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Saturday, July 21, 2012

iSocial Creates Learning Experiences for Students with Autism

Take a good look here: This is a working example of the sorts of learning I believe any student, not just those with Autism, can benefit from. Oops, I ended a sentence a preposition with. Shucks. Where was I? Oh, kudos to Dr. James Laffey and his graduate students and their young participating avatars pioneering in this sucker-slap-to-the-head spot-on implementation of virtual worlds to serve students in a manner not obtainable in any other way. The "sense of place at a distance" that I and many others (see have been talking about for years, and, indeed, in many cases, demonstrating, has been put to use here in undeniable clarity. After viewing the video, read all about it at .

But watch first:

Friday, July 06, 2012

ISTE12 Reflections--Conclusion?

I already described the Tuesday Yong Zhao keynote (a couple posts back) so maybe Tuesday will go quickly. It certainly did at the time!

I was up and exercised and to the SIG Leadership Breakfast just a few minutes late, and thankfully Andy had saved me a seat at his up front table. Kind words by Holly Jobe and Leslie Conor led to the awarding of President's Awards, certificates for service to ISTE and its mission to forward the integration of technology into education for all the right reasons. Several of my acquaintances and friends "did the paperwork" for the award, which I hope to do this year, and received the award, signed not by ISTE President Holly Jobe, but by the head guy himself, President Obama. Cool. Included in the recipients were ISTE President-Elect Kecia Ray (a dear dear friend and the reason I came to MNPS to work in the first place), SIGVE rising Lowly High Grand Poobah Bob Vojtek and his lovely and dynamic wife Rosie, and my newest Brit immigrant friend, North Carolinian Helen Crompton. I snapped this picture while the group pose was being set up:
2012 ISTE Presidential Service Award Recipients

We finished our breakfast and to our surprise were lined up to follow the lovely Sarah Chatzkel, who led us en masse down to the morning's keynote. Just a little extra recognition for volunteerism as we were sat in a prime up-front block of seats. Though I have already more than chronicled that session, and indeed embedded Yong Zhao's address itself, which if you have not yet viewed please place that rewarding task on your to-do list, in an earlier post. But I'd like to note that prior to the celebration of our Anita McAnear which led to Dr. Zhao's address, there was the most beautiful violin concert, the self-same young lady who had so pushed my lounge-lizard memory button at the President's Reception Sunday night. Watch for her--she's remarkably good, and though I don't have her name and Google is failing me (an indication that she did not receive an iota of the credit she is due) I will find out that name and update this post accordingly. Here's an iPad snapshot:
The amazingly talented entertainer at Tuesday Keynote--name on the way
After the keynote, invigorated, I did something that in many past years at ISTE/NECC conferences I simply have not had the time to do. I spent an hour plus cruising around the Exposition floor. Hundreds of vendors hawking their wares, schwag giveaways galore, plus the chance to bump in to friends, like Julie Lindsey and Vicki Davis at their book signing:
Julie and Vicki awarded me a signed copy of their book!
and Kevin Honeycut at his booth giving away (typically Kevin) creative "Bling your Nametag" glitz:

Kevin jams in his artsy booth
I also picked up a nice Dell tee-shirt while chatting with the manager of project consultants (I lost your card! Please email me! lol) and other booth workers and what I thought was a pretty cool Google plastic water bottle until the Google on it flaked off after about 10 hours of use.

The best part of this experience was running into new Aussie friend Lauren Sayer just as I was calling Andy to arrange lunch. She joined us at Bub's for a long lunch (this is one of the best food/beer hangouts in San Diego, y'all) where I learned more about her exploits as a consultant/trainer in her neck of the woods, including (it must be rough) Bali and (it does sound rough) the Australian outback.

