Technology – Providing Incredible Opportunities for Students whether we want it to or not

We hear bad stories about young people using technology, especially the internet, at a monotonous regularity. YouTube is awash with ridiculous copycat videos of boys putting themselves in danger. Forums are flooded with a steady stream of insults and rumours from teenagers protected by anonymity. As teachers, we are constantly dealing with reports of cyberbullying on Facebook and Twitter we have no personal control over. If you believed the media shock jocks, every kid on the internet is either an idiot or in great peril.

But I want to tell a different story starring my daughter, her best friend and a small group of friends ( including my opportunistic son!). This is a completely different story that highlights the amazing opportunities that today’s available technology offers our students. It’s also a story about how, if given the freedom, children will take what we ‘make’ them do at school and take it to a whole new level that the limited minds of us teachers don’t even plan for. It explains why student led learning can be a success if we don’t restrict our students from going beyond our stated objectives. It shows how true engagement doesn’t need a teacher or a classroom for children to achieve great things and how technology can allow young students follow their dreams without the restrictions we had in the past.

It begins with a simple project for my daughter’s Studio Arts class. They were asked to create a short Horror film for their major term project. That was the only requirement. My daughter and her friends, from this point on known as BatFilms Productions. ( long story I won’t go into – suffice to say I am listed as ‘Lucius Fox’ in my daughter’s address book)  could have just coasted through the class this term, like apparently some students did, cobbled together a few clips on the computers at school and handed in a bland DVD in a plastic bag to get their ‘At Standard’ mark and go back to studying for their Maths and English exams. That’s all that was expected of them – a video.

Instead, this is what happened. The formed BatFilms Productions. ‘Best Friend’ (who in the 10 years she’s been coming to our house I have never heard utter more than one sentence at a time yet was the star of the movie)  set herself the task of writing the script for the 9 minute ‘epic’. ( the script does not get handed in to the teacher). My daughter started work on the Film Poster and DVD sleeve cover ( also not expected) using her favourite app on her iPad, ArtRage. She is also a budding artist, having attended an after school art class since she was 8. She paints with both natural media and digitally on the iPad, all in her spare time, completing works of art for family members on a regular basis.

Over the Term 3 holidays, while most of their class mates were hanging out at resorts, shopping centres or in front of the TV, Batfilms Productions got together on a Thursday for an all day, all night rehearsal and filming marathon – during the holidays! My kids came home just before midnight, exhausted but excited. “School work” was the highlight of their holiday – and my son wasn’t even part of the assignment. He just went to be the cameraman but is now an official member of Batfilms Productions. Of course by this stage, it had moved beyond school work. A passion had been ignited and it just continued to grow.

While Daughter, who inherited her father’s tech geek gene, got to work on the film editing and production, piecing together hundreds of clips of outakes, bloopers and useable video, Best Friend started thinking about publicity. She set up a YouTube Channel ( not part of the assignment and not connected to the school component at all) and a Twitter Account (again, not part of the school work). Best Friend’s Cousin, also a member of BatFilms, started working on the Film Trailer on iMovie ( also not part of the assignment requirement) and Daughter decided to add a professional edge to the opening credits using another iPad app Intro Designer (she upgraded to the full paid version to get the Horror Movie template ). When she found out about Bsst Friend’s YouTube/Twitter idea, she decided to use her Weebly account to create a Website to advertise Batfilms and their future plans.

Back at school, they discovered their clips weren’t opening on the school computers. Daughter calmly announced she would take them home and convert them ALL on her MacBook using Handbrake. When they viewed the converted files back at school, they noticed pixelation in full screen. They could have accepted mediocrity – at this stage some students hadn’t even filmed their scenes yet – but instead Daughter took them all home again and re did the whole conversion process at a higher resolution setting.

After all that not for extra credit effort, the film was finally completed. It was only now that I found out all they had to hand in was a video. Everything else was their own choice. They handed the movie in completed but all the teacher got was the DVD. What they kept for themselves was a film trailer, extras sections with bloopers and outtakes, a professional standard DVD sleeve and Film poster, and the potential for a real audience through their YouTube Channel, Twitter account and website, none of which would have been encouraged by the school.

What also came out of this was the genesis of a film company with plans made by a group of teenagers to create  more films together. Best Friend already has a script on its way for Movie number two, the completed movie Midnight Man is on Youtube, the Twitter account @BatFilms has started attracting followers and the website tells the story of the fledgling crew and their plans.

