Monday, November 15, 2010

Using Social Networks in Teacher Education: Session Reflection

Post by : Jackie Kirk & Mike Nantais ( originally posted on ICTology, imported in September/15)

Last Friday at the Manitoba Educational Research Network (MERN) Fall Forum, we hosted a session called “Engaging learners using social networks in teacher education”. Our purpose was to share our initial findings from the pilot project of a social network within the Faculty of Education at Brandon University that we have been working on since the spring of 2010. Although we accomplished our task, the discussion that ensued during the session sparked our thinking far beyond our local community. Our presentation is included here for your reference;

One of the first discussions (one that we left and didn’t get an opportunity to come back to) was the question of why some people are reluctant to join the current trend toward online social networking. This is a question that has been tossed around in many of our social circles. Why does it seem like such a struggle to put your ideas and thoughts out into the public forum for critique and feedback? In an interesting post called Making Connections, Harold Jarche, wrote about how various social media connect people in different ways. Most interesting, in light of the reluctance described earlier, was the video he included (which I have embedded below). Harold writes;

Dr. BrenĂ© Brown says that, “Connection is why we’re here; it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. This is what it’s all about.” What keeps many people out of connection is that they feel they are not worthy of connection. Brown explains that people with a stronger sense of belonging believe they are worthy of love and belonging. These people also fully embrace vulnerability. Her conclusion, from many observations and interviews, is that the best way to live is with vulnerability and to stop controlling and predicting. To me, this sounds like adopting a perspective of life in perpetual Beta. I think that the vulnerability we show when embracing social media is actually a path to a better life. 

In our own use of social media, we have experienced this first hand. Mike, who is active in using twitter, blogging and other social media, struggled when he began, and still does to an extent. Is what we have to say worthwhile? Does it offer anything new? Will it be met with criticism or indifference? Yet, once that threshold is breached, the learning opportunities grow. The entire video clip (a TedxHouston Talk by Dr. B. Brown) is below;

The most controversial part of the discussion centered around the power, the privilege, and the future of social media within society. Many people within the digital community have talked about the opportunity that social media provides for anyone who has internet access (about 75% of Canadians according to to be involved in the general flow of information about everything from politics to health and wellness to consumer products. That participation by average citizens is literally changing the dynamic of knowledge as capital. It seems possible that the traditional power hierarchy is going to tumble as a result of ‘Average Joe’ having the opportunity to share his opinions in a forum where literally millions of people can read them.
One of the things that we found most intriguing about the discussion in our session, regarding social media and its relationship to power in society, was the suggestion that some people shared a fear that the current open discussion forum offered by social networks would be infiltrated and overtaken by government and big business. Is it possible that the free spirit of online social networking will devolve into a medium for rhetoric and advertising in the clutches of former power brokers who would betray public trust by manipulating a faux-public-opinion to support and maintain historical power structures??
A preview of our Ning illustrates the positive side of social networking. Almost 300 students, faculty, and alumni who have joined our Ning sign in and contribute to discussions on a regular basis. We have started discussion groups for each of our classes but we encourage students to stray outside of their own groups to comment on any interesting discussions. Some discussions that have been started by students have received 30-40 responses from other undergraduates, graduate students, teachers and administrators working in the field, faculty members, and people working within the provincial ministry of education! It has proven to be an authentic on-going discussion about education that extends beyond the walls of our classrooms and engages our pre-service teachers at a completely different level. Check it out at: If you’re a member of the BU Faculty of Education community (student, faculty, or alumni), we would welcome you to sign up for a membership while you are on our site and get involved in the discussions! So, although there’s a chance that social networking could take a turn for the dark side in the future, right now we are enjoying the benefits of the free flowing discussion!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A New Paradigm?

The following video, made by RSA Animate showed up on YouTube recently. It features Sir Ken Robinson. It is a visual treat and, as anyone who has heard Sir Ken's TED talk or other talks/interviews, a very interesting and thought provoking talk. So, take a look and listen;

Sir Ken weaves an intriguing and convincing story. He causes one to ask questions, to reflect and think. Even if you do not agree with all he says, the case for a paradigm change in education rings true.

Is what he states about ADHD true? Are we medicating kids to slow them down to function in schools? Should schools be organized differently so this is not the case?

At the end of the video, Sir Ken talks about the importance of collaboration. Just think of your own learning; how often do we ask questions and discuss with others to come to an understanding? Learning is social in nature and the tools of digital technology make collaboration easier, so why not make use of them?

Does our current model of education need change? In the words of Sir Ken, schools are "modeled on the interests of industrialism" with bells, subjects, grouping by age and so on. Does the current emphasis on standards and standardized tests measure the types of learning that really counts? They often measure content knowledge and rote facts, not creativity & critical thought. It seems that the primary goal of education today is economic; preparing for the world of work. I would agree that this is important, but goals of imparting democratic values, citizenship, critical, creative, and divergent thought are vital. These goals are even more important in the age of digital technology, access to unlimited amounts of information and instant, mobile communication. Too often what is done in schools is controlled and influenced by those who do not really want people to question and think for themselves. What can we do to effect change in our schools and classrooms?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Better late than never? Has education entered the 21st Century?

by Mike Nantais & Jackie Kirk ( originally posted on ICTology, imported in September/15)

How long will we talk about preparing students for the 21st Century? The 21st century is a decade old. There has been much written about 21st century skills, 21st century learning and 21st century standards but we are coasting into the last few months of 2010. Has education entered the modern age? The unfortunate truth is, however, that for the most part, we have not. We all too often rely on standardized testing and outdated modes of teaching. Thankfully there are growing pockets of change and innovation, yet it seems that clinging to tradition is the norm. We are not just talking about using 'traditional' methods, like lecture or ‘drill and kill’, indeed, a good lecture has value - one just needs to watch some TED talks to see that. Still, this should not be the main method of teaching - we should be using methods of inquiry, problem based learning, critical reflection and collaboration, among others.

