Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Live Blogging AWNM – Round One

As I mentioned in a previous post, four sections of our ninth graders are reading and discussing Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind, including live blogging and a videoconference with the author. They are also live blogging with various folks from my learning network as they discuss the six senses that Mr. Pink believes are critical for success in the 21st century.

Last Friday was our first attempt to bring in those outside live bloggers and – for the most part - it worked very well. In the spirit of sharing what works – and what we struggled with – here’s a quick summary.

What Went Well
The technology worked surprisingly well. Sometimes when we’ve done live blogging previously (just the students in the class), Blogger has blocked our IP address after awhile because they thought we were spamming comments (sometimes 200+ comments in 50 minutes that are coming from one IP address). Thankfully, that didn’t happen.

MeBeam worked pretty well, with the only problems being a software update that messed a few folks up, as well as some firewall issues (more on that below). We used MeBeam to stream the audio/video of the inner circle discussion out to the live bloggers. That way they not only followed the comments on the blog, but were able to hear the conversation in the classroom. For those that hooked up their own webcams, it also allowed the students to see what they looked like. (We decided not to bring their audio in, figuring the students had enough to concentrate on.) We used a Logitech webcam for the video, and a Blue Snowball microphone for the audio, with the Snowball pulled into the middle of the discussion using a 15-foot USB extension cable.

As usual, the students did a really nice job with the both the in-class discussion and the live blogging discussion (with one exception that I’ll talk about below). Our remote bloggers were incredible. Thanks to Dean Shareski, Darren Draper, Julie Lindsay, Jeff Whipple, Sharon Peters, James Folkestad, Sylvia Martinez, Karen Janowski and Tim Stahmer for your participation, your probing questions, and your willingness to devote time to this. We - and our students - really appreciate it.

What Didn’t Go Well
MeBeam updated their software a couple of days before we did this. As part of that upgrade, they implemented a “motion detection” system so that people didn’t use up their bandwidth with a webcam pointed at a wall or something. If it doesn’t sense any motion for about 10 seconds, it kicks you out of the room. But that meant that if folks trying to tune in to the MeBeam broadcast didn’t have a webcam connected, it booted them out. Luckily MeBeam still has their “original style” available that works without the motion detection system. I found that out the day before, but didn’t get that communicated to everyone in time. Since the feedback from the remote bloggers is that hearing the in-class discussion was really helpful, that was not ideal for those folks that couldn’t connect. Hopefully this week we’ll do better. Also, at least one remote blogger had firewall issues that wouldn’t allow him to connect to MeBeam. MeBeam uses Flash and a pretty standard port, but apparently not standard enough.

While for the most part the student discussion was really good, they did get off-topic a little more than I expected. From previous fishbowl discussions I’ve seen them conduct, they usually do an excellent job of staying on topic. I think the difference was mostly because it was a non-fiction book, and that threw them a little bit. I wanted them to focus mostly on the concept of Design, but they spent more of their time on right brain/left brain issues. I still think it was a great discussion in all four sections, but that’s something we can hopefully improve on this week (focusing on Story this week).

What I Still Wonder About
Sylvia gave us some thoughtful feedback asking if we had thought about exploring the science of right brain/left brain a little bit more, since the extreme dichotomy of “the left brain does this, the right brain that” has been somewhat discredited. (My reading of the science is that each hemisphere is still “specialized” and operates differently, but that the interplay is very complex.) To be honest, I was more focused on the six senses and not the science, and wasn’t that worried about the science because Pink was using it as a metaphor, not a scientific “fact.” For me (and this is just me), I want to explore the usefulness and applicability of the six senses to today’s students, both in a school setting and beyond. I feel like schools are pretty “L-directed” (to use Pink’s term where he tries to avoid the “left brain” idea) and that we need to incorporate more “R-directed” activities and even policies into our schools. Not everyone agrees that that is the case, of course, but I think it’s worth exploring. But Sylvia’s comments make me question whether we should’ve expanded this project even more to include the science, and I wonder how we could’ve done that effectively (or possibly could do it effectively in the future). So if folks have suggestions – or links to good resources that explore this further – please leave a comment.

You can read Anne Smith’s and Maura Moritz’s reflection on how last week went, as well as posts by Darren, Julie and Sharon with their thoughts. If you’d like to read through the live blog posts, here are the four sections (Period 2, Period 3, Period 4, Period 5). And Dan Pink has chimed in with a question for our students (on Anne’s class blog, on Maura’s class blog).

Overall, I think it was a very successful start to the project. We’re hoping that with some tweaks to the process (like sending better MeBeam instructions to the remote bloggers) and a reminder to the students to stay more on the topic of the particular chapter they are discussing, that this week will be even better. This week we’re looking forward to hearing from two of our school board members, Dan Maas (our CIO), Kristin Hokanson, Miguel Guhlin, Ben Wilkoff, Lori Soifer (a school board trustee in Michigan), Christian Long and Jim Gates.

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