The movie itself is pretty good for a bunch of teenagers’ first effort. Me being me, I offered some constructive criticism, suggesting it needed some background music for mood. Daughter said they’d do that for the NEXT movie. Yep, they’re more interested in improving the next movie, the one they have DECIDED to do in their own time, no the one for school.

So what is the message of this story for me as a teacher? Well, there’s several.

  1. Our students are capable of so much more than what we expect of them. They’re not really motivated by grades; they are motivated by engagement. Their reports will probably have the same At Standard score as the slackers who are still working on their films. But BatFilms don’t care. They’re working on their next movie.
  2. As teachers, we need to broaden our learning outcomes and assessment. All these students will be assessed on is the video under the umbrella of Studio Arts. But what else have they demonstrated? Collaboration, entrepreneurism, initiative, teamwork, commitment to excellence, independent learning, communication skills, visual arts, planning, time management and preparation. One of the strengths of Primary School is that your teacher takes you for all classes so she can possibly credit you for all this. Secondary school teachers with their single subject focus may only focus on their narrow subject based outcome. We need to credit our students for unintended outcomes.
  3. We need to know our students’ passions and interests and give them opportunities to grow. The Studio Arts teacher should let the Drama Teacher, the English teacher, the Art Teacher,  the History teacher, the ICT teacher all know what these students are willing to do. Given the opportunity, these kids would put together a great interpretation of Romeo and Juliet or a World War Two battle through the sheer engagement of digital media, showing more understanding than their standard written essay. What they got out of this experience will not show up in a two hour exam.
  4. ICT provides opportunities that us teachers never had when we were students at school. We are limited by our own experiences. We shouldn’t limit our students’ possibilities. Instead of dwelling on the fake death reports and insults on Twitter, explore the possibilities of connecting to promote creative pursuits and worthy causes at school. Use blogs and websites and Youtube. Which leads me to ….
  5. Trust that students can use the Web constructively and responsibly. BatFilms is not a secret project. They are loving that the geeky father is promoting them on his longwinded, highbrow educational blog. Daughter told me straight away that Best Friend had set up the Twitter account. All the parents were asked by the children for permission to set up the YouTube Channel and Twitter. I’m following @Batfilms and Daughter has already blocked a follower who was promoting inappropriate material for them. Daughter is already a Weebly veteran, having set up a website Gleje Comics, displaying her comic strips series and soon to be released animations. She registered her site on the Comic Book Archive to promote it and has followers. ( She’s aiming for a career in computer animation.) They are responsible kids whose only interest in the internet is promoting their talents. Give students the opportunity to be responsible and creative and they will become good digital citizens.

So let’s not limit our students. Let them explore every possibility and bring their own goals along. If we are not getting the best out of them the traditional way, we need to try it their way. Trust technology to open up those possibilities. They’ll do it without you anyway. BatFilms did. Wouldn’t we prefer our students to put in all that effort and be rewarded and acknowledged for it at school as well as outside? Wouldn’t it be better to tap into that energy and enthusiasm and be there to add our experience and knowledge to the mix to improve the experience? I’m reading enough about how we don’t need schools or teachers as we know them anymore. We do. Students still need us. But we need to meet them in their world and support them there. And for those who want to dwell on the students who didn’t make the same effort to argue against the engagement factor of technology, go ahead. I’ll focus on the positive story of BatFilms Productions.

P.S. Please check out the video. They’d like an audience. And Daughter’s comics too.

Who’s running Quality Control and Fact Checking in a Tech Rich, Differentiated, Personalised Classroom?

It was definitely much easier to teach in the ‘olden days’. Everyone read the same text, researched the same topic, wrote the same text type, answered the same question. The students worked hard, studied and took and passed ( apparently everyone did if you listen to the nostalgic educators and parents of times gone by) the same test.

Then along came this pesky new age world of personalising and differentiating teaching and learning with its notion of student choice and planning for a wide range of student interests and abilities. Along with it came a whole lot of challenges for teachers as they passed topic selection into the hands of the children.

No longer does the teacher have access to all knowledge being learned during the unit of work. No longer does the teacher have complete mastery over the content of the class novel. In a single Inquiry Unit, there may be 15 different topics being explored by your class. If your class runs Literature Circles or Book Clubs, there may be 5 or more novels being read concurrently. In these instances, how much is expected of the class teacher to be on top of all the content involved in the individual student’s choice?

