Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Backchanneling Basics #13 - Other uses of a backchannel

I promised this blogpost for the middle of June after school was out.
No excuses for it's tardiness except for the business of summer
vacation. Since school is begining to start back up, I thought I would
get back to uses of backchannels beyond my classroom.

First off, silent discussions seem to be a use of backchannels across
curricular areas. In my building, I'm aware of this technique being
used in another English classroom as well as a Social Studies
classroom. These two classrooms also use the technique for true
Socratic Seminars, allowing two simultaneous yet parallel discussions
to occur.

Outside my school, I've heard of foreign language classes using a
backchannel to write a story together on one day and then go back and
critique their grammar the net day. Art classes critique and discuss
works of art. Science classes observe and record details of scientific
experiments. Chemistry class post an equation and students explain how
to balance the reaction. Math classes post word problems or equations
and students explain the process used to solve the problem.

What I'm trying to show is that the possibilities are numerous, and
might only be limited by your imagination. Additionally, these uses
could span both middle school and high school. Give it a try with any
of these age groups for a truly engaging lesson.

This will be the last in the regular ongoing series of posts on
Backchanneling in the Classroom, but as I try new things or hear of
other uses by educators around the world, I'll share those as
additions to this series. Stay tuned. And if you have just recently
found his blog, check out my posts from earlier in 2009 on the subject
as well as my K12Online Conference presentation on this subject. You
can always contact me online if you have questions or need further

Monday, June 29, 2009

NECC Notes

This was my first (and ironically, it will be my last...more on that later) trip to NECC this year. Having only been to some regional and the state level conferences in Pennsylvania, I didn't quite know what to expect. After my first day and a half, here's what I can offer as insights and what is working for me.

I'm traveling with my good friend Lori S., and if you can, I really recommend that. It is someone you can immediately discuss things with and react to when things come down the line. It's even better if you have similar agendas, which Lori and I did on this trip.

How did I pick my sessions? Looking at all the offerings and goings on, it could easily have become a daunting and overwhelming undertaking. Fortunately, Diane K suggested searching for topics of interest. So I'm checking out sessions on Language Arts/English, iPods/iPhones/phones in the classroom, and Interactive whiteboards, and so far, that's keeping me just busy enough. At this point, we are even having a little bit of a hard time finding some time to do some sightseeing around town!

And finally, my general take on the sessions. They've generally been good. As always, there have been some hits and some misses, but my goal in each session was to come away with something: some insight, some revelation or something I could implement in the classroom tomorrow if necessary. So far, that's been the case with my session.

So, why will this be  my last NECC? Because next year NECC is becoming the ISTE Conference. I'll certainly be attending another conference in the future and look forward to seeing what ISTE 2010 will be like in Denver!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Backchanneling Basics #12 - Activities part 2

I know that in my last blog post, I promised that this time I would write about how some other teachers are using backchannels, but I've had a neat experience with one of my classes I just need to write about. I will return to the topic of other uses of a backchannel just as soon as I can get to it: hopefully next week but perhaps not until school has let out in two weeks.

I came into a situation about a week ago when about one-third of a class was not prepared for our scheduled Socratic Seminar, so I had to alter my plans slightly but very quickly. I decided to just involve all of my students in the backchannel discussion I had planned, and since I had already set up a CoverItLive session for the activity, I decided to just to go that route rather than changing to a more open  backchannel platform at the last second.

I came at this with the premise of having a silent discussion with the kids, but most times when I run a silent discussion, I use Chatzy. I post a question and the responses can just fly. I don't have to moderate, and I can just watch how things develop. Since I had the CoverItLive session all ready to go, I needed to stick with that platform, and it struck me to try this alternative form of the silent discussion.

I got all the kids that were ready to participate in to the session and posted my first question. These students had backchanneled with me before, so they were used to the software and the process. Here's how I changed things up: I told the students to go ahead and answer the question posted but that they wouldn't see any of the answers for at least 5 minutes. At that point in time, I would post (after screening) all of the answers to the questions, giving the students time to read all the responses that had been generated. I then asked this follow-up question: "Reactions? What do you think of the above posts? Anybody screwed up? Anybody really hit the nail on the head? Thinking anything new?" I also schooled the kids on the Twitter style of directing a message at a specific classmate, and boy, did I get some interesting follow-up discussion as students challenged and questioned as well as reinforced and praised their peer's thinking. It was a good, solid discussion.

