Thursday, September 08, 2011

So the New School Year is Underway...

by Shelly Blake-Plock

 ...and I am just getting the chance to shoot off a quick post about it.

 Lot's going on around here. I know my fellow contributors have been busy getting classes underway; I myself find myself starting the school year in a way that's new for me. That's because this year, I am teaching my high school students almost entirely virtually. I have been putting a lot of time recently into my professional development and ed tech pursuits -- such as the Baltimore EdTech Forum which will be on September 20th and will be an awesome beginning for a year-long conversation here in town on what the future of education and technology could look like for Baltimore City school kids -- and thus have been spending more time with teachers than with students.

In a way, this is good; because over the years, I have seen my role developing into more of a facilitator than a "teacher" per se, and I am particularly compelled by being able to help other teachers do what they want to do. But I do think it is extremely important to keep one foot in the classroom, so as to have a daily reminder as to what this whole endeavor is about.

And so, I've created what is the first virtual hybrid curriculum at my high school and I am very excited to see how things work out.

I chose (and paid for) WebEx as our online meeting place (mostly because of it's ability to handle everything from PCs to iPads to phones seemlessly -- even students without smartphones can participate on-the-go via a traditional cellphone call); it's also way slick. I really love Edmodo and that's our place for assignments, calendars, grades, and everything else. For ongoing communication and news gathering we're using Twitter, and for quick chats we've got a TodaysMeet room staked out. I'm running "office hours" on Google+ using Hangouts. We'll see how that works. I think I'll post office hours for students and general Google+ Hangout time for general conversation among peers and colleagues both at school and with all of you.

I am looking forward to fully step into this mobile world. Seems like a lot has happened since that day back in 2008 when I decided not to use paper anymore.

On that note, I've caught some flack recently from people saying that by promoting online media over paper media I am helping to destroy the environment.

Hmm. All I have to say is, yes, data centers and server farms are terrible for the environment; so are poorly recycled laptops and monitors. This is true. My hope -- idealist that I am -- is that the connections allowed through 1:1 Internet access will provide for people to develop new technologies that fix these problems; I tend to think we work better when we are connected and when we have access to the Internet. And real-time collaboration and the ability to search and share volumes of information worldwide is essential.

In short, when it comes to tech, I think we work better and learn more when we base our commitment to education in the context of what's going on.

It is true that technology can be dirty. It is true that technology itself isn't going to fix our problems. Technology really isn't a "tool" anymore. Technology is a context. Context produces culture. This happened before back at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. The context of industry produced all sorts of pollutions and evils; it also produced the medical revolution and eventually gave lift to the social mobility of the lower and middle classes to attend colleges and universities. In the end, it was the decisions people made that -- both for much better and much worse -- shaped the century that was.

Industry used to be the context; Digital is now the context; and yes, there are still so many connections between the two and so many assumptions we all make and so many places in the world where none of this seems to apply and so many places in the world where it all seems to apply. It's confusing. Difficult. It should make you uneasy. And excited. And nervous. And it could all be a mistake.

And if the entire world collapses because of war, disaster, energy crisis, and famine, I am sure I'll be the one to blame <<< snarky alert!

With any sort of technology there really is no easy answer. And therefore, I decline to offer one. Still too busy digging up questions.

All that said, I just wanted to say "Thank You" publicly to all of the readers who make writing for this blog worth it. It's going to be a great year and I look forward to sharing with you all.

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