At first glance, teachers may point to the fact that today’s curriculum is not about content knowledge any more. It’s about skill development, creativity, collaboration and communication. At a simplistic level, that may be partly true. We can’t escape the fact, though, that accuracy and understanding is still paramount. While an 8 year old will survive making the odd misinterpretation or copying the wrong information down, a 20 year old medical student can’t be confusing a pharynx with a larynx or thinking a 3:4 ratio means 3/4 and 1/4. So the question needs to be asked – How well are we dealing with Quality Control and Fact Checking in the Differentiated, Personalised Classroom? This one question brings up a whole lot more questions that every teacher needs t0 consider.

Are we expecting students to provide evidence for every fact they state in a report (and are we checking them)? In the days of one topic/one book, the teacher had the source of the information and could quickly determine the accuracy of the student’s statements. We knew everything we needed to know about the plot, characters and themes of the class novel. We taught them how to write a bibliography and footnotes whether they really needed to or not. A bibliography is not enough today.  We need to expect digital literacy skills like hyperlinking and bookmarking to be part of a digital report so that as teachers we can check not only that the information is accurate as we read it but also that it hasn’t just been rewritten or copied.

Are we putting more emphasis on the presentation and not enough on the content? In the name of engagement, teachers ( with me leading the charge!) are exposing students to a myriad of great web tools for presenting their work. Do we sometimes get seduced by the magic of a Prezi, Glog or Voki and reward the students for how their presentation looked rather than the quality/depth of the information presented?

Do our assessment rubrics give enough credit for the accuracy, depth and understanding of the information or are these factors downplayed at the expense of grammar, text structure, presentation and checklist of what requirements were met?

During the research phase, do we spend enough time checking that the information collected by students is relevant and accurate or do we spend all our time giving feedback on the quality of questions, time management and selection of ICT tools for presentation?

Do we check for understanding of the references they use to research their topic? We need to expect more than just copying notes. The students should be summarising the notes, writing questions about the information they have found, listing what addtional information is still required from other sources. This takes time to develop in students but it’s important for developing real critical thinking. Just rewriting notes in a different sentence doesnt show enough understanding.

Do we feedback about the quality of the references, the relevance of the information?

How much attention do we pay to the student’s ability to record notes that support the investigation?

Do we spend time checking that they are identifying enough details from a text? Too often students will highlight random sections of text to show they have found some key words but ignore major details within the same paragraph. Utilising a web tool like the social bookmarking site Diigo, we as teachers can collaboratively support students in highlighting key ideas. The tool supports sharing an online text AND annotations, highlighting and comments in real time. This is an improvement on waiting until the end of the week to hand up work to the teacher for checking. In the digital literacy environment, we can be more timely and strategic in our feedback while also checking the references being used.

Are we expecting our students to prove they have fact checked their own research by referring to several sources for each key idea or fact? We often criticise the use of Wikipedia because of its crowdsourced information but don’t question other references’ validity. We need to ensure that we have taught our students to check for the credentials of the source, ( .org/.edu/gov vs .com, blog vs scholarly), how up to date the information is, how to cross reference multiple sources. Again, digital literacy skills like hyperlinking to the source within their text for instant verification puts the onus on the student to prove their information is correct.

Do we encourage collaboration as a way to check for quality and accuracy? We need to consider the role of wikis, social networking sites like Edmodo and Twitter and blogs in crowdsourcing support in checking each other’s work. Maybe we need to rethink the idea that we only go public with finished products/published work. Why can’t we post drafts and brainstorms on our blogs and put it out there for others to critique, check, support, add to, fact check? Why not tweet out ideas to a worldwide audience to get feedback or answers. Following experts on Twitter could get you the support you need. One example I’ve seen is Dr Karl Kruszelnicki from Australia, a media savvy scientist who often answers tweets sent to him. I’ve read teacher blogs mentioning how they have organised other teachers via Twitter to mentor students in their grade.

There is no going back to the old way of teaching. Differentiation and Personalised Learning is here to stay. And so it should be. However, we do need to make sure we have measures in place to ensure we are monitoring the quality and accuracy of the information our students present in their projects. Many teachers can find this a challenge.

It’s probably more of a challenge in Primary schools where teachers tend to be generalists who teach every subject. It’s a lot to expect them to be on top of the information in Science, History, Health, Economics, Geography, Technology and Environmental Studies on top of every novel the students are reading. So we have to efficient in checking in on students at all stages of their research, not just at the presentation stage.