And I had to ask really deep questions as well because the process was taking longer than a normal Seminar with all the reaction discussion that was happening. I was forced to choose my questions more carefully and ask about what I really wanted to see if the kids were getting from the novel. You know, the time was well worth it though. My slower processing kids had time to gather their thoughts and didn't have to worry about who was going to get to answer the question first. What a wonderful way to differentiate instruction!

The kids seemed to love the new format, but just don't take my word for it. Click on the following links below to see both the two discussions and the feedback I solicited after the first of the two Seminars.


Of Mice and Men CoverItLive Discussions (links to my class wiki)

Feedback after 1st Discussion

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Backchanneling Basics #11 - Activities part 1

What kinds of activities can you run with a backchannel? In this week's post, I'll speak exclusively to the ideas I've come across within my building. Up next, I'll talk about the ideas others have come across for using a backchannel in the classroom.

One way a backchannel  can be used is as another layer during a Socratic Seminar. I found, especially with my larger classes, that I could only effectively engage 10-15 students (an inner-circle) in a Seminar and really gauge whether or not they read a novel or other work. In a normal class, that often left me with another 10-15 students (an outer-circle) who were left with a strictly listening activity. I could have the outer-circle take notes on what was being said, but that didn't allow them to interact with the text. However, with a backchannel in place, the outer-circle could now react to what the inner-circle was saying, ask questions of each other, and from time to time even discuss their own question independent of the inner-circle. This got ALL the students in my class involved and thinking about the chapters or text assigned. One aspect of this I personally found to be cool was when I could then take a discussion from the outer-circle and pose the question to the inner-circle to see what they thought of the issue that had come up.

Another use of a backchannel  is for a totally silent discussion. Again, this is a discussion based on something the kids had read, and often times, if I have a really good question, there is only one question posed to the students at the start of the teaching period; otherwise, they guide the discussion, answering the core question as well as posing off-shoot questions for the remainder of the class period.

Finally, I know that teachers have started to run backchannels during movies they show in class. I had personally given up showing students movies and videos a number of years ago because of the difficulty in finding an engaging and meaning activity for the viewing. With a backchannel, the students can ask questions about the movie or video that is confusing to them. Sometimes I answer the question; other times, the students answer each other's questions. The backchannel can also be used to garner student feedback, check for understanding, or preview a difficult or important concept. While I'm still not a huge fan of showing video clips in class, they are at least a more meaningful and engaging affair now that I have the ability to run a backchannel.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Reflection & Growth

I surprised myself this past Friday when I tweeted the following: "Well, KTI [Keystone] summit staff was not meant to be once again, and oddly enough, I'm much more at peace with that this year than I was a year ago."

It was surprising because, and I'm no longer ashamed to admit it, I was devasted a year ago when I received the same news for the same program. And I was serious about my message. I'm happy for the people selected to be on the Keystone Summit Staff and at peace with the fact that I'm not.

Not on hour later, another Twitter contact messaged me that a presentation she had participated in on backchanneling had gone well, and she was sharing the link to a recording if it (If interested, click
here to watch the recording).  Why was this important to me? She got into backchanneling based on my K12 Online Conference Presentation from last fall and a subsequent conversation we had at EduCon 2.1 in January. Because of my work, I had encouraged someone else to expand on my ideas, explore new aspects of backchanneling, and share with her colleagues in the state of Maine. Then I got to thinking: This wasn't the first time this had happened.

Twice before, I have chatted with educators about the concept of backchanneling. In one case, I talked with a group of preservice teachers exploring the use of technology in the classroom setting. In the other, a gathering of teachers in Canada, on their own time nonetheless, were also exploring practical uses of backchannels.

Much of this post, I suppose, could come off as self-promoting or self-serving; however, in thinking about all of these occurrances, I realized I am teaching and I am sharing. My audience is just taking on a different venue than what I once perceived as important. 