With Lauren and Andy at Bub's

After the late lunch, I made my way over to the Marriott Hotel to learn about Oba, Dr. Zhao's new learning community platform that is part Facebook, part Moodle, part Open Courseware, and geared up to be offered to teachers for free and to students for a dollar a head. You'll be hearing much more about this soon as I took that lure fully. Just stay tuned, I tell you. No links here--a fuller exposition at a later date. Suffice it to say that it looks facile, secure, and empowering. Stay tuned.

After that, I rushed back to the conference center for the second annual ISTE SIGVE EduMachinima Fest.I don't need to describe that because it's all detailed at our wiki. Congratulations to our winners, listed there, especially to the student winners, who can now claim to be international film festival awards winners! Thanks to everyone who took leadership roles to make this a wonderful event, especially Kae Novak, Chris Luchs, and Andy Wheelock onsite, Marianne Malmstrom via Skype in New York, and Tanya Smedley remotely via Second Life. 

After the Festival Andy and I headed over to the SIG Council Reception at Cafe Sevilla for tapas and collegiality, then to the Goodbye Don and Anita party (with Bob, Rosie, and Helen) where there was an open bar that led to our own early retirement in our hotel rooms. A good time was had by all. I'm just realizing that I think I shared a little about that party in my last post and for the sake of accuracy I will fix that later today by moving it over here, if in fact it does exist there, in which case it's in the wrong place and needs to be fixed. If you read that last sentence you 1) have too much time on your hands and 2) deserve an apology from me. 


But I'm not sorry for the time I spent running around and learning at ISTE12 in San Diego, California. My earlier post about the Online Learning Institute details my day Wednesday, so guess what? It IS the Conclusion!!! Yay. Now to find those paper thank you notes and put a pen to them. I have so many people to thank for what may be the best conference of my career. I do want to leave you with one graphic from Dr. Chris Dede's inspiring OLI presentation. Something to chew on:
Dr. Chris Dede is on a track you need to follow. Real change?
Yes, I'm a member of the choir he is singing to, and if you join that choir, and sing in your own way, maybe we can actually make some substantial changes in the way education is carried out in our world. 

In summary, I totally enjoyed flying under the radar (after last year's awards awards awards) and just attending to things, getting my annual hugs from colleagues and friends dear to me, and then taking the train north to Ventura and spending an amazingly relaxed few days with my dear brother James and my godson Seamus and the amazing Riad, then, dear reader, coming home. Which is where you find me now, finishing up this post with an hour on the exercise bike and closing the book on ISTE12. 

Peace, and keep the faith, whatever that means for you.

Over and out.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

ISTE12 Reflections, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday

I'm thinking if I don't start this now I never will. Back at MNPS Virtual School the ante is raised, registration continues for the fall, and policy and procedure continue to be written and formalized. We are one less team member, for reasons I do not fully understand but must respect. On the edges of my professional life, but moving in and out of primary focus, are the development of a professional development plan for ISTE SIGOL and ongoing growth and activity in SIGVE. We also have a new puppy in the house, which is like having a new baby in many ways, and my lovely honey is starting up a business which is evermore busy.

It's never boring.

A benefit of passage of time is hopefully that my reflections will be a little less wordy. We shall see.

So, where were we? Oh, yeah, the alarm waking me up with its classic modem-dialing sound on Monday morning. Down to the hotel fitness room for a half hour of stationary biking, up, shower, and off to a busy day. No breakfast, straight to the Virtual Environments Playground by 7 a.m. (We did catch some muffins leftover from the SIGOL annual meeting.)

On the way in, I had to laugh at the direct sunlight on the Smart Board display unit:
The light in that fabulous convention center lobby made the room a welcoming place to spend time. It also, unfortunately, rendered the Smart Boards useless for display--even when the sun was not directly on them. Just too many lumens washing out too few lumens. Even the much smaller and much brighter LED displays struggled, as you will see, though I deemed ours "GE" "good enough."

