Sunday, May 4, 2008

PodCamp NYC 2008

This was my first unconference. If you don't know what an unconference is, it's basically a (usually) free conference with no formal organization as far as speakers are concerned. There is no call for papers, you just sign up as a speaker and then people can attend your session (or not.) PodCamp NYC was so overwhelmingly popular that by the time I signed up they had closed the speaker slots, but I was still able to attend as a participant. That's what attendees are called at an unconference because everyone participates.

PodCamp NYC was an unconference all about podcasting, although many sessions spoke about Social Media in general. What I particularly liked was that there was an Education 2.0 track at the unconference.

My role at the conference was two-fold. I was asked to attend to represent my company (Sun Microsystems) as part of our Web 2.0 Task Force and as such I spent some time manning our table and talking to people about what Sun is doing in the Web 2.0 and Education space. [For details on how the conference related to Sun, see my Sun blog entry.] However, it quickly became clear that my other role should be to attend sessions, meet people and discover relevant nuggets of information.

I will share with you some of the more interesting nuggets that I took from this event. The first session I attended was called Teachers Teaching Teachers and it discussed a weekly podcast (Wednesday nights at 9pm EST) used to show teachers how to use technology in the classrooms. The host used for these podcasts is called EdTechTalk. Besides seeing the different podcasts that EdTechTalk hosts, the speakers discussed their ideas about "Youth Twitter", a site that was able to be administered and monitored so that teachers would be more comfortable with students on Twitter. This apparently led some to think it was too "schooly". This then prompted a podcast episode called Learning to be "Unschooly" which was actually taught by students. I was inspired by this interactive learning. The other thing I found most useful in this session, was that we all introduced ourselves and spoke briefly about our backgrounds, why we are attending PodCamp and this particular session. Below, I will list some interesting insights that I got as people spoke about their own backgrounds and experiences:

  • Learning about Online Safety. One teacher asks students to Google their friends (in groups of two) in class to see what they can find. This exercise is a real eye opener for students who are amazed at how much information is available about them.
  • One teacher proposed that using WiiFIT may be a way to more easily incorporate Teen Second Life or other virtual worlds into the classroom.
  • iWeb is being used to teach students to create podcasts.
  • In higher ed, iTunesU is being used to share course content.
  • Webcast Academy
  • Teachers are connecting with each other through VoiceThread

The biggest message that I heard was that things like Facebook, Tumblr, Flicker, etc... aren't as evil as schools think, as long as they are utilized in appropriate ways.

The next session was on using technology for differentiated instruction. It was interesting because it talked about ways that technology can reach underserved populations. In particular, the discussion around how podcasting can be used effectively for students with ADHD really came to life for me. This particular teacher uses the technology in two ways. One, he records his lessons so that the students can go back and relisten to it as necessary. This is particularly helpful for ADHD students. He also uses it to have students record themselves. He finds that students are often better able to correct their own spelling & grammatically mistakes if they hear them spoke. This is especially useful for ELL students. Another story was told about an autistic woman who uses her PECS system to communicate with people via her popular blog in ways that she otherwise couldn't. Other useful ideas that were shared in this session include:

  • Using Google Docs to get feedback from parents. Students can post their homework and the parents can easily review it from wherever they are.
  • Using as another literacy method. Students who are not as eager to read can listen to books online. There is also a new kids section on Audible.
  • One parent in the room spoke about how he homeschools his children and then he uses alot of podcasts to assit with grammar, history, vocubulary expansion, etc... In particular, he called attention to Grammar Girl and Podio Books.

I'm going to end this entry here since it's already quite long and pick up the afternoon sessions in another post. Enjoy!

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