Thoughts on AAC Technology

May 23, 2011 1 comment

AAC or augmentative and alternative communication includes any method of communication used in addition to or in replacement of speech and writing to fulfill an individual’s communication needs. AAC systems involve traditional as well as alternative representations of written and spoken language including manual signals and gestures, words and letters, pictures, simple drawings, photographs, animations, and video (Mirenda, 2003, p.  204). The evolution of technology has greatly changed the capability of AAC users to effectively communicate with their peers. For example, a user who once relied on a binder full of PECS (picture communication symbols) used to piece together their thoughts and share them with others can now perform the same work with greater ease and increased enjoyment via dynamic high tech AAC devices such as the Dynavox Maestro.

The Dynavox Maestro is a relatively new addition to the world of AAC high tech devices and while it has not introduced any new or revolutionary features, it incorporates most all of the features which a large portion of AAC users rely on within a highly functional hardware and software package. Its hardware is comparable to current netbooks and tablets and its design is thinner and lighter than previous models, which are considered by some to be simply too bulky and heavy for comfort. The Maestro is for the most part a dedicated AAC device, designed for AAC usage, but can also be used as a standard PC as it runs the standard Windows XP operating system. It supports a wide base of users having different physical and interaction abilities. Users may interact with the device via its touch screen, visual and auditory scanning, joystick, audio touch, mouse pause, morse code, and switch joystick. The device is set apart from other devices by its proprietary Series 5 AAC software and its hardware features which support various AAC users.

The high tech AAC marketplace was once occupied by few, specialized companies. However, now that technology such as touch screen capable devices are more common, other competitors such as Apple have entered into the AAC marketplace. Apple’s iPad 2 is becoming a well known device within the educational marketplace due to its sleek design, ease of use, portability, and wealth of education related applications. Unlike the Dynavox Maestro, the iPad is designed to be used as a multifaceted device. While the Maestro is capable of functioning in a similar capacity, it is geared towards being used as a dedicated AAC device (and automatically loads AAC software when started). The iPad boots into an iOS environment which facilitates the launching, switching between, and closing of various applications. To function as an AAC device, third party software such as Proloquo2go is required. This software supports touch-based communication via letter, word, and proprietary picture symbols. The distinguishing advantage to going the iPad route vs. the specialized device route is price. A user can accomplish much of the same work at a small fraction of the price.

As technology becomes more and more prevalent within our lives, no matter our needs and uses, the importance of usability and enjoyability become clearer and clearer. In order for a device to become an integral component within our life, it must function in accordance with our needs, do so in a way which is both effective and pleasant, and integrate with our sense of self or identity, which includes things such as aesthetics. That AAC users rely on their devices much more so than typical computer users, to a point that it may actually be considered to be an extension of them self or a part of their identity (Higginbotham, 2010). If this is true, then it is reasonable to assume that aesthetics may be as important to the functioning of the device within the user’s life as the features and functions involved in communication.

This reality offers us a clearer doorway into the future of AAC technology. In order to pursue solutions which are more effective, companies need to focus not only on what the device can do but how it can do it. Over time, we will likely begin to see an increase in popularity of devices such as the iPad within portions of specialized markets such as AAC. We will also likely see an increase in the specialization of devices within more specialized portions of the AAC market. The intricate balance of design and function will continue to drive innovation within these and other markets and will not cease to evolve due to the constant changing nature of technology.

Resources: 

Mirenda, P. (2003). Toward Functional Augmentative and Alternative Communication for Students With Autism: Manual Signs, Graphic Symbols, and Voice Output Communication Aids.. Language, Speech, & Hearing Services in Schools, 34(3), 203-216.

Higginbotham, J. (2010). Book Review: Design Meets Disability. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 26(4), 226-229.

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The power of podcasts!

May 3, 2011 1 comment

Podcasting is a relatively new term which refers to the episodic publishing of audio and video digital media via the internet. This mode of content delivery is highly convenient for content consumers and producers. The process simplifies the delivery of episodic content by allowing the consumer to subscribe to the podcast and receive it automatically and immediately upon its release. This process is facilitated by a podcast feed, which tells the consumer’s podcatching software how to retrieve the digital media associated with the podcast. Podcatching software such as iTunes will automatically download the digital media to the consumer’s computer. Other software such as Google Reader will index the podcast “post” and allow the user to view the digital content if they are connected to the internet. Podcasts may be viewed from a computer or a portable device such as a Smart Phone or tablet. Unlike watching television or listening to the radio live, podcast subscriptions allow consumers to receive content that they are interested in without being subjected to other content they have no interest in.