Digital technology offers many opportunities to change existing pedagogy. It also has some limitations and risks,  however, a critical and knowledgeable educator can mitigate those risks by choosing what, how and when to use technology to enhance learning. We must be vigilant in promoting and modeling these strategies.

Technology is all around us. Students walk in to our classrooms with laptops and cell phones that offer incredible possibilities. We, as teachers, need to set aside our fears and tap into the opportunities that are inherent in the multitude of devices that are carried in their pockets and knapsacks. It’s time to see past the “no cell phone” policy to a classroom where learning is enhanced through the purposeful engagement of personal technologies and where web resources are available to individual students to access during all parts of our lessons. We must continue to pressure school officials to look forward - to allow the use of the technologies and the Internet and to educate students about their appropriate and ethical use - not hide in the sand and hope it all goes away ... because it is not going to go away.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Digital Learner Research: my thoughts

( originally posted on ICTology, imported in September/15)

When I first started teaching in the Faculty of Education, I wanted to design my course (I teach the educational technology course) to meet the needs of my students; teacher candidates in Manitoba. The province was also implementing a new initiative called "Literacy with ICT", which called for teachers to infuse ICT into their classrooms. There was, of course, much written in popular literature about Gen Y, or the 'digital natives', this was useful for motivating and inspiring teachers to change, but was it true? What was the actual competency and knowledge about ICT that my students brought to the program? There was also some suggestion that the ed. Tech course be discontinued and that ICT be part of other courses, after all, the students were all "tech-savvy". Glenn and I decided to investigate what our student's actually used technology for, and how they saw themselves in terms of competency in certain areas.

photo from:
The major thing I take from our results so far (year 1 of a planned 3 year study) is that GenY is overgeneralized and,  while they do exhibit a high degree of comfort with technology, there is such a wide variation and depth of skill, that assuming that our students are ready to wisely and effectively integrate ICT into their teaching is a dangerous premise.  If we expect teachers to make effective and thoughtful use of ICTs in teaching and learning in a pedagogically sound way, then we can not simply assume they have a wealth of knowledge about technology and send them on their way. Our results indicate differences, not only in generations, but in gender. No doubt a person's  interests and background play an important role in technology use as well. If we assume our students are as knowledgeable and savvy as the popular literature says, then we risk leaving some behind, add barriers to learning of others and gloss over vital concepts. Good teachers take into account individual differences and needs as much as possible, this applies to ICT skills as well as learning preferences.

(please refer to the previous post for our presentation at the Emerging Technologies for Online Learning Conference)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Do You Know the Way to San Jose? :Reflections on a road trip.

This post is about a recent 3 week trip I took, it even contains some comments related to ICT & education!

In July, I presented (along with a colleague) at the "Emerging Technologies for Online Learning" conference in San Jose, California. The presentation was called "Digital Misconceptions: Implications for teaching and learning", you can find out more about it here.

I chose to drive to San Jose (with my wife), then up the California coast up through Seattle into B.C. then home through Edmonton after a visit with my son & his family. The journey was memorable for many reasons. First, we saw some amazing scenery, starting with prairie, the edge of the badlands in North Dakota and Montana, to the Mountains and hot springs in Yellowstone, to salt flats near Salt Lake City, the Nevada desert, rolling foothills, vineyards, Giant Redwoods, the rocky Pacific coast and the mighty Rockies in B.C. and Alberta. It is humbling to see the raw beauty of our continent. We also saw temperatures from 40 C in Billings and in Nevada, to 7 C up high in Yellowstone Park to a chilly 16 C in San Francisco. On a technology related note, it is amazing how slow hotel internet is, even in the heart of Silicon Valley!

Some photos from along the way (top: Yellowstone, Nevada desert, Fairmont Hotel in San Jose, Redwood; bottom: salt flats, Pacific coast, Golden Gate, Apple HQ):

While in California, the number of homeless people struck me, probably because of the nicer weather, although we have plenty in Canada, too. I guess it was because they were so visible, around the hotel in San Jose, at rest stops, on the streets of San Francisco and Eureka, it affected me more than I thought. It was difficult to see so many in need in such a place of wealth. I don't know the solution, but we must try, even if it is giving to food banks or donating to shelters. So many get a raw deal in life, I believe we must take responsibility for ourselves, but some people just need a helping hand.

Outside the hotel in San Jose (the Fairmont) was a sculpture and part of it was the plaque with a quote about education. The sculpture was in honour of Ernesto Galarza. The quote (one of several on the monument) is one worthy of consideration, we must constantly remember that education is for the learner, not the adults who too often hold all the power.

We stayed a few nights at Mt. Robson Park in B.C. in a small cabin with an amazing view of the largest peak in the Canadian Rockies. We had no TV, no cell signal, no Internet, just nature and time to read, play cards and enjoy nature. It was hard to do without the  trappings of modern life, I would not want to go without for long, but it was nice to unplug awhile. I recommend some unplugged time for all of us, we need time to relax, see the world, slow down and enjoy life! Well, not much here about technology, just some thoughts from a great road trip and a reminder that we need balance, while technology is part of our world and we can't go back (do we want to?), we must not let it control us, so take a break, look around, take a road trip!
Mt. Robson from 'my' cabin @ Mt Robson Lodge. Photos are nice, but nothing beats being there!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Digital Native, eh? Digital Misconceptions: Implications for Teaching and Learning

( originally posted on ICTology, imported in September/15)

This entry is a companion to our presentation at "Emerging Technologies for Online Learning Symposium" in San Jose, CA on July 20-23, 2010. this conference is sponsored by MERLOT, Sloan C, and Moodle.
Merlot 2010 handout

Here is an article published in the MERN Journal (p. 50) written after our pilot study.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The iPad: Initial Impressions

I was fortunate to receive an iPad (Wifi model) the day they came out in Canada (thanks to my wife for the combined Anniversary/Father's Day gift!). I excitedly opened it up, downloaded a large number of apps,synced it and started playing. First off, I will admit it, I am a devoted Apple fan, I have a mac mini, a 27" iMac, an old iBook (and soon my daughter's old Macbook) an iPod Touch - alas, no iPhone, so I might be a little biased. I primarily use Windows at the University, it does the job, has some great features, but generally, it causes me much frustration - but to each his/her own! Now back to the iPad.

