Online Professional Development

Alan Levine of CogDogBlog posted a wonderful explanation video of what a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) is today.

I’ve been a student in several Open online courses, as well as been a professor in what Lisa Lane calls an Open-Closed course (The closed part dictated by the sponsoring university.) I’ve participated in the same course with Lisa. It was the course of Alec Couros, from whom I took one of the Open courses.

I’ve tried to create online communities with an earlier version of Clairvoy, which was modestly successful for a time. It was quickly eclipsed by organizations with vested interests and money.

So the MOOC seems to be the way to go if one is just a bunch of folks interested in the same subject.

Lisa outlins here what she calls “Open-Open MOOCS,” “Open-Closed MOOCS,” and “Closed-Closed MOOCS.”

According to Lisa, “Open-Open MOOCS” are like what others have called Online Professional Learning Communities.

Open-Closed MOOCS are what happens when a University has an online class and opens it to anyone to participate.

Closed-Closed MOOCS are what happens when forward thinkers in an organization have plans to do one of the first two models, but are shut down by their sponsoring organization and the networking component is lost.

We should consider creating Open-Closed MOOCS (Which are Open MOOCs with some structure) to promote professional collaboration.  I’ve been trying Open-Open and it just doesn’t give enough structure.

Open-Closed MOOCS is one model which might work.

Design A Computer Lab

I’ve been contemplating how to set up our computer lab, and the conventional wisdom seems to have something missing.

Classroom Computer Lab Layout Four Leaf Clover Computer Lab Layout
Inverted U-Shaped Computer Lab Layout U-Shaped Computer Lab Layout

The Four Best Computer Laboratory Layouts for Schools have a lot of similarities to  subdivisions in southern Florida.

Google Maps Google Maps

Subdivisions are built to squeeze the most humans into one place while keeping them from interacting, “We love our neighborhood, but no, we haven’t really gotten to know the neighbors yet.”

It seems both traditional computer lab setups and subdivisions are designed for individual, parallel play, in a confined space.

But all the research points in the other direction. In computer labs there should be talking. Groups of children talking, sharing, collaborating. Student “experts” (in things like inserting pictures or downloading audio files) should feel free to get up and walk all the way across the room, if somebody over there needs help they can provide. It should be natural ongoing collaboration. You can read about how children cooperatively learn on the computer by reading the blog post titled Interactive White Boards and Joint Computing here and watch the video by Sugata Mitra outlining the research on which Nicholas Negroponte’s one-laptop-per-child project is based.  Sugata Mitra also has a blog.

AssortedStuff blogged we should organize schools to make innovative learners. The 4-minute video he includes from Stephen Johnson is worth watching:

Unfortunately for me, I’m not dealing with a “should.”

I’m dealing with a “do it” and “do it now.”

I’ve got a room, a bunch of computers, just under a thousand students, and need to sort it out in a real way, soon.

As a public school teacher, I’ve got unlimited resources, as long as I don’t spend any money. I’ve got a trailer, 24 rather good desktops without flatscreen monitors. And a decision to try and carve out the next model for computer labs.

We’ve done more with less…

It’s my firm conviction computers are not for teaching technology, but for teaching art. (Read more about art and computers in the blog post “We are Vermeer” here…)
Art casts a wide net including: writing, drawing, photography, design, music, layout, and the organizational and collaborative skills to get those tasks done.
Therefore, the space in which computers are used by children should seem more like a artist’s studio than a factory bench. It should be a creative atmosphere, not an assembly line.

Big Projects & Radical Collaboration:

We have a number of large projects going or in the works. Our 5th Grade does a large-scale project in Social Studies using technology, which Jenny, Jennifer Metcalfe and I presented, in part, at ISTE for the last couple of years.

We’re also gearing up to try and launch a school-wide online newspaper.  It’s less a rehash of paper school newspapers with lunch menus and the weather, and more of an online environment in which we can showcase all the online work that’s going on throughout the school.   I’ve outlined ideas on how that might work in the blog post titled “Online Workflow for School Newspaper Defined” here.

