Category Archives: debate

The Great eBook Debate – launch of Isobelle Carmody’s Greylands as an ebook

Reposted from Melbourne High School Library blog.

A brilliant idea to build up to a launch of any sort is to make something happen before it. Even more brilliant is to bring all sorts of interesting people to the party and allow them to say something as creatively as they wish. Open this up to everyone else and you have The Great ebook debate on a website that was designed to self destruct within a month as an elaborate countdown to the launch of Isobelle Carmody’s much loved Greylands.

Isobelle explains:

An online launch seems to me the most divinely apt way to relaunch Greylands as an eBook. It was always one of my personal favorites among the books I have written, for reasons you will discover here, as the days pass, but it was out of print. Now books have always gone out of print and authors have always accepted they must, unless they rose into the heavens as classics. But in this brave new world of eBooks, there is no longer any need for any book to go out of print. Cyberspace is the library of the infinite.

In a strange twist of fate, following Isobelle’s gracious contribution to my students’ blog, I was honoured as one of the people contributing to the ebook debate. I pulled out my grandmother’s gorgeous autograph book, falling apart but full of exquisitely drawn illustrations and original poetry in Russian and German, and mused on what we’ve lost and what we’ve gained in terms of physical and digital resources. You can read it here if you are so inclined.

What is definitely worth reading is the line-up of authors and other interesting people who have unique perspectives about ebooks versus traditional print books. Guest writers are featured each week, and the resulting discussions in the comment sections are worth reading. But why read when you can contribute your views and enter into the debate yourself.

This week’s guest blogger is Gary Crew whose post is entitled The StorymakerHot off the press and already attracting comments, Gary joins the list of writers which includes Judith RidgeVirginia LowePaul CollinsRichard HarlandNick BlandSophie Masson – to name only a few.

The only thing I don’t like about this whole enterprise is the fact that it will disappear very soon. It’s such a shame when there’s so much good stuff which should really be published, perhaps even as hardcopy, or even as an emagazine – what do you think?

Go on, have a look before it’s too late.

Thanks Isobelle.

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Nicholas Carr at The Wheeler Centre: We’re drowning in the shallows

Last night I attended a talk by Nicholas Carr at The Wheeler Centre.

One of the world’s most ground-breaking and thought-provoking writers on technology and its impacts talks to Gideon Haigh. The celebrated journalist and author of The Shallows, presents his arguments about how the internet’s pervasive influence is fostering ignorance.

Nicholas Carr has a point: the internet is addictive; there’s so much to investigate and dip into, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to move from A to Z without darting off into various directions along the way, and you may not even get there at all.

The pioneering neuroscientist Michael Merzenich believes our brains are being ”massively remodelled” by our ever-intensifying use of the web and related media.

I’m not even going to go into the topic of brain rewiring, but I think that if our neural pathways can change depending on the nature of our activity, then we are still not doomed as long as we don’t turn into robots.

It is possible, though, that we might be at risk of losing our ability to focus on any one thing in a deep way, what with so much clamouring for our attention and our focus being diffused  through a myriad of hyperlinks.  And this is worth thinking about especially in the context of school education.

However, during Nicholas’ talk and subsequent question time, I realized that the culprit for the loss of deep concentration, defined loosely as either ‘the internet’ or technology,  was being bandied about in a disconcerting way, and that it is important to define exactly which activities on the internet we are talking about when we start blaming ‘the internet’ for rewiring of neural pathways and even ignorance.

Nicholas Carr referred repeatedly to online activites such as those on Facebook, Twitter and instant messaging/chat, when he spoke of distractions which prevented us from deeper concentration and understanding. He was using a broad brush to paint a picture of what the internet has to offer,  focusing on the more superficial exchanges as if this was all there was to the internet. Gideon Haigh, the presenter, jumped on the bandwagon and made a disparaging remark about Web 2.0 in education, saying that Facebook and Twitter were hardly learning – and he got an applause for that remark. It was obvious that the audience were not all on the same page. How is it that ‘the internet’ is limited to the more superficial social media? And please, inform yourselves before you judge technology as the cause of lower academic performance. Technology and the internet are only as good as the people who use them, and that is always about educated and intelligent teaching.

From  my own experience, it’s clear to me that the introduction of new technologies requires support, not only how to use these technologies, but also the thinking behind pedagogy – how to use these technologies  to enhance learning, not to tick off boxes for technology use. Obviously technology without the support is going to mean a backwards movement.

If the internet –  and Nicholas Carr also mentioned ebooks with the distractions of hyperlinks and commenting, online research, and multimedia –  if all these things are responsible for the loss of deep concentration, then why don’t we blame television for distracting us from serious novel reading, and why not blame popular music (and the radio) for taking away generations from an appreciation of more serious music and the ability to listen to a long ‘classical’ music performance? Even years ago how could we compete with Sesame Street when teaching young children in the traditional way?

If Nicholas laments the quietness which, he claims, is conducive to deeper thought and concentration, solitude even, then we should really retire to a convent and possibly an Amish community, so that there is no electricity to enable all these distractions.

