades 4 to 12.

Some Key Links and Reports on Financial Literacy:

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Ontario Progress "Report" Card Pamphlet for Parents, California Dept of Ed. Resources on iTunes, and more news

Changes to Report Cards and the Reporting of Student Progress
The Durham District School Board has created a clear-language pamphlet for parents explaining the changes this fall.

Durham District School Board

Asian students suffering for success
Long admired for raising academic superstars, parents of Asian background are coming under fire from their own community for pushing their children into university programs for which many have no real interest or talent and often quit in distress.

Toronto Star, November 10, 2010

Computers Link Homes and Schools in California
A school district in California's Silicon Valley is installing what could be the nation's first computer link between home and school, and the officials who have started the program say they expect it to spread quickly across the state.
I know of a number of workplaces who would love this type of technology...the haves and have-nots in America's school districts is mind-blowing.

Education Week, November 10, 2010

Sex, Drugs More Common in Hyper-Texting Teens
Teens who text 120 times a day or more — and there seems to be a lot of them — are more likely to have had sex or used alcohol and drugs than kids who don't send as many messages, according to provocative new research.
Yup, peer pressure is now also a "wireless" activity...a not-so-astonishing study.

Education Week, November 9, 2010

Lastly, Two Examples of Smart Ed. Resource Sharing Networks:
  1. State Business and Education Leaders to Create New Tool for Teachers
  2. Calif. Department of Ed. Now on iTunes U

Friday, November 12, 2010

Learning with Mobile Technology, Ed-Tech Action Plans, and Educational Media for Babies and Toddlers - A Review of Some Recent Research

The U.S. releases the final version of its National Ed-Tech Action Plan. It's a 124 page report, outlining a lot of very ambitious plans, including online professional-collaboration communities for teachers and other educators, finance development of open-source educational resources, launch an initiative dedicated to defining and increasing educational productivity, and lists goals for 2020...for more information see Education Week's article on the report.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Ontario University Sector Concerns, Bullying, Minorities, Character Development Programs, and more - A Review of Some Recent Reports & Research

A recent report looking at higher education in Ontario, The Benefits of Greater Differentiation of Ontario’s University Sector (published by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario - HEQCO), states that "universities should set measureable goals based on their strengths, and the provincial government should base new funding on
whether those goals are met." Basically, when you're looking at the various programs of the many Ontario universities, you end of feeling like you're looking at more-or-less the same blueprint, cheating the student of real choice and the university of opportunities to focus on, and develop, their strengths..."Ontario universities should play to their strengths instead of trying to be everything to everyone" (Globe and Mail article).

Monday, October 25, 2010

Schools going Mobile, Students Embrace Kindle, and Male Teachers - This Past Week's News

Schools Open Doors to Students' Mobile Devices
...students returned from summer break to learn they were free not only to bring their mobile devices to school, but also to use them at their teachers discretion to connect to the school’s wireless network to do their work.

Education Week, Oct. 20, 2010

Kindles at High School Bring Praise, Surprises
Social studies teacher Kathy Biddle was giving a lecture recently when she noticed a handful of students fiddling with their Kindles...Biddle stopped her lesson. She scolded her charges, telling them to focus on what she was saying. She thought they were texting their friends or looking at Facebook. They weren't. The students were taking notes on Biddle's lecture, using a feature on the electronic book-reader called 'My Clippings.' They then instructed the rest of the class how to do it.

Education Week, Oct. 19, 2010

We need tool-savvy teachers
Quebec is fast becoming ground zero in the battle against high dropout rates among high-school students. The situation is particularly acute among boys, what with one in three male Quebeckers leaving high school without a diploma.

While opinions vary as to the cause, several critics point to the “feminization” of the classroom as the main culprit. The solution, they say, is to simply recruit more male teachers, even if it means creating quotas. But this is simplistic. What we need is a complete rethink.

Globe and Mail, Oct. 20, 2010

Mother's outrage makes school trips latest front in the nut-free fight
Following a parent’s complaint about teacher conduct on a school field trip, trustees at the Halton Catholic District School Board considered Tuesday whether to review the rules regarding parent and teacher chaperones.

