Thursday, March 13, 2014

Socializing or Social Media

I recently had the pleasure of meeting with committee members in my district to discuss technology related policy. In this meeting we made strides toward refining the policy our Board sets forth to guide students, staff, and district administration. The policies on the books currently explicitly prohibit social media:

"Student use of district computers to access social networking sites is prohibited. To the extent 
possible, the Superintendent or designee shall block access to such sites on district computers 
with Internet access"

I have my qualms about other parts of the policy, but this particular section is one I feel is met with the greatest confusion. Even proponents of digital citizenship education in the curriculum are not convinced that social media is a legitimate focus for teachers, curriculum, and district policy.

Top 10 reasons we shouldn't teach social media in the classroom:

  1. It's really just socializing (in digital form). 
    • Yes, yes it is. But this isn't a negative, but a positive. Some learners are not going to raise their hands, give oral reports, or read aloud. Allowing them to engage in another venue increases the performance and potential for the whole class. 
  2. We have failing schools and high drop out rates, focus on the standards!
    • This reason is precisely why we need social media in the classroom. Disengaged students with no creative outlets are more likely to become disinterested and apathetic toward school. Creating a diverse learning environment is imposible if we never turn our attention to what is outside of the four classroom walls. Social media is just the beginning of course, social learning, blended learning, and asynchronous learning are the future of "school."
  3. Major media is biased and false information proliferates the web. 
    • This is a valid argument and one all educators should worry about. Social media, digital resources, and web research should never take the place of primary source documentation. As a former government teacher who used CNN and cable television in the classroom, I am acutely aware of the weaknesses of major media for education. Political spin, falsification of information, and fear mongering are not appropriate for the classroom. These are not reasons to avoid the topic, however, only to embrace it! Teaching students to evaluate multiple sources 
  4. Social media, not Educational media!
    • This statement is more a misunderstanding of the purpose based on semantics and a shallow understanding of the topic. Educational media should inundate our classrooms, that is for certain, but this has little to do with Social Media. In fact much of social media's proposed use in the classroom will include educational media (YouTube, Blogs, etc). 
  5. With bullying and cyberbullying center-stage in the country, it's just too dangerous.
    • Stories pervade the national headlines about suicide, depression, and real-world violence based on online activities. Bullying is basically the unwelcome controlling of others (click for official definition). Cyberbullying, which is now front and center on the collective mind of America, is bullying that uses electronics or the internet. Cell phones, browsers, apps, or any interface can be used to bully others and social media is just one avenue for such. Burying your head in the sand will not make the problem go away though. The best way to combat bullying and cyberbullying is to empower and enable students to speak out and report instances of such (through, I don't know, social media, maybe).  
  6. "This is just a fad, like MySpace or something."
    • I don't have much of a response to this statement, but if you are still jamming on your cassette player and making calls on a rotary phone, yes, this internet thing is just a fad. Seriously, though, the connectedness to our devices is now inextricable. Normal human interactions now include texting, emailing, sharing, tagging, and photo/video documentation. Our vernacular includes "Google it" and phones tell us time more than watches... this is not a fad, it's a revolution. 
  7. Maybe we need to get back to the basics: Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. 
    • Who says reading has to be on print media? Why not ebooks, websites, or other digital formats? Is blogging not writing? I say the integration of technology is the key to effective instruction of the basics. Is social media the "end-all-be-all" for each of these three area? Most certainly not. It could be integral, though.  
  8. This is one more thing teachers and administration will be tasked with and evaluated on...
    • Another extremely valid argument. Surveys show many teachers fear that parents will be constantly checking up on them or blur the lines between their personal and professional lives. This is a valid concern and privacy will need to be protected regardless of the circumstances. I cannot imagine what a Superintendent's concerns in this arena could be. I imagine the blow-back from misrepresented comments, the power of sharing unpopular opinions, or the newly invented expectation for monthly, weekly, (gasp) daily updates... All this is not a reason not to try it though. If there is a clamor from stakeholders for more information or more communication in a different format, why not listen? This is the way we communicate now. Tweets, blogs, and multimedia are the new letters home, phone calls to parents, and PSAs. 
  9. Don't kids naturally understand it anyway?! Why teach it?!
    • I admit, I have been taught a thing or two over the years by someone half my age. Functional understanding does not equal awareness, though. As an educator I know the power of less-than-professional Facebook pictures, something a 12 year old may not fully grasp. I also understand the predatory nature of criminals online, the permanence of every text, email, and Snapchat.  Though used extensively by youngsters, the cognizance of social media's power and longevity escapes them. This simply must be taught. 
  10. There simply are not resources to support these endeavors. 
    • I would be willing to bet the costs of not educating our youth will greatly outweigh the potential costs of adding social media education to existing curricula. Other than societal cost (monetarily speaking), what value can you put on a lost opportunity due to pictures or activities from 10-20 years ago for your student in the future? What is the value of a little girl's ill-planned pic to a now-ex-boyfriend once it is posted to the web? 
I leave you with some parting thoughts: 
The question is not "Should I have an online presence?" but "What is my online presence and who will control it?" If you don't have a Facebook, will someone else create one for you (story)? 
What are your thoughts? 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Publishing and Mobility: Literacy and Creativity

I did a webinar about a year ago and I thought I would refresh my memory about it as I prepare for this spring's webinar from ASDN. My presentation then was mainly about a specific app for iOS and an application on OS which allows a user to share their content remotely. This year I am mainly discussing the relationship of the new Alaska State English and Language Arts Standards and mobile publishing. Not one to limit my thinking to a single set of standards I also head those of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE Standards) and best practices of industry leaders and researchers (shared below).

