Yes, You Can Showcase Students and Their Work Online

There are a lot of misconceptions about the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. It is often used as an excuse as to why we shouldn’t post videos of student learning or start a class twitter account. It is good to understand your jurisdiction’s FOIP Consent form in order to know what parents are permitting you to do with their child’s information. This is all the more relevant in today’s digitally connected society where the internet is a ubiquitous public space that we frequently utilize for teaching and learning.

Before we look at the FOIP form, it is important to note that they form is only the one step in the process. You must inform parents on how you are using their child’s information on the internet. You don’t need a new form every time, but if you decide halfway through the year to do a project that will go on YouTube, you need to let the parents know. Nobody likes surprises, and informing them gives them the option to back out, which is their prerogative.

Here are the elements of the FOIP form from Edmonton Public School that deal with posting information online:

“[School] is requesting your permission to use your child’s personal information (i.e., image, grade and/or name, etc.) in public venues or on the internet where the general public may have access to the information in order to communicate with parents, the community and the general public.”

Notice that this statement says that images and/or names can be used on the internet to communicate to the general public. Further to this point, it also states on the form:

“Examples might include, but not limited to:

-posting pictures, videos, podcasts or presentations online

-accessing and posting information to public websites or social media applications (e.g., Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Twitter and other emerging technologies)”

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. It is imperative that you know the purpose for posting online. You could have students make videos of themselves reading stories and post it on YouTube. But why use YouTube? If the video’s intended audience is just you and the parent, it may be better to upload it to a Drive folder. If your class has a message for the community, then YouTube may be the best medium.

And this has to be stated again. You need to let parents know if you are using web apps or posting anything will use the student’s information. This can be done through a newsletter, class blog, Schoolzone (in EPSB) or any other medium that you use to communicate with parents.

Here is a great video to recap (and the acting is fantastic):

The FOIP Consent form ensures that we are abiding by Alberta’s FOIP Act. The Act isn’t preventative legislation. It instructs us on what we need to do when we need to use personal information in order to do our duties as teachers in today’s connected, online world. The Act and our FOIP Consent form ensure that we, as a public institution, are being responsible with the information parents are giving us.

If you really want some good reading, check out the full Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

Coding and Project Based Learning

A few months ago I got this email from my brother who was attending a web developers conference:

I am sitting at this conference …and there are people from all over the world who ALL are complaining about the shortage of good software developers. I’m wondering what programs there are at Edmonton public that are directing kids toward careers in software. Is there anything?

The short answer to that question is “No.” We have some Career and Technology Studies courses that could teach kids how to code. We also have a smattering teachers who have their students build apps. I would say that the biggest course in the district that teaches kids how to code is Robotics. However, software development (or coding) is no where in our curriculum and there is very little likelihood that it will be in the future.

However, I would like to propose that even a rudimentary understanding of coding is important as a 21st Century Literacy skill. With the ubiquitousness of the internet and the internet of things, he amount of data being generated is exponential as the future unfolds. In order for us to capitalize on that data stream, we will rely on programs to aggregate and process the information for us. In an ideal world, people will have the skills required to write code that will pull the data they need in order to make wise decisions. For more about this concept, see Rushkoff’s “Program or be Programmed“.

So were does software development fit in our schools? I think project based learning is a good place to start. By giving students a problem that can be solved with software or an app is a great way introduce students to coding, particularly if that app provides a solution to a real world problem. If you have ever written any code, no matter how big or small, you can attest the amount of critical thinking is required in order for your code to work. Also, there is a lot of reflection and revision that goes into coding, and students receive immediate feedback on whether or not their code works. These projects could be cross-curricular or a unit in a subject area.

I would love to hear from anyone who is allowing students the option to develop apps and software as a major class project. It would be interesting to hear how you assessed students and how they responded to your project.

Changing the iPads in Education Discussion

I was fortunate to attend the Alberta Education symposium titled iPads: What are We Learning? It was an excellent day with educators from districts all around Alberta sharing the advantages and challenges of using iPad in education. I think this is a timely discussion, and one that needs to be elevated and accelerated in education circles around the Province. Particularly considering the recent news that Best Buy and FutureShop are hiring a combined 6,000 employees to deal with their predicted Christmas rush for mobile devices. I am sure we will see more of them make their way into our classrooms whether we are prepared for them or not.

One of the issues raised during the discussions was framed around laptops vs. iPads. I am not convinced this is the proper arguement. When we apply the ways we use laptops in the classroom to tablets, we greatly limit our options and undervalue the potential of the device. Perhaps we could alter the discussion into two different arguments – laptop vs. desktop and tablet vs. binder/textbook/library. I realize that adding library to the list could be seen as a heresy. I am in no way devaluing books. Rather, I am questioning the medium of the paperback. We can do so much more for our students with text that is not bound to type on paper. Textbooks could link to current and updated information. Notes could be stored in the cloud and easily shared and accessed from a variety of devices.

