Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Making Connections

During lunchtime the social challenged child sits beside the popular kid in the school computer space. They chat about how to modify the cheat codes in marble blast. The positive online interaction spills over into real life, creating a positive connection between individuals that would otherwise have at best avoided eachother. One of the four vision statements is "connected". What authentic opportunities do you provide for today's digital students to connect authentically with eachother within their learning environment. 

Technology is a powerful enabler. 

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

ePortfolio or Web Portal

In the early 1990's parents were parents and teachers were teachers. Few institution other than Parent Centre paid much heed to parents as teachers or developing a home school partnership in learning. The concept of life long learners was more of a threat to the masses in a time of growing redundancies and unemployment.
At this time New Zealand schools began sending students home from primary schools with portfolios. These large scrapbooks contained annotated examples of their work that documented their learning during the year. They came home with the mid and end of year reports and provided teachers and parents with real examples to discuss when they met for the parent interviews.
The portfolio was designed for a particular purpose at a time when multimedia was technical and the internet ran at 14k on dial-up. 
Jumping forward to 2011, there have been incremental changes to the portfolio. The greatest of these for some schools has been the digitising of the content. The challenge has been to bring the students learning together in one place on the internet and to have it accessible all year round and beyond.
Travelling along the developmental timeline with the eportfolio has been the online learning environment. Often these two concepts blur into a single task that has many teachers suffering from techno brain burnout even before anyone mentions social media and digital citizenship.
The eportfolio lies just beyond the grasp of many classroom teachers. A promised land perceived to be inhabited by the truly dedicated and skilled teachers of the future. The failure to produce an eportfolio that works for all students and teachers lies not in the dedication of teachers, the design of the software or the implementation but in the basic concept. The portfolio has been part of the learning landscape for less than twenty years. It is time to create a model that meets today's needs. A model that takes advantage of today's technology but is not driven by a need to be an expert in that technology. It needs to be as simple as the introduction of the ball point pen was to the school room. It has to be easy to implement and the advantages must be immediately obvious. 
A web portal to student learning is one solution I am exploring this term. It can be best described as a starting point people can pass through to travel into the student's personal learning world. This model creates one place for students, teachers and family to go to in order to enter the student's learning space anytime, anywhere. Today's tools easily allow areas to be open to the public or closed to all but a selected few. Templates can be developed to allow schools to define minimum content but not limit the enthusiasm and creativity of individual teachers and students.
The best place for a teacher to start is with their own web portal. The Virtual Learning Network offers a place to start. Why not sign up and create your own space now.
Remember the golden rule as stated by Confucius:
Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.
Create your own web portal before you ask your students to do the same.

My Student Web Portal (Under Construction)

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Creating Connections

Watch this 5 min video then read on.
(Remember iGen students prefer processing pictures, sounds, colour, and video before text)

Historia de un letrero. (Story of a Sign)

The context in which we experience an event, regardless of whether we are passive views or active participants shapes our connection to that event and those in it. As teachers of the iGen student the challenge is to create a context that takes students beyond the zombie zone where they are desensitised by digital media.

Alonso Álvarez Barreda uses the sign to create different connections to the man and his limitations. "Have compassion, I am blind" gives the viewer permission to distance themselves from the man. To be desensitised. Consider that the word compassion comes from an old french word meaning "suffer with".  It is difficult as an adult to develop a real connection with someone whose suffering is outside our experience. Brain research shows that the tween-agers and teenagers of today are still developing the ability to understand or share the feelings of another. It is even more challenging for students to relate to the man and his limitations than adults who should by adulthood have developed their prefrontal cortex for processing decisions that affect others.

The second sign, "It's a beautiful day and I can't see it" moves the focus from the man's disability to the viewer's ability. To be able to understand and share the feelings of someone who can not enjoy the beauty of the day depicted in the film is within the experience of all those who are viewing the film.  The beginning of the short film, showing the rich tapestry of life in which the man sits creates the context where the viewer connects with the reality of the man's suffering. The viewer is able to suffer with him when they consider what they can see but the man is unable to experience. The context created by the second sign provides the connection that moves the viewer from the zombie zone to empathy.

The vision statement in the New Zealand Curriculum states that young people need to be connected. They need to be able to relate well to others, to have empathy. Digital media is a powerful medium to build connections, to create empathy. The challenge is to carefully craft the context in which digital media is used and not de-sensitise students by bombarding them with digital content.

Give credit where credit is due. Use the original film "Historia de un letrero"
A shortened English version is available as an advert for Purple Feather. Much of the complexity of the five minute short film is lost in this version.

To view the tsunami in Japan from a context that creates empathy to go the following youtube clip. The clip is shot from a school.

Note: If you are over 18 (iGran) you probably read the blog to decide whether you would watch the clip. If you are under 18 (iGen)  you probably watched the clip to decide whether you would read the blog.

Related Resources:
iBrain - Small and Vorgan
Understanding the Digital Generation - Jukes, McCain, Crockett. 2010
NZ Curriculum Document.

