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Pride and Motivation March 3, 2012

Posted by Michael McVey in General Comment, Online Tools.
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When I read articles expounding on how technology is increasing student motivation and pride in work, I always try to imagine what the same student reaction to excellence was like without technology. It doesn’t always pan out as expected. Last week, I found a booklet of poems by a wonderful student of mine created in 1985. I know she took great pride in it and took care to use what technology she had available at the time – xerox copies, hand-drawn illustrations, and a lot of work.

Students today can take as much pride in their work and possibly get their work into many more hands – or perhaps eyeballs. At the same time, would a beloved teacher still carry the electronic version with him 25 years later? Would the student have withered under the critiques of scores of anonymous readers and turned away from a literary career?

There are times when I have to remind people that not everything technological is good and that we need to remember the benefits to using it and peel past the hype.

My student’s reaction today, after a quarter of a century, was to send it to the shredder. She is now a newly-minted Ph.D. in English Literature and her work was not brilliant in retrospect – but, to me, it was a sign of brilliance, a promise of exceptional scholarship to come, and a memento  of a scholar’s earliest efforts.


Where we will be April 9, 2008

Posted by Michael McVey in General Comment.
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I wonder if this is how my work will someday be viewed. Here is an image of a demonstration in 1931at the Western Secretarial School in which the instructor is demonstrating how a rotary dial telephone works.

My colleagues and I demonstrate to teachers the inner workings of web pages, blogs, podcasts, and other communication tools and their use in the class. Someday, archivists will dig up our talks and demonstrations and wonder how anyone could have not understood how these tools would be put to use in a classroom setting. I am sure our ignorance will be snickered at a little.

One could only hope.

The Bad Guys November 13, 2007

Posted by Michael McVey in General Comment, Information, Online Tools.
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IT Director    In discussions with colleagues at yesterday’s conference, there appears to be a “bad guy” emerging in educational technology. This person is the IT Director for the district, the one who follows state or district requirements and block access to sites. Particularly frustrating to many teachers is the fact that many Web 2.0 applications are being blocked. The blocked site causing the most frustration is Youtube.

Teachers find they must work to get their IT Directors to understand what they need in the classroom and to get them onboard with their vision. Somehow I doubt that. Teachers would be better off re-examining the sites they think they need and figure out why they have been blocked. It doesn’t take much conversation with them for them to understand the rationale for blocking, but still they complain.

One poor IT Director raised her hand in a session and admitted she was “one of the bad guys.” She and her colleagues in arms are the wrong people to pummel, however. Teachers should be contacting the Web 2.0 application provider and offering suggestions or lobbying for changes.

Teachers should also could consider moving to something that serves their needs but is safe and unblocked. There are so many options and tools out there. http://Go2Web20.net offers scores of them. I wonder how many are blocked.

Going to MI March 27, 2007

Posted by Michael McVey in General Comment.

emu   Today I made it official with the College of Education and announced to the Dean that I was going to accept the Letter of Offer from Eastern Michigan University‘s Department of Teacher Education. I had a great time visiting EMU a month ago, despite the cold and the one morning of “freezing fog.”

Those I had the pleasure of meeting at EMU were devoted to their field and concerned about the development of the students in their charge. I am looking forward to being part of their extended family.

I took some time to look around Saline and parts of Ann Arbor to get a sense of real estate prices. On the last day, the houses I looked at were all shrouded in fog and looked isolated and alone. However, earlier in the week, when it was sunny, the town looked like a happy and warm little place. Everywhere I looked I was reminded of growing up in my little town in Ontario.

My wife and daughter are excited about the impending move. There are some plusses. My wife can continue to work on forensic accounting thanks to FedEx. My daughter will get an extra long summer because schools start later in that state. Our whole family will get to experience turning leaves, rain, snow, wet and fragrant spring, and humid summer. I am looking forward to that. We will also be only a three hour drive from my parents, sisters, and nephews back in Ontario.

Now that I can speak more freely about the move to Michigan, I can begin to write more about the job and the technology challenges and successes that face teachers and schools in that state.