What challenges do you have in monitoring your students’ personalised learning? What processes do you have in place to manage? I am interested in your experiences. Join the conversation.

Who can we trust? The importance of teaching our students to interpret the news.

Screenshot from the linked article on http://www.abc.net.au

Opening up my favourite news app, Zite, the other day, one of the top stories was this eye opener from Australia’s national broadcaster’s – the ABC – news website. Titled “The Gatekeepers of  news has lost their keys”, the writer Tim Dunlop highlights a fact of life that confronts us all today, and in particular our vulnerable, naive students.

As an audience, we are no longer dependent on the mainstream media to interpret and explain important events to us.

In a previous era, we had to wait for the six o’clock news in order to see the footage of what had happened in Canberra that day, and even then our understanding was restricted according to the choices made by journalists and editors.

Footage was clipped and shaped. Decisions were made about what was important and what wasn’t, what was left in and what was left out, and the end package was presented to us as definitive.

The next day we read the newspapers and hoped to get a bit more background, a bit more context, some opinion from both sides of the argument, and again, this was all chosen and arranged by professionals who we, by and large, trusted to present events to us in a balanced and nuanced way.

If we wanted to participate…., we were pretty much limited to a letter to the editor of a newspaper or maybe the telephone queue of a talkback radio station…….our ability to participate was curtailed by the often-opaque rules of participation set down by the journalists and news editors…. They could edit our letters or simply bin them. They could decide not to take our call or just cut us off if we started to say something they didn’t like.

The authority of the media – it’s ability to shape and frame events and then present them to us as “the” news – was built upon its privileged access to information and the ability to control distribution.

……. But those days are gone. That model is a relic, though it still dominates the way the mainstream media goes about its business, and provides the template for how journalists think about their role as reporters.

This has to change.

When we can watch events live ourselves without having to wait for the six o’clock news to package them for us, or even watch a YouTube replay in a time of our own choosing, we can also be free to interpret the story in the way that we understand it.

When we can log onto our blog, or fire up Twitter or Facebook, and express our views in real time; start or join online conversations; develop, change or reinforce our views via discussions with friends, “friends” and “followers”; and share footage and stories and images and shape that information in a way that suits us, then we have moved into a world unrecognisable from the previous era of journalism.

This introduction to the article presents quite succinctly, one of the most important challenges we have as Literacy teachers today. Our students are bombarded with unlimited sources of information and opinions on every imaginable subject. Where once we would do an occasional unit on disseminating fact and opinion and identifying bias in selected reading to satisfy the mandates of our English Curriculum,  we now must make it the major focus of our non fiction reading programs. Students today spend hours on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and forums and these sites are often their first source of news. Many adults these day also have moved onto these sources as their first port of call and often fall for the first rumor they see online, treating it as fact and then posting it for others to read or view.

That’s not to say that all news on social networking sites, blogs and forums is not accurate. There are a great number of quality writers with their own blogs on every possible subject who have made it easier to learn for the general public. Today’s journalists have embraced Twitter and Facebook and have joined in on the fun of being first with the latest updates and opinions. The problem is they too are all too easily led to believe what they read online as fact and report too quickly.

And then there is the nature of media bias itself. It is easy to blame all the left or right wing bias on socialist/fascist bloggers or misguided teenagers with a camera and a Youtube account, and sure there is plenty of rubbish posted by these types daily, further infested by thoughtless nonsense from angry, anonymous commenters protected by their cryptic usernames. But they are far from alone. The age of 24/7 news has brought us an unending stream of updates that don’t have the opportunity to be fact checked or vetted by experienced editors. Errors, misrepresentations and blatant untruths and distortions are published, not just on websites, but on TV and radio news and current affairs programs daily. The irony of the ABC article quoted here is that after such a thought provoking opening, it quickly descends into a parody of the very bias it warns against.

It is for this reason we as teachers need to focus heavily on developing critical thinking skills in reading news and other purported fact based writing. While learning about life from the classic novels and researching and learning from history is vitally important, we need to shift our English curriculum more heavily towards sorting fact from fiction and recognising bias. We were sheltered in the past by the limited sources of information. That is something I wholeheartedly agree with Mr Dunlop on. But the world of information in today’s Age of Connectedness means we need to teach our students to read with scepticism. They have to judge every comment, evaluate every apparent fact, compare sources, understand context, investigate the background and beliefs of the authors of what they read, source both sides of arguments and form a balanced opinion. They have to decide who to trust.