Globe and Mail, Oct. 20, 2010

The endangered male teacher
A new study says male elementary teachers live in a steady state of anxiety, with 13 per cent reporting they had been wrongly accused of inappropriate contact with students. Part 2 of a six-part series.

Globe and Mail, Oct. 22, 2010

Friday, October 22, 2010

Online Privacy Poll - Parents Say Social Networks Aren't Protecting Kids' Online Privacy

Interesting national poll (US) released a few weeks ago on parents' perception of social networks and the protection of their kids' online privacy. The poll, commissioned and released by Common Sense Media (CSM), found that "92 percent of parents are concerned that kids share too much information online, and 85 percent of parents say they're more concerned about online privacy than they were five years ago".

The poll also found that the sharing of kids' geo-location is a source of real worry for parents, and many would prefer that this process be somehow authorized or accessible by parents. The biggest fear for parents who expressed concern about information sharing is, as expected, sexual predators: despite the many recent high-profile tragedies linked to cyberbullying over the past year, 72 percent of parents indicated sexual predators as their primary concern, with only 2 percent listing cyberbullying as their main concern, surprisingly behind "difficulty securing job or college placement (10 percent).

But here's the surprsing stat for schools, most "parents (70%) say they think schools should play a role in educating students about protecting their privacy online." Would be great to know what Canadian parents' think about this topic...

The poll was actually conducted by Zogby International, and you can access the full list of results on Education Week's site.

For more information on CMS's privacy initiative, visit their Protect Our Privacy—Protect Our Kids site.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Next Generation Learning - A NASBE Report

The National Association of State Boards of Education released a report this month which recommends using technology and other modern tools to move away from class "seat-time" models and toward models that promote both in-class and out-of-class innovation, a blended learning model - No Time to Wait: Creating Contemporary School Structures for All Students Today and Tomorrow.

Friday, October 15, 2010

New Google "Research Tool"... in the development stage

Automatic Generation of Research Trails in Web History - Just released a few days ago, this paper outlines what appears to be a new research tool being developed for Google: a " research trail" generator. This browser end tool would deliver a method to organize web content(s), which a user spent some time researching (think brower history), into distinct research sessions. "Research trails are automatically constructed by filtering and organizing users’ activity history, using a combination of semantic and temporal criteria for grouping similar web activity" (beSpecific).

Here's an explanation of Research Trails taken from the paper's abstract:
We propose the concept of research trails to help web users create and reestablish context across fragmented research processes without requiring them to explicitly structure and organize the material. A research trail is an ordered sequence of web pages that were accessed as part of a larger investigation; they are automatically constructed by filtering and organizing users’ activity history, using a combination of semantic and activity based criteria for grouping similar visited web pages. The design was informed by an ethnographic study of ordinary people doing research on the web, emphasizing a need to support research processes that are fragmented and where the research question is still in formation. This paper motivates and describes our algorithms for generating research trails.
Sounds like this will be a great addition to Google's suite of tools.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Training Teachers, Child Development Accounts, e-Readers, and more - A Review of Some Recent Reports and Studies

National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education just released a report advocating the need to better train teachers in the rudiments of developmental science, The Road Less Traveled: How the Developmental Sciences Can Prepare Educators to Improve Student Achievement. The report included a multidisciplinary panel of experts, such as experts in teacher education, developmental science and early childhood. It asserts that while there has been an explosion of research demonstrating that teacher understanding of and ability to apply developmental sciences knowledge leads to increased student achievement results, this research and body of knowledge is rarely being used to train teachers.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Law and Making Websites Accessible to Users with Disabilities

Distributing copies of the Canadian Charter of...Image via Wikipedia
About 3 million Canadians have disabilities that make it difficult to access sites and information on the Internet, be it from government sites or private sector sites. And this week one such Canadian, Donna Jodhan - a blind Toronto accessibility consultant, is taking the federal government to court because their websites are not accessible to blind and partially-sighted Internet users.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ontario Premier says "Allow Cell Phones in Class"

Chargepod is a 6-way charging device that allo...Image via WikipediaPremier Dalton McGuinty has come out saying school boards should be open to the idea of allowing students to use cellphones in the classroom...and I suspect most Ontarians will immediately consider this a bad idea.

