Copyright or copyleft?

Last week I blogged about my progress in ECI 831 and how I thought I was slowly getting a handle on some of the things that we were trying to do. That was last week… before I sat in on a class with Scott Leslie and Brian Lamb and their discussion on remixing education.  I had to re-listen to the class recording yesterday, because for part of the time, I was not even sure what they were talking about.  It isn’t that I did not realize that such things existed and, of course, I had seen countless examples of mash-ups in various places.  I just didn’t make the connection.

According to Scott Leslie, a mash-up is “taking 2 or more different things (be they content or services) and turning them into something else. I started doing some searches around the web for some ideas about mash-ups, so that I could get a better understanding.  Most of my search time was spent at the web site,  Rip! A Remix Manifesto.  I watched 8 chapters of  a documentary film about copyright and remix culture made by Brett Gaylor.  The film is done in chapters, each dealing with  different aspects of copyright vs. remix. Gregg Gillis, better known as Girl Talk,  an artist that specializes in remix music, is the main focus of the documentary. At the end of each chapter is a invitation to add to the film at Open Source Cinema and create your own version of remix, so to speak.

Now, no wonder people like me feel a bit overwhelmed trying to keep up.  I don’t know whether to give my brain a rest or keep hanging on in case I lose whatever progress I have made so far.  I am not sure how I feel about remix… Is it breaking copyright law?  Or is it necessary, so that we can be creative?  As the film points out, copyright law was originally created to promote creativity and now it seems to be trying to control it.  Is that true or does it depend on your perspective?  Should I be in favor of copyright or copyleft?

It is funny how I immediately made a connection in my own world to this whole discussion. The best part about the job that I have right now,  as learning support teacher and vice-principal, is that I have the opportunity to be in a lot of  different classrooms all the time, and observing kids doing some very cool stuff.   On Friday, I wandered in to the grade 7 classroom, mainly because I had not been able to get in there for a long time,  and got to be involved in a very interesting discussion on art and how the “idea” of art is changing.  At one point,  the teacher asked the students whether they thought that the changes in technology influence art and culture.  Inside my head I was screaming “Yes! Yes!”.  The students did think that technology does influence art, but seemed unsure as to exactly how that might happen.

Wow, is this a good time to introduce the whole remix and mash-up idea? I will forward some the the information that was discussed in our last class  to the grade 7 teacher and she can do with it as she wishes.  There is a study guide available on the Rip! A Remix Manifesto site that was put together by Adam Hodgins, a music and technology teacher at Selwyn House School in Montreal. It looked like it had some very interesting discussion questions.

I remember some aspects of this topic coming up once before earlier in the course when Jon Mott introduced the idea of creative commons and how that related to copyright.

In my search today I also came across a very interesting little mash-up video that was used as part of the last election campaign in the United States.  One of the familiar political figures was mashed into scenes from the movie, “1984” based on a novel by George Orwell written in 1949.

So, at this point I think that I will have to continue to do a  “mash-up”  in my own brain and hang on for all that I am worth.  It will only benefit me and my students.  Catch you on the back channel.

Am I starting to understand?

When I first started ECI 831 I felt a bit like I had been thrown off the side of a cruise ship and I was trying to find a life-preserver. I have enjoyed the course since day one, but  it made me reach so far out of my comfort zone  and I wondered If I would be able to do it.  I did not understand the whole social networking world and to be honest, I did not understand what people gained from it.  I have had friends who have badgered me to get on Face book and my answer has always been “I don’t have time for that stuff.” I am amazed how far I have come since day 1.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I am far from knowing what I am doing and most of the things I do are still a matter of trial and error and are not really based on any confident skill.  The question I have to ask ,though, is…am I starting to understand?

It takes me forever to blog because I am a bit type A and I want things to be the way I envision them before I will publish.  At the beginning of the course I could really only fit in one blog a week and I was not commenting or responding. I want to make an apology to all of the wonderful and interesting people who commented on my posts only to have me not approve them and/or not respond.  I did not mean for it to be personal, I just did not know what I was doing.

Now I am find myself wondering if anyone has commenting on anything I have said.  I will even sneak to my blog site at work sometimes when I am supposed to be doing something else.  I have always been easily distracted…but never distracted by social networking before.  I am starting  to understand why students are always sneaking to Facebook every chance they get.

Am I making a transformation?  I can sense a change in myself as I start to figure out the social networking world and start to become familiar with some of the names and information. I am trying to pass on some of my new found, and still very green skill to others such as the teachers and students in my school.  Wow!  I think I am making progress!  If I can do it, anyone can.  I can’t wait to see what is next…

Catch you on the back channel.

Does filtering solve our problems?

Once again we had a very interesting ECI 831 class last night on the topic of understanding media literacy. I was a bit late getting back from teacher convention in Regina, but when I came in the topic of discussion was filtering or blocking websites at school.  This caught my attention immediately, because it was part of the discussion of my post last week… I have some very strong opinions on this topic. My strong opinions seem to be based on  my own frustrations of trying to offer 21st century learning and encourage other teachers to do the same, when there are often many road blocks that stand in the way.

