Video Killed the Radio Star...

Reflections on Learning
I caught a snake in my backyard the other day. A tiny little garter snake, about 12 inches long and about as thick as a pencil. I know there is another, larger one around too, because I found the skin it left behind along the foundation of my house. You should know that I am both fascinated by these slithery creatures and terrified of them. I was completely freaked out by this thing, yet once I caught it (in a large steel garbage can) and knew that I was in control, the snake became more interesting to look at.

Last night I was thinking of how this is a lot like social networking. It’s like letting a snake into your backyard. Some of us are terrified of it and some of us are fascinated by it. Some of us are even tempted by it.

Metaphorically, YouTube itself might be seen as some evil copyright-breaking snake that slithers around the Internet doing pretty much as it pleases. Ironically, however, the snake here is the “masses”. It is all of us who contribute and download and share that create snake. Come to think of it, from the “snake’s” perspective, it probably doesn’t feel like it is doing much wrong.

If I reflect on my beginning uses of YouTube or any other video sharing service, I would say that it was primarily for humour. Whether it was showing someone a funny skit from a TV show or a blooper or a video that someone had emailed to me, my video watching, in the beginning, was probably about 90% humour-based. It was kind of like having access to your own 24 hour funniest home video channel. If you haven't seen this one, well...

And if you haven't ever visited ImprovEverywhere you are missing out.

As I became a more savvy user of this tool, I discovered many other ways that video sharing could be useful. I will highlight these in the following sections.

The Personal Level
For me, the most mind-boggling aspect of the Internet in general and video sharing in particular is that a user can find pretty much anything they want to look for. On the surface, this is very convenient. I want to know how to lay hardwood in my living room, I can go to any number of sites both commercial and otherwise and watch someone else give me a do-it-yourself lesson. Much more significant here, is that someone has taken a serious amount of time to script, film, edit and produce the video that I’m looking at. In many cases, there is seemingly no monetary reward for these videos, which makes it even more fascinating that someone would take the time to do all of this work.

This has had a significant impact on people’s lives. If I want to find Elmo singing a song about “going to the potty” for my 2 year old son to watch, it’s right here (along with some nasty versions too!). If I want to learn how to change the brake fluid in my truck, it’s right here. If I want to figure out how to tune up my bicycle, I can find it here .

This last one is of particular interest to me because it’s isn’t YouTube based. It’s a meeting place for people that want to share their expertise with others. As with many other applications, you get greater access if you pay (and in this case share) but the free stuff can be extremely valuable to individuals. And while this is not an education site, the crossovers are obvious. Students/teachers would be able to find unique ideas here to use in their classroom and at the same time they could take their own unique projects, upload and share them.

The Professional Level
As I began to explore the trail fire laid out for us, the one thing that occurred to me is that we are really in the infancy of understanding how to use video and video sharing. The “weekly” updates provided Allen County Public Libraries were informative, and the ideas presented at the NetSpeed conference were interesting, but in the end I’m left with the feeling that this is a lot of work for people to be doing to promote themselves with no real guarantee of any return. From the perspective of an elementary school principal/librarian, I would have a tough time spending time/resources on this kind of work when there is so many other things to do.

I do appreciate however, that the needs of institutions vary and that these are viable forms of promotion for those with larger audiences. For me, the focus has to be on getting the tools into the hands of students. Sure, I have to model these things, but my school’s philosophy is that the students need to be using the technology. So, with that in mind, the trailfire link that I found most interesting was the one about flip cameras. I actually played around with a similar idea a couple of years ago (stole it from Ian Jukes) that I would carry around a Flip video camera and capture video of students doing good things and play it at our weekly assemblies. A great idea really, sadly however, the realities of work were captured well ahead of any student video. I’ll make a private commitment to revisit this. The application mentioned in the article however is something that fits with my belief that the tools need to be in the hands of students. I’m going to develop a challenge based on this and get my grade 5 students to do video book reviews to post on our school website. Great idea Jennifer Wooten!

I wanted to also comment briefly on some of the other tools available to us. YouTube and TeacherTube have become standard tools for teachers in our classrooms. Each of our classrooms are equipped with projectors, smartboards, surround sound, which makes it easy for teachers to utilize resources that they find (as long as the lousy desktops we have attached to these peripherals doesn’t fail – sorry, editorial comment). Another resource that we use extensively is UnitedStreaming. This is a service that our District pays to access and it provides us with thousands of licensed videos that teacher may use in their classroom. As a rule, our teachers will look here first to see if they can get a licensed version before they look elsewhere.

YouTube’s obvious advantage is its quick access and ease of use (Mullen, 2008). Teachers (and students, if they have access) can quickly get dozens of results for most anything they are looking for and then organize these into folders for later use or embed them into other software (Smart Notebook for example).

Using the Flip Video Camera as a jumping off point and the idea of getting the tools into students’ hands, I searched for articles that focused on student involvement. As Gentry (2008) argues, many of the examples that are out there now serve mainly as viewing resources rather than resources that act as tools for students. What is exciting is that just as technology evolves quickly, the applications and uses of it in the classroom will evolve as well. I look forward to learning more about this as the course progresses.

An interesting side note to all of this is that in 2007, as a high school assistant principal, we dealt with a fighting issue at some our schools through video sharing. Students were fighting and then posting these fights on to the web. We’d find the fights (rather easily) and deal with the red-handed (and red-faced) combatants. I won't link to those...

