Sunday, February 8, 2009

Wii Music

My business partner and I decided we needed a little time away from our normal thinking and conversations. So, we got together and tried out Wii MUSIC. I was pretty excited to give it try for many reasons. One, I have not used Wii before -- I know - where have I been? The second reason is that I want to understand who our competitors are (we run viaAcademies). We have a pretty wide view of who are competitors are. After all, a narrow view can catch any organization, company or school off guard. So, I felt it was important to learn what we could learn -- and have some fun. Third, even if we felt Wii MUSIC was not really a competitor, someone, somewhere, at some meeting will ask, "So, how do you compare to Wii MUSIC?", or "What do you think of Wii MUSIC?"

This video is pretty funny - shows how connected you can get with the Mii Performers!

With that many reasons to check it out, so we did. Now, let me start by saying I was a bit skeptical of the value of the game. After a few minutes though, the game was fun. We spent most of our time playing the piano, violin, chord (a trumpet like instrument that plays chords, like a trio of brass instruments would add chordal harmony), drum set and a few others. We must have heard Twinkle Twinkle Little Star a thousand times, but it remained pretty fun (funny really). After laying down our own instrument lines for each, the three of us (including my wife and music teacher) made our recordings and watched the final video.

The theory section is actually really nice. The game includes pitch matching (like timbre), pitch matching (unlike timbre), high and low pitch recognition, mistake recognition (in a unison ensemble -- this is not all that easy at first), chord recognition (M, min, dim., etc), and reconstructing melodies in time and pitch). We made it through level 4 before we decided to hang it up for the night (4 more levels were possible).

While we did not exhaust the game in one night, we did find it fun and educational to a point. If anything, the theory section is pretty hard for someone with little to no background. The fun factor should keep users coming back, both young and old. I look forward to diving in a bit more. I give it 3 thumbs up out of 5. The only thing I think it lacks is a clarity of purpose around the game. It seems not so defined in what the goals are, leaving the user to "pop around" and discover on their own. The other VERY annoying aspect is the host. He reads the screen in a made up language that is repetitive and non-sense. I could do without his gibberish.

I am planning a test with a younger user base. More as I know it.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Being Diverse

I have been absent from blogging for a few weeks working on some training and business planning. For those you know, my other life is spent being a entrepreneur /musician / teacher. So, I have been busy building a new business, getting our Saxophone group out in the public eye through our blog and outreach communications, and planning for some upcoming training I will be delivering.

I have really taken the words of my mentors and friends to heart and wish to share them with you. Those who mean a lot to me have given me a consistent message over the last few months. That message is one I consider to be my new mantra.

"Everything we do as humans, contributes to our ability to lead, to teach, to help others, to grow, to be self sufficient or to benefit a larger organization (of 2 or a 1000)."

I encourage my fellow e-Learning experts, developers, colleagues, family and friends to think about how your diversity benefits yourself and the organizations you belong to.

Being diverse does not mean you dabble in things and master nothing.

Being diverse means you take the time to challenge yourself in everything you do and weave all that you do into what makes you a strong person.

Being diverse means that you strive to master ALL that you do and use true experts as role models. The important thing is to continue to strive. The reality of being a true expert in everything is impossible -- we all know that. Who would really want to be! By striving, holding ourselves up to the light of incredibly talent role models and challenging ourselves to achieve high standards and lofty goals, we can be inspirational role models ourselves.

My challenge to the blogging community is to share your diversity. Share your blogs with others, be open to discussions on all that you do. For those wanting to read a bit about my Sax Quartet, feel fee to visit my Keystone Sax Quartet Blog.

Be diverse -- enjoy it, treasure you talents and share!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

ASTD Challenges, Plans and Predictions for 2009

Directly from the ASTD website, an opportunity for all to think ahead and create a personal plan (or industry challenge).

The Challenge is Simple: What are your Challenges, Plans and Predictions for 2009?

First, I thought a bit of history would set the tone for my thoughts. In November, I began a personal quest to re-market and re-define myself. More importantly, my quest was to start listening to myself and acting on my ideas. After 15+ years of devoting all I did to my employers, it was time for me to start thinking of my held positions as a piece to the complex puzzle that makes up who I am and the work I do. So, to begin with I quickly re-shaped my thinking about work / life balance and started to think more about how my professional life is PART of my LIFE. I had to start instantly giving myself permission to spend my free time on what I would have originally said was "work." Why? Because I am energized by the work I do, I find it incredibly rewarding and that the more I blend my thoughts on learning, education, music and technology, the more whole I become.