My school division runs a blocking program that blocks social networking sites, among other things, but at the same time we can ask for sites to be unblocked if we want to use them.  Sometimes when I am operating within my own little and sometimes frustrating, world, I think that sites are blocked only out of fear and misunderstanding, but of course that it not true.  When I was at teacher’s convention I had the opportunity to ask one of our tech consultants about our web filtering process.  He was able to open my eyes a little more as to what actually happens at the division office level.  He said that for every site 6 teachers may ask to be unblocked, there are 6 other teachers that may put in a request to have the site blocked.  I don’t mean to sound as if I exist only in my own little world here, but I had never even considered the idea that teachers would actually be asking for sites to be blocked, and I’m not kidding!  Perhaps my frustrations should not be vented at the division office tech department?  Maybe I need to put my energies elsewhere… and into some more positive places

This week Alec gave us a link to the blog site “Bud the Teacher” and his post entitled, “Would you please block?” The post describes a situation where the school district attempted to open up more of the internet and the idea was not well received by many teachers.  It was met by many requests to have  sites blocked again.  When I was reading through the comments I noticed that one came from Dean Shareski, who is a tech guy in the Prairie South School Division.  I attended a conference session given by Dean not long ago and have been attracted to his blog site ever since.  He is a lot like Alec and is all about keeping things open.  I think Prairie South has a much more liberal policy on web filtering.  In one of his blog posts Dean presented information gathered when he interviewed some of his teachers about their opinions on web filtering. He also included a podcast where he interviewed Patricia Yeske, a high school teacher involved in a laptop project at Riverview Highschool in Moose Jaw,  which I tried to include, but did not have any luck.

This made me think about some interesting questions:

  • Do we let our fears hold us back and expect that filtering blocks will make our job easier?
  • Are teachers up for the task of educating our students to do their own filtering service and do we trust them to do so?
  • Are teacher prepared to justify to parents, etc. why we do not block certain sites such as Face Book?

Although Patricia was initially negative about her students having lap tops all of the time and how she would deal with this, she came up with some easy solutions to help her and her students out.

1.  Seizing every possible teaching moment. I use this strategy with parenting and have been having discussions with all three of my children about drugs, alcohol and other issue from the time they were very small.  When I would hear about a certain situation that helped me illustrate the dangers I would use it as a teachable moment and we would talk about it.

2.  Setting strong expectations from the beginning. She made it clear to her students of what was expected as far as on-task behavior and internet safety.  This is something that we try and do with our students all of the time, so I am not sure what makes this situation so different?

3.  Walking about. She felt strongly that she needed to be all around the room.  She needed to check and see what students were doing and she could not do that from her desk.  This is the same strategy that administrators use to lower anxiety by teachers in classrooms.  The more visible you are the the less likely it is that students will not be doing what they are supposed to be doing.

4.  Watching facial expressions.  Teachers are masters at knowing when students are up to something they are not supposed to be.  Depending on the project, it should be easy to see if the facial expressions match the activity.

These suggestions are not earth shattering by any means.  I guess the question really is, do we want to spend most of our energy policing children and promoting fear or do we want to spend our energy educating students on proper use of digital media?   I was shocked at the number of videos available on youtube, made by students, for the purpose of showing other students,  how to get around school division filtering programs. Our students will use digital media no matter how many filtering programs we install, perhaps we need to model and monitor instead of waiting for school division offices to do it for us.  Catch you on the back channel.

How safe is too safe?

I recently started a blogging project with the grades 4/5 class in my school and  I was intent on protecting them and keeping them safe from the outside world.  I went to a lot of work to set up the site so all of their posts and comments run through my gmail account and right now we are closed off from the rest of the world.  In talking with the classroom teacher, we decided that we would invite another class of students in our school division to join us in our blogging project.  This would give us a slightly wider audience, but allow us to remain in our safe little environment.

The problem for me is that is seems as if something is missing from our project.  As I search around the internet checking out other student and classroom blogs, I can’t help but notice that the opportunity for comments from the outside world is an important component of what blogging is all about.  I come back to the video, “42” which describes the advantage of providing our students with a much broader and more valid audience for their writing.  So how safe is too safe?

I asked one of our school division technology people what the division policy is on blog sites.  He did not seem to think that it was a problem to open up the blog as long as:

1.  We had parental permission for them to participate

2.  The students did not give away any personal, identifying information

Greg Stark commented on my blog post about my student blogging project and  suggested that I open up our site and run all the comments through my e-mail so that I could delete any inappropriate comments.  Thanks for the suggestion.

We seem to do a lot of things to try and keep our students safe and “out of trouble”, so to speak.  Are we really trying to promote the use of technology in our classrooms?  I can’t help but wonder if we are being stifled by our own fears.  I was reading a blog post today and the teacher was describing having a “hissy fit” because a site that she had picked out to use with her students had been blocked.

Yesterday, I was helping a student who was trying to find out how many hours it would take to fly to China for one of his projects.  I was trying to give him suggestions as to where he could go to find the information, but all of the sites we found were blocked.

