Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Student Spaces

I think that it is getting more complicated for school districts to decide what to buy or build and what to leverage for technology learning spaces.  iStock_000002030715XSmallThe past few years have brought so many options, many for free, out on the public Internet.  Tech savvy teachers are taking their students to wiki, blog, google docs, social networking, social bookmarking, video sharing, and other spaces on the public Internet.  There are so many fantastic tools available for free.

There are some challenges though with just using what’s out there on the Internet…

  • privacy law issues, especially for Canadians, and more so for British Columbians (obligation to protect student identity)
  • multiple digital identities to create and manage (this seems to be evolving though – often a user can login with their google, twitter, or facebook account)
  • different tools have different setup and navigation details = complexity for less tech savvy teachers (kids care less about this though)
  • complexity for parents – they have to gain access to, visit, and navigate multiple disconnected places likely with their child’s or their own digital identity
  • similar complexity for school principals

Buying / building their own learning platform can be expensive for school districts.  But, the benefits can be substantial…

  • comply with privacy laws
  • single digital identity
  • access / permissions based on secured student information for students, teachers, principals, and parents – a safe and secure space
  • consistent place or space for all making it more accessible to the less tech savvy – more efficient professional development is also possible – a base level for all to jump off from

iStock_000006664728XSmallI think the ideal system consists of both and not either or.  All students and teachers should have their own secure spaces that are interconnected automatically based on student – teacher relationships.  These spaces should support the general needs for teaching and learning such as…

  • document sharing and co-editing
  • blogging
  • wiki page editing
  • online discussions
  • content tagging,
  • auto quizzing
  • video and audio (pod cast) sharing

Internal spaces provide a safe haven for learning.  Some topics are more sensitive than others.  For example we’ve had high school girls health classes have online discussions in their virtual classroom about sensitive topics like sex, emotions, etc. – topics that probably shouldn’t be discussed openly on a public (even if secured) wiki, twitter, or Face Book.  With a safe and secure portal, teachers and students have options for working together more privately when they need or choose to.

From here, teachers or students (as they mature) could choose to also use and embed external tools where appropriate. flickr - langwitches - digital portfolio - 4859583721 I think that as students progress to high school, more of the tools they use to host their learning should be external.  That way they have a portfolio of their learning, a show case of who they are, to use to support their post-K12 life.

Ideally, there would be a mechanism to connect a student’s or teacher’s external content and interactions back to their internal secure space.  Perhaps to start with it’s as simple as embedding RSS feeds for their Google Reader and bookmarking tool.  This could provide a comprehensive view for teachers, principals, parents, and the students of the learning and teaching, in one space.  With some development, maybe there could be a page where students and teachers register external tools such as their blog, wiki, bookmarker, twitter, etc. with the portal and the aggregation of content happens automatically.  This mechanism would in essence glue the public Internet learning and teaching to the school district secure spaces.  Perhaps the internal secure space becomes the new “report card” that parents and their kids refer to to monitor progress.

Or perhaps the external and internal spaces will meld with something like SOCRAIT (published in Jan-Feb 2011 edition of The Futurist).  The author describes a really interesting learning platform that if developed, could fit nicely in to the environment I’ve described here.  SOCRAIT is a powerful idea for personalized learning.  I encourage you to take a few moments to read about it.

In our school district, we have the beginnings of some of what I describe in our my43 learning and work portal but we have a long ways to go.  For instance we don’t yet offer student spaces – our portal is very teacher and school centric.  I am specifically interested in what a student space should look like and include.  We, with Surrey and Victoria School Districts, am working loosely with Gary Kern of West Vancouver School District to conceive of a design for this.

I am interested in what others think of the idea of a safe and secure internal space connected to external tools and content.  I’ll leave you with some questions to ponder and respond to…

  • What features and capabilities do you think a Student learning Space should include?
  • Should students be able to customize their space?  If yes, what aspects (color, layout, background, RSS feeds, edit permissions, etc.)?
  • Should students be able to create blogs, wikis, discussion boards, document sharing libraries, etc. on their own?
  • What default sharing settings should be set for student spaces (class, school, level, District, other)?
  • Should students be able to share their content (blog, wiki, discussion board, documents, etc.) publicly outside the District?
  • Do you think an internal safe and secure portal is important for K12 education?  Why or why not?
  • What tools do you use to support similar learning and teaching activities?  Why?

Light bulbNotes from consulting with our Student Leadership Council (~50 grade 6-12) and the Riverside Secondary digital immersion grade 9 students are now available here.

Thanks for your help!