Wednesday, December 9, 2009

In Memoriam-- Brian Gawlik

photo by Thatcher Friant.

" All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."
Gandalf the Grey, Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

Brian Gawlik, a teacher, colleague, friend and a member of our family here at BBA passed away today, Tuesday at 3pm after a lengthy battle with cancer.

I first met Brian about 8 years ago now. Tales on a State technology listserv and word of mouth spoke of an innovative high school television news and independent film program at Burr and Burton Academy. I had to see it all for myself so I packed up a few teachers, a few techies and headed out to give the program a look. Brian and I hit it off immediately on that visit. We spoke at length that day as we walked around about the students and the learning process, of the power in creative projects, ones where you had the flexibility to experiment and explore boundaries. It was tough to leave that day as I recall.

Some years later as fate would have it I came to work at Burr and Burton in 2005. Brian and I seemed to pick up where we left off. As I looked to settle into BBA and to Southern Vermont I don't think Brian could have been more accommodating. I thanked him for his help one day and he simply said "I'm not going to give you my Bud Light." He gave that familiar quirky grin and chuckle so many of us have come to appreciate over the years. I often remember him looking this way as he was holding court behind his desk.

The next two years passed pretty quickly. Through it all, Brian and I had many chats in his office after school on creativity, how technology is shaping the world and the direction we would steer programs here at BBA. We spoke on the alternative environment in our department, how we'd turn tides toward more student centric services with technology use on campus, how it would become more personalized. We chatted on philosophy, life, movies... you name it. Time disappeared during those conversations and our 'quick chats' often went on past 6, 7, even 8 or 9pm on occasion. We'd start on a topic, start redesigning something, tinkering on some equipment or the like and the time would just fly.

One day stands out to me now of them all as I write this. I remember I tossed my coat on at about 5pm and headed over to Brian's office say goodnight. I stood in the doorway and we started bantering. Before I knew it, we were both sitting around a table and we were drafting cross curricular projects, project teams, a new facility, a revolutionary construct that threaded together many of the stated goals and needs of the school. Every piece we discussed that night just snapped in place. We sat for a bit after, amazed at what we just drafted up and both decided that it was probably well past time to get home. We came back in the next morning and swapped stories about how neither of us could sleep, how we mulled over details of the program, and how in Brian's summary the whole project "just felt right."

We continued to toss ideas around on the project over the next months. Then Brian's health spiraled and before we knew it he was off to the hospital. I did get to chat with him a few times about how we'd get back to planning, how we'd write it up in a formal proposal to pass on. The day never formally came to be. We chatted over it again recently in his brief return to teaching and he urged me not to let the idea go. "It just feels right" he said again. I told him how much I agreed, how I'd flushed out more details in the Lab with students with the intent to pass it on. I don't think Brian could have seemed more pleased when I told him we'd continue. "Keep at it" he said. "That's one hell of a program."

I get rather choked up when I think of the day we drafted it all up. There were a good many days I had like that working with Brian.

As I came to know Brian over the those few quick years I learned a bit about his many health struggles, how he conserved energy day to day and how he worked his mind and body through his deep array of medication: His "bag of tricks" he called it. He spoke on just one occasion to me about how he missed his old physique, "the one I used to hike with" he said. Brian kept his health trials quiet and constantly focused on innovation and mentoring students... and an endless drive to help people. As I came to know him over these years he decided, much like the quote at the top of this post states, that he was going to make the best of it all.

In a short time here I came to know that Brian was the driving force behind television news, independent film, the Riley Power and Light group, audio productions, audio and filming at graduation, play lighting and artistic design, the VPR suite, artwork for press releases and slide shows and countless hours of tech support for so many individuals here. He was an advisor to countless folks and a good friend to many.

A few days ago we'd received word that Brian's health had taken a major turn for the worse. On Saturday the 5th, Dan Short, Michael Grossfeld, Logan Spencer and I took a drive up to see him. Brian held court, seemingly behind his desk again and told stories of how he was fascinated and grateful he was with his doctors and nurses, how lucky he was to have them on his case. He described his whole illness as magical and how lucky he was to be alive at this time to see it all unfold. About then he told us "how amazing it was that we had accomplished so many things as a civilization. We drove a remote control rover on mars. We have incredible things like iPhones and e-books now. Go figure we still cant make medication that tastes better than this stuff" he said as he held up a half cup of something that looked like Wite-Out. We all had a great laugh. He went on again and again at length about the whirlwind of activity in the Facebook group that Nikki Grossfeld set up for him. Brian said he was "amazed that so many people would take the time to send on best wishes." Then he had a good, deep belly laugh and said "hey, maybe this will finally be the thing that opens discussions on social networking in education!" "Look," I said, "there were easier ways than all this to prove a point." We all had a good laugh. Deb Ehler-Hansen, Freddie Templeton, Neil Freeburn and Kevin Morrison joined us later on that day. We all felt lucky to be able to see him again, had a good many laughs and tossed back thoughts as the conversation rolled on that it was the last time we'd all hold court with him again.

I was able to see him again Monday night the 7th. I arrived and Wendy Gawlik was reading sentiments from the Facebook group. Brian was again reminiscing about people, projects and deeply grateful that so many folks chimed in. One story rolled into the next. It was easy to see that Brian was getting tired. His family came back in just then and it was time for me to head back. The last time I saw Brian I shook his hand and said simply that "next time around I hope it won't take so long to find each other." We both got a bit choked up and I told him I'd be up Wednesday night if things worked out. As usual he thanked me for coming and said "night, Adam. Have a safe trip back. Take care."