I am often working from home on my own laptop and preparing things for use in school, only to find that when I get to school, the sites that I wanted to use are blocked.  When I tried to use my own laptop at school, I found that this met with some roadblocks as well and that it is not allowed under our “acceptable use policy”.  Interesting… I guess I should have read that more carefully before I signed it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand why there have to be rules and why we have to be careful.  I also understand that if you find a site you want to be able to access and can’t,  you can request to have it unblocked.  The problem with the whole idea is often, in the mean time, teachers that are wanting to get into technology use within their classrooms get discouraged and can feel that the time invested is not worth it.

I was sitting in on a short inservice session last week with some math teachers in my division.  I was listening to one teacher describe a video project she was doing with her students.  They were enjoying it and had invested a lot of time and energy into the project.  When they came back to it the next day, she found that “Deep Freeze” had blocked their pictures and their project was at a standstill until a tech person could get there and help her out. I am sure I could come up with countless other examples.

Our school division has been very encouraging to teachers providing us with up to date technologies and support personal to help us out.  We also have a technology grant that teachers can apply for to promote technology projects within our schools. I still have to wonder, though, if our fears are holding us back.   Are we really doing everything we can to encourage teachers to move away from traditional teaching methods and try new technologies?  I wonder…

Catch you on the back channel!

Open Education, Are we ready or are we being left behind?

Once again, I walked away from my computer last Tuesday feeling full and over flowing with new ideas and information.  I can’t help but sharing my experiences with my staff at school, especially my principal.  We are in close quarters, so she gets to hear it whether she wants to or not.

I can’t say that I really even understood what open education was before enrolling in ECI 831.  I even voiced my negative thoughts about having to be on-line on Tuesday nights.  My idea of taking an on-line course was e-learning, where I could log on at any time and do my work in my little world.  Wow, was I wrong.  I look forward to our classes and the new information and ideas that I have been exposed to is both overwhelming and exciting, as it was on Tuesday when we were listening to Jon Mott, from Brigham Young University, present his thoughts on open education.

I thought that I was being cutting edge when I developed two internet courses, one when I still had to type in all the HTML…groan…and doesn’t that age me?  The other one was a couple of years ago.  I joined a division project to develop some senior level courses using Moodle.   I tried, at least, to include some components of group work and collaboration in both, but I would like to have the opportunity to go back and try it over again.

The one quote given by Jon Mott ,the other night, that jumped out at me and would not go away was, “If you can Google it, don’t teach it or test it,” said by Dave Wiley, also from Brigham Young UniversityJon went on to add that we instead need to see what students can do with it.  I wanted to put it on a neon sign and post it up in my office!  Why are we still so intent on shoving trivial information down our students throats and then being shocked when they cannot remember it sometimes only days later?  What point is there in the whole process?  We present a bunch of facts to our students, we expect them to study them and remember then so that they can spit them back on a test.  After the test we record their marks and  present those marks to students and parents at designated reporting periods.  What are we accomplishing by that whole process? What are we actually learning from this?

I look forward to participating in the process this afternoon when I have to study for a current events test with my son.  He already failed the test once and it is a rewrite.  I am not sure what learning outcome we are trying to meet with the whole activity, but I will support the teacher because I want to instill the value of respect  in my son. We can have a discussion about learning outcomes another time.  What kinds of things could these students actually be learning about current events if it were approached in a different way?  The possibilities are probably endless.

I watched the video by Dave Wiley on his ideas on open education and had another thought as I was listening to him discuss the Western Governor’s University.  This university offers the opportunity  for students to show what they already know without having to participate in classes, only to waste time learning the same things over again.  What a novel idea that needs to find its way down to public school classrooms.  Why are we expecting children to all complete the same number of learning activities and assessments, even though they are all at different stages in their learning?  Are some of the behavior problems in our classrooms because some of our students are bored stiff learning the same things over and over again?  Would 5 math problems would be enough to review and learn a concept, instead of 25?

I do sound crabby today, but I think that we need to get with the program, or according to David Warlick, who is a well-known writer, speaker and author in the educational technology community,  in response to an article entitled “If you can’t use technology, get out of teaching!” that was published in NZ Interface, a New Zealand education technology publication.  “I probably wouldn’t say, “If you can’t use technology get out of teaching!” But I’d gladly say, “If you’re not teaching within a contemporary information landscape (networked, digital, abundant information), you’d probably have a pretty hard time finding another profession that doesn’t. But the last thing you should be doing is preparing children for their future. Is this statement too harsh?  Can we really afford to ignore that fact that we are not preparing them for the future?

I think that we could learn from my 75-year-old father who is passionate about life long learning.  He has many worries about the ways of the world, but he believes strongly in the idea that you are never too old to learn new things.  I often send him links and ideas about the things I am learning and he does the same for me.  I think that he would agree with  Michael Wesch’s idea that we need to not just be knowledgable, we need to be knowledge-able! We all can be  knowledge-able with a little work !

Catch you on the back channel!