As teachers are we doing enough for our students so they can see through the Fox News vs MSNBC (US),Herald Sun vs Age/ABC (Australia),”insert right and left wing media groups of other countries here” wars and form educated opinions? Are we giving them the skills to investigate before accepting every rumour posted on their forum of choice? Are we allowing Facebook, Twitter and the like into our schools so that we can guide them first hand in dealing with how to participate in the connected instant info world they live in? What’s happening in your classroom?

The iPad – What it should and shouldn’t be for Education

This blog originally started as a reflection journal as I begun a pilot program for using iPads at my school. My early posts ( check January and February posts ) were discussions of the pros and cons of iPads. As the year has gone by and I have more time to research, read other iPad articles and experiment more with apps and with the students using them more frequently, I’ve had time to reflect on what iPads are offering schools. I’m not going to debate what model of iPad program to commit to – 1:1 or shared. I’m simply going to concentrate on what I think schools should consider before committing to iPads at all.

What you should use iPads for in schools

Multimedia content creation
I am so sick of the tech press misrepresenting the iPad purely as a content consumption device and complaining that it is not for content creation. I think they confuse content creation with publishing their articles with a traditional keyboard. On the contrary, the main reason schools should invest in iPads IS Content Creation. I’m not talking about Word or PowerPoint documents. That’s 20th century publishing that was meant for office workers and businessmen in the first place, not school kids.

What the iPad offers to children is the ability to capture, develop and publish their learning in the creative, engaging, multimedia way they experience the world. Traditional keyboard/writing based computing held back younger students and limited older ones. Now they can take pictures, record their voices (VoiceThread,GarageBand), create videos and slideshows(iMovie, SonicPics), annotate diagrams (Skitch), explain and record their learning in screencasts (Explain Everything, Doceri, Showme), use animated puppets to tell stories (Sock Puppets, Toontastic), create comic strips or whole comic books ( Comic Life, Strip Designer) combine text,freehand drawing and pictures in mind maps (Popplet, iMindmap) and publish interactive, multimedia books that others can read on their iPads (BookCreator,Creative Book Builder). All from the one device without having to connect any other tech up with wires and search for the files. The iPad is the ultimate one stop shop for student content creation that goes well beyond what they were capable of achieving easily just a couple of years ago. The beauty of all these apps is that they are multipurpose apps. They can be used in all curriculum areas and their uses are only limited by your or your student imagination. A Word Document could only do so much. Multimedia apps can allow for so much more scope for learning.

Portable, anywhere, interactive collaborative learning
The beauty of the iPad is its portability and use anywhere capability. Desktops anchor you to a desk and isolate you from a group. Laptops are still too cumbersome to carry around and the built in cameras and microphones are too restrictive. The iPad frees you up to use it anywhere any time. On a field trip/excursion? Take the iPad along with you and do all your work live and instantly. Take pictures and record a commentary for an instant report. Record footage of your physical activity in PE classes and play back for instant feedback on your performance, in slow motion with iMotion HD. Create a documentary on the spot with the video camera and iMovie. With wifi available, report live from an event with FaceTime or Skype. The physical makeup of the iPad makes for a more social sharing environment that isn’t as easy or effective in a lab of desktops or the one way screens of laptops. The tactile nature of the touchscreen brings students together and the multimedia capabilities can be shared by a group.

Social, interactive Reading the “digital literacy way”
One of the best activities on an iPad is reading, but not in the traditional sense. If you just want to read, get a book from the library – it’s cheaper. Reading on a iPad is a much richer experience and can enhance the educational experience in schools. Reading in iBooks allows you to highlight passages and record annotated notes which are then stored and organized in a dedicated bookmarked section and look up definitions without flicking through a dictionary. Using PDF annotation apps you can do limitless note taking without running out of space on the page.

While you can do the same on a traditional computing device, the use of social bookmarking tools and curation website bookmarklets make collaborative reading a far easier proposition, simply because of the book like experience sitting with an iPad gives you. Having students sitting in a group using Diigo’s shared annotation tools allows for both real conversation and tech based note sharing that can be referred to later. It also allows for collaboration with students outside the group which widens the community of learners you can work with. Individually, finding sites to share with others and then posting them on Scoop-it, Diigo, Edmodo, sharing via Twitter or other social media sites via bookmarklets, share buttons or through apps like Zite and Flipboard just seems more natural on a touchscreen tablet rather than on a mouse driven computer.

