Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Living and Learning Responsibly in the Digital World

Well, here it is, September 2010.  We knew this was coming… We are addressing a couple of pretty serious needs related to the digital world in our School District.  We need to reduce online activities that don’t have an obvious use for learning, teaching, or administration and provide guidance to teachers, students, administrators, and parents for using digital tools and spaces appropriately.  Additionally, our online capacity (bandwidth) has become unusable at times, students are increasingly using online tools for social and inappropriate purposes, and more teachers are taking their students out into the public Internet space.  I think I will focus this particular post on students responsible use and other issues such as bandwidth and privacy in future posts.  Let’s start with a recent example that has been in the news. 

At a rave party in Maple Ridge, BC a teenage (underage) girl was, according to police reports, gang raped.  Bystanders took pictures with their cell phones and posted them to online sites like Facebook or emailed / sexted them to their friends.  The photos spread online and via cell phones like wildfire.  This is an illegal activity (as reported by police) involving the spread of child pornography.  What’s wrong with this picture?  How could people participating in the spread of this material be so desensitized to the obvious (to a thinking person) impact of these online actions?

At our District’s Digital Responsibility working group meeting this week, we had the pleasure of having Dr. Shaheen Shariff from McGill University’s Department of Integrated Studies in Education speak with us.  A little bit about Dr. Shariff from her website:
“My research and teaching are grounded in the study of legal considerations that impact educational policy and practice. I am currently principal investigator on three SSHRC funded projects: 1) to study school policy and legal boundaries involving cyber-bullying and internet harassment… I am an associate of the Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism at McGill’s Law Faculty”

Dr. Shariff poses some probing questions and comments:
  • what represents “joking” and “true threats”? (Real versus perceived harm – subjective or objective privacy harm)
  • at what point do “joking” or “white lies” become libelous (cyber-libel)?
  • what are the limits of supervision and responsibility to intervene when cyber-bullying occurs outside school hours among school-mates?
  • young people beginning to perceive and conceive of public and private very differently
  • what can educators do with support from stakeholders – parents, law-makers?
  • on-line expression allows for perceived anonymity, permanence, infinite audience and participants

Other cases referred to by Dr. Shariff related to how some students have used social networking sites (eg, Facebook and others) inappropriately:
  • teachers have been falsely described as engaging in sexual acts in class
  • principals have been described as pedophiles
  • sexual orientation, hygiene, teaching styles are discussed
  • unflattering photographs are posted with insults and defamatory statements

She then provides some proactive objectives for us to consider:
  • develop capacity (among adult stakeholders and kids) to understand the impact of their expressions
  • involve students, teachers, librarians and parents directly in developing and delivering (as well as receiving) information, skills and approaches on rules of technology use, conduct and respect for privacy (QUESBA Task Force Report)
  • empower young people to become active agents in raising awareness among peers and stand up to bullying
  • help children and teens think through moral situations and assess their impact to an infinite audience on-line, as well as short and long term impact on their lives (criminal record, reputations, grades, health)
  • dialogue with kids and raise awareness of impact of their words

Our working group focus is to review our current policies and procedures that relate to student conduct and work to update them where necessary to reflect the current modern digital world context.  We will strive to weave this subject matter into existing courses, curriculum, etc. wherever appropriate.  We really see this as filling out the Social Responsibility area – it’s the same behaviour issues but expanded beyond the face to face realm.  Our objective is to start with K and try to weave it in up to grade 12.  We also want to engage parents appropriately so that we have all the bases covered: students, teachers, principals, and parents.  Living digitally can be unhealthy or healthy.  It would appear that from case law Schools and Boards would be well advised to address these issues proactively and fully.  I like Dr. Shariff’s advice to include students and parents in developing our codes and guidelines – I would like to see how we might do that in our District.