So I really am OK that I'm not going to be on the Summit staff. My educating will continue in various other venues as the opportunities present themselves. My message to you: Do whatever you can, whenever you can. You never know when you will touch lives.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Backchanneling Basics #10 - Skype

Believe it or not, Skype is a valid choice as a tool to use as a backchannel. While many people think of it for its ability to make person-to-person calls using the Internet, there's also an excellent chat room feature that  lends itself to backchannels.

One of the biggest upsides of using Skype is that the moderator of the backchannel invites all participants into the chat from a list of "contacts" that he or she has, so this method of running a backchannel is pretty safe; however, once in the chat, participants can then invite others in, which takes away a little of the security that is there. Cost is another big positive: it's free to use Skype. Also, there are no adds, so there aren't the worries about students being exposed to something questionable. 

The biggest downsides? All participants in the chat must have an account with Skype and special software needs installed on every computer the students will be using. Additionally, there is no moderation of the posts at all. 

Other considerations are as follows. The entire chat is accessible to all participants as long as they don't leave the chat at the end of the discussion, so they can always come back to the history to review the points covered. If a student leaves one computer, not choosing to leave the chat forever, and then logs in on another, then the chat window should pop up for further participation or for a review activity. Since Skype is a stand-alone piece of software, there are no browser dependency issues to think about. Finally, before trying to run Skype, you probably need to make sure there are no filtering issues on your network and that students can run it on their machines with their level of clearance.

As I've been working on this series of blog posts on backchanneling, I've become aware of a number of potential tools for running a backchannel, but I haven't yet had a chance to test any of those out. In the future, as I've had a chance to work with some of those tools, I may return to this tool discussion.

I'll be back next week with another installment  in the series as I move away from the tools and look at other issues that might be critical to teachers.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Backchanneling Basics #9 - Backnoise & Chatterous

In past posts, I've covered Chatzy (both free and paid versions), Chatmaker, and Cover It Live. This week I will talk about both Backnoise and Chatterous.

Both services are, like most other chat services reviewed, free to both organizers and users as well as ad-free. In both cases, it is possible to embed the chat rooms on to your own web page, or you can send participants to a specific URL for access. There is no moderation available for the discussion as well; participants can post what they want when they want. Also, it is not required for participants to register to be a part of a chat, which of course makes it a great choice for classroom use but also means students have to be put on an honor system to create a real and appropriate user name for the discussion. Both services are also fairly private and secure for their users. Finally, browser support seems pretty broad for both services.

On the flip side, there are a few subtle differences between the two services. At Backnoise, anyone can start a chat at the drop of a hat; if you want to run a chat via Chatterous, then you have to plan ahead and set up an account with that service. Both services do allow for a record of a chat to be saved (up to 10 KB at Backnoise, unlimited at Chatterous), but there's a unique twist on this over at Backnoise (and unique to only Backnoise from everything I've seen): a feature called Buzzkill. The buzzkill feature gives any chat participant the ability to delete the entire contents of the chat at any point in time. I'm not sure that is a feature we want to be putting in the hands of our students. Finally, Chatterous, unlike Backnoise, does allow for rooms to be password protected if they are set to private, which affords an extra layer of security for teachers looking for that feature.

Next week will round out my survey of possible backchannel services when I take a look at Skype.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Backchanneling Basics #8 - Chatmaker

Chatmaker.net is another free option for setting up a backchannel in your classroom. In their FAQ's, they even specifically mention "teachers to operate an online classroom with their students" (see this link). And while free is a good option and Chatmaker is incredibly easy to set up (there is NO registration of any kind for the moderator), there a few things that prevent it from being a go-to app for me.

First, I have concerns about the ads. Most of the ads are dating or sexual in nature, which is not something I think most of us want to be exposing our students to. Next, it is unknown how much of a chat is saved for later reference. I'm not sure if you loose chat history as soon as it scrolls off the screen or if everything is saved. Further, on the surface, there is no way to save the chat history (excepting perhaps copying and pasting the entire chat).

There are also two other unknowns as well with the service. I'm not sure if anyone has the ability to delete the content or not. From my tests and experiences in the room, there doesn't seem to be, but I'm not positive. How many simultaneous users can there be? Again, I'm not sure. When trying to access help from within the chat as I tried to research these questions, a new window pops open, but nothing ever loads. I get the same response in both Safari and Firefox. Neither do the FAQs address these issues.

