Should we teach digital citizenship?

I had  difficulty getting started on my blogs this week, mainly because I was suffering from what I call WAD-Web Attention Disorder.  I am so easily distracted from my cause.  I can’t help myself, I go to search and read about something and pretty soon I am web miles away from my starting point and I can’t even begin to find my way back.

The whole idea of digital citizenship did catch my eye.  My professor, Marnie McMillan, for my ECI 831 course set us up with, a choose your own adventure activity this week.  You can probably tell, from what I already said,  that I would have trouble staying on one adventure, because they all seemed so interesting and took me off in many directions, but at the same time, they were all full of related and connected ideas, at least in my mind.  Some of the things she asked us to look at I had already seen, but it was still good to go back and give them more thought.

I started the week with a bit of a bad moment of finding out that some of my staff were not making as much progress into the tech in the classroom idea, as I thought they might be.  My presentation at the staff meeting on Monday even managed to arouse some anger in some…but that  is a discussion for another time.  Whether people buy into using new tools and technologies in the classroom or not… or I think the problem really is buying into the idea that children can learn in non-traditional ways… I still think we have a responsibility to teach them to be good digital citizens.

We spend a lot of time in school teaching them to be healthy, contributing members of society.  We try to teach them to be good citizens in our community and in our schools.  Is anyone teaching them what it means to be good digital citizens?  Whether we buy into the idea of learning through new technologies or not, our students are spending hours of time exploring and communicating in a world that they have not been taught to use properly.

I think it really comes down to fear, once again.  We are afraid to try to teach them about things, we perceive, they know much better than us.

I realized that I had been so busy teaching my grades 4/5 students to blog properly, so they could express their ideas, and to comment properly, so they could open up a dialogue and be encouraging to others, but I had forgotten to teach them anything about copyright and the whole idea about creative commons.  We had been inserting things on to our blog site without giving credit to a single source! Oops!  There are a lot of good videos explaining the idea of copyright and creative commons.  I found one that I had never seen before.  A new take with the same idea.

Last blogging class was spent discussing digital citizenship and what that means, specifically focusing on the idea of copyright.  I taught them how to properly search for images that fell under creative commons and what that meant.  I also taught them how to check whether or not they could use a source and how to properly give credit to sources they were using.  I know that is a small part of digital citizenship, but an important one.  I really used  one site we were directed to, in adventure 3, on creative commons licensing , to help me out.

In my own search about digital citizenship I came across some excellent resources:

1.  The web page, “Digital Citizenship: Using Technology Appropriately“, offers information and ideas about teaching digital citizenship and outlines what they believe are the nine themes involved.

2.  Alex Couros has a  post about digital citizenship in his blog, “Open Thinking: rants and resources from an open educator.  The  topic of his post is summed up with…

“I’m just beginning to rediscover what digital citizenship means. I know it needs to cover more than safety issues, literacy and etiquette. I know it is not just about our rights as online citizens. It needs to concern itself much more with social responsibility and social learning than is currently being addressed.”

3.  Alex also gives a link off his blog post to his wiki about digital literacy that is full of excellent information.

4.  A response was given to Alex’s post at Teacher Friendly tech that was also interesting.

I am not sure we can keep ignoring what our students are doing, seeing, manipulating and using on-line. The issue of cyber-bullying is getting more serious each day.  Our students are exposed to huge amounts of information on a daily basis.  Will they sort that out and use it appropriately without being taught how?

I was excited to come across some excellent information and resources that I can use during our vertical sessions with our grades 6/7/8 students.  I think I have mentioned before that my principal and I have all of these students together once a cycle and we spend most of our time on citizenship and leadership skills.  This is an excellent opportunity to introduce some ideas and open up discussion on issues such as on-line gaming, creative commons, cyber-bullying, use Facebook etc.  I spent some time looking at the videos and teacher/parent resources at nsteens.org and found many useful resources there as well, including real-life stories told by teens that had been involved in unfortunate situations related to internet use.

Not all teachers are at a place where they can embrace, or in some cases even acknowledge, the educational off-shoots of our student’s digital experiences.  Some may not like it, but that is where our students are and I think we might regret leaving them to figure it out on their own without any guidance.

Technology and theory-am I stuck?