I know that’s a little extreme but really – aren’t we being a little purist? Who are the people who focus deeply on reading? Are we talking about a scholarly article or book, because then we are talking about academics, not those of us who prefer to sit in front of the television for light entertainment after a long day.

As one of the guys in our computer centre said to me recently – by encouraging teachers to use the internet, aren’t you leading them along the path to addiction, and what will happen to stillness?

I think ‘stillness’ disappeared long ago even with the advent of radio and television. Yes, modern technologies are more mobile, more interactive, more engaging, but aren’t we in control of our online behavior? And if not, we should be. Pick out the wheat from the chaff, or teach yourself to do it. And if you want stillness, perhaps you should consider monasticism.

So Nicholas, before you say that what we need is money going into good teachers instead of into technology in education, please do your homework. Why should the two be mutually exclusive? We have always needed good teachers but we also need teachers who prepare kids for their world. And like it or not, that world is connected. More than ever we need to understand what engages young people and how they learn and socialize, so that we realize the power of social learning. Not because we think Facebook is the answer but because we think Skyping a class from the other side of the world and engaging in authentic conversation is more engaging and informative than reading from a textbook. Because we think that choice and hands-on creativity is more productive than passive learning. Because we find experts all over the world, and not just in the teacher who happens to be standing in front of the class.

I was amused that Carr quoted a 6th century bishop, Isaac of Syria, when he said that our furtive internet behavior was responsible for the permanent loss of the capacity for dream-like concentration:

“With prolonging of this silence,” wrote Isaac, “the turmoil of memories is stilled in my heart, ceaseless waves of joy are sent me by inner thoughts, beyond expectation suddenly arising to delight my heart.”

Bishop Isaac of Syria was a monk, an ascetic. The silence he speaks of is no doubt the silence that comes with private prayer and monastic isolation. Should we then go back to eating in silence while we listen to the readings of the lives of saints?

Finally, Carr discovers shocking statistics about multi-taskers. New research shows that multi-tasking results in poor comprehension. I say there is a difference between multitasking well and dividing your attention between too many things and not doing any of them well. Definitions, people! Let’s not be sloppy with our definitions, let’s be specific when we judge an activity such as multitasking, or something like ‘the internet’.  It’s just as easy to blame the internet as it is to blame society. As Alison Croggon says

The internet is whatever we make it. It isn’t an abstraction: it’s the collective creation of millions of individual human beings.

To conclude, if Nicholas Carr has decided to take a break from being connected 24/7, then rejoined online life after discerning what was valuable and what wasn’t, then isn’t this just part of the evaluative process we should all be going through? Aren’t we doing that already? As teachers, isn’t that part of our job in forming critical thinkers?

I am reminded of the episode about ‘the Internet’ on the IT Crowd. Seems appropriate for today’s post.

Nicholas Carr’s latest book, The Shallows,  is worth reading – or skimming…

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Filed under debate, internet, network literacy, Social media, teachers, teaching, technology, Web 2.0

Whose job is it to teach responsible online behaviour?

Everybody’s talking about it: online behaviour.

We’ve come around, finally and reluctantly, on the whole, to accepting that social media is part of our world, young people as well as adult. Even television shows and radio stations are tweeting and blogging – how more mainstream can you get?

On the negative side, we also hear about  bad behaviour online, and the confusion arising from changes to privacy, particularly on Facebook. Many people have spoken out about what needs to be happening in schools, including Jenny Luca and Will Richardson. There are many passionate responses to Facebook’s handling of privacy on the web.

Some people are leaving Facebook.

Some people are staying.

It’s interesting that morning programs on television are often featuring conversations about social media, Twitter and Facebook in particular. This morning Channel 7’s morning program featured a spokeswoman talking about Facebook privacy and the inappropriate content that was being shared outside the users’ immediate circle of Facebook friends. I was surprised that the tone was reasonable, and many interesting points were raised, for example, the question as to why people post strong and even abusive comments to people on Twitter when they wouldn’t behave that way if they met these people face to face.

That’s the difference – face to face interaction compared to faceless interaction. Facebook, ironically, is faceless. When we get involved in a passionate discussion we may be talking to friends of friends who are faceless to us. We don’t expect to meet them, and we don’t exercise the same caution that we would if we knew we’d be seeing them in person. It’s the same with road rage.

For me, that’s the message we need to get out to students. Don’t get me wrong – I’m an advocate of the connective power of social media, but I think that students should be reminded that while they are chatting with ‘friends’ in the privacy of their bedrooms, their conversations are very public.

Facebook is very easy to use. It’s easy to add friends, photos, applications, become fans and group members. But it isn’t easy to wade through the new privacy regulations. Even with a manual it confuses me. And it’s not something young people (or anyone) are likely to do any more than they would happily peruse a legal document. Changes occur without enough notice, it’s easy to let it all go and hope for the best.

The Australian government’s cybersafety program directed by The Australian Communications and Media Authority has published units of work designed to teach responsible online behaviour.

But who is responsible for teaching this? Will it be taught by the few educators who have independently decided it’s important, or across the school following a directive from principals?

