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Report from EduComm 2007

Experts presented the latest in AV, IT and Web 2.0 technologies.

The EduCOMM 2007 conference, held June 19-21 in Anaheim, Calif., provided outstanding opportunities for educators from school districts and higher education institutions across the world to come together to share best practices and learn more about what the digital future holds for students and educators. While the presentations in the K12 education strand were diverse, several common themes emerged.

Alan Kay: The Importance of Authentic Inquiry

Alan Kay, the first day's keynote speaker and a personal computing visionary, related a variety of memorable anecdotes and demonstrated ways students can use the graphical, object-oriented programming environment Squeak to learn scientific as well as mathematical concepts. One of my favorite quotations from Kay's presentation was, "The best way to predict the future is to invent it," although Kay observed that most people instead choose to follow the opposite reasoning: "The best way to predict the future is to prevent it." This is affirmed by the fear laden, reactionary responses we see in many communities to new media tools and digital technologies.

Kay's opening statements about government graphs depicting rising student scores on standardized tests, and his inability as a professional mathematician and scientist to understand what those scores actually mean in terms of student learning, were poignant. He compared much of the work being done in schools to "playing air guitar" instead of playing a real guitar. He related how students in many schools are merely being subjected to "science appreciation courses" instead of real science courses, which require students to conduct experiments and gather data in the real world. It is impossible to learn science well by merely reading about it; rather, students must do science in order to develop the concepts, skills and, most importantly, the viewpoint of a scientific thinker. Kay demonstrated how even young children can learn sophisticated concepts, often with "one repetition" because of the computational power and flexibility of the computer.

Kay's keynote ended with a surprise: He pulled a prototype of the OLPC (One Laptop per Child) computing device from under the podium. The laptop was running the same software as the PC used in his keynote. Kay said that the creation, sale and availability of the OLPC devices in the developing world is a significant chapter in an ongoing effort spanning several decades and including many individuals. The influence of Seymour Papert on Kay and several other presenters at EduComm was abundantly clear. As Papert challenges readers in books including The Children's Machine: Rethinking School in the Age of the Computer, many adults need to raise their expectations of what students can learn, understand, and do in both formal and informal educational settings. Kay's keynote address underscored this point, as he challenged listeners to take an active role in shaping a transformed educational environment for students in the 21st century.

Bruce Dixon: The Power and Pitfalls of 1:1 Laptop Learning

Bruce Dixon, founder and president of the nonprofit organization Anytime Anywhere Learning Foundation (AALF) has helped to plan and implement 1:1 learning projects around the world. He has a wealth of expertise to share with school leaders and teachers involved in or contemplating a laptop initiative.

It is amazing to see the broad range of perspectives in the marketplace of educational ideas relating to 1:1 computing. While many leaders and educators, including Dixon, see laptop learning as a way to fundamentally transform and improve the predominant instructional pedagogy of schools, classrooms and teachers, a significant number of individuals and organizations seem bent on using laptops to merely make the traditional educational process more digitally efficient. Dixon's presentation included not only excellent points on specific aspects to consider when planning and designing laptop learning projects, but also reasons for considering one in the first place.

One of the most innovative and helpful portions of Dixon's message involved the funding plan for laptop projects. Dixon and AALF emphasize a shared-cost model, in which parents, the school, and a school-related private foundation all contribute to the cost of the laptops and associated software, hardware and warranties. A shared-cost model is much more likely to be sustainable over the long term for families as well as schools. Laptop learning is still an anomaly or a pipe dream for many students and teachers around the world, but it is the future.

According to Dixon, a robust student laptop capable of media creation with a three-year warranty, insurance, carrying case and software costs $32 per month over three years. If the district invests 50 percent and a parent organization or foundation contributes 5 percent, the family cost of a laptop would be $14.40 per month. This could actually be less expensive than costs for playing football or renting a trombone. With a low-cost device such as the Intel Classmate, the cost to a family could be less than $8 per month.

David Pogue: Blending Education, Humor and the Arts

Day 2 kicked off in high spirits with a keynote address by New York Times weekly personal technology columnist David Pogue. His energetic presentation, "Five Technologies for the Next Five Years," discussed how RFID tags, a la carte digital video, new forms of telephony, high definition television, and Web 2.0 technologies will impact how we work, learn and play.

In addition to his column, e-mail newsletter, and weekly videos and podcasts for the Times, Pogue is the publisher of the popular "Missing Manual" book series, a reporter for NPR and CBS Sunday Morning, host of his own show on the Discovery Channel and author of countless "Dummies" books. The entertaining keynote reached its crescendo when Pogue sat down at the piano to regale the audience with hilarious song parodies. "The Sound of Silence" became a homicidal rant against calling technical support, while an innocent download of a song led to being "sued by the RIAA," sung to the Village People's "YMCA."