On the bright side, participants are invited to the chat via a URL, so you could simply provide a link off of your teacher web page. Also, that means that only folks with the URL will be able to access the chat, so that does keep your kids safe, private and secure. The fact that both Safari and Firefox are supported is another great asset to Chatmaker as is the ability to have more than one room set up at a time (each room simply has its own URL).

Back on the downside, no user password is required, so there is that lack of an extra layer of security. Users do not have to register either, which, like with many services, could allow for impersonation within the room. Finally, this is an unmoderated room, so any of the participants could post anything without first having it vetted.

So, there's Chatmaker for you. In many ways, it seems like a lot of the other services. I have two or three more services coming in the next weeks, so you know as much about what is out there as you can before you make a decision about a direction to go.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Backchanneling Basics #7 - CoverItLive

The other backchanneling service I have extensive experience with is Cover It Live. Cover It live is actually considered a live blogging tool, a way to provide live coverage of an event to the masses as events unfold. But the great side feature to this is that the audience of the blog can interact with the person running the live blog, so a classroom teacher can actually use the service as a backchannel.

By starting a live blog for an activity, a teacher can post questions to the room, which is going to be made up of students, and the students can respond to the questions and issues presented to them. There's a couple of great features of Cover It Live that make it perfect for classroom use, in my humble opinion.

At the top of the list of great features: the service is currently no cost (FREE!) and ad-free...all the time. That means there is no up front cost to the teacher, the school, or the district. These are definitely bonuses on many fronts. The ability to embed the chat into your own website (from wikis to your own district website - if it accepts HTML code) is another one of the great features of the service. This feature itself ensures that your students are participating in a playground you are entirely comfortable with, and if hosted on a district sanctioned web page, walled-garden issues all but evaporate.

Moderators are required to register to use the service, which is a quick and easy process, but students are not required to, which makes the service incredible easy to use with a class...no worries about needing an email account! To get users into the chat, simply direct them to the URL where you are hosting the backchannel. The students just have to supply a name once they arrive there in order to participate in the chat. Now, that does leave open the possibility the students will provide strange or inappropriate user names, but because the room is moderated, meaning nothing goes out to the room until approved by the moderator, I tell the students I will post no comments unless I know exactly who the user is. Yes, this does still leave open the possibility of one student impersonating another, but I also give my students some mechanism of letting me know if that has happened. And because of a built in private messaging feature, I can then directly message the offender, the message from me shows up in red on their computer screen, and the perpetrator is nabbed! If the computer screen is blank or the service has accidentally been lost, I personally would also take that as an admission of guilt, especially if it happened as I get up to take a walk around the room to look for the student with the direct message from me.

On other fronts, the chat, in its entirety, is automatically saved and available for review as long as the moderator doesn't delete it from his account. Additionally, as long as the chat remains embedded on the page where it was hosted, it is available for review as long as it is there. Thus far when using Cover It Live, I have not hit an upper limit of allowed users, having had up to 90 users in a chat at one point in time; that was three different classrooms in two different locations even.

To close out, a couple of technical notes. The moderator of a Cover It Live Chat must moderate using Firefox or Internet Explorer. Participants, on the other hand, can use any web browser, so this a fairly flexible and easy to sue in the classroom setting. (At least this was the case at one point in time. As I was drafting this post, I was unable to confirm this on Cover It Live's webpage.)

For a regular classroom setting, I highly recommend this service. Its ease of use and flexibility make it a great tool for regular classroom use.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Backchanneling Basics #6 - Chatzy

By this point in time, if you have been a regular reader of this series of blog posts, I've hopefully made a case for backchanneling in the classroom. Over the next few weeks, I'll now explore and explain some of the aspects of the different backchanneling venues out there. Comparing services can be tough, but I've tried to boil it down to a core group of issues that should help you decide on a potential service. Those qualities are as follows:

  • Cost
  • Advertisements
  • Moderator Registration
  • Embed-ability
  • Saving the chat
  • Size of chat history
  • Deletion of content
  • Moderated discussion
  • Getting users into the chat
  • Number of users
  • User registration
  • Passwords
  • Browser needs
  • Privacy/Security
The first backchannel service I ever worked with in the classroom was a service provided by Chatzy. Chatzy is a little unique in that it supports both a free and a paid service. The single biggest difference between the free and paid service is the presence of ads on the page where the students chat. Google Ads do show up at the side of the free chat pages, and while I saw nothing objectionable in my initial tests of the site, I couldn't be confident that would always be the case. For my own peace of mind, I have only used the paid Chatzy service in a classroom application.