This is the same reaction many US school districts and educators had when contemplating the notion, but you now have a surprising number of teachers advocating the use of cell phones. And some of it may be a result of the inevitabel, if you can't beat them join them, but nonetheless there are a number of articles, sites, and networks regularly exchanging ideas on how to integrate cellphones into classroom planing and learning activities.

Education Week, a leading education publication in the US, has regular articles and webinars on cell phones as classroom learning tools, quite often accompanied with real classroom / teacher examples of their use.

There are now text books on cell phone use in education, e.g. Toys to Tools: Connecting Student Cell Phones to Education, Teaching With the Tools Kids Really Use: Learning With Web and Mobile...just do an Amazon search and you'll be surprised.

Many progressive universities now have centres for the study of interactive technology in education, which include research into mobile technology and learning. And Classroom 2.0, the largest professional social network for teachers with over 30, 000 members, has a group called Cell Phones in Education.

It's definitely worthwhile at least exploring the option...

Overview of the Full Day Kindergarten Initiative in Ontario

Shockingly diverse kindergarten group in ParisImage via WikipediaThe Ontario Ministry of Education just released another news item today regarding the Full Day Kindergarten initiative, More Early Childhood Educators Ready For The Classroom. Today's news focuses on the push to integrate more early childhood educators (ECEs) into classrooms to meet the "growing demand for ECEs" as Ontario phases in full-day kindergarten over the next five years.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Using Technology for Classroom Assessments

Some schools in the States are using a computer program called mClass Reading 3D to record student responses to reading exercises, determine their strengths and weaknesses, and use these assessments to helo target their instruction.

This is actually being used by primary grade teachers, kindergarten through second grade, with the hope of providing the teacher with more informed instruction time and less time labouring through the assessment and planning process. Along with providing quicker student-centred data for classroom activity development, it can also be a tool for parents to use at home.

But the infrastructure necessary to successfully push and maintain this type of classroom-level technology is something which most boards / districts are far from having. The following is a description of a program which introduced this technology:
Each teacher will get a netbook, which displays reading exercises for students to complete. As they give their answers, the teacher takes notes on how the child responds, and the computer records which answers were correct and incorrect.

It then determines what tasks the student does proficiently and which tasks need to be reviewed with the teacher.
- Education Week

Definitely not a fiscal reality for our board.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Student Engagement, Achievement, and Effective Teaching - A CEA Report

I rarely look at the Canadian context because, quite frankly, there is very little to look at. But a recent report by the Canadian Education Association (CEA) is definitely worth a read. What did you do in school today? is a CEA report which explores the relationships "among student engagement, achievement, and effective teaching". The report, a national initiative, is an attempt to look at one of the major challenges in education and provide some "Canadian" data on how best to take the next steps. The challenge?! -

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Building a Fully Mobile Web Site - A Library's Experience

Image representing iPhone 3G as depicted in Cr...Image via CrunchBase

A recent article in Reference Services Review (38.2, 2010) lays out a case in support of a fully mobile library web site. In fact, the article starts off with the position that “now” is definitely the time to develop a fully mobile web site.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Teachers' Personal E-Mails Not Public Records - US Case

The United States Supreme Court.Image via Wikipedia

A very recent privacy case in Wisconsin will definitely have repercussions across the States, and worthwhile for us to take note in Canada; especially with the number of provinces which now have Freedom of Information and Protection of Privact Acts with teeth.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The "Millennial" Generation - New Pew Research Center Report

The Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next, are defined by Pew as "the American teens and twenty-somethings who are making the passage into adulthood at the start of a new millennium", and further described by Pew as "confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and open to change". Well, sounds like a there's positive outlook for the socio-political health of the US?!?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Teaching, Technology, and New Teachers - A Few Myths. Report

Educators, Technology and 21st Century Skills: Dispelling Five Myths, a new study commissioned by The Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership, explores some of the common assumptions about recent teachers' college graduates, their greater technology-literate backgrounds, and how this translates into classroom teaching and activities.

The study found that despite being younger and more having a higher degree of computer literacy, these recent teaching school graduates are no more likely to use technology in the classroom than their more experienced, and perhaps less "digitally" literate, colleagues. This, in fact, is one of the five myths the study outlines - growing up technology-literate does not necessarily translate into being comfortable using technology as a teaching and learning tool.