My father told me this once: "Surround yourself with good people and good things happen." I came to know Brian Gawlik as an eternal optimist. I'm very grateful for our time together, for the inertia of our chats and his boundless generosity. Brian set many people and initiatives in motion here... the very threads of hope and inspiration. Brian enjoyed his craft thoroughly. He made the most of the time that was given to him and inspired so many of us to do the same.


Monday, December 7, 2009


Many folks have asked me why we play music and movies during project work in Lab classes. There are detailed answers certainly. Some reference how promoting a relaxed atmosphere aides a wider variety of learning styles, how it creates a relaxed learning environment much like we'd have at a home, how the 'informal' atmosphere actually promotes individuals to collaborate with others and small groups are a few typical replies. Most often my reply though is simply "why not?" After a few days in here most feel it's odd not to have something playing in the background.

An old PowerPC G4 iMac with 512 megs of ram, that great model with the cone shaped base has been our music server over the last four years. New class demands in podcasting, video archiving and production work, and increased student connections dictated the need to move to a more powerful computer. In this case a refurbished a first gen Intel mac we upgraded to 2 gigs of ram fit the bill. We exported the iTunes library and swapped over the external drives.

We'll shore up the old G4 to be another audio production machine or to pass onto a student for a basic access workstation. Right tool for the right job. One of the many benefits or our recycling program here.

Engage. AP

Friday, November 13, 2009

rLab Hashtag Feed

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Why Use Twitter?

This Twitter post from Guy Kawasaki came across my Twitter feeds recently:

19 Blogs You Should Bookmark Right Now:

I looked over the 19 folks cited in Kawasaki's post , liked what I saw, and decided to funnel a few of them into iGoogle and Google Reader to see what they serve up on a regular basis. This new set of reading has opened up many resources for folks doing projects here in the Lab and for me personally.

So, why use Twitter?

It's safe to say it's doubtful I'd have stumbled across some of these insightful bloggers without seeing Kawasaki's Twitter post.

I was very skeptical when I first started using Twitter. I nearly gave up a few times but instead decided to stick with it, to explore it. I've been using Twitter for over two years now and the folks I've subscribed to have served up some great resources. Invest some time into it and it might do the same for you.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

RLab Presentation at SVES

Many thanks to Joy Stewart and the the folks at Maple Street School for organizing the Southern Vermont Educators Symposium. Thanks also to the folks who sat in on the 'RLab' presentation today. I always appreciate opportunities to chat on the rationale behind the RLab course, the evolution, and the changes it inspires both personally to students, adults, academically at our school, and to me as a guide.

As promised, here's the presentation I brought embedded below using Google Docs. For those that are unfamiliar with this type of player, here's a quick overview:

You can play it here in this embeded window but it's quite small. The slides will forward every 10 seconds. You can use the 'Open in a new window' button (looks like a tv screen in the vid control panel) to blow it up full screen or just click here to view the presentation full-screen online. If you do so the controls to move slides should appear on the lower left.

The beauty of it being online? As we make changes to this presentation you'll always be viewing the most current version. Save the presentation link as the post here will get buried in the blog as we ad posts.

These are the slides presented at the conference session with a few minor edits... a quick effort to explain some things further because I'm not narrating. We usually don't put so many words in slides, but for archiving purposes and viewing it with no narration it makes more sense.

Make presentations with a boatload of slides or just a few? We chose a boatload this time. The slides here are also wordy because there's no narration cooking along with it.

We never did get onto the question of "how are student projects archived?" Here's the answer! Hey, I promised we'd get to it!

Each student in the course is given access to the server volume that houses our RLab class folder. Your tech staff can help explain how to set this up if you want to head this route.

Our class folder contains the following:
  • Course introduction presentation
  • Class intro videos
  • Grading/ evaluation information and examples
  • Public speaking and presentation tips
We also have a class folder called 'Project Development Steps.' This folder contains documents on explaining guidelines and project responsibilities:
  • Directions for sending in class assignments via email.
  • Creating and submitting a project proposal.
  • Developing and maintaining your class journal.
  • Developing and shoring up a syllabus for your project.
  • Project presentation guidelines: Presenting to the class.
  • Archiving guidelines.
  • Final Project checklist.
All student projects are stored in one folder called 'Project Archive'. It is organized as follows:

Year/Project title/Individual

An example:
2005/Digital Art/StudentName

All 'digital art' in the year go in the 'Digital Art' folder. Projects with unique titles go individually by year and subject ie:


As you can see we archive things by 'year and project title' rather than by just project title. There are a few reasons I can explain:
  • It's easier to find peers.
  • Students build off projects already done by their peers.
  • It's easier for me to see project evolution on topics by year.
  • It's rather amazing to look back and see the list of what's been done in each individual year: Year/Project Title. Our subjects seem to expand by year.
Guidelines for archiving project work we use currently:
  • The following docs are saved in PDF format: Journal, syllabus, and presentation to the class. No presentations are saved in powerpoint, keynote or even open office format or online. Program versions and features change all the time and saving in a PDF format keeps it simple. PDFs also force folks to present material clearly, sans animations and embedded content.
  • Video must be saved in Quicktime format and referenced in the syllabus and presentation to view if applicable.
  • Examples of work ie pictures, artwork etc must be saved as either JPEG or GIF files.
Here's the format folks see:

  • Journal.pdf
  • Syllabus.pdf
  • Presentation.pdf
  • and a folder called /Materials. This houses videos, art prtfolios, pictures, etc.