  • Getting my thoughts in writing. Blogging has helped tremendously. I've built momentum, my challenge will be to continue.
  • Becoming an X-Gen'er who truly understand the connected world we live in and how learning is changing, socially and technologically.
  • Do more of what works and less of what doesn't, my time is valuable.
  • Complete my business plan and swing open the doors.
  • Commit to an employer where the culture is one of teamwork, where students come first.
  • Continue the growth of my Saxophone Quartet (2 recitals in 2009 and our first album)
  • Social Networking will demonstrate to corporations the importance of diverse, idea generating employees.
  • Schools (k-12) will find the need to update their existing technology use policies to be applicable to all of the latest technologies (IM, Web 2.0, Texting, Cell Cams, etc.)
  • Learning complex arts and skills will become more prevalent through online tools.
  • LMS's will adapt to the needs of an individual learner or they will begin their decline.
The list seems incomplete and probably always will to me. But, it is a snapshot for me in the here and now.

Top School LMS Choice Issues

My list of LMS topics to cover is 50% complete. I have written a lot in the last month with more to come. I firmly adhere to the 80/20 rule in planning. So today's post is focused on a summary of high level decisions to make should you be thinking about integrating an LMS.

After 9 years of LMS experience, I have witness a number of priority concerns for various levels of users. Users include students, teachers, administrators, dba's, website managers and marketers, curriculum development staff and parents (of school age students).

Considerations for Choosing an LMS

  1. Does the LMS deliver curriculum in a way that matches your instructional model? Look at how your course content can be organized and presented to the students using the LMS. Does it make sense to your organization? If the LMS would require you to rethink the way you present course materials, you must decide if you like the different approach and would be able and willing to spend the time and energy to change gears. Or, would the change be unacceptable? Do not let the vendor convince you their model is perfect for you.
  2. Does the LMS offer too many or not enough bells and whistles? The key here is growth. Some schools know what they want from the beginning. For example, if you know you want an LMS to deliver non-authenticated materials for marketing or community building, make sure the LMS has a portal system. If you don't need that now but think you will, make sure you can turn if off now and on later. Or, if you don't want to invest in the added technology, don't.
  3. Is the LMS age appropriate? If you are educating elementary students, the LMS should deliver an appropriate navigational scheme including learning paths, navigational aids, tools, icons and look / feel that is appropriate out of the box. Or, it will allow you to create that environment. Remember, creating your own environment will take time, and potentially will be met with road blocks due to application design. This is a great time to get a sandbox environment for your team. Test and test and test various ways to make the LMS a part of your learning environment. If you have to work too hard or make too many compromises, seek advice first, try again, and then make a decision. This will take some time but it will be worth it. Try button layout, colors, icons, course area names, course structures, ways to guide students around the content, etc. Look for flexibility. If the environment seems right out of the box, consider the flip side. Using our elementary school example imagine if you wanted to open the school up to high school students. If the LMS is more suitable to elementary with NO flexibility, it will quickly create a need for your to make a decision to end the use of the tool for your school, or release a new tool just for the HS students. Your planning should also include a vision of what lies ahead.
  4. Does the LMS offer teacher efficiency tools? This area could be its own white paper. Think about an LMS as expense every time teachers use it. Their time is money. LMS should provide an intuitive work flow. For example, when a teacher logs into the LMS, they should be able to INSTANTLY, yes, instantly determin what work they need to complete. They should see a list of items that need a response or to be assessed. They should not have to dig through the content or gradebooks looking for work to do.
  5. Does the LMS offer management tools to ensure quality? Similar to number 1, you must ensure the LMS fitst your management model. For example, Blackboard was designed to provide independent professors with a tool for their classroom. As professors, they ran their own classes with little direct oversight from supervisors. However, as more and more LMS find their way in the businesses and school (running themselves like businesses), teacher efficiency has become a larger issue. Managers who must ensure teachers respond quickly, accurately and educationally to a student's needs, must have tools to help them manage all teachers. Some LMS's will allow all data to be transferred to reporting applications. Those applications can help you determine if teachers are responding quickly and efficiently. But, they do not help you determin if the teacher is responding with quality. LMS's are behind on this technology. Overall, we must all push toward new tools to help us ensure quality instruction through LMSs. Never-the-less, we must consider what is available and consider our ability to extract the data we need.
  6. Doe the LMS treat students as a class or as individuals? Imagine wanting to exclude a student from a homework assignment in your traditional class. This is pretty simple to do. Based on a students IEP, or on something much simpler like the quiz being optional, teachers always have a need to customize the ribbon of grades for a student. Not all LMSs allow for customization at the student level. Knowing up front can save you a ton of grief on the backend. This question is easy to overlook. However, finding this out when you are training your first group of teachers is not a good place to be.
This may be a simplistic list. However, from within this list many other considerations will be developed. Content types, types of assessments, roles, customization options, branding, management tools, teacher efficiencies, are all considerations that can come out of the 6 Points above.