Here's a list of the other 4 myths the report looks at and refutes:
  • Only high-achieving students benefit from using technology;

  • Given that students today are comfortable with technology, teachers’ use of technology is less important to student learning;

  • Teachers and administrators have shared understandings about classroom technology use and 21st century skills;

  • Teachers feel well prepared by their initial teacher preparation programs to effectively incorporate technology into classroom instruction and to foster 21st century skills.
The study is based on a survey of more than 1,000 U.S. K–12 teachers, principals and assistant principals, and well worth the read. How I wish we had reports like this about the Canadian experience.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Digital Citizenship Curriculum - Navigating Digital Literacy Education

Common Sense Media is a non-profit online education advocacy group based out of San Francisco. They have recently developed a digital literacy curriculum to help teachers and educators navigate through, and make sense of, the new challenges they face in dealing with the first generation of "digital natives". And when it comes to hot topic issues like cyberbullying, the curriculum is intended to provide a platform for educators and students to tackle this as an ethical concern and a learning teachable:

Friday, July 2, 2010

"Content" Resource Discovery Platforms

Semantic or "intelligent" search tools, with controlled and connected data, are becoming more recognized and more desired for the specific or more sophisticated search request: for the user who wants to locate structured, meaningful, connected content, instead of having to cobble it together themselves from an endless mess of online searches. Here are a few tools you can use to help you move in the "smart search" direction.


A couple of weeks ago Primal launched it's new publishing platform, a kind of semantic mashup of web content aggregated from other sources.

Described by its founder as a form of "automated content manufacturing", the premises and goal of Primal is surprisingly easy and rather straight-forward: to build a web site of automated content based on a users thoughts and ideas. For example, in Primal Pages you can simply type in a word, such a Trees, and a webpage builder will guide the user through the process of developing and generating a web resource on their topic of interest, using content from sources like Wikipedia, Yahoo!, and Flickr.

Primal offers a few content and resource exploration tabs along with Pages. Storm provides you with the ability to generate semantic maps, or columns, of your ideas:

One obvious use for Primal in teaching is to use it to build a website of course resources / materials, and in this case you can it built collaboratively by both teacher and students.

Google Squared

Google Squared is Google's semantic search tool - Google's way of taking web content and adding a layer of structure so that it carries meaning beyond its content container, much like a database. In this case it extracts data from Web pages and presents them in search results as squares in an online spreadsheet. A search for "oak trees" will give you a list of results in columns by item name, image, description, family, genus, class, etc.

It's an amazing tool for comparative data searching, and its application in the classroom becomes quite apparent when you start thinking about the structure of the data you work with: try a search on something like "Canadian Provinces", or "Canadian Landscape Artists".

And Google has made this tool even smarter over the last year. You can add columns, create your own columns, store more data in a square, and save it to Google Spreadsheet (meaning you can also save it to Excel, if you so wish). If you have a classroom site on Google Sites you'll be able to integrate the results of this spreadsheet directly into your site, with sorting features, etc.: now that's a game changer when it comes to building resources for digital learning.

Wolfram Alpha

Wolfram Alpha, the "computational knowledge" engine turned one in mid-May, it was released back in 2009 with much hoopla and anticipation but has had mixed reviews during its first year. In truth, the mixed reviews stem from two realities:
  1. Data- they simply did not get access to all the data needed to build its knowledge domains: unlike semantic search tools like Primal and Google Squared, Wolfram Alpha is an actual database (or distributed database) running in the background
  2. Users - users were expecting it to behave like a search engine, but unlike regular web search engines, Wolfram computes data based on the structure of your question. The "stringing together of terms" search we've all become used to simply does not work with a controlled database search environment.
However, over the last year Wolfram Alpha has been adding more knowledge domains and building / programming with natural language queries. Wolfram Alpha also hopes to soon allow users to upload their own data, perform computations on this data, and use Wolfram Alpha to find correlations within Alpha's vast database. The teaching and classroom usage and application scenarios for this are immense.

