My OTRK12 reflections

I spent most of this week in Mississauga, planning and helping to run the On The Rise: K-12 Digital Learning symposium. We had less than two months from semi-approval to event date, so timelines were super-tight. Plus, March Break finished about 10 days before the symposium…

Well, it was tough to plan, but it was awesome. e-Learning Ontario provided enough funds for us to bring educators from all over the province, providing equity for those from distant boards (read: Northern Ontario). It gave us an opportunity to meet face-to-face with the people in our region whom we usually only get to connect online with through Adobe Connect or Skype. I didn’t get quite enough time with my Sudbury-North Bay friends because of my schedule, but we were able to reconnect over one meal with the Northwest folks on Monday night at least.

I also had the opportunity to meet a number of educators from around Ontario who, up until now, had been exclusively digital acquaintances. I got a chance to meet @ColleenKR, @MarkWCarbone, @pauldhondt, and a bunch of others. I heard from several people that the networking opportunities were awesome, and I have to agree.


John Baker from D2L and Dr. John Malloy from HWDSB were both awesome keynote speakers. I could probably write a whole post about their speeches, but I’ll just let you look at my Twitter feed for Tuesday, March 26th (Baker) and Wednesday, March 27th (Malloy). I’ll mention here that Dr. Malloy referred quite a bit to “A New Culture of Learning” by Thomas and Brown, which I now must buy.


Most of my work on OTRK12 happened before the conference began, so I was mostly able to attend the sessions I wanted to. A couple of them really stick out in my mind:

SG1 – Small Group – Administrators

I didn’t get to attend this one, but I heard so much about how awesome it was I figured I should mention it. :)

T11 – Adobe Connect

Okay, this is the one I delivered. The audience was very mixed (teachers, admin, eLCs, elementary and secondary), and I’ll admit to feeling a little scattered. Thankfully the technology functioned nicely, so I didn’t have to fall back on my local PowerPoint of screenshots. If anyone has any questions about using Adobe Connect as a teacher, program resource person, or an administrator, feel free to contact me.

T22 – Leading an Engaging Online Learning Program in Your Secondary School

This was a presentation/conversation by one of my favourite people in education, @fryed. A principal and a superintendent from my board attended this session, and the perspective from Superior-Greenstone was perfectly relevant to the challenges and opportunities we have in Algoma. Thanks, Donna!

W42 – Looking Good: Giving Your Themes, Homepages and Navbars a Graphic Designer’s Touch

This is another I-didn’t-get-to-go-but-it-was-awesome session. @timrobinsonj and @PJAnello hosted this workshop, and the excitement and laughter was all over Twitter. (They’re also from my region, but that’s not the only reason they’re awesome)

W56 – Round Table: Barrier Busters for Administrators

This session was the last one of the conference for me, and it was great. People didn’t want to stop the conversation because it was so rich, but we had to cut it off. There were some really, really smart people there, and the depth of their thinking on the issues surrounding e-Learning and Blended Learning was really impressive. I heard especially great thoughts from @markwcarbone and @WallwinS, some of which are now immortalized in my Twitter feed.

My Algoma Team

I was fortunate to be able to bring two principals, four teachers, and a superintendent to OTRK12. The shared experiences, the development of perspective, and the excited planning over lunch and on breaks were exactly what I was hoping for when I committed to this conference. I have such high hopes now for our board as we move thoughtfully forward in more fully implementing digital learning in our classrooms and for professional sharing and development.

Bittersweet, as always

It was emotional saying goodbye to everyone again. I’ve been working closely with these folks for weeks, months, and even years in a few cases, and they’re among the greatest people I’ve ever known. I can’t imagine that another group anywhere has the kind of passion, vision, caring, and enthusiasm as the delegates at OTRK12. From where I’m sitting, it was the greatest single event to advance digital learning across all of Ontario that I’ve ever seen. I’m crossing my fingers and looking forward to next year!

