Why Video-Learning Reaches Us

February 26, 2011

Here I sit, 30,000 feet above North Dakota, taking advantage of the opportune combination of “free time” and isolation that affords me the ingredients to power through new learning. In fact, I am exploring a new tool — at least new to me – Posterous – that simplifies blog posting right down to email messaging.

At 53, I am still discovering about my learning-style. Let’s take my current explore of Posterous. I gravitate to short bursts of clicking around, reading pieces of FAQ’s, dabbling by jumping in to making my site and posting, jumping back to Q&As, searching on Google for “posterous tutorials,” and finding my way BACK to Posterous to watch the video. And this is when I finally stop, and focus, watching the tutorial – far simpler than I need, but still I stay – and looking for more video tutorials.

I’ve known for a long time that there is some “magic” about video-based tutorials for learners like me. This has helped to drive my own initiative at Urban (Urban School of San Francisco) to promote video screen capture tools. I’ve been gravitating to video-tutorials as alternative to text-and-still-image explanations as well as encouraging teachers to create “micro-lessons” using a variety of tools including Quicktime, Screenflow, and Smart Notebook software.

It just hit me (now over Montana) the reason video works so well: it draws us in to focus both visually and auditorially to a linear display that in essence blocks out all the other inputs. I watch and listen. I scroll back to replay something I missed. I scroll ahead beyond irrelevant info. I am, at the same time, watching, reading, and listening. There is no cognitive room left to be multitasking beyond the video. I focus in — still controlling the input — and the result is that I learn.

Video-based exposition in today’s exponentially increasing barrage of multiple stimulus just might be the “killer app” we’ve all been looking for in education, just right there under our nose.

Back to more tutorials.

The iPad Question

February 8, 2011

The hottest new question I get these days seems to be: “Are you going to switch to iPads?”

Recall, I lead technology at the Urban School of San Francisco — now in our 9th year of a 1:1 Apple laptop program. I love the iPad. It is a fabulous device for schools who have not yet implemented 1:1. I applaud schools adopting this as a way of entering the 1:1 field because I know, first-hands, that enabling all learners with a computer helps most, especially the more struggling learners. No doubt, as a SECOND device, it is fantastic.

That said, however, for us, it would be a huge step backwards and — for us — it does not address the fundamental equipment needs of a full-powered, full-featured creativity and production tool, especially at the high school level. And, getting the device to replicate a full- featured machine will cost nearly as much as a fully powered laptop: adding a keyboard, external storage, and server infrastructure to make this more comparable to a laptop will cost as much as the laptop itself — and still with limitations. I assume several of the most glaring short-comings will be addressed in the next release, that is, no camera, no ability to display via projection beyond Keynote (using this with a document camera is, well, “hokey”), no interface with Smartboards, no easy additional storage, no ability to run non-iOS existing software without a central Citrix-like environment, file transfer and more.

The more I write, the more disdain I have for this. Yes, it has some fabulous features. There is no substitute for the power of the touch-screen. Why oh why Apple has not merged touch technology into a laptop is a mystery. We’ve been waiting for about 6 years now.

We are looking more carefully at the 11″ MacBook Air as a possible solution that trades off power and storage with tiny size/weight for the same price as a MacBook. So far, given the huge replacement cost of a broken screen, the MacBook Air will eat up our entire repair budget far too fast, but likely, the smaller screens will be less expensive soon. It might be a fabulous solution for younger kids.

In the meantime, I am thrilled that many schools are moving to iPads, and I am sure, in the next year or so, Apple will address many of the issues that make it less of a full-fledged teaching/learning machine. That will be a touch-screen full OS machine. I hope.

Portfolios 3.0

February 3, 2011

Just read a nice editorial-style article on the efficacy of growing use of portfolios at the college/university level. What is new — at least to me — is the author’s matured purpose of portfolios in light of the changing nature of information and knowledge — that is the rapid irrelevance of published material in light of breakneck speed of new thinking, research, authorship and scholarship.

