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!

Am I Learning New Technology or New Language?

According to our speaker last night, Stephen Downes,… what we are really needing are not 21st century skills necessarily, but 21st century languages.  Hmmm…that was some more food for thought for this already well fed brain.  Stephen went on to give a presentation that was full of somewhat complicated ideas and information.  One thought that stood out for me was “we learn by participating and creating artifacts in various languages.”  I am not sure if this is the true meaning that Stephen wanted to get across to me, but the way I interpreted it, that couldn’t be more true for me or for ECI831. I have been forced way out of my comfort zone in this course and I have made myself try new things even when I was uncomfortable doing it.  I can definitely say that I have learned by participating and I have managed to create a few artifacts.

When I watch my grades 4/5 students blogging each week, I can’t believe how comfortable they are and how excited they are to try something new.  I find myself working hard to stay caught up with them.  Most of them do not need to be taught new skills because they are so comfortable with the “language” that they are willing to explore and discover on their own.  I am trying to teach them to be willing to dialogue with people and create their posts and comments for the purpose of opening up a discussion with someone else with similar interests or ideas.

When reflecting on Stephen Downe’s lecture and trying to make some connection to it, I spent some time reading some of his other blog posts and articles.  I came across an article titled, “Seven Habits of Highly Connected People.”  It is worth checking out.  There were some excellent ideas to pass along to my grade 4/5’s.

“The first thing any connected person should be is receptive. Whether on a discussion forum, mailing list, or in a blogging community or gaming site, it is important to spend some time listening and getting the lay of the land.”

What excellent advice for anyone, not just on-line.  We all need to be open to other perspectives and ideas and it never hurts to listen or live and learn as I call it.  Maybe it isn’t so bad afterall that I still get a bit frustrated with the back channel.  I may be called a lurker, but perhaps I am just listening and getting the lay of the land.

“What makes online communication work is the realization that, at the other end of that lifeless terminal, is a living and breathing human being. The only way to enable people to understand you is to allow them to sympathize with you, to get to know you, to feel empathy for you. Comprehension has as much to do with feeling as it does with cognition.”

Another piece of excellent advice to  pass on.  It never hurts to add a little of your own voice and let people get an idea of who you are.  I am trying to teach my grade 4 and 5 students to put a little of themselves into their posts and comments and to try to use language that is engaging and creates a voice.

So as I continue to guide my students in the creation of their artifacts I hope that we all can learn the language of their future together.

Catch you on the back channel.

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!

Having fun with blogging!

I have been having such fun this week blogging with a group of very enthusiastic elementary students in my school.  I happened to see a class project they were working on laying on my principal’s desk one day.  It was a paper “blog” about things that were going on their classroom.  I immediately saw an opportunity to convince these students and their teacher to help me out.  For my project in ECI 831 I wanted to develop a Wiki or blog that would be a tool that teachers could use at my school to get involved with technology and along with that I was hoping to start a blogging project in my school to use as a successful example.  When I saw the paper “blog” I saw an opportunity that I  was hoping  could be win, win for all of us.

We got started this week after I spent a lot of time deciding where we should set up our blog and how I wanted to organize it. I was able to get a lot of useful information from Fusion: Educator Integrating Technology and from a blog site by Kim Cofino, called “Always Learning: Teaching Technology Abroad.” After doing a lot of researching and thinking I decided to set up my students using a gmail account and have all their posts and comments run through my email.  This way I could be in control of what was being posted.

I introduced my eager grade 4s and5s to what blogging was and we watched the video , “Blogging in Plain English” and talked about what blogging was all about.  We also discussed some of the safely issues that we had to pay attention to.

Some of them came to me this morning bubbling with excitement.  They said that they had taken their parents on to our blog site to show them what we are doing.  They asked if it was all right that they were posting on to the site from home. Was it all right that they were excited about writing when they were not required to?  Wow!

I was not prepared for the enthusiasm that was abounding and how quickly and easily they caught on.  They could not wait to get their ideas posted.  Today we talked about making comments and how we could use comments to learn from each other.  The class usually ends before we are ready to quit.  The classroom teacher and I have made plans on how we can expand our project and hopefully involve another school in our school division to help us out.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about protecting the students and how careful we should be.  I have a hard time balancing my attitude about myself and putting myself out there and remembering that not all parents, administration and school boards are as open to that idea.  How careful to you think we need to be?  Right now our blog is protected, but eventually I would like to open it up so they can have the experience of having comments come from other places.  Any thoughts?

There are some things that I already know for sure about this type of project.  Students are ready for it, want it and are so open to trying it.  They are interested in writing and we now have the opportunity to help them improve their writing and practice it without them even knowing that they are doing it.  I can’t wait to see where this project will lead us  and what skills we can learn and develop along the way.  If you have any suggestions about things that could help us on our way, please let me know.  Thanks for the help.

Catch you on the back channel.

Educational gaming…a hot educational topic?

If I thought my brain was exploding before, it certainly is now.  I was unable to make a connection on Tuesday night to Elluminate and so I had to listen to the recorded version this morning.  Sylvia Martinez certainly gave me some food for thought.  I am not a gamer!  I really have a strong feeling of negativity when it comes to video games and me playing them.  I am surrounded by gamers in my family and I know that my students are avid gamers.  I do support gaming as an activity for other people.  When my 11 year old son asks me to watch him do something cool on a video game, I can even get feeling nauseous from the fast action-Good grief!