Wolfram Alpha also provides some really nice user-end features to help us integrate the data we find into our own work. For example, if you do a search "Canada Geography" you get the following results table:

If you click on any of the data it will produce a pop-up which will let you copy the data as text or save it as an image:

And in its attempt to reach more users Wolfram Alpha has created community groups and targeted these groups with announcements, discussion boards, idea sharing, etc., and yes, there is a Wolfram Alpha Education Community.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

McAfee Report on Teen Online Behaviour...Interesting

McAfee, the Internet security company, has just released a report called The Secret Online Lives of Teens and, if you're a parent of a teen, it's confirmed some underlying suspicions and fears you may have about all the time they spend online.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Accessibility Standards and Education - The Ontario Context

Read an article recently about the Internet Archive, an increasingly popular Internet library of web resources developed and maintained by a non-profit, and how they have made about one million books easily accessible for people with disabilities, such as blindness or dyslexia, by converting the books to a new format called DAISY: a format which can be downloaded to devices that can read the books aloud.

The books are available to anyone, and while this brings about some implications for educators, and in my opinion mostly positive, it did remind me of the work that's happening here at home in Ontario to increase accessibility standards and services to persons with disabilities: a major initiative which, unfortunately, does not appear to have generated much attention in education circles.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Teachers’ Use of Educational Technology - A U.S. Dept. of Education Report

A new report released by the US Department of Education, Teachers’ Use of Educational Technology in U.S. Public Schools: 2009. First Look, highlights an issue which any teacher working in a low-income area is aware of - teachers working in low-income / high poverty areas are less likely to use technology for classroom related activities than teachers working in mid to high income areas.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Young more lonely than the old - UK Study

A UK report by the Mental Health Foundation, suggests that loneliness is more prevalent among the young than those past retirement age.

The findings of The Lonely Society report find that the younger respondents to their survey were the group most likely to experience and acknowledge loneliness:
"Generational differences are striking. In general, the younger you are, the more likely you are to feel lonely often (12%) and the more likely to have felt depressed because you felt alone (53%). More people in the 18-34 age bracket also worry about feeling lonely (36%). These results may indicate that loneliness is especially a problem for younger generations, and that changes in the way we live and work that affect our relationships are having more of an impact on this age group. More young people (31%) say they spend too much time communicating with family and friends online when they should see them in person, for example. Of the three age groups, people in the younger age group (18-34) were most likely to have been proactive about dealing with isolation, with 14% saying that they had sought help for feeling lonely, compared to 12% of those aged 35-54 and 8% of people over 55."
While the connectivity of the new social networking sites and technology in general were seen as potentially 'isolating' experiences and poor replacements for genuine human interaction, the report also acknowledged that it can allow people to make connections they may otherwise never have made. And this inherent dichotomy is captured as a generational experience, with the younger generations falling into the former.

Food for thought as many of us deal with, and push for, a more digital environment at work and home.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The 2010 Horizon Report - emerging technologies in K - 12

The Horizon Report 2010 K - 12 Edition, a publication of the New Media Consortium and the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), examines emerging technologies and their potential impact on, and use in, K - 12 teaching and learning. This years Horizon Report captures an international perspective and explores k - 12 issues that transcend boards, regional practices and policies, with a focus on how six emerging technologies or practices which are likely to help education and educators in the years to come.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Video Games, Boys, and Learning - Not A Good Mix According to Study

A typical retail display (in Geneva, Switzerla...Image via WikipediaPsychologists Robert Weis and Brittany C. Cerankosky of Denison University conducted a study, Effects of Video-Game Ownership on Young Boys' Academic and Behavioral Functioning: A Randomized, Controlled Study, examining the short-term effects of video-game ownership on learning and academic development in young boys. The findings, well, after young boys receive their first video game system they don’t do as well in school as boys who don’t own such, didn't see that coming.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Privacy Commissioner of Canada Enters the "Cloud" Debate

Diagram showing overview of cloud computing in...Image via Wikipedia

As part of the 2010 Consumer Privacy Consultations the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) has put out a notice of consultation and call for submissions on privacy issues related to cloud computing practices and their implications for individuals, organizations, and businesses.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Using Open Source in Education - A Report

In a recent post of ours we discussed the strong desire to go open source in the world of education versus the reality: the increasingly out-of-sync relationship between user expectations and corporate IT services response, where users are expecting way more than most traditional IT services can deliver.