Both versions of Chatzy share several things in common. To create a chatroom, the moderator can either create an account with the service or remain anonymous. By creating an account, you can keep a running record of chat rooms you have opened and run; otherwise, you loose the room when the chat is over. Additionally, you must go to their website to participate in the chat. The text of the chats can be saved (to a limit), only the moderator can delete the chat contents, and there are an unlimited number of users per room. Another strong positive is that user registration is not required for participants. The chat content can only be deleted by the moderator is another strong plus as is the fact that the rooms will run within any of your standard Internet browsers, including Safari. Firefox, and IE.

Users are invited in to the chat by the moderator providing a specific URL or perhaps a link off of a webpage, and that webpage's URL is so unique that it would be unlikely for someone to gain access to the room totally by accident. However, as an added layer of protection, each room can be password protected so that only users at the time of the chat will be able to gain access to the discussion. (As a further precaution, I change the room password immediately after I finish an activity so that no one can come back later and add anything inappropriate.)

Downsides of the service? Chatzy free, in addition to the adds, only allows for 10KB of a text to be saved for future reference. Pony up for the paid service, and your entire chat will be available to you up to the limit of what you paid to use. I bought a block of memory 18 months ago that I am still eating away at, so I personally find that the small fee I paid to remove the ads and keep an entire chat ($9.00 at the time) has been entirely worth it. (This is all explained in greater detail at Chatzy's FAQ page)Also on the downside, all comments posted by users are immediately visible to everyone in the room. While I listed it above as a positive, I also have to list user registration as a negative down here. Because the students only have to put in a self-created user name after they arrive to the room, there is the potential for impersonation or inappropriateness. For those reasons, I still only use the paid version of Chatzy with small groups of students I implicitly trust. However, there is always that chance...

Well, that was Chatzy at a glance. Next week, I'll talk about CoverItLive, my other go to choice of services when running a backchannel. Until then...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Backchanneling Basics #5 - Student Views

Over the last two weeks, I've written a bit on the educational relevance of backchanneling, including some who see it as positive to classroom use and some who don't (via links to articles, etc.). When I have made presentations on this topic in the past, I have felt it is important to include the student's take on backchanneling and how it has been of use to them in the classroom. So, this week, let's hear from some of my former students.

The following are screen grabs from the very first backchanneling session I ever ran. At the end of the activity, I asked the kids what they thought, and here is what they said.

Thus, my students, at the very least, found themselves more engaged in the activity and took something form it they would not have otherwise. And for me, that is all the reason I need to continue with backchannels in my classroom.

I've got a few of my students on video as well talking about backchanneling. If I can get it edited and posted online, I may add that on here as well in the future.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Backchanneling Basics #4 - Relevance Continued

This week I'd like to continue talking about the educational relevance of backchanneling. In addition to the coaching idea I wrote about toward the end of last week's post (students answering each other's questions and explaining difficult concepts), I'd like to talk about the other educationally relevant uses of backchannels.

Besides having students interact with each other during a content presentation, a teacher might use a backchannel to have students comment on something they are watching and make connections to what they already know. Questions could be posed to the students to see if they are understanding content in the intended way. Students could be given a heads-up ("This is going to be important!") about some aspect of the material about to be presented, so they are mentally focused on it and not caught by surprise.

On the flip side of the coin, a student can pose a question in the middle of the presentation and get an almost immediate answer to the question from his or her peers or the teacher. In this use, students can get their thinking straight and don't have to wait for the teacher to pause (which might often be much later in class) to get their questions answered. In this use, the students might not loose understanding of all the content that follows the confusing aspect they had a question about.

To round out this week, I wanted to share some other articles I located on backchannel use. Some show it in a positive light, as I see it, while some take a look at the downsides of the process. See the following links for some additional reading, and decide for yourself where you stand.