Historic footage January 27, 2007

Posted by Michael McVey in General Comment.
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Happened   In 1975, I sat through an entertaining slide presentation one evening at my high school. It was entitled, “The Truth About the Assassination of President Kennedy” and was delivered by an auto shop teacher from another high school, Tony Centa. The place was packed and conversations about the topic raged on for weeks after. The presentation reviewed the mound of doubts raised about the Warren Commission and reviewed the Zapruder film in detail.

Since that evening, I have looked for footage from television stations taken the day the assassination occurred. I was a child in Grade One at the time and remember that Friday well, or as well as a first grader might. I do not recall if the local district cancelled school that Monday of the funeral but I have strong memories of staying home to watch it and my mother’s reaction to it as I sat and played on the floor.

Years later I discovered my father in law was one of the soldiers standing on honor detail along a wet Washington street that weekend. Now, thanks to ABC News, the expansion of their popular series “The Day it Happened” includes this footage and I am downloading it as I type.

I am not sure why it is so important for me to see this film. I am part of a rapidly dwindling number of people who were alive in 1963 and have any recollection at all of the events of that weekend. Perhaps that need to have a link with one’s past is the reason. Perhaps that need is why I am still in contact with my Grade Six teacher, a friend from Grade Four, and the neighbor from across the street who remembers me from my infancy. No matter what changes in our lives and in the world some of us need to refresh our memories of our days of youth.

Some day my daughter will seek out videos from the news of her childhood just to confirm her memories, restore them, or build them anew. I suspect she will do what I did a few weeks ago and call up on YouTube the title sequences of every show she ever remembers watching. When I did it, I stopped when I had a collection of almost forty of them from Batman to The Man from UNCLE.

My conclusion: I spent a lot of time in front of the tube when I was growing up. Perhaps that’s why I watch so little now.

Apologies June 25, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in General Comment.
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McVey   After writing this blog as a daily project since last year, I have taken a break from writing. The break snuck up on me. I became sick then had to complete some large projects but I always had intended to keep on writing. As one of my Canadian friends wrote, "It looks like the swamp sucked you in." Sucked, indeed.

I will return to daily writing on July 8 after I finish my trilogy of middle school novellas and upon my return from the National Education Computing Conference in San Diego. See you then. Quite a lot has happened in the last two months but some of it I was not at liberty to disclose.

Computer-less teachers April 23, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in General Comment, Students.
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teachers   A few weeks ago, I shared the following quotation with my students, “Technology will never replace teachers; but teachers who use technology will replace those who do not.” I posted it to let my students ponder the implications. For the most part, I stayed disengaged from the quotation itself and just absorbed my students’ reaction to it. They seemed to support the concept if I counted the number of “Right ons!” correctly. This evening, I read the first negative response to the quotation, and this from a respected leader in the field of educational technology.

It was this leader’s perspective that the quotation was fundamentally flawed. He found his evidence in the many teachers he had over the years who engaged their classes without even a piece of chalk. We have all had teachers like that at one time or another but there might be another 99 percent of the teachers who cannot hold their classes so spellbound without some sort of support. They might need an image they have found to open a mind. They might need to play a recording of a poem to share its rhythm and beat better than they ever could. They might need to share a music video, a television commercial, or a news story to prompt a discussion more concisely that they could with words alone. They might need to reference a web site to reinforce and elaborated on something said in class.

The more I think about it, those teachers who tell stories and hold their classes spellbound might not hold every student so well. Those teachers are lucky if they can assess how well their students understood the concepts. I suppose their classes are small enough and their questions to them perfectly formed and answered by all. Those teaches are lucky because they could bring a life of experiences and insights to the class and boil them into brilliant and insightful stories and were not stuck with a lackluster curriculum or set of standards into which they had trouble breathing life. Those fabulous teachers were obviously able to create assignments for students perfectly tailored to the cognitive needs of every brain in the class. I am all in favor of giving computer-less teachers a chance to cast a spell and good luck to them.  

My point about educational technology is that those of us unable to hold a class spellbound two hundred days a year can gain a fighting chance of keeping a student in school by using these tools to engage, empower, and occasionally entertain.

Science Fair Outreach March 28, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in General Comment.
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Science fair   I wonder sometimes how many opportunities for good public relations are lost because they require little bit of effort and legwork. Last year, when I was judging entries for the Science Fair, I kept seeing educationally related projects. Many of those projects from students in the younger grades related to analyzing the differences in studying with either classical or rock music in the background. Some of the more ingenious projects involved in teaching animals and in one case, a fish, to read. Reading, in this case, defined as the response to a symbol on a card.