Well, a just released report by technology research firm Grunwald Associates (and sponsored by Educational Testing Service) explores the nuances of developing an open source platform for Internet-based assessment, and touches upon some of the common concerns and misperceptions about open source development and implementation.

Friday, March 26, 2010

U.S. Public Library Study - A Third of Americans Use Public Library Computer Services

Since the mid to late 90's free access to computers and the Internet in public libraries has evolved from a marginal service and activity to an essential service. In 1996 only 28 percent of U.S. public libraries offered visitors access to the Internet. Today, almost all public library branches offer visitors free access to computers and the Internet, in fact, for many public libraries it has become their core service.

The recently released study of the U.S. public library services, Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries, found that over the past year, 45 percent of the 169 million visitors to public libraries used the library's Internet services during their amazing figure and a real argument for more money to be put into these services.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Why Choose Wikis over Google...?!

The Marketplace
For the last number of years educator's have been turning to wiki platforms to create collaborative spaces. The ease of use, access, and availability of wikis have made them a favourite option for teacher's hoping to create an online space to share with their students. But Google has quickly become an increasingly popular choice for use among educators, especially for district-wide implementation - a corporate, strategic, server-side solution instead of a one-off classroom solution for those lucky enough to have a board with a sense of innovation.

And over the last little while the growth of Google Apps and the development of cross-platform applications has made Google even more attractive. Recently Google launched its Google Apps Marketplace and what really caught my attention was the quality of competitor applications which are available. Zoho, an Indian application and services suite that competes with Google apps and which I really like, has integrated its CRM and Projects apps with Google apps.

The logic behind this is both good for business and the user:
  • It gives application developers access to a massive pool / market of users;
  • Google will be able to provide an even richer user experience in the cloud; and
  • Google users will be able to make use of fantastic apps without having to create an account elsewhere: prior to the Google Marketplace if we wanted to make use of a Project Management web app we would have to login elsewhere, but not now.
In fact, Zoho has offered Google sign-in on it's own platform for quite a while, and these two services (Zoho and Google Apps) about cover it all when it comes to personal and business cloud computing...would love to see more integration between these two.

Public Data Visualization
A few weeks ago Google launched a new labs tool, Google Public Data Explorer. As the name indicates, this new Google Labs tool offers a visual way to look at and analyze large public data sets on a variety of topical search categories. The public data sets cover about 80+ categories of data and are taken from the following sources:
  • World Bank
  • OECD Factbook 2009
  • Eurostat
  • US Census
  • National Center for Health Statistics (US)
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(US)...and a few others
As you can see, Statistics Canada data is not included...and as a Canadian who is familiar with Stats Can's obsession with releasing, or should I say withholding, data from the public something tells me this is more of a Stats Can issue than a Google one.

There's a lot of useful and valuable "lesson-friendly" data to play with. And users can play with the data and reshape the visualizations into line graphs, bar graphs, maps and bubble charts, which can be shared by direct URL or embedded...checkout our Consumer Price Index data visualization comparing Canada and Australia from 1955 to 2007:

Classroom / Project Sites
No new news here, Google Sites has been around for quite a while. But I remain really surprised when colleagues choose to work with a wiki instead of exploring the possibility of developing a Google site.

With Google sites you have the ability to create data tables which you can sort, add drop down menus to, date, checkboxes, short a database entry and display form. There's the endless world of Google apps and gadgets you can integrate: spreadsheets, presentations, videos, calendar, map, web sideshow, and so forth. And if you're willing to take an extra few minutes, with no knowledge of coding or web languages you can create some really interactive services, like a public web form which will capture data in a spreadsheet...think surveys, questionnaires, etc. for free. Hey, why not take our quick four question survey.

Google sites is an incredibly flexible, rich, and collaborative environment, with the foundation of Google apps as its support, Sites is Google's answer to SharePoint.

Google's Blogger was a massive hit during the early years of blogging but has been recently overshadowed by some very impressive competition: Wordpress, Typepad.