My first thoughts on this topic were… “I am a constructivist of course.”  Most of my learning beliefs are based on the constructivist theory.  Learning is  making connections to what we already know.  I learned this in some of the first teaching training courses that I took… start by finding out what they know and build from there… set a learning context for them before you start…expand on their prior knowledge, etc.

I strongly believe that we need to connect before they are willing to buy in.  They need  to see a reason  to learn something… connect it to something they already know, so they can build on that and create their own meaning.

As I was thinking about learning theories this week and how they relate to what I know and think, I realized I am a constructivist by heart, but at the same time it is difficult, or maybe even impossible, not to acknowledge the influence other theories have on me  as well.

As a learning support teacher I am very interested in brain research and am constantly reworking and reorganizing my ideas about learning, so that I might help my teachers differentiate for students  requiring unique learning opportunities.  There is a big movement in our school division towards differentiated instruction and it is being presented as the answer to everything .  It is not a new theory, just a new name given to something that teachers do in their classrooms every day.

Our new Saskatchewan curriculum supports the idea of student centered, constructivist learning, but does not steer far from the behaviorist theory with its organizational structure of  outcomes, broken into smaller components that are measurable and standardized.  The question and struggle for teachers is how to organize student driven learning, but still make sure outcomes are met.  How do we give students opportunities to go off in their own directions, building on things they already know and moving toward what they want to learn, and  be in control of learning outcomes at the same time?

I spent most of my teaching career teaching in a small rural school in southwest Manitoba. When I moved to Estevan I really had my eyes opened to the real world and the reality that students were dealing with many other things in their lives besides the curriculum outcomes that I was trying to get them to meet.  I spend a great deal of my time dealing with students that are having learning difficulties partly  because they have other things going on in their lives.  There is often an underlying factor that can cause children to have difficulty learning or behaving in an acceptable manner.  I do not think we can ignore Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in our daily quest for student learning.  Sometimes it may not matter what things we are doing to engage them or what learning theories we are using in our classrooms…if their basic needs are not met…they are not going to learn.

So, how can I connect this all to technology? I think about technology use in the classroom so much, it seems to me that I should have it all figured out. I feel as though I am stuck between my theory and practice.   Why am I still struggling with how we use technology?  During  my school day Friday, I observed the grade 4 class working on an internet scavenger hunt while learning about electricity.  I spent 45 minutes blogging with the grades 4/5 students, helping them communicate their ideas, tag and make links.  Later in the day, I went into the grades 5/6 classroom to watch a student  presentation using Smart Board technology and the grade 8 teacher showed me some video her students had taken while they were explaining their math learning,  using the Flip Video cameras we bought to use in a project called, “Flipping Over Math”.

As I reflected on my day and the technology use I observed, I still can’t help but wonder how many of these activities were student driven and how many were teacher driven.  This is where I still struggle.  I looked back to my reflection using the LoTi framework to see that I originally thought most of our digital resources and tools used by students in our school were used to carry out teacher directed tasks.  So I guess I need help figuring this all out and making that step into practicing what I believe and preach.

How do I help teachers in my school, including myself to move beyond this point, where we are allowing our students to use technology tools, but we are directing how, when, where and what, instead of teaching them to ask good questions and look to various types of technologies for use in answering those questions?

This whole idea takes me back to one of the first activities we did in ECI  832, when we were asked to read the article, “The Song Remains the Same: Looking Back to the Future of Educational Technology”, by Punya Mishra, Matthew J. Koehler and Kristen Kereluik.  If we keep thinking about change, but not doing anything about it and in some cases resisiting, the song will remain the same. In the article it states,  “…the power and potential of educational technology much be acknowledged to reside within educators and not within objects.”  It is not good enough to bring the tools in to the classroom , it is to teach them to understand the power of the tools.

I decided to check out,  “Teach Paperless” by Shelly Blake-Plock, and in her post about 21 century learning, she said…   That’s not to say that technology should dictate content, but rather that the method of delivering the content should be of the connected variety. I think what both of these authors is trying to say  is we sometimes get the order of things mixed up.  It is not good enough to have computers and wireless hook-up in the classroom, if we do not understand the power of using it for content delivery.  We need to connect out students to the right tools so they can answer their questions and be learning the necessary content while they are doing it.  That is the key for me- as an educator I need to take chances and be willing to learn along with my students.