I worry that while primary schools may consider this an essential part of the curriculum, just as they educate children about bullying, drug-taking, etc., secondary schools may be confused as to whose role this is.  It may not fit into an already overcrowded curriculum. It may be perceived that secondary students are old enough to be responsible or that what they do in their private time is no concern of the school.

I would like to run parent sessions on Facebook, but it’s blocked for staff and students in our school. The leaders of our school have made this decision in the best interests of our students. Fair enough, but have they thought the issue through? Blocking Facebook at school prevents education. It indicates serious handwashing.

Parents are talking about feeling helpless and ignorant when it comes to their children’s online activities. We could say that they should monitor their children’s Facebook activity, but until what age? Try monitoring a 16 year old and see what happens.

Parents should be educated but then so should school leaders and teachers. The only way to understand something is to get into it and see how it works. It’s not a matter of saying ‘it’s not for me’; we can’t afford to say that anymore. We can’t keep blaming parents, schools, the government.

I remember a primary school principal once saying that what the students did out of school wasn’t his responsibility (when I raised the issue of pornography sites being passed around online). We can no longer separate school and home. Online interaction out of school spills into school interaction.

We are all responsible. We should all become educated. We should all educate where appropriate.

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Filed under debate, Education, internet, network literacy

Have we understood picture books yet? What is YA literature?

shaun tan

Shaun Tan and Markus Zusak, two of Australia’s favourite and most talented authors/illustrators, have received international acclaim by winning in two of the major categories at the Deutsche Jugendliteraturpreis, Germany’s most prestigious awards for children’s and YA books.

zusak

Shaun Tan received first prize for the Picture Book category for his Tales from outer suburbia and Markus Zusak won the Youth Jury prize for The Book Thief.

bookthief

According to Tim Coronel in Publishing Perspectives, the award jury commented on Tan’s book that

 ‘the way that pictures and words work together in this carefully designed book is perfect.’

The Youth Jury also commented on Zusak’s story that 

‘many individual stories of the experience of youth in the Second World War have been written, but none match up to the narrative of this book.’ That’s a serious recommendation, especially from a German judge, considering the enormous output of literature on this subject.

tales from outer suburbia

The whole problematic issue of picture books and their audience continues to generate debate. In our school library, the picture books shelf conceals many illustrated stories worth deeper analysis in the classroom, but few will remember this as they pass them by.

Shaun Tan describes his picture books on his website:

They are best described as ‘picture books for older readers’ rather than young children, as they deal with relatively complex visual styles and themes, including colonial imperialism, social apathy, the nature of memory and depression.

red-tree

Understanding Shaun Tan’s thinking behind his picture books is a key to understanding just where Tan’s books belong. Michelle Pauli has written a very interesting article about Shaun Tan in The Guardian. Although Shaun’s books depict ‘a surreal world of bizarre animals, skew-whiff buildings, dreamlike landscapes and invented languages’, his books are far from fairy tales or pure fantasy, and that is because ‘Tan’s worlds, however fantastical they may appear on first glance, have their own internal logic. It is what he describes as “groundedness”, and he regards it as crucial to the success of the stories’.

“By itself, just to draw crazy creatures has limited appeal – if I had to give up one thing it would be the wild imagination. When the work becomes too detached from ordinary life it starts to fall apart. Fantasy needs to have some connection with reality or it becomes of its own interest only, insular. In The Lost Thing, to have creatures flying around is unsatisfactory without the context. It works because it exists in opposition to the world in the rest of the story.”

the-arrival

The fact that we still cling to narrow categories, such as ‘picture books’ and ‘Young Adult’ not only confuses readers but also pre-judges and precludes books from taking their place in the world of serious literature. Yes, many people understand and appreciate the complexity of Tan’s picture books and graphic novels (The arrival), but many more won’t give them a second chance when they see the children’s book award sticker or don’t even see them at all if they’re displayed in the children’s section of the book shop. As Tan says,

One bookseller in Australia took the children’s book award sticker off The Red Tree as he felt he could sell more that way, and sold an extra 30-40 copies a month. It’s about simple things like font size – people think they can judge the age a book is for by the font size and assume that it’s for little kids if it has a big font, but that’s silly. I don’t worry too much about those things as the creator because I figure that the books will find their own audience and sometimes I like the idea that they can give adults a surprise pleasure.

It’s interesting how readers feel there must be a definite meaning within the symbolism of Tan’s books. Tan himself avoids being pinned down to a single interpretation.

Tan is reluctant to delve too deeply into the “meanings” of his fables. Towards the end of The Lost Thing he writes, “Well, that’s it. That’s the story. Not especially profound, I know, but I never said it was. And don’t ask me what the moral is.”

If artworks cannot be pinned down to a clear and definitive interpretation, then picture books of Tan’s calibre are surely written and illustrated with the same infinite possibilities in mind. How could an artist have predicted, for example, all the interpretations that would come out of his or her painting? One thing is for sure – so-called children’s books, such as those by Shaun Tan and Markus Zusak, are fertile ground for rich discussion.

This has been cross-posted at Fiction is like a box of chocolates.

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Filed under art, Children's books, debate, reading

Still kicking.

