Archive for the 'Information Literacy' Category

Mixed Messages And Simple Truths

On Monday, I heard Dylan William say that computers don’t make a difference to learning in the classroom. On Thursday, I heard Gerry White say that technology is responsible for a 12% increase in achievement. Both asserted that their statements were backed by research.

Dylan William said on Monday (and Friday), “You are entitled to your own opinions. You are not, however, entitled to your own facts.”

John Hattie said something similar back in 2011 when he was in Adelaide, “I’m sorry but you can’t argue with the research.”

Over time, we as educators have become used to listening to and reading from gurus with simple truths. So many of us feel that we are well below the expertise of these edugurus (and I don’t mean to single out the examples above as being the only ones going around) so we pack into venues, feverishly copying dot points from slideshows, handing over cash to buy the book and match up the dispensed wisdom against our own learning, our own classrooms and schools to see if we are headed in the prescribed direction. I am guilty as anyone of being part of this phenomenon but it is interesting how connecting to lots of non-edugurus has helped me spot the mixed messages and view this dispensed wisdom through a more critical (some might say cynical) lense.

Another example from Monday. When I first arrived at my previous school, there were a few teachers who were using the Brain Gym program pushed by a teacher who considered himself an expert on the matter of brain research. He had attended Brain Gym training, had gone to other Brain based PD (quite popular about ten years ago) but something about the whole program didn’t sit right with me. I got some evidence that this was so when Ewan McIntosh published a blog post in 2007 that queried some of the bogus science and research that was at the core of the program. He was of course being informed by others in his network, so he published further posts and pointed to the growing evidence. But if back in 2007, I told those devotees of Brain Gym of Ewan’s findings, I would have been scoffed at.

“What would some blogger know about Brain Gym? He’s not an expert. It’s based on up to date brain research.”

So I kept my mouth shut. But then Dylan William canned Brain Gym on Monday as well. Suddenly, teachers knew for sure that it was bogus, because an authoritative voice had said so. Not one of their colleagues, not some mysterious blogger from Scotland but someone who is currently viewed by our Australian educational community as an expert. We, as educators, are so conditioned to the notion that our knowledge isn’t expert enough, that our day to day experiences aren’t enough to grasp the bigger picture that we concede the higher factual ground to those on the stage or behind the podium.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not a post against people like Dylan William or John Hattie who bring us their research, their findings and their advice. What they bring to us via their research, their books and their presentations is extremely valuable.  But I hope that as you sit in a keynote with a phone, tablet or laptop that connects you to the motherlode of information, the internet, you have enough faith in yourself to conduct some research of your own. Confront the mixed messages, don’t take the word of any guru as gospel, and look for the truths that emerge as you do so.

Just think of it as a form of information literacy.

Adapted from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/41818779@N00/98309338 by Robert Scales.

Here’s My First Conscious Social Object Concept (Very Rough Format)

Following on from yesterday’s post:

This idea stems from a common problem in primary school yards – dropped litter. Buckets that encourage social responsibility with a touch of fun – and bin “monsters” that are inviting to use – a problem that seems to be challenging to address in terms of altering behaviour. Lecturing and emu parades are just temporary bandaids and really only prompt action from already responsible students. Could this work or has it already been done?

Doing Something Worthwhile

At this moment in time, there are multiple options for anyone in the learning game. In my case:

I could be writing a blog post (obviously).

I could be tweeting other people’s links out to other people.

I could be having a go at being part of a large, loosely connected group in a MOOC.

I could be commenting on other people’s writing – either to pat them on the back, to say “hear, hear”, to divert their ideas onto a new pathway or to challenge their words with my own.

I could just be doing some good old fashioned web surfing, clicking my way from one interesting node to another. (YouTube is great for this and can soak up hours in an unproductive but highly satisfying way.)

I could be focussing in small, working out what I need to do in my current job at my current school for my current crop of colleagues and students. Or I could be wide open, solving all of the world’s learning needs, re-imagining an education system that wipes all of the ills that we currently have.

But …

I have to decide what is actually worth doing. I have to weigh up if anyone even reads what I write and whether it has ever changed anything for anyone else. I have to consider if yet another person tweeting out links, hashtags and retweets adds to learning or merely just adds more digital noise. Do I have time to commit to a MOOC? How can I expect anyone to leave a comment for me if I’m not prepared to put aside to do that for others? And does my online time have to be learning or education focussed all the time? Is it OK to goof off occasionally and watch anime, music videos or laugh at Rebecca Black memes?

