Engaged Learning Is Authentic Learning

Application or Web App, DS106, Food for Thought, Problem Solving No Comments »

For me DS106 was an amazing learning experience. I enrolled in this free, online Digital Storytelling class, hosted at the University of Mary Washington, in the Spring of 2012. Jim Groom and Alan Levine (aka “cogdog”) were the instructors who introduced me to a completely new style of authentic learning.

Having conducted numerous workshops for educators over the past 35 years, I always prepared appropriate handouts to distribute to participants. If, for example, I was reviewing the elements of Microsoft Excel, I made certain that all attendees had step-by-step resource material which corresponded to the version of Excel that they would use on their computer.

In DS106, we spent time manipulating images and creating animated GIFs. I expected that the instructors would also provide step-by-step resource material that would help class members learn the basics of Photoshop or GIMP. Not so … rather the class was encouraged to search the Internet for tutorials which matched the application and version to which the student had access. Also we were encouraged to share what we learned, comment on other student’s blog posts, and network with our classmates so that we formed a true learning community.

Additionally, the flexibility of the course “hooked” me. I was impressed by what Jim Groom stated in his welcoming post entitled “ds106: We’re open and you’re invited“.

… what made it amazing was that anyone can do as much or as little as they wanted as part of the open, online section and leave the rest. We don’t accept apologies and we don’t believe in guilt, there is no sorry in ds106. Simply come prepared to make some art, have some fun, give some feedback, and leave when you want.

Although I was retired at the time and had much more time to devote to this endeavour than the average teacher, I liked the idea that I could opt in or out whenever I wished. In fact, I continue to subscribe to the “The Daily Create” activity which continues to stimulate my imagination.

Tonight, after supper, was the first time I turned on my computer today. Today’s “Daily Create” asked us to “Generate a Meme Image That Emphasizes the Spirit of DS106″ I must admit that I was not that familiar with the “meme culture” so I skimmed over the explanatory text and viewed the visuals submitted earlier today. My first thought was that I might be able to add some text to a Creative Commons photo and create the following remix to pay tribute to the amazing learning opportunity afforded me through DS106:

DS106 Learning - 400x300

Thankfully, I went back and read the directions more closely. Alan Levine suggested that the visual should attempt to explain DS106 “to the outsiders, the people who just do not know or understand what you have been doing?” I then realized that baby’s message above did not explain how learning in the DS106 way was any different from other learning techniques.

I then noted, in The Daily Create’s fine print that we could use Imgflip’s Meme Generator to produce a visual that highlights our experience with the DS106 learning community. Ever ready to try out a new application, I searched Flickr for an engagement ring with Creative Commons attributes which allowed me to modify the image. I uploaded this image into Meme Generator, added the top and bottom lines of text, and produced the following meme with a message:

DS106 Engagement 400x286

When I enrolled in the DS106 course and was challenged to manipulate images, create audio and video segments, without my familiar step-by-step handouts, I was forced outside my comfort zone. However, it made me realize that teachers today may be doing a dis-service to their students by supplying too many instructional step-by-step resources. When our students graduate and enter the work force, they are going to have to learn on their own. Undoubtedly they are going to have to become problem solvers and find answers online or learn new tips and strategies from their colleagues. Regardless, if they are to be successful, they are going to be engaged in authentic learning. We, as teachers, need to foster such authentic learning by having students successfully search for answers on their own and engage in more challenging collaborative learning opportunities.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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Teacher Feature #33 – What was war?

DS106, Food for Thought, Reflection, Teacher Feature No Comments »

Today’s “Teacher Feature” focuses on remembering. I have been reflecting on which moments in my life have left me with an indelible memory. For me, there are important images that come to life such as when I first met my wife, being present at the births of our sons, certain classroom “teachable moments”, outstanding family get-togethers, and images linked to various vacations.

Teacher Feature-33-What was war - 400x300

Teacher Feature #33 – Eve Merriam – November, 2013

Today’s remix was inspired by an unforgettable memory that I had while cycling through Holland. Although this experience happened more than 43 years ago, it left me an important memory and message that seems fitting to share with readers prior to November 11th. I encourage readers to view my YouTube video entitled “Are two minutes, too much, to ask?” to learn about my most unforgettable experience.