Last year, I strongly suggested to our College of Education that we consider the Science Fair as an outreach by sponsoring a small prize for a student in Middle School or High School who produced a Science Fair project with a focus on learning, either the act of learning, or the act of teaching. Although several people embraced the idea to a degree, we never followed through as an institution.

I do not blame the institution; I blame myself for missing the timing. I think I presented the idea of a little too soon. In addition, the idea requires somebody to physically judge. I suspect I will be the one looking at hundreds of exhibits for that interesting one or two that focus on learning and how we learn, and how we teach. Perhaps I can gather some colleagues to join me.

I think we in the college right now are starting to feel a little burdened by our workloads and perhaps that is another reason why we have not followed through with this very easily accomplished act of outreach to the community. I believe I will mention this to the Dean again and this time set a timetable up for action.

Opaque Projector January 8, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in General Comment, Hardware.

Opque Projector   When I was in Grade Eight, I used an opaque projector for the first time. It was a large and heavy machine that I used to display photos I had cut from some of our National Geographic magazines. In hindsight I have a few observations on that experience.

I recall now that I was the only one in the class using the machine. Everyone else did their presentations on large poster board with images glues to them. After some experimentation, I found a little knob that activated a pointer. With a little practice it was possible to move the pointer to the place I wanted it. What was noteworthy was that I absolutely had to use the pointer. Just knowing it was there was not enough.

My thinking at the time was that simply standing at the front of the room and talking about the photos was far from enough. The technology of the opaque machine allowed me to amplify my voice and it helped me to show my classmates what I saw. If it was important enough to make it fill a screen at the front of the room, then it was certainly something important and attention had to be paid to it.

Perhaps that is why I get a little uncomfortable when I see people going to great lengths to fill screens with trivial items or worse with too much profound text. The big screen should be reserved for the big idea, highlights of texts, views of things that you cannot see ordinarily. It is a giant conceptual highlighter.

In much the same way, simply posting readings on a web site and calling it an online course is a lot like using a car to crack open walnuts. You are using one feature of the car, its weight, to effect but it can do so much more. Go ahead and crack nuts but please try to transform your life by using the car as a vehicle to explore the world.

Impermanence January 7, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in General Comment, Online Tools.
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oldcam   A friend loaned us the movie Little Buddha last night and it got me thinking about impermanence of physical things. I sometimes feel like I walk among ghosts in the halls of my college. Every day I see photographs of former Deans lining the hall. Everyday I hear references to brilliant people who walked the same halls decades before. On occasion I am reminded of a professor who once took a department by storm or an administrative assistant that who stood out for a personal act of kindness, good humor or grace under pressure.

At least, in this impermanent world, your memory will last longer than your computer or typewriter. Since I began in 1999, there might only be a small handful of computers in the building that were here at that time. Some searches on the Internet have turned up sites that speak great volumes for me. They aren’t particularly educational in one sense of the world, but they inspire me to reflect on my time spent working in the world.

One site that has benefited greatly from a brilliant editorial eye for design is 10Eastern and its collection of Found Photos. These images had been stored on computers around the world and inadvertently shared through P2P or Peer to Peer file sharing. People who leave open their computer for sharing music sometimes leave file folders of pictures. The found images on this site are varied and presented without comment. Like classical art, some of the best images speak volumes of irony to the viewer.

found 2  old photo
Found films; lost films

Some of the best images are of people captured off guard who look toward the camera and share a secret with the photographer. Their relaxed hands communicate in fine nuance and betray deep feelings, raw emotion, or inner pain. The images are poorly cropped, sometimes blurry, and not perfect photographic objects by any means, but they are each brilliantly formed messages about our humanity.

Another site to examine this moment of humanity is Lost Films. The designer of the site scoured the antique world for old cameras that still held film. He then worked some chemical wonders in his darkroom to bring the photographs out then digitally shared them on his site. My first thought often concerns who these people are and what they are doing. I wonder what images and words remain to be found from today’s world tucked away forgotten in bottom of file cabinets to emerge years from now and pondered over by our curious ancestors.