Digging Deep into the Soil of Education

40+199 Dirty by bark, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  bark 
I realize that the title of this Blog Post suggests that I feel that the fundamental structure of education is somehow tainted. That was not my original intent. I was actually grasping  for an agricultural metaphor, but oddly enough, while composing this post and mulling over my readings and research of the week, I realize that this unintentional connotation may not be that far off. We have a tendency in education to keep pouring fertilizer over the already fertile soil accomplishing nothing more than the burn out of the bright seeds, to rotatil the so-called “weeds” in an attempt to stifle them, and to prune and trim the promising growth so that it is uniform, orderly, and utterly predictable. – growth determined by finite school years and proscriptive curricula.  Is this what education is supposed to be about? Fueled by this week’s ECI 831 discussion on rhizomatic education led by Dave Cormier, and his recent Blog Post Workers, Soldiers, Nomads – what does the Gates Foundation want from our education system?, I mused over four  standard, static, and cliché answers to the very foundational question, why do we educate students?
To prepare them for the workplace?  How can we do that when we know that the jobs they will seek likely do not even exist yet (If you haven’t yet seen the Youtube video “Did You Know?”- check it out!).  Certainly, Dave Janosc argues in his podcast “Education for Innovation” that the critical skill in the 21st century business world is innovation . Are our schools in their current curricular focus and structure nurturing this?  Gever Tulley would argue that not only are schools not cultivating this, society in general has advocated the virtual bubble wrapping of kids, protecting them from danger to such an extent that their curiosity and creativity are squelched. Check out his TEDtalk presentation Do Schools Kill Creativity. Founder of the Tinkering School, Tulley, advocates letting kids do dangerous things such as playing with fire, owning pocketknives, playing with spears, deconstructing appliances and breaking copyrights. Although he is discussing this in a literal sense, he is also making a figurative point for educators. Do we encourage our students to make mistakes? Are we and they so focused on the test and the outcomes that we forget about the journey and the many possible paths on the way to that destination? Furthermore, does that test have to be the final destination?
To provide them with a liberal arts education so that they are prepared for university? Statistics according to Human Resources and Skills Canada  tell us that on average 24% of the national population ages 18-24 pursue a college education; and although that statistic has risen over the last several years, the successful completion of college degree programs is much lower. Sir Ken Robinson in his critique of education states that “we are obsessed with getting kids into college.” He argues that learning is about passion and all of us have important gifts which are rarely nurtured. Similar to Dave Cormier’s belief that educators need to be gardeners, Sir Ken Robinson advocates the transformation of education from an industrial model to an agricultural model stating that “human nourishing is organic”. We as teachers must provide the conditions under which our students can flourish.

To teach them citizenship and community responsibility? For what world and community are we providing them education on citizenship? Technology and the internet have made the world smaller. The community one lives in is not the only community one knows. As I muttered in last week’s blog post , we need to address digital citizenship in a global society, this cannot be done if we restrict internet access and limit or ban personal electronic devices in educational settings.

To teach them to be life long learners? As Cormier, Robinson, Tulley, and numerous others have posited, there needs to be a “rethink” around the whole concept of learning. Education, the institution, is not necessarily developing a community of learners. Cormier’s metaphor of the nomadic learner suggests that a learner will go to the places he/she needs to find the answers he/she seeks, refusing to be bound by a directed path. How do we reconcile the need to develop life long learning, nurture curiosity and cultivate and harvest the rhizomatic learners within our time bound and rigidly structured curricula and school design. How do we avoid streaming or to use a provincial categorization – pathways – which predetermine roads for learners, stripping them of nomadic adventures? To find this answer, we must dig deep into the soil of education, and prepare to to get our fingernails dirty.