Monday, 11 April 2011

The Subtleties of Human Interaction

When I lived in Fiji my house girl would often baffle me. When I asked if she would like a cup of tea she would reply, "Vinaka".
Vinaka means both yes thank you and no thank you. Nancy explained that it was the manner in which you said vinaka that indicated what you meant. After three years I could still not pick the difference and Nancy had no doubt drank enough tea to last her a lifetime.
The subtleties of body language and facial expression is something we learn over time from face to face interaction with real people. It is widely believed and backed up by current research that if you don't use neural pathways you lose them. Teenagers need to spend face to face time with real people to develop an understanding of the emotional experiences of others. They need to be able to understand and share the feelings of another. This takes practice and can not be learnt without real interactions with real people, in real settings. Constant use of digital devices for entertainment and communication threatens to weaken the neural pathways and development of areas of the brain that recent brain research shows are set down during childhood and the teenage years. Areas and pathways that relate to social and reasoning abilities.
I never developed the correct neural pathways to identify the difference between vinaka and vinaka and as a result Nancy drank far too much tea. One hopes that we do not fail in allowing our students of today to develop an understand of the subtilise of another. Such a failure could have devastating results if those students become the negotiators of the future.
So what does this mean to the school of today. Consider ensuring students have time to learn together from each other. Break times need to be a time to tool down and learn to interact with real people. Don't close the computer labs where students have to share and interact but do put away students' personal devices.
The one to one computer environment needs to be mixed with a one to one people environment.

Read the following books to find out more about current brain research:
iBrain - Small and Vorgan
Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, - John J. Medina
iPhone App: 3D Brain

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Social Networking

The iGen student described in "Understanding the Digital Generation" Juke, McCain, Crockett (2010) prefers to "network simultaneously with many others."
Blocking of social networking sites creates an environment where students use unprotected mobile networks to maintain their social networks at school. I do not advocate the use of FaceBook for students of Primary or Intermediate age students. It has little merit as a communication tool for this age but can provide easy access to images that are relevant to the student. 
Schools today need to create an environment that allows students to choose the correct tool to network for learning and for social interaction within school. Learning to use the right vehicle for getting the message across, along with adapting the content to the audience have always been important skills for both students and adults.
Education needs to realise that social networking sites such as Facebook are used by a large cross-section of society to maintain both social and business networks. More than 500 million Facebook users makes it a mainstream communication tool. Teachers need access to social networking sites. They need to be one of the 500 million so they can engage in those powerful conversations with students around appropriate use of the internet for learning and for participating in society. I need to state again that blocking of social networking sites creates an environment where students will use unprotected mobile networks to maintain their social networks at school.
Explore Facebook for your own development. If you want a social networking solution for your classroom try Twiducate.

In April the staff watched an iGen Presentation that introduced the seven preferences explored in the book mentioned above. A great read. Watch the presentation here. 

Mobile Networks in Schools

When I think back to 2003 and the dangers of searching Bill Clinton on the internet I still break out in a cold sweat. I do not support free access to the internet within schools. A combination of web filtering using such agencies as watchdog and self managing which sites are unblocked has provided an opportunity for schools to teach students digital citizenship within a safe environment and creates many rich learning opportunities. Up until 2009 I was confident that our internet security at school protected students and staff from objectionable material including reducing the number of emails of questionable origins. 
However the network landscape has changed over the last 12 months. A significant number of students have their own mobile phones and now also have internet via the mobile network. The telecom stick, vodafone's mobile modems and 3G enabled computers and iDevices are giving students affordable access anytime, anywhere.  All our security at the network gateway to the school offers no protection to these students and their peers that share their devices.
With this development the focus on digital citizenship gains more importance for the students and teachers of today. 

The Arrival of the iDevice

There is a tipping point with the introduction of any device and the iPad is no exception. For education the tipping point is when the focus changes from how it works to what it can create. From that point on it becomes a natural part of the learning ecosystem. 
Today we do not spend time marvelling at the construction of the ball point pen, we simple use it to create. The cleanliness, easy of use and relative in-expense have faded into the background.   
In "Everything Bad is Good for You", Stephen Johnson talks about the time it takes for a technology to reach 50 million people.  The tv took some 50 years. How long will the iPad or tablet device take and what are the implications of this ever increasing speed of change to the field of teaching. 
To view the Apple Bus Tour Presentation go to my eLearning site

The Blogging Challenge

As a six year old I remember staring at a blank page and not wanting to make that first mark. There is nothing wrong with a blank page. No miss-formed letters that are not sitting on the line. Dutch is not spelt incorrectly. Nothing is crossed out, scribbled out, rubbed out through to the next page. It is a page full of potential, unrestrained by the abilities or lack there of, of the author. 
The moment the idea is carbonised on the page it is set. Closed. It becomes open to public scrutiny, to interrogation, to challenge. As an adult my fingers hover above the keys waiting for the courage to make that first mark on a blog post. A blog that will be full of the insights and ponderings of a learner from a little country school who has been around this world for awhile.