Is it the next great thing? Is it a game changer? Tough questions, the answer, I think, depends on the user. I have no doubt that it can, and will, have an impact on education and on personal, mobile devices. Is it perfect? - no, but few devices are. Many of the criticisms leveled at it are justified - and others not - it depends on how you view it.

In some ways, it can replace a laptop or desktop, but I don't think that is the purpose. I have come to really enjoy using the iPad, it has all the advantages of the touch - but is easier to read (old eyes), type on and generally to work on. I find it easy to use - although I find it easier to hang on to with a case, the "naked" iPad was harder to keep a good grip on - maybe I was just afraid of dropping it. The touch screen is very responsive, although, like the iPod Touch, you have to get used to fingerprints! It is quick to turn on and for Apps to launch, that is one great bonus over a netbook, Windows in any incarnation: XP, Vista or 7, takes forever to boot (I have used all these Windows versions). So it is easy and convenient to grab, turn on, check email, twitter, RSS or jot a note. I will like it when multi-tasking is available, it is not a big deal, but it would be nice to listen to streaming radio while reading news feeds or whatever.

Another complaint was no camera. I don't see this as a major problem, most everyone has a digital camera and you can transfer photos by syncing, using a web service or buying the connector for cameras. As well, wielding an iPad around to take photos might be a little awkward. It would, however, be nice to have a small web cam built in for use with Skype.

There are so many great Apps (I won't use this post to discuss Apple's policies in this regard),some of my most used Apps are: Twitterific, SimpleNote, Adobe Ideas, FeedlerRSS, QuickVoice, AccuRadio among many others. I recently purchased (most of my Apps are free), Office2HD, it seems very good, so far. Photos and video look great on it, it came in handy showing off pictures of my new Grandson! There is so much to choose from and try out, I have only scratched the surface. I have some free books on it, but have not spent much time using it as a book reader, yet, but the various Apps for this look good.

Finally, there are so many Apps for education - many free - that I can envision this being a great (albeit expensive) tool for schools. I have several amazing astronomy Apps, some excellent graphing calculators (who needs an expensive graph calc?), an amazing Periodic Table (guess I didn't really have to memorize it all those years ago - yes, I had to memorize it!) and more. I can also see how it can be a great tool for e-textbooks, imagine all texts on one device, easy & quick to access, with built in multimedia? I hope to get a few iPads and give them to my students to try out and play with to get their impressions about how they might use it in their classrooms. I have heard some stories of their use in schools and I look forward to reading more about this from teachers and students as this information starts to appear. Of course, schools should consider their needs (based on student learning!) before making any major purchases, perhaps the iPad is not the answer, but maybe it is.

In summary, I very much enjoy my iPad. I look forward to using it more and trying more Apps. It has shortcomings and will not replace my computers ... but it has been an excellent companion so far.

Friday, June 11, 2010

TLt 2010: Saskatoon

( originally posted on ICTology, imported in September/15)

On April 26 - 28, 2010, four members of the ICT Committee attended and presented at the TL^t 2010 Conference in Saskatoon. This conference was hosted by SIAST for post-secondary faculty in Saskatchewan - and beyond. The conference featured interesting keynotes by Scott Leslie, David Wiley and Harold Jarche. Our presentation was about the initial steps we have taken in our efforts to facilitate ICT within the Faculty of Education at Brandon University. The session seemed well received and was a full house. The Prezi for the presentation can be seen below. It gives an overview of the process we used up to that point.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

An Interesting Interview ~ Is knowledge outstripping our ability to deal with it?

A few weeks back, I was listening to the CBC program The Current on the drive to Brandon.One of the interviews was with E.O. Wilson, the eminent evolutionary biologist. At one point the host asked about the current oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. His response (paraphrased) was that we (especially Americans) are so self confident that they think that any problems that arise will be solved as they arise. In other words, we go ahead with projects and ideas without taking the time to think about the consequences, we just think that if something comes up it will be dealt with then. He posits that our society is getting too complicated and that we can't handle the big crises that our coming up. Advancements in knowledge and technology is outstripping our ability to use our wisdom to deal with the big problems. We need a better understanding of ourselves as species, we have had great progress, but also great danger. I am not going all 'luddite', but his words made me think, especially now that the oil has been leaking for almost a month and is produced an oil 'glob' that is many kilometers long and wide. (Wilson is not a technophobe either - as his TED talk and web site below show.) In my previous post, I brought up how nature - the volcano in Iceland - still grounds flights from time to time. While the latter example shows that Nature still trumps man, the oil disaster does reinforce Wilson's ideas. We must think carefully about the ramifications of of our progress and not let the almighty dollar be our guide. I am not saying that we should quit progressing, however, we need to be critical thinkers and reflect and consider the possible consequences instead of "ready ... shoot ... aim".

This is an interesting interview - take a few minutes to give it a listen (link above).
Some links: E.O. Wilson's Biodiversity Foundation.
The Boston Globe: Gallery of photos of this disaster.

TED Talk : E.O. Wilson talks about "Saving Life on Earth"

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Mother Nature Trumps Technology

The big news of the past week was the grounding of close to one hundred thousand flights to and from Europe due to the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland. This has stranded many thousands of people and cost the airlines over a billion dollars. While some say the reaction to ground all the flights was overboard, the entire episode just makes one think. Despite all the advances in technology of all sorts,we still can not compete with "mother nature". This episode shows how prediction of these events is still not accurate and that our amazing aircraft can't compete with the ash and other particles produced in the eruption. Click here to see some fantastic photos of the eruption and devastating effects.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Week #14: Final Class - The "Last" Post?