So the stage is set to create and use a room in which computers are housed for innovation and collaboration.  Bringing about all the “we shoulds” about such things being written in educational publications. (That’s not a slam on AssortedStuff.  He’s helping.)

Here’s a stab at “doing it.”  Please feel free to toss peanuts from the gallery:

User requirements:

1) The students need to be organized in small groups of 4 to 6, each with a computer, but in a concave circle so they can easily see one another’s computer and share ideas, as well as how-to knowledge quickly and easily.

2) Monitors must all face one way, so a single teachers can see everything that’s going on at one time.

3) I have only desktops to work with, no budget and I’m setting up in a trailer (I know, only the best for the next generation.).

3) There should be a relaxed “living room” feel to the place and the artwork should be anything BUT schematics of computers and warnings about Internet safety.  The artwork should be artwork.  Inspiring.

Taking inspiration from:
art studio
The Gothic Study - The Private Library of William Randolph Hearst
OLPC Papua New Guinea: Drek #20Hole In The Wall
The stupid selfportrait

Repost from July 2008 – What I learned about Professional Learning Communities

A PLC is not a thing.

As Heidegger put it, there are “thingly” things and “unthingly” things and a PLC is a very unthingly thing, unless of course you happen to be lucky enough to find yourself in one and then a PLC is everything.

I’ve worked for principals who could count the number of PLCs they had created — horrible, dark, depressing workhouses these. By counting the PLC things, they could then compare themselves to other principals to see who’s better, “I’ve created 11 PLCs.” “Really, we created five last year, but we added another eight PLCs this year.” These are the utterances of children trying to win a game of “Who’s is Bigger” with phantom progress.

In my current school we are banned (not explicitly) from using the jargon of PLCs, because if we called something PLC, that would exclude everything else, and that would be wrong. Everything is PLC: Teacher Research, Literacy Collaborative, Happy Hour, Team Meetings, Joking Around in the Office, Teachers Who Are a Groups of Friends, Teachers Going on Vacation Together, Committees Working on Solutions for Struggling Students, Clairvoy, Co-Teaching, Grade-Level Long-Term Technology Projects and Everything Else.

It can be compared to the approach of Eastern and Western religion. For a time there during the 1900s Eastern religions brought something new to Western religions. Yogis would say Hinduism is a “way”. Although many Westerners couldn’t quite fathom what that meant, they knew they were missing something and that sounded like it. In the West, religion is a thing. You know, a “thing” you do on Sunday morning, a “thing” you give money to, a “thing” that will keep you from going to hell.

The truly religious in the West (I have a long line of ministers in my family) knew and know it is both. Religion is a way of being, and you need some “things” to help folks along that don’t know what they are doing.

It is when the “things” overpower the “way” that the “way” gets lost. That’s probably why at my school we don’t use the word PLC. Like Lord Valdemort, we know there is a huge unseen presence of PLC, but we treat it as the thing that must not be named. We fear if we speak the jargon of PLC, the thingly things of educational bureaucracy might sweep in and overtake our unthingly everything, causing everything to go down the tubes.

In our kitchen growing up we had a sign which read, “Love One Another”, and in a professional teaching environment, that sums it up just about as well as anything.

How Media Works … A Synopsis

When using real social network media for education in the K-5 environment, this is how real the learning can feel, if we understand how to communicate it’s impact effectively.

We’re just starting to understand.

A 2nd grade class starts a wiki on animals.  They write, post pictures, insert videos.  They go home and show their parents, online.  They show their brother, their sister, their friends.  They review every other wiki page done by every other student in the classroom.  They come in the next day and say, “I’ve got some ideas on how I can make my lion page better, will we be working on the wiki today?”   This is a true story.  In fact on the first day of spring break, one second grader added a video to her wiki page.

Imagine this happening with math worksheets.  A child takes home their math work sheet.  They show it to their parents, their brother, their sister, their friends.  They review every other student’s math worksheet in the class, and come in the next day asking …

I don’t think so.


We’ve been working in this environment for four years, earnestly.  Our teaching staff has come a long way in understanding how the technologies work, how they can be employed safely in  a K-5 environment and all the ancillary issues.