ReplaceStrings for D2L From Dave Baker

Here’s what @DaveBakerD2L sent me today:

We are adding more as we go but here is a fairly comprehensive list:

Org Info:
OrgID: {OrgID}
OrgName: {OrgName}

Course Info:
OrgUnitID: {OrgUnitID}
OrgUnitName: {OrgUnitName}
OrgUnitCode: {OrgUnitCode}
OrgUnitPath: {OrgUnitPath}

User Info:
UserId: {UserId}
OrgDefinedId: {OrgDefinedId}
UserName: {UserName}
FirstName: {FirstName}
LastName: {LastName}
InternalEmail: {InternalEmail}
ExternalEmail: {ExternalEmail}
RoleId: {RoleId}
RoleCode: {RoleCode}

For the Current OrgUnit:

For the Organization:

For the current user:

The user’s role in the current orgunit:

Intelligent Agents:

What replace strings can I use in the subject and message?

The following are replace strings you can use in the subject line and the message (email body).

{OrgName} – The name of the organization.
{OrgUnitCode} – The code for the org unit.
{OrgUnitName} – The name of the org unit.
{OrgUnitStartDate} – The start date specified for the org unit.
{OrgUnitEndDate} – The end date specified for the org unit.
{InitiatingUserFirstName} – The first name of the initiating user.
{InitiatingUserLastName} – The last name of the initiating user.
{InitiatingUserUserName} – The username of the initiating user.
{InitiatingUserOrgDefinedId} – The Org Defined ID of the initiating user.
{LoginPath} – The address of the login path for the site.

Giant Conference

How to plan a giant conference without losing your mind

Giant Conference

Well, eSymposium2012 was in November, and OTRK12 is next week. I’ve learned a lot about planning conferences this year, having been on the planning team for both events. I’ll pass along a few tidbits of wisdom that you might be able to use (and that I should refer to next year). A bunch of this is registration-type stuff, but some of it is big picture.

Label your workshop sessions in an human-understandable, machine-sortable way.

For example, I should have used 1A-01 for Day 1, Session block A,  Workshop 1. Other sessions during that block would be 1A-02…1A-10. The next block would start 1B-11…1B-21. Day 2 would start 2A-31, or whatever the first available number would be.

This is sortable (important to use two digits for the session number) and understandable (when you see it all laid out, at least). It’s best not to start the numbers over for each day/block, because the participants can easily distinguish between 1B-22 and 2B-52, but 1B-22 and 2B-22 is harder.

Have one Google Spreadsheet with many worksheets.

Share it with the planning team. Put it all in one place, not in multiple workbooks. Everyone goes to the same link, and you can just say “go to the Workshops tab” or “I made a new sheet for ‘Lessons Learned'”.

Versioning is awesome, and it’ll save your bacon when someone accidentally deletes the workshop titles or every participant’s email address.

Have a website that can be updated by multiple people.

This is really important. We all have other jobs to look after, so this isn’t just about the website, or registration system, or any other component. If only one person has access, that’s a bottleneck or a single point of failure. It’s still good to have a go-to, primary person for the website, but there needs to be at least one other person waiting in the wings who can make changes quickly.

Have a website that can handle useful widgets.

We used a Google Site for OTRK12, and it doesn’t seem to be able to handle widgets very well. I can’t seem to get a Twitter Search widget working so that we can have a live feed of the #OTRK12 hashtag. Help would be appreciated. WordPress perhaps would have been a better option, in retrospect.

Order extra food.

Don’t assume the portions will be sufficient. Order at least enough food for an additional 5-10% of your numbers so that the venue is prepared and prompt. It’ll cost you, but it’s better than running out, believe me.

Include both roles and specific tasks in the spreadsheet, and refer to them constantly.

This is a nod to Martha Walli, big time. Every task is listed in a sheet in the planner workbook, and when they’re completed it’s indicated (with a “completed” note beside it, or with a strikethrough). Also, the person responsible to look after the task is listed beside it. Then everyone knows who is looking after everything.

