Monday, March 26, 2012

Considering Digital Literacy

The fact is that given the challenges we face, education doesn’t need to be reformed - it needs to be transformed.   
 ~ Sir Ken Robinson in The Element
My last assignment for my CET course was to create a video in response to the following questions:
  • What is digital literacy?
  • What is an area of digital literacy that could be improved upon in schools?
  • How might we improve in this area?
774-Neuron Connection-Pattern by
zooboing on Flickr, CC-BY-SA 2.0
And so, in my effort to worker 'smarter not harder' I have included the transcript from this video below as a post (the video is below).

Our world has changed and the environment students’ live in is vastly different than the one their teachers experienced as children. It is electronic and digital; media rich, fast, engaging and dynamic. By the time our students graduate they will have spent as much time online as a professional pianist would have spent practicing.

Marc Prensky describes this generation as one that operates at ‘twitch speed’. It is their accepted norm to have instant access to information, goods and services at the tap of a screen. They expect to be able to communicate with anyone anywhere at anytime. More importantly, there is strong indirect evidence that these digital natives think differently, that in fact their brains are physiologically different from those raised in the pre-digital world.

And so, as educators we must ask how are we preparing these digital natives, our students, for the 21st century? What does it mean to be digitally literate?

TheInternational Society for Technology in Education, or ISTE, has developed National Educational Technology Standards ~ commonly called NETS, that provide a widely accepted description of the skills and knowledge students need to be digitally literate. These digital literacies have also been defined by the International Baccalaureate (IB) to promote the integration of technology to support teaching and learning in their Primary Years Programme.

Both organizations have similar ideas about the attributes of digital literacy; collaboration, communication, digital citizenship, yet it is the need to create that strikes a chord with me personally. The ability to create, while an important digital literacy, is also a higher order thinking skill. When students are asked to create in the context of real time, creating solutions to real world problems and then share these, teaching others, research from institutions such as the National Training Labs, tells us that the retention of students’ learning is dramatically improved.    

And so the question becomes what do our students need to become creative problem solvers? How have we changed to facilitate this?

In Sir KenRobinson’s book, The Element, he states that the mistake made by many policymakers in education is to believe that ‘the best way to face the future is to improve upon what was done in the past’ (p 235). But we know this is not working – our world has changed and so have its inhabitants. We need to transform our education systems to meet the needs of our digital children.

We need to rethink what learning spaces might look like – do they encourage collaboration – both locally and globally? Do they provide for the use of appropriate tools for our digital age? Do they empower students to create content, solve problems and share their findings, teaching others in the process?

Many educators worry about keeping up with technology – which is understandable as the rate of change makes this a futile exercise. Students today will be better served if we focus our energies on designing spaces that facilitate learning in a digital age. We still teach children and as always, we must consider the needs of people and how to best support meaningful learning.

Works cited:
Churches, A. Educational Origami. <> March 2012.

Fenton, J. ADE Application Video. <> 2011

ISTE: International Society for Technology in Education. 2011.

Jukes, Ian & A. Dosaj. “Understanding Digital Children (DKs)” Teaching & Learning in the New Digital Landscape, The InfoSavvy Group, September, 2006. Prepared for the Singapore MOE Mass Lecture.

Prensky, Marc. “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants” On the Horizon. NCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5, October 2001.

Prensky, Marc. “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, Part II: Do They Really Think Differently?” On the Horizon. NCB University Press, Vol. 6 No. 1, December 2001.

Robinson, Ken. The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. London: Penguin Books. 2009.

The Role of ICT in the PYP. International Baccalaureate Organisation. 2011.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Building my PLN

The growth of any craft depends on shared practice and honest dialogue among the people who do it. We grow by private trial and error, to be sure -- but our willingness to try, and fail, as individuals is severely limited when we are not supported by a community that encourages such risks. 
~ Parker Palmer in The Courage to Teach, p. 144
I have always been aware of the benefits of developing a professional learning network (PLN); seeking the advice of colleagues and mentors, knowing that there is much to be learned from the collective wisdom of others. When I first started teaching I may not have referred to this collection of people as my PLN, but in fact that is what they had become. Over time, with advances in technology, it became easier to bring my network with me, after all my former colleagues were only an email away, but once the Internet became such an easily accessible virtual space, my PLN began to take on a life of its own, growing at a rapid, and at times, uncontrolled pace.