We chose this format structure for the following reasons:
  • It's simple!
  • The file formats are universal / they've been around for a long time.
No stone left unturned, no complex archiving system headaches, no surprises. Clear expectations, simple organization. Love it!

Students can use search capabilities on computers to scan the archive in bulk for keywords or scan traditionally by folder view for year and title. Whatever works for them.

We've had many discussions on moving this project archive into a digital system, much like the OpenCourseWare initiative at MIT. We were concerned about format issues into the future and server cost and maintenance. Plus, this format we're using works very well. Who knows where we may head though. We've also found this document style/folder format also allows students to take projects with them easily too by copying onto cds, laptops, keychains etc.

If you have questions or want to chat further please feel free to contact me.

Thanks for tuning in, AP

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Post and artwork by Emery B. Class of 2010

The scope of work done in this class is life changing. The work done here can hardly be called work. It is exploration in to areas of the world that students actually find interesting, some for the first time. It is learning that motivates and excites learners. My work here in the lab has reached past the walls of the classroom. The graphic art I spent my first three classes working on expanded my artistic eye, trained me to work digitally in a more efficient way, and even changed some of my artistic tendencies when it comes to painting or pencil drawings. The study I'm doing this year on the philosophy of education has my mind spinning 24/7 because it's so relevant to the rest of my life. The work in this class is something I'm proud of because it was all done through self motivation.

My adventures in this lab started by chance. I thought I might like to work digitally as an artist instead of always on paper or canvas, so I took eDesign my freshman year. I loved it so much that I wanted to keep working with this type of art; Rlab provided that opportunity. For two rounds of the class I worked on graphic design, even landing a local job through Mr. Provost in designing. By the time my senior year rolled around I had started to realize what a godsend this class was. I could do anything and everything that interested me. I've been thinking a lot about education as a career so this year I' studying the philosophy of education. It's turning out to be a great study.

The assignments in this class are extremely thought provoking. They range from issues with technology in society to the growth of video games over the years. All assignments give students the chance to give their opinion on a subject, which is key. I've found that personally I am more motivated by a question that I can freely analyze rather than repeating information already given, and I've observed this motivation in my peers. Again, it's hard to consider the "work" in this class as work. It's fun, it's interesting, and it's relevant to the rest of our lives. You won't find those qualities in many other classes.

The idea of self-designed projects is probably the biggest thing for me in this class. Through this class I learned for the first time how to take my education in to my own hands, and I don't mean managing your own homework schedule. It allows students to invest themselves personally in what they're learning by choosing their own subject matter, gathering their own resources, and managing their own time. I found myself getting far more excited about this class than any other because it was my own. The motivation found through this class doesn't stop here, I learned to apply it to other courses I was taking as well.

I got a ton out of this class. Far more than I had expected. I learned more about digital art and am learning about education, but I also learned a lot about myself. I realized what drives me, and what doesn't. I found better ways to manage my time and better things to use it on. I got a new perspective on where I really want to go with my life, what I really think is important. For me those realizations would be worth sitting through 100 textbook-driven classes, but I'm glad that's not what it took; this is an experience far from that "normal" education we've become accustomed to.

I think this class was the next step in perspectives on learning. I'm already at a point in life and in education that has been changed because of this class. The principles stressed through this curriculum --freedom to explore, self-invested education, and learning to use the resources we're provided with these days-- are things that can and should be carried through the rest of our lives.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


I asked some alumni and some current students too to tell their tale about their experience in the Lab. What about after the course? Does the work here resonate beyond the walls of the school into the future? Their choice of format. Their observations. Their perspective. Their words. Unedited.

We'll be posting these stories now and again. Reflection is an important part of what we do in life... or it should be.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard, USS. Enterprise. Star Trek, TNG

First up: Arianne, from the class of 2009.

Image from:

It was freshman year and everything was a new experience. Every new step that I took was on new ground, in this new school, Burr&Burton Academy in Manchester, Vermont. As I looked at my new schedule on where to go next, I find that I have 'Tech Research.' I was told to take this from my friends that I had recently made that were a year older than me. I had transferred into this class a few weeks late because I did not want to be in Orchestra Instrument class or whatever it was that I chose because playing the trumpet wasn't really my thing.

As I venture into the basement of the Smith Center, only wild thoughts were traveling through my brain, as I wondered what the hell I did in Tech Research. I didn't know a thing about technology or computers at the time. I walk in and take a seat between two other students, both foreign exchange, and this was way back when the tables were arranged in rows. Where now it's tables around the room, in a much more friendly, comfortable setting. The lighting was dim and there was a single ray of light coming from the ceiling, coming down upon the man that introduced himself as Adam Provost. He started with “ "Good afternoon, my name is Adam Provost and I have a big head."” I wasn't sure how to take that. I mean I guess he was kind of right, it was slightly large, but I was surprised in the way he introduced himself into my life.

The memories fade as the years go on, but the time I spent in and out of the class, the first year I took it I even transferred out and took gym, but then the next year I gave it another chance, and so on I continued to take it. And I did this, not because ' oh you can do anything you want in that class, its like a free block' as I heard so many times. I took it because I had this man talk to me about things in the media, new technology, showing the class interesting videos from TED. And watching loved movies like Lord of the Rings. I listened to his stories about his life and the problems he faced and overcame, and all the while I was quite inspired. If he can get through all that and become this man I see now, then I know I can become someone too. Someone important, and someone loved.