Monday, January 5, 2009

LMS: Sub Prep

This afternoon, a family member of mine received his first call to sub (Congrats Tom!). This led me back to thoughts of my subbing days and how I wished their were ways for me to be more prepared. I remember having the same questions the night before I was scheduled to sub:

  1. What classes will I teach (if they just asked - "Can you come in for 7th grade tomorrow?)
  2. What topics will we cover?
  3. Would I have anything that I could share with the students?
  4. Do I know the slightest bit about the topics?
  5. How many students are in each class period?
  6. Would I need to give an exams?
  7. What homework did the students have last night?
  8. When was lunch :-)
  9. Can I get a seating chart and class roster (really useful for teachers that are new AND for those that are returning or are familiar with many students)
With these questions in mind, I think it is time to pull out my list and see where we stand in regards to our discussion on LMS integration. The following topics make up our list. Those in red are those we have covered including the one for today.

  • Substitute Teacher Prep (thanks Dr. Karl Kapp)
  • Homework Assignments
  • Recording Live Sessions for review
  • Community Building
  • Direct Parent Communications
  • Progress Reporting
  • Delivering Media
  • Course Content Delivery
  • Group Projects
  • Gradebook use and distribution
  • Enhancing Teacher Preparation Skills (and Instructional Design)
  • Assessments
  • Reaching Non-Participants (from your class)
  • Assisting with Absenteeism
An LMS is a perfect tool for helping substitutes. I tend to think this use is something schools have not experimented with, but they should. Of course, having all of the class information in the LMS is a prerequisite. As a technology leader, I would use this need as another way to incentivize all teachers to make use of the school LMS. That is if the chocolate didn't work!

Additional prereqs for this to work would be an account for all school board approved subs. Since this list is often a finite list, this would be easy to mange. Next, account roles would have to be set so that the sub has read only access to the information. Also, subs would need access to a brief tutorial on using the system. This could easily be handled in a "pre-teaching" session with all subs (often not part of school systems now - but should be).

Although I may have missed a few minute details, the items above should serve as the miniumum needed to get subs into a useful system to aid in their prep. The goal of the system should be to shift substitute teachers away from hallway monitors and toward being productive educators. From my experience, subs do want to be productive. However, they are often not given the support or tools to be truly beneficial to the students.

So how does an LMS answer the questions from above? Here a some examples.