What will you be doing … this 11th month, 11th day, 11th hour?

Larger Image: Brian Metcalfe’s Teacher Feature “photostream”

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I’m “standing on the shoulders of giants”.

DS106, Food for Thought, Professional Development, Social Networking No Comments »

Over the past two years, I have been inspired by the creative activities, sharing, and reflective feedback of members of an important learning community. Digital Storytelling (or DS106) is a free, open online course hosted at the University of Mary Washington. It is an unique learning environment. One may join and leave whenever one wants while becoming engaged in learning to “tell digital stories” through more than 400 creative assignments and related components.

For example, today’s “Daily Create” #541 challenged participants to “Draw something abstract out of straight lines.”

My creation below, requires one to “read between the lines”:


This design reflects, in many ways, the actions of my personal learning network or PLN. Like the straight-line components, my network and support team works in the background with little fanfare. In fact, “They make me look good!” Through a variety of social networking apps (including old-fashioned email), they recommend and reflect on new ideas while renewing my passion for learning and sharing in K-12 education.

As Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” To all my PLN “giants”, be they students, teachers, family, or friends, I thank you all for caring and sharing.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Credits: – Flickr – Creative Commons image “Standing on the shoulders of giants”
by Brian Metcalfe
– http://www.flickr.com/photos/life-long-learners/9195860670/

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“Sharing Is Caring” – A story worth re-telling!

Activity, DS106, ETMOOC, Food for Thought, How To, Project, Social Networking 7 Comments »

Although this tale has already been documented in my earlier posts, this powerful, inspirational story needs to be regularly shared with educators and their students.

Alan Levine (aka @cogdog) has challenged DS106 and ETMOOC participants to share “True Stories of Open Sharing … examples of times when there was an unexpected positive outcome after sharing something openly online.”

My inspiring story starts with a serendipitous visit to 10-year old Laura Stockman’s blog entitled “25 Days to Make a Difference”. Through a blog post, I shared Laura’s passionate quest “to make the world a little better”. In turn, two amazing educators Chris Harbeck (of Winnipeg, Manitoba) and Karl Fisch (of Centennial, Colorado) challenged their students to contribute funds in December to be shared with different charities. I have tried to capture this story of concern, caring, and connection in the following “Sharing Is Caring” YouTube video:


I have included resource slides at the end of this video which list the 10 respective Internet addresses of important components of this inspirational story. However, I am also including them below, as active hyperlinks, to make it easier for readers to examine this story in depth:

I encourage educators to bookmark this video and review it each November so that you and your students can consider making your difference in December.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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DS106 – The weeks in review – Jan 1-27/2013

Activity, DS106, Professional Development, Reflection No Comments »

As Sunday midnight fast approaches (perhaps on the West Coast), I find myself documenting and, more importantly, reflecting on the various learning opportunities that I have been engaged in during the first few weeks of the DS106 Spring term for 2013.

While the newbies struggled through DS106 “Boot Camp” and established their own domains and WordPress blogs, I verified that my blog category feeds were being received into “The DS106 flow” and continued on my amazing learning journey.

The Daily Creates (TDC)
Each Daily Create is listed below in two lines. The first line indicates the date, TDC number, and link to the item that I created. The second line, in italics, is the prompt that was used on TDC blog site to initiate the task.

Ds106 participants are encouraged to complete activities from an extensive data bank of assignments. “As of Jan. 28, 2013 this collection includes 521 ds106 assignments and 4116 examples created from them.” With such a wide choice, individual students can meet course outcomes through varied and unique learning journeys. Each assignment has been given a difficulty rating (from 1 to 5 stars). As the course proceeds, students will be challenged to complete, for example, “15 stars worth of assignments in a particular week”.

Although the DS106 course has just started, I have written the following extensive blog posts and have documented my learning journey as I have improved on the process to create animated GIFs from video clips.