Technology – The New Literacy of the 21st Century

Old New Media Readings by Krista76, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Krista76 
Funny , isn’t it? How serendipitous life can be?  Last week I was muttering about how to overcome the bias some teachers and most parents have regarding the use of social media as a blended instructional approach.  Well, this week one of my ethics teachers invited me into her classroom to discuss cyberbullying .   Apparently, she sees me as the resident expert on all things Facebook, BBM, and Twitter (considering my fledgling experience in this area, this is truly scary!!) This was hot on the heels of the previous week’s School Community Council’s Parent Night featuring a guest speaker addressing the very issue of bullying and social media. I suspect she was looking toward me to spell out the doom and gloom of Facebook and cel phones which would be a reasonable expectation, considering our school’s and school division’s rather strict policy regarding their usage – no cel phones in classrooms without teacher permission; Facebook is blocked for student and teacher use in our school. Instead, I came  to class armed with a multimedia assault – launched with clips featuring Dana Boyd , key quotes and media stats,  a TEDtalk video  arguing that social media actually builds intimacy as opposed to inoculating us from authentic relationships (a belief I held as recently as 6 months ago),  links to my Blog, the EC&I 831 Blog  and the subsequent Twitter  responses (Kids were wowed by Visible Tweets  which I had scrolling in the background),  I delivered what apparently was a surprising message to my students. Considering my recent pedagogical shift,  I have to say, it was a surprise to me also.  My  message? Embrace technology it is the literacy of the present and will if it does not already, define your world and frame your experiences. In addition, I chatted about Digital citizenship  and digital identity  – citizenship and identity are changing. As we use social media we must be aware of who has access to the information and how that information is being used. For students who are often unaware of digital footprints, this comes as a bit of a shock. The question is how do we best address changing citizenship and identity with our students in our existing curricula?  Should it be left up to the technology teachers? The ethics teachers? The humanites teachers? Do we earmark it at a certain grade level? Or, does the solution lie in all teachers adopting technological pedagogy which just as literacy pedagogy argued that all teachers, regardless of curricular expertise, were literacy teachers, all teachers are responsible for technological literacy. What are your thoughts?

Putting “Social” Back Into Learning

Last week in my Blog  I talked about personal learning networks and their potential to create professional learning communities  for teachers by providing 24/7 professional support with the potential to extend the walls of their staffroom by connecting teachers from all over the world.  Of course, personal learning networks are not, nor should they be, restricted to teacher use. When we talk about the  “the connected classroom”  – we are looking at  expanding the communication and  collaboration of our students and their  classmates to include experts, students, and facilitators from all over the world through Web 2.0 and social media. Who can argue with that? And yet, K-12 classrooms and colleges have been slow to embrace the use of social media in the classroom, with many college instructors instituting laptop “lids down” time, and states like Missouri, restricting and banning its use public education. Why? Likely, it is due to the stigma surrounding the phrase “social media.” The notion of “social” conjures up fears of idle gossip, time wasting and distractions, as well as inappropriate contact between teacher and student.  As  Jenn Pedde (May, 2011) blogged in Education 2.0: Why Facebook and Twitter Should Be Part of Your Classroom “being social is inherently human.” Social media are merely the tools that enable the student to be actively social.  Considering schools are the primary “socializing” institute! Shouldn’t learning be social? Why should the social nature of learning through communication and collaboration be restricted to the classroom?

Perhaps the obvious answer is this is the fact that education has been traditionally top down delivery. Teachers have been the gatekeepers of the knowledge, selecting what to pass down to students. Although, pedagogically, education and curricula development now recognizes the student as the centre of the learning and the teacher as a facilitator guiding the inquiry, the bias against “outside” sources of instruction may still exist within the teaching profession. Teachers who have traditionally worked in isolation are not likely to embrace opening the “windows “into the classroom.  For those teachers who have embraced technology, the challenge is to find ways to employ social media without crossing the professional line. Such practices as creating Facebook pages for the classroom where teachers would not have profiles or “friend” students, and sending Twitter messages to parents are  promising uses of social media  outlined in the Heriff Jones WhitePaper: The Educational Promise of Social Media (September 2011)  and the New York Times article Speaking Up in Class, Silently, Using Social Media .  However, the primary obstacle may still be the bias against the phrase “social media” – how do we convince teachers, parents, and school divisions that being  “social” is positive and necessary form of collaboration for our students? What suggestions do you have for overcoming this bias?