It strikes me that many of us independent schools are sitting in a ripe position to morph the traditional late 20th century model of “portfolio assessment” with an early 21st century transformation from assessment into “authentic doing” contributions by students. This is perhaps most evident/probable in science, history and the arts, and obviously in the realms of engineering and technology. Students collecting and reflecting — not only on their own work, but on the work of other experts, and published — not only for the teacher, but for an authentic audience beyond the class.
The Student Portfolio is the New Book: New Practices, Profession, and Scholarship
By Trent Batson, C. Edward Watson0

“But a printed book is static, seemingly out of step in this dynamic digital age, and so can no longer serve successfully as the most important central organizing entity for learning today. The student electronic portfolio is superseding the book as the most useful organizing element: It is a dynamic organizing space in a dynamic knowledge process.”

“The teacher’s role can become and is becoming that of helping students build their collection of resources and reflections (the “evidence”) so the collection is aligned with current thinking in the field.”

Interactive White Boards

October 16, 2009

I wrote this back in 2006 – just put a tweak or two on here — but others may be interested. As a full 1:1 laptop school for nearly 8 years now, the current transformation is now our use of interactive whiteboards. Armed with ubiquitous access via laptops, students are now accessing nearly every visual board lesson as the archiving of SmartBoard lessons has rapidly become a norm.

From 2006…..

Just a quick clarification for those of you exploring interactive white boards – there are at least two very different technologies to consider.

Analog-Resistive boards (such as SmartBoards) do not require any special pen therefore you can control with your finger. Slight pressure compresses the 2 layers creating contact point – and thus pixels are drawn. Pen color is activated when the pen is lifted from the tray – but the pens themselves are just dummy devices. The user can choose to write with the various color pens, or use one pen and switch colors from the floating menu, or use their finger and choose color using the menus.

Electromagnetic boards (such as the ACTIVEboard) require special “pens” and therefore are not human-touch sensitive. In some cases the pens are unique to specific colors and in others the user uses ONE pen and chooses color from the menus.

In watching teachers here using resistive boards – we use SmartBoards exclusively – they naturally use their finger for controls, movement, menu selection, etc, everything you would normally use a mouse for. They generally pick up a pen for most drawing. I like what I see because the use is “natural” – it’s hard to describe the impact of “finger touch” on learning, but there is a strong visual connection when manipulating images and general use of mouse commands. There is a bit of a delay, but this becomes almost imperceptible with practice.

Electromagnetic boards are considered much more durable since the solid surfaces contain an embedded electronic wire mesh. The board has no movement. They are also considered to have faster response times.

Hope this helps a tad bit.

BTW – I was extremely sceptical of interactive white boards having seen them demo’s at tech conferences for over 12 years. Our language teachers asked for them back in 2006 and I reluctantly installed a couple. Was I wrong! The teachers love them and in many ways they transformed practices in our language department within weeks – making instruction much more interactive – both visually and auditorially – entire board work is routinely posted for student use after class, teachers are able to instantly bring up yesterday’s, last week’s, or last month’s lesson for review, and much of their board preparation work now happens at home. We now have SmartBoards in nearly every classroom as use has spread to every department.

Yes, I should write more on this because our teacher’s practices are phenomenal. Someday!

Byron and Vanessa share the camera tasks during the interview of Mrs. Lillie Mae CarstarphenThe McComb, Mississippi local paper published a front-page story on the oral history project - click here.

I posted some images from today along with a couple snippets from the hand-held camera at:


This is just a quick “hack” to make this available.

The day started with the students all dressed in their “Sunday best.” I met the students in Vickie’s classroom and their excitement and nervousness was palpable. I was thrilled to see that Phylicia was there, dressed and ready to go. There was some strong resistance from some of her teachers since she has fallen far behind in school but I encouraged Vickie to let her go as this could be a pivotal experience for her. Vickie held this open only if Phylicia self-advocated for herself. She did. She came and I believe she thrived.

We arrived at Mrs. Butler’s home and Sarah, Phylicia and I set up the equipment while the rest of the group was “chatting ‘em up” in the other room with Mrs. Butler. After about 30 minutes, all was ready (lights, camera, mic, and other studio equipment) and the kids took their positions around Mrs. Butler’s kitchen table. Sarah, Rebecca and Keveyotta all took turns running the camera. Victoria took the lead with well organized questions with Ricky and Byron handling the key follow-up roles, but in reality, the whole class stepped up and asked questions throughout. This represents what we hope will be just the first in a long series of oral histories conducted by McComb students – I felt so damn proud of the kids and of Vickie for pulling this off. This was a moment of history in the making. I won’t go into the interview – this will speak for itself in the coming weeks when it is published at www.tellingstories.org, but suffice it to say that both the kids and Mrs. Patsy Ruth Butler shined bright.