Well, I am going to split this post into 2 parts, the first will be about the last class presentations, the second part will be reflecting back over the course, the blogging process and the future.

Stay tuned! (I HAD to start his before Gary got home!)
... Ok, back again!

Part I

Our last class went out on a high note with great presentations, they covered a wide range, yet were tied together. Thanks to all – and especially to Denis for a thought provoking and mind expanding course!

Cuban’s ideas, presented nicely by Julye (great summary of an entire book!), must be read in light of the time it was written, however, many of the observations remain valid. Putting technology into schools is expensive and, even now, results of its use are uneven. I think that the number of examples of appropriate, engaging uses of technology integration into the classroom is growing, but there is work to do. I do not agree with all of Cuban’s writing, however, one major lesson is that we can’t just dump equipment into schools and expect it to change things. It must be done with a purpose and implementation supported by professional development – and not just (as Denis points out) on the ‘skills’, but in pedagogy and purpose. By the way, Larry Cuban has a blog that is often interesting to read.

In keeping with examining issues in a critical way, a few weeks back, Denis mentioned the book You are not a gadget, I just flipped through it at Chapters, it looks interesting. It also seems to say the opposite of Clay Shirky in Here comes everybody, which I have skimmed and plan to read before my next course starts in May. I think I will buy it and read both. Denis has pushed us to consider all sides of issues, which I am sure we try to have kids in our classes do as well, it will be interesting to read both books and compare the ideas. It makes one wonder, with so many at (seemingly) polar opposites, who is right? I guess time will tell, but I think somewhere in the middle is often reality.

A few comments about the presentations:

I found Roman’s approach to teaching his Computer Science courses refreshing and exciting. I can imagine that the students are engaged and excited about learning!

Julye gave an interesting view of cell phones in schools. I am sure this will be a direction in the future given the power of these devices and their ubiquitous-ness. It will be a learning curve, just like computers were/are and this will take time to grab hold, but I see that it can be a powerful tool. It was interesting, though, it seemed like the texting answers was just doing the same old multiple choice in a new way… the big question is, how can it change teaching for the better?

James look at his top ten (well he didn’t get to all ten) was interesting, some ideas to try! It sounds like you will give your teachers some valuable ideas, James. Your presentation itself gave me some ideas for an assignment for my own students, too!

Roland’s look at some of the dark corners of Internet use in his “Uplifting” presentation reminded us that with good, there is bad – or at least cautions. An area we need to keep in mind.

Ben’s comparison of pencil and computer was fascinating – and some neat history too! In this vein, and in light of Denis’ love of the historical view of technology, I present the following video that looks at the history of computing (my brother sent me this one!). The soundtrack is great, too, as it increases speed...

Part II

Looking back on the blog:

I have posted an entry for every week (sorry to all, but some were rather long, sometimes brief is good!). Even had an extra post or two. I tried to comment on each blog every week, mostly with success - sometimes the conversations really took off and there were multiple responses. This exchange made the blogs come alive and become a true learning experience. It allowed us to investigate themes and concepts in more depth and play with their meanings and consequences. It allowed us to extend the discussions in class and produced offshoots of new ideas. The ability to incorporate other media elements adds to the power of blogging, and is one of the great benefits of the Internet. Finally, it allowed reflection and metacognition as we entered into the blogging process and related the ideas to our everyday experiences. This exercise was living proof of positive ways of using the Internet and of how learning is social, in the sense of Vygotsky’s work, involving ‘play’, language and interaction.

In looking back, the course itself dealt with the history of ideas and technology, with philosophy and critical thought. The themes of 1) technology being much more than skills but of culture as well, 2) that technology has caused ‘revolutionary’ change throughout history, 3) technology as public service (including Grierson’s conception of the documentary to promote democratic ideals and 4) the idea that technology can take on a great educational role or a trivial one resonates with my conception as well. I wonder what Edward Murrow  (speech segment on YouTube) would think of television and the Internet today? I see so much of value – documentaries, science programs, history programs, news and ideas shared across the world, information at our fingertips – but also much we should be ashamed of: some of the so-called news  - both on TV and the Internet, entertainment of questionable value, hate, misinformation and trivia. I think we has educators need to keep the themes in mind and try to help our students (at whatever age) filter through what technology has to offer, to see the dark side and the light (a little Star Wars reference) and learn to use the technology in an ethical appropriate way.

Well, this is it for the course, thanks Denis and all my fellow students, it was great to get to know you, you are a talented bunch – loved the snacks and the interaction.

Will this be my last post? Hmmmm, I don’t think so, I have, for the most part, enjoyed the experience – writing and responding and discussing. I now have two blogs running (one for another course on the social nature of learning – here if interested!).  I also have started having my students blog, so I guess I should set the example? Can’t say I will continue both, but I do think I will make occasional posts as I continue in my ‘new’ career and join the group of “edubloggers” in sharing, discussing and growing! See you in the ‘blogosphere’ (always wanted to say that)!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Week #13 (no class) Kids Not Getting Enough Sleep?

No class this week, but this article from the BBC came to my attention via Twitter and is rather interesting.

It talks about a study that shows kids are not getting the required sleep because they are watching TV, playing video games or using their cell phones. The results include tiredness, lack of concentration and behaviour problems. This takes me back to Lana's presentation of the Kaiser Report and the role of parents. It seems to me that not only kids, but parents need some educating as well. Technology might be a factor, but a little parenting might help the situation. The article goes on to talk about the effect on teens as well, too bad it ends with this quote:

"These morning-light-deprived teenagers are going to bed later, getting less sleep and possibly under-performing on standardised tests."