Here’s an outline of the assignments and posts that I have shared. Entries beginning with “DS106″ (in bold face) and ending with a star rating, have a link to the actual assignment on the DS106 web site. Entries immediately following (with the date in bold face) provide a link to my post containing my actual assignment submission. The remaining non-bolded dates and entries provide links to DS106 blog posts that I have written in addition to specific assignments.

Value Added
Ben Rimes (@techsavvyed), who has been actively engaged in DS106 since the summer of 2010, mentioned in one of his posts that he was hoping to join the Educational Technology & Media MOOC, known as #ETMOOC. Furthermore, Alan Levine (@cogdog) who is the Spring 2013 instructor for the DS106 course was instrumental in getting the #ETMOOC “Blog Hub” established so that participants could more easily share their posts.  Thanks to the willingness of these two dedicated individuals to share information about #ETMOOC, I signed up as well. For this reason some of my posts may be written in such a way to appeal to both #DS106 and #ETMOOC participants. However, the key issue is this “Value Added” paragraph is to encourage all participants in both learning environments to share ideas, tips and resources to help one’s readers improve and move along their own learning journey.

aTdHvAaNnKcSe to those who care and share.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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DS106 Tasks: You Snooze – You Lose!

Activity, DS106, How To, Reflection, Tip 2 Comments »

I’m having fun learning how to create animated GIFs with frames extracted from digital video. In fact, with practice, and the support and feedback of my DS106 learning community, I think I am getting better!

I created this animated GIF and then chose my title. The message combination resonates with me on two levels: the primary one which I’ll address now and the more subtle, subliminal suggestion (which I hope you can figure out), I’ll share at the end of this post.

Zorro as an animated GIF

DS106 Task Tips
This post’s title warning “You Snooze – You Lose!”, with its animated GIF, is a reminder to both DS106 participants (and me) to begin work early Monday morning on the current week’s “Daily Creates” and/or assignments. Those who wait until Sunday to complete the majority of projects assigned during that week will be not only frustrated but will miss out on many positive support and learning opportunities.

As the Digital Storytelling DS106 course moves into more participant-selected assignments and projects, I’d recommend the following:

  1. Plan out your upcoming week’s work early.
  2. Select your first weekly assignment carefully. Pick one that you feel you can accomplish in the least amount of time and, if necessary, with little time spent learning new applications or techniques. Once you have completed your first weekly assignment, you will be motivated and inspired to continue with others.
  3. In your blog posts, document your learning journey. Where possible, provide hyperlinks to tips and resources that showcase how you “tweaked” or made the assignment “your own”. Indicate, what you might do differently if you were to attempt this assignment again.
  4. Choose your “Daily Creates” with care. As an example, if you are instructed, as a minimum, to “do three ‘Daily Creates’ this week”, do not wait until Friday, Saturday and Sunday to tackle this task. Also, if you are weak using Photoshop (as I am), I might be tempted to bypass the Wednesday challenge asking me to “Design a poster of an action movie starring Julia Child” because I know it will require me to spend more than 20 minutes. However, don’t skip a “Daily Create” hoping that the next one will be easier. In reality, the “Daily Creates” are designed to stimulate your creativity and engage you in your learning adventure. No one appreciates this endeavour better than Norm Wright (from the Spring 2012 DS106 course) who shares more than a year’s worth of each days’ creativity in “All My Daily Creates”.
  5. Leave some “percolation time”. In order to be innovative in completing or designing your own assignments, you will need “think time” to explore all aspects of the endeavour before jumping into the task at hand.
  6. Investigate the DS106 Handbook for ideas and tips to help you progress, with fewer hassles. The associated links have been compiled from previous DS106 courses and represent the best resources.
  7. Invoke Google Reader’s RSS feeds in order to keep up-to-date with blog posts and resources shared by the DS106 learning community.
  8. Read other student’s blog posts and provide positive, constructive comments.
  9. Connect with other DS106 students (face-to-face or online) so that you have an idea of whom you might like to work with should a collaborative project be assigned.
  10. Sign up for Twitter so that you can monitor and reply to DS106-related tweets, which can be filtered, using the hashtags like #ds106, #dailycreate or specific iindividuals like #cogdog. I personally like to use TweetDeck, to organize Twitter feeds, as I can setup individual columns for “All Friends”; “Mentions”; “Search: #ds106″; “Search: #dailycreate”; “Favorites”; etc.
  11. Take time to send 140 character tweets (with the #ds106 and/or #dailycreate hashtags) to share your accomplishments. You will be surprised how many of your DS106 colleagues will check out your creativity and provide you with motivational comments.
  12. Faithfully read CogDog’s Blog posts and Twitter feeds (@cogdog) so that you are kept up-to-date on the many facets of the DS106 course.
  13. Always be generous when scheduling each project’s time estimate. Remember that when using technology, Murphy’s Law states that “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” If you have completed a DS106 assignment in less time than you previously estimated, then you are “laughing” :-)
  14. If you leave projects to the weekend you will miss out on the valuable aspect of reading colleagues’ blog posts and commenting. This important step helps build a productive and caring learning community.