Backchannels and Mythbusting - Digital Natives Blog
Ira Socol Brings the Backchannel Forward
The Laptop and the Lecture: The Effects of Multitasking in Learning Environments
The Myth of Multitasking
Back Channel Use? : eLearning Technology

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Backchanneling Basics #3 - Educational Relevance

Last week, I wrote about and advocated the reasons for backchanneling in school. This week, I want to take this a step further and talk about the educational relevance of backchannels.

Many of us have probably attended educational conferences where backchannels have been running during keynotes, individual sessions, etc. In this setting, the backchannel serves a number of purposes: it's a written record of the session, it's a place where participants can ask questions about the session content, and it's a place where participants can offer their insights into the content. I know that I end up with a deeper understanding of the content from participating in a backchannel during conference sessions.

One of my feeds this week delivered a post that addresses this issue of backchanneling at conferences. Although the title of the article is "How to Present While People are Twittering," many of the same benefits I've mentioned above are addressed in the post too. You might want to check it out.

OK, so backchanneling at conferences is one thing, but what about in the classroom? In my last post, I addressed the issues of student voice and increasing class participation, so I think that is part of the educational relevance. But what else is there that is a benefit? If we as educators find benefits from interacting with a presentation and participants at a conference, why wouldn't students benefit from interacting with each other during a classroom presentation. Let's face it, it is hard to explain something so that every single kid gets it on the first explanation. Why not allow the students to explain the concept to each other in a backchannel? The students who get the concept can help those who don't and in the process of explaining the concept deepen their own understanding. Of course, there is a written record of the backchannel that the teacher should review to make sure the student's thinking doesn't need corrected or adjusted. Students should never be left entirely on their own nor should the backchannel become a replacement for good teaching. The backchannel should merely be a supplement to good teaching.

How else can backchannels be used in educationally relevant ways? Next week, I'll continue this discussion, talking about some of the educationally relevant ways I think backchannels can benefit students.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Backchanneling Basics #2 - Why Backchannel?

Why backchannel? The reasons are twofold: giving quiet, shy students a voice and increasing student participation.

Reaching the quiet, shy students was the reason that first brought me to backchanneling. Throughout my teaching career, I've encountered a number of students like this, and on the rare occasion I was able to break the ice, the student often had unique insights and interesting ways of looking at things. With the right vehicle, I suspected that more students might be reached and given a voice.

Increasing student participation was a benefit that I didn't consider until AFTER I'd found a backchanneling vehicle. For a number of years I had been a proponent of using Socratic Seminars in the teaching of my English class, especially literature. But to really judge whether a student knew the work being discussed, they had to be given a chance to contribute. With that in mind, my seminars had often ben limited to half my class, so about 15 students directly participating. What did I do with the other half? They listened and summarized the discussion going on, awaiting their turn the next time to be the active participant. (I did keep one seat open in the discussion group for guest participants, but again, that was only one spot shared among up to 15 students.) I've since learned that this use is often referred to as the Fishbowl Technique.

As I've implemented backchanneling, my hopes have been realized as I've used it. The first time I ran a backchannel, I witnessed 100 percent class participation with all students jumping in multiple times, and I've seen that happen many times since then. I saw students, some who had only rarely participate in class offer interesting perspectives. These kids earned additional respect from their classmates for their insights and were often looked to for their thinking in future discussions, both traditional and backchannel.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Backchanneling Basics #1 - Defined

Seems like opening up with a definition might be a pretty good place to start. What is a backchannel? Wikipedia has a pretty decent definition that you can check out here. To think about it a different way, think of a traditional chat room but with a purpose. The chat room runs in parallel with something else. The conversation is guided. Sometimes the guide is as simple as the topic itself: a group of people decide to discuss a presentation while it is occurring. Sometimes the guide is a series of questions asked as students take somethig in visually. Perhaps students could simply be asked to present their observations of something they are observing or listening to.

As long as the backchannel is purposeful and driven toward an end educational goal, I think it is relevant to the classroom. Use it if you think your students are ready for the challenge and capable of putting together their thoughts using a keyboard. The possibilities are only limited by your creativity and imagination.

Backchanneling Basics

The series of posts under the title Backchanneling Basics will overview and discuss various aspects of backchanneling. From definitions to product options to uses in the classroom, I'll try to cover a different aspect of backchanneling each week. Hope you find some use here, and if you have any questions, leave a comment and I will get back to you or address your question in a future post.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

If they had asked me...