It is conceivable that we will one day look back at the laptop with the same regard we had for the cell phones of the 1980s; clunky, limited function, and awkward to use. When that happens, I hope that students aren’t coming to school to use devices they know are outdated and inapplicable for the world they will grow up in. Rather, my hope is that we have thoughtfully explored how tablets/iPads can enhance our teaching practice and foster inquiry in our classes.

For more information from the Alberta Education symposium, check out the Resource List and the twitter hashtag #abedipad.

Cell Phones like Guns?

When the Toronto District School Board lifted their ban on cell phones, I found the following comment on the GlobalTV Facebook discussion criticizing the decision:

Likewise, kids bring guns to schools. No, the rationale should be different. Kids must learn a basic premise in tool handling: no tool is appropriate to all occasion. Just as guns shoud only be applied to their intended purposes (to kill) so mobile devices should be put aside while other type of activities take place, unless they’re regulated by the school as teaching/learning devices, which is not the case in real life.

The last sentence is a good qualifier to the arguement, and I need to acknowledge that I will now be misusing the logic presented in the comment. But this got me thinking about the argument that a cell phone is inappropriate in the same way that a gun is inappropriate and I came up with a different approach using a similar logic:

Just as the “pen is mightier than the sword,’ the cell phone is mightier than the gun (ie, the Revolutions in the Middle East). We teach kids to use a pen in class, ergo we should be teaching kids how to use a cell phone in class.

Alright, this is an obvious stretch. Cell phones were not the driving force at the core of the revolutions in the Middle East, but were a complimentary communication tool of pre-existing ideas. Nevertheless, one needs to remember that the cell phones of today are not like the cell phones from the end of the last century. The capabilities of a cell phone are astonishing and have a significant cultural and personal implications. If we are not teaching students how to use them properly, responsibly and effectively, who is?


Is Technology Part of the Answer?

Dr. Stephen Murgatyrod posed the following question in ATA’s  Challenge Dialogue Technology and Learning Forum:

The key to this question is not technology, but pedagogy and curriculum – while we persist in demanding so many curriculum outcomes technology will be an “and also..” feature of the classroom. If we moved to a problem based approach to curriculum, then we could do much more with technology. Technology is part of the answer, but what isthe question?

I think one obvious questions is “What characteristics do we want our students to have when they become adults?”  Alberta Learning’s Inspiring Action on Education nicely lays out the characteristics of an educated Albertan, which I agree with and believe to be very forward thinking. However, not all believe that technology is part of the answer. A generic question such as the one I posed allows people to respond from their own particular worldview and does not challenge them to engage deeply in the profound societal changes occurring subtly and quickly around us.

Perhaps some more direct questions would be better to begin the conversation. Here are a few examples:

  1. Looking at the rapid increase in the way people and businesses engage and connect in the digital environments of social media, what will Social Responsibility mean in 21st century?
  2. Considering the read/write web is quickly evolving into web 3.0, what does Critical Thinking look like in the 21st Century?
  3. The virtual world is increasingly becoming a public space, so how does one create an authentic identity online?
  4. With the creative commons and a growing recognition of collective intelligence, how does one become creative and innovative in the 21st Century?

By framing questions in a manner that forces people to look outside their comfort zone and address the changes occurring in society, the necessity for tech in education becomes clearer. Once we have addressed questions like these, we can give better answers to “What characteristics do we want our students to have when they become adults?”

PS – A colleague of mine asked what I thought to be a very profound question – “Can you teach 21st Century Literacy without electricity?” If you want to see where people stand on the role of technology in education, ask them that question.

Should Kids Be Driving Alone? – Response

I so often hear “teachers should…” when it comes to digital citizenship and 21stC literacy, and yet are not given the tools/resources/permission to actually implement the desired change. If we truly want our students to have the competencies of an educated Albertan, we must advocate for systemic change.

I taught Social 30-1 at a local high school this summer and it took every ounce of tech skill I had to get my students tweeting, blogging and using Google Docs… and I am an Emerging Technology Consultant. Unless we commit to making it easier for students and teachers to use technology, both at the local and provincial leadership levels, I think many of our efforts will be counter productive. I’m not just talking about hardware, its re-framing what we assess and the data we collect, re-structuring timetables and subjects, re-evaluating teaching contracts and professional collaboration, and removing the legal and technical barriers to online access.

For the Albertans reading this, does anyone know if the new School Act and TQS will make it easier for teachers to enter the digital world with our students, or will it create more barriers so our students will have to drive it alone?

— taken from a comment I made on the ERLC Social Media Group