Another early bird old friend came through first thing, enabling me to snag my annual David Warlick "my-space-like" photo (I  laugh at the squinty eyes:):
I'm laughing at our squinting eyes and I hope Dave is too :)
Andy arrived and we got to work, moving every available chair over to the LED area, setting up my old workhorse Dell XPS with the Microsoft Lifecam to support the ustream delivery into the internetz and into Second Life. This is an important aspect of what we do each year--share our presentations with others around the globe who are not able to be at the conference physically.Gridjumper (Tanya Smedly) was our Grand Poobah in Second Life, and a new member named Bluebarker created a diner on the fly with a copy of the display object I had already placed in our Second Life headquarters, and off and on during the day attendees from Australia, the U.S., and other countries as diverse as Norway and Italy attended our sessions. I am not planning to describe each session in detail here, but here's the schedule for the day:

Gonna make you scroll there to save some webpage real estate.

And here's a snap from within Second Life, featuring me in the "mirror" and also sitting in the red shirt in SL:

The day went just marvelously, despite the tech challenges inherent in delivering our little "hall of mirrors" to the world. We ended the Playground, which in previous years has run the full three days of the conference and this year was only offered this one day, with Lucas Gillespie engaging in a lively Skype discussion from North Carolina, adding yet another mirror to our hall. His image an voice came out of the LED display from the Skype connection on an iPad, while the laptop and webcam streamed the event to ustream and into Second Life, where attendees there could also ask questions through that chat inteface. All in a day's work.
Lucas Skypes in re WOW and Minecraft
I will say that despite our frantic ongoing triage we had an excellent day, with crowds often standing room only. The only session that failed was my own, since we simply could not get the sound from SL to work in time. Not even that was a complete failure, though, as my guest co-presenter from Israel, Ilan Tochner, shared about Kitely, is innovative virtual world platform, to those in Second life while I fumbled around with cables in San Diego.

I missed much of the actual presentations, running around as I was ensuring things went well enough. I also had to peel out to attend the SIGOL annual meeting, since my election to the Professional Development Chair of that SIG this year commits me to work there as well.

That was at 8:30 across the Convention Center, and it went very well, I think. Mike Gorman, incoming SIG Chair, will be a good partner for me as we plumb the depths of our membership to develop and deliver learning experiences for our members. We'll be talking this week to map out our plan for the year.

Here's a pic from that event:

After Lucas was done, we were done, though our space continued its utility in a "Birds of a Feather" session on Minecraft. Finally, at 5:30, we had our SIG annual gathering, where Bob Vojtek was ceremoniously installed as our Lowly High Grand Poobah for 2012-13, with Kae Novak the shadowing Grand Poobah gearing toward ascension the following year. That's the way we roll. Andrew Wheelock, ascended to the throne of Lowly High Grand Poobah Emeritus, sitting along side Lisa Linn and myself throughout the ages and into posterity. I'm getting all grand here, but that kind of mysterious ceremony, made up ad hoc as we progress, is part of what makes our SIG stand out from others. It's how we roll.

Monday night snuck up on us then, and after the traditional group photo session capping off our meeting I hit the streets for a dinner with Canadian Gordon Holden at the Brew House, a local brewery. Very nice. Then off to the Google Party, an invited get-together of a thousand or so of my closest friends. Not. I was good for one beer and off "home" to bed. Yes. I am old. And the throngs of young educators enjoying the free beverages while not depresssing me did certainly put me in my place. It is a good place.
I had intended to get through Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in this post, written as it has been whilst exercising on my recumbent bicycle, with the help of my new laptop rack. Watch out world--I may just be a little more productive now. And a little more exercised.

More soon as I reflect on Tuesday and Wednesday. I've already shared the best Keynote ever (Tuesday's Yong Zhao) so maybe I can even wrap it up next post! Cross your virtual fingers!