Personal Learning Networks

 Up until now, I will confess, that though I blogged, posted and tweeted, I never really considered the concept of a personal learning network until the last several weeks.  Struck by the information Nicholas Christakis  shared in his TED talk The Hidden Influence of Social Media,  I was amazed at the power of social networks and how they have always played an integral role in our personal well being. In fact, our social connections can be linked to obesity, happiness and other physical and emotional states! Amazing! Christakis states that social networks have value as a source of capital. His assertion that we need to become more connected and that we must pay attention to the configurations and combinations of these connections brought home just how integral social connections have always been in our human condition, and the potential for  the social media of  Web 2.0 to create new and exciting social connections which can further  enhance our human condition! to rephrase his metphor – we can create carbon or diamonds depending on the configuration. This may be the best argument I can think of for negating the doomsayers who think Twitter and Facebook are a waste of time.Further to this discussion comes the research of Shelly Terrel on the value of personal learning networks. Her video Why Do We Connect offers the perspectives of student and teachers citing such powerful arguments as “the freedom to learn anything, anytime from anywhere”, “to break down classroom walls”, and  “24 hour professional development.”For years we have talked about reducing teacher isolation by creating professional learning communities, but for the most part this has been perceived as those communities we build within our schools or school divisions – same subject teachers with whom we have direct access. However, the reality is that sometimes this community is too small, or in the case of a specialized teacher, non-existent.  Also, depending on the fluidity of the collective, there may be no new ideas or techniques explored leading to stagnant discussions and little innovation. What better way to create a wide and accessible professional communityand to energize and infuse new perspectives than to build a personal learning network? To that end I found the following video PLN – How to Build One! particularly useful, and shared it this week with a colleague who was looking for a starting point in establishing her own PLN. It outlines 5 initial steps; underscoring all of these, are the three C’s – connect, collaborate, and contribute!! Check it out and let me know if you have any other advice for those of us just beginning to explore the value of a Personal Learning Network.

Where’s the Beef?

 recettes2lise from Flickr

During the 80’s, the Wendy’s slogan “Where’s the Beef” became a cultural metaphor for where is the meat, the substance, the authenticity?  Earlier this week, participating in an online session consisting of 53 adult learners exploring the nature of community and open learning, I found myself musing where is the beef? Can 53 very different people linked by one common class and instructor create an authentic learning experience?  How can such a MOOC   be an inclusive experience for all learners? When we discuss authenticity in a learning environment what do we really mean?  

According to Oblinger  (2007)  as well as  Herrington, Oliver, and Reeves (2002) in Patterns of Engagement in Authentic On line Learning Environments authentic learning is one that replicates real life experiences. These authentic learning activities lead to a bigger learning event which according to Oblinger (2007)   provides “cognitive capacity to think, solve problems, create.”  For this to happen the learner must also be engaged, a difficult task in large on-line learning environments.

I owe my colleague, Alison Seaman credit for first raising the question of community on her blog. As I read and listened to Dr. Richard Schweir  discuss the attributes of community I was not surprised that among the many were authenticity.  As a digital immigrant who is admittedly more of a tourist, I fully admit my limitations in multitasking. Not unlike Alan Lowrie who questioned in his blog whether anyone could really multitask, I found myself overwhelmed, baffled and amazed at the efficiency of fellow learners who tweeted, blogged, engaged in the backchat discussion and inserted links in seemingly effortless fashion. I, on the other hand was attempting to listen, read, scroll, minimize and maximize, not to mention internalize the myriad of information bombarding me. I felt incompetent and frustrated. I was attempting to ingest information, but unable to digest it, all the while feeling as though I was dining alone! I wondered how do students in MOOC environments manage the volume of information and how do they internalize the message? In otherwords, where is the substance, where is the beef? The New Media Literacies clip this week only highlighted these concerns, in particular for the digital natives sitting in our K -12 classrooms. Although they likely will not be overwhelmed by the technological skills required to navigate and consume media, are they critically analyzing what they consume? If not, how can they ever be creators and producers of media; how can the learning ever be a truly authentic experience leading to greater cognitive capacity?

As the week progressed and I had the opportunity to go back over the information and research it occurred to me that I was in fact engaged in the learning. In fact, I was simply using inquiry and creating a personal learning network  that allowed me to chew, swallow, digest and ultimately nourish my own hunger for understanding. I discovered with a great deal of relief, that the discussion was merely the invitation to peruse the menu and order the beef! The questions and confusion spun my hamster wheel brain prodding me to question, explore, discuss, and evaluate and reevaluate my own biases and understandings. Although I am relieved, for my momentary feeling of accomplishment, I recognize that I am a motivated, professional learner! My question remains as an educator in an era of fast food education how do we motivate our kids to ask “Where’s the beef?”

