The past week in Hong Kong has been amazing and filled with learning on many fronts for me. Here are a few takeaways about history, geography, technology, and other topics.

View of the International Finance Center in Hong Kong

Paul White and other east Asia technology directors created this private Ning which has become an international learning community for school technology directors. It is private in part because administrators do not want it to become a forum for vendors to advertise. Any technology director of any size school worldwide is welcome to join.

Prior to the 21st Century Learning @ Hong Kong Conference and this week’s trip, my knowledge of Hong Kong’s history was extremely limited. It is still limited, but I certainly know a great deal more. I’ve been reading (and almost finished) Shouhua Qu’s outstanding book, “Bridging the Pacific: Searching for Cross-Cultural Understanding Between the United States and China.” I had heard of the Opium War, but didn’t realize that conflict in 1840 led to the annexation and forced-lease of Hong Kong, Kowloon, and the “new territories” and the 99 year old lease which expired in 1997. I naively had not realized Britain was paying China IN opium for years, and it was the Chinese government’s eventual actions to stop the opium trade from India (which had led, according to Qu, to up to 90% of the population being addicted to opium) which led to the Opium War and Hong Kong’s creation. I knew a little about the Cultural Revolution and had heard of the Long March, but had not sequenced the history of the Chinese “War of Resistance Against Japan” (1937 – 1945,) the Chinese Civil War (1945 – 1949,) the Cultural Revolution (1966 – 1976,) and the Tienanmen Square Protest / Massacre (1989.) I didn’t know the Long March started with 100,000 people and ended with less than 9000. I didn’t know “United States” means “beautiful country” in Chinese. I did not know there are three tunnels for cars which go under Hong Kong harbor (Victoria Harbour) and connect the island with the mainland.

Our Ferry to Discovery Bay in Hong Kong

I have had some exposure to expat (expatriate) culture when I studied in Mexico City in 1992-93, as well as during a trip to the Dominican Republic in 2005 and China in 2007, and I gained a few more insights during this trip to Hong Kong. Because labor costs are so low in developing countries, expats can often afford to hire servants to work in their homes as maids, cooks, gardeners, nannys, etc. In Hong Kong, the cost for a servant is about $500 per month. There are very different human dynamics at work in these relationships, and I’m not going to pass judgement here– but I will say the world of expats is in many ways VERY different from the lifestyles of people in the U.S. with whom I’m more familiar. There are certainly colonial dynamics still at work in Hong Kong, and in many other parts of the world, and given the economic realities of these regions I doubt they will change substantially in the near term. We have some good friends from South Africa now who live in Oklahoma, and they have told us about how common it is there for wealthier families to have servants also. This is a BIG cultural difference from the communities in which I’ve lived most of my life in the midwestern United States.

I really enjoyed hanging out with Aussies Bruce Dixon and Robyn Treyvaud this week, and was able to learn a good deal more about Australian rules football as well as many technology topics as a result of our time together. After watching the Kiwis beat the Aussies in rubgy Saturday night in downtown Hong Kong, it was fun to cheer the Geelong Cats on to victory with Robyn. Now they’ll be in the AFL Grand Final later this month. I wonder where we could go watch this in Oklahoma?!

Watching Kiwi - Aussie Rugby in Hong Kong

Australian Rules Football

I was interested to learn Hong Kong and New Zealand are apparently the only places in the world where consumers can legally purchase an unlocked Apple iPhone. The governments in both places have insisted that Apple provide unlocked phones, so they have done so. It would have been SO nice to have an unlocked iPhone this past week, so I could have simply purchased a local SIM card and used it in China. I haven’t jailbroken my iPhone GS, but I really wish it wasn’t locked to AT&T at this point. I’ll be returning to Asia at the end of October for another conference near Shanghai, in Hangzhou, and again an unlocked iPhone would come in handy. (sigh) Perhaps the AT&T exclusive iPhone contract in the U.S. will end in less than the five years I heard it was supposed to last… It was interesting to learn Amazon does not sell Kindle eBook readers in Hong Kong at all. Not sure why.

Chris Smith told me about the web browser-based application and site Screenr, and predicted it would be the most exciting thing I’d learn about the entire conference. He might be right. I haven’t tried it yet, but the very idea of recording and web-posting a screencast without downloading any client-based software is amazing. Screencasts can be posted to the Screenr website as well as YouTube, and Tweeted out within the website. This sixty second video gives an overview. Excellent.

I had several good conversations with people the last day of the conference about the live-tweeting which took place on Saturday. I may have been overly critical with some of my tweets, and I appreciated several people talking with me personally about this at the conference. I suppose it is always true that when you offer criticism, some people may get upset, but when you offer praise generally no one protests. The final keynote was the only one for which the live Twitter feed of the conference hashtag was shown on a big screen at the front of the gymnasium. In the future, I’m going to be more conservative when tweeting critically.

Parental expectations for “traditional” school experiences can be strong everywhere, but it seems they are particularly strong in Asian International schools. Korean parents, especially, have (in some cases) rigorously demanding expectations for their students which can cross all lines of reasonability. “Tutorial” afterschool classes in Hong Kong are now a booming business. Everyone wants their kids to do well on standardized tests. The pressure is higher than ever, and no one in Hong Kong is blaming NCLB. Most of this pressure comes directly from parents. How do you help parents understand there is more to the educational experience than simply preparing their children to do well on college entrance exams? That is a question we tackled in one of the forums at the conference, and it’s a very challenging one.