At work, at home and in the spaces in between, I want to be doing something worthwhile. Not just follow-the-crowd and be-up-with-the-latest-from-my-PLN type but in a world with seemingly limitless options but seemingly decreasing limited time (I’m resisting like hell to avoid using the buzzphrase “time poor”), I’d like to think that purpose and meaning can be derived from online connections to others. At times to others , this comes across as negativity on my part but being critical of what others write, say, tweet, point to, reference, worship is an integral part of the whole deal.

Sparked by this.

Quick Review – Program Or Be Programmed

I love reading, watching and listening to Douglas Rushkoff. I think he is one of the great minds of the last twenty years and he has amazing insight into popular culture and the way western society operates in general. I would describe him as a form of anthropologist as he studies human behaviour and in his latest book contrasts that against the impact that technology has had on the modern world. I bought his book “Program Or Br Programmed” a few months ago but it has only been the holiday break that has given me the time to get through its 150 pages. Check out the YouTube clip below for a synopsis of the book:

The main thrust of the book is around the fact that as digital technology becomes increasingly embedded into our way of life, it is crucial that we have an understanding of how that technology is programmed, and how its “bias” is designed to push human interaction in a certain pre-determined direction. He doesn’t necessarily state that actually having programming skills are essential, but having an advanced understanding of what goes on behind the scenes is essential (in other words, digital literacy is a must). Reading his book is very thought provoking and had me viewing a lot of things through a very critical lense – especially at the recent CEGSA2012 conference. An example of a technology with a certain bias would be an iPad where how it all operates is very deeply hidden from the user – this device is very hard to hack or manipulate in a subversive way because the designers have it in their best interests to have users that use their devices in a certain way. Interestingly, who has complained the loudest about the iOS system being closed, the App Store having restrictive guidelines and the device lacking external storage or accessible batteries? The most highly skilled geeks and computing buffs – the programmers. Schools can feel it in the way that Apple pitches the iPad as a “personal” device – so they have to work hard around the programming bias to utilise it as a “shared” learning device.

Facebook is another technology with inbuilt bias. It allows sharing – but only within the confines of its digital walls and same-same profile decor. It wants its captive audience to be in the one place so that the people who really pay the bills, the advertisers, can have full rein. But as Rushkoff points out, the internet itself as a structure has a bias towards sharing and openness, so he believes that in time, technologies that try to constrain or control this will have to adapt or become irrelevant. In fact, he makes a real effort to avoid naming specific technologies because he believes that the advice offered in the book will have an infinitely greater lifespan than many of the at-the-moment dominant technologies ruling the web.

Rushkoff spends quite a bit of time pointing out the limits of the digital world, which at time seems unlimited to people like me. Choices are always presented in neat packages predetermined by an algorithm or program. An example that springs to mind is blog themes – you might have a choice of a hundred themes but unless you know how to hack or program some aspects of those themes, you are limited to those themes. It explains why unique and really beautiful websites are nearly always created by people with a programming and design background. Mere users like myself are limited to what we are shown by others with the programming skills.

So, a really thought provoking book. Grab yourself a copy – at 150 smallish pages, it is not a big read – but it will force you to grapple with some things about the web and digital technology that you may have considered too much before in the past. And those of us who think we are savvy in the digital realm need to have our preconceptions challenged every now and then.

CEGSA2012 Presentation – Digital Content Meets Digital Literacy

Text and slides from today’s presentation. Unfortunately for my slide design which featured a growing mindmap, I presented on a LCD screen which made it difficult for delegates to see properly. So the embed from Slideshare here may not be much clearer – maybe download it and then read the text below in tandem to see the finer detail.

Digital literacy cegsa2012

View more presentations from grahamwegner

Abstract:
The world is awash in digital content – we connect to it via the internet, our desktops, our laptops, our tablets and our mobile phones. Traditional media (newspapers, television, radio, books and magazines) has had to quickly adapt to the new world using a combination of reaction and adaptation. This ubiquitous digital content has changed what it means to be literate forever. So what is worth noticing in this “digital sea”? What should the average educator know about digital literacy? What should they be aware of in a world where all information, true, false, theoretical and fictional, is only a search away?
This presentation will be an exploration of the current digital landscape – connecting the dots between how traditional media is adapting and how user generated content and social media bring their own set of new literacy requirements for educators and students alike to grapple with. By taking a close and critical view at this array of digital content, you will see that literacy needs to expand beyond print and traditional authorship and educators need to well informed in order to become digital literate themselves if they are to equip their students to cope in the world as it currently exists.

