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?"