Forty years ago astronaut Neil Armstrong did something no one had ever done before. On July 20, 1969, he set foot on the moon. We all know what he said when he stepped onto the moon’s surface and looked at the Earth above him: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Meanwhile, back on Earth 40 years later, some of us are still struggling with less cosmic achievements, like the Recurring External Blog Saga which you  may have read about here and here. Unlike Armstrong, and more like Prometheus, unable to move forward, having been chained to a rock by Zeus, my way forward with technology in my own school is often just too hard.

Jacob Jordaens, Der gefesselte Prometheus, c. 1640 Rheinisches Bildarchiv

This morning I received yet another email criticising my move to an external blog for reading promotion. Yes, I know you’ve heard all this before, but imagine how I feel then. I’m definitely over it. Nevertheless, for every attempt to drag me back, to find fault with what I do, there are encouraging moments.

Today several things happened that demonstrated the advantages of the Web 2.o platform for things like reading promotion. Firstly, a student had posted a passionate review of the recent Harry Potter movie. I had only just posted that late last night, and already this morning there was an encouraging comment from Marita Thomson, a teacher librarian from The Kings, Parramatta. I know I was pleased to receive positive feedback, so I imagine the student was even more pleased. But wait, there’s more. Two more encouraging comments – one from Sean Nash and another from Paul Stewart. Here, let me show you.

fictionblogcomments

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – sharing online opens up communication and possibilities. It’s encouraging and enriching. I really don’t get why people don’t get it.

So, while my Web 2.0 colleagues and I are moving forward slowly, I hope our small steps are paving the way for a more comprehensive change of mindset in the future, in which case I could also say,

“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

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Filed under 21st century learning, blogging, debate, Education, networking, reading, technology, Web 2.0

Don’t bag technology – ask what it means first

I’ve been feeling discouraged lately in my conversations with people about education. Maybe I’ve been talking to a small sample of people, but I’m feeling really peeved at the moment (and it may be because of lack of sleep).

I’m not sure if the endless circular conversation – between those who see the value of technology in education and those who dont’ – is even worth the effort. Yes, I’m not in a very positive frame of mind currently. I don’t find I have the energy or patience to continue, but I still want to reflect on what the problem is.

It’s not a problem that centres on technology at all. It’s a problem that centres around the very human aspect of dialogue. Dialogue which depends on two (or more) people listening to each other and making a real effort to understand what the other person is saying.

I’m sick and tired of entering into a conversation where I’m asked to justify my belief that technology is an important aspect of transformed learning, learning that has to change with the times in order to prepare us all for the way the world works and the way it will work in our students’ future. Most of the time I find that I’m cornered into petty justification because the other person is coming from a personal conviction and will, at all costs, aim to knock me off my beliefs to prove an ultimately negative point. This is not a dialogue. Cornering someone so that they desperately try to stick up for their beliefs while ignoring the larger argument is not dialogue. It radically narrows the scope of information which would otherwise offer a larger, more informative picture.

An example:

Me: I believe that technology offers new possibilities in learning (*very aware that this is a broad and ambiguous statement which needs comprehensive explanation*)

Other: What’s all the hype about technology? Does it really teach ‘them’ anything? Or is it a just a gadget, the latest fad?

Me: Technology offers possibilities for creating and connecting with others.

Other: I know all about that. It’s been proven that kids no longer have personal skills because they are using technology too much.

Me: They are learning the skills of online interaction

Other: I read/saw on TV how dangerous online involvement is, and how it isolates kids, how it takes them into dangerous zones which their parents don’t know about, how bad it is.

Me: You have to look at the real evidence. The media is often one-sided and sensationalises a small part of the picture

Other: But I heard an interview about it and these people are reliable; this information is authoritative.

Me: There are many wonderful connections kids can make to the real world and real people outside the classroom to make learning relevant

Other: (confused look) What are they learning by talking to each other? Is there any academic value?

And then the conversation reverts back to All Things Negative in terms of Any Kind of Change with regard to What Is Considered Sacred about Education, and it’s Sacred because That’s The Way It Was, and That’s The Way It’s Always Been, so all of this new stuff is Bad. We should probably go back to Grammar and stay safe teaching Facts. Numbers, Dates. Like my own education where I studied the Victorian Year Book and copied out fascinating information about how much rainfall and wheat we had in Victoria in  a certain year (the one that had passed). Fascinating facts about sheep and sewerage, I’ll never forget that (except for the facts themselves).

Ok, so now you’ve fully realised how down I am about this argument. I just have to point out that the worst thing about that kind of ‘discussion’ is that you never end up saying what you want to say, but you end up sounding like a crazed evangelist, ready to die for your cause – and I hate that. I’m not a crazed evangelist, I have much more to say and show you if only you would listen. The problem is about listening and wanting to hear, not about technology itself. It’s an age-old problem of failure to listen.

If I had a chance to talk to the ‘other person’ without being pushed into a corner, I would question their negative association with the word ‘technology’. I think this is a wide-reaching association. Technology = computers, dangerous  online involvement, unhealthy focus on what is not real, and therefore what takes you away from real, people-to-people contact.

But technology is also TV. Do you watch TV? Does it stop you from going out of the house? (If so, then it’s your personal problem) Or does it offer a window into the world?

