This Week and Beyond in Social Media

It has been another week preoccupied with computer programming, although I did get a chance to participate in some social media activities this week, as well as get through at least a little bit of my email.

It started off with a few messages that I sent out from the Woodbridge Board of Education meeting. I used so my messages went to a bunch of different locations. My first two messages were

At Woodbridge Board of Education where there is a discussion of twenty first century curriculum linking world languages and technology

One of the students is doing a wonderful presentation of the food pyramid in Spanish using the Smartboard.

On Facebook, a Connecticut State Representative, Jonathon Pelto responded ‘wow – cool’. Over on LiveJournal, a friend from Michigan whom I met years ago when her teacher used a text based virtual world that I ran to teach a class on ‘Brave New World’ responded ‘Smartboards are sweet…especially when properly used.’

After the meeting was over, I chatted with the chair of the Board of Education as well as the Superintendent about the real time online discussion I had about the meeting. It says something important about the world our students are being prepared for. There is so much more I want to write about this when I get some free time.

On Tuesday, I received an email from another longtime friend. The Rev. Kate Heichler of Church of Christ the Healer, together with The Rev. Mark Lingle of St. Francis Church, both in Stamford, have set up a Lenten Reflections blog. Kate suggested that I might offer to help the church I attend, Christ Church, Bethany set up a similar Lenten Reflections blog.

I’ve been very busy, so I quickly threw together to live for a season and when I get a little more time will help people at the church with the blog some more.

Thursday, I went to a Mystic Sushi Tweetup. I joined @JoeCascio, @trishdarling of, and @EmrysTetu of at Peking Tokyo in Mystic for a dinner of sushi. We had a great discussion covering a wide selection of topics.

Today, I receive a message on Facebook from State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield inviting people to the Judiciary Committee Public Hearing. In the invitation, Gary said, “"If you care about the Raise the Age legislation and or abolishing the death penalty and you have time on Monday you should come testify." He provides information about testifying at the hearing.

As I went through my emails, I’ve found plenty of other important events. Next Wednesday at 7 PM, Kim will be speaking about election day registration at the Democracy for Fairfield County Meetup at the Silver Star Diner in Norwalk. Ned Lamont will also be speaking there about the stimulus package. Democracy for New Haven will be meeting at Wednesday, starting at 6:30 at Wall Street Pizza in New Haven having a discussion about the Connecticut budget proposal. State Sen. Toni Harp, Co-Chair of Appropriations Committee, and Sal Luciano, Executive Director of AFSCME Council 4 are among the speakers expected for an action oriented public discussion.

The Shoreline League of Democratic Women is also having a meeting the same evening. Their meeting will start at 7:30 at the Guilford Library and will host a panel of State Legislators talking about smart growth.

Then, on Thursday, the Energy and Technology Committee will hold a Public Hearing about four bills, including AN ACT CONCERNING PUBLIC ACCESS TELEVISION CHANNELS, along with three other bills. I haven’t read the proposed bill closely enough to have any opinions on it, but would love to hear comments from others.

Also on Thursday, Common Cause volunteers will be helping get the spring mailing out starting at 5:00 PM at the Common Cause office at 55 Oak St in Hartford. Then, starting at 6:10 in Room 128 of the Main Hall of Yale Law School, the Yale College Democrats, the Yale College Republicans, and the Yale Law School Democrats will sponsor an event with Common Cause to discussion election day registration. State Rep. Lesser and State Rep. Winfield will be speaking.

Friday, the Connecticut Fund for the Environment will be holding its 19th Annual Long Island Sound Citizens Summit: Investing in Clean Water: for Sound health, jobs and the economy. The summit will take place from 8:30 until 3:15 at the Holiday Inn Hotel and Conference Center in Bridgeport.

Looking further out, there are a few important social media related events coming up. On March 12, is digiday:Mobile and digiday:Social at the W hotel in New York City. These are two half-day conferences set up back to back to talk about marketing using mobile and social technology.

On March 21st will be Newsout, “What to do when the newsroom lights go out: Options and strategies for New England communities.” It looks like it will be a good discussion with some great speakers.

Then, ending off the month is Freedom to Connect, a yearly gathering of some of the most interesting thinkers about communications and the Internet.

So, I’ll continue to try and balance some computer programming with some family time and lots of social media, both as quick messages on various sites and face to face meetings as well. What are you up to? Will I see you at one of these events?