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

ISTE12 Reflections, Saturday and Sunday

Okay, now, let’s get it done. I promised reflections about ISTE 12, suggested everyone who receives public or organizational funding to travel should do the same, and I’ve been doing a little bit of procrastination here. I’m halfway into a 4 hour plane ride from LAX to BNA (Los Angeles to Nashville for the acronym aversive), I had a Scoobynap, a tiny dose of Jack Daniels (not necessarily in that order) and I’m up and at ‘em. It’s likely a good thing that the wi-fi they had on the flight out to San Diego isn’t featured on this older plane. The fewer distractions the better.

In my first post a few days ago, I started out goingbackwards from Wednesday’s Online Learning Institute and failed to get beyond that. I enjoyed writing that and after a few days relaxing and taking in the outdoors up north in Ojai, I spent a couple hours in LAX musing about theKeynotes. All done.  Now let’s work on the conference proper. I’m going to abandon my former blog-like back to front approach and see if, in fact, I can actually write in a linear way. Woo-hoo.

I arrived in San Diego International Airport and pulled out my luggage at the single, gate specific luggage area (how civilized!) then rolled it all out to my friend Lisa Linn’s car at the curb, hustling her for a ride for Marrie, a colleague from Nashville, to Marrie’s hotel. Okay, Lisa, slow down: I have exactly 96 new gray hairs from that brief ride into the city, induced by your (let’s say “assertive”) motion through traffic. Really, it’s okay—I have just spent several months training my dear teenage son to drive, and let me tell you, he gave me more on the order of x10 that. We got me to the Hilton Bayfront in one piece and to my surprise they let me check in early, at 1:30, Dropping my gear in the room, we headed over to the San Diego Convention Center to see if we could catch some of the SocialMediaCon pre-conference.  We got registered first, and then walked our way to Room 6, a room to which I would return frequently over the next few days.

SocialEdCon (formerly EduBloggerCon), was founded by Steve Hargadon I think 3 years ago. I’ve attended three of those over the years and one of the framed pictures in my MNPS Virtual School office is a set of group photos containing one from the first year, a kind of a “where’s ScottyWaldo” with my old self dead center in the large group of colleagues on the floor and the huge stairwell above packed with more. Steve has done an amazing job of organizing over the years and this year garnered a large group of participants. An “unconference,” attendees sign up to present prior to the conference and concurrent sessions carry on throughout the day. The sessions are displayed prominently on their spreadsheet and folks move from one to another until the end of the day.

We came in on the second to last hour of the day, and I only witnessed two sessions in progress, but I have to say that what I saw agreed with the comments made in the lobby by a prominent member of the edublogger community—what I saw were sessions that were more or less one person talking to a large group of people in a lecture format with various degrees of question and answer. I ended up plopping down in the back of the room with stellar thought leader Stephanie Sandifer and shooting the breeze. I was gravitating to the real reason I had come to ISTE12, not to sit in class, but to learn from other innovators and thought leaders. It’s all about the networking, baby.

This is not to detract from Steve’s amazing-as-always work as social maven. Heck, how many educators  are members of Classroom 2.0 now? [Answer: 67,951 as of 070412] However, this was to be a recurring theme of my week, and I just wanted to address it directly here before we go further.

I headed back to the room for a nap, insanely believing it would help me stay up later after taking in a San Diego Padres game, to which I had purchased an ISTE-block ticket for 11 dollars. As it turned out, I didn’t nap, but caught up with my email and other work and social online tasks then, realizing I was going to chew my arm off, took in a fairly good burger served up with fairly negligent service at the bar on the ground floor of my hotel, the Fox Network sports bar. I then took a walk, enjoying the incredibly perfect weather that is San Diego’s. I was in bed pretty early that night, and glad to be so.

