Category Archives: parents

Kids teach parents tech in their own way

This makes me laugh; I think my eldest son may have left home because of this.

It’s true that many of the ‘parent’ generation are less than expert at tech. Embarrassing, yes, and something I can completely relate to. When I did my Master of Education online, I didn’t even (dare I say it) know where the ‘on’ switch on the computer was. So the line ‘have you tried switching it off and on?’ would have not helped me one little bit.

My son was about 12 then and helped me struggle through the whole thing so that I could complete the degree. It was painful for both of us. I used to think that, once I’d logged onto the Charles Sturt University site, if I made a mistake, the people at the other end would know, and it would be embarrassing. The same as when I was a very young and I thought the people on the TV could see me. I’m not very tech-savvy.

It’s ironic  because, as my friends know, I’m connected a lot of the time (still don’t have the phone, but contemplating). My role as teacher librarian in finding and setting up the most interesting, relevant and engaging resources is made possible only by the enormous amount of time I spend online connecting with people and organisations, asking questions, joining discussions, saving it all to Diigo and Vodpod, sharing it with people.

It’s interesting to note the emerging learning styles of young people, on the whole, demonstrate an independence we never had. Connected, they find what they need to do what they want. We get on their nerves because we are helpless and think we need someone to tell us how to do something. They google, youtube, and whatever else, or even create videos to teach us, just to get us off their backs.

As educators, it would be nice if we let go of the traditional teaching/preaching approach, gave our students some credit, trust and space, and allowed them to learn actively by taking charge of the research/learning process. Instead of us teaching them, they could create teaching videos for each other. I hope to try and turn around some of the learning and teaching in the classroom this year.

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Filed under 21st century learning, parents, technology

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

In a world in which information is like air, what happens to power?

JP Rangaswarmi  wrote a post about Us Now, a one-hour documentary by Ivo Gormley about participative citizenship, mass collaboration and the internet, and their implications on government as we know it.

The Us Now website links to the thinkers asked to determine the opportunity for government in the radical new models of social organisation. Some of these are George Osbourne, Ed Milliband, Don Tapscott and Clay Shirky.

It’s interesting to follow the new democracy that online social organisations have opened up. More than interesting. As stated in the Us Now website, ‘In a world in which information is like air, who has the power?’

The Us Now blog includes interesting information by Paul Miller from the School of Everything. The School of Everything is a social learning network that connects people who can teach with people who want to learn.

Having been led to read about the School of Everything, and linked to Wikinomics through Paul Miller, I started to think about how, on the whole, we accept schools as the way to go with learning and trust them with our kids. My father, who completed his school education at the age of  14 so that he could get a trade and contribute to family finances, revered Education as a hallowed institution. Throughout my schooling, though, he had moments of disillusionment when I was unable to understand the politics in the TV news report, when I was useless at practical things or what he termed as ‘common sense’, or when I started philosophy and started questioning whether the table was really there. My own experiences as a parent saw me disillusioned at times when my older son was told to dumb down by the primary school psychologist so that he could more easily fit in, and even now, fighting  frustration when my younger son is instructed not to cut and paste, but to use his own words in a project that simply asks for basic facts about a country.

I have friends who have home schooled their children. Is this an option? Hasn’t  home tutoring been one of the ways to educate young people throughout history? And yet, these options have always made me nervous. Maybe because I was told my children would be socially impaired without normal social contact with their peers. Or maybe simply because it wasn’t the norm, and therefore frightening.

I’ve just had a conversation about this and alternative schooling with my older son who has completed year 12 recently. He’s a good example of a passionately curious child who stood out from ‘normal’ children and suffered for it in his primary years, but eventually toned down to fit in. It was interesting to see him become defensive and uncomfortable when I mentioned the School of Everything and questioned the relevance of traditional schooling.

No, you can’t have that, he protested.

Why  not? 

Well, it’s not all about learning of content, it’s about being with people and learning from them.

Who said that an alternative or online learning program excluded face to face contact or social opportunities?