What I said:

The title of this presentation is Digital Content Meets Digital Literacy. It’s a bit of an inherited title as originally Rod Martin of Era Publications talked with me about doing a joint presentation with this title where he would offer insight and expertise from the perspective of someone producing digital content for the education market and I would contrast that with the reality of the school environment where filters, technical aspects and budgets put some real constraints on how that digital content is then acquired and utilised. Well, that was an ambitious topic and certainly one worth exploring and both Rod and I decided that if we were to do it, we would want to do it properly and neither one of us had the time to put our heads together to make that particular presentation happen.
So I took the opportunity to take the same presentation title and offer a different style of presentation which is more of a circular journey that raises as many questions as answers. I don’t claim to be defining digital literacy here today but I do want to offer this quote as a great starting point for examining the role of digital content in a connected world.

I think if we keep that quote in mind as I work my way through this particular journey, you will see why educators have to be not just aware of the digital world as it exists today but to be literate in that world ourselves if we are to be effective in giving our students skills to navigate and manipulate the digital content that we are awash in today. Actually, while we’re soaking in poignant quotes, try this one on for size.

So David Warlick’s premise is that mere reading and writing as we know it isn’t enough to qualify as being literate. For most of us, our own education equipped us well for a world where text in paper form was the dominant format. It’s still there, especially in education, which is why so many of us are still well equipped to hold the positions we do. But the birth of the internet, and its popular offshoot, the World Wide Web, has definitely changed the availability of information from being once being scarce and only produced by suitably qualified people – authors, journalists, scientists, politicians, policy writers, curriculum consultants and curated by equally qualified gatekeepers – librarians, news editors, media magnates and politicians.

Information, inspiration, creation and other forms that make up literature are now longer a scarce resource – the web has been the great democratiser, making it possible for anyone and everyone to publish whatever they want to share. And that’s both a good and a bad thing!
So to use a metaphor from the introductory song, we are floating in the digital sea. Now using that metaphor, we definitely don’t want to be drowning and it would be even better if we were able to sail across these waters and have some say about how to navigate, control and even contribute to the content.

So, throughout these presentation I’m going to be building this mindmap. It is styled to represent the non linear nature of digital content and how the skills we are going to need have to be flexible and able to change directions quickly and sometimes to go in several at once.

So, how did this digitization of content start? It’s by no means a process that’s even complete today and the web certainly didn’t start with traditional media but with scientists and computer enthusiasts who used this new connected technology to share and create. But for education’s sake, we’ll start with what the newspapers and print media started to do, because in schools we’ve always used their resources as way of keeping up to date. Even today, we still get a class that orders a week’s worth of Advertisers when they look at current events or newspapers in education. So what changed when the media companies decided to move online. Well, initially, they produced digital versions of what they printed on paper.

Well, actually, only part of what they produced because they still held the opinion that people bought newspapers and magazines for the whole product – the classifieds, the births and deaths, the editorials, the sports columns and yes, even the advertising – so we mostly get the headlines, the important stuff. Magazines featured cut down versions of their paper product because they were still protecting their golden goose.

So, what else did digital content look like when we started bringing it into schools? The publishing companies who produce the books and encyclopedias and reference materials for our schools are still working it out as we speak.

I think one of the first shifts we saw was when Microsoft decided that they could digitise the encyclopedia and so Encarta was born.

Here was an encyclopedia that didn’t merely rely on words and a few pics and diagrams here and there but included video clips, grainy and very short at first, audio, and a search system that threw away the traditional index and held 25 – 50 volumes of information on one shiny CD-ROM.

Remember Living Books? Paper based books re-invented with read along voices, cute animated scenes all held on the same CD-ROM format. Still, the publishing companies still didn’t need to start sweating yet. This was the late nineties and most schools had a slow web connection, and these first digital books were more a novelty than a great leap forward in digital content.

That’s happening now with eBooks however. Now, your favourite book can be a quick download and read on small portable devices like the Kindle and even the iPad now. Still, I’m sure that many publishing companies are quite nervous about this change of events. Certainly Australian bookstores are now starting to feel the pinch, even though it is still mainly tree based books that are being sold via the internet.

What the publishers are nervously eyeing off is what has already unfolded in dramatic fashion over in the music and entertainment industries.

Over time, we have had the LP, the short lived cartridge, the cassette and the CD as formats for carrying our favoured songs. But a new web based format known as mp3 and a brash internet company named Napster turned comfortable retail sales of music on its head with its peer to peer filesharing that had the music companies fearing for their future.

Napster was eventually shutdown by the industry, but you can see its legacy in today’s model for legal music distribution in iTunes where the consumer can buy songs one at a time. Has anyone noticed how CD prices have tumbled as a result? Now, at this point, you may be thinking, what has this all got to do with digital literacy? Well, bear with me, at the moment I’m just laying out the digital landscape that we and our students are part of, and I hope to show some of the connections as we go along and how being literate in this scenario requires more than what traditional literacy entails.