Do you use a telephone? Does it stop you from seeing your friends and family in person? Or does it offer you an opportunity to chat more often in between visits?

All technology!

Yes, it changes the way we live. Some of us held off getting a mobile phone in the early days (we didn’t need it? we’d lived without it), but now we can’t imagine going out without it? Good or bad? It’s something worth investigating more deeply. But it’s here to stay, and it’s technological capacities are growing fast. Change is difficult; some of us jump on the bandwagon and others yell insults at the bandwagon from afar. What we need to remember is that, like it or not, the way we function in the world is changing, and we would be wise to jump on so that we know what we’re dealing with. So that we know what kind of support and education we need to give our kids. So that they’re ready for their world. Are we thinking about this? Are we looking forward or backward?

This morning I followed a link posted by @scmorgan on Twitter which led me to an article on the Edutopia website:

Kids create and critique on social networks.

The first couple of paragraphs grabbed my attention.

In the common conception, kids plus social networking equals an online popularity contest conducted in grammar-free instant-messaging lingo — not exactly an educator’s dream world. But the Chicago-based Digital Youth Network, a digital-literacy program funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, has tapped into the networking phenomenon to encourage creativity and learning.

The Digital Youth Network runs a private Web site called Remix World, which is modeled on popular online social networks such as Facebook and MySpace.

This ning works like Facebook where students can create a space (their page) which is their own style, and where they can post their work and receive feedback from their peers, take part in discussion, and give and receive constructive criticism. Sharing with the class (or other classes) is more engaging because they care more about what their peers have to say than what their teacher has to say, and they want to show what they can do. They develop confidence in themselves when they realise they can help out or contribute to a discussion. It’s all there for the class to see; their contribution amongst everyone else’s. They don’t remain invisible or unheard. They have a place, a voice, a unique style.

When students are motivated to create work that they share online, it ignites an independent learning cycle driven by their ideas and energized by responses from peers.

That’s the theory, but let’s hear it from the kids

Twelve-year-old Jalen (also the subject of an Edutopia video profile) is among those who’ve taken their work to a larger audience on YouTube and elsewhere. “I post online because I don’t want it to just be on my computer, where nobody can see it,” Jalen says of his work, which includes graphic art, videos (both remixed mash-ups and some using original footage), and computer games. “I get positive and negative feedback, but it helps me get better and better,” he says.

“One guy on YouTube told me it was a good video, but the timing was off,” he remembers of one project that got mixed feedback. “So I went back and edited it.”

The article also talks about another student who created his own social network. He didn’t follow a prescriptive set of teacher-created instructions.

“I didn’t learn from anywhere particularly,” Mosea says about creating his network. “I just experimented.”

Experts say that, even more than the digital world in general, collaborative Web 2.0 tools in particular can motivate self-directed learning.

Students creating and publishing online within their own community is the first step to compelling learning, but the deepest learning takes place in the commenting and conversation which follows:

“While the ability to publish and to share is powerful in and of itself, most of the learning occurs in the connections and conversation that occur after we publish,” argues education blogger Will Richardson

Of couse, this kind of learning is not automatic or without its problems. But this is where the teaching part of it comes in. Teacher support is more important than ever for these new experiences to be successful. It’s not a matter of handing over to technology, stepping back and expecting self-directed learning to naturally take place. Nothing could be further from the truth, as teachers who have worked with online networks have discovered.

Researcher Christine Greenhow cautions that the virtual world can also present its own barriers to independent learning. “Students can get easily distracted,” she observes. “There are so many nonlearning paths, so we need to help them stay focused.”

And there’s the rub. If those against technology think that kids just jump in and need no supervision, they’re wrong. Wherever kids are and whatever they do, they need supervision and support. As parents, we shouldn’t leave them to their online activities without taking a real interest in what’s going on – and I don’t mean looking over their shoulders with a critical eye. I mean engaging in conversation where we learn what they’re doing, and why they like doing it. Or even trying some of these things out ourselves. As teachers, we shouldn’t leave them with the laptop and Google, and expect them to navigate a positive and successful learning experience.

To finish, I apologize for my rave – I think it’s something I needed to get off my chest to reduce mounting frustration.

Finally, technology is about the people who use it. Let’s demystify it, let’s try to understand it before we judge it, let’s acknowledge that it’s increasingly the way the world functions, and learn how to make the most of it.

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Filed under 21st century learning, creativity, debate, Education, internet, learning, network literacy, networking, parents, teachers, teaching, technology, Web 2.0

Power of the network

The last couple of days have been very interesting. I’d like to share what I have learned since I shared on this blog a discussion about favouring an external blog to an internal one.

Above all, I learned that I could depend on the people in my network. Who are these people? Some of them I’ve met face to face; some I’ve come to know through my involvement in online networks; a few I’ve only just met in the course of this blog issue.

Amazingly,  over 200 people read my last blog post. Much as I’d like to convince you otherwise, I don’t normally record such a readership. How did I receive such a response?