From a teacher’s perspective, podcasting can be used in a variety of different ways to support learning. For example, podcasts could be used to inform parents and others about the activity of a class, as a supportive learning resource, within the context of a specific learning activity, or as a means to share knowledge and experience with fellow colleagues locally and globally. Today, many teachers are looking far beyond the reaches of their local professional community of colleagues to continue their professional education, keep their teaching fresh and new, and strengthen their presence as a teaching professional. The networked professional relies upon popular social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, blogging platforms such as WordPress and Blogger, and other means of textual, audio, and video communication such as Wiki’s, YouTube, and web sites. Podcasting is a wonderful way to create and publish content that is interrelated and appropriate for publishing as a series. While the work of podcasting may seem daunting at first, once you actually delve into it, you will come to realize how easy it is and how fruitful your product can be for your target audience and others. Podcasting can be a refreshing motivator in many ways.

From the student or consumer perspective, podcasts are both convenient and enjoyable. The experience of consuming podcasts is very much like that of using TIVO with your television. You can pick and choose exactly what you want and then listen to and/or watch the content when, where, and how you want. For students, this is wonderful because it allows them to experience learning in a way that offers greater depth than reading text from a book and the convenience of experiencing it within an environment that they find comfortable and at a time they find suitable. A student is not subject to the distractions which are often present within a classroom. In addition, the student is able to review the learning content as many times as they wish. They are able in some ways to cater the learning experience to their specific needs. What is lacking within this form of learning is live social communication and collaboration. However, this means has an appropriate place within the context of a teacher/class relationship and can append more traditional learning in effective ways. Lastly, for students wishing to broaden their horizons, having the ability to seek out sources of teaching and learning from other teachers via the internet is so wonderful. If one teacher sparks a students’ interest in science, why stop learning within the classroom? Via the web, the student can delve deeply into their interests and do so in a more human and social fashion by tuning into podcasts.

Podcasts can be located in several different ways. If you are an iTunes user, you can look up and subscribe to podcasts within the software. You can also locate podcasts by performing simple web searches. Try searching for “podcast directory” and see what turns up! You will find that there are general directories as well as focused directories. There is a wealth of podcast media out there just waiting to be explored. Dive into the world of learning through podcasts today! Pick a podcast reader and start searching, listening, and subscribing! You might find that it changes your routine instantly! Rather than letting your brain idle while driving or before going to bed at night, tune into quality content that can enrich your life!

I personally recommend using Google Reader to subscribe to and listen to podcasts. It supports selective downloading of podcast audio for offline listening. If you prefer offline listening, I recommend looking into a desktop application such as Juice. To create a podcast, you can use a number of different tools. Within EDTS523, we recently used Garage Band, an application that is preloaded onto Mac computers. Some tools perform straight forward recording while others support the insertion of sound effects, music, and visuals. It might be worth trying out a few different tools to see which is best for you! Happy podcasting!

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Possibilities with Powerpoint!

April 23, 2011 2 comments

Microsoft Powerpoint is an application that has been embraced within the educational community since 1987 primarily as a visual aid within presentation contexts. Most are aware of Powerpoint’s ability to help presenters to lay out and organize textual and graphical information within a “slide show” or progression of pages.

Most people use Powerpoint in the same fashion. They collect all of the information they plan to present and plot the majority of it within slides using bits of graphics, bulleted lists, and font effects to highlight and accentuate certain information. They print their slides and pass them out to their audience. Then, they proceed to present their slides to their audience.

We have all likely experienced this from both sides. Do we agree that the experience tends to be boring? How much information do we retain as an audience member of this type of presentation? How much understanding do we demonstrate as a presenter of this type of presentation? Not much! For these reasons and more, this form of Powerpoint presentation has come to be known as “death by Powerpoint.” Scary.