New Knowledge
The notion of Creative Commons is a relatively new one to me and seeing as how I missed this in the photosharing activity, I wanted to explore that a bit more here. One of the interesting things I stumbled upon here would allow YouTube users to access material that meets copyright requirements more easily. What’s interesting to me is that this really creates a streamlining of sharing. Users, as they upload material, can essentially provide unlimited access to other users. In the long run this might avoid many legal hassles or concerns for schools.

Finally, one of the more fascinating developments is that of websites like HULU. Here, users can download just about any television show that exists (as long as they live in the United States). While I’m certain it won’t be long before we’ll be able to access a service like this in Canada, I think it is also interesting that more and more things like this that used to be underground or pirated are becoming mainstream and legal.

What might have more consequence for educators are applications like this. This Calgary based company allows you to download television shows, instructional videos, etc. to your iPhone or Blackberry to take with you anywhere. The kneejerk reaction for schools will be to block this kind of thing, what will be interesting are those educators that will be able to see this as a tool and take advantage of it.

In case you were wondering about what happened to the snake, well my kids and I looked at it for a bit and then eventually released it into the wild behind our house. A couple of days later he/she/it was back (or another one just like the first one). I didn't catch it this time, although I did chase it around for a bit. I'm guessing we'll probably have to get used to living with these creatures, metaphorically or otherwise.

Gentry, J. (2009). Using youtube: Practical applications for 21st Century education. Distance Education Report, 13(7).

Mullen, R. & Wedwick, L. (2008). Avoiding the digital abyss: Getting started in the classroom with youtube, digital stories and blogs. Clearing House 82(2).

My Bucket of Photos

Reflections on Learning
Spent the last week or so exploring photosharing websites. I eventually chose to use Photobucket. No particular reason why, although it did seem easy to use and easy to sync with my Blogger website. To be honest, I’ve never given photosharing much thought. My wife is the camera person and whenever I think to take pictures it's generally too late. The Wikipedia info was interesting, but a bit superficial and clearly the guy in the trailfire video is trying to sell the notion of photosharing and makes it sound so EASY and so FUN. The text provided more insight into the social aspect of photosharing, but I think the most interesting learning here occured through experimenting with the tools. That's probably the way it was meant to be.

The Personal Level
At this level, I can see many applications. My brother and sister-in-law have been doing this for years as they have traveled and lived in many places and it has always been a really good way for us as a family to keep track of them and stay in touch with them. With the evolution of Facebook, my wife has certainly shared more photos than ever before and it is something we should use more often. My preference, I suppose, would be to use these services in a secure way, making certain that I can limit who can see my photos (or better yet, albums) and in particular pictures of my family.

The Professional Level
One of the things I would like to see us do more at school is share what is going on in a more timely manner. We’ve moved to mostly (95%) delivering our newsletter electronically and I envision that our website ( will eventually serve as a real-time newsletter for us. At the school level we already collect photos from teachers for a year-end slideshow, and one of the things I’d like to do at school is stream some of these photos onto a monitor in our main entrance as a way of sharing what is happening at our school. Doing this through a photosharing site would seem to be a natural extension of this and something I might experiment with over the next few months. The concern here is time management. These things do not happen by themselves and they generally aren’t that interesting or good if they are not regularly updated. Finding someone to manage this and manage it well could be challenging.

Thinking about this for students, it’s easy to see how they might use this as well to share information with family and peers. It’s also easy to see how the school will want control over this to make sure posts are appropriate. Much of what we do at our school in this aspect is done through ePearl. This online portfolio is secure and allows students, teachers and families to interact and share school information.

New Knowledge
A couple of thoughts to wrap this up. I’ve thought a lot about how Facebook shares photos and the tagging process and the implication this might have for professionals. I think of the person who has a picture taken of them that they would not want posted online, the photo taker then posts that picture online and tags the people in the photo, consequently sharing that information with everyone. Sure the photo or tag can be removed, but damage could be done. I read in one of the blogs we needed to subscribe to that one prof was quoted as saying, “I have to believe that anytime my laptop is on, my life is not private.” Maybe a bit extreme, or maybe not extreme enough, but definitely a word of caution.

The other thing I wanted to share was about twitgoo. Does anyone out there know what this is? Have you had experience with it? I was playing with my photosharing site trying to share with my blog and my facebook page and clicked on the twitter feature. Suddenly, a picture of my daughter popped up in “twitgoo” and I was taken to a page where any “tweeters” can post photos. Within seconds 32 random people had viewed my picture, some made comments, and then the picture moved down the tweetgoo list and into obscurity. It was kind of a helpless feeling.

Maiden Voyage

Started ramping everything up today for my U of A course. This whole concept of social networking is fascinating and scary all at once. I've had a twitter account since February, so in one way, I was a bit of an early adopter. On the other hand, I've avoided Facebook like the plague.

The twitter thing was more of a curiosity. At baseball's spring training many of the bloggers and reporters starting using twitter to feed trade rumours, provide updates, etc. I enjoy following this, so got an account and have mostly been a lurker. Never really posted anything.

Facebook. Ugggh. As a teacher/coach/administrator I just saw too many ways that this could be disastrous. Getting "tagged" in photos for all the world to see, having people hunt you down, just not my thing. So, begrudgingly, I'm out there. One friend. My wife. We'll see if I can keep it that way.

Just one last note on the creepy Facebook thing. Strange how when I signed on I had 6 pages of "suggested" friends that I could add? 6 pages! Even more strange was that I knew all of the people. Some I know well, others only in passing, but not a single stranger in the lot. How is that possible? I didn't provide facebook with access to my outlook contacts. My best guess is that these people, for whatever reason, have my email address and have unknowingly shared it with facebook. Yuck.