The Dinner Bell

November 13, 2008

Dinner Bell

Nov. 11th – 9pm

November 12, 2008

8:00 pm

Catching up from last night, I was steered to the “Sante Fe” steakhouse restaurante, just off the interstate across from the Walmart that has essentially sucked the city of McComb dry. Following along the theme of Therese Palmertree’s comment about “the stars are in alignment this week,” as I was making my way across the peanut-shell strewn floor, who appeared with a big smile on his face? It’s Ricky, the same junior from Vickie’s class who also spoke at the Kellogg meeting early in the day. “I had a feeling I was going to see you here tonight,” Ricky said. Ricky was waiting tables and just completed his shift so I invited him to watch me devour a 12oz steak and suck down a Sam Adams. His buddy — I forgot his name — also joined us. Ricky, who is essentially homeless, is staying with him these days. We talked for about an hour, a bit about high school sports, the car Ricky hopes to purchase with his earnings (and arranged support from Vickie), and even a bit about Presidential politics. The discussion eventually shifted to talking about the racial divide at McComb, the use – or lack thereoff – of technology in the school, and about the upcoming interview on Thursday morning. It felt great to have company and the opportunity to learn more about life in McComb from the perspective of two junior boys willing to chat with this 50-year old guy from California.


Vickie (teacher), and students Ricky and Byron, and I drove over to the middle school where we joined about 15 other McComb School District teachers and administrators, as well as some local pastors (one of which lives outside of McComb but pays to have his children attend McComb schools since his district is “not different friendly) for a 2-hour meeting with 12 traveling folks from the Kellogg Foundation <http://www.wkkf.org> – who have as their mission to improve the conditions of vulnerable children. The Kellogg folks were out from Michigan touring various places in Mississippi to learn first-hand about civil rights curriculum and what is happening in these schools. 

McComb’s passionate and inspiring Superintendent, Therese Palmertree, opened up the meeting recounting how “the stars are in alignment this week” as evidenced by a series of chance connections, including my visit — she called me “the young man from San Francisco” which was fitting because so many of the people introduced themselves as members of AARP – I failed to mention that even 50-year olds can join, but I am holding onto my youth. Various teachers and administrators stood to talk about how McComb is taking the lead in Mississippi to institute a developing history of civil rights curriculum. I am beginning to take in McComb’s huge role in the early civil rights movement as one teacher explained that it “all started right here in McComb,” and another calling McComb “Ground Zero” of the civil right struggle. Another recounted how over 100 black students led a protest walk-out in ’62 from the then all-black high school – and how they refused to sign a document declaring they will “never again” participate in any form of protest, which led the school to effectively expel the students just weeks before their graduation. Vickie helped lead a ceremony in 2005 where all these folks were invited back to receive honorary diplomas. 

Another talked about how little the children of McComb know about the “heros” of their own neighbors. Students for years have learned about the same homogenized civil rights history of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Medgar Evers, and Rosa Parks, and in the process, have not explored the stories that happened right in their own neighborhoods, churches and schools. Another speaker really touched the heart of the importance of this upcoming oral history project by repeating that — unlike in South Africa — there has never been a “truth commission” of injustices in Mississippi, and therefore there has never been true reconciliation. Powerful stuff as the students set out to begin their first interviews.

Vickie’s students also spoke, with no notes and apparently unprompted, with great success and passion. Ricky expressed excitement over the upcoming interviews, expressing appreciation for my visit (they call me “Mr. Howard”) and looking forward to discovering his own history here in McComb, and with pride he said, “and the world will also learn about McComb.” Another student, who’s name escapes me, made what appeared to be a simple, but dramatic gesture by reaching over to shake hands with the leader of the Kellogg contingent, saying something like, “I could never have done this in the past.” A tall blonde white boy, shaking hands with a black man. simple, profound. But, at the tail end of this remarkable meeting, the bus driver who has been chauffeuring around the Kellogg folks piped in and said that that simple act, a white kid shaking hands with a black man, “would never happen today in Biloxi.” The room fell silent for a few seconds. The reality and the enormity of what all these folks in the room are fighting for and against seemed to momentarily stifle the spirit with sadness, only to be — shall I say it — “resurrected” with positive energy of the power of such a gathering.