Creating My Animated GIF
Without repeating myself, I worked through the basic tasks that I have already documented in my post entitled “The eyes are the windows into the soul. In fact, as someone who does not easily internalize processes, I find that if I document the steps in my learning journey, I can go back to that post whenever I need to repeat the process. In summary, I used these steps:

  1. I began, by selecting the YouTube movie trailer “The Mask of Zorro – Trailer”
  2. Since I am using an older Windows computer running the XP operating system, I used the PWN YouTube bookmarklet process for downloading the trailer and saved it as a High Quality MP4 file. 
  3. Next I used MPEG Streamclip to extract only the clip showing Zorro’s “sword play” near the start of the trailer. I was careful determining the “In ” and “Out” points along the timeline by using my arrow keys to move one frame at a time. Ideally, I wanted the final sword slash to end at a position near where the initial slash began. Such positioning would promote a cleaner, cyclic animated GIF. Unfortunately, I was unable to find a video footage where Zorro uses his rapier in repeated, distinctive “Z” slashing moves, so I did the best that I could in selecting the start and end points of this trimmed video clip.
  4. I extracted 16 frames that I imported into GIMP as separate layers. I then followed the detailed steps in the DS106 Handbook link “Creating Animated GIFs with (free) Open Source Software”.

I admit that I do not understand the complexities of GIMP and follow the instructions blindly. However,  having a link to these important instructional documents, always helps me in the future. I know that if I enter “animated GIF” (without quotes) into my right-hand “Search L-L-L Blog” field on my blog, I will find posts explaining how to create animated GIFs. I know that if I scan each post for hyperlinks, I’ll find valuable resources to help me create another animated GIF.

I’ll always like to ask myself … “If you were to repeat this assignment/project, what would you do differently?”. For this activity, I’d like to follow up on Alan Levine’s suggestion to try and reduce the size of animated GIFs. To do so, I would like to see if I could delete some of the 16 frames that I extracted without diminishing the visual appeal of the sword play.

Did you find the subliminal message?
At the start of this post, I suggested that the title “You Snooze – You Lose!” and Zorro’s distinctive, three stroke rapier cut “Z mark”, shared a subtle, subliminal message. One might suggest that the animated GIF, that I created, produces a repetitive pattern of “Z Z Z Z …”. In the English language, the symbol of repeated Zs often means that an individual is snoozing or snoring. Thus Zorro, with his distinctive sword-play, is subtly reinforcing the title message that snoozing or snoring during the DS106 term not only causes the individual to lose out, but perhaps equally important, the DS106 learning and support community loses an important contributing component … You!

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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Are eight-letter words twice as offensive?

Bits and Bytes, DS106, ETMOOC, Reflection 4 Comments »

What does one do when time is a critical factor and one is challenged to accomplish two different tasks in two different environments? Well … some might get uptight and vent their frustration, by swearing, using profane, “four-letter words”.

In my case, I chose to focus on common elements that satisfy the needs for both entities. Let me explain. I’m currently enrolled in two different massive, open online courses or MOOCs. This year, I am returning to Digital Storytelling – DS106 and thanks to information shared in this learning community, I signed up for Educational Technology & Media. Both of these MOOCs have certain unique expectations.