#yelc09 – Joel Klein

Joel Klein, Chancellor, New York City Department of Education provided the opening keynote address at the Yale Education Leadership Conference laid out the issue very concisely. He started off by quipping that the reason he is so controversial is that he’s too old not to be, and then proceeded to hit his three points. We have a crisis, we don’t have to, and “If we keep having the same dialog we’ve been having, we’re not going to be able to change it”.

He illustrated the crisis by asking how many people would be willing to allow him to place their children into any of the schools in New York City. No one would. The message is clear, that not every school in New York City, or New Haven, or many other places is good enough. He noted that only about 33% of the schools in New York City are schools where principals would be willing to place their own kids, and that is up from 20% when he started.

He spoke about the detrimental effect that skin color, poverty and zip code have on educational opportunities. By eighth grade black students from poor communities are typically already two to three grade levels behind their more affluent white counterparts. He noted that on top of this, U.S. achievement is falling behind achievement in other countries, producing a double achievement gap for the poor and people of color.

With this, he went to his second point. It doesn’t have to be this way. Too often, people suggest that you cannot fix education until you address the issue of poverty. Many people believe that the reason children fail to achieve is because of the effect poverty has on their lives. Klein suggests that it is actually the other way around. You will cannot fix the issue of poverty until you address the issue of education.

His key areas of focus to address the issue of education center around accountability, leadership and choice. He acknowledged issues measuring success. No measurement is perfect, but we need to go with the best we can get.

We all know about what a positive factor parental involvement is on education. He pointed that the starting point of all parental involvement is the choice about which school we send our children to. Those that can afford it chose to live in communities with good school districts or send our children to private schools. Yet for those who cannot afford it, there is little to no choice about which schools their children attend. Providing this basic level of choice is an important first step in increasing parental involvement.

With this, he ended off by calling those of us who are fortunate enough to get our kids a good education, to become ‘educational warriors’, voices for the voiceless, those who don’t have the opportunity to get a good education. It provided a great framework for the rest of the conference and he was given a standing ovation.

#yelc09 - Yale Education Leadership Conference – Prologue

The Grand Ballroom at The Omni Hotel slowly fills up during registration and breakfast at the 2009 Yale Education Leadership Conference. A glance at the registration table looks like around four hundred people have registered. There are six members of the press. Five in the traditional media including the New York Times and NPR, and the one lone blogger.

At registration, I see Mayor Finch of Bridgeport. I want to get a word in about the economic stimulus package and what projects he thinks are most important to his city. However, we both are rushing in other directions and don’t really get a chance to talk. That can wait for a follow-up email.

The attendees are seem to be fairly well mixed in terms of age and gender, although it does seem to be slightly skewed to twenty-somethings. Just about everyone is well dressed and almost all of the men are wearing suits. Many people seem to know one another from other conferences.

I fire up the laptop and find that there is no apparent open WiFi. However, as I look around, I don’t see any other laptops. One person has a blackberry. I don’t know if they use Twitter or if anyone else will Twitter the conference. Without WiFi my twittering will be a bit curtailed. My thumbs just aren’t that fast on the cellphone. I will be using the hashtag, #yelc09.

Along with the lack of WiFi there aren’t many outlets, and my power cord crosses an area where people walk. Just about everyone manages to trip over it. The room continues to fill up and soon New York City Department of Education Chancellor Joel Klein will present the opening keynote. Hopefully, I can slip out and get a WiFi connection and put up a post or two during lunch time.

Yale Education Leadership Smackdown!

On Friday, February 13, the Yale School of Management will sponsor the Yale Education Leadership Conference. Two years ago, the conference ended with Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach For America, Dacia Toll, president of Achievement First, Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, chairman of the General Assembly’s Education Committee, and Steven Adamoski, Superindendent of the Hartford Public Schools talking about “Closing the Achievement Gap in the State of Connecticut”.

This year’s conference will include keynotes by Joel Klein, Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education and Alberto Carvalho, Superintendent of the Miami-Dade Public Schools. One of the panels will have Rep. Fleichmann return, along with Congressman Chris Murphy, Chairman of the Connecticut State Board of Education Allan Taylor, and Connecticut State Department of Higher Education Commissioner Michael Meotti.

Concurrent with this, the Yale Law School’s Law and Media Program will be holding a conference, “The Future of Student Internet Speech: What Are We Teaching the Facebook Generation”. This conference will include a discussion of The Doninger v. Niehoff Case and how far school authority should extend.

It is unfortunate that these two events overlap since they cover related topics and I would love to be able to attend both. Meanwhile, I still need to write up my notes from the presentation of the proposed Woodbridge school budget and make it to the next committee meeting where we are discussing a three-year technology plan for the school district.