The video archive caught Andy Wheelock and me being attentive :)
Up early without the NightStand app modem sound on my iPad needing to wake me, I hit the fitness center for a quick stationary bike run. Those who know me may know that I’ve been aerobicizing every morning since March, and I’ve come to realize that I do better with the rest of my day if I start it out getting the old ticker pumping. It was a great gym, and a fine workout, after which I showered and dressed and walk/sprinted over to the morning’s work, the ISTE Leadership Symposium. Where was it? Room 6. After the usual eloquent introductions by ISTE Leaders Holly Jobe and Leslie Conery,  Michael Fullan held forth on the wide-open topic, “Leading and Learning in the 21st Century.”
Michael Fullan's theme
I enjoyed Fullan’s talk, but again I heard some grumbling in the peanut gallery afterward. There’s just something a little “off” about an expert extendedly talking to a room full of, if not “experts,” at least “thought leaders.” What did I like? I liked Fullan’s turn of phrase in terms like “simplexity” and “successfulness.” I liked his emphasis on practice over research. I liked his inference that our educational systems may be on the way to overcoming the industrial model with a newfound resurgence of Project Based Learning, though you know as well as I do that as long as we persist with current models of assessment as the foundations for funding that will be nothing more than another pendulum swing.

What did I not like? I did not like being lectured to. The more we talk about how that doesn’t work anymore the more I am surprised at the way lecture (sometimes called “presentation”) hog-ties our time and throws it in the pokey of our wilderness conference town. Okay, yes, I agree with most of his presentation and I found it interesting. Wait. Where’s my time?

The prominent exception to this is the presentation of a true master like Yong Zhao, which I described (and embedded) in the previous post. Go there and watch it now. Then come back and take in as much of this as you will.


I was in the ISTE Leadership Symposium and just about to hit one of 4 breakout sessions on Leadership topics.  Our assignment was to attend these and come back with notes. Oh, a jigsaw—I get that.

I chose the one on Designing Learning Environments and it was, while not a disaster, an extended commercial for the Flipped Classroom. This was to become another recurring theme: “Wherever two or more shall gather, one or more is selling some fix-all or some product.” Again, and it was if anything more pronounced here, there is something just plain wrong about someone who considers himself an expert lecturing a room full of innovative educational leaders about anything. I was lucky enough to be at a table (there were around 10 of those in the room, with 6 to 10 people at each one) with ISTE President Holly Jobe, and she helped keep us in line. Dear brother Andy Wheelock was also at the table, as was Lisa Linn, and I guess I’m calling her a sister for the first time here, but I guess that’s what she is. I have a lot of those, come to think of it. Anyway, Lisa got a bit contentious (there’s a surprise J) and our discussion got a bit shall we say heated. Admirably, there was a backchannel chat available (see transcript), and I found myself retreating into that to good effect, both for learning and for sharing.
Knowing what verbs are important. "Learning" should be the beginning, not "Digital" -- the adjective, or any tool, the noun.scottmerrick at 17:34 PM, 24 Jun 2012 via web

There was a “reporter” roaming around tables, charged to report out to the group as a whole, and I swear he spent half his time at our table—perhaps because we had Holly. One of the points he shared out was our synopsis of our discussion, which we were to share out digitally in some way: “Innovative Learning Design begins with highly effective learning and teaching.” Pretty much everything we all said that hour and a half could be summarized in that statement, and I’m sticking to it.

We adjourned the breakout to the main room and here’s where it got a bit wonky. We were instructed by the indefatigable and stalwart Chris Johnson (there’s another brother, though maybe Chris is more of a cousin) to seat at least one person from each breakout room at each table. This proved to be impossible for the group as a whole to accomplish without some further guidance. I think my table had 3 out of four, including Flat Classroom’s Julie Lindsay, ISTE’ Peggy George, and a few other luminaries. We were told to talk amongst ourselves and to come up with one takeaway we would bring back to our leadership work after the conference. Our table mainly discussed our various breakouts and how they seemed to all suffer the same someone-plugging-something model.

The reporter reported, Michael Fullan said some inspirational words along his theme of PBL, and we were done with the ISTE Leadership Symposiam for another year.