For example, in today’s  DS106 “The Daily Create” (#374) assignment, I was asked to “Take a picture of your favorite thing in the world to do, however simple or complex.” At the same time, ETMOOC facilitators are asking participants to “Tell us a little bit about yourself – perhaps, where you’re from, what you do, or what you want to be when you grow up – and let us know what you’d like to gain from #etmooc?”

My challenge is to try to meet both of these tasks without uttering any “four-letter words”. Perhaps one might assume that since I have twice the challenges, from the demands of two different MOOCs, my favourite “four-letter words” should increase or double in character length. That is indeed true. In fact, my favourite pastimes can be best described by the “eight-letter word “learning” followed by its slightly shorter, but equally important task of “sharing”. I trust that these two words are demonstrated in the following picture where I glean information from books, magazines and the Internet and share my findings in my educational blog called “Life-Long-Learners”.

Learning & Sharing

[DS106 – TDC #374: My favourite pastime – Learning & Sharing]

Although I am a retired K-12 educator, I’m still passionate about learning. About a year ago, a good friend and innovative educator, Darren Kuropatwa, suggested that I should sign up for the DS106 MOOC. He felt that the innovative learning style, where one can choose his/her own assignments, would challenge and engage me. Darren felt that I would use my blog posts to reflect on what, and how, I learned and share my journey with others. Furthermore, he knew that I would make connections with other like-minded participants and, through mutually supportive blog comments and tweets, extend my Personal Learning Network (PLN).

When I returned to DS106 this year, Ben Rimes (a talented Michigan educator whom I have never met face-to-face) shared in a blog post that he was about to sign up for #ETMOOC. So when another learning opportunity presented itself, be it in a somewhat serendipitous manner, I signed up.

As a former Mathematics/Computer Science teacher, I was always sharing resources with colleagues throughout our school division and our province. When I became an Education Technology Consultant for the Winnipeg School Division, I decided that the best way to help K-12 teachers and their students harness the power of technology was through a monthly educational newsletter. For 23 years I wrote and edited “Bits and Bytes” whose focus was “to provide educators with tips and techniques to help them integrate technology to enhance learning in K-12 classrooms”.

I believe that my philosophy about sharing and the importance of belonging to a PLN can best be summarized in my previous post, and video, entitled “My PLN: A Teacher’s Treasure”.

One of my favourite quotes, that I re-mixed in my first “Teacher Feature” is by Margaret Fuller, who stated “If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.” I think that as professional educators, we should strive to share our knowledge with others. Today, the Internet makes it so much easier.

In closing, I’ll end with the following two, “four-letter words”:

Take care :-)

Larger Images are available on Brian Metcalfe’s Flickr photostream at:

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ETMOOC – Who is Brian Metcalfe?

ETMOOC, Food for Thought, Professional Development, Social Networking 4 Comments »

The Educational Technology and Media MOOC has invited all participants to introduce themselves by stating:

We would like you to introduce yourself to #etmooc. Declaring your identity, through letting us know a bit about who you are, will help participants better relate to and connect with you.

To try and be more economical with my usual long-winded writing style, I have included an image since we all know that “a picture is worth 1000 words”.

As a retired K-12 Educational Technology Consultant and teacher, I consider myself to be a life-long-learner. My gravatar (Globally Recognized Avatar) creation illustrates the three stages in our human development – child, adolescent, and adult. More importantly, the logo portrays that through communicating, collaborating, and “putting our heads together”, each individual can benefit from the ideas that others share.

Life-Long-Learners logo & motto

I believe that sharing educational ideas and resources is just like tossing a pebble into a quiet pond. We have no idea how far the ripples will travel and we have no idea how other educators, and more importantly, how other students will benefit.

The motto “Ancora Imparo!” was uttered by Michelangelo at the age of 87 and translates to “Still, I am learning” or I am still learning”. Imagine such a profound statement being admitted by this artistic genius who recognized that, even in his latter years, there was still much more to learn. As such, “Ancora Imparo!” seemed to be a very fitting motto for my blog and a mantra for all “Life-Long-Learners”.