So where do I go from here?  Again, as I reflect on my day Friday- it was a busy, but good day.  To be able to witness as much technology use going on around me as I did was wonderful. I have to be proud of the teachers in my school and be content that  we are making progress into  helping our students not be satisfied with memorizing information but have the desire and confidence to question  and learn.  In think we are starting to get unstuck…

Are we powering up?

On Saturday I decided to work on ECI 832, but block 4 was not posted yet.  It all worked out,  because I took the opportunity to start my on-line professional development.  One of my favorite things to is surf the web and stop wherever something catches my eye.  I rarely get time to do this, as I am sure many of you can relate to.  I ended up at the K-12 Online Conference 2009 site waiting for a video to load,  and was led to a presentation by Michael Wesch titled, “A Portal to Media Literacy”, that he presented at the University of Manitoba in 2008.  It is about an hour long, but it was well worth the time I spent.  I am very familiar with Michael Wesch’s work and am a bit of a groupie of his.  He said that his classes at Kansas State University are always full and can be hard to get in to, and I am not at all surprised.

One of the topics that I visit often in my thoughts and rants is our seeming,  inability to embrace technology use and welcome it into our classrooms.  I have stated before that I think most teachers have the desire to do so, but many do not feel like they have the time, support or expertise to do so.  As Mr. Wesch described the typical classroom at the Kansas State University, that was set up to house 200+ students, all seated in rows with the professor feeding them lectures from the front, I couldn’t help but think about many of our public school classrooms today.  Were they so different?  Of course, thankfully, we do not have 200+ students in front of us at one time, but, often, they are seated in desks, placed in rows and we are delivering a message to them in our traditional fashion.  We may use computers to word process and research an assigned topic and we may even use a projector and Smart Board in our classroom to help us deliver our intended message.  Our students have learned to accept that we are the authority on many topics and it is their job to trust our authority and travel along to whatever destination we have pre-planned into their travel documents.

I have heard Mr. Wesch speak of moving our students from just having knowledge-memorizing, knowing and recalling – to the point where they are knowledge-able– which would include such things such as sorting, analyzing, sharing, discussing, critiquing and creating with knowledge.

I have also been involved in many conversations about today’s students… they want to be entertained, they play too many video games, they spend hours on face book and texting, they can’t concentrate, they are not motivated to learn, etc., etc., etc.  All of these things are probably true, but they do not give us an excuse as educators to stay inside our classroom boxes and ignore our responsibility to help them find things that are real and relevant  to them.  Many students struggle to make any connections between their real lives and what they are learning in the classroom.  Now, I know we were saying the same thing when we were in school…”when am I ever going to use this in the real world?”  It is our job to help students find things that are real and relevant to them.  We need to give them reasons to turn off their technologies and focus on their learning.  Do you think that we may be afraid to let some of the technologies in, because we know that we can’t compete with them without changing what we are doing and how we are doing it?

Mr. Wesch has a post called,” The vision of students today (and what teachers must do)”, at the Encyclopedia Britannica Blog Site. He was prompted to make huge changes in his classroom delivery, after doing a project with his students that culminated in a short video that most of you are probably familiar with called, “A vision of students today”. He feels that texting, web-surfing and ipods are new versions of passing notes in class.  Having them in the classroom will not prevent students from being distracted by them.  “Welcome technologies not as distractions, but as powerful learning technologies.”
When I started my masters program, I had the idea, rightfully or not, that the course work would not be relevant to what I was doing on a daily basis.  I thought that the reason I was taking my masters degree was to move me forward in my career and perhaps open up jobs in the future.  I have been pleasantly shocked and surprised by the level of relevance of all the courses I have taken so far.  It struck me, as I was listening to Mr. Wesch speak, that I have learned so much from my course work  because it was relevant to my daily life, but most of all, because I was sent out to explore and discover things on my own.  The questions and answers are not given to me- I need to ask my own questions and work at finding my own answers, so I am able to be in charge of my own learning, for the most part.

Isn’t that the difference between aquiring information and learning?

Mr. Wesch described three ways to create significance for our students:

1.  Provide relevance and context for learning- provide the big picture.

2.  Create a learning environment that values and leverages the learners themselves-give personal meaning.

3.  Do both in a way that realizes/leverages existing media environment in the same way our students do.

“We don’t have to tear the walls down, we just need to stop pretending the walls separate us from the world.”

There are many teachers who already do a fantastic job of looking beyond the walls, for the rest of us-let’s take a chance on powering up, I think we might be pleasantly surprised by what we discover…

Is It Really That Simple?