The Power of Digital Photography and Music

Lesa King, the chief evangelist and founder of iStockphoto as well as a popular author and journalist, shared a host of valuable tips for taking better digital photographs and using Adobe PhotoShop Elements to add powerful effects to images. Digital photography is an outstanding topic to address with a diverse educational audience, since digital cameras can be utilized by teachers and students in any content area or grade level to visually illustrate ideas and demonstrate understanding. My favorite trick of those King shared was how to create a colorized black and white image, using layer masks, the saturation and hue adjustment menus, and the PhotoShop Elements paintbrush. Colorized images, such as a red rose in the middle of an otherwise black and white image, are sometimes featured in postcards and greeting cards. King showed how even novice users of PhotoShop Elements can alter images and add effects such as this one in order to transform an otherwise standard image into an eye- catching work of art.

King also demonstrated how affordable stock art from iStockphoto might be used by educators and administrators to enhance their digital and print communications with the public. The most expensive license for a professional quality image is $15, royalty-free. Video clips are also available.

Ken Johnson, the education director for M- Audio/Sibelius led an engaging session on digital music tools and case studies of educators using these tools to help students develop both compositional and performance skills. Connecting with the constructionist themes of other conference presenters such as Alan Kay, Johnson related stories of highly engaged students learning to write and collaboratively edit their own musical creations under the supervision of their local teacher, and in some cases music professors at distant universities connecting to students each week via desktop videoconferencing technologies. Johnson also discussed the value of students using high-quality, mobile audio recording equipment to create podcast interviews with community members and others at their school as part of their new media journalism assignments.

Hall Davidson, a director of the Discovery Educator Network, focused on the use of digital videos to facilitate student learning and to address the visual learning modality that surrounds students much of the day when they are outside classrooms. Hall started his presentation by playing an old video clip recorded at the California school where he taught in the early 1990s. It is clear that Davidson has been both digitally gifted and extremely creative for many years! I found his two level taxonomy of educational Power- Point presentations both humorous and memorable. According to Davidson, there are two kinds of educational multimedia presentations: the good ones and the ones without embedded digital video! Hall's presentation was a model of ways to use short, on-subject video clips to focus student attention and invite class discussion.

Global Conversations and Safe Digital Networking

As an education advocate, my presentations at EduComm 2007 focused on the opportunities for teachers to serve as "Yodas" for each other in our interconnected, digital world as well as the ways students can learn to safely navigate the digital information landscape of the 21st century. Just as we help young people learn how to drive a car, including teaching them that vehicles can be dangerous and even deadly tools, so also do adults today need to virtually walk alongside students as they learn and interact online. It is not sufficient to merely block social networking Web sites on the school network and pretend we have fulfilled our educational responsibilities to prepare students for their futures outside the classroom.

Sylvia Martinez, president of Generation YES, a publisher of curriculum material centered on student leadership, showed in her session "Including Students in Web 2.0" how to provide authentic learning experiences for students and teachers. Students can not only use Web 2.0 tools for classroom assignments, but they can also help with school wide technology planning and implementation. They can do the following:

- Research solutions and present options with pros and cons.

- Test hardware (even young students can scrounge up old microphones, tape recorders and cables and test them).

- Try out applications and report on results.

- Maintain lists of add-ons, plug-ins and new options for old tools.

- Debate how these tools can be used within the boundaries of their school or district's acceptable use policy.

By including students in planning and implementation, teachers have more support for their technology use. In addition, these authentic problems inspire creative thinking and empower students to exceed expectations and think outside the box. These are true 21st century skills.

Leadership Support for Collaborative Projects and Pedagogic Change

Scott Perloff , the director of education technology at Milken Community High School in Los Angeles, a private secondary school, shared a session Wednesday afternoon focusing on his school's use of read/write Web technologies to coordinate a wide variety of interactive classroom projects though out the year. Without the support of campus leaders and administrative staff members, teachers and students at Milken would be unable to participate in and benefit from an amazing range of classroom projects and international collaborative efforts. Educators at Milken use FirstClass, an intranet communication and collaboration suite that designs, plans and implements their projects, as well as manages school digital and non digital resources to support these learning activities.

Martin Levins, technology director for the Armidale School in Australia, presented his school's experiences with 1:1 laptop learning. The most compelling stories Levins shared involved students who have been able to communicate their understanding of complex issues, such as the sacrifices made by veterans of war and their families, using digital video. Levins told stories of Armidale's teachers' understanding of their emerging role as not being merely the tellers of information to students but rather the architects of engaging and collaborative learning projects in which students under their supervision both ask and find answers to questions.

In their session "Keeping Pace with K12 Online Learning: State of the States" Mickey Revenaugh, vice president for state relations at Connections Academy, and Allison Powell of the Clark County Virtual High School reviewed the growth patterns of full-time and part-time virtual schools across the United States.

EduComm2007 was a fantastic experience and provided excellent opportunities for learning and networking with a diverse gathering of inspiring educators.

EduComm keynotes and other presentations are available for viewing at Mark your calendars for EduComm 2008 on June 18- 20, 2008, in Las Vegas.

Wesley Fryer is the creator of and is the director of education advocacy for AT&T in the state of Oklahoma.