  • What classes will I teach (if they just asked - "Can you come in for 7th grade tomorrow?)
Since the account should give the sub access to all of the teacher's load, including a "common" area, the LMS is a great place to publish a copy of the teacher's schedule. Schools should have these readily available in "marketable" form anyway to share with parents.
  • What topics will we cover?
Two options here. Option 1 -- a complete curriculum. Most schools have complete curriculum guides for all classes. However, if that does not exist, Option 2 -- the teach who is ACTIVELY keeping up with their class should already have posted notes about what is coming up for the week. At minimum, messages from the teacher can help a sub see what is coming up.
  • Would I have anything that I could share with the students?
A great place to check out are the projects the class may be working on. Often, if I had to sub for a class that was a bit outside my expertise, we would focus on longer term projects. I could offer a new insight into a subject, or make suggestions on how to conduct research, or offer a true to life story that could help those struggling become more motivated to dive in.
  • Do I know the slightest bit about the topics?
As a sub, spending 30 minutes the night before researching topics, or dusting off the college books can be extremely powerful. Imaging walking into the classroom already knowing the vocabulary!
  • How many students are in each class period?
For no better reason that to give some idea of the scope of your day -- will I teach 10 students at a time or 2, or 30. Subs who know what they are walking into are more confident and can be more prepared!
  • Would I need to give an exams?
Students should not be the ones telling you as a sub "We don't have an exam today" -- hummm! Really! Coming prepared with the plan already in place gives you the edge on classroom controll from the very beginning. Kids like to get out of exams and they can be very persuasive.
  • What homework did the students have last night?
Similar to the exams comment above, kids will want to say "We didn't have any homework!" By reviewing the LMS homework assignments list, you can see if that is the case at a glance. Of course, they may still try -- but as a sub, you are wiser.
  • When was lunch :-)
Seriously -- subbing is hard work. I have subbed in schools that wanted to get every ounce of time from me. So, they would often ask me to cover classes during prep time and other "off periods." For many schools this is perfectly fine and noted in the sub agreement or teacher contract. Knowing when you have some time to breath is great. For example, I once taught at a school where lunch for me was at 1:00pm. I am hungry by 10:30am. So, I knew I would need to take something with me -- or the kids would find me passed out in front of them -- not good.
  • Can I get a seating chart and class roster (really useful for teachers that are new AND for those that are returning or are familiar with many students)
Now, we should never assume kids aren't who they say the are. But, believe me -- they will sometimes try that little trick. Don't make a big deal out of this as a sub -- ie -- don't flaunt that you have a seating chart. If available, school pictures of the class could be made available to the sub in the LMS -- not too hard to do actually. Many schools have picture based seating charts for this reason. This tool could be made available to the teacher all day for reference. Especially if the teacher is giving exams as noted above.

As you can see, there are lots of solutions and options. I just scratched the surface. I am sure all of you reading this can add your own experiences and solutions.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I've Been Meme'ed!

Karl Kapp tagged me to join the ranks of those among the Meme out there. This one -- Tell 7 Facts about myself.

First, posting of the rules!

The Rules:
  1. Link your original tagger(s) and list these rules in your post.
  2. Share seven facts about yourself in the post.
  3. Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs.
  4. Let them know they’ve been tagged
7 Facts

  1. I am a musician, turned educator, turned technologist, turned musician, turned educator. I am certain that cycle will continue -- it makes me smile when I think about how fortunate I am to say that.
  2. My hobbies become passions including Mountain Biking (1 did 1 race and decided to stick to it as a hobby), Cars (I spent 4 years racing, helping others in the sport, taking care of cars, doing mechanical work and detailing that I continue today), Photography (I learned in 9th grade and continue to be as active as I can be), Home Design (I learned in HS about drafting and love to doodle, even helped design our recent home addition), Interior Design (no training, just love to do it).
  3. I love dogs but could never have 1 - I am too fussy about the house and cars.
  4. I think saxophones are the most beautiful instruments!
  5. I have only blogged for 2 months and I am hooked. (For personal and professional reasons).
  6. My blog posts are all too long! No one has complained, but I get the sense!
  7. I must have chocolate every day -- it tames the wildest spirit, frees the mind and brings peace to all.
Now -- I have a problem. I don't know 7 people to tag who are blogging. I know 7 people, but not 7 bloggers. Boy, I need to get out more. I'll see who I can round up.

Have fun!

Monday, December 29, 2008

LMS: Delivering Media

Imagine a class full of NetGen students, eager to share videos, pics, creations etc. They live for the opportunity to share their lives through stories, pictures of their pets, their home, friends and family, or grassroots videos they have made. Those who have ventured into the musical arts are even creating sound files through Garage Band or various other MIDI or live recording/sound editing applications.

If you haven't seen what students are doing with media, watch this example below from SchoolTube.

As adults, we should not be surprised by the enthusiasm to share our personal media. This holiday season, the trend of sending "brag" letters seems to have really taken hold. My wife and I have been sending letters for about 3 years now. I am sure many of you can appreciate the same drive in students to share more than just what they have the chance to say in class.

As educators we certainly have some challenges in giving students a safe and organize environment to share their media. Some of those challenges:
  • Receiving many files from various students
  • Keeping a record of who's file belongs to whom
  • Screaning files for appropriateness.
  • Supplying secure access -- ie -- only students in the school or class can access the files
  • Organizing the files for distribution
  • Labeling the files for searching or locating files of interest quickly
  • Archiving the files for future use
In a recent workshop, the topic of using Facebook and YouTube came up. Now, I am an advocate of both services. However, in a classroom, I do believe as educators, we must first ensure the safety and security of the students to whatever level of control we see appropriate. While it may be perfectly fine to a parent of one of the students to allow them to use those services, I would not assume that every parent agrees. Thus, I suggest your school's LMS should be considered first when thinking about distribution systems. Leave the openness and global aspects of the other services as an option to the families and be prepared to discuss them if they ask however. NOTE: If your school does not have an LMS, there are ways to "lock" down access to accounts in both of the above that may be sufficient for your needs. In another post, I would like to look at SchoolTube. More on that later.