Use dropdowns/radio buttons instead of text fields wherever possible/appropriate during registration.

For example, we asked people to type in their board name for OTRK12. That was a no-no. Even though it’s long, we should have provided a list of all 60 boards to choose from, and then an “Other” option with a text field. I’ve spent waaaay too much time standardizing board names (is there a hyphen in Simcoe-Muskoka?), and there are another 20 that need fixing.

Make things big and bold.

We had some important links that were smaller and less contrasty than other stuff, and they were missed by people because of it. We should have done that differently.

Use separate fields for everything you can, and error-check if appropriate.

First and last names need to be separate fields. Make sure you can see the date and time people registered. Email addresses have a particular format that can be checked for; if it’s reasonable, do it. Clean up any commas in registration if you’re getting CSV files out of the system; better yet, get Excel sheets or Google Spreadsheets out of the system.

Remember to allow for extensions in phone numbers

Don’t use the 3-field format; just use a text field so people can type in what they need to. I appreciate it when people use forms like 705-555-1212,10216 so that a smartphone will pause to give time before entering the extension.

Delay registration until your workshop lineup is finalized.

Our short turnaround on everything for OTRK12 meant that we didn’t have our workshop lineup finalized until about two weeks before the conference starts, and March Break was in that two weeks. Ouch.

So we opened up initial registration in late February, then asked everyone to go back and register immediately following March Break. There were a few glitches, which was unfortunate, but the turnaround time was simply too short. I’ve been emailing like crazy trying to get everyone to select sessions so that we can allocate breakout rooms to presenters. Wild. I think we’d have been better off delaying the whole registration process until the workshops were finalized; certainly it would have been less work for me.

Create tracks, and make sure there is a path for each one.

This is something I think we did especially well this year. For example, if you were a principal, there were/are sessions appropriate for administrators during every session block. Categorize your audience and ensure there is a track for each category. If possible, provide a choice of sessions during each block for each track (e.g. at least two sessions for Blended Learning teachers, two for admin, two for eLCs/DeLCs, two for e-Learning teachers).

Allocate rooms for breakouts based on session registrations.

Let people choose their sessions, then decide where to hold them. Try to have at least two, preferably three largish rooms available. At the same time, try to anticipate which sessions will be wildly popular, and put them in different session blocks (e.g. don’t put Rose in the same block as the iOS Slam).

This approach is harder for the planning team, but you’re way more likely to give people everything they want. And that’s the point, right? For eSymposium, our breakout rooms were of limited size, so we ended up running multiple copies of sessions simultaneously. Fortunately we had a fantastic team of presenters/facilitators who were willing and able to do this (yay Sudbury-North Bay Region!) and it worked out beautifully.

Get tons of WiFi.

Choose a venue that can handle Internet access for more people than you’re expecting. By a factor of three, preferably. Everyone brings multiple devices to these things; that’s the way things are. The hotel/conference centre won’t believe you, but you need more connections and bandwidth than they’ll think you do.

Use Twitter

Use a hashtag related to your event (just one; we accidentally had #esym2012 and #esymp2012 both going; it’s #OTRK12 for this conference). Plaster it everywhere. Pick it way in advance, advertise it lots. Post using it, follow it, retweet interesting stuff. As a conference attendee, Twitter becomes my note-taking machine, and is my search engine for it later.

Hey, if you’re not attending OTRK12 next week, please follow on Twitter (I like TweetDeck for the speedy updates) and retweet the stuff you think is useful.

Delegate, but designate a watchdog.

This one’s the hardest, but the most important. Another lesson from Martha. Don’t try to do everything yourself. Get a team, divide the responsibilities according to expertise and availability, and run with it. But someone has to check on everything, to make sure nothing’s slipping through the cracks. It’s a job all by itself, srsly. Choose the person with the broadest range of skills, who can help almost anyone else who’s having difficulty, and make them the watchdog. But maybe call them first aid, or renaissance-helper, or something; it sounds nicer.