A few websites that you may find helpful as you explore these topics include (there are many more):

So, policy, procedure, protocol, and guidelines for online behaviour and privacy - two huge topics that our District is taking on this year.  I’d love to hear from others who have recently traveled this road.  Do you have advice, resources, etc. to share?  I leave you with this thought-provoking video…

Sunday, September 19, 2010

What Homework Should Be

I have three grown sons (22, 21, 18) with my last son having graduated high school in June 2010.  Parents have a tough job raising kids these days.  I’d like to focus on one aspect of this job: homework.  I don’t know about you but as a parent I found it progressively more difficult to motivate and help my kids as they climbed the years through their K12 education.  Homework was that dreaded task that we had to encourage, bride, coerce, force, argue about, etc. with our kids.  My kids grade 8-12 years were in a self-directed school which made this process even more interesting and difficult.  I always found it frustrating that my kids had to push through content before they “got it” at various stages.  Homework often further reinforced what they already felt, that they didn’t understand the concepts yet.  By doing more problems, tasks, etc. at night they got progressively more frustrated with what they didn’t understand.

I just read a refreshing and encouraging article in the September 2010 (vol. 68 no. 1) issue of Educational Leadership titled The 5 Hallmarks of Good Homework.  The author, Cathy Vatterott (associate professor of education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis), states “Homework shouldn’t be about rote learning.  The best kind deepens student understanding and builds essential skills.”  Wow, if that would have been the case for my kids I think their experience would have been quite different.  The author lists five fundamental characteristics of good homework: Purpose, Efficiency, Ownership, Competence, and Aesthetic Appeal.  I’m interested in how we can best leverage technology for teachers, students, and parents to support good (great) homework.  Maybe a change in homework practice supported by technology can move us away from busy work, reinforced frustration, dread, and ill-equipped parent helpers, etc.

Let’s start with Purpose.  What if students had the option to use online tools like discussion boards, wikis, or their own blog to write about or record as an audio or video reflection about the homework they are doing (students can choose the method).  U1120W_01[1]Flip video / audio camera / recorders are in the $150 range.  Perhaps classrooms could be equipped with some of these that can be loaned out to students.  Build in reflection time with homework using technology to help the teacher read, hear, or see what their students know, struggle with.  The purpose then is to help teachers know where each of their students are at and so they can adjust their teaching or reinforce / reteach material to ensure all students “get it”.

Or how about Competence.  Professor Vatterott says “If all students are to feel competent in completing homework, we must abandon a one-size-fits-all approach.”  My degree is in Computer Science and Math but unfortunately my boys didn’t receive any of the math gene from me – they all struggled significantly with math.  They definitely did not experience a sense of “competence”.  The one-size-fits-all approach was evident in the homework.  I know in school (remember, self-directed), they were able to work at their own pace, receive help when they needed it (in theory) from teachers, etc.  But at home, there was no access to differentiated homework.  Perhaps math curriculum could be fully supported by online resources.  I know there are a lot of sites that help with math concepts and problems but it’s difficult for parents to connect them to BC curriculum and grade appropriate material.  What if BC had their curriculum online with homework assisting tools and materials that could track student competence at each stage?  Teachers could review where their students’ competence sits with the material and surgically help them increase their competence (and confidence!).  What might a tool like this look like?

To finish up, Professor Vatterott says “Meaningful homework should be purposeful, efficient, personalized, doable, and inviting.  Most important, students must be able to freely communicate with teachers when they struggle with homework…”.  I think technology has a huge role to play here.  With better information, efficiently collected as part of homework activities, teachers could be better informed about each students struggles.  Also, perhaps students would feel better supported knowing that they will get specific help even when they can’t articulate exactly what they need.  I encourage you to read Professor Vatterott’s article and leave me some thoughts on this topic and specifically how technology might be able to help.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Stephanie’s First Day of School in 2020

imageIt’s Tuesday, Sep. 8, 2020, the first day in the new school year and Stephanie is excited.  Being 11 years old and having demonstrated leadership skills in her learning portfolio last year, she knows that she gets to take on more leadership roles with her peers and the younger kids.

Stephanie is already waiting in her mom’s car eager to get to school.  She’s already tapped into her Communicator to update her status and check with her friends to see where they’ll meet-up.  Her mom finally gets in.  They have one of those new 2020 solar powered Hyundai Genesis coupes with the onboard self-drive navigation system.  Her mom asks her car to take them to Stephanie’s school and they’re off, the car driving itself in constant communication with the intelligent road system while Stephanie and her mom talk about the day.