I am not sure that I have noticed the “hot” debate about video games, mainly because my mind has been occupied with other educational debates.  When I stopped to think about it, I realized that there is a debate out there.  I had a couple of thoughts on why we are having the debate.

1. We cannot deny the movement and the necessity of 21 century learning and engaging children in their learning by giving students what they need and want. I happened to come across a very interesting video at google videos this morning, School Matters: The Games Children Play, that I attempted to include in this post  without any luck, so a link will have to do.  It made a lot of the same points as Sylvia Martinez presented to ECI831, with some other issues added on.  Dr. Henry Jenkins, Director of Comparitive Media Studies at MIT, said the following:

“If you ask a child what is bad about a video game, they will reply, ‘when it is too easy’. If you ask a child what is bad about an assignment, they will reply, “when is it too hard.”  Dr. Jenkins felt that this summed up a fundamental problem with our teaching strategies and felt, as Sylvia Martinez did, that we need to try harder to link video game attributes to things that students are doing in the classroom.

2.  Many teachers and parents do not see the educational value to gaming in school. Sylvia Martinez brought up an interesting point when she said, just because something is labeled ‘educational’ doesn’t mean that it is.  Of  course we all know we can’t believe everything that we read, but do we really stop and think about what we are actually trying to achieve with our “teaching” activities?  I think parents and teachers can be lulled into thinking that we are spending “useful” time if something is labeled “educational”.  The other side of that, I guess is, does everything we are doing have to be educational?  Again it comes back to our definition of education and what we are trying to achieve. We need to be a lot more aware of what the game “says” it does and what we are actually hoping to achieve by having our students play the game.

3.  There seems to be a lot of media hype on the issue of violence in video games and what effect that has on young children.  Of course there are two sides to this debate as well, but the connection does not help when it comes to educating parents on the benefits of the use games in school other than the “educationally” labeled games.

4. The link between the amount of time children spend on playing video games/social media networks and childhood obesity is another topic of debate.  You do not have to look far to see many headlines on this topic. Video games and other sedentary activities get an automatic bad rap.  Schools are under pressure to add in more physical education and get those kids moving and this can help create a negative attitude toward using video games at school.

5. There is a debate about the rise of video games causing the death of reading, and reading is one of the number one factors that is linked to student success. According to James Gee, Professor of Education at the University of Wisconson, also seen the the video, “School Matters: The Games Children Play”  …video gaming and other social media activities actually cause students to do more reading and writing  than ever before, it is just the modes have changed and are not looking the same as our traditional ideas of what constitutes reading and writing.

I had never really thought about the creating side of games before, mainly because I am not a game player and not hugely comfortable with activities that I perceive require huge amounts of technical ability.  I checked out the Scratch game creating site and even though I did not have much time to spend there, I realized, once again, that there are so many tools available that I am not taking advantage of.  It  is funny how everything starts to connect-we are moving toward student controlled learning and it makes sense that designing games puts the learner in charge.

One thing is for sure, the debate will probably continue.  Schools need to work hard to educate parents on gaming by putting forth positive examples.  It meshes so well with all the other changes and debates that are going on right now, that we have a great opportunity to be proactive in squashing some of the negative hype.  Catch you on the back channel.

Making the Shift

It seems to me that everything is changing on the education front in Saskatchewan right now!  I am a relative newcomer to the province, but I have never before experienced so many educational changes at one time.  My mind is constantly spinning with all of the new ideas and the things I want to implement and change.  I am sure that I drive my staff crazy sometimes because I am always talking about the things that I learn in ECI 831, the many things that I am always finding on the net and the things that I am reading.  I am beginning to wonder if they are starting to  run and hide when they see me coming down the hall.

At our last staff meeting I showed them the video- “Shift Happens“.  Just one of many videos at youtube presenting relatively the same idea-we better wake up and realize that change is happening faster than we can even anticipate and our teaching strategies need to reflect that.  Next time I plan to show the video “42” so we can have a discussion about alternative forms for student audience.  I really liked Starkg’s comment to my last post  “So many tools…so little time?, suggesting that we could have a Best of… site to showcase some of our students fantastic work.  There are so many opportunites for students to publish their work and open up their ideas to others.  Gone are the days when I expected my English students to write for an imaginary audience that could not be me, but in reality that imaginary audience would never see their writing and I would be the only one reading it.

For those of you that read my last post, “So many tools, so little time?” you could tell I was very excited about the changes in assessment practices.  I like the whole idea of assessment for learning rather than assessment of learning.  As our division moves forward with Ken O’Conner’s, “15 fixes for Broken Grades, it will be interesting to see the movement from traditional grading practices to grading practices that reflect assessment for learning and outcome based learning.  I am a constructivist by heart, so it all works for me.   It can still be a difficult transition for everyone and as I sat listening to parents talk at our SCC meeting last night I could see that parents were struggling with the “shift” as much as we were.  I was trying to explain that it was a huge change for us too to move from information feeders to learning facilitators.  As Jeffg stated in his comments to “So many tools…so little time?” he was struggling to find some different assessment practices that worked for him and I really agree that we need to keep looking and helping each other make the shift.  We all need to be in the process together. I would like to be able to go back in time and change some of my past students grades to reflect fair grading processes.

One thing is for sure, we are all in this shift together and the amount of support available is astounding.  Thanks for the support in my new projects and I hope that Ican do the same for you.  Catch you on the back channel!