Dr. Ransom has recently helped us EDTS students to learn about better ways to incorporate Powerpoint into classroom instruction. He has emphasized the need to embrace Powerpoint as a tool and a support and never to rely on it as a primary means. Powerpoint should never be the primary focus. A “slide show” can never be as dynamic, animated, and articulate as a real teacher, so why would we teachers ever step aside and let the “slide show” take over??

There is a lot of information available on the internet about this Powerpoint predicament and what can be done to avoid “death by Powerpoint.” Additionally, while not well known, Powerpoint can be used as more than a presentation aid. In response to Dr. Ransom’s recent request to explore the possibilities of Powerpoint and to design an engaging activity, I learned how to create an animated story with questions, answers, and dynamic feedback to support the teaching of prepositions to students within a 6:1:1 special education classroom setting. The activity could also be implemented within other appropriate settings.

My design was inspired by “Living Books,” which I have witnessed students enjoy a great deal. The story is illustrated with animated picture communication symbols (PECS), sound effects, and music. After reading, listening, and watching a scene, the student is prompted to answer a question involving the use of a preposition. Correct and incorrect feedback is provided and the student must select the correct answer in order to proceed. I designed the activity to support both independent and assisted learning. Audio narration is optional, allowing for a human narrator to take over.

After creating the activity in a recent version of Powerpoint, I realized that compatibility could be an issue. Seeking to overcome the requirement of running Powerpoint or Powerpoint Viewer (since many educators cannot run their own programs on school computers), I discovered a free application called iSpring which allowed me to convert the PPT file to a SWF flash video file which is viewable from an internet browser! (assuming Flash is installed) Click here to check out my first attempt at using Powerpoint in a more non-traditional fashion. Feel free to provide feedback! I am interested to hear your thoughts!

PPT project - sample screen

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Keeping organized and getting things done. (part 2: e-mail)

April 8, 2011 3 comments

E-mail is something that all teachers must do, but not all teachers know how to do well. E-mailing is often handled with the least amount of effort necessary. We login, we check our mail, we read, reply, or compose, and we logout. Repeat. We often have multiple accounts and use them separately for different purposes (work, personal). Perhaps we find ourself losing track of conversations, falling out of sync, and experiencing e-mail as more of a chore than anything else.

If a little time and energy is spent on organizing our e-mail, we can make e-mail a simple and enjoyable activity and can find ourselves better connected to our colleagues and friends, on top of our work, all while spending less time on e-mail. For the purpose of this post, I am going to use Google Mail (GMail) and walk you through a few suggestions. This plan involves using one GMail account as your messaging center, so you’ll need to sign up for GMail if you don’t have it.

Login once and for all.

Most e-mail accounts allow you to forward your incoming mail to another address. By doing this, you can collect your mail in one place rather than 2 or more. Look for forwarding options within your work e-mail settings, or within whatever personal addresses you may have. Set these inboxes to forward all incoming mail to your GMail account.

Be yourself, no matter who you are talking to.

There’s no need to login to your work e-mail to be your work self. Now that all your e-mail is coming to once place, you will want to be able to send and reply from your various addresses. Go to settings > accounts > send mail as. Setup whatever accounts you plan to compose and reply from and check the box “Reply from the same address the message was sent to” so that you don’t accidentally reply from the wrong address.


Let the mail man do the sorting.

With all your mail being delivered in one place, you may feel bombarded. Perhaps it’s the weekend and you don’t want to see an e-mail from a colleague. Setup filters to organize your mail and keep things on your terms. Go to settings > filters. To filter your work mail into one folder, create a new filter and under the “To:” address, enter your work e-mail address. Click next, check “Skip the Inbox (Archive it)” and “Apply the label:” and give it a label such as “Work” and click create. Setup filters and labels until all of your mail is sorted to your liking. Think of this as having sorting bins into which the mail man sorts your mail for you. What a nice mail man!

Prioritize your sorting bins.

If you sort your mail, you probably open certain things before others. Why not make it easy to do the same with e-mail. GMail lets you access various areas of your e-mail (inbox, sent, drafts, spam, labels) from the left pane. Let’s setup this area to our liking. Click settings > labels. Under “system labels,” hide whatever labels are not of great use. Now, do the same with your personal labels. When you’re done, that left pane will only show you what really matters. If you want to get fancy, you can give each sorting bin (label) a color so that it’s easier to recognize – simply click the box to the right of the label within the left pane and choose your color.