Arriving at the school 10 minutes later, Stephanie seeing her friends Jordon, Blake, Sophie, and Raj, jumps out and runs up to the entrance to join them.  They talk excitedly for a few minutes, each hearing the other in their native language thanks to their Communicators (these kids come from different home language groups). As they file into the building, a friendly artificial voice says good morning to them by first name and in their own language.  The kids file off to the learning commons for orientation.

In the learning commons, the 500 or so kids of all ages don their virtual learning (VL) visors to join in with their principal and their learning guides (aka teachers) for orientation.  The students are taken on a journey through the school to familiarize them with the learning spaces, safety features, etc.  Stephanie’s school has many learning spaces in a variety of shapes, sizes, and purposes.  She will spend time in large group settings, small teams, and on her own as she is guided through the curriculum.  During orientation she and her friends get to walk into (virtually) each space and hear about and see what the spaces are for, the safety features, the tools and resources available to them.  Each learning space has fully interactive multi-touch and no-touch walls and tables for students to interact with 3D experiential learning.  They are also able to link up with students around the world to experience their culture, history, and to learn math, science, history, languages, art, music, and sports together.

As part of orientation, the students are introduced to student conduct and privacy requirements both for physical and virtual interactions.  Using the VL system, they experience the student conduct and privacy issues to support their understanding and agreement.  Some of the older students then lead the others through scenarios for how the VL system is used to support their learning.  Students will be able to choose to engage in their learning through physical interactions with each other and their guides (teachers) while the VL system is always available to experience learning in ways not possible, not affordable, or that are unsafe in the physical world.  All learning resources are available digitally all the time.  Every student has a VL visor, a Communicator, and access to digital interactive displays in all learning spaces and from outside the school at home or wherever they choose to learn.

To quickly reenergize the students’ brains for learning after their summer break, the students join various age groupings with an older student who will be their guide for this session.  They then engage in some reflective experiential learning together.  Stephanie’s group, about 20 kids aged 9 to 13, review their understanding of mathematics by exploring the harmonics of guitar strings.  Students are able to join other groups as they progress through various subjects or disciplines.  All learning is designed to be interdisciplinary, inter-age-grouped, and grounded in both theory and application, and experiential.  Students have significant choice over how they learn and demonstrate their learning.  Students with disabilities are completely freed by the VL system from their constraints.  In the virtual learning spaces, these students are not disadvantaged in any way as the VL system supports their full immersive learning experiences without the boundaries of their physical world.
Over the past decade (since 2010) there has been much debate about online learning and whether physical schools will exist in the future.  Most thought leaders have concluded that physical school remains vital to a successful education but their design and layout has changed significantly to support a grade-less organization with experts - teachers as guides, coaches, and mentors - along with their students.  As well, the best of home- and un-schooling are fully incorporated.  The school campus is a support system and home base for learners and their guides (teachers, parents, community members).  But, students are not required to physically be in school on a rigid schedule.  They learn at home, on family vacation, and at their physical school.  Virtual Learning is seamlessly available to connect students to each other, to their learning guides, to experiential learning, to content, and to other mentors and learners around the world.
Stephanie ends her 1st day back at school with her friends in the Starbucks attached to the learning commons.  Over a cold nutritional fruity drink, the kids talk excitably about the coming days and months where they will learn and experience new things.  They plan to do this in person, virtually, together, and apart, during the days, nights, and weekends as they begin to co-design their learning journey together with their teacher guides.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Michael’s First Day of College in 2020

Andrew Barras is a guest poster on my blog. He and I agreed to each write a post about the 1st day of school in 2020.  His is based in a higher education setting while mine is for K12.  Please enjoy Andrew's story today - mine will be posted tomorrow.

Michael blearily pressed snooze on his alarm and looked at the clock.  It was 10:05am on September 16th, 2020.  He knew he had to get up but he was up late last night attending a synchronous session from his Biology professor.  Actually his teacher wasn’t a professor at all.  He was a researcher at the University of New Delhi in India teaching a course for a little extra money.  Since Michael lived in Florida, it was a rough time difference.

Groaning, Michael sat up in bed and grabbed his VR glasses off the nightstand. Slipping them on, he activated his info streams.  Studies have shown that a normal person can manage between 5 to 7 pieces of information simultaneously.  His glasses were rather full this morning.