For now, lets look at what an LMS can do for each of the above challenges.

  • Receiving many files from various students
Most LMSs have a file sharing tool, messaging system etc. The important "rule" to establish when offering students a way to share media, is to ensure that students send files to you as the "moderator" ONLY. As a music educator, I have first hand experience in using student supplied media that was not appropriate. Lets just say how surprised I was when students supplied their own music for a project I had assigned. It was my first year teaching and WOW -- I was the coolest teacher in school after that. When the music played, OH MY ! I am not a fan of making censorship a big deal in the creative arts. So I will leave that for another topic. But, I did learn quickly that no matter what, we must teach students about class standards whatever they may be. So, submitting to you first and ONLY you, before posting, is a must in my opinion.
  • Keeping a record of who's file belongs to whom
Each time a student sends you a file, their account is associated with that file. Imagine having 20 -25 students in a class, and potentially multiple classes, all emailing you files they want to be part of project. That process would quickly become out of control. And, you would most likely have issue with file sizes filling your email system. Through an LMS, students can easily send you files, with names attached and through a system where the flow of larger files is a norm.
  • Screening files for appropriateness.
The simple act of the students submitting files to you for posting allows you to work with students individually, creating a really powerful learning experiences. Presenting "rules" up front in very simple terms can be done at the class level. However, if a student sends in a file that is not exactly educationally appropriate, dealing directly with that student 1:1 can be a memorable and lasting experience for the student. As a teacher, you can address specifics about the media and share what you are looking for and what traits of the media do not fall into those specifics. In direct terms -- "tell them what is bad and where they crossed the line for school."

NOTE: Many LMSs have discussion boards where files can be posted to a moderator. As the moderator, you can mark files as "approved" for distribution, simplifying the entire process. Also, this process is a great lesson for students to play a role in. Teaching them how to moderate a forum would be a wonderful way to apply the requirements to a hands-on, real-world application.
  • Supplying secure access -- ie -- only students in the school or class can access the files
LMSs are built around access and roles. So they easily handle the issue of secure, controlled access to certain areas of your course, club or school site. To put this into practical terms, imagine being a teacher who has a site in the LMS that covers all of your course sections for Sociology. You have 3 sections of the course. You decide you want the students to share media about their hobbies for 1 section of the course. The other 2 will do so at a later time and your others classes are working on other projects. Using Blackboard as an example, you create Groups within your site for each separate course. Next, you give access to the students in each section to that section only (for now). At this point you can now communicate, post files, have discussions, etc. that are ONLY accessible by those students in that group!
  • Organizing the files for distribution
For this challenge, think of the LMS as a website building tool. Most of us should have some experience building websites. If you are an educator and do not, you should! We know that we must format the pages, create labels for the files, create ways to link to a file, etc. If we are using a website building tool, all of this still take time. LMSs will still take time, but offer the essentials to you for supplying access to all of the student files. Keeping things simple will help a ton. Make a page, add items to the page, each being a link to a file, etc. and you have a great way to organize the files. You can create different pages for different themes if you like. Remember though, put all of these pages under 1 label or area for each access.
  • Labeling the files for searching or locating files of interest quickly
Considering that each file has a user attached, and you have the ability to add a description, LMSs are an easy way to ensure each file supplies credit back to the student who created it. Plus, most LMS have search capabilities. For example, if you want to find Britney Smith's file, you can search for her.
  • Archiving the files for future use
Lastly, LMS allow you to do various types of archiving. The one that I like the best is simply turning pages off. In Blackboard for instance, turning a page off leaves the page in the system, but keeps the page as part of the course. For future reference, you can turn the page back on. Or, if you need access but no one else does, you can simply user your UBER role and gain access to the file. If you want to use the course again, you can always copy the course, and thus all of the files, or archive the file into the LMS archiving system where courses can hang out for retrieval.

Remember, you are only limited by your imagination!