A much better and valid reason than this could have been made - I wish we could get off this standardised testing nonsense as a way to gauge achievement! :-( (see my previous post for video of Sir Ken Robinson on this topic!)

On a happy note: I came across this site earlier this week, and given the historical theme in the class,  found it to be very interesting. It even has a page on the Timex-Sinclair computer I brought to class earlier this term - not to mention the Commodore Pet and Trash 80! :The Obsolete Technology Website!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Week #12: Recognizing the Japanese Zero, Slide Rules & Other "Learning Objects"

Okay, Gary - I beat you to the punch this week (But I notice Julye was before any of us - missed you tonight Julye!)

For tonight I will only put up this video, similar to the Ma and Pa Kettle (enjoy, Ben!) More to come later!


OK, back again...

Japanese Zero was an interesting film, for many reasons. The methods used for teaching was the main one, however, I also found it interesting for its historical value. Here is a photo of a P-40 (this was at the Kalamazoo Air Zoo in Michigan - used in air shows) and a Zero (taken at the RAF Museum in London, UK) from my collection (aircraft, and in particular WW II aircraft is a interest/hobby of mine, I routinely drag my wife to air museums). Can you recognize them?

The film used a number of features to get the important point of the instruction across, from repetition to animation and the entertainment element was added in so the repetition could be put into a real context. It even used multiple learning styles, using visual and aural. As I watched, I thought about all the ways we use for getting information across. In this case, it was really rote learning, yet it was a matter of life and death so the message had to be made so it was automatic. In many skills like this, we know that ‘practice makes perfect’. Anyone who coaches a sport knows this well (as do musicians, dancers, etc), certain skills are practiced over and over, perhaps in different drills, so the skill becomes routine or automatic. Using mathematics as an example, if the goal is to learn to factor a trinomial, we of course want the student to understand the concept, however, if one wants to be proficient in factoring, then the old ‘drill and kill’ does work. Constructivist learning theories are in vogue, and I do believe they work; yet I wonder if all the various theories of learning have merit. Does the method really depend on what is to be learned, the reason for learning it and the nature of the concept to be learned?
Part of looking back is to see what these artifacts can teach us about our practice now. This also applied to the ‘podcast’ Denis showed us in the form of the large vinyl record. I really was struck by Denis’ comments (my recollection of this!) that many of these ideas are not anything new, that we have always experimented and made use of the media of the day in creative ways. The question, as Denis put in his comments about the presentations (about mine in particular) is which of these technologies will be around in 5, 10  or 15 years? Will they become like the old vinyl records – unusable and lost? Or will they withstand the test of time?

Our TED talks:
A few quick comments on the presentations, all were every interesting, I feel fortunate to be in such company & look forward to the rest next class!

Paul’s slide rule brought back many memories; I even remembered how to do some of the operations. As soon as Paul started I recalled the scene in Apollo 13 that he mentioned where the engineers all grabbed their slide rules to verify the orbital burn calculations. The technology and engineering skill used in making this calculation device is amazing – again illustrating how old technology does not mean it was ‘primitive’. It speaks to the ingenuity of humans when so many successful moon landings were carried out with such ‘primitive’ technology! Modern graphing calculators can be wonderful tools that allow us to skip some of the drudgery and examine concepts, yet to use the slide rule you REALLY had to know place value & estimation, skills we try to get across today.

Lana’s holographs was interesting, just like Star Wars in 1977! The interesting thing was that CNN (Wolf Blitzer) spent most of the time cooing about the technology and not about the point of the broadcast – the election results! So much for seemless, but I guess there has to be a first for everything (although it wasn’t there as Lana pointed out!).

Young Mike’s look back was interesting. It looks like his course back in ‘96 (ha!) was a good one, but more interesting is the changes from then to now. It also shows why we shouldn’t just throw all our artifacts away – they have value even 15 years later!  

Gary’s look at learning objects was well done (especially considering his illness the last week - many good sites to go back and look at, Gary). The Ma and Pa Kettle clip, although old, could still have value as a teaching object. It is amusing, but a math teacher could show this and ask students to explain the errors or find another example that would work in Ma and Pa’s methodology. The discussion about the use of the learning objects was also interesting.

My presentation is here, if you are interested. Once you get to slide 2, just go to the next and the intro video will play!The images that appeared and disappeared on certain slides are a jumble… sorry!

Finally – Denis talked about standards and used the ISTE standards to illustrate some of the concerns. We have considered them before so in the course, as well.  This video of Sir Ken Robinson on the Bonnie Hunt show is a good one about the shortcomings of standardized tests! Enjoy!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Week #11: A Plethora of Presentations

This week we heard three interesting presentations and engaged in some good discussion – good job by all! I will touch on a few points from each in this week’s blog post.

Kaiser Report (revisited):

Reading the full report and hearing Lana’s take on it revealed much more than simply the amount of time kids spend on media. I will comment on a few items. One item of interest is that TV viewing is not decreasing as we often hear; it is just that kids are not watching it ‘live’. I understand this, since I do the same. I usually record the shows I want to watch so I can skip the ads (a benefit of technology as far as I am concerned!) and watch on my schedule. Another positive finding was that reading and physical activity has not dropped, although more physical activity would be of benefit when we hear so much about obesity problems. While reading books has not decreased, much media use requires reading as well – although a different type of reading, so do kids read more in total? The amount of multitasking is understandable as well. Most, it seems, involves listening to music or TV and doing something else. Listening to music is something I think many people do while engaging in other activities, I don’t see that aspect as anything new. Finally we see the move to cell phones – mobility, as the Horizon Report pointed out, is the new wave.

