Sunday, January 31, 2010

Week 4...Rambling along

For this week’s blog, I am going touch on a few topics, and include some interesting links. So bear with, or excuse, my rambling.

First off is revisiting the Kaiser report. The results of this study (and others like it) bring different reactions. Some say since kids use digital technology so much we should not use it in schools; that it can get in the way of learning. Others say we have to use it to stay relevant, that it is what the digital natives’use so just use it. Both arguments have valid points and we need to consider both views and not dismiss them out of hand. When checking various blogs I subscribe to, I came across one by U of Michigan Professor, Yong Zhao (he is the author of a recent ASCD book, Catching up or leading the way). His post can be found here, it is an interesting read. I listened to an interview with him some time back (a podcast on Alan November’s site). One thing he said stood out, something to the effect that if a teacher could be replaced by technology, then he/she should be. Basically he stated that there are things computers can do better than teachers (like provide information, animations, etc) and those who fear that their roles as teachers could be taken over by computers are partly correct. On the other hand, the real role as teachers as model, guide, facilitator, etc cannot be taken over by a computer. I think that a lot of these discussions can be brought back to one idea – balance. We need to have balance in our lives and also in schooling. Not all activities need technology to be effective; in fact in some cases the technology can get in the way. For others, technology can enhance the experience, and the learning. Another interesting blog I came across was entitled “The myth of the digital native”, in it the author writes: her research indicates a very strong correlation between the teacher's use of the technology in lessons, and the kids' use of technology outside of school. It is essential for the teacher to model not only how to use the technology, but how to learn effectively”. I guess I am saying that a teacher should use the technique or strategy that works best for the given purpose, to meet the goal. For example, look how our blogs have allowed so much discussion, sharing and thinking/learning.

If you want more data, try the PEW Research Center - lots of interesting data & commentary. Also of interest in relation to the above is ISTE’s Top 10 Educational Technology Priorities for 2010.

Finally, the big event of last week was the announcement of the iPad by Apple. What do you think? The hype certainly worked up a frenzy of interest. While the device has many shortcomings – no flash support, no camera, no multi-tasking… I think it may still be the start of a new focus in computing devices. Despite these shortcomings, I still want one, although I may wait for the next upgrade. Whether you were impressed or not, this blog, written about the iPad release, is very interesting.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Father of the Documentary

This week, I will reflect on the NFB documentary Grierson. First, though, the results of the Kaiser Family Foundation study, Generation M(2), released this past week, look very interesting – and in some ways, worrisome. I will, however, reserve further comment until after I have read the report more fully.

The documentary Grierson by the National Film Board of Canada was very interesting and had much to offer for thought and reflection. First, it was another example of the influence of Canadians and Canadian Institutions on many aspects of modern life. The documentary also exposed me to another person who was ahead of his time, much like Leo Vygotsky, whose work on child development and learning in the early 20th century still is in use today. While Vygotsky’s work was lost then rediscovered after his death. Grierson’s ideas took hold and had effect immediately. It is interesting how ‘new’ ideas are not always new.

I was struck by many of Grierson’s ideas explored in the documentary. The major accomplishment was how he took a fledgling new media, film, and came up with a new application for it, the documentary. His idea to use film to promote social democracy was groundbreaking. He saw the application of this medium for education and saw the importance of education to promote social justice – a current catchword in today’s schools. This new use of film was used to teach about and empower the common person. His idea of using the new films in schools and in public spaces, especially the latter, was very prophetic. Much of the promise of new technology in education is this very idea – to allow all persons the opportunity to be heard, to empower people and expose us to new points of view. This ideal may still not be realized, after all there is much disparity in access, know how, and control, however, the potential is there if used properly. I wonder what Grierson would make of our new media, of modern television and the Internet? YouTube, for example, allows anyone to post and there is a lot of ‘junk’ there, yet there are also gems that teach and have powerful messages for tolerance and understanding.

Another telling point about Grierson that was shared in the doc. was that he was not about the gadgets and technology itself, but rather about how to make use of it. This is the attitude promoted today about educational technology; that it is about the learning, not the technology itself.

One more thing that struck me, as Gary noted in discussion, is the effect that McCarthyism had on many people, including Grierson. His ideas did indeed promote the everyday man, yet the attack on Grierson in the communist ‘witch hunt’ of the fifties, shows how fear could be used to blind people to ideas and thinking that may speak against or threaten the existing power structure.

Grierson was surely ahead of his time, a visionary. Examining the past helps understand the now and the future and allows us to pause, reflect and learn.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Class #2: A rose by any other name ...

Once again, during my 3-hour drive home, I contemplated my post for this class – lots of interesting stuff! Once again there are a number of ideas and concepts to choose from for discussion, from Plato to the ‘back and forth’ viewpoint. As I drove, listening to “Classic Vinyl” on XM satellite radio, the timeless Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin came on. One line in the song is: “But she wants to be sure … 'Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings.” That was it! I was going to look back at the discussions of definitions.

