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.