In broad strokes it goes like this:

First one needs a knowledge of media.  Then one needs a knowledge of kids’ perception of the use of media.

In the lower grades some of the kids’ perception of the media comes from their teachers, some from the media itself, but most comes from their peers.

Only then can impactful learning projects using media be developed.

After a teacher gets that far (and most of our teachers have gotten this far or are using ideas created by teachers at this school who have gotten there), only then does one have the pieces needed to position the projects in the kids’ minds.  This is the next step for us.  Only then would a teacher have the knowledge to communicate the impact on reality outside their student’s online projects effectively.  Only then would a teacher have the knowledge to manage the social memes (even if only at the classroom or grade-level) which might flow out of such work as a reference/touchstone/review of content.

And when a teacher can do all that, students work on their projects in a vested, emotional and earnest way.  Every moment of creation (writing, recording, reflecting, collaboration) becomes a moment in history seen, over time, repeatedly, by anyone.  Everything becomes real.

We’re just starting to scratch the surface of the motivating aspects of social media as a tool for learning.

Finding the key to this (using online social global media to make students feel like the world cup players in the video) is one important goal I’m currently exploring with the folks at my school.

How To Build A Meeting

150 or so technology teachers gather once a month for a meeting … an old fashioned, analog, meeting.

Announcers announce announcements (which were sent out in email beforehand). Managers manage.  Specialists present their specialities.  Pointers point at points with pointers. Counterpoints are made.  Facsimiles of discussions are had.

Askers ask questions.  But in the active engagement of an analog meeting, many times no answers are available. “That’s a great question, and I’ll look into it, and get back to you.”

Days later, a singular answer is delivered to a singular asker. But we all did get to hear the question posed, and that is certainly something. But what? I don’t know, I’ll have to look into it and get back to you.

One of my cohorts, a jocular and intelligent fellow, posed the idea of USING the technology we are teaching to somehow facilitate the meeting. “It has to be better than sitting around a table while people shamelessly check their email and rudely interrupt the presenter?” he said.

Heresy you say? Perhaps. But if one believes less in a religion that worships the gods, than in one that feels sorry for them. (I mean, they created all this, and can’t possibly feel good about it.) One might venture to noodle on such a concept.


A little like ‘build a bear’ shops found in malls across the country, there should be some structure (or the children wouldn’t be able to start), but enough freedom (so when they are done they feel like a creator).

Here’s one way, using a wiki.

(For those technology teachers among us worried about new technology, see a multitude of wikis done by 2nd graders on

1) Create an “Agenda Page” (a central directory page) for the upcoming meeting (perhaps months in advance).

2) Create “Issue Pages” for each item on the agenda. (Hyper-link from the Agenda item to it’s corresponding Issue Page and back to the Agenda page)

3) Anyone involved in the meeting could create an agenda topic and corresponding issue page prior to the meeting.

4) Anyone could add their questions, thoughts, ideas, solutions to issue pages.

The value of this would be as follows. The meeting would be about things of interest to the people attending the meeting. They came up with them. Most of the hard questions and issues would have been hashed out, discussed, answers researched and delivered, all before getting together at the meeting.

The meeting itself would be shorter, more on point, more poignant to the participants.


Pros: You already know how to use this technology.

Cons: Information is not collected, not key-word search-able, information does not get compiled into a group edited document, it is more like confetti–scraps of errant information floating without structure and no good way to search it. Heck even Microsoft is talking about getting rid of this Outlook public folder technology in the next few years.

Solution: Put an RSS feed on the wiki so all changes are sent via email to the outlook public folder at which everyone is used to looking. Remove write privileges for everyone so the only way to “post” in public folders is to add or alter the wiki. Eventually, everyone will start using an RSS reader and the Outlook Public Folders will have no use and go away.

Life After Wiki: Then, all the information collected in the dialog will truly be collected and key-word-search-able available ongoing in a quickly reference-able format for when one needs the information sometime in the future, or not.

This would be using the technology we are trying to get teachers to use in the way we are trying to get them to use it.