One thing that the web has enabled is the what is commonly known as user-generated content, which could be broadly seen as anything that can be uploaded and viewed on the web without requiring a gatekeeper or expert vetting its value prior to its publication. This content is all digital and is accessible to anyone with a web connection, although what can be put on the web has become increasingly complex and sophisticated in form as time has gone on. The era of Web 2.0 that began around the early 2000’s is part of this process that took the opportunity of publishing to the web out of the sole hands of geeks and web designers and into the realm of literally anyone at all.

We now have big video hosting sites – YouTube is the king of it all and if you want to look at the best and the worst the web has to offer in one place, well, this is it. Here, you can find some of the most profound, most creative ideas posted by people who previously didn’t have an avenue for their ideas – like this video.

Yet, you can pick almost any video at random, scroll down to the comments and see the worst of human literacy at work, responders with little grasp of their native language in written form and so many that are devoid of human compassion and full of vitriol, contempt and hatred for fellow human beings. But maybe this is just a mirror showing a side of human nature that traditional literacy could pretend didn’t exist – that human expression like this could never make past an editor’s eagle eye, would never make it into an opinion piece or a story – because our rules for literacy would allow us, the ones with the traditional literacy skills, to disregard or even forget about the existence of those marginalised by society and their right to communicate. The web enables that – and it does bring another angle to why we need capable, competent, literate students so that discourse in all digital forums doesn’t automatically descend to its lowest forms in both content and form.

YouTube is a great example of how the form of video as a form of communication is evolving and forms part of what we call social media.

Social media sites give the individual huge powers to communicate, to collect, to trade, to exchange with other individuals.

This Hugh MacLeod cartoon sums up the fast pace of social media change pretty well.

Blogs are a commonplace form across the web, and can be found covering a wide spectrum of topics from food to science to cats to various forms of depravity.

Twitter is another form of social media that is another model that enables the individual to broadcast to an audience of many, and no qualifications or traditionally proven expertise is needed for others to join in and become a follower.

Add other social media options like reblogging

think sites like tumblr or posterous

or the one that rules the planet at the moment, Facebook.

Here’s an interesting phenomenon at play in social media. YouTube was initially kept very busy taking down fan uploads of their favourite artists songs and video clips because the music industry was very stringent about applying copyright protection. That has changed to now when you look at one of these clips, a handy little Download from iTunes link appears near the clip as the companies have realised that watching the clip could lead to a legal music purchase. So, the habits of internet users is influencing a reshaping of the music industry’s approach, even though they are a long way from embracing the new paradigm.

And what we see these sites enabling to a greater degree than ever before is that despite copyright laws and concepts like intellectual property, users all around the world are taking their culture’s literature and icons and works of art and remixing them in a form of self expression that is easily shared with one click of the upload button.

First, you may remember this Cadbury advert from a few years back.
Then some clever person thought that maybe a different soundtrack could be added to the gorilla to create something new.
Let’s try a more contemporary remix – again both what you see and what you hear are both original creations from two different sources, but it takes this third person with no other motivation than the joy of coming up with a new idea or angle on a theme or a meme as they are sometimes referred to on the web.
This last one is my favourite.
This one takes things a little further – while the others match the song to the existing footage of the drumming gorilla, this is more of a cut up and mash up, where the footage has been sped up and spliced up to fit the tempo of this particular track.
And we see this sort of thing all over the web, where pieces of popular culture are re-purposed and re-mixed into personalised versions.

We cannot ignore the impact of digitally placed games either.

We have console based gaming, portable gaming, web based gaming, and now mobile phone gaming. The breadth of this area that many of us older educators find to be quite foreign and perplexing is so vast that it is hard to capture all of the literacy here in one place. So, I’m going to just share one example that is all the rage at our house – the world of Pokemon and the many digital forms it inhabits. Now it’s not really important to understand what Pokemon is or how it all fits together in its many incarnations but when dealing with many of our students it is important to realise that Pokemon is typical of many game based franchises today.

With Pokemon, there are the games for various consoles or portable devices, there are official websites, there are DVDs of the TV series and animated movies, there are the trading cards (which have been the source of controversy in many a school playground), the soft toy collection and of course, the manuals and Pokedex that form the core of the purpose behind the Pokemon universe. I have an example of one of these manuals here, I’ve borrowed it from my son and I’ll pass it around. Check it out and just ponder what types of literacy are needed to comprehend and make sense of this hue mass of detail and information.
This is just the stuff from the official company, Nintendo. What has happened beyond the control of the company is the stuff that is really interesting, where the fans and consumers of Pokemon have started to create their own digital content.

There is the Bulbapedia, sort of like Wikipedia but solely devoted to Pokemon. Like Wikipedia, it can be edited by anyone.