“Good morning Michael” said a female voice in his ear.  “There are three JIT sessions and one contract job this morning you might be interested in.”  That was his personal AI, Charlene.  A personal AI was something kind of new, but he was getting used to her.  She was always there watching everything he did.  After a few months of observing it seemed she was always anticipating his needs. Today she was suggesting several JITs or Just-In-Time learning courses.  These were independent courses offered online by the thousands.  For just a few dollars he could join one.  Many were AI packaged course modules, but sometimes they were actual people he could connect to for a few hours.  One class seemed to have a good social index rating so he flagged it for later study. This means the teacher has a good reputation online with his social network.  Bad teachers and courses didn’t survive very long. Word got around fast.

He checked in with his Guild.  Now he was in college he had chosen a course of study but, unlike students from 10 years ago he wasn’t seeking a degree.  In fact degrees didn't exist anymore.  They were too blunt of an instrument for employers to find new talent.  Besides, with a life expectancy of around 100 years, it was silly to think he could learn everything he needed from just one school in just four years.  Right now Michael was taking courses from 5 different providers.  Three of them were actual universities doing research, and one was a biotech company who wanted to scout prospective employees, so they offered a course to do some recruiting.  The last provider was, of course, his Guild.  His main area of study so far was biotech related.  He had a really good online reputation in his “high school” years and finished his required topics a year early.  Therefore, he was recruited last year by a high level Biotech Guild.  This Guild was a group of independent, experienced biotech engineers and designers.  This means they were contract workers and didn’t work exclusively for any one company. They were always looking for good talent and recruited right out of the late teen years.  They provided additional exclusive schooling for their members, not to mention they provided the credentialing he needed to build his reputation in the field and get jobs. Companies contracted with the Guild.  More experienced people cost more but many companies preferred this now.  They didn’t have to keep large staff on the payroll and could respond to changing market conditions on a day to day basis. The best part about being part of the Guild though, was he was connected with some of the top people in his field and had special access to tutoring and mentoring.  In return for the Guild's support, Michael was obligated to work with them for a certain amount of time.

Today Michael saw he was scheduled for an afternoon lab at the local community college.  The instructor wasn’t going to be present of course, but Michael needed access to a biolab.  His Guild had arranged to rent time at the college so he could do his lab work.  He could have done it with a simulation, but his Guild preferred he do the real thing today.

As he was getting dressed he had a quick conversation with his Guild mentor Weng Lu in China. She didn’t speak English but her words were translated on the fly by his computer.  On the fly voice translation had opened up the world for learning.  Now he could take hundreds of thousands of courses in a hundred different languages with classmates from around with world.

While eating breakfast he checked the latest from his Personal Learning Network.  This was a group of several thousand people who had similar interests. If they saw an interesting story they flagged it for the group.  He was getting information that took hundreds of man-hours to find and filter, but it just took him a few seconds to digest.  He saw a few interesting items and added them to the stream himself.  His AI saw his interest in a new biotech process, and quietly added that interest to his school agenda.  In a few days he would be presented with some courses of study about that topic.
His areas of study were influenced by many sources.  His Guild had certain suggested courses he had to take.  Employers were always putting out lists of particular skills that changed on an almost daily basis.  His own interests were input as well.  Finally, the government had certain requirements for every citizen.  Because of all these inputs, Michael’s learning was customized specifically for him.  The days of teaching a large group of people the exact same thing was long past.  In fact if you were to summarize his schooling, you would say it was personalized, lifelong and interesting!

As Michael got ready to take a shower he saw the quick contract job his Guild had passed along to him.  A company had asked his Guild for some outside the box thinking on a new product they were developing.  The Guild passed it along to several of their new members because new people were especially valuable for new thinking.  The job didn’t pay much but it would only take 15 minutes and would count as class credit.  He pondered it while he took a shower and then submitted his ideas to the AI who passed them on to the Guild.