While trying to decide what blog(s) I was wanting to follow this term in ECI 832, I came across a post on the “Cool Cat Teacher” blog on making a case for cell phone use in class. This caught my attention immediately, because I am always expressing my wish for students to have access to cell phones and I-pods in the classroom.  School division and school policies prevent this from happening right now, and I am not expected that to change any time soon.

My first thought was… wait a minute… maybe if I was able to start giving other teachers in my school and school division some concrete ideas as to how they might use these tools in their classroom, then maybe… just maybe…more teachers would start to make requests and eventually we would be able to chip away at the policy mountain.

I believe that it is basic fear that keeps us from allowing the “evil” cell phone in our classrooms.  How would we ever control what they are doing?  How could we ever keep their attention?  How can we prevent them from texting when they should be listening?

The same goes for the i-pod.  What could they possibly do with the i-pod in the classroom besides plug in and tune me out?  Don’t get me wrong… I was one of these fearful teachers not so many years ago.  When cell phone use first started to become popular and we were not sure what to do about it, I was all over making policies with specific and controlling consequences for being caught with your cell phone.  I’ve come a long way baby!

Fear of giving up control can keep teachers from opening up to new and very exciting possibilities.

In her post Vicki Davis gives 10 reasons why we should use cell phones in school, many of them great reasons to use in conversations with school division policy makers.  What school division does not like an idea that could actually save them money and solve some IT problems as well?  She also has some suggestions as to how to “deal” with cell phones in the classroom.

The second reason I think we are reluctant just to give up our fight is because it opens up supervision and education issues that we are unsure of.  How can we make sure they are on task and doing what they are supposed to be doing?   So, does it come back to giving up control?

My search led me to blog site, “Technology for Teachers” by Sean Martinson.  He said … the cell phone (iPods, MP3 players, etc.) are simply the latest tools that we as educators are failing to embrace, failing to see the educational implications for their uses, and are thus failing to educate our students in the ethical uses of these tools for life long learning.  If we are going to ban said items… we are banning them because we as educators are failing to educate our students in the proper uses of these tools.” Sean give many great sources to check out in his post.

I listened to a conversation related to this issue in my school last week.  The French Club is raising money to attend the Festival du Voyageur in Winnipeg, Manitoba. One of the fundraising ideas they came up with was to have a cell phone or i-pod day and everyone who chooses to bring one has to pay $1.  Reaction from the staff was mixed.  I said, “Yes!”, perhaps we could get them to do something educational at the same time?? Unfortunately, most of the reactions were based on comments such as:”do we get to set our own rules as to when they can use them?” or “won’t they be fooling around with them instead of learning?”

I hated the fact that it was seen as a policing issue rather than an opportunity.  I have some work to do and educating teachers is how I think it needs to be done.  I could slide in ideas and they wouldn’t even know what I was up to. Please give my any ideas that you may have.

Some other excellent sources I came across, that  you may want to check out are:

http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/1422669

http://cellphonesinlearning.wikispaces.com/

I was watching my 11 year old son doing his homework the other night.  He was working on an assignment that went along with a story they were reading in ELA.  He needed to figure out what some of the vocabulary words meant.  I was just going to open my mouth to tell him to get a dictionary out of the office, but before I could, he picked up his i-pod and was at dictionary.com.

It really is that simple, isn’t it?

You’ve Come a Long Way Baby!

Wow, I can’t believe that I am writing my final blog post for ECI 831.  One thing we can count on is time traveling quickly.  As I am contemplating what I have learned in my journey this term, it occurred to me that I have moved from not knowing how to set up a blog site to being determined that, although this will be the last post for this course, it will not be the last post on my site.

Learning how to blog this term was both satisfying and frustrating.  I definitely made a lot of progress.  It was a huge job for me to set up my blog site and figure out how to get started.  I didn’t realize at first that I had to approve comments as I stated in my blog post, “Am I starting to Understand?”  I found myself moving from being nervous about it to looking forward to it. I gradually learned how to insert pictures and video.  It was a great way to get out my thoughts on different  issues.  My school  principal gets to hear a lot of my ranting and raving out tech issues, so she was also be grateful that I had the blog site to express some of my thoughts.