Other

Check out my other posts on Writing, Maths and Literacy ( in the Categories section on the right) for my other uses for iPads – I don’t want to repeat myself too much. Suffice to say, the iPad has the potential to change the way we learn and teach if we take the time to research and investigate what others are doing. I have curated a wealth of resources for you to use on my Scoopit page linked at the top of my blog page as well as in my Diigo Bookmarks under the iPad tag also accessible above.

The iPad, however, is not perfect by any means and does have limitations to consider. There are some things it can’t do at all and many things that are best done on other devices. Read on for what they shouldn’t be used for in schools.

What you shouldn’t use iPads for in schools

This list is more about poor decision making about getting iPads rather than the iPad’s lack of ability to manage the task. It’s also more applicable to a school setting ( i use my iPad for a lot of things completely un-school related, which shouldn’t be a factor for getting them for school) and why you are choosing iPads over other computing options. If it can’t do the task as effectively as a “computer”, if it isn’t going to be an improvement and make a profound change to how you use tech in education, if it isn’t going to be any different to what you are already doing with desktop or laptop computers, then consider whether the iPad is really what you want.

Traditional word processing
Don’t get me wrong. I use my iPad for about 90% of the word processing I do. Most of this blog has been published using my iPad. Having said that, if you’re going to jump on the bandwagon and buy iPads and then complain about not having Microsoft Office on it, or that Pages messes up the formatting of the Word Document you just imported or you don’t like the touchscreen keyboard for typing, you haven’t thought about why you want iPads. If all your students do with tech at school is publish stories and reports in Word, then you will find your iPads being underutilized.

Replacing books just for reading or lightening the load in your students’ backpacks.
Personally, I read a lot on my iPad. But, as I outlined in the “What you should use iPads for in Schools” section of this post, I don’t just read with my iPad. Once again, it is a wasted opportunity for changing the way you foster learning in your school if your main reason for buying iPads is to replace books/textbooks with ebooks and PDF scans of textbooks. This does not enhance learning. This does not change the way you teach. Just reading books on an iPad makes no difference to education. It may be advertised to consumers as a great e-reader, and as a way of carrying around a truckload of books to read on a vacation it’s great, but if schools are going to invest vast amounts of money on iPads only to fill them up with ebook versions of novels or PDF copies of chapters from their Maths text books so our children can prop them up on a table while they complete Exercise 7A of the Quadratic Equations Chapter in their exercise books, we’ve missed the point.

If you have invested a lot of time, effort and money in Web 2.0 tools or educational management systems.
While there is much press about the demise of Flash support for mobile devices ( Android included ) and the rise of HTML5 sites, the vast majority of educational sites on the Internet are Flash or Java based. While many are free, educational versions of these sites usually cost a fair investment to use with large numbers of children. iPads don’t support these tools well. Yes, there are workaround solution in the form of dedicated iPad browsers like Puffin and Photon that use server based connections to provide useable Flash experience on iPads, but they are serviceable at best and inadequate or unusable at worst. While I have no experience of it, Moodle is widely used in schools as well and does not play well with iPads. Interactive whiteboard software like Promethean’s Activinspire doesn’t have an iPad version so you can’t create or edit flip charts on iPads with their software. So if your school has invested heavily in Web 2.0 tool licenses, Moodle like systems or have spent the last 5 years training you to make interactive whiteboard flip charts, consider the wisdom of moving to an iPad only set up.

Are you a Google Apps for Education school?
This is open for debate as I have visited schools that are 1:1 iPad schools who use Google Apps. From my experience, the user experience is not good enough. Maybe for word processing it’s functional but the Google spreadsheet experience is woefully inadequate on the iPad. If you have made a big investment in Google Apps, I’d stick with netbooks/laptops.

Website design/blog management
Web site building tools on the web like Weebly or Wix are useable and most of the publishing work of blogs can be done on an iPad. However,if you have an ICT course that is heavily involved in website building or you need to edit graphic elements or widget components of blogs, iPads don’t handle the task completely and you’ll need to stick with traditional computing.

Dedicated specialist software compatibility
Without listing them, there is obviously a huge range of software for specific purposes that aren’t supported and are unlikely to ever be supported on the iPad. While it may seem bleeding obvious, schools need to take this into account before dedicating their entire budget to a 1:1 iPad program.