After writing out my response to the Computer Systems Manager, then posting this with my response to him, I sent a link to the post out on Twitter, asking for people to enter into the discussion. I wanted to generate discussion, and to collect people’s views and perspectives. Discussion is a healthy and powerful thing. It’s a good idea to find out what others think even if they don’t agree with you, and in some cases, particularly when they don’t agree with you, since it pushes your thinking.

Apart from clarifying my own thinking with regard to the value of Web 2.0 technologies and their role in learning and teaching, in writing out this issue I gained valuable insights from others using the Web 2.0 platforms. Herein lies the power of these technologies – not in the technology itself, but in the powerful connections with people, people with unique backgrounds, experiences, qualifications, talents, and ideas.

The people who commented my post were educators or involved in education in some way. They responded quickly, and they came from around Australia (Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra and Perth) and overseas (Hong Kong and USA).  Click on their names next to the comments and read their profiles and their blogs to make their acquaintance.

My online networks are full of professionals whose reading and links, ideas and talents, I follow. If I need an idea, advice, professional reading, teaching material, and more, I go to this network. And I try to be helpful in return. Anyone who has experienced the collective wisdom of online networks will tell you the same. It is not about the technology.

Our students will go into the world needing support and continued learning. If we help them understand and navigate appropriate networks, we will be laying the foundations for support systems. We should allow them to learn within supervised online environments, teaching them how to write and interact appropriately and in a safe way, to share ideas and solve problems with relevant groups of people, etc.

As educators, our view of what is essential for student learning needs to change. Our students’ world will be fast-paced and changeable, requiring adaptability and resourcefulness. Our students will need to know how to find what they need, and who to trust. They will hopefully be able to discern who to follow and how to behave.

Change is never easy. One of my mentors, and co-founder (with Will Richardson) of the Powerful Learning Practice model, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, has just written a blog post about change, which she prefaces with the following quotations:

 “It’s not that some people have willpower and some don’t. It’s that some people are ready to change and others are not.”  James Gordon, M.D.

“Change has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind. To the fearful it is threatening because it means that things may get worse. To the hopeful it is encouraging because things may get better. To the confident it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better.” King Whitney Jr.

Sheryl uses the metaphor of her recent house renovation to deconstruct the journey towards building change, towards the creation of something new. She documents this process insightfully, and I recommend you read the entire post.   I thought I’d pull out some of the phrases that resonated with me in Sheryl’s post.  She talked about the challenge of

keeping the momentum and the dream of the transformation alive

She also said:

There are times I wanted to throw in the towel and thought as outdated as the home was at least there was peace and comfort.

 things will look worse before they get better

Fear is a big part of it too

Trust is another issue. Do the experts I have hired to make these changes a reality have the know how and wisdom to make it all happen

I’d like to end my post with another one of Sheryl’s quotes:

 For change to take hold and redefine people and the places they live and grow there needs to be a time of inquiry, reflection, and visioning.

I’m grateful that I have people with whom to share my inquiry, reflection and visioning.

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School library blog – stay in or go out?

Recently I’ve moved my school library book review blog from an internal one within the school intranet (Sharepoint) to an external WordPress one. Just today I received an email from our Computer Systems Manager:

Do you realise that by using the WordPress site, you are denying most of our students easy access to your work. Sure, a few students might check it out in the Library at lunchtime but by the time most students get home, other priorities will have come to the fore. So, why not place your blog in the public section of the College Intranet? There you will get the best of both worlds, public access and, immediate and unhindered student access.

I should explain that we are a laptop school, but that internet access has to be booked by teachers, and is otherwise accessible to students before school, at recess and at lunchtime.

It was difficult to answer this email without writing a thesis! This is the best I could do:

 In answering your email, I started thinking about the meaning of ‘Sharepoint’ – a place where the school shares resources, information, etc.  Sharepoint’s  centralised, sharing facility is a powerful way to synchronise and share resources and activity in the school.  Yes, I did realise that by transferring my fiction blog to WordPress, students wouldn’t be able to access it during class times. I made the decision to move after using Sharepoint for almost a year, and I didn’t make that decision lightly, but based on important considerations.

 Funnily enough, the sharing within Sharepoint was limiting what I wanted to achieve with the blog. Sharepoint is an excellent school-based resource, but it didn’t meet our needs entirely. Firstly, there were restrictions, such as the fact that I couldn’t link to specific posts, so that when I posted more than one post, I couldn’t link to a specific one which had been pushed down by others.  I also couldn’t embed videos. Book and film trailers are popular with students, and often lead them to reading and discussing books.

 Access during classtimes did not increase readership, and I can only estimate this through anecdotal evidence with the Sharepoint blog, because, unlike WordPress, it doesn’t provide me with valuable data on readership.  As you say, students can only access the blog during lunchtime and recess, but they wouldn’t be able to read it in class anyway, unless given permission by the teacher, or when the teacher specifically books the internet. Since the move to WordPress, I’ve actually had an increasing number of emails from staff who prefer the appearance and options within WordPress, and following from their interest, I’ve been booked into classes  to introduce the blog and talk about books.  The blog is not generally something students are reading, unless I set a challenge or competition, but teachers who realise its potential are beginning to use it as an interactive medium for students.  