So what do the standards say?
It's not so much what the standards say that excite as much as how they say it. Students Will...

  • demonstrate independence.
  • build strong content knowledge.
  • respond to the varying demands of audience, task, purpose, and discipline.
  • comprehend as well as critique.
  • value evidence.
  • use technology and digital media strategically and capably.
  • come to understand other perspectives and cultures

From the EED website, the State prescribes to the following school of thought: 

Students appreciate that the twentyfirstcentury classroom and workplace are settings in which people from often widely divergent cultures and who represent diverse experiences and perspectives must learn and work together. Students actively seek to understand other perspectives and cultures through reading and listening, and they are able to communicate effectively with people of varied backgrounds. They evaluate other points of view critically and constructively. Through reading great classic and contemporary works of literature representative of a variety of periods, cultures, and worldviews, students can vicariously inhabit worlds and have experiences much different than their own.

Integrating Knowledge and Ideas

7. Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
8. Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.
9. Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

iBooks are perfect for:

  • Children's adventure stories, folktales, legends, fables, fantasy, realistic, fiction, and myth
  • History biographies and autobiographies
  • Literary nonfiction and historical, scientific, and technical texts
  • Including the sub genres of exposition, argument, and functional text in the form of personal essays, speeches, opinion pieces, essays about art or literature, biographies and memoirs, journalism, and historical, scientific, technical, or economic accounts

Why iBooks, though?
 Our students are unique individuals with a voice worth hearing and ideas worth sharing. They are curious and imaginative and deserve the opportunity to create. The expression of their self image, their diversity, and their singularity are absolutely vital to modern society. In addition the use of multimedia in the classroom has been long touted as a panacea to student apathy. Using movies and audio engages learners. The infusion of technology sparks interests and enables greater achievements, therefore, empowering students with with tech skills makes them more potent in their creative expressions.

The format of an iBook is in itself unique and special. The file type of iBooks allow the embedding of text, audio, video, three dimensional animation, interactives, hyperlinks, maps, and more! The accessibility options of an iOS device allow for font size adjustment, background color adjustment, and text to speech in the native operating system.

Publishing an iBook to share is a simple and easy task. Posting the iBook file type is just like posting a word document. You can place it on websites, in dropbox, on Google drive, on personal websites, or even iTunes if you're feeling industrious. Teacher should be aware of what can and can't be posted online though. The federal government via the Children's Internet Protection Act regulate what can and should be posted online, among other things.

Addressing the Standards

Demonstrate Independence
Students taking ownership of their creation will produce better materials and be more heavily engaged. Stake holder buy in is everything! Get parents involved too. Motivation from home can be a game-changer, to say the least. Think about the big picture. For the majority of my career I have been in Western Alaska where Native culture can fade, in some instances, from everyday life and may even be lost to an entire generation. Think what a determined class of highly skill and highly motivated students could do... Cataloging and digitizing of language, stories, and the wisdom of the elders is something rarely done in my experience. Think of the lasting impact on the history of a people if this were done in iBook format! 

Build Strong Content Knowledge
Place-based models for education are well proven to impact student retention. Student authored works are a sure fire way to engage and celebrate student activity. In marketing terms the "stickiness factor" is when something is interesting enough for a learner to remember. Capitalizing on this concept, iBooks engage the multiple intelligences and all of the students' senses. 

Respond to Varying Demands
Bringing personal lives and the school world together bridges the gaps of formal education present since the beginnings of compulsory education. The validity of school vs. education hinges on the ability to absorb, synthesize, and apply what they learn. I have written and thought quite a bit on the subject personally and I can tell you that Bush districts are struggling with this disparity, to say the least. In terms of the typical 21st Century Learner, our job as educators is now to encourage learning agility

Comprehend & Critique
Design-based; Poject-based; Problem-based. Not easy to say, and certainly not easy to implement at the classroom level. In truth it is nearly impossible to implement at the district level. In a nutshell I think it looks like this: complex topics solved creatively and the demonstration of understanding of the solution though multimedia or unique presentation. 
Think of the backward design model and pinpointing the learning outcomes you wish to measure. Now offer real world problems with details and characters familiar to the learner. Allow them to address the problem creatively and solve it in groups or individually through critical thinking facilitated by the teacher. To measure the understanding, evaluate via performance-based projects rich in personal expression, multimedia, or art.

Value Evidence
Student must be capable of finding and using information. Regurgitation, ceaseless testing, and data recall are no longer accepted. “Knowing” is now defined as a deeper understanding of themes and concepts. I can't tell you how much it bothers me to read text without footnotes and appendixes. Our culture has become so far removed from primary sources that I fear we will one day be ruled by cable news networks and our libraries will be run by Wikipedia... 

Use Technology Capably
Technology for technology sake is NEVER the answer. Just because children want to use mobile devices all of the time, doesn’t make it educationally relevant. Sometimes a pencil and paper is the best way to teach. Sometimes turning off, unplugging, and going outside is the best way to learn. When we do use technology, we should consider carefully how and why we do so. Consider the research of Dr. Ruben Puentedura and his continuum of adoption. I liken this to Bloom's-Technology-Taxonomy... are we striving to redefine? 
SAMR Model
Substitution – Write in Word instead of notebook
Augmentation – Add images to tell the story
Modification – Add video to broaden artistic scope of the project to include multimedia
Redefinition – Use interactive HTML applications, voice, video, sound, links, and iOS accessibility options to create an iBook published to the Web!

Understand Other Perspectives & Cultures
Give students a chance to share and you may be surprised!

What are your thoughts on the subject?