Lego alternative model 6910

Lego Alternative Model 6910

I was playing Lego with the kids today and I thought I’d make and alternative model for the Lego Creator 3-in-1 set #6910. Alternative models only use pieces from a particular set. Here’s what I came up with:

Lego alternative model 6910

I didn’t use the wheel pieces either; they’re in the box.

Here’s a front view:

Lego alternative model 6910

And a view from behind:

Lego alternative model 6910
Have you made any alternative models?

Learning About the Chaotic Trading Card Game (TCG)

I recently came across a sale on packages of Chaotic cards. I hadn’t really heard of the game before, and I had never played a trading card game (I had heard of Magic: The Gathering and a few others, but never played). The Chaotic packages were pretty cheap, and so after a quick check on my phone for reviews, I bought a few starter packs and a bunch of booster packs.

The artwork is pretty excellent. I’m not familiar with the standard images on TCG cards, but these seem pretty well done to me. Some are more digital-looking, others appear more painted or hand-drawn.

I wasn’t prepared for how complicated the game is. I didn’t know what to expect, but Chaotic is far more nuanced than I imagined it would be. There are five different basic card types, many of which are divided into five tribes. There are six different attributes to track for each creature, and a two-dimensional gameplay surface.

There are two sets of rules: Apprentice Rules and Master Rules. The Apprentice Rules are pretty straightforward as they ignore a large part of the detail of the game. The Master Rules are far more interesting, but I find a couple of points confusing. I don’t quite understand all of the details of the Burst, and I’m not clear about when exactly a player can use Mugic. The tutorial on the Chaotic Game site was pretty good, but didn’t quite give me everything I was looking for.

I used the list provided at to help me sort through the cards I have already. I have a few cards in the M’arrellian Invasion, the Zenith of the Hive, the Dawn of Perim, and the Silent Sands series, but most are in the Turn of the Tide series. I put the list of the Turn of the Tide cards in a Google spreadsheet; feel free to take a look.

Comments and suggestions are welcome – I’m still not 100% clear on the rules, so if someone can help I’d appreciate it.

Whispersync is cheaper, it seems

I recently bought “Ashes of Victory” by David Weber on Amazon for $6.76. The audiobook on Audible is $24.95, although clicking through to Audible from Amazon drops the price (inexplicably) to $21.95.

But there is no Whispersync for this title. I’m not sure if they haven’t gotten around to it, or if it’s not on the list to be synced.

This poses a serious problem for me. The book is 672 pages (according to Amazon; it is an e-book, after all), and the audiobook is 25.75 hours. I can read the book in about 11 hours, but I need my eyes to do it. I can listen to the audiobook without my eyes, but it takes more than twice as long. If I split my time 50/50 between formats, it’ll be 5.5+12.875=17.375 hours to complete it.

Maybe the math was unnecessary.

It would cost me an extra $21.95 to get the professional narration for this book. If it were a Whispersync title, I would get a deeper discount on the audiobook. Check out this example:

“The Way of Kings” by Brandon Sanderson is $11.48 for the Kindle edition. It’s $63.93 for the Audible narration ($47.95 through the Amazon link to Audible). If I buy the Kindle edition first, the Whispersync Audible narration is only $7.99 (an extra $40 off or so).

If I were exclusively buying audiobooks, I’d be buying a lot of extra Kindle editions to make the audiobooks cheaper, and I’d be primarily buying Whispersync-ready titles.

Admittedly, I’m not an Audible Member (i.e. I don’t have a membership plan for monthly credits), so I’m not saving the 30% they would normally give on all purchases (for “The Way of Kings” the price would only be $44.75), but that’s still waaay more than buying the Kindle edition first.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the discount applied even if the book wasn’t Whispersync-ready?