I had intended to hit the conference kick-off with another sister (I like that conceit and I hope it doesn’t get too stale) Peggy Sheehy, but when confronted by the crowds I decided to visit the space where our SIGVE Playground was to be on Monday, the following day. Andy and I hit that and were appalled to see that the glorious room was so bright, even in mid afternoon, that the Smart projection boards were virtually useless. We scrambled to restage the space to feature the large LED display for our presentations, called to arrange for two  CAT-5 drops there (one for the presentation podium and one for the streaming laptop) and then we left the convention center and went to my hotel room to chill, ordering light room service to get us to the 8:30 President’s Reception, which thankfully was at my hotel.
With ISTE President Holly Jobe at the ISTE12 President's Reception. photo by Helen Crompton

It was a festive event with an open bar, and I tread lightly there as well, knowing that the next day was going to be busy busy busy. I schmoozed with friends, got hugs from Holly Jobe (above), Kathy Schrock, Anita McAnear, Helen Crompton, Jan Zanetis, Cynthia Cologne, and many more once-a-year-in-person colleagues; was introduced to the new ISTE CEO, Brian Lewis, who seems like a wonderful choice to lead us through the rest of the decade, heard some excellent violin music off in the corner (which reminded me of my lounge lizard days--the young musician striving on despite the roar of chatter); heard our own Holly Jobe do battle with attendees who by the time she talked were at least two sheets to any wind; and left early enough to get another good night’s sleep. More reflections in the next post. I’ve gotten through Sunday now. Good for me!

Hitting "Publish."

Sunday, July 01, 2012

ISTE 2012 -- The Best Tuesday Keynote I Can Recall!

Okay, I will, I really will, do my best on the plane to do a rundown of my experiences at ISTE12 in general. I'm sitting in LAX for another hour and a half or so since my ride from Ojai had to drop me early because he had to pick up yet another visitor to his home (did I just call my best friend "my ride"?. Yeah, I did, and I'll do it again.) Until I can get my reflections down, I want you to watch something.

I did not catch the Sir Ken Robinson opening keynote, and so please understand that my opinion is only informed by heresay when I say that I'm glad I missed it. One prominent member of our international community, and a national figure in our field (you know who you are :) told me aftwards that it seemed like a sales pitch, and that Marc Pensky "actually said some interesting things." The fact is that nearly everyone in the room came to that keynote to hear Sir Ken, and most were therefore disappointed by his role essentially as panel moderator. Someone else in the know (even more nationally prominent--you also know who you are :) said that ISTE's vision and methods included pulling the panel members together for a day and letting them get to know one another, then more or less winging the session according to the relationships that developed. But as he went on to say, "You can't get three ADHD educators on a stage without a script and expect it to go well." I'm massively paraphrasing here but I think I'm getting the essence of his message. He also gracefully acknowledged that it was a gamble, and a well-intentioned one, and like some gambles, it "just didn't work." That's why I love him.

I dunno. Go watch for yourself!

The closing keynote I have to confess I bailed on. After 7 hours (punctuated by a delicious lunch) of the Online Learning Institute (see previous post!), I was just simply ready to climb in my friend Lisa Linn's car and ride up for an evening in her car before training up to Ventura for a few days at my best buddy James Morrison's home near Ojai. What fun that was. I will catch up with that final keynote soon at the ISTE YouTube channel, specifically

The keynote you must watch, though, is why we're here today, writing or reading this. Dr. Yong Zhao from the University of Oregon had me laughing to tears at least once, near real tears at least once, and should be required viewing at every teacher preparation school in our country. The video below is of the entire keynote session, with some interview footage and a touching salute to our retiring queen of get-'er-done Anita McAnear, but if you fast forward to 58:44, you can be there yourself as Dr. Zhao shares his perspectives and insights concerning many of the most important educational issues of our times, including "Why is America still here?" Watch:


Gus by Scott Gardner Merrick  I wear these navy slacks I found behind O'Shaugnessy's, in the dumpster there. And they'r...