However, Blogger has recently introduced some features which make it a very inviting product. Blogger users can now create "pages", allowing bloggers to easily publish static information on stand-alone pages. And last week Blogger template designer was released to help bloggers design and customize the look of their blog, no web design knowledge required.

I've posted before on the usefulness of blogger for classroom projects, and these two tools (Google Sites and Blogger) can be used to compliment each other and, along with all the other Google apps, create an amazing collaborative environment for teaching, learning, and socializing.

Integration with Microsoft Office
Lastly, many corporate IT outfits won't even consider Google apps or docs because they're a Microsoft environment. OffiSync, a new plugin for Microsoft Office, has changed that. OffiSync allows users to sync files between the two systems.

Last word...
I know there will be many who will say Moodle, or a true open source solution, is the way to go for developing learning and education-based environments. You own and control your data, and it's not locked in some datastore-type product.

I agree, and so do all the big players like Google and Microsoft, which is why they're actively involved in exploring and developing with open source. The reality is the increasingly out-of-sync relationship between user expectations and corporate IT services response: users are expecting way more than most traditional IT services can deliver. And enter the cloud...Google is such a dominant beast in the web services world, to not take advantage of its services to help us prepare and deliver our classroom activities is silly. With 16,000+ employees working to make Google the web service platform of choice, it becomes a practical and fiscal decision: plus, customized open source development is expensive and waiting for the community of volunteer developers to build what you need is, well, slow moving.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Fotobabble - You can now do something "instructive" with class trip photos...and much more

Fotobabble is a new web application which allows users to add audio to photos quickly and painlessly. Sign-up is free and all you need is a microphone on your computer, the rest is basic - you simply upload a photo, record a narrative, and Fotobabble attaches an audio caption.

Fotobabble does not appear to allow users to string photos together to create a storyboard from a string of related photos, but there are other applications which you can use to connect these photos.

But that's a minor hiccup, especially when you consider all the possible educational applications of this tool. While our post title playfully refers to breathing some life into all those photos of classroom activities and trips, there are some real classroom teaching applications, for example:
  • describing using parts of speech
  • descriptive language - using metaphors, similes
  • creative writing, e.g. a short story about the photo, poetry
  • point of view
  • inferring; e.g. hidden meaning behind the photo, the story
  • media literacy, such as developing slogans, determining how a photo can sell a product or concept
  • music; select the appropriate jingle / song for the photo
It would be really cool if Fotobabble allowed users to manipulate the photo, such as adding text, to create an advertisement or book cover.

This fotobabble user describes some more useful educational applications.

Dulcinea Media - Search and Browse Tools for Students and Educators

When elementary students sit down at the school computer to do a general resource discovery search or research a particular topic, there are always concerns about the tools they're using. Schools can set up restrictions and filters but nothing beats setting up a local Virtual Reference Desk with recommended tools and resources, especially at the elementary level, and Dulcinea Media has designed a suite of products to help teachers and librarians build a safe, authoritative reference space.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Students' Input on Tech Use in Schools

A tag cloud with terms related to Web 2.Image via Wikipedia

A recent article in Education Week looks at student views regarding the use of technology in schools, and also introduces a Ning group which explores the role of students in decisions about the use of technology in schools - an excellent idea, we're all concerned with how best to integrate technology and web 2.0 into the classroom, but there's very little literature or real discussion about what students think of the present state of things.

The 2008 national findings of Project Tomorrow's Speak Up survey, show that only one-third of high school students think their school is "doing a good job preparing them for the jobs of the future", and in the use of technology, most students view their time at school as means “powering down” for a few hours. Many students believe their k-12 school environment is letting them down in the area of technology, and from the few surveys and discussions on this topic it's quite obvious that students want a "more technology-rich learning environments and would like the opportunity to use more Web 2.0 tools and mobile devices in school".