The class assignments were rare, which was nice, but at the same time when we did have them, it took a lot of personal thought to respond on such topics like the movie Goodnight and Good Luck, or how we felt about taking college courses online, the list was small, and hard to remember, but I know that when I answered the questions he asked, I was being honest and thoughtful. And I did it because I wanted to. Not some bull that most students like to puke up on their paper to get a good grade and go on with their lives, I wanted to know what other people thought, and I wanted to let people know what I thought about those topics.

I learned Photoshop in that class which is one of the most important things in my life now, because that's kind of like the mainstream art, done in Photoshop and uploaded online. And it has made my art more lively and colorful, and if I didn't have it, I don't know what I would have done. I learned a lot in that. Also on how presentation is everything. If you come in to a work office looking for a job and you're wearing hobo clothes, there's a high chance that you are not going to get that job. When you speak publicly, you want to enunciate, and you want to speak loudly, make yourself the center of attention and let people know what's on your mind. And how could I forget how to get up in front of class and talk about random things that we all thought up for, for the impromptu speeches.

I am now a freshman in Montserrat College of Art in Massachusetts, and almost every day during my classes, whether its drawing on paper, on a computer, or just listening to a teacher speak, I think of Tech Research and critique my day to day life. I think to myself ' wow that teacher should take some pointers from Provost on public speaking, she's not keeping my attention at all.' Silly things like that, I am reminded of all the things I learned in that class. It was on of the best things ever because I wasn't learning things that were to be thrown back up on paper and handed in and graded, I was learning things to use in the real world, and things that I will need to know and do.

I came out of that class, honestly, a person with a whole new perspective on life and how to think about it.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Social Media: Participation in billions... except in schools?

This morning I had a chat with a teacher from Northern Vermont who explained that all social media access was banned at the school where they work. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, AllTop, Delicious. Run down the list and it was blocked. I was a bit surprised to hear that all blogs and wikis were blocked as well, but this one I'd never heard of before: The rationale was "some people here don't feel students should be able to access book reviews or view comments." I stopped asking what else was blocked.

I was asked how we approached/proposed changes to filtering practices here at BBA. I said the first step was to start talking about education and not about filtering.

After we finished our chat I took to the web for a few minutes to see what folks were publishing on 'social media in education' lately.

There are a bunch of 'Social Media Statistic' videos out there like the one below I found embedded in a post from UCLA from a Social Media and Marketing class. The participation statistics are staggering as usual. Give this a peek:

There's a slide in the video about Apple reaching 1 billion downloads in their App Store in just 9 months. One billion sales in 9 months! I remembered reading a few days ago in the NY Times that the Apple Apps Store (via iTunes) has just surpassed 2 billion downloads. The second billion took five months. We'll see how long it takes them to reach three billion.

Now, I'm not saying we should teach 'social media' in schools simply because of Apple's success.

What I am saying is that it'd be difficult to debate that we are not in one of the most collaborative times in the history of civilization. Participation in billions, revolutionary times in how we communicate. I can't count the number of times I've used this phrase on topics around technology: "Building skills using these tools seems a better way to go than 'denial of service' don't you think?"

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Collaboration shifts

Had another group of visitors in the lab today, this time from Southern Vermont Supervisory Union to discuss Google Apps. Nice group of folks. We discussed how we proposed the shift here, why we did, how we moved both educationally and technically, the increase in usage and collaboration, cost savings and the like. Looks like we'll be heading down to do a presentation in October.

Taking it all in

Our discussions about the news in class leads down a number of paths. I rarely watch a conventional newscast anymore. Aggregation, the ability to bring data to you rather than search for it page by page, is the direction I take and work with students to do as well.

Sadly the use of aggregation tools is not commonplace in many education circles. Many tools to aggregate data on the web are blocked in too many schools. Proposals in the Lab have moved a good bit forward here on our campus and we're headed for some more discussions throughout this school year I'm sure.

I get asked a lot out and about how I keep up on things, how to manage loads of information, what we work on with students in the Lab, etc. The logos in the pic above are a few of the major information tools we work with in the Lab. At the center of the activity is iGoogle. If you're not familiar with it, iGoogle pulls in feeds you subscribe to from all over the web into a 'newspaper sytle' format. Each site below appears in a small window or 'widget' on the page. Here's a link to a picture of my blog tab/page in iGoogle that may help if you've never seen it.

The advantage to using iGoogle? If it didn't make sense above, here's another way to dish it up: All this information appears in one page. Rather than visiting each site individually the stories all come to me. Again, it's a bit like creating my own newspaper really. See something I'm interested in on my page, I just click on a head line and it brings me to the site to read the article.

Here are a few I subscribe to: In the main tab (or window) I pull in my personal email, calendar and the following news sources: NY Times, AP Newswire, CNN, BBC, Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, Digg and the Huffington Post. I grab more tech centric news sites as well in: Slashdot, Wired, Gizmodo, Google blog, Google Docs blog, Google Operating system blog and I add in ESPN for some sports headlines.

I also have a TwitterFeed which pulls messages from my personal Twitter account. With Twitter, once you get past the "why would I do this" question, subscribe to a few folks and try out a few posts it's easier to see why Twitter can be very useful. Dedicating some time searching out folks who will inspire you and subscribing to them, then things take off. I pull the TED website posts into iGoogle as well for updates on what's been posted along with a TED Fellows blog. We use a number of TED speeches as conversations starters here in the Lab. If you haven't checked out do yourself a favor and give it a try.

All the headlines from the sites above, all visible on one page.