I walked away from this meeting completely amazed at how appreciative this group was to just sit down and talk about civil rights curriculum and practices. The level of discussion in this somewhat mixed group of educators and foundation people was — to me — not profound. At Urban we are engaging in dialogue about race far, far more openly than what was discussed in this room. We (Urban) work hard on our multicultural initiatives, but it still shocks me how we are universes ahead (“ahead” is the wrong word, I know, just not coming up with something better) of the deep south in dealing with the racial issues of the south’s past AND present. There is vital work to be done down here and I am feeling incredibly privileged to be doing my part – as an extension of the Urban School of San Francisco – to help make a dent in the lives of the students and hopefully the larger community.

Day 1 – Meeting the Students

November 11, 2008

10:18 am

    I met the students in Vickie Malone’s Local Cultures class this morning, a small mixed group of seniors including, Becca, Sarah, Byron, Kee, Felicia, Tai and Ricky. Vickie has shared with them prior to my visit the nature of the work they will be doing, i.e., interviewing local elders for this joint McComb High School and Urban School civil rights oral history project. They viewed Telling Their Stories earlier last week in their computer lab and have conducted background history on local civil rights history. I talked to them about the world-wide nature of the project, emphasizing that their work will be viewed across the world. We did a live Google search using projection, typing in “high school oral history” and sure enough, www.tellingstories.org came up FIRST. Their eyes widened as the reality began to set in. Also searched “oral history holocaust” and got a 2nd place hit. “My goal for you is that in the months ahead, someone searching ‘civil rights oral history’ will see McComb High School’s project appear on the first page.” More widened eyes.

      We then brainstormed via Inspiration “purposes” of oral history including:

        • capture stories before they pass
        • Need to capture the perspectives of the victims
        • Capture stories of perpetrators
        • capture stories of bystanders
        • Stories have importance to ????????? (did not complete this)
        • flushing out these stories may help further understand racism of the past and LINGERING racism of today 
        • flush history of those NOT in power
        • raw data for historians as they continually write the history of the topic
        • emotional impact of primary sources (oral history)
        • capture images, documents, maps – with description

        Vickie led a short discussion when responses were not naturally flowing about the importance and significance of these stories impacting the present and future – diving briefly into continued racism today, even within the school.

        I shared my experience of that disconnect with adults when I “tell” them about Telling Their Stories versus when I “show” them the website. Adults generally nod in sort of a “this is cute” sense of this “high school” project, their eyes glaze over when I express my excitement because there is a built-in perception that high school students are NOT capable of serious productive work. But, I told them, when they SEE the site, the reaction invariably shifts to utter amazement. “How many of you have done anything in school that was viewed by a world-wide audience? National audience? Mississippi audience? Local McComb audience? McComb High School audience?” All looked at me with a big “never” on their faces. Part of our mission here is to help whittle away the stereotypes of BOTH adults and high school students about the nature of what a 16-18 year old is capable of. 

        We then brainstormed via Inspiration the potential audiences of the project they are embarking on:

          • other teachers and their students around the country
          • accidental visitors
          • future “subjects” of oral histories – demonstration to help encourage more to tell their stories
          • information for others with similar stories
          • researchers – historians
          • racists – be prepared that opponents of this work will also view it

          I concluded with a brief intro into the various roles of interviewers (camera person as a follow-up questioner, primary interviewer who follows the chronology and the all-important follow-up interviewee who focuses on listening and probing). We will practice these roles tomorrow. 

          General Reactions: I am even more excited but concerned about how fast we are trying to pull this off. Tomorrow will be much more revealing as they now have some familiarity with me. I need to put them on the spot and force them to interact and ask questions. They have a lot of resistance thus far to jumping in, with a couple exceptions. I polled them at the end to gauge their anxiety. “Who is feeling pretty nervous about what you are about to do?” All immediately raised hands without taking prompts from each other. This is encouraging. The silent voices make it hard to gauge whether this is disinterest, shyness, lack of any clue how to react, or other. Their expressed anxiety is a good sign that they understand the bigger picture of all this.