A worthwhile read and the Digital Directions Ning group is a great way to generate some great discussions and possibly lay the foundation for some tech-collaboration among the participants.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Media Multitasking and Children's Learning and Development

Media multitasking is commonplace among the increasing number of children using technology, and as the results of a recent report we covered clearly demonstrated, this activity needs a lot more attention than it is presently being given:
"the study identified the media-usage average time of 7 hours and 38 minutes. But here's the amazing part of the 'media usage' stat, because many of these respondents often multi-task by using more than one type of technology at a time (e.g. texting while watching TV), the study found they actually manage to pack 10 hours and 45 minutes worth of media content into the 7 and a half hours - Generation M2"
What we really need to get a better understanding of is how media multitasking affects their learning and development, and their ability to think and to relate to other people.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Growth of Online Tutoring Services

Virtual Nerd is a tutoring subscription service which uses hundreds of online videos to guide students visually through traditionally, and typically, thorny math and physics concepts like polynomials and factoring a trinomial.

Virtual Nerd is part of a growing industry which is tapping into an attentive audience and a market demand - basically, students are spending massive chunks of their non-school time online, so why not deliver the tutoring service to them online.

What makes these online tutoring services even more attractive is the comparatively low cost when you at the expenses of traditional tutoring services.

There are many online tutoring services, like, which want to cover the entire gamut of disciplines, but services like Virtual Nerd will become more common as they aim to address specific tutoring needs.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The School Library - the need to build both the physical and virtual space

Vancouver Public LibraryImage via Wikipedia

In this week's Education Week Katie Ash's article on school libraries, School Libraries Seek Relevance Through Virtual Access, touches upon a number of topical issues now facing school librarians. Dwindling monies, delivering more digital instruction and resources to remain relevant to students, and becoming a more collaborative and interactive space for working and learning: an odd affirmation of the importance of one's services by asking them to "please do more with less"...

Sunday, February 7, 2010

YayTrail - New Web Annotation Tool

YayTrail is still in development and probably a number months away from any sort of beta release, but its main premise holds quite a bit of promise and points to what may be an exciting product.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Digital Textbooks - Initiatives and Directions

A number of US States and school districts have begun the move toward digital textbooks - in Toronto, Canada, this is still a pretty foreign concept but it would be great to explore.

California, West Virginia, and Georgia are some of the States which have initiated the process of moving toward a digital textbook reality for classrooms.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"Great Teachers" - A Very Public, Ongoing Dialogue

Recently there was an interesting article in the UK Guardian, What makes a great teacher, that highlights some of the key factors that make up a great teacher. This ongoing analysis of our profession will always be a more "public" debate than most other professions will ever experience: most of us have attended school and experienced an array of teachers and teaching styles, very few professions have or will touch people the way ours does. After going over these key points in this article it made me think of how this translates to my teaching environment at the elementary level and whether there is more to his explanation of great teacher.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Teen Use of Mobile and Media Technology - Study

A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that media dominates the lives of 8 to 18 year-olds...literally, the study estimates "8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes (7:38) to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week)". Basically, when they're awake and not in school, kids are using a mobile / smart phone, computer, television or other electronic device practically all of the time...and some members of the teaching community still question the long-term impact of social and digital media / technology on teaching?!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Technology and Digital Media in the Classroom - A PBS Survey

PBS and Grunwald Associates just released their annual teachers survey (conducted online, includes responses from 1,418 full-time teachers) and found that three-quarters of teachers reported using technology and digital media in their classrooms - a stat which is steadily increasing over the years, and up from 69 percent in 2008. And what makes this year's survey even more fascinating is that pre-K teachers — surveyed this year for the first time — have expressed the same interests in digital media and social networking as the K–12 teachers.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Decade of Change in Education

In today's Globe and Mail there was a commentary reviewing the top ten events in Canadian education over the last decade - by Paul Bennett, Director of Schoolhouse Consulting. Mr. Bennett's choices for the top ten "tipping point" events are:
  • Advent of Google and Wikipedia
  • 9/11 and School Security
  • Public Acceptance of School Rankings
  • Harry Potter Phenomenon
  • Smart Board (IWB) Craze
  • Social Networking
  • Opening of Toronto's Africentric School
  • Revival of All-Boys Schools
  • Homework Backlash
  • Spectre of School Closings
While I like Mr. Bennett's choices, I find the focus to miss a few of the really key events.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Emotion-Sensitive Tutoring Software

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Arizona State University in Tempe are developing emotion-sensitive tutoring software which can translate and respond to students emotional cues.