Manage follow-up tasks.

When you receive a bill in the mail, you probably put it somewhere to remind yourself that this needs to be handled! Why not do the same with e-mail? Setup a few labels to help you organize follow up tasks. Go to settings > labels. Try creating these three labels: “1) action” “2) some day” “3) waiting on” The numbers 1, 2, and 3 will keep these lables in order within the left pane. Now, when you view an e-mail, you can press V, then 1 or 2 or 3, to flag it. Make sure to add these labels to your left pane so that you can view all “action” or other items by clicking the label.

Star the super important stuff.

Sometimes, sorting bins or not, something important needs to be left right out in the open so that it gets our full attention. We can use GMail’s “stars” and “priority inbox” to accomplish this. Go to settings > priority inbox. Under “Priority Inbox sections:” order the sections as follows: 1. Important and unread. 2. Starred. 3. Everything else. 4. Empty. Now, when you receive an e-mail that is super important, press S to star it (or click the star) and it’ll be kept out in the open for your eyes to always see.

A lot of work? Not really. The result pays off.

The mail man gathers mail addressed to your work, your PO box, and your home and delivers it all to one place. He sorts all of your mail into your bins. You read what you want and mark things for follow up. You respond as a professional, a friend, a mom or dad, all in one place. As time goes on, you save time, energy, and headaches and can spend more time doing what you really want to be doing and less time being the mail man, or woman.

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Keeping organized and getting things done. (part 1: file management)

April 7, 2011 1 comment

A key component of successful teaching practice involves keeping things organized (mentally and physically) and maintaining a workflow that facilitates getting things done. When we do this and do it well, we become free from unneeded stress and anxiety and are able to give ourselves more fully to our teaching and to our students. We can be more creative, more dynamic, and can thoroughly enjoy the experience of teaching with newfound freedom. Our students are greatful when we are able to help them to share in newfound freedom too.

The form of the classroom has changed over the years, including the stuff within it that we work to keep organized. We are managing more digital assets than we ever have before. E-mail, to-do’s, bookmarks, and files are among the many forms of our digital stuff. It is important that we learn about different ways in which to effectively manage these assets so that bottle necks do not form within our work flow and slow us down in general or kill our flow during a critical moment. Within this first post on the topic, I would like to touch on a few ways which I personally find effective in organizing folders and files contained on a local hard disk.

These kinds of files collect on our hard drive as a result of creating them or acquiring them from elsewhere. Within our collection of files, we may have PDF, Office, Smart Notebook files, downloaded e-mails, and others. Some of these files we are actively using within current projects, others have become stagnant but we want to hold onto them for the future, and others are clutter. We also tend to work with our files from many different computers, so being able to access them from different computers and locations is important. Lastly, to avoid losing our files to computer failure, loss, or theft, a good backup strategy is needed.

To keep things organized, I recommend maintaining a meaningful folder structure. For the purpose of this post, let’s refer to your “documents” folder as your “docs” folder, regardless of what it is named and where it resides. To keep it organized, try to see your docs folder as an active working folder rather than simply a place to put things. Use fewer subfolders and give them meaningful names, such as: this week, lessons, homework, ieps, parents, research, other, archive, trash. These are suggestions – you should pick names that fit your flow. To keep folders at the top of a structure, try using an underscore before the name (_this week). A “trash” folder is helpful as it allows you to throw things away without really throwing them away, in case you find yourself digging in the trash for something you wish you hadn’t thrown away.

To keep things accessible from multiple computers, try file synchronization software. Services such as Dropbox and Sugarsync allow you to synchronize up to 2 GB (Dropbox) or 5 GB (Sugarsync) of files for free. Once you setup the software, no further work is involved. Files within the folder(s) you sync automatically go up the web and come down to your other computers. One benefit of web-based sync is that you no longer need to carry your USB key drive around with you which might get left in your computer, lost, stolen, or could break! Another benefit is that these services allow you to easily share your files with others if you so choose. You can also keep the private.

