Tuesday, June 17, 2014

"Innovator" Reflections Part 2

Even though I didn't label the last post "'Innovator Reflections' Pt. 1," I'm going with it henceforth . Yesterday, in connection with the upcoming release of my selection as "Innovator of the Month" of June 2014 with THE Journal, I said I'd post daily until I ran out, or at least until Thursday of next week, when my webinar entitled "Starting and Maintaining a Virtual School" will hit the 'netz live and then be archived. I have been reflecting on the innovations I'm most proud of and I'm going to lump two into this post at the risk of running out soon.

From 1999 to the middle of 2010, my main work took place in the computer lab at University School of Nashville, after having taught 3rd grade for 3 years there. In 2001, I was asked by Vanderbilt University to leave USN to work full-time as "Teacher in Residence" for the Vanderbilt University Office of Science Outreach. I had been recruited by Dr. Susan Kuner, with whom I had done some work in the then very infant stages of videoconferencing at Vanderbilt Virtual School (not really a virtual school, but rather its own videoconferencing outreach, a very early iteration from which I learned bushels).

I loved my job at USN and my beautiful daughter Miranda was attending school there, and with my amazing son Colin just starting there as well I didn't want to leave my kids, or my students, all ~360 of them, whom I saw each week in the lab. We worked out a deal--I would work Mondays at the OSO, and my classes at USN would be compressed into the remaining four weekdays. It was doable, and we done it. This went on through 2008-2009, when the grant funding supporting the position ran out and I was let go, gently and with genuine compassion, by the Director of the by then Center for Science Outreach, Dr. Virginia Shepherd. Ginny explained that with the newly minted School for Science and Math taking off so solidly, priorities had changed, and I silently added in my mind that they had discovered that they needed the funding they had been allocating to supporting a rogue, independent, innovator for their new project and more classroom teachers for this amazingly innovative project. Learn more about it at theschool.vanderbilt.edu.

All this to say that I had a blast working with the CSO, all the way from its foundations as the OSO. That's where I first met and worked with dear friends Dr. Kecia Ray, now President of the  International Society for Technology in Education, and Jan Zanetis, now CEO of the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration). Ginny Shepherd more or less let me make up things, and the two best things I made up were the "VIA Dyer" Interactive Videoconferencing series and "Snacks4theBrain," an 84 episode podcast from the Vanderbilt Center for Science Outreach. Let's briefly detail these.

VIA is an acronym I used to describe "Videoconference Interactions with Astronomers and the "Dyer" is simply Dyer Observatory at the top of a hill just outside of Brentwood, Tennessee. The double entendre, in that the interactions came "via," or "by way of" Dyer Observatory, was indeed intended. I do not recall how I first got hooked into Dyer, but I believe it was that the OSO had placed one of a couple dozen grant-purchased high-end videoconferencing codecs (hardware) in school around the MNPS school district and also one up at Dyer, and I first went up there to help them get it set up. There I met with a man who has become one of my closest friends, Rocky Alvey. He's a story unto himself, then Superintendent and now Director of the Observatory and truly a Renaissance Man.

Long story short, over the course of a couple of years I helped design the website for the Observatory, upon which they have built nicely, and we served up a couple dozen weekly and then bi-weekly interactions with students around the country. A classroom would sit together in front of their own codec, wherever they were, and I would set up the videoconferencing camera on an expert in the field of astronomy, and they would do a little presentation, often a PowerPoint that I would operate as the "next slide" guy, then answer questions from the remotely located peanut gallery. Here's a snapshot from the Internet Wayback Machine (a great resource) from 2004 and here's a pic of one of these interactions featuring former astronaut and then-Director of Dyer, Dr. Rick Chappel:


Producing VIA Dyer was as much a learning experience for me as for the students. That's why I did it, really, trying as I have since I became an educator to push the technology into the service of learning and teaching. Building that program, then reluctantly letting it go (though Rocky has not--see a 2013 videoconference video from Dyer!), was a learning experience for me that prepared me for what I'm doing now. I am thankful to Dr. Ginny Shepherd for believing in me enough to let me innovate, and for Rocky Alvey for being open enough, and innovative enough himself, to support and help develop VIA Dyer. Maybe THE Journal needs to hit up my man Rocky!

Okay, that's enough for this morning: I lied. I'll share "Snacks4the Brain!" tomorrow. It's a doozy of a story that requires more description than I have time for this morning. Got to shower and get in to today's work at MNPS Virtual School, where "We Never Close."

See ya (that will mean more when you hear some S4theB!: heck, if you're an auditory learner and want a preview, head on over to iTunes and grab some Snacks before checking in here tomorrow. It's a body of work, don'tcha know.

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