Prior to reading David Warlick’s article, Grow Your Professional Learning Network, I would have described my PLN as consisting of my colleagues (present and former), some Twitter contacts and the blogs I subscribe to and read regularly. I have now become more aware that my own PLN was in fact a conglomerate of three different and distinct networks. The diagram below illustrates the make-up of my current PLN. Inspired by Warlick’s model, I wanted to apply this organizational structure to my own learning groups, trying to better understand how they fit in my PLN as a whole. 

Created with Bubbl.Us

This exercise required me to think more critically about my PLN and I have a much better understanding of the types of learning activities I’m involved in and how these relate to each other. Prior to this reflection, my PLN was a vague collection of people and groups that were maintained in a haphazard manner. I now see the value of organizing my network. I now have a greater appreciation as to why I have had some difficulty in keeping up, feeling a bit over-whelmed by the sheer volume of information coming to me through my contacts. With a better understanding of the different types of PLNs and their ‘avenues of cultivation’ (Warlick, 13) I feel I am better equipped to manage my network. This has been a definite area of improvement to my PLN. I no longer feel the need to maintain all of my connections with the same level of intensity. For example, I used to spend a great deal of time keeping up with the blogs, wikis and nings I followed, reading and leaving comments as often as I could. Now I realize that it would be more beneficial for me to spend the time developing relationships with people I feel are vital to my learning network, whether they are current colleagues or people I know only through Twitter or as the author of a favourite blog. I will no longer devote as much time to my ‘dynamically maintained asynchronous connections’ as I do my ‘personally and socially maintained semi-asynchronous connections’ as I realize there is not the same need (Warlick, 13-14).

With this better understanding of PLNs and their potential impact on my own learning, I would like to now purposefully cultivate my connections to better meet my needs. Thinking about how I can use a network to connect, communicate and collaborate with others about areas of particular interest will help me attain a greater focus (Novak). I plan to introduce Diigo as a tool to help with this refinement of my PLN. I also believe my PLN will be more effective with some weeding, removing those connections that no longer suit my learning needs. While I will always maintain relationships and participate in various community groups (both virtual and face-to-face) I will not necessarily include everything in my professional learning network. I think as my purpose becomes more clearly articulated, the more effective my professional network will become.

Works Cited
Warlick, David. “Grow Your Professional Learning Network: New Technologies Can Keep You Connected and Help You Manage Information Overload”. Learning & Leading with Technology March/April 2009. 18 February, 2012.

Novak, Bev. “If you don’t have a PLN, you don’t know what you’re missing”. Connections: a newsletter for school librarians. Issue 80. Education Services Australia. 18 February, 2012.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Evaluating Web 2.0 Tools

The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The truly dangerous thing is asking the wrong question.
~Peter Drucke

For a recent assignment in my Certificate of Educational Technology course we were asked to review three Web 2.0 tools and evaluate their worth to teaching and learning. A fairly straight-forward task and quite pertinent considering we make these kinds of decisions regularly in our classrooms. We had reference material to guide us, such as the revised Bloom's taxonomy and the NETS from ISTE, but I also wanted to see what others do ~ how do other educators decide which tools to use to support and enhance teaching and learning.  When I began this search I was surprised that I could not easily find many examples of evaluation tools available to educators. I compiled what I was able to find using Storify.

One of the most challenging aspects of this task was deciding upon the three tools to evaluate. How to choose, with so many available? So, I started with the obvious, the Web 2.0 tool my students and I use on a regular basis, Google Docs.

Description: Google Docs is a set of free online tools that allow you to create, edit and view your documents, spreadsheets, presentations, forms and drawings from any computer or smart phone. All of these documents allow for real time collaboration and have privacy settings that allow you to control who has access to view and or edit the document. Simple to use and easy to download to your own computer or embed in another site, such as a blog or wiki.