The role of parents is important in terms of media consumption. Parents who put some controls on media use have children who use media less, and have better grades. While parents have influence, many do not regulate media use of their children. As was mentioned in class, it could be because they do not understand the media themselves, a symptom of a generational divide. One troubling trend is that more devices are located in kid’s bedrooms. For years, parents have been advised to keep computers in ‘public’ areas of their homes and to discuss computer (media) use with their children, yet this message does not seem to be having an impact. This trend again points to the importance of modeling and teaching ethical and appropriate use of technology in schools. The report writers are careful to not make any cause and effect pronouncements, a good thing. Do kids who are getting lower marks and ‘getting into trouble’ do so because of technology use, or are all three symptoms of some other problem? The results of this study provide some insight and are interesting, yet, like any statistical study, the results must be carefully weighed. For example, in the media diary, students mark off when they use a media type for 15 minutes in any half hour – does this mean that 15 or 16 minute use appears as 30 minutes in the results? The study does prompt thought and more questions.

Thwarted Innovation: This article contradicts many recent studies that show huge growth in online courses, especially in post-secondary, but in secondary as well (examples: Sloan Consortium & Canadian Council on Learning). However, as we know, changes in educational technology have been taking place rapidly. Today (Friday) I attended a talk at the U of W by a researcher from the University of Central Florida. This university has about 53, 000 students – third largest in the US and online/blended learning is very popular. Another ‘muddy area’ is the definition of eLearning as Roman pointed out (ah, definitions again!). To many it means online learning, but according to the Canadian Council on Learning, it refers to any use of digital technology for learning, be it face-to-face or online. One conclusion the article’s authors reached was that online learning would not increase until the pedagogy changed. This is born out in many research studies, including the one I was involved with. There is agreement that teaching online is NOT the same as face to face. One of the problems with online learning, especially in the early days (and perhaps in secondary schools here in Manitoba) is that teachers try to move their face to face course online, which is generally not successful.

21st Century Skills:

The aspects that stick out very clearly in this report were described clearly by Roland. The language is similar to many other reports from the US (but not peculiar to the US), the influence of business is abundantly clear. It seems that the only reason schools exist are to prepare good little workers. I have discussed this in other blog posts, so that is all I will say about that. The other thing about the report that comes across clearly is the attitude. It seems that the only thing that can spur change or convince people to buy into any idea is to rely on emotion, in particular, fear and pride. I love watching the Daily Show and Colbert Report because they point out how ridiculous this is; yet news networks and both ends of the political spectrum use fear so often. I often wonder how much could get accomplished if people would actually sit down, discuss rationally and try to understand one another. In many of these polarities, the differences are not as great as they seem.

(BTW here is Canada’s version of 21st Century Learning)

Well, this is already too long, I know I don't have to comment on each presentation, but I can't help myself! If you read all of this, I thank you and applaud your perseverance!

Late addition: just came across this segment of Bill Maher - relates to a recent firing of all teachers in a school in the US & one of the topics of the Kaiser Report: Parents!

Yet another late addition: story today on CBC: Survey says Canadians like PC more than TV.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Week #10 (sort of) Heidegger revisited...

Just came across this article on Wired, seems Heidegger was right...

Also - just came across this video of Tim Berners Lee doing a TED talk on open data:

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Week #9: Education as Commodity & Other Things

First off, this is the link to my presentation tonight on Anderson's "Towards a Theory of Online Learning": Click here!

I am swamped in marking, so this will be brief!

First off, I want to explore the idea of theory, which was touched on in the chapter I presented. Educational theorizing is often frowned upon by teachers (I know, I was/am one) as not grounded in the reality of the classroom. I agree with Anderson, however, that good theory allows us to think about the big picture and use the ideas to reflect on our own practice. On the other hand, as Anderson pointed out, a theory can also blind us if we subscribe to one ‘pet’ view without question. Going back to the previous weeks presentations/articles, although I did not necessarily subscribe to the views given, I think it is still important to listen to and consider alternate theories and ideas. For example, take the The Computer Delusion by Oppenheimer. While I do believe that technology can offer much to improve education, his anecdotes (although it is interesting how he uses these stories to support his view, yet decries them as poor research earlier in the article) illustrate how NOT to use computers in the classroom. Likewise, Kirschner’s article argues that discovery learning is not advisable. Although I do not think his description of inquiry learning is the model promoted for classroom use, it does remind us of the importance of scaffolding- or guidance - in teaching, all elements of good practice. I guess my point is that arguments that prompt us to question and consider our practice critically are important to our growth as educators. Learning and teaching are messy, they are not easily reduced to theory since they are human endeavors, and humans vary, what works in one situation may not in another. Theory gives us a starting point, ideas to consider and test in the reality of our practice.

Before I move on to my next topic, I recently was watching a few video episodes of Search Engine (from TVO) with Jesse Brown. Take a look at the episodes called “The Luddite” (just funny!), and the ones about saving newspapers (related to Ben’s post a while back about changing media) and about the Internet making us dumber. The videos are funny, but make some good points for consideration.

Now, to finish, I will turn to the some of the ideas Ben presented about the move to education as commodity in the move to corporate globalization. This idea, in particular, was of interest. There has been a distinct trend, especially in the U.S. towards treating education as a business. In some cases, there is a call to have Business Administrators run schools so they are efficient producers. Students are treated like products, throw out the bad ones, churn out good little future workers. We want them to think, but not too much, after all, they might question the status quo! I do not disagree that one of the jobs of a school is to prepare students to become meaningfully employed and enjoy a good standard of living, however, many of the jobs today’s students will enjoy do not exist. There are many other reasons for education as well, like the ability to think creatively and critically, to be ethical, good citizens, to respect other people and viewpoints, to appreciate other ways of thinking and the list goes on. Many of these skills would also be important for employment, but life is more than a job. (As an aside, I came across this wiki recently where the topic of what education is for, is discussed – interesting and something I think all teachers need to think about – why are we doing what we do, teaching what we teach?). Increasingly we see the influence of business, the call for ‘accountability’ – while not a bad thing, is always based on standards set by organizations with a heavy corporate influence and tested by an external, standardized test, that more often than not reduces learning to rote procedures and knowledge. Now corporations might not all be evil, no doubt some wonderful people head up corporations, but their main goal is profit – sometimes at the expense of people and the environment – thus, we need to resist the corporatization of schools – or at least bend them to our will! On that note … I will close up my Apple computer (one of many Apple products, I own), go see if my Toyota is still in one piece and… ) enough of a rant for now and so much for brief!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Week #7: A Plethora of Ideas & Opinions