The vast majority of the participants in the #etmooc learning environment will use gravatar images that are pictures of themselves. However, I have been actively engaged in using and teaching about the Internet since its first introduction to K-12 students and staff. As educators, we were always concerned with protecting the identity of students. We were diligent in preventing student faces, together with corresponding names, from appearing on our web pages to be viewed by a global audience. As such, I felt it was important, at that time, to model discretion and chose a graphic image to represent my identity. Furthermore, if, the extremely knowledgeable educational blogger, Alan Levine can use a “dog” as his gravatar, I feel quite content to utilize my “putting our heads together” image to represent me in the social networking and MOOC environment.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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Get Animated in the New Year

Activity, Bits and Bytes, DS106, How To, Professional Development 4 Comments »

Creating animated GIFs can be an engaging educational exercise. Students can be challenged to use a computer to draw a series of related, progressive images that, when blended together, create animation.

Twenty-five years ago the Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) was created to display images using less than 256 colours. Long before applications such as Flash, iMovie, Photo Story 3, Voki, YouTube or Xtranormal were developed, the only way moving images could be displayed on a web page was through the creation of an animated GIF.

  2013 animated NEW YEAR
[An animated GIF welcoming readers to the New Year]

I admit that I thought I was fairly familiar with the way in which animated GIFs were created. In fact, in October 2000, I wrote a rather detailed article about the process entitled “Get Animated … with Ulead’s GIF Animator Lite Edition”. Students were eager to use Microsoft Paint to create a series of progressive images that were assembled into an animated GIF.

I still remember a major time-saving tip that Don Bellamy, a talented graphic artist, shared with me. The gist of his recommendation was:

To save time when creating animated GIFs, always start with the finished slide/image and work backwards. You can erase components while creating new slides in reverse, faster than you can draw new slide additions working in the forward manner.

The animated growing flower GIF, at right, is composed of five different slides or images. Without Don’s influence, I would have begun the animation process by creating the first slide/image of the pot. Animated RoseNext I would have added the sprouting plant component and saved it as the second slide or image. Successive slides would have included leaves growing off the stem in both directions culminating with the flower bloom as the fifth and last image. However, I found it to be much easier and faster to start with the finished image of the blossoming flower which was saved as slide 5. Then I worked backwards erasing, in turn, the flower (slide 4); left leaf (slide 3); right leaf (slide 2); sprout (slide 1) leaving only the flower pot. When these slides were reassembled (in the forward, numerical progression) using the “GIF Animator” Windows freeware, the result was the animated rose that you see displayed.

Likewise the final slide, in the above New Year’s welcoming animated message, was created with the complete message. The “working backward”  procedure used was to:

  • Complete the final message – saved as “ani-NewYears-40.jpg” (with its arbitrarily high-numbered file name)
  • Erase final exclamation mark – save resulting image as “ani-NewYears-39.jpg”
  • Erase “adventure” – save resulting image as “ani-NewYears-38.jpg”
  • Continue the process, erasing one word at a time, while saving the resulting image with its next lower file number
  • Erase the large red “0”, as the second last image, and save the image as “ani-NewYears-20.jpg”
  • Erase the large red “2” and save the resulting blank yellow rectangle (with the lowest slide/image number as “ani-NewYears-19.jpg”

The resulting 20 “ani-NewYears-##” images were imported into the GIF Animator software, and like all animated GIF creation software, were imported in ascending order of numerical slide/images from lowest file number (with the least detailed display) to the highest file number which displays the final, complete illustration. One can modify the exposure time of each slide/image in the animation software and when the final GIF is assembled, it can be opened in any browser to view the animation effect. This was the animated GIF process of which I was familiar.