On another tab/page in iGoogle I subscribe to a number of blogs: Guy Kawasaki (he has a few), Will Richardson, Seth Godin, David Warlik, Chris Lehmann, Liz Davis, Carl Fisch, Samba blog, ReadWriteWeb, PresentationZen and a handful of others. These blogs offer up insights on education, business, technology, collaboration, some good common sense and the like.

Three other tabs I have open in the web browser itself are Alltop, HootSuite and Delicious. AllTop gives me a snapshot of loads of things cooking on on the web, top stories or groupings of things by interest. We've used it quite a bit on research projects in the Lab and the more I use it the more I like it.

HootSuite is a web based Twitter client that has proven quite useful. Subscribe to a large number of folks in Twitter and it can get pretty unruly to keep track of. That's the point though with Twitter... you don't need to see and read everything! Seeing who responds to you directly, what you send and what you receive in separate columns has proven very valuable. HootSuite offers a bunch of other functionality as well but I won't go into it now.

I use Delicious to tag and search web articles all the time. The real strength of Delicious though I think is to see who else 'tagged' the same article you did. Finding people with like interests aka researching similar subjects, well, it's a bit like having a research assistant... without paying for one.

That's a snapshot of what I use personally and what we work on with students here to branch out in their projects. I've been at this since iGoogle first came out. I've tried others. I use Google Reader frequently as well.

Why do this? I feel like I get an incredible snapshot of the world, my interests and my functional tools in a few pages. I feel more connected and informed. It's promoted me to read more... the list could go on and on. Helping people become more informed, to find inspiration, to become better researchers, to promote reading... that's what we aspire to do isn't it? At one point we felt like libraries were inventive.

I can't say I feel this is innovative by any means at this point. Many individuals and schools are doing this in some fashion. The danger I think is that too few students are using these tools in education. We've made some great strides here at BBA changing perspectives on the value of these aggregation tools and keep having discussions on how folks can use them. I've always said we'll get a lot further by promoting sophisticated use rather than pretending it doesn't exist.

Thanks for tuning in, AP

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Inspiration is a funny business. Exciting place to be, yes?

-- Posted from batphone

Monday, September 21, 2009


We got a tip to apply to present at a local conference. Here's the ditty we sent in:


With the ever increasing power of the internet and our access tools, self-directed learning is certainly in our future. This movement presents the potential for some great shifts in education today. New opportunities are at hand to collaborate, promote more sophisticated use and to pursue self-motivated interests in a traditional education setting.

We felt that traditional course offerings, especially in "tech," were far too limited. In 2005 a new course called RLab (aka Tech Research) was created to "think different."

Students pick their own project studies here in the RLab. With as many as 20 projects going on in the same room and over 60 per semester things can get quite interesting.

We cast away the traditional structure of a class and promote students to control the duration of their project work here. Explore a topic you’ve been curious about for a minimum of five weeks or, as this course can be taken multiple times, extend your study over multiple semesters. Many students repeat this course multiple times and either extend study projects or venture off into new territory. One student has taken this course five times, extended their study over multiple semesters and worked toward professional level certifications. Students decide.

Following the OpenCourseWare philosophy from MIT, all project work is archived with a journal, syllabus, presentation and examples of work for future generations of students to build upon.

Along the way we explore class themes on how technology is changing the face of learning, literacy, education, news, collaboration, government and our personal lives. Each assignment issued to the class is continually modified by all participants for future classes.

Each student is asked to explore "what makes them tick" as a learner, a presenter, a collaborator, and to develop self-discipline, project management skills and their own "philosophy of education."

Our class discussions have led to a series of proposals that have changed the face of access on campus as well as training, infrastructure design, IT support and discussions on the the shift in education in our future.

We feel like we're on to something. The innovative structure has led to gender equity in classes. Many students that repeat the class multiple times and a high following from post graduates and a diverse depth of project work that crosses many skill levels. The scope of the work here presents some new perspectives on "students with learning disabilities and limited registers of language" as well. We'll show you what we're up to and provide resources to get you started if you'd like to participate. All our work is published under a Creative Commons license. See our web site for more details:

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Ed Jenkins and some perspective...

Catching up on some reading after a three-day trip I ran into a tweet (a post on Twitter for all you non-twittering folk) from Dan French pointing to the video below. The fellow speaking in the vid is Ed Jenkins, a professor of social media at USC.

Good vid!

After prowling around a bit I found that the speech is an excerpt called "The Tech Fix" from a relatively new PBS FrontLine series called: Digital Nation: Life on the virtual frontier. Digital Nation is followup to a series we've viewed in the Lab here and discussed over the last two years called Growing Up Online. The two series appear to be hashed together on this new site.
I didn't see a place where you could view this new program in it's entirety... which I sort of like. Great material for our recent discussions in the Lab lately on our discussions on the differences between generations, how it applies to learning and technology. Here's an ditty on what we've been discussing:

Generations: Summary from Don Tapscott, Grown Up Digital

Baby Boom:
January 1946 - December 1964: 19 years, producing 77.2 million children, 23% of the US population

Generation X:
January 1965 to December 1976: 12 years, producing 44.9 million children, 15% of the US population. Also called the "Baby Bust."

The Net Generation:
January 1977 to December 1997: 21 years, producing 81.1 million children, 27% of the US population. Also called "Millenials," and "Generation Y."

Generation Next:
January 1998 to present: 10 years, producing 40.1 million children, 13.4% of the US population. Also called "Generation Z.