OK, well, you can’t just do your own thing. You have to learn that not everything in life is interesting.

Tell me, how many teachers did you find boring and unengaging, and how much of your schooling have you retained or found valuable in life?

(squirm) But you can’t have life without suffering. You need to learn to cope with disillusionment and disengagment. You can’t totally remove it.

I’m not going to unpack this. I’m just going to ask you to give me your thoughts.

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

Making parents our partners in 21st century learning

If we want to shift learning and teaching into the 21st century, there are a number of people we need to take with us. Apart from teachers and school administrators, we can’t ignore parents in this move, and we really should be thinking about how we do this. The K12 Online Conference 2008: Kicking it up a notch tackles the subject of parents as partners – Parental Engagement in the 21st Century – Leveraging web 2.0 tools to engage parents in non-traditional ways – giving much food for thought, as well as practical suggestions of ways to move forward.

Lorna Constantini and Matt Montagna connect from afar online and ask how we can move forward from teachers’ and parents’ fear of the internet. They remind us that parents haven’t been brought up on the internet, so it’s natural for them to fear something that is foreign. The question is, what can we say to parents that will influence them in a positive way about their children’s online lives? I like the way Lorna and Matt have brought it back to what parents can understand – that we are all social beings, having an innate desire to connect with people and develop relationships, and that social networking is just a new form of traditional social connections.  As Matt points out,

 although online networks can be playful, they can also be powerful, enabling people to meet others with similar interests, solve problems together, create software programs together, participate in social and professional discussion with people we may not know in the physical world, etc. Our kids do this instinctively and fluently, posting content, interacting with content posted by others, learning from and teaching one another, having conversations with people all over the world – the opportunities to learn are tremendous. If we look at this new focus for young people, we should realise that they’ve moved away from what has long been the criticism of passive television viewing, and found new engagement in an interactive environment. If parents understand the positive aspects of social networking, they will realise that this shift is enormously powerful.

A major concern for parents is safety on the internet. Matt and Lorna talk about reassuring parents that young people are better at warding off potentially harmful situations than we give them credit for. They also ask a serious question, one that we need to discuss in schools: Who is guiding and mentoring our young people online now? Who is rolemodelling ethical and effective online interactions? And the answer is, apart from isolated individuals, nobody.

Schools may think they are by using filtering software, but it doesn’t encourage responsible use. All it does is encourage kids to find ways around filters, and it also blocks valuable and educational content. On the whole, parents don’t know what their kids are doing on the internet, so they are unable to provide guidance. This needs to change! Why? In every aspect of kids’ lives, parents provide key guidance that their kids need.

Here’s the best suggestion for parent PD that I’ve heard – why not get parents to set up Facebook accounts, blogs, and interact with some of the other Web 2.0 applications. This is a great way demystify their kids’ online socialising, enabling parents to shift from policing to mentoring their kids. Rather than lecture parents about the theory, we should just urge them to give it a shot.. give the example of email, which was new once, but we’re now used to it and depend on it.

And what a great idea to use new tools and platforms to reach out and connect to parents. Parents as partners is a Facebook group set up for parents – an online forum for questions and support which also models new technologies. I think modelling is the best way to teach someone. Just as important as modelling, transparency is a great way to let parents in on what their kids are up to. Have a look at the live video broadcast of kids away on an excursion, where parents can chat with their kids. Lastly, the NING network allows ongoing communication and collaboration between parents and teachers. Interestingly, the parents who were involved in the NING are the ones who were not involved in school in any other capacity – another example of the power of online tools.

We might feel isolated in our schools in advocating mindset change, and connecting with each other, either online or in person, is a powerful thing to do. But we’ll be banging our heads against the wall if we don’t find a way to effect a mindset change in all members of the school community. If we get parents on-side, they’ll be our partners in supporting students in 21st century learning. As it says on the Parents as partners blog, students achieve better when parents are involved in their child’s education.

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Filed under Education, parents, Teacher librarians, Web 2.0