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?


Teachers on Facebook

Facebook is a great way to connect with students. Facebook is a liability waiting to happen. Facebook is a way to extend learning outside the classroom. Facebook is a violation of our privacy. All of the above?

We really need to keep the conversation about the role of Facebook and Social Media in the classroom going. If you have been reading my blog, it is obvious that I am an advocate for Social Media. I believe that relationships are at the core of teaching, and as new media involves a whole new level of social interaction. We need to be mindful of both the pitfalls and opportunities that present themselves online.

I am doing a session tomorrow called “Should Teachers be Friends with Students on Facebook?” The goal of this session is to get teachers talking and thinking about the ways to use Facebook and other forms of Social Media. If you would like to join in on the conversation, check out the links below and leave a comment.

I Can Teach Without a Computer

For those that have heard me speak this may be hard to believe, but one of the foundations of my beliefs is that if you can do something better without technology, don’t use technology. However, this assumption is predicated on the premis that one can effectively use technology. Technology is supposed to make our lives easier/better. Its misuse tends to drain our energy, increase our stress levels and make us work more, not less.

Look at the teaching technologies from the end of the last century – the overhead projector and the VCR. Would anyone argue that those devices were a drain on our time and energy? Sure the VCR didn’t work all the time and the bulb blew on the overhead, but those teaching tools were so integrated into daily practice that they became seamless. Could teachers have taught without them? Absolutely. But why would they? The VCR added visual learning and story telling in a much more effective, engaging and convient way than its predecessors. The overhead ment you could face the class when you taught, and save your notes for the next lesson. I have taught for quite a few years, but I have never seen a Level One overhead projector course.

When we talk about the role of technology for the 21st Century teacher, I think we often frame our questions wrong. Until technologies like interactive white boards, cloud computing, mobile devices, and social media become as seamless in the class as the overhead projector, we will continue to miss the point about teaching 21st century skills. It’s not about the technology – it’s about teaching communication, social responsibility, creativity, critical thinking and collaboration in a way that its relevant for the world of our students. And how can those skills and attitudes be relevant for them if they aren’t using the tools that are shaping their world?

Perhaps the argument shouldn’t be “if you can do something better with out technology, don’t use technology.” Instead we should probably ask ourselves “Which Century’s tools should we use?”

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

The Social Relationships of Our Vision 2020 Students

Recently, the PEW Institute asked a variety of Internet Stakeholders to look ahead to the year 2020 and predict if the internet will have had a positive or negative impact on their social relationships. I was intrigued by this notion because there has been a lot of discussion in the district around Edmonton Public Schools’ Vision 2020. It is important that we consider the completion of high school not as a “finish line” but the start of the rest of their lives.

The results of The Future of Social Relationships survey showed that 84% of respondants agreed that the internet will be a “mostly positive force on [thier] social world.” The highlight of the study for me, however, were the comments that took a realist approach. Here are some examples:

“Certainly both good things and bad have happened to relationships because of the internet. I believe, though, that overall, the increasing ease of connection with people at a distance is improving social relations much more than the occasional gaffe or thoughtless act is harming them. Some discretion about what to do and say online is necessary, but that’s simply a social more that needs to be worked out and understood – the tools are advancing quicker than the social etiquette around them. There will always be people who damage their relationships spectacularly, and if the internet were not available to them, they would do it another way. The benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.”—Rachel S. Smith, vice president, NMC Services, New Media Consortium

“Context matters. It’s not just the internet. It’s the pace of change, the pace of life, the pace of work – all of which are accelerating, in part because of the net. But norms take longer to develop than technologies. And where you stand depends on your circumstances. For me, the net is a wonderful learning network and for some it is alifeline and for others it is a tether to their boss or a source of harmful misinformation, disinformation, and distraction. Since when is the world starkly divided into either-or alternatives? For many, life will be alienated, rushed, and confusing because of theirinvolvement online. Others will choose or will learn or be trained to cope with dangers of an always-on lifestyle.”—Howard Rheingold, visiting lecturer, Stanford University, lecturer,Tools forand Smart Mobs

It would be interesting to see what the results would be if we polled teachers and administrators in Edmonton Public. It would be an important question because as we consider using Social Networking in our classrooms, we should know how we feel about it’s impact on our lives. Your response will determine your approach to social networking. You may want to teach kids online social skills to protect them, or you may want to harness Social Media to empower them. Either approach is good for our students.