Some introductory statements that have spurred on discussion:

  • "Gen Next" is using technology differently: Cell phone: it's a music player, alarm clock, camera and obtw, it's a phone too.
  • Broadcast: Up to about 1997. TV as thee source of news, weather, sports. Listen to what was being told to you. Very little participation by letters to the editor, etc.
  • Collaborative Era: 1997-present. Participatory era. Multiple sources for news. Multiple ways to collaborate. Most in the collaborative era don't have a "land line" phone (traditional house phone).
  • Writing less, less effective... or differently? Dramatic increase in writing from the broadcast to collaborative era. Online writing via blogs, wikis, facebook, texting.
  • The average "boomer" watched roughly 22.4 hours of tv per week.
  • TV now as background noise?
  • Customization and conversation instead of a lecture.

I skimmed through the Digital Nation site to see if Jenkins had other contributions and I clipped out links (11) that I could find and pasted them below. I'll use these clips as discussion points... probably tomorrow and over the next few days.

Future shock and information overload:

Skill of the Future:

Human 2.0


Is it an addiction:

Mom vs the Computer:

The Human behind the avatar:

Your kids on social media:

The tech fix: This is the one that made it to YouTube that you saw above.

Defenders of the book:

Educational games already at play:

After, well, many years at this... and the journey from music student to consultant (all the way through), lab aide, network administrator, tech coordinator, on through classroom teacher - I still land on the same themes:

  • Denial of service is no way to educate people.
  • It may not be about "right" and "wrong."
  • It's called a "personal computer" not an "institutionalized computer" so lets treat it as such.

  • We're close to a tipping point... and always will be so let's keep moving forward.

  • What we teach now should be relevant and thought provoking for today... and especially for the future.

  • Let's get a computer in every student hands to address the issues of opportunity, equity.

Time to cook dinner! That's a theme I land on frequently too ; P

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Oh the times they are a changin'

I just finished up a few hours work porting the RLab web site over to this new blog. The old site was a hybrid effort of some dreamweaver, Photoshop and a blog. There were a few reasons for the change:

Let's face it, is more reliable than any service we can put up in a business or a school.

Blogger and other similar web sites have all the issues figured out with serving up the info on multiple browsers, especially those on mobile phones.

It's free.

Students wanted to make the site more compatible with rss feed readers.

Students wanted to include the ability to have readers comment on posts.

Foremost, though listed last, students will be adding a significant amount of content here this year.

While I'll miss regular dreamweaver sessions, Photoshop tinkering and such, it's more the nostalgia I'll miss than anything. I started out creating web pages back in the day writing HTML code with notepad. Focusing on content will be a gas as will posting from this phone during class. Blogger has many custom layout options, like the ones at for instance, that make it very easy to make changes as well as many other templates and custom build options. We'll see what happens.

Mission accomplished.

As I mentioned before, I picked up an iPhone this summer. I've spent some time with it as a reader... using it to soak up books, blogs, podcasts and journals out there that I used to read on a computer. The result? I'm reading more. It's been stellar. I still enjoy the feel of a book, the pages, etc but... This has been more convenient for me, easier on the eyes - hey I read a lot and the text size on the phone is adjustable, as is brightness, portait or landscape layout etc. Podcasts in particular have been great to have more readily available on the go. An iPod aint just about music ya know! As I mentioned on another post earlier, having an iPod, a phone, web access and apps like this all on one device has been just the ticket.

That gets us onto a few other similar threads.

I dove into facebook this summer. Many thanks to some former and current students for showing me the ropes. I've discovered I should have jumped in long ago. Now, I'm not advocating that it beats a good sit down chat, but let's face it, it sure beats conventional mail, email and smoke signals. I stayed away from it for so long only because I felt I had no time to dive in and not because of the fact I teach and coach. I've always felt and still advocate that you shouldn't post things online you don't want people to see. It's really that simple.

That brings up the concept of "friending" in facebook. When I jumped in I was surprised how many friend requests I recieved. Many folks have contacted me to be friends who I barely know. Some of those requests are still waiting in the confirm or ignore space. Well discuss this in the Lab quite a bit this year. In all, facebook has been a stellar communication tool an I'm looking forward to using it more. Go figure.

After a summer of wailing on an iPhone and all it's mobile connectivity and literacy power, facebook and a slew of reading, I've come to the same conclusion: mobile computers are still no substitute for a laptop. While its convenient and there are numerous opportunities for creativity, collaboration and literacy, a laptop has far greater creative potential. Two things pull to the surface as I sit here: 1. Folks that don't have this sort of access are really missing something. 2. Students in particular are at a distinct disadvantage if they don't have access to a computer... Because school is supposed to be a creative place rather than just a place to access information isn't it? Therein lies the discussion on "institutional vs personal" computing." Putting the personal back in personal computing makes the most sense.

Now, it's not to say that iPhones in education or netbooks for that matter are not worth their salt. It's just that a computer, with all it's potential and power to create, program, edit sound and video, to draw, etc is better. I don't believe waiting for devices to evolve further will get us closer... Otherwise we will never stop waiting.

We've been discussing laptops here for education for four years and I'm hoping the discussions move forward in this coming school year.

Yes, I'm interested to see how the Apple tablet computer rumors sugar out.

We switched to Google Apps this past year and the results have been stellar. We increased reliability, ease of use, the number and depth of tools available and the training material, shifted IT support staff time away from hardware and configuration time to working with people and... It was all free. We have more money to direct toward bandwidth and other educational needs. We've also participated in many Statewide discussions and chats with other schools. Mission accomplished. Well, almost...