I was interested to learn the non-International / regular Hong Kong schools are still “two track,” following the system implemented by the British to ensure they’d have plenty of servant-class workers. At the end of primary school, students take a BIG test to determine if they’ll be among the 20% to continue on a college-prep track, or among the 80% who will be destined for a non-degreed, laborer life. There are some moves afoot to change this, but the system remains in place at this point. I was not able to visit any ‘regular’ (non-International) schools on this trip, but hope I’ll be able to at some point in the future. We have wide gaps among different schools in the United States, and that is apparently the case in Hong Kong as well. I’d like to see those differences firsthand at some point.

If you’ve followed my posts from this week, you hopefully read both “The Natives are Getting Restless: Growing Up and Learning in a Web 2.0 World” and “Our 21st Century Challenge: Developing Responsible, Ethical and Resilient Digital Citizens” by Robyn Treyvaud. Robyn has a kindred spirit to my own, as a passionate educator on a mission to promote digital citizenship (not simply conversations about “Internet safety”) in our schools with not only students and teachers, but also with parents. Robyn shared a wealth of resources and good ideas, and I’ll be using many of them in upcoming weeks as I continue to offer the “Digital Dialog” class on Wednesday nights for families in our Edmond church.

Bruce Dixon is the most knowledgeable person I know on our planet about educational 1:1 initiatives, since he’s been working intensively with laptop project schools for the past twenty years. Among many other things, I was very interested to learn a lot of background about the laptop rollout in New South Wales, Australia, which Bruce has helped shape and define. I had no idea Windows7 had rolled out on those Lenovo student netbooks. I wrote a post about this earlier this afternoon with more details.

jQTouch is a free “jQuery plugin for mobile web development” which three students at Hong Kong International School used to create the iPhone / iTouch mobile website for this week’s conference. More details are available on this post on the HKIS website. Way to go HKIS students! Woo hoo!

I knew a little about the IB program, but learned a lot more about the primary years program (PYP) and middle years program (MYP) as a result of my tours of three Hong Kong International schools last week. I’m interested in taking this knowledge back to my son’s Oklahoma City magnet school, Classen SAS, which is an IB school. I haven’t heard anyone talk about MYP there, so I don’t know the degree to which they are implementing the full IB program. Schools which implement IB at all three levels are known as IB “World Schools.”

I’m very interested in electronic portfolios, so I was glad to learn about Folios International this week. They are an Australian-based software maker. I think their software is primarily client-based and eportfolios are designed to be burned to CD or DVD, rather than remain web-based. Still, I’m glad to learn about their company and product. Due to my own scheduled sessions I wasn’t able to attend one Friday on using Adobe Acrobat to create rich-media portfolios, but I did speak with that presenter afterwards. This is similar to the session Allanah King offered at the Learning @ School conference in New Zealand in February. (“Creating and Managing Digital Portfolios Using Adobe Acrobat“) We need to be doing a LOT more with ePorfolios in our schools, IMHO, and PDFs offer one viable, cross-platform way to go. I want to learn more about schools using Mahara for ePortfolios. I’m likely going to share a session in China at the end of October on “Assessing Creativity,” so I’ll be doing some research along these lines in the next month. If you have any links to share related to ePorfolios (particularly web-based ones) please share them here as comments!

Derek Rutt, the Director of IT for the International School of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, toured three Hong Kong schools with me on Wednesday thanks to our knowledgeable tour guide, Paul White. I was amazed to learn from Derek that technology imports in Vietnam are subject to a 45% governmental tax! Wow! That really adds some cost to the tablet-PC 1:1 initiative they are implementing.

I have not used Adobe Connect as a synchronous webinar environment, but did learn from a conference session participant that in its current form Apple / Mac users cannot be the producer / presenters of sessions with all available functionality. Only Windows-based users can do that. Come on, Adobe, don’t you know we’ve got a lot of Apple-using educators out here who’d like to try your product, but probably will NOT since you’re not providing cross-platform support like Elluminate?!

During my VoiceThread workshop Saturday, “Collaboratively Sharing Student Work with VoiceThread,” one of the participants shared that you can now change the order of submitted comments (the order in which they play back) by dragging and dropping the comment audio on the timeline at the bottom of a VoiceThread you own. More details are available on the VoiceThread blog. Woo hoo!

John D’Arcy at Canadian International School shared on Wednesday their students are using BoinxTV software to edit videos powerfully with green screen effects. I’m going to have to check out that software! Here’s a photo from our visit to Canadian, including Paul White, yours truly, Derek Rutt, and John D’Arcy.

Paul White, Wesley Fryer, Derek Rutt, and John D'Arcy

Since they are now 1:1 in grades 5 and above at Canadian, they’ve converted one of their computer labs to a green screen video production room for students. What a great idea!

Green screen video production room

Green screen video production room

This was a new term for me: “Peda-fishing” is when students play a dangerous game of goading (and in some times taking money) from online pedophiles.

EdSteps is a Gates Foundation supported effort to explore and promote writing ePortfolios for students. I’m very interested in learning more about this initiative.

Can you tell I’m in the midst of a 4.5 hour layover in Minneapolis, waiting to take my last flight home to Oklahoma?! Thankfully, my 30 hour travel saga today is almost over. That ends (for now) my shared “takeaways” from #21chk!

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