Against this backdrop, I am hearing people talking about Gov. Rell’s latest nominee for the State Board of Education. Today, Linda McMahon, CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), testified before a legislative committee. People have criticized the nomination arguing that WWE programs borders on pornographic. They have pointed out the issues with steroid use amongst WWE wrestlers and pondered what Ms. McMahon would have our children learn.

Others asked what her qualifications are, other than significant campaign contributions to numerous candidates. I have been more concerned about her unwillingness to accept interviews about her nomination and her inability to give anything beyond basic answers when asked about various educational issues. Somehow, I don’t expect to see her at any of the educational conferences coming up in the next few weeks.

Yet I don’t expect her to do significantly worse than any of the other members of the State Board of Education. After all, my cynical friends always point out to me, isn’t that how most political appointments are made, not on merit but on connections? Look at Gov. Rell, they point out. She was Gov. Rowland’s Lt. Governor for nearly ten years before Gov. Rowland’s resignation.

Now, Gov. Rell is campaigning on reducing the bloat in government. Perhaps the first place to start is by seeking nominees for political appointments based on their merit instead of how well connected they are. Until then, her comments about reducing bloat in government are going to sound awfully hollow or hypocritical.

Second Life and the Future of ...

I’ve been pretty busy with other things and haven’t been in Second Life much recently. However, I’ve been getting a bunch of interesting emails about different developments related to Second Life and other virtual worlds, and I thought I should highlight some of them here.

… Education

One email that particularly caught my attention was the idea of building an Opensim / Moodle implementation, similar to Sloodle, but with some important differences from Sloodle.

Let me explain a little of this to people whose eyes glazed over as they read that. First, Second Life is a three dimensional virtual world. You run a Second Life client that connects you to a set of Second Life servers. You can move a representation of yourself around in this three dimensional virtual world and interact, real time, with other people doing the same thing. You can see videos, share course material and create objects in the world that you can interact with. You can go beyond whatever physical limitations hold you down in your physical life.

Opensim is a project to create open source server software that acts in a manner similar to Second Life servers. A person with a Second Life client could connect to Opensim servers that are available only to people within a certain community such as a place of business or a school.

I came to Second Life after having spent a lot of time working with text based virtual worlds. One type of text based virtual world is MOOs. I’ve been active on large MOOs, participated in educational MOOs and run my own MOOs. When Opensim first came along, I wrote about how with Opensim, schools could have their own three dimensional virtual worlds, just like how they used to have their own text based virtual worlds.

Moodle is a popular open source course management system, learning management system, or virtual learning environment, depending on who you talk to. I don’t know what sort of relationship there is between Moodle and the MOOs of old, but many of my education friends from MOOs seemed to get very interested in Moodle.

Sloodle is an open source project that integrates Second Life with Moodle. The problem is that Second Life is a close proprietary system, so the integration is limited. Since OpenSim is open source, the possibilities for deeper integration are much greater and much more interesting. However, Opensim is still in alpha testing and changes rapidly. This presents problems for deep integration because what you are integrating with may change significantly, and hence your integration may need to change significantly. Nonetheless, it is an interesting development.

A friend of mine teaches anthropology at Brandeis. Years ago, Brandeis had a MOO up and running that I would visit. When I finally got a chance to visit Brandeis, I knew my way around the campus fairly well from my explorations of their MOO. I would love to visit a Brandeis Opensim world someday in the future, or even a Beecher Road virtual world school. Integrating it with an Opensim / Moodle implementation would make it all the more compelling.

… Healthcare

One of the things that I’ve gotten the most out of Second Life has been becoming friends with people in the disability community there, and learning so much from them. There is a non-profit called Virtual Ability. Their “mission is to enable people with a wide range of disabilities to enter into virtual worlds like Second Life®, and provide them with a supporting environment once there.”

There is a wonderful blog post about health care in Second Life. In a recent email with Second Life educators about videos explaining Second Life, I recommended this video as a good starting point to get what Second Life can really be all about.

... and civic engagement

Then, today, I received a message via pointing me to another great video about health care and Second Life. This one was about people interested in healthcare talking together via Second Life and provides another great view of what Second Life, or related virtual worlds can do when used properly.

Whether your top issue is education, healthcare, civic engagement, or whatever other cause, it is crucial to find effective ways to communicate with others, and more and more virtual worlds, like Second Life are proving to be an important part of the mix.

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