Michael thought about his sister Stephanie and wondered what she was learning about today.  School was so much more fun now especially in the younger years.  It seems hard to believe but some people used to think that enjoyment didn’t matter for learning.  Now he was involved with interesting projects that let him get hands on with cutting edge research. He was taking classes from sources on three continents with classmates from four.  Education was exciting, and he looked forward to it each day.

Finally he was dressed. He grabbed his coat and left the house. The robot taxi would be there in 90 seconds.

Andrew Barras aka “Crudbasher” has been a college teacher at Full Sail University for 14 years and now works in Faculty Development.  He has a deep interest in the mid to long-term outlook for Education and how it will be changed by technology. Andrew writes each day on the Education Stormfront blog where he forecasts the coming storm in Education.  He is also active on twitter as @Crudbasher.  The opinions expressed here are his own and do not represent Full Sail University in any way.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Personalized Learning and Technology

There seems to a buzz building around Personalized Learning in British Columbia (BC).  We’ve heard bits and pieces here and there  and that there are “secret” meetings in Victoria about this and the coming education agenda.  Intriguing isn’t it.  I’m looking forward to hearing more and to being a participant.

Our Superintendent recently shared a video from New Brunswick at our Welcome Back meeting.  It’s a pretty exciting vision of 21st century education.  Technology is certainly a key lever to these changes.
From Wikipedia “Personalized Learning is the tailoring of pedagogy, curriculum and learning support to meet the needs and aspirations of individual learners”.  The article goes on to suggest that personalized learning gives the learner more choice about what is learned and how and when it is learned.  In other words, it is learner focused, not teacher focused.  Alberta Education has produced an Inspiring Education resource to share their vision for the future of education in 2030 where it “Envisions students who are engaged, ethical and entrepreneurial”.

For British Columbia (borrowed from @chrkennedy’s presentation):

21st Century Skills:

3 R's
  • reading
  • writing
  • numeracy
8 C's
  • critical thinking and problem solving
  • creativity and innovation
  • collaboration, teamwork, and leadership
  • cross-cultural understanding
  • communications, information and media literacy
  • computing and ICT literacy
  • career and learning self-reliance
  • caring for personal health and planet earth
There seems to be a heightened awareness that our current education system, designed for a much different era of industrialization and basic literacy, needs a healthy overhaul.  This video on the Alberta Inspiring Education site speaks to rethinking grades, the number of years “in school”, etc.  These are fundamental structures and standards that will be difficult to move away from but it’s encouraging to see governments actually questioning them.
I’m currently half way through reading The Element BookSir Ken Robinson’s latest book.  Many of you will probably remember his famous TED talk (see below) “Do schools kill creativity”.  He tells many interesting stories about people who found their “Element” but in indirect ways.  Their journeys are very personalized and involved freedom and support to choose their path.  To quote Sir Ken, “The Element has two main features, and there are two conditions for being in it.  The features are aptitude and passion.  The conditions are attitude and opportunity.  The sequence goes something like this: I get it; I love it; I want it; Where is it?”  Personalized Learning may be the way we help people find their “Element”…
I think it is important to note (my opinion) that technology (in general) is now the key driver of almost every change, good or bad.  Technology in its many forms has an exponential change curve.  With each successive innovation, the we travel the exponential curve faster – ie, the leading edge is becoming shorter and the trailing edge steeper.  Just think back 100 years at how long some changes took and short recent ones take.  The adoption and saturation of new innovations is becoming shorter each decade.  Many of us feel like change is relentless…  well, that’s the effect of exponential change curves.  The changes we will see by 2020 will eclipse anything we experienced from 2000-2010.

Technology is not the only factor in Personalized Learning.  Part of being human is being relational, working together, supporting each other, being a team player, thinking ethically, having moral perspective, learning to lead, knowing how to follow, etc.  These skills and abilities are as crucial to future success, I believe more so, as are ICT skills and abilities.  In fact the human factors are more important than ever.  I wrote a summary for a conference (World Future Society) I recently attended and when you consider the changes we’re facing over the next 20 years, the human element is clearly the most important to develop in young learners.

I wonder what others are thinking about the future of education.  Where does Personalized Learning sit with you?  How do you see technology fitting in?  Is it a support, a change agent, a danger, …  we have big challenges ahead with major moral dilemmas to face.  What form of education will prepare learners for this future?