Final thoughts
I started the year thinking the iPad was the one stop solution. I’ve come to believe now that a multi device option is preferable. 1:1 iPads would be great in an ideal world but the financial reality for school with substantial investments in other tech already doesn’t make it practical for a complete change. My school already has a lot of laptops and desktops in use. They are used for many valid purposes such as those listed above. It’s not reasonable to think we would replace all our resources with just iPads when there are good things already being done with them. So we are going down the horses for courses route. More iPads are likely to be purchased next year and used for all he great multimedia purposes outlined. Web tools, research, Flash and Java Ed sites, word processing, blogging, compatibility issues will continue to be addressed with our computers. I’m starting to think it’s the best of both worlds.

But what do you think? Have I under or oversold the iPad? Are there compelling reasons for iPads in education I’ve left out ? Are there other reasons for not committing to them? Share your thoughts. This is far from an exhaustive post. Join the conversation.

Who should we consult about technology in our schools?

Thanks to edtech times for this infographic
From their website:

Nonprofit Project Tomorrow aims to make student voices heard in education. Speak Up, an initiative of Project Tomorrow, surveyed 294,399 students, 35,525 teachers, 42,267 parents, and others in fall 2010 to determine the benefits of certain types and uses of technology for teaching and learning. The results are depicted in the infographic below.

20120923-154619.jpg

I think we can learn a lot from the results of this very extensive survey. On reflection, I wonder why we do things so differently to the rest of our society. Politicians, businesses, the entertainment industry, sports organisations spend up big on researching the stakeholders in their product or idea or policy. Education departments and schools too often make the mistake of deciding what is best without asking the real stakeholders in our system what their opinions are, often to the detriment of what follows.

What I really appreciate about this survey is that it focuses on ALL THREE ( I’m not including the bureaucratic side ) interested parties in education – Students, Parents and Teachers. While I haven’t seen the actual survey, this infographic suggests that in-depth questioning took place and the results encourage a lot of thinking about how we should go forward in planning for technology in schools. It also raises questions about what we as educators consider important as opposed to the parents and students think. Finally, it would also be interesting to conduct this same survey two years on in 2012, when the use of technology has accelerated so much, to see if there has been significant change in perceptions.

Student Responses
I found it interesting that the factors that scored highest involved independent activity. Students find tech beneficial in organizing their times, managing their own learning and working at their own pace. With the push towards student centered learning, this shows technology can contribute to the success of this learning strategy in the eyes of those that count – the students. It’s also an eye opener that well less than half of the students surveyed find tech as motivating or the key to easy success. This is a cautionary tale for those tech advocates ( me included ) who think that iPads, 1:1 programs and web tools are the answer to all engagement and learning problems. We need to balance our thirst for tech spending with reflection on multiple intelligences and learning styles research that stresses students have different preferences. Technology is not necessarily the answer for all students.

Another observation that comes to mind is that we have work to do on some of the skills we want to ingrain in the learning behaviors of our students. Collaboration and asking questions are important but the survey suggests our students are not necessarily using tech effectively for that, despite all the great collaborative, sharing, networking tools at our disposal. It brings home the point that its not enough to introduce Edmodo, Diigo, blogging and the like to the students and expect it to just happen. We have to work hard to show them how it will improve their learning. Obviously, we also need to do the same for teachers, parents and leadership as well.

Parents responses
I was particularly interested in this section of the infographic. Parents are often the last people we consult when we make decisions. They are often the first we get concerned about though when they start to question our decisions or pedagogies. Maybe we should communicate more with them and find out what they want. Then we can address the issues they raise and educate them in what we believe from our training and experience is best for their children.

What interested me most from the survey results in the infographic was the motivation behind the parent responses to what can help them assist their children in their learning. They want access to curriculum materials so they can support their kids. How often have we heard ” I can’t help my son because you do it differently to when I was at school.”? Technology today gives us the perfect tool for sharing what we do in school with the parents. Blogs, social networking sites, video lessons ( only 22% in this survey – before the flipping classroom boom – but it would be interesting to find out what the interest would be now ), online newsletters are practical ways to communicate how we teach the students in a contemporary classroom.