Where to start? Actually, I think I will rant about one topic, comment on another and add comments to other blog posts rather than repeat myself here…

Horizon Report: Just for your information, the full 2010 Horizon report is now available. Mike did a nice job and started some good conversations in his presentation. I am sure the discussion will be pursued on many a blog this week. In the report, the difficulties of assessment are discussed, but the big stumbling block mentioned was standards and standardized testing, thankfully a problem we do not have to deal with in Manitoba (our “standards tests” don’t compare with what happens in US schools). At least the direction assessment is taking in Manitoba allows using progressive practices. While feedback about the use of the technology – and perhaps even a portion of a grade in evaluation – is important to make, the assessment should be about the outcomes to be learned (of course, using the technology could be the outcome if it is a technology course). One has keep from being wowed by the glitz. The five trends & challenges listed on pages 6 & 7 of the Executive Summary are interesting as well. I won’t comment on them, but they are worth looking at.

Filtering/Blocking: This topic has been a pet peeve of mine for many years. Last year I wrote an anti-filtering ‘ article for ManACE. If you are interested and do not get the ManACE Journal, I can send a copy. I have heard concerns about the practice from practicing teachers and teacher candidates who go out student teaching with some great ideas, but… YouTube is blocked, Google Docs is blocked and so on. Protecting children is the reason… yet, kids go home or pull out their Smart phone and access whatever they want. Now, I certainly understand that there may need to be some filtering in Primary schools, however by the time a student reaches even grades 7 & 8, but especially in high schools, I see NO NEED for filtering. It allows schools to say “it isn’t our problem” … but it ties the hands of teachers and students. Sometimes there are bandwidth issues and streaming video must be cut down, but in those cases, at least teachers should be allowed access. In some schools Google docs and sites are blocked. Why? Is someone afraid kids might collaborate? Filtering software provides a false sense of security, it does let some ‘bad’ stuff through, but we are less vigilant if we have it. It also blocks many useful sites. As Roman pointed out, there are ways around filters. Just do a google search and hundreds of sites with instructions to defeat filtering come up. We should teach appropriate use and deal with the odd issue that comes up. If we think the problem is not ours because bad sites are blocked, then we are doing our students a big disservice. Today’s kids, as we have commented on many times, are comfortable with technology and are using it often. The problem is they do not often think of the consequences of their actions, so our solution – block the bad stuff ! It should be teach appropriate, effective and ethical use! I think I have mentioned this quote before (can’t remember where I heard this) … that the filters should be in the heads of our students, not on servers. My final point is to ask: who decides what gets blocked? An IT person? A division administrator (or worse, school trustee) worried about PR & liability? A software company? My opinion is that it is the teacher who knows her/his students, the teacher who is the professional at the front-lines. Lets stop deskilling and not trusting teachers and let THEM decide which software, web sites and so on to use to do their job! OK – I guess my opinion is clear. I will continue my ranting in response to my classmate’s posts. :-)

Check these out: poster 1 (I have linked to this before).

Here is a disturbing story about a huge invasion of privacy by school officials.

Sid Davis: Another pioneer. It was fun and interesting to watch the film. It is a look back at an earlier time, we might laugh, yet they could provide interesting discussion with students about life in earlier times and what messages it may hold for us today. You can find many of Sid Davis’ films (and all sorts of public domain video, audio and so on) at the Internet Archive site. This is a wonderful source of artifacts that can be used and remixed for free – and legally. The CBC show Spark uses audio from here for many podcasts, a wealth of content at our fingertips (providing it isn’t blocked!). The BMW videos also acted to show the power of video. A topic that should be included in media literacy, be it in a Media Studies class, an ICT course or an ELA class.

Speaking of Spark and media literacy. Nora Young interviewed a guy about software they are working on called the “dispute finder”. It is experimental & free. It is a way to alert people when claims on web sites are disputable. Sounds interesting!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Week #6: "Media Literacy is Critical"

Okay - I've got this started on the same night as class (so there, Gary, you are not the only one).

The topic of media literacy seems to be the buzzword these days. The topic has been around for years (forever?). I remember teaching such literacy in regards to advertising way back when I started teaching in 1978. However, with modern digital media, there now seems to be more urgency to address this in schools. In the rush to teach digital or Internet literacy, we should also not forget other ‘texts’, as was pointed out in the presentation last night. Internet literacy does take in some other skills, such as search techniques, however, deconstructing the ‘text’, be it the written word, video, audio or some other form, is paramount. To me, this is one of the most important parts of the Manitoba Literacy with ICT continuum. Using ICT (educational technology) may be a means to an end – learning and critical & creative thinking, but media literacy is key to interpreting, consuming and creating media of any sort. Members of Manace & MB Ed created the video below to help get students/teachers thinking about Media Literacy. It was posted to YouTube and video responses were invited. The focus is on digital technology, but it is still a nice job (at least I think so):