If I went down to EduCon 2.1 a day early to check out what was happening in the English classes at SLA. Zac Chase's class started with this journal prompt: "If they asked me, I could have told them..." The genesis for the rest had been rolling around in my head for awhile, so here is the result.


If they asked me, I could have told them the best laid lesson plans don't always go the way one expects, especially when technology is involved. At any given moment, the network will crash, and the glorious lesson plan you had ready to go will suddenly be useless. I could have told them to always have a back-up plan for the event of when (not if) the network will crash. I could have told them that the site you checked out yesterday will inevitably be blocked today, so have a back-up plan. I could have told them that network protocols are constantly being changed, so always check to see if your access is still present. I could have told them that what works on the teacher's computer might not work the same on the students' computers, so always try the activity on those machines before going live. If they had only asked me...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Seven things you don't know about me

My friend Lori tagged me a few weeks back, and I'm finally getting around to writing this post. With that said, here are seven things you don't know about me...

1. I'm not a technology coach; I'm a classroom teacher. High School. English, public speaking, and theater. Someone I've known for about a year now was surprised to find that out. I guess I act like a techie most times.

2. I live on 7.5 acres of wooded property on the side of mountain in York County, PA. If you don't know the address or have specific directions, you are never going to find the house.

3. My partner and I have been together coming up on 11 years. We consider Dairy Queen "our spot" since that's where we met for the first time.

4. Although I was part of an international educational conference this past fall (K12 Online), I've only ever been to Canada when it comes to international travel.

5. I go to dinner almost every Thursday night with the same group of people and have been doing so for 16 years now. We set up a schedule three months in advance and distribute to everyone in the group, so everyone just knows where to show up every week at 6:00. I've only ever been "stood up" once in all those years. A few times there have been only two of us, but the group usually consists of between four and eight of us. Before I joined the group, everyone was a Special Education teacher. In the years since, we have grown to include a Chemistry Teacher, a pilot, and a banker. Several of the group members are now retire yet continue to attend regularly.

6. I watch Nascar whenever I can. It's good background noise while I'm reading essays.

7. Thanks to my partner, all the iPods in my house are named. We have Darth ViPod (a black video iPod with a Star Wars name), Mr. Shuffleupigus (an original iPod Shuffle...the gum stick one...with Mr. Snuffleupigus of Sesame Street in mind), Reddy Nano Pod (a red iPod Nano, named after the electric company mascot Reddy Kilowatt, and WhoPod (an iPod Touch, named because of The Who's lyric "See me, feel me, touch me.").

There you have it. Next post will be a little more on topic. I promise.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

My Big Playdates

That's what my partner has termed my attendance at two conferences in the last three weeks. And while making fun of me to some extent, it's a pretty accurate description of my attendance at EduCon 2.1 and Pete&C. I've gotten to meet up with a bunch of great educators from around Pennsylvania and the United States, I've met a number of people in my Twitter network for the first time face to face, and I've gotten to catch up with some really close friends.

I also have taken pause to think about where I am with my teaching and where I am professionally. The conversations of EduCon and the presentations of Pete&C have both given me much to think about, and there is much I would like to try to do in and out of my classroom in the coming weeks and months.

With all that said, my hope is to approach my blog with a renewed vigor. So, what that said, let me take care of a little bit of housekeeping. Just before EduCon, my friend Lori tagged me in the "Seven things you don't know about me" meme. I'll honor her tag in the next several days, but I'm not sure I'll invite anyone else to play along. The bloggers I personally know have all been tagged already, so there's no need to hit them again. Second, I wrote a blog post as a result of my attendance at EduCon, and within the week, I'll post that to along with the background that led to it. I am quite proud of it actually, and it, more than the meme, actually applies to the intent and spirit with which I started this blog.

Finally, my Backchanneling presentation at Pete&C got me thinking about how I could continue to promote this concept to teachers around the world, so starting soon I will kick off a series of posts entitled Backchanneling Basics. Over the course of I'm not sure how many posts, I'll introduce the concept, talk about services, address concerns, and I'm not sure what else. I'm hoping that maybe some comments I receive will guide the direction of these posts.

See you soon.