It’s encouraging to see such large percentages of parents wanting regular updates and viewing of children’s work. They don’t want to wait for reports or interviews or portfolios to come home at the end of term. They want technology to provide them access. This is a huge challenge for us as schools as we are not used to parents seeing the students work before its “ready”. There needs to be a shift in thinking about what this access to students work will entail. Parent and teacher education ( and students too) will be needed so there isn’t a misunderstanding of the difference between work in progress and published work. Technology has the potential to allow for real partnerships between all the stakeholders in a child’s education. From this survey parents want to be a part of it. We just need to make sure we get the balance right in the partnership.

Another fascinating tidbit from the infographic was the response to purchasing tech for students to use at school. Without knowing the demographics of the survey, it’s enlightening to see such a large percentage of parents willing to buy mobile devices for their children to use AT SCHOOL. It raises the weighty issue of BYOD ( bring your own device ) programs in schools. To me, this suggests there needs to be serious discussion between school and parents about the prospects rather than just dismissing the idea. Of course, just because parents might think it’s a great idea, doesn’t mean it is. Many parents aren’t necessarily in control of the tech use of their children and don’t understand the pitfalls of such a program. Again, it means Parent Education in responsible digital citizenship, their responsibilities and how they can support their children will be needed but if they are prepared to make the commitment the discussion needs to be had.

Teacher/Student responses
Some telling observations can be made from the results in this part of the infographic.
First, it is apparent that digital literacy is not clear to either teacher or students in some cases, particularly in analyzing, interpreting and detecting bias in media stories. It suggests we need to have a conversation about new Literacies with our teachers and why technology has an important role to play in this.

Not surprisingly, students don’t place importance on checking their sources. This is a big part of digital literacy – the more children are using the Internet for both research and presenting their findings in a public forum, the more we have to change their behavior. They are exposed to so much info in such easily accessible and unchecked ways, we have to place importance on convincing them this is important. We think of them as ‘digital natives’ but they’re still not skilled in the nuances of its use. We have to consult teachers, parents and the students themselves in this area.

One final observation here is the low percentage for producing digital media reports from both teachers and students. Again, a lot has changed in the last two years since this survey in the proliferation of web tools in schools. Nevertheless, less than one in three teachers and only 40% of students thinking digital publishing is important is interesting to consider. This is one area I would really like to investigate at the local level before making massive investments in technology.

Final thoughts
It seems to be accepted that we need to invest in technology on a large scale to prepare our students for the tech rich world they are going to be living in. Before making this investment though, it seems to me we need to make sure we consult with everyone involved. A lot of time, effort and most of all money can be wasted if we don’t find out what our clientele wants. That’s teachers, students and parents. Decision makers need to consider all stakeholders. When you look at the numbers of people involved in this survey, its hard to ignore the importance of the responses received. I would love schools to conduct a similar survey to find out what everyone involved thinks. It would allow for considered decisions to be made rather than hasty purchases. What do you think?

Digital Media and Learning – what’s missing in our curriculum documents

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Credit goes to John Elfrank-Dana for posting an article on Schoolbook titled “Wanted:New Standards that Embrace Technology” that has inspired me to reflect a little deeper on my understanding of this topic.

It seems that many countries are in the midst of new curriculum documents being introduced. In the time between the last and the latest, personalised learning and student-directed learning have been positioned at the forefront of contemporary teaching and learning. What has also accelerated over that time is technology possibilities in schools. I use the word possibilities deliberately here because, while everyone seems comfortable with the theories and pedagogies behind personalised/student centred learning ( even if it hasn’t quite come to fruition just yet), in many schools great numbers of leaders and teachers are still behind the 8 ball on what can be achieved with technology in their classrooms. Sadly, our new curricula, still appears to be as well.

Elfrank-Dana, in the post credited above, laments that the USA’s new Common Core standards hasn’t addressed the impact of new media. Likewise, in my country Australia, our new National Curriculum, which comes into effect in 2013, is also struggling to show a deep understanding of digital technology and its role in learning. Yes, it often includes the phrase ‘with digital technologies’ and ‘media texts’ in many of its content descriptions but to me they stand as add ons to the more specific literacy or numeracy skill they are referenced with. We are yet to have a National Curriculum for Technology and are still stuck with state level documents that were written “pre-Google”(let alone have any relevance to the Web 2.0/social media of 2012 and beyond).

So it is left up to individual schools to push the boundaries of digital learning until our curriculum writers catch up with the pace of change. If we are going to be true arbiters of change in schools, we need to be aware of the skills that aren’t listed in our curriculum but are vital for developing learners who can cope with the fast changing world they are growing up in. That’s why I was grateful to find in the article above the white paper on Digital