One last item remains with Google Apps here and that is in the functionality of the Google desktop, commonly known as iGoogle. The functionality was disabled last year due to the fact that some controversial material could be added... Swimsuit flashcard style shows sort of stuff. What were hoping to bring forth this year is that we'll gain far more by talking about creative use than denial of service. The aggregation of data, the ability to essentially "create your own newspaper" far outweighs the other concerns. Building user sophistication will get us further. In just two days of tinkering with folks on iGoogle in the Lab we made some great strides and then it was shut off. Discussions should resume soon.

This lends me toward another thought though. As tools get more integrated will we need instituitional email any longer? We are already seeing sites integrate with each other. I use Twitter and now it's possible to send my "tweets" (posts on Twitter) to facebook and delicious ( It's pretty common for folks to forward mail from seperate accounts to one they routinely use. Many folks I know forward mail from multiple accounts to one single one and then sign the note with the appropriate "from" signature. Google Voice is headed in this direction on the phone side, giving you the tools to be your own phone hub... ring all your phones at once, route certain callers to certain phones... for free. How long will it be before academic institutions are challenged to abandon their email systems? We shall see. For now, the tools are not integrated well enough and there's great power in having access to lots of tools (we could go back to the laptop for students thread here but I'll move on... you get the idea).

Writing this on a phone while I sit on the deck overlooking the water on Lake Champlain still seems surreal to me in a way. So does sending it to the new RLab blog on this phone and having it publish to the web. So does using the same device to check the start time and pitching matchups for the upcoming Red Sox game, moving over to check my email... All while I take a picture of my sandals for this post... all while I listen to big band music on earphones.

Hey... I was riding my bike the other day and I answered the phone, talked, hung up and used voice control to switch playlists on this "phone" all without touching the device itself, just a little control pad on the head phones. The song that came up? The Times They Are a Changin' by Bob Dylan...

... They are... thankfully...

... And I love it. It's one of the most exciting times in the history if the world, in education and in the quest for literacy and knowledge. I'm in. Are you?

Sent from batphone.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Friday, July 10, 2009

Porch thinkin' at days end

I've gotta say, carrying a phone, iPod, camera with a web browser and all these info aggregation tools in one device has been a great ticket thus far. I'm capturing more spontaneous photos, accessing info on the fly, and automating some routine tasks. Take one event today as an example.

A few days ago I installed an app called ReQall. I was standing in line for a coffee yesterday and called ReQall to experiment. I told ReQall to "send a (coworker) a note tomorrow asking when the new projectors are coming in." ReQall sent out the note the following am and I received a response from my coworker today with an answer. A digital secretary service. Sure, I could have sent the note myself but it's pretty convenient to call a service, have it transcribe your voice to text, decipher the command words in the note of "send" and "tomorrow" and have it actually do it! Thus far I've setup ReQall to add things to my Google calendar, send me text reminders, send email for me and remind me of tasks I have floating about. It's also free. Thus far, it's been a great experiment. There's a delay when you call ReQall, while it transcribes your voice but thus far a delay of 5 to as long as 30 minutes has not been a factor. Texting the service provides quicker results. The trick here is that it writes it to my calendar, sends me reminders via txt messages, etc all from spoken words or style (verbal or written) sentences. Going to run more experiments.

In the last week I've attempted to move away from the computer more for my reading, email and writing. Thus far, the iPhone has fit the bill. With these new capabilities I've been reading more, jotting down notes in a variety of places and taking far more spontaneous photos I otherwise wouldn't shoot because I rarely dragged around a camera. I've been on the mobile version of facebook, tossing out some txts with friends I used to speak to once a month. Ideas are flowing, I'm storing info in places where I can access it later in a much more seamless fashion. Great stuff.

My dog, Otis, has had enough though of me on this phone over the last hour. Picture of Otis shot, cropped and dropped the blurbs you see on the pic using the phone in about two mins. Editing photos on a phone... amazing. More later. Time to play fetch. Good dog.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Diving back into the mobile connectivity world

It's been ages since I have carried a cell phone. While it's been a nice break I'll say there are times when it's damned inconvenient. The new iPhone packs a lot of integration features that can replace a large portion of my information based desktop activity aka reading blogs, quick emails, news, calendar tinkering etc. So... I dove back in. Bit like eating ice cream I guess. If you don't follow that then try having some ice cream (a large bowl definately helps) and give it another think.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

I've Been Thinking...

A good friend of mine uses the title "I've Been Thinking" as the title of one of his blogs... and it seems fitting for this post.

Here's what I had been reading before this last school break:

Two books:
Disrupting Class
Grown Up Digital

Going through regular blog updates by:

I read through the New Horizons Report and one from the Web Use Project.

All of these the titles and bloggers above are worth multiple entries here themselves. But that's what's got me thinking... about taking a break. These books, reports and bloggers continue to share a common theme in that education is moving altogether too slowly and so often in the wrong direction on the technology front. Collaboration, creation, exploration and advanced use are too infrequently in place. Technology in many school settings is limited to how many computers the school has and most of those are used for general access. While a word processor is certainly easier to use than a manual typewriter it does not explore the potential of the machine. Add in limited web research opportunities, to say nothing of collaboration opportunities. Too many collaboration tools are restricted from use. Too many signs that prohibit or severely limit the use of technology use are still visible. Lots of potential slipping by I think. A Vermont education / technology listserv at UVM discussions reflect the wide scope of themes and discussions and the thoughts of the participants on these subjects.

It's not the first time my mind was buzzing and I was a bit frustrated with the same old debates on whether technology had a place in education, if students were too plugged in. So I took a theme that was running through the many of these blog posts on "what is education for" and decided to give it a good think on a trip I was taking to Disney in Orlando, Florida with family and friends for the break. A perfect time to unplug, separate from reading, take a ton of photos, get some sun and let my mind wander.