Animation in the 21st Century
Now, we fast forward about 12 years where I am re-introduced to animated GIFs in an on-line  Digital Storytelling “DS106” course. Right away, I realized that my knowledge of how to create animated GIFs had not kept up-to-date. As instructors, Jim Groom and Alan Levine, challenged us by not only creating animated GIFs from images but also by creating animated images from movies, television, and home videos. Not to be outdone, other DS106 instructors and students went wild demonstrating their “animated” creativity. In fact, as I explored the animated GIFs from DS106 this past Summer and Fall terms, I began to feel the excitement to signup for another DS106 session which officially starts January 14, 2013. In order that you can experience the creativity and positive learning environment fostered through DS106, I encourage you to explore the links, blog posts, and comments shared by the following amazing individuals:

However, the best part about the creativity demonstrated by these “GIF masters” is that, as part of the DS106 learning community, they shared the processes they went through to accomplish their animation. I think that as educators we need to ask our students to reflect and share the processes/hangups that they encounter when learning. It can definitely be a window into their comprehension and, better yet, provide us with important feedback into out teaching.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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Teacher Feature #24 – Three Little Words

Food for Thought, Teacher Feature No Comments »

Technology empowers students. Certainly this brief sentence contains three important words. However, when creating this month’s “Teacher Feature”, I remembered “three little words” that will help reduce teacher stress while empowering students. It is recommended that teachers start responding to student questions, for which they don’t know the answer, with the three little words … “I don’t know”.

Teacher Feature #24 - Stephen Heppel

Teacher Feature #24 – Stephen Heppel – December, 2012

Undoubtedly, for some teachers, such a confession will be difficult. Especially if they have prided themselves on always knowing everything about their particular subject area(s). However, with technology invading our homes and our schools, it will be impossible, for even the most tech-minded individual, to always have the right answer. Therefore, I recommend that each teacher become more transparent and acknowledge students more frequently with “I don’t know … but if you find out, I’d love for you to share it with me”. With such feedback, the individual pupil is empowered as the traditional teacher’s and student’s roles are reversed.

In order to survive the barrage of questions posed by inquisitive Early Years students, some teachers direct their young students to “Ask three, before me.” What an amazing catch-phrase! This strategy asks that students search for answers in other ways as opposed to always relying on the teacher. Not only does it take pressure off the teacher, it also encourages students to learn new problem-solving techniques. Teachers, who are hoping to infuse technology into their classrooms, cannot know all the myriad of details about each software application. Neither can they know how to accomplish all tasks on each particular gadget in a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) classroom environment. Rather, empower the students to collaborate and problem solve as a community of learners. Such action will benefit them when they are employed in the real world.

I was very lucky to be exposed to such a “real world” learning experience when I enrolled in the popular “Digital Storytelling” course offered by the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. This massive, open, online course (or MOOC), affectionately known as “DS106” (www.ds106.us), ran for 15 weeks and exposed me to the realities of learning in the 21st century. No, there were no recommended textbooks nor required software applications. Neither were there specific handouts on how to create GIFs or a special effects using Photoshop or Gimp. Although the instructors worked hard, they did not take ownership for creating up-to-date instructions on how to accomplish a task using different versions of Photoshop. Rather students were empowered to search Google for “Photoshop tutorials” or communicate with others taking the course to learn how certain tasks were best accomplished. Furthermore, students were encouraged to share their creative assignments providing “behind the scenes” insights into how their projects were accomplished. Following the “ABCs” of DS106, students were encouraged to “Always Be Creating” and “Always Be Commenting” on other students’ work so that a true sharing and learning community could be fostered.

If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob children of tomorrow.

John Dewey said it best … “If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob children of tomorrow.” This message definitely resonates with me as a new year fast approaches. During this holiday season, teachers might consider pedagogical resolutions that they might adopt during the new year. Perhaps some of the following questions might cause you to reflect and change:

  • Can you move towards harnessing technology in your classroom?
  • How can you become less of a gatekeeper of knowledge and more of a facilitator of learning?
  • Are you willing to be more honest with students by saying “I don’t know”?
  • Would you be willing to explore one new educational application each month?
  • Could you connect with other educators to form a Personal Learning Network?
  • Will you encourage students to explore creative ways that technology can empower them?

As the year 2012 comes to an end, I want to wish all my readers and friends a warm Seasons Greetings and finish this post with three little words … “Happy New Year”.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Larger Image: Brian Metcalfe’s Teacher Feature “photostream”

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