There is a number of Pokemon fan fiction sites where budding authors put up their work for the community to critique and add to.

There are video walkthroughs. I’ll just let this one run through in the background and just expand a little here. When my son is playing one of his Pokemon games, (he’s only 7) he’ll quite often find a tricky section that he doesn’t have the patience to work through. Firstly, he’ll consult the Pokemon Strategy Guide if he has one, then he’ll ask me if he can go onto YouTube to look for a walkthrough. These are basically videos put up by other Pokemon users showing how to solve a particular section. They sometimes highlight the cheats, sometimes my son will listen to their audio commentary to understand why a particular strategy is being used or he just looks at the screen and watches their gameplay and applies that to his own situation.

So, whether it is Pokemon, or World of Warcraft, or Runescape or Mario or Crash Bandicoot or Guitar Hero, the gaming environment is one that students, indeed not just kids, will seek out as a place for immersive engagement.

We have now seen that many in the education sector are trying to capture, with varying degrees of success, that same engagement by producing material that could be loosely termed, edutainment. Mathletics is a recent example – often though, the gaming elements are quite superficial, and the buy in from the student is not the same as with the established game franchises.

So, I’ve laid a number of pieces for the digital content puzzle, and I’ve probably taken too long a time to get to this point, but it’s time to MAKE SENSE OF IT ALL, and look for the digital literacy considerations.

How do we make sure that we have digitally literate citizens?

We know that in the right hands, social media tools can make a difference to bringing about change for the better, as was seen earlier this year with the social uprising in Egypt.

So, Encarta is no longer with us and instead we have Wikipedia, the encyclopedia that anyone could edit and is more comprehensive that any non-digital edition could ever hope to be. What literacy skills does one need to be able to evaluate the worth of any article from this resource?
Does it redefine what an expert is?

What will you do with those encyclopedia sets sitting in your school library?

Games bring a whole new angle to “choose your own adventure”. How can we leverage their power, the passion that drives people to create fan fiction, to create video walkthroughs, and bring that into our classrooms? Games also allow for collaboration, with games that link multiple users together. Truly, chose your own becomes CHOOSE OUR OWN.

News sites now allow commenting on their articles in a feature taken directly from the blogging arena.

What we are seeing here is a reluctance of savvy literate readers to take mainstream news reporting as the absolute truth, and news corporations are having to make that adjustments.
I talked earlier about the particular literacy demands of using a microblogging service like Twitter, where you must deliver your cohesive message in 140 characters or less. In the hands of educators, entrepreneurs and hobbyists, Twitter is an immensely powerful tool, building community and enabling viral news to spread as needed. On the flipside, we have the celebrity mis-use of Twitter,

the Charlie Sheen effect, where a powerful medium becomes the outsized blowhorn for the egotistical inanities of people who enjoy an excessive share of the limelight anyway. How do we teach our students to recognise this bluster for what it is?

How do we help students to navigate a digital sea where anyone who wants to can have a say?

Are we looking at what author Andrew Keen calls, The Cult Of The Amateur, where he postulates that the internet is actually making us dumber?

How do we cope with the fact that digital content resides in our pockets now, available whenever we have a whim to connect? I never read the magazines at the doctor’s any more, because I have the whole WWW at my fingertips. I have my music collection, a batch of digital books and games as well. This is the tool we want the kids to turn off and put away. And certain content translates better onto the small screen than other types – does our choice of device mean that certain types of content will prevail?

And most of this digital content is free to access. Well, there are many ways that companies can extract some payment from us – be it through buying an app for our phone, or agreeing to subject ourselves to insidious advertising just so we can use their service. But digital means easy to replicate and copy and that means costs for production are driven down. An eBook costs less to distribute than a paper based one,

amateur photography sites like Flickr are drying up the chances for remuneration for professional photographers.

The web and its infinite well of digital content means that talent has a new way of gaining attention and being noticed. YouTube has launched more than one music star, blogging has helped more than one person into paid authorship and I have numerous examples of educators who’ve moved into more personalised career opportunities (sadly, I’m not one of them!) because of their digital literacy skills that has meant they stand up and above the crowd. How can these skills be utilised by our students to help shape and determine their own future?

So, in summary, a few key points to wind this whirlwind roundabout journey across the digital sea. Will Richardson, who was probably paraphrasing someone else stated the obvious when he quoted, “The web changes everything.”

It’s also pretty obvious that the majority of information in the world today is digital, and the majority of that lives in the cloud, sitting on someone’s server somewhere in the world, connected 24/7/365. I found a great graphic that illustrates this while preparing this presentation on Scott McLeod’s blog where he highlighted a talk by Rob McCrae, ICT Director for the Diocesan School for Girls in Auckland, New Zealand to his school parent community as he rolled out a 1:1 laptop program.