Digital Literacy Value: While Google Docs can be made private and edited and viewed by only one user, the digital literacy value is in their ability to support collaboration, allowing groups of people to communicate and work together to create one document. When student groups use Google Docs to collaboratively inquire, they have opportunities to conduct research and apply critical thinking skills while sharing, analyzing and synthesizing their data. These are also authentic opportunities for students to develop their digital citizenship skills; learning how to treat others in a virtual space, respecting others’ contributions and using online sources ethically. I also love the fact that it helps our classroom to become a 'paperless' environment.

Examples of Use: My students have used Google Docs to support collaborative inquiries during smaller investigations to collate data and then to prepare reports, which allows me to provide feedback to the students on their work. Students also used Google Docs to support their investigations when preparing for the PYP Exhibition, which allowed them to share their progress not only with the classroom teacher, but with their mentors as well. I have also used Google Forms to collect information from my students. For example, we use this tool as a regular part of our math classes as a digital exit slip where the information helps me plan for next learning steps. Lastly, I have used the Google Docs and Presentations for professional reasons when preparing to facilitate a workshop with someone who lives in another country. 

The second tool I chose to evaluate was VoiceThread because it is one that has great potential and I haven't used it as effectively as I would like. After preparing this evaluation I have decided to use VoiceThread more often with my students.

Description: This is a wonderful tool to foster collaboration and sharing ideas around a topic or an issue. VoiceThread is like an online conversation where you can upload images and then leave comments about the content. These comments can be typed, audio recordings or video recordings. Participants are also able to draw or write upon the images as they share their comments. The best part about this tool is that participants can listen to comments and then build upon what others have said.

Digital Literacy Value: VoiceThread can be used in various ways that would support students’ digital literacies development. Using a teacher created VoiceThread could provide students with opportunities to analyse and evaluate content. They would need to understand the comments left by others and build upon this, justifying their own opinion. Having students create their own VoiceThread to show their understanding of a concept would require them to apply their knowledge in a different context.

Examples of Use: I have recently used VoiceThread with my students as a means for collaborative groups to share the central ideas they created with their classmates. Students had a set of success criteria and were trying to decide which of the statements best met the criteria and should be included as entries from our class in the larger ‘voting’ process for the Exhibition central idea. More recently we have used this tool to support a conversation about small group animations the students have completed for a unit of inquiry. We will be using the comments left by students as a mean of assessing their understanding of our central idea.

The last tool I selected for this assignment was Storify. I've not yet used it with students, but I've always liked the idea of compiling socially constructed information to tell a story. 

Description: This tool allows you to search social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Google and Youtube to build a story around an issue or topic. Easy to use, you simply type in the subject you would like to explore and select which media you would like to search. You browse the links that appear in a sidebar and select the items you wish to include in your own story by simply dragging them into your workspace. These ‘stories’ are then hosted on Storify and you may share the link or embed them into your own site. You may go back later on and update any stories you have created.

Digital Literacy Value: While I have not yet used this tool with students, I have used it myself when exploring an idea. I like it because I am able to keep the sites I come across in various places together in a way that is easy for me to access. By reading a variety of perspectives I build my own understanding of an issue and it is an opportunity to evaluate what others may be saying. If done well, this tool could be used to create a ‘story’ that is either well balanced, showing multiple perspectives, or if your purpose is to persuade, deliberately biased toward a particular view. 

Examples of Use: I’ve created stories to capture my explorations of Twitter and the flipped classroom model and most recently, Choosing the ‘Right’ Web Tool. I found it helped me to read a variety of posts and view videos in a more focused, purposeful manner as I had used a ‘guiding question’ in the description of my story.

The real power of this exercise was not in my own evaluation of three Web 2.0 tools, but in the sharing of our thoughts in class. The resulting compiled list of tools, with my colleagues' annotations has become a most valuable resource and I would highly recommend such an endeavour.