 Author visits are expensive, and so I find that embedding videos of author interviews  allows students to ‘get to know’ authors as real people, people they can relate to. When I show students the blog and give them time to browse, they inevitably veer towards the videos – not surprising considering their preference for media. We do what works in encouraging students to appreciate books and authors, and we must do what works best in engaging students in learning.  When students use Web 2.0 technologies, they are also learning netiquette – an important skill considering the dominance of technology in their future lives of work.

 The sharing aspect is the most important feature of external blogs . Just as teacher librarians and librarians encourage students to join local and larger libraries, so do we strive to share our reviews and comments with students and teachers in other schools, even in other countries. Every comment received is emailed to me for moderation before it is published.  I write the fiction blog for the whole school community, and I hope to extend our community to include other schools. We benefit from this interaction, and it enriches our discussion. Currently I’m compiling a list of excellent reading blogs of interest to both staff and students, which will be added to the blog as widgets.

 The work we do with Web 2.0 technologies at Whitefriars can be shared with others, and I find this enriching. I share, and I receive tenfold if not more. The School Library Association of Victoria blog, Bright Ideas, features what schools in Victoria are doing online, and our school has a positive profile throughout the state already, through its educational projects in wikis, blogs and nings.

 There are many more reasons for our choice to go with the WordPress blog, but it’s important to note that it is based on our commitment to Web 2.0 technologies rooted in the latest pedagogy. We are not ignoring Sharepoint, we are just selecting the best application for our needs.  As with any technology, it must be rooted in best pedagogical practice. Choice of online space should also be dictated by student learning within the context of the school’s mission statement. If we educate our young men ‘to take their place in society as valued individuals’, then  learning should take place not only in the classroom, but within the context of broader society. This, then, is the most appropriate context for blogs.

 I apologize for the wordy reply, but I thought it was important to give you a detailed answer. In conclusion, let me suggest you look at the Global Teacher website where you will find lists of school library blogs (under ‘Bookrooms’), school blogs and teacher blogs.

I appreciate the opportunity to define my reasons for external blogs in education, and also to receive excellent advice from my professional network. Just as you would ask friends for advice, so I ask my Twitter network for opinions and ideas. In a short space of time, seven people offered support for the use of external blogs. One even provided me with a  link to the exact webpage where I could find my school’s mission statement! (Thanks, Marita)

Here are some of the points raised in Twitter supporting Web 2.0 applications:

  • a global audience is important
  • so students can have input from a wider audience – authors, scientists, explorers – who knows who else can assist their learning
  • develop netiquette
  • students can see their work published.
  • Can share work with parents, grandparents.
  • Can make networks.
  • Show people they can use ICT.
  • schools should have policies that have been thoughtfully crafted by all stakeholders
  • online policies should be consistent with the Vision and Mission Statements of the school

I’m really interested in hearing your views on this subject. How would you answer this email? What approach would you take? I’m wondering if my answer is too heavy-handed. What do you think?

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Learning is a waste of time?

A day of conversations.

Good to record these and then reflect and analyse.

Firstly, a conversation with a Year 7 student who was ‘unable’ to do any work during English class because his laptop wasn’t working (note: he managed to remain undetected for most of the writing session before we realised, and then his visit to the computer centre was uneventful because he forgot to take the obligatory note, and the second visit left him without a computer until the end of the day). During our conversation, I told him that he should put the session down to valuable life lessons – taking the initiative to solve the problems instead of sitting aimlessly and wasting time, etc. – and he said these lessons were irrelevant because he was going to change schools the following year anyway. (My eyebrows raised involuntarily). He continued: the new school didn’t have a laptop program until the senior  years, and all his problems would be gone. What problems? You know, internet not working, things disappearing. He would get more work done. So, after a respectful pause, I asked him what he thought his future life of work would be like, wouldn’t it include functioning with technology? With all its glitches? And he would have to continue to problem-solve because there would always be problems? Yes, he agreed, but in the meantime he’d get more work done at school without the technology. It would all be in the book; easy to find and keep. (Has he heard of the technicality of losing the book?)

Hmm…

Get more work done…

Funny he should say that. Later in the day we had a meeting of the teachers involved in the Year 8 immersive project (mentioned in previous posts). I was late to the meeting, and I came in at the point where  groups of teachers were doing a post mortem on the project. The group I veered towards was engaged in passionate discourse, expressing negative views. There were too many points to remember them all, but the gist of it was that the big picture week-long, student-driven project didn’t work and was a waste of time. A waste of time because it took time away from the real work that had to be taught.  If it weren’t for the project, they would have ‘got more work done’. Work that was valuable.

Hmmm…

I ventured to say (I never learn, do I?) that all the problems and difficulties expressed were part of the teachers’ learning process, and that a collective discussion of these would result in a very different project next time – properly scaffolded, rubric based not on theory but on specific skills and capabilities demonstrated (or not) during the course of the project. The need to provide consistency throughout the different classes, the need to maintain seamless transfer between teachers, to deconstruct the questions at the beginning, to check for understanding, to get feedback from students on each day’s progress, etc. – all these observations I thought were valuable reflections, driving the discussion towards collective analysis and future improvement. But what I viewed as positive, some viewed as evidence that the project was a waste of time. The project took valuable time away from real work.