Here's a bit of what caught my eye.

It had been just over a year since I had been in an airport. Wireless access, plugin stations for power, laptop, cell phone, and pda use were, well, everywhere. I decided to sit back and just watch it all for a bit. Then I got the itch to talk to some folks about what they were doing. Here are a few quotes I jotted down.

"It's so much easier to stay in touch."

"If you don't collaborate, if you don't network in my business you're done."

"Ebooks, video and podcasts are how I educate myself now. I have access to everything I need and more ways than ever to find new things."

A lady I spoke with reading on a Kindle (the old version) tossed out a gem:

" It's hard to unplug sometimes. I get used to the connectivity, used to the stream of information coming in. I used to feel the same way with books though and in college. Learning how to manage it, how to separate from work is more important than ever. This is better for me now though. I can access what I want and it's easier for me to find information, to find something new."

Here was another beauty:

"Our company just got these blackberry's. For a bit honestly I was thinking it was time for me to get another job. Now that I'm getting used to it it's saving me a lot of time and I've been thinking more and more about how I work and keep in touch with people."

At Disney, cell phones and, as you'd expect, digital cameras were everywhere. I spoke to a few folks on how they used digital photos:

"I can capture everything I want. I used to be worried about the cost of taking photos. Not anymore."

"I snap everything I can now to capture our time together. My parents lost all our family albums in a fire. Almost 30 years later I lost all my photos to a failed hard drive. Now I back everything up and I'm snapping photos like crazy."

"We all have cameras, my three children, my wife. I decided to do this because my Father only appears in a handful of our old pictures because he was the one behind the camera all the time. I want my wife and kids to have photos of me too. It's also been great to see the world through the eyes of my children. Seeing what they feel is important is an eye opener. We take less formal pose pictures now and we're getting more shots of how we act, how we live."

I have relayed this theme to folks for many years. My own Father appears in about 20 photos in our family albums. This gent and I chatted for about 20 minutes on the subject and shared some ideas about how we talk to our own children about taking photos. I split use of a camera between two children to this point but plan on adding another so they can both take photos at the same time after this chat we had. We both seemed to agree in this conversation that folks in our generation and those earlier seemed to take a lot of photos of places we've been. Now these places and scenes are readily available on the web. I told this chap about the projects with SeaDragon and Photosynth , geo-tagging and the like and it led the conversation further down this path. Capturing family members in those scenes and the emotions, the nuances of our families and the people around us we agreed was easier than ever before. We also agreed that our children seemed to take to this shift naturally.

I took tons of photos, video clips and enjoyed the time away from reading on education, the sun and the change of scenery and close family time away from all our household lives. Disney is an interesting place. It's like stepping into my childhood imagination at times and one hell of a high quality theme park. It's also overrun with expense and commercialism. It's inevitable though to provide a scene of that high quality it seems. Walt Disney would have been a fascinating person to chat with while he was building the idea and beginning construction of it all. Selling that idea to investors had it's trials I'll bet. Perhaps it would provide insight into selling one-to-one computing locally and in the State. Walking around in t-shirts and shorts in the sun in the afternoon and returning home to shovel 10 inches of snow from the walkway sticks in my mind. Traveling the world is certainly something we should all do more of if we can.

The time away also reinforced once again that we're on the right track here in the Lab. Diverse challenges, loads of debate and discussion on all these issues in education and the role and use of these technology tools will get us closer to seeing it's potential. Ditto for the continuing quest to fire up innovative programs.

The trip also got me thinking about how this blog is used for the Lab. More posting, more discussion and.. we'll see what else is on the horizon.

On the horizon: Great work with students this semester will happily consume much of my time. Baseball starts up soon and there my continuing quest to leave the realm of general manager and dedicate more time to coaching. Burlington High School is coming to see the inner workings of the Lab and our scope of courses at BBA in March. Various presentations on what we're doing here at conferences and at other schools, foundation work on a State laptop pilot, further discussion on the shift in education and opportunities at hand will take place. Foundation work to improve local fields and instructional programs will certainly take some time. Whipping up a great local baseball clinic, that's definitely needed and in the works. We'll continue to refine our Help Desk program and direct people onto the potential of a one-to-one computing program here and the countless opportunities it can present to students to take part in education and skills in the changing world. Exploring creativity, the world and your role in it. A fine goal for what education means I think.

One of the blogs read today just pointed me toward Yale University's entry into the OpenCourseWare movement. Another point that giving folks access to technology and then modeling and promoting sophisticated use can lead down great paths.

... and Heath Ledger just won the best supporting actor award for his role as the Joker in the Dark Knight. Not to be bias as a Batman fan, but it's well deserved. The tragic death of a brilliant actor.

Lots to give a think. Lots of lobbying to do. Some good pizza will help I think.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day: January 20th, 2009

Opening a new semester on inauguration day presents pretty stellar opportunities for discussions. Introducing a new class takes a back seat to the scope of this day in the history of our country. I have many tales to tell from my college days, what this day means to me in history and hope to hear many from folks in the Lab here as well during our conversations. Each President seems to be measured historically to some extent by the motion of their first 100 days in office. Immeasurable challenges face our new President in this term and the motion and discussions I've heard thus far seem very promising. Here's hoping that party politics can be cast aside on some of these items and that the best solutions are sought out and implemented. It's a great moment in the history of our nation and of humanity.