To ensure that you don’t lose your files to hardware failure (a crashed hard drive, etc.), fire, or theft, a good backup strategy is needed. Whether you run Mac OSX, Windows, or Linux, free backup software is available which can be used to backup your data periodically to local storage (ex. usb hard drive, usb thumb drive, network drive). If you don’t have a large amount of data, you could simply manually backup your data by copying your docs folder to another drive. It is important that the drive be external or on a network so that your data is physically located in more than one location, protecting you against fire and theft. Web-based backup solutions are available as well, which allow you to backup your data to the cloud (the web) and restore it if necessary. A co$t is usually involved.

That does it for part one of “keeping organized and getting things done.” If you are still reading and would like more information such as specific software recommendations, feel free to comment and I will reply. Happy organizing!

File Synchronization Services:

File Backup Services (web-based)

File Backup Software:

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Rich, affordable, green computing for the classroom (and elsewhere)

March 22, 2011 7 comments

Computing technology continues to become more affordable and accessible as the years go by. No longer is it necessary to pay $3,000 for a desktop machine that support rich multimedia software applications capable of supporting interactive teaching and learning experiences. A quick glance at Dell.com reveals that an up-to-date PC can be obtained by the general consumer for somewhere in the neighborhood of $500.00 and would support rich multimedia experiences. However, regardless of the price drops in computing technology over the years, it is not uncommon to find old and outdated computers living within the classrooms, libraries, and computer labs within many of our schools.

For a school, the cost of purchasing and maintaining a single machine goes far beyond the initial purchase price. Typically, school districts employ information technology (IT) departments staffed with full time professionals who work to acquire, install, configure, and maintain the machines that serve the needs of the school population. IT departments embrace practices which allow them to handle these tasks in a much more streamlined and efficient fashion than a typical end user or freelance computer techy. Examples include installing & configuring operating systems and software applications in batch vs. individually using hard disk imaging and deployment techniques or diagnosing and fixing problems remotely via a network connection rather than conducting an on-site visit. Regardless of the tricks and tools of the trade, IT costs can add up very quickly and can present significant challenges to school districts that are on a tight budget. Who isn’t on a tight budget these days?!

For the schools that are on a seriously tight budget, what are their options? How can they offer their students access to and instruction about the technologies that they must become familiar with in order to be knowledgeable and functional citizens of today’s world? I would like to delve into these questions by exploring an alternative to traditional (one computer per workstation) computing known as multiseat computing. Multiseat computing involves utilizing a single computer to serve the needs of multiple users simultaneously. This requires implementing a combination of hardware and software which allows a single desktop computer to be connected to many workstations (each having its own keyboard, mouse, and monitor) and to perform operations requested by all users simultaneously. The desktop computer acts as a server, a shared resource working for many users rather than working for only one user.

The user experience is very much the same as it has been. Upon logging into the operating system from their workstation, users are presented with a personal desktop from which they may launch applications, create & save files, browse the web, print documents, and perform other tasks. The user experience may be tailored to the needs of a specific environment. For example, within a classroom, long term user accounts may be configured to support users’ ability to store their files throughout the school year. Software features allow a teacher to monitor users, access students’ files, grade work, and more. Within a library setting, public user accounts may be configured to automatically purge temporary files and user data upon shutdown to support privacy and simple maintenance. Software features are easy to learn and use regardless of the setting.

Let’s take a quick look at video of two multiseat computing solutions currently available, Windows Multipoint Server and Userful Linux. Currently, there is no Mac OSX based multiseat solution available.

Windows Multipoint Server:


Userful Linux:


There are costs and benefits to each solution which should be evaluated by persons interested in potentially implementing a multiseat solution. Factors to consider when selecting the right solution for your needs include:

  • Hardware requirements
  • Support for hardware (printers, scanners, etc.)
  • Software application support
  • Supported software application feature sets
  • Administrative Requirements
  • Security
  • Cost (hardware, operating system, applications, training, energy)

The benefits are likely purcolating within your mind already. Some benefits of implementing a multiseat solution include:

  • Financial savings (hardware, software, energy, administration, maintenance, e-waste)
  • Computer access & availability to individuals, groups, and orgs who cannot suffice on a 1 machine-per-user model or have limited or no IT support resources
  • Specific benefits to teachers, learners, and other types of users

For more information about the cost and environmental savings, refer to this page provided by Userful Linux which compares a 10 user multiseat setup with a 10 user machine-per-user setup and details the manufacturing savings in terms of electricity, produced CO2, chemicals, and water as well as the yearly usage savings in terms of electricity and produced CO2.