Interesting….

Not entirely surprising, though. I think you have to expect the initial digging in of heels, the panic and confusion when things are not spelled out, when teachers are just as much learners as the students, when stepping out onto unchartered territory. I can’t say that I”m not uncomfortable in new situations – of course I am. But if at least half of the teachers see the positive elements of the project, the rationale behind passion-based, student-driven, enquiry-based learning, then I hope that the scales will tip in favour of trying this out a second time. View this as a first draft, and collaborate towards an improved second draft.

Hopefully…

And please, consider the definition of ‘work’. Think about what it means to ‘get something done’. Or maybe you’d rather refocus on ‘learning process’ and navigate your learning  instead of getting it done.

Any thoughts?

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What’s it worth? A teacher’s beliefs.

Yesterday I unexpectedly leaped into a heated argument with a very close friend who had come to visit from interstate. It was one of those fires that flare up suddenly from a small spark, blazing fiercely long enough for onlookers to look alarmed and consider calling for help, and then burn down gradually, leaving those involved in a slightly shaky state, surveying the damage.

The offending spark was a question about why my friend’s daughter didn’t have Facebook, and if she did I’d be able to view her photos from the Ball she was attending that night. Remember, these friends live interstate.

Now, you can imagine, with a blazing argument, most of what goes on is reactive, and each person becomes locked in to a mainly defensive position, taking each comment personally and wanting to come back strongly enough to defend their position. There isn’t any room for thought or even fair appraisal of what the opponent has said. Luckily, the latter occurred as the fire burned down; concession and reconciliation was possible in the smouldering stage.

I can only speak for myself in this argument, and I will.

I reacted to my friend’s initial painting of Facebook and MySpace as bad places (which, I think, he must have said unconsciously, because he later denied it), places where, at best, young people wasted their time with inane conversations, and, at worst, young people exposed themselves graphically involved in the worst behaviour.

If I hadn’t been so defensive, I would have said that I’d been there not so long ago. I was initially against my older son interacting online, either msn or Facebook/MySpace. I gave many reasons, but one I pushed the strongest was that online interaction was not real, it was virtual. It was unnatural, it took away from the time spent with people face to face, it was potentially dangerous because it increased solitary time with virtual friends, etc. Why didn’t he use the phone if he wanted to talk to someone? How could he be ‘friends’ with all those people? That wasn’t friendship.

Funnily enough, these were some of the points my friend expressed, in between dodging my line of fire. I wonder (always wonder) when I’ll learn that the conversation ends when the other person feels attacked.

What has happened from the time I held my friend’s convictions and now? Several things. Instead of making conclusions about social networking and online environments from the outside, based on what I’d read, on media reports (which are mainly negative and engender fear in parents and teachers), I decided to play around with these things myself. What happened? I connected with people I hadn’t talked to for years (even decades), I saw photos of where they lived, saw status updates of what they were up to – no, not just what they had for breakfast –  they were about to become parents, or they were travelling overseas, etc. No, I didn’t have deep relationships with all of these people, but I did appreciate suddenly having a general view of what my ‘friends’ were up to, and many of these are scattered all around the world.

I also saw a different side to young people, definitely different to the picture that is often painted in the media, or even in conversations held by people who have little to do with adolescents or university-age students. I saw these people supporting each other with positive comments, engaging in humorous and often witty dialogue, planning events and meetings, putting out interesting links to things they had read or music they listened to, venturing to express opinions they might not in real life.

One of my main points in the aftermath of the argument was that social networking supports real-life interaction. The young people I observe are less isolated than I used to be at their age, not only because they can chat to a group of friends at home in between homework, but because they use these connections to meet up and do something together. They inititate interest groups, they gather friends for events, they learn to function as social beings – important skills for life and work. They do this because these spaces belong to them. They’re not forced to create a group and contribute to discussion; they choose to because of personal interest.

Which brings me to my next point. How much of this initiative and cooperation do we see in schools, in the classroom? Do we see discussion, do we see young  people sharing their interests and passions? Or do we see disengagement, boredom, solitary struggle in place of collaborative effort? Is there room for students to take initiative, pursue interests, work together to solve problems, get involved in real-world research and enquiry.

Are we getting the best out of our young people at school?

To finish my rave, yes! I agree with my friend that there is potential danger in online involvement. And I believe we should discuss these dangers. We should take every opportunity to educate our young people about the irreversible nature of what they put out the web. But we could also create a safe, online environment for them to use at home when they need help with homework, or when they want to share ideas for a project. A place they could become teachers as well as learners. An exciting place where they are enriched by the diverse contribution of others. Where they learn to respect each other. Where they are not afraid to ask questions.

As an educator, I’ve been pushing my boundaries, often painfully, against what I felt comfortable with. But I want to keep my eyes open, and I’m trying to re-evaluate constantly, and I know that I must do that if I’m to have any part in educating young people for their future. No, not going with all the latest fads, not embracing new things without thought, but thinking deeply, and listening to the dialogue in my own online network, asking the deep questions….

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Filed under 21st century learning, debate, Education, internet, networking, teachers, teaching, technology, Web 2.0