Tuesday, December 15, 2009

LaCUE Post-Mortem

Go figure, I decide to fire up the blog then have to go into a two-week hibernation due to professional and academic commitments. That's life for you.Two weeks ago I Louisiana Association of Computer-Using Educators (LaCUE)conference in Baton Rouge. Being the Webmaster at BEBMS, I got the inside track on attending, albeit at the last minute. When I got there, I had quite the familiar feeling in that I knew absolutely no one there. I peeked in, registered, then promptly beat a retreat back to the motel room over in Port Allen where I planned my session-attending strategies for the next day.

I attended the keynote session where two chaps who work for Industrial Light and Magic and ostensibly it was about education but it felt a bit more like two geeks showing off what they did for a living with a nod to how they got started due to a teacher. Not exactly complaining about it, but that's how I felt.

The first session I penciled in was the session on Wikis in the Classroom, which is something I have tried with some degree of success, but was chomping at the bit to take it to the next level in that virtually all free Wikis out there aren't exactly built on the same backbone on as the MediaWiki engine that runs Wikipedia. After all, why teach kids how to use a Wiki without showing them how the real Wiki is done? In the end, I found myself bored to tears because the teachers around me were coming to grips with having to enter an e-mail address to create an account. I asked the assistant for the session if the presenter was going any deeper into Wikis than he was going. The assistant said no and looked at me strangely in that I found the session lacking.

After this I attended a session on Podcasting done by folks from the state's TLTC (Teaching, Learning, and Technology Centers). It was well done, but I've already had student create podcasts using those tools and ended up helping teachers around me to get their podcasts off the ground. Once that was done I attended a session called "Tricking Teachers into becoming Techie" by a college professor from Nicholls St. I was sitting in the back and got a jump on the activity only to find out that tricking teachers into becoming techies was to make another website with links and get them to use them. In my experience, that's about the best way to drive teachers running and screaming away from using technology, but I don't know much about teaching, so my opinion is null and void. After this I met up with someone from the Central Office who presented a session and we chatted it up about what I had experienced so far and how I saw I really needed to be a presenter next year (More on that later) because I have that level of technical knowledge.

Friday was a rather different proposition. I eschewed yet another "Ooh! Google!" session to pop in on a session on GIS in the classroom, another of my hobbies. Nothing I learned was new, but the presenters were fantastic and it was something real and tangible to use in the classroom that was off the beaten technological path. Afterward I talked the poor presenters' heads off about how impressed I was with the session as well as how I too use GIS in my classroom, even if it consists of just showing locations in ArcGIS Explorer so the students could get a feel for the setting their stories took place in.

After that I took two sessions back to back that had me laughing (Making students create a music video where they sing "We didn't Start the Fire" in Karaoke with the words changed to include modern history events) and a valedictory session that sent me on my way with a head full of ideas (More on that in a bit). All in all, it was a smashing success.

What I learned from LaCUE

(1) Teachers aren't as Techie as they think they are

Sorry. Hate to break it to you, but just because you know about Google Docs does not make you Techie in the real scheme of things. Kids these days are fully integrated into the Web 2.0 lifestyle (Collaboration, Social Networking, being Online everywhere) and the tools that are being touted as the greatest new thing are in fact a couple of years old. If you were a real techie, you'd be on the EtherPad bandwagon in order for your students to work on documents in real-time. If we're going to get serious about being really techie teachers, we need to get out of the box and make a serious effort in using tools that the students will feel at home using, not just a program that has features that we're comfortable with but is in a new package.

(2) I really am at the far end of the bell curve tech-wise

Sitting in the Wiki session I got the feeling that I had lapped the knowledge being given. I tried all of the free Wiki options online and found them wanting. I've been playing with a build of the actual MediaWiki server package on my home server with the intent of trying it in my classroom. Considering Wikipedia is the gold standard for Wikis online, I'm of the opinion that if we want to teach our students how to use Wikis, we should get them into the swing of using the actual Wiki markup language, not an odd hybrid of BBCode and HTML.

Regardless, my views on technology in the classroom and what can/should be used is far beyond that of your average teacher. Is this surprising? Of course not. What does it mean for me? I need to just get used to sharing what I know to other teachers. Speaking of which...

(3) It's time for me to stop griping and start sharing

The biggest thing I learned from LaCUE is that I should stop whinging about the lack of tech knowledge of my peers (Like I did during LaCUE on my Twitter feed!)and do something about it. As the school webmaster I'm professionally (and contractually!) obligated to assist in professional development of my peers. I'm already doing that in a way by presenting at our parish's ShareFair in January (Web 2.0! Let's Share!), but I need to get to work at the grass roots level.

The last session I went to was put on by the Plaquemines Parish School Board and discussed their Tech Cafe concept they use to do technology-based professional development. Rather than boring teachers with websites, long-winded blogs (Like this one!), and useless teaming meetings, the Tech Cafe concept has the in-school facilitators take a broad focus from the Central Office (Like using Excel better) and create a 30 minute session that shows teachers how to do one thing in the program and as "homework" they integrate it into a lesson and reflect on how it went. Repeat this over the school year with the whole coffee shop theme and you have a rousing success with teachers getting something tangible out of technical professional development that isn't a major drain of their free time (30 minutes every two weeks) and is on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. We're going to try it late this school year to see how it works, and if it goes like how I think it would, I could see it adopted across the district, which would be fantastic.

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