The next item I want to touch on is the term “Digital Native”. When I first heard this several years ago, I thought it was a useful descriptor, a way to get teachers to embrace change. However, after doing some reflection, looking at my students and reading Prensky’s work, I came to realize how misleading, and incorrect, this term is. First off, anyone born before the eighties is considered a digital immigrant. I personally was taking computer science in high school (in the early seventies) when programs were punched onto computer cards, sent to the school division office, then returned with the results. I continued taking some computer science courses in University, used desktop computers (microcomputers, remember Commodore PETS and TRS-80s?) when they entered schools and I have used them ever since, keeping up pretty well with the newest ‘stuff’. I know many other people of all ages who are very comfortable and knowledgeable with computer technology. Yet many of us are considered digital immigrants because such technology was not around when we grew up. I guess I am an ‘automobile native’ and a ‘jet aircraft native’ by that reasoning. Paul expressed this nicely in his blog when he commented that just because a kid can use a cell phone – or facebook, or download music, etc – does not mean they understand the technology, their knowledge is often superficial at best. I do agree that many young adults and kids are very comfortable with technology, can use it for many purposes, and that it has an effect on the way they interact and learn. However, this does not mean they are using it to create and evaluate information, nor using it effectively and ethically. This means that teaching media literacy is, as Denis said, critical. Perhaps putting labels on generations and generalizing their characteristics is, as Heidegger put it “ordering’, it is what humans do to help understand the world. It does, however, also create problems. If we just assume all young kids love technology, are comfortable with it, can use it effectively, then we are both delusional and can miss those who are not as savvy with the technology. Some use the digital native construct to promote the need for change in education. I say it is precisely because this generalization is not universally true and that many kids are using the new technologies without a real understanding of them that is reason to change education. I have been conducting research with a colleague in this area (related to teacher education) and a paper I coauthored on the topic is in the MERN Journal (p 50), if you are interested. Whew – enough of a rant on that one!

Another area related to the topic of media literacy is ‘digital citizenship’ – the ethical and appropriate use of digital technology. Part of this is copyright and plagiarism. These ideas are becoming real problems when it is so easy to copy and paste information; download images, video and music. Denis pointed out nicely some of the problems with plagiarism, it seems that borrowing content is nothing new, who knew that “twinkle, twinkle, little star” was so popular! A similar thing can happen now with regards to intellectual property. The digital age is changing faster than lawmakers can keep up. A recent movement is the ‘open’ content movement which calls for sharing content openly, allowing use and re-use. Many people license their work under a creative commons license. with the right to remix with attribution and share alike clauses. So, if I use someone’s photo, tweak it a bit, add some text then re-post to share (attributing the original, of course), then someone else takes that and further changes it, giving me attribution, then again … when does the work become not that of the person who took the photo in the first place? Plagiarism has been a concern in academia for years, the problem is only getting worse and is another part of the media literacy puzzle, and is confusing for students and teachers alike.
(late addition: someone put this related article up on twitter)

Well, three topics, albeit related, in this blog, I think that is quite enough! Until next week…

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Week #5: Heidegger, Heidegger ...

The reading and subsequent discussion & analysis of Heideggers’ The Question Concerning Technology served to confirm & reinforce my views about technology and raised many more questions and trains of thought. I found the group presentations and discussion very informative – thanks to the class, many wonderful insights and examples! Reading Heidegger was a chore, however, he also has some interesting ways of stating things, and further readings help bring them out.

The major point Heidegger is making, as I see it, is that the essence of technology goes well beyond technology… “the essence of technology is by no means anything technological”. Heidegger tells us that technology is much more than a tool – something we have discussed many times in this course. We must constantly question our use of technology and the direction it takes us “questioning is the piety of thought”. Yet, as Heidegger points out we are “unfree and chained to technology”. Not only does technology play an increasingly important role in our lives, but does Heidegger also mean that it blinds us to other ways of viewing the world – such as through the arts? This idea applies to the use of technology in society and in education, and is one we should keep in mind. We certainly talk about using modern technological tools to enhance learning. It does offer many affordances never available before, yet it goes much further. We should discuss the use of technology with our students, what are the trade-offs? How does this affect the environment and our use of energy? How does this affect our relationships? How can we use the technology in sustainable ways? How can technology enhance our learning, our thought, our connections? How do we avoid the “ compulsion to push on blindly with technology” or to do the opposite and “rebel helplessly against it and curse it as the work of the devil”? Heidegger tells us that where the danger lies, so does the “saving power”, thus we must keep the danger in sight. Again we see the importance of questioning, examining the path we are on – both back where we have come and forward to where it might lead us. Heidegger tells us that we cannot embrace technology blindly as simply a way to get things done, nor can we ignore it, we can’t just let it happen and we can’t “rail against it”. What do we do?

In a previous course (Critical Theorizing), I attempted to examine technology, and the digital divide, from a critical point of view. I came across a number of researchers who promoted a critical view of technology. Several points of view were common in the literature and echoed Heidegger’s; we could ignore the technology and hope it goes away, we could attack and blame technology for all our ills (technophobes), we could embrace it by jumping on the bandwagon and hoping for the best (technophiles, or a term I liked, used by Weaver & Grindall (1998): technomaniacs ), or use the technology in a thoughtful, critical way (‘critical technomania” – another term I liked). In the last view, we integrate the technology, but do so in a way that promotes learning, democratic values and social justice. We hear a lot of naysayers rallying against technology, telling us that Google makes us stupid, that reading and writing skills are deteriorating, and so on. The technomaniacs will dismiss such claims out of hand and carry on. I think we need to examine these claims and the research that also says the opposite, we should question all these ideas and use them to examine our practice. Once again, as Heidegger tells us “questioning is the piety of thought”.

Heidegger also talks about techne meaning the fine arts, and brings in poetry and other art forms as a mode of revealing. Our modern technology can be art and can help produce wonderful art (see the link to the YouTube video on sand art, I put in Nicenet, for example). But that is another discussion.

Finally, just for fun (if you are one of those rare breeds who appreciate the absurdity of Monty Python…) here is the Bruce’s Philosophers Song … enjoy!

Weaver, J. and Grindall, K. (1998). Surfing and getting wired in a fifth grade classroom: critical pedagogical methods and techno-culture. In Kincheloe, J. and Steinberg S. (Eds.) Unauthorized Methods: Strategies for Critical Teaching. (pp 231-251) New York: Routledge.