After learning about the benefits and savings of implementing green multiseat computing, it is difficult to understand why so many IT departments have not yet implemented this technology! In many instances, the individual machines that are currently being used by 1 user at a time could be utlized as a multiseat server! If you are a fellow Nazareth student, you might find yourself thinking about this the next time you walk through the library and hear all of those computer fans whirring about, keeping all of those powerful computers running cool while students type their papers using Microsoft Word or browse the web using Firefox. You might consider mentioning multiseat computing to your IT department and encourage them to go green!

Beyond the school and the classroom are many other environments that could stand to benefit from multiseat computing, including offices, recreational centers, internet cafes, and homes. I am currently implementing a Userful Linux multiseat setup for a local church interested in supporting their surrounding community. I am using a donated desktop computer (3-4 years old) and donated monitors, keyboards, and mice to create a 3-4 user (to start) multiseat setup. I will be sure to post the results of the project once we are all setup and running! The actual startup cost per seat for this project will be around $50.00 which the community is very happy about.

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The world is your classroom.

March 10, 2011 1 comment

The ongoing development of technological infrastructure including the internet and internet based applications is working quickly toward attempting to intricately connect us with one another across the globe in new and supposedly more dynamic ways. The walls which once divided us and made it difficult to know and relate to those beyond our close proximity are quickly falling and crumbling at our feet.

This reality is present both within and outside of the classroom. Last week, Dr. Ransom spoke in his EDTS523 class about the ways in which higher levels of connectivity are impacting life within the classroom. He spoke of how the classroom was once a place where students went and in a sense, were logged in with full screen enabled and committed (whether willfully or not) to life as it had been planned by their instructors.

In film, we have often seen the traditional classroom depicted as a place where the teacher presides with authority and control, expecting students to follow their lead, adopt specific goals, and for their behavior to reflect sharing in those goals. Here, life within the classroom is like a sort of classroom trip on a school bus, with the teacher at the wheel making all of the directional decisions, expecting (and requesting) the students to be satisfied with the trip, regardless of where any of them might like to go and what any of them might like to see.

For some students, this is not a great problem. Some are able to find fulfillment in living out a role that has been created for them while adding bits of an authentic self to the mix when and where possible in order to maintain some level of satisfaction. For others, this type of environment creates a major dilemma within which they may feel deprived of the ability to live, to be themself, and to engage in learning that is fun, enjoyable, and natural.

When a student finds themself within such a dilemma, three (or more) possibilities may occur. They may decide to make a fresh attempt at adopting the prescribed role that a teacher has set out for them. They may rebel against the authority of their teacher in various ways. Or, they may “check out” to some degree, or all together. Checking out is likely more common than rebellion, as from a student’s perspective, it may seem the more rational thing to do in the face of dominant authority and unchanging circmstance, not to mention is likely seen as less risky too.

As students (and many other things), we have all checked out before. Perhaps we found ourself glancing at a book unrelated to the lesson, peering out a window which welcomed our curiosity, playing music in our mind, or doodling pictures on paper. In such a dilemma, it is difficult not to check out. Within our very nature is a propensity to learn, explore, discover, experience, and create, and to do so in communion with others. Within such a dilemma, we find ourself disabled rather than enabled, contained rather than set free. Naturally, we check out and seek out furtile soil within which we may learn, grow, and experience life more fully.

If we are students and we are plants, then our teacher should be a good gardener. To be a good gardener, they must recognize that we are similar in that we are plants, yet also very different. Some are fruits, some vegetables, some flowers, and some cactii. As students or plants, we do not always choose what makes us similar and what makes us different. Forgive us when some of us do not understand why we are all treated as fruit trees when not all of us are fruit trees. When we are all treated as fruit trees, some of us bear fruit, and others do not.

If our garden or classroom is to be a healthy place, a special sort of gardener is needed. A special gardener must be without preference for certain kinds of plants. They must be open to possibilities beyond their current experience and perhaps even their vision of possibility. They must be prepared to embrace newness in a dynamic way, ready to learn, grow, and change with other members of the garden. They must be ready to be a student and a teacher, a gardener and a gardenee, not one day to the next, rather moment by moment.

