Sunday, October 18, 2009

Innovation Workshop and the Time Sync Question

This past Friday, the MAGPI team organized our first-ever Innovation Workshop at Carbon Lehigh Intermediate Unit. Approximately 36 educators and technologists took part in this program, which lasted from 9:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. - - - seven and a half hours of technology integration!

Even though I was facilitating all of my workshop sessions remotely, it was great to get to know the educators and technology specialists who attended. Here's a brief snapshot of some of the things we accomplished that day:
  • MAGPI's Executive Director, Greg Palmer, was onsite and gave a 30 minute overview of Internet2, the K20 Initiative and MAGPI.
  • I conferenced in from my Baltimore-area office and talked about the various applications that educators can take advantage of over Internet2, including: interactive video, digital library and media sources, simulations, educational games, remote instrumentation, and more. Take a look at the innovation workshop link list to learn more about these specific applications.
  • We broke the group into teams of four and each team got to spend 15 minutes in each of the following demonstrations: experimenting with the virtual reality development lab equipment, exploring NOAA's island in Second Life, placing/receiving calls on videoconferencing gear, and an online tour of the K12 Community on MAGPI's new website.
  • After lunch, the educators spent two hours with me taking an indepth look at videoconferencing in the classroom. We took a virtual field trip to Gemini Observatories in Mauna Kea, HI, and talked about best practices for using videoconferencing in the classroom. During our second hour, we talked about how to plan collaborative projects that use interactive video and brainstormed project ideas. Meanwhile, the technology specialists were spending time with UPenn staff members learning about IPv6, unified communications, troubleshooting H.323 and multicast applications.
  • We ended the day with a virtual panel discussion featuring educators who had successfully created collaborative projects. We were joined by Marilyn Puchalski who discussed the We Want the World to Know project, and Allison Carpenter who talked about the Murder Mystery Project and States of Matter project.

One of the most exciting things that came from this workshop was the formulation of a potential collaborative project idea for schools along the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. The project would involve schools located in the watershed areas and along the bay to collaborate through data collection and videoconferencing, so students in one area can see how the actions of their community affect other communities located 'downstream.' I was also thrilled to hear about a new service-learning course offered in Souther Lehigh School District that will be able to take advantage of the technologies we discussed to enrich students' inquiry and project-based learning.

Since I was facilitating all of my workshop segments remotely (and there was a bit of a predicament with the camera set-up in the room - - they were mounted in the back of the room and I was looking at the back of people's heads most of the day), it was tough to gauge participants' reactions to the event. Admittedly, it was a lot of information to digest. Our hope for the workshop was to expose participants to the different applications (specialized uses of the network :0)) available to them and inspire/excite them to want to take on a project. Hopefully, we accomplished that without overwhelming. If you attended, we would love to hear your feedback.

At the end of the day, one technology integrator asked me "What would you say to a teacher who said they just didn't have time to try and integrate this technology?" If I'm honest, I'd have to say I don't have a really good answer to that question. As much as we say that integrating technology enhances (and in many cases, can supplement or even substitute for existing learning activities in the classroom), it by no means makes the educator's life easier the first time out. If they are new to the technology, the educator has to learn how it works. After that, they need to think critically about how it makes sense to use the technology to help accomplish their content objectives. It's definitely a time sync when you're learning it. Even if you are an educator lucky enough to have a fantastic technology support network, you're going to need to put some time in. Not to mention that there are so many interactive technologies to choose from; it can certainly be overwhelming to learn about them and become the 'networked teacher.'

But the initial time investment pays off - - exponentially. Not only are your students more engaged in technology-rich learning environments, but you have increased opportunity for authentic, inquiry and project-based learning. Interactive technologies flatten classroom walls and allow you to tap into additional knowledge networks, bring leading experts into your classroom and virtually excpose your students to places and things they might have never seen. So no, I don't have a good answer to the time question except to say the more you use technology in the classroom, the less time it will take to plan for using it.

Adding to the time crunch issue? We really can't start with the technology when planning classroom activities. We have to use backwards design and start with the learning objectives: what is it that I want my students to walk away with? Then think about how we will know students have achieved those objectives... and THEN think about the learning experiences and how technology can mediate those experiences. Again, not really a time-saving strategy - - but one that will make sure our integration efforts are effective and meaningful.

So, interactive technologies in the classroom have leveled geographic barriers. But we're still figuring out time zones... and time syncs...

Networked Teacher Image from: blog