Information Management – Help Wanted!

Wow, what a crazy week! First off, I just want to say I should read ahead to all the suggested reading/viewing materials before posting – I didn’t realize that there was a Danah Boyd video – pure coincidence (so much for looking like a keener!). But, now that I have caught up on the suggested materials and read many of the Blog posts, I am quickly realizing that I will need to develop some strategies for navigating all the sources of information and class responses – Twitter, googledocs, and the Blog posts via Googlereader. This is way out of my comfort zone, but pretty darn exciting! My goals this week are to contine  step three of Cormers’ 5 Steps to Success which is network, network, network!! Speaking of Cormer’s advice, I really loved the videos on MOOC – it really helped to clarify and validate the use of social media as an instructional medium and I was pretty darn proud of myself for being able to orientate, declare and begin networking! Here’s to hoping I can touch upon steps four and five, clustering and focusing during this course. I suspect I may be overwhelmed by the networking and the management of information process. Thank goodness for the session last night as it provided some useful hints for managing information – Tweetdeck and Delicious being two I plan to investigate further.

In the meantime, I found some interesting clips I thought I would share. The first one helped curb my feelings of ineptitude, dazzling me with the staggering statistics surrounding social media – check out “The World of Social Media” courtesy of Omobono, a digital marketing agency and if that wasn’t enought to get you revved up about social media; check out the TrueNetSource video!

So with all this information available I suspect I am not alone in my confusion. I know we discussed Tweetdeck last night and there was a backchat discussion of Hootsuite – this was video was useful to me in getting started:

I am open to all tools to help me manage my Twitter, Facebook, and Blog subscriptions so let me know what works for you!

ECI 831: A Brave New Journey into Open Education!

Hello, ECI 831! This is the third class I’ve taken specifically targeting the use of Web 2.0 as an educational tool, leading me, I hope (not kicking and screaming too ferociously) to a deeper understanding of how to use social media not only to engage students in their own inquiry and learning process, but to guide my personal professional development,  and hopefully inspire the teachers I serve! Wow that smacks of lofty (and possibly arrogant) ambition, but hey, I might as well aim high! If you want to know more about who I am and where I’ve been ( it should shed light on my penchant for literary allusion) please check out my About Me page!

As prologue, I’ll share that I began this Blog last spring as part of EC&I 834. This was my first experience with a Blog and since then I have left my comfortable but limiting Wikispace world far behind.  My  journey through that course is chronicled in my previous posts and the specific pages I created outlining various 2.0 tools, many of which were new to me at the time, but which I have since been able to incorporate in my professional practice. If you are interested in these tools, feel free to peruse these pages and offer your comments or reviews!

However, this post marks a change in the direction and purpose of this Blog (insert drum roll and inspirational score here…) – Beginning today, this blog will serve less as a summary of my learnings but more of living, active archive of my own inquiry based learning. I encourage you to respond honestly to my Mutterings and Musings as I struggle to understand the concepts and pedagogy of open education and how social media  can enhance the educational experience of high school students, not just give them a cool place to hang out and call  homework!

In my role as a Vice-Principal, I deal weekly with the byproducts my students’ use of Facebook and mobile microblogging – harrassment, bullying, misinterpretation, dehumanization, humiliation, alienation –  a result of their inability to recognize or exercise social protocols, identify audience, establish context, distinguish between private and public, or appreciate the permanance of print and its mass exposure . Last year I stumbled upon a lecture delivered by Danah Boyd at the Penn State Symposium for Teaching and Learning with Technology (2009). It echoed what I believed to be true from my own experiences and provided me with some startling insights – how college students and adults use social networking sites is quite different than how teens use it. Adults “network” , teens “socialize” – How do we close the gap so it can be a truly effective educational tool?

Check out the Youtube Prezi presentation which serves as a shortened summary of Danah Boyd’s key points, or if you have 40 minutes on your hands – view the original. I would love to hear your thoughts! Do you agree or disagree?