In the days of the black and white classics, it was a bit easier for a teacher (gardener) to close their door and do their own thing. It seems that it was more OK for them to work at growing only fruit trees and for the other plants to suffer. That was school. That was life. Supposedly, a great deal has changed since those days. Educational theorists have helped to enlighten us to the reality that not all students (plants) are the same and in fact, none are the same. A great deal of research has taken place and teachers are better equipped and hopefully more motivated to be that special gardener, to nourish and grow plants of all sorts, each distinctively unique from the other.

Laws governing the practice and environment of education have changed to support this new reality, which isn’t really new at all. We might say that our awareness is new, but not all of our awareness is dependent upon an intellectual acquisition of knowledge provided by researchers and contemplatives. Perhaps our collective agreement about the reality of learning is changing. The classroom door has been thrown open and now, whether intrinsically motivated or not, we have agreed that not all plants are the same, and all deserve equal nourishing, and that we must be a special sort of gardener in order to help them to flourish, and if we are not, then we may need to co-garden with one another in order to succeed.

Technology has helped to support the opening of the door, the knocking down of the classroom walls. No longer are any of us as limited in our ability to know of the reality of a garden in which all plants may grow and flourish and to understand what it is that facilitates such a life within the classroom. Nor are students as limited in their ability to know of such a reality, to understand what is is that facilitates such a life, and to seek it out if they so please. Technology has empowered individuals, whether teacher or student or other, to at the very least become more aware of activity within the world, to become more knowledgeable about the world. Students can no longer be logged into the classroom in full screen mode by an administrative user. They are not fooled by such tactics and now possess the power to disable full screen mode and to switch tabs if they so please.

This phenomenon is occurring across the globe within all facets of life and not necessarily because of technology, since the propensity for leading a fulfilling life has and will always be within our own nature, but technology has helped to support the collective understanding of that propensity as being a shared propensity and a good propensity, one that deserves attention regardless of discrepancies and differences. Indeed, this propensity is getting attention. Within the news, we see and hear stories of a drastic need for change within education as a result of many types of plants clearly not thriving within our gardens. Is something wrong with the plants? Is something wrong with the gardener? Is something wrong with the tools? Is something wrong with the weather? We may want to quickly discern what is wrong, fix it, and get back to gardening. However, the art of gardening seldom involves quick fixes. It is a delicate art and we will need to take great care in how we approach each moment, whether or not we are in the midst of a dilemma.

While it may be difficult to find a film playing in black and white in the theater, it is not so difficult to find a teacher who still continues to teach as though they were growing a garden of only fruit trees. Regardless of the potentials of our collective awareness, a teacher is an individual and has the ability to exert their own free will. However, now that the door is no longer closed, choices that are unhealthy for the garden are no longer as easily supported by anonymity. Technology is acting to louden the voices of students. If they are suffering, no longer must their cries for help go unheard. Calling, texting, e-mailing, facebooking, tweeting, blogging, and vlogging are among the tools that students are well versed in using and will naturally use to express themselves if unable to do so within the classroom. The walls of the classroom may still be there, but they have become transparent. How will this change the reality of life within the classroom? Clearly, we are seeing it change life outside of the classroom with each new day.

Perhaps the classroom will no longer exist as a hidden place, accessible to outsiders by means of word-to-mouth, or through various gatekeepers such as teachers and school administrators. While policy and politics may work toward the preservation of the hidden classroom, the power of policy cannot overcome the natural propensity to live fully that we all share. Teachers, administrators, and others involved in the world of education might be wise in submitting to this propensity and working with it rather than against it, out of fear or other unnecessary emotions or rationale. Whether they do or do not, passionate teachers are collecting and congregating and are doing so not within a faculty lounge which is confined by walls, but within a faculty lounge that is without walls and where all are welcome to join in the discussion and participate.

Though the news may seem bleek, this is a time for passionate teachers and students to celebrate, for having the opportunity to explore the potentials of a life of learning together, knowing that we are supported by “the rest of us,” seen and unseen, and aware that the propensity that moves us is alive and cannot be diminished, regardless of circumstance, of politics, and whatever else might prevent one from seeing the beauty in a flourishing garden of diversity.

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