The Future of Social Relations: PDF Full Version / Short Overview

Life Writing and Authentic Tasks

I was discouraged last week.

On three occasions I heard variations of the phrase “You don’t need computers to teach 21st Century Literacy.” As I thought about those comments after the fact, I crafted a comeback – teaching modern literacy without computers is like teaching writing with out pen and paper. And even though I enjoy a pithy retort, I felt that my argument needed more substance. An article given to me by Darin Johnson, Clive Thompson’s “The New Literacy” and a conversation about Understanding by Design with Joan Martz-Kerwusik fleshed out the argument I was seeking.

Thompson’s article is based on the work of Andrea Lundsford, a professor of writing and rhetoric at Stanford University. Two terms in the article caught my eye. The first term  is life writing, used to describe blog posts, status updates and texting. Up until now, I have been referring to these forms as conversational writing, but I have never researched the term to see who else is using it. I like life writing better as it highlights the true nature of these forms – although they are often conversational in tone, they do not always require a reply. I also liked Lundsford’s use of the term Kairos as a literacy skill. In rhetoric terms, Kairos is ones ability to “asses[] their audience and adapt[] their tone and technique to best get their point across.” When we consider the amount of writing our kids are doing for an audience other than a teacher, it is easy to see how these become important skills, and ones they are very adept at.

With this in mind, let us consider one of our district initiatives, Understanding by Design. This is a great process by which we are redesigning our units, assessments and lessons to appeal to 21st century learning and teaching. However, I find it interesting that as we stress the importance of authentic, real world transfer tasks, we overlook life writing as a viable literacy skill. As well, Kairos becomes even more imparivite when we look at Stage 2 of UbD – Assessment Evidence. Stage 2 asks us to use GRASPS (Goal, Role, Audience, Situation, Performance,and Standards) when designing performance tasks.

If our students are actively engaged in life writing, and life writing is a viable and effective form of communication, should we consider using status updates, blog entries and responses, texting, and tweets as transfer tasks when designing our units?

In Two Places at Once

At our last Learning with Technology network meeting we took a risk.

I tried to teach two groups in different locations at the same time. Impossible, you say? Some sort of slight-of-hand trickery? A costly VC setup, you ask? Not at all. With a few simple, and free tools, I was able to lead a discussion about Edmonton Public Schools Policy on Blogging and generating ideas for classroom Acceptable Use Policies between the MGM Network meeting at Minchau School and the LWT Network meeting at Newton School.

We connected visually through Skype and Oneeko (a screen sharing addon for skype) and lead cross network discussions in a chat group on Chatzy. I was actually pretty amazed at how smoothly it ran and I was very impressed with the conversations in the chat room. I hope the participants walk away with some ideas of how they can connect their classrooms with relatively little expense to classes around the world.

For those who were involved in the session, I welcome your feedback as to what worked in the presentation and what you would do differently in this post’s comments.

I would also like to thank David for getting us all Google Wave accounts. I am looking forward to playing with this new tool and seeing what it can do for us.

Skype and Google Docs

I’m sick.

I have the flu. And given the current state of affairs it wouldn’t be prudent for me to share my germs with my colleagues, even though I had some important meetings to attend. So this week I have had numerous opportunities to connect collaborate without leaving the warmth of my sickbed, thanks to Skype and Google Docs.

I have been able to join into the meetings by connecting through Skype and simultaneously working on a Google doc with the group. By using video Skype, I felt like I was right there with my workmates. The Google Docs made me feel like an active participant, not just an onlooker. In one meeting, we used a doc for collaborative minutes on the agenda and in  another meeting we created a common session plan. Using both apps made for a great experience and has helped me stay on top of my work. I’m sure using one or the other would have been fine, but would not have been nearly as productive as using both.

It also looks like teachers are using Skype in their class for kids who are staying home sick.

The caution behind this process is that it could potentially be another way to get more out of workers/students when they should really be resting. Our society values productivity so much that we often expect people to sacrifice their time and health for their job. As cool as my experiences have been this past week, this definitely seems like a place where we should heed Thamus’ warning.

However, it will be interesting to see if a by-product of the H1N1 outbreak is an increase use of collaborative technologies.