Language has always been a source of confusion. International agreements are often stalled by disagreements about wording; legal contracts and legislation are always open to interpretation. Every institution has its own jargon, acronyms, and conventions. Education is often one of the worst for this. I believe that, often, the fuzzy nature of some terms or wordings lead to unnecessary confusion. So, while at first thought, one might think discussing terminology is much ado about nothing, it is important to understand what the terms are referring to for the sake of clear communication.

The points made about ICT (Information and Communication Technology) are well taken. It is a vague term and is open to interpretation. The acronym itself is not known by many people, especially parents, though this is not limited to that group. I have heard many people use ITC instead – a slip? Perhaps, but many think that is the term. It might seem trivial, but it can lead to confusion. I think that perhaps the Parent Guide to Literacy with ICT that the Department of Education produced is partly to help convey the meaning of the term, among other things. In researching the digital divide for a previous paper, I came across work by Neil Selwyn, he states:

Indeed, the term ICT more accurately refers to an updating of the conventional ‘information technology’ to encompass the rapid convergence of technologies such as computers, telecommunications and broadcasting technologies, as well as stressing the communicative and networking capacity of modern-day information technologies. Thus, the term ICT is best seen as an umbrella term for a range of technological applications…
(Selwyn, N. (2004). Reconsidering political and popular understandings of the digital divide. New Media Society. 6(3):341–362.)

It seems to me, and I may be wrong, the term IT has a very business orientation (IT departments, etc) and ICT is used, as Selwyn states, to be more encompassing – and maybe to distinguish education from corporations?). Yes, information technologies include books, and communication technologies include pencils as Denis made clear in his draft paper. Yet, in education circles (at least in Manitoba) it is generally understood to be modern computer based technology. The problem is that this meaning must be made clear to parents and others so they know what we are talking about.

Denis also points out that this term, ICT, implies the tools, not process and pedagogy. I agree, and I think it is generally used in that way. When one looks at the Department of Education LwICT continuum, I think it also acknowledges this since it is a literacy with ICT continuum, implying that it is not the tools per se that are important, but the process of using them in an appropriate way to enhance literacy (in its broad meaning – another confusing term?) as opposed to ICT literacy, which is the actual use of the tools.

I do like the broader term, educational technology. Defined by AECT as; “the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources”. It does include the process, theory and pedagogical aspects. I think the terms ethical and appropriate add some fuzziness, but it also reminds us that these technologies are not neutral and we need to be cognizant of how they are used.

In the end, as the saying goes a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, yet we must clearly communicate what we mean by these terms. While it may not really matter which term we use, it is a fun exercise to explore their meanings, and, more importantly, we must have a similar view in mind when using them in order to avoid confusion and needless disagreement.

Filtering in Schools?

Just a quick link to make a point - it relates to the comments about Paul's blog being blocked at school. Check out this poster on Flickr about blocking & filtering.

By the way, the group it was posted to has some neat quotes/photos, it is: Great quotes about Learning and Change.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Here we go!

Welcome to my blog! It is rather ironic that we are blogging for this course. I just assigned a weekly blog to my Internet in Education course and was lamenting that my class numbers have gone up to 23, so I have 23 blogs to add to my reading list! Now I have to put my “money where my mouth is” and write one myself, oh what cruel justice! Actually, I was thinking of starting one anyway, so here goes!

On the long drive home, I mulled over what I might write about, there were so many ideas to contemplate, from McLaren’s video segment to the analogy of educational technology as an iceberg.

One thing that did stick with me (pretty good for an old brain) was the McLuhan quote about the “Innis Mode”, taken from Brunner’s novel Stand on Zanzibar. The line in particular that struck me was this:

“A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding.”

Taken by itself, I find this quote meaningful and important in my work as a “budding” academic and as an educator. It is a reminder that we often put forward our point of view, or opinion, yet we do so without evidence, critical thought or insight and understanding. As educators we want our student to voice their point of view, yet we want them to do so with thought and reason. Too often, in letters to the editor, sound-off features, blogs and so on, we get lots of points of view, but how many of these points of view are just off the cuff reactions without real reflection and thought. In today’s world, we have so much access to information. We are inundated by 24-hour news networks, subjected to the ramblings and pontifications of so-called pundits on Fox News or CNN or CBC Newsworld. With the “new” web, everyone can put out their point of view in blogs, comments, Facebook, Twitter (but only in 140 characters) and YouTube. Our students are exposed to all manner of points of view. The question is, how many of these points of view are backed by insight and understanding, by careful reflection and thought? Now, I don’t think this access to information, ideas and points of view is all bad. It is and can be valuable in many ways. Everyone can join in and have their voice heard. Valuable information and ideas can be shared. The quick and easy access to other worldviews and knowledge adds so much potential for democracy and equality, yet it also adds many challenges and has the potential for harm. To me, this makes the infusion of ICT into education even more vital. We must do so, however, in a thoughtful way, that enhances learning, critical thinking and self-reflection. This is the challenge to educators, to help our students sift through the points of view, to gain that elusive insight and understanding.