One of the most satisfying things that I did this term was get a classroom of children in my school to start blogging as I talked about in my blog post about technology and language and my post about having fun with blogging. They were  excited to learn what it was and how to do it.  They were so excited about their first blog posts that many of them published them before we had a chance to check them over  and they were full of mistakes despite the number of times we told them not to.  It was interesting to see their progress and it was truly an experience where the students  exceeded the teacher.  Once I gave them the basics, many of them took off and were not afraid to experiment and try new things.  Check out our blogging spot!

In my position right now I do not have my own classroom of students and I have not had one for a couple of years.  I have been saying to my principal this year, “you need to get me back in the classroom.”  These grades 4/5 students showed me first hand the importance of connecting with their world.

The next thing I tackled was creating a wiki site that the teachers in my school could use so that they would have useful resources right at their finger tips.  I think that one of the biggest challenges teachers face involves time and although many teachers have the desire to use technology in their classrooms, they feel they do not have the time or expertise to do it.  This thought is what motivated the Smart’s Social Networking wiki.

I found this new medium harder than the blog to dive in and conquer.  I kept wanting to just scrap my original idea and head back to a blog site.  When we shared our ideas mid-class and I expressed my frustrations, Alec said it would be okay to do that.  I did not want the new technology to defeat me though!  I wanted to forge ahead and not retreat back to the familiar.  My wiki is definitely a work in progress, but I think that it is starting to come together to, at least, fulfill the purpose that was intended.

The classes this term were very inspiring to me. I was always pumped up at the end of class.  Either I was ready to try a new idea ,such as when we listened to Alan Levine as he spoke about digital storytelling and Sylvia Martinez when she spoke about educational gaming, or express my feelings in a blog post after listening to Jon Mott talk about open education.  I have been involved in on-line learning and teaching for a number of years, so his ideas really inspired me and made me realize that there were many more things that I could have added to my on-line courses.   There were other nights when I left confused, but I excited to go and find out what the heck we were talking about!  I am not kidding, but I love to learn new things such as the whole idea of remixing  with Brian Lamb and Scott Leslie. Ever since I heard Dean Share (ski) speak in Saskatoon I have been a groupie of his, following his ideas on open access to technology and digital teaching and learning.   I always looked forward to class and enjoyed the format very much.

I was not a huge participator in the back channel, but I did make peace with it about half way through the course.  I was distracted by it at first because it was not something that I was used to as I blogged about in my post, “Making Friends with the back channel.” About half way through the course I realized that I was using the back channel more than I thought and I was able to listen to the lecture and at least keep up with what was going on.  I thought it was so interesting to have guest speakers and fellow participants from all over the world.

When I first started this course it took me a long time to get my picture posted on the class wiki.  Thank goodness you can make a mistake and not wreck everything that is on there!  I also made an introductory video using xtranormal.  I uploaded it to you tube.  I never got it to the class wiki because of time constraints, but I can say that I have a video posted on you tube.  I used it as an example for a group of grades 6,7 and 8 students  when I was trying to inspire them to branch out and try something new for a project we were working on.  Let me tell you, they were impressed that their old vice-principal had a video posted on you tube!

One of the other projects that I attempted was doing a video using a site called VoiceThread. I tried to upload it to this post, but it was taking too long, so I decided that a link would have to do.  I was very proud of my finished product and I think it is another indication of the progress that I have been able to make this term.

The off shoots and benefits of this course have far exceeded my expectations.

  • I became familiar with faces and places and names that I never would have otherwise.  Now when I am looking around on the web I recognize names and can make connections
  • I have taken on an unexpected role on my staff as a technology mentor by passing on new ideas and supporting teachers with projects and lessons
  • I now feel I understand many tech topics much better including some that I had never even heard of before
  • I try and pass on my new found enthusiasm to others by presenting videos and information to my staff at  staff meetings
  • I saw the possibility to bring more technology into my school and applied for a grant to start a new project
  • I have carried on numerous conversations with division technology tech people to try and encourage  progress toward making 21st century learning and teaching easier for teachers
  • I was amazed at the amount of support that was available to me and the amount of help I received from everyone associated with this course
  • I learned so many things from the speakers and classmates from around the world

I would be amiss to not admit that I still have some frustrations associated with technology

  • Time is the biggest factor for me and the teachers in my school and, I think, teachers everywhere

I hope that I will continue to make progress and can gradually work towards less frustrations and even more beneficial off-shoots.

I will miss you on the back channel!