As well as talking about the change from “just in case” learning to “just in time” learning, he showed this infographic that shows how 95% of the world’s information is now digital, compared to 1986 where 99% of information was written down. And keeping this in perspective is the fact that information is growing exponentially as well so the 95% is not the same amount as it would have been back in 1986. And 1986 was the year before I started teaching, so I remember it well.

So, that brings us right back to my original starting quote from Bud Hunt, “You cannot be manipulated by a form of media which you can yourself manipulate.”

I’ll leave that with you and for you to work out what that means for you as an individual, what that might mean for your colleagues and your school community, and what it means for an education system as a whole. Now some of you might think that this means spending all of your free time getting plugged in – well, I am saying that we do need a greater overall awareness and experience with this array of digital content – but I’ll leave you with a cartoon from the wonderful Hugh MacLeod that perhaps sums up a balanced way forward.

Thank you.

Another Example Why Critical Literacy Isn’t Just For The Kids

So I finally sat down and watched the KONY 2012 video tonight. A colleague had pointed me towards it earlier in the week just as it was starting to go viral but my urgency to check it out was tempered by a post on ShortFormBlog that hinted that it might be wise not to take the video as pure fact.

I’m not the only one intrigued by the clever use of social media to tell this story. KerryJ reacted in a similar fashion to a number of my work colleagues while Daniel Stucke mirrored many of my personal reactions to the whole KONY2012 issue. How we bite on a well crafted, emotional message either shows our own feelings of compassion, levels of cynicism or the very human need to feel like we can make a difference in or to the world. It is also a measure of our digital literacy skills – the skills that we are (supposedly) teaching to our students.

By mid-week, the backlash against the video started to show in mainstream sites. The Atlantic was particularly harsh:

Kony 2012 is so seductive for precisely the same reasons that make it so dangerous. The half-hour video, now viewed 40 million times, sets viewers up for a message so gratifying and fulfilling that it is almost impossible to resist: there is a terrible problem in the world, you are the solution, and all you have to do is pass along this video.

I find it interesting that it seems to be mainstream news media outlets that are leading the pushback. Effective digital literacy would include questioning their motives as well as the Invisible Children organisation who produced and posted the video. Could it be that they has been caught napping on a very important issue? Could it be that this video treads into what traditional news media might see as their turf?

The only other thing that I would add as an average citizen of a privileged country is this. Before Monday, I had never heard of Joseph Kony or the LRA. The sheer momentum that this video has produced has raised my and the millions of viewers worldwide’s collective consciousness. Whether we support or dismiss the goals and actions of the KONY2012 movement, or the target of their campaign, one thing is certain.

Now we all know.

NB: Seth Godin analyses the video from a social media perspective here. And I highly recommend the ShortFormBlog’s even handed coverage of the unfolding events. And as a final bonus, check out the graph below from Wikipedia edits on the Joseph Kony page as people jump on board to rewrite the definitive article on the central figure in the whole saga.

Thinking Through The Concept Of Professional Distance

Bud Hunt on the concept of professional distance:

For the same reason that I set boundaries in my face to face interactions with students, I maintain some sense of professional separation in online spaces. I’d encourage you to consider carefully you and your community’s comfort as you intentionally choose the public faces of your online self. And, whatever you decide, please communicate it to the students and families in your care. Make sure your administrators know what — and where and how — you’re doing.

My response:

Bud, a number of teachers I work with use Facebook as their main entry point onto the internet and they treat it very much in the way that more experienced social media experts warn us that our students are using it – to let off steam, to let their hair down – without realising that it is not just their close circle of friends who may be watching. They would argue that it is their right to treat Facebook as part of their private, non-school life without being bound by a higher behaviour code than their non-school acquaintances and family members. So party pics, expletive laden comments and membership of dodgy “likes” still abound in their accounts – it makes it hard to be giving out advice to students about “be careful about what you post” when they don’t see that everything posted onto this one site is forming a very comprehensive digital footprint. But then again, for a few teachers teaching is just a job, not a calling, so naively believing that one can separate one’s private from professional in the digital world is probably not surprising.

It always seems unfair to hold educators to higher levels of conduct than the general population, especially when it doesn’t seem to make much difference to the public perceptions of the profession. But we are in a different era now. Kids used to think that teachers lived at the school and had no private life. But now without some carefully considered lines drawn in the sand, kids now have access to anything that an educator chooses to post online. Saying that one is entitled to a private life doesn’t make a lot of sense if you don’t actually take some measures to keep it private. We all know Facebook is the least private place going around.

Unlearning, Relearning, Learning

It often takes me a while to get ideas to clarify within my mind. It can be a concept that is crystal clear to others but I need to strain the ideas through a few different sieves before I can articulate the essential gist of a concept. Forgive me if you are in the camp where I’m about to state the blatantly obvious.

I read this post from Chris Betcher back in May, and it stuck in my brain like a prickle in my sock. I’d heard the following sentiments quite a few times before in various blogs all over the web.

I’m so tired of having the integration of technology into learning overlooked because it’s “too hard”. As educators – actual professional educators, who actually go into classrooms every day and teach for a living – we do NOT have the luxury of choosing whether we should be integrating technology, or whether we want to learn more about it, or whether we think it’s relevant to the learning process.  It is, it’s part of the job and if people don’t think so, then they ought to be getting a copy of the Saturday paper and looking for a something else to do where they CAN be selective about what part of the job they are willing to take seriously without it impacting on our future generations.

There was a lot of “Here, here, well said” comments and it didn’t sit well with me. So I added my own counter-rant in the comments section where I felt I was defending my much maligned less tech-savvy colleagues. I ended my rebuttal with the following:

Education is always in constant flux and teachers spend their whole careers in a state of unlearning and re-learning. I know that for every thing I can do well in terms of tech integration with students, there are other teachers with other skills in other areas outdoing me and no one really has the moral high ground.

I got a bit of pushback from a fellow commenter and sought to clarify my thoughts further:

I suppose what provoked my response is that I’ve read posts like Chris’s all over the web, lamenting those incompetents who don’t “get it” and I don’t think it achieves much more than getting a round of “hear, hears” and a tone of self-righteousness in the comments. Teaching is complex and becoming increasingly more so, and every facet deserves as much focus for our students’ futures as technology use for learning. Is everyone here on top of every aspect of their teaching practice? Or will some at least admit that, like myself, there are aspects of our job we are not top of totally, components that are works in progress and parts that we find harder to engage with. Think of those aspects and at least recognise the fact that technology use for learning does not come easily for everyone – and that does immediately label them as being less than worthy educators.

Then Chris replied in a manner that finally turned the switch on in my brain, and I could finally see his post in a different, less oppositional light.

I think you sum it up in your last paragraph when you say “Education is always in constant flux and teachers spend their whole careers in a state of unlearning and re-learning.”  For those teachers who accept this state of flux, who willingly learn and unlearn and relearn, I don’t think anyone would criticise those efforts. You’re absolutely correct in saying that there are MANY aspects of the classroom competing for our attention: staying up to date with current developments in literacy and numeracy, brain theory, learning theory, etc, not to mention staying abreast of information about allergies, child safety legislation, OH&S, etc, etc… teaching is a busy job, there’s no argument about that.

My beef is with those that have simply given up, or refuse to do the learning, unlearning and relearning.  It’s not really about technology per se, although I think that the requirement to integrate technology is a trigger that brings these attitudes to the surface.  The real issue is that some teachers – who are supposed to be learning professionals – have forgotten what it means to learn, unlearn and relearn.

Chris is dead right of course. Take the technology focus out of the discussion and what is clear that educators need to have a different mindset to be successful and relevant to their students. They must be in a constant state of unlearning and relearning, ready to challenge their established practice, looking for where to go to next, and adopting the very habits we want in our students.

I then read a powerful post from Dean Groom. As can happen on occasion, he was not totally happy with what he had written and he pulled the post from his blog. But it still came through my RSS reader and when I asked him about it, he replied that I was free to remix it as I saw fit. I’ll share a few key parts that helped me to understand the unlearning and relearning process that I do see many teachers still struggling with. And it does prove Chris’s point because technology tends to show up teachers’ learning dispositions clearly. Dean’s post was about teachers’ learning habits.

I said teachers are engineers and inventors – these are two critical skills of this decade, as trying to design learning episodes that create innovative pedagogy is a little like flying the Millennium Falcon. Nothing quite works all the time and there’s a total sense of urgency about the whole affair with a high possibility of disaster.

The manual is scattered all over the internet in videos, blogs, wikis and people. Most people lack the social keys to decode this, the literacies needed to find it and won’t use their downtime for what they see as work-related actions.

The time allocated to formal workplace development is massively insufficient, and usually lacks any innovation, invention or re-engineering of the experience.

I’ve  seen this when I conduct PD for teachers. Some only need a point in the general direction and others want you to sit side by side with them as they work out how to sign up to a new online account. It is ironic that I get requests for PD on tools that I’ve worked out for myself or by using the “scattered manual” that Dean refers to. That’s the unlearning and relearning at work there. Teachers who teach their students lock step or via spoonfeeding expect that is how their own learning should work too. I do like the idea of doing the PD as a group where I’ll start things off but the idea is to work things out by spinning things off with your neighbours and having an exploratory and playful disposition. I did that last week when I introduced delicious to my new staff (and yes, there are probably hundreds of teachers out there who have never heard of social bookmarking or how it is one tech tool that empowers teachers to learn on their own with others.

Dean also says:

There is a cultural expectation that has been created by 1990s idea of the computer as a ‘tutor’. This gives rise to the idea novices are there to learn ‘how to use’ from an expert. There is an assumptions there will be step by step instructions, that someone will read them to you, that you will attempt to follow and if you don’t succeed, someone will swoop down and move you along. At some point, you will get to decide if you want to use the tool and information in the future. We can’t really call this competency based training, as there is no assessment and therefore no external reward for effort. At best we call it professional development hours, another symptom that teachers are not intrinsically life-long learners, but need a push factor.

I’ve heard that one too. “Are you doing some ICT PD, Graham, because I need to get some more hours?” Not the best indication of an intrinsic life-long learner but the phrase “life long learning” appears in nearly every school vision statement. And it’s an important thing to have there too. Because students will need those skills – but will they get them from a classroom where the person in charge can only talk the talk?

Dean summarises perfectly (to my mind):

A key idea in downtimer learning theory is that the rewards are almost always intrinsic, fuelled by some external motivation. The product of this is the network effect, where social-encoding of knowledge, essential resources and processes become unintelligible to anyone without sufficient keys to access it externally.

So, technology is important because in today’s world it is the enabler of learning unfettered by control. When the learner has that freedom, they work things out on their own or with others but they are not dependent on others to provide them with the resolution. With that technology in most people’s pocket or purse, there is no reason other than ignorance (unintended or willful) for anyone in the learning game to not be actively in charge of their own learning. And then starting to work out how they ensure that their students have the same options for their own learning within their classrooms.

Post update:

I thought that Dean had written another post illustrating the point I’m trying to make here, but I was wrong. He had referenced another post written by Sarah Thorneycroft and he graciously pointed me back there. Read that for a clarifying example.

 

The Demand For On-Demand

I really enjoy browsing through video sharing websites, in particular Youtube and Vimeo, but for different reasons. Vimeo is the place to find something new, being a hangout for short film makers and other culturally switched on artists. There are some beautifully crafted videos there – this one was originally tweeted out to me by Christian Long.

Scrapertown from California is a place. on Vimeo.

But YouTube is the place for searching for content on a whim, sating that desire to dredge up an instant blast from the past. Kids today may be used to content on demand but they don’t have forty plus years of old television and music memories to trade on. If I recall a childhood cartoon show in conversation with my sons, it is only a click and a search before I can show them who Top Cat was or to see if the Banana Splits really were that funny.

Earlier this year, I recalled a tune from my teenage years with a catchy chorus – The Members “Radio”. I hadn’t heard the song in years but a quick search located the video clip and I was back in the eighties at boarding school again.

Commercials, documentaries, movie trailers and other forms of broadcast flotsam can be accessed with just a few key words and a memory long enough to create a starting point. Find it, watch it and then check out the sidebar links for other memory jogs that send one back to another point in time. A time when you had to fast forward the cassette tape to get to your favourite song, a time when you had to wait four months before the Australian television station showed that new series from America and a time when Hanna Barbera was still a viable entertainment company.

The Fabulous Dr Joyce Valenza

I was very lucky to attend today’s seminar with Dr Joyce Valenza here in Adelaide, and my head is still swimming from the sheer breadth she covered in the day. The whole day in terms of her presentation, her links and pathways can all be found here on her wikispace created for this down under visit. So I won’t try and recreate the day actually that would be impossible because what the site can’t convey to you is the sheer passion that Joyce has. It certainly won’t demonstrate the furious pace at which our collective brains were filled – I was asked to run the backchannel which was quiet and understated, but participants were too busy listening, watching and checking out links and tools on their laptops to be throwing back too many queries and challenges. By only using the wikispace, you would not also appreciate the urgency in her message – encouraging and enthused – but urgent nonetheless. With an audience of mainly teacher-librarians, I got the feeling that the urgency is as much for the future of this role in schools as it was for the future of our students but of course, the two are connected.

So, thank you, Joyce, for a brilliant day. What your brilliant online resource does is enable those of us at today’s seminar to go back through your day in smaller bite size chunks at a pace that allows for deeper reflection, fuller exploration and lengthy consideration of how to change and improve the learning for our respective student communities. It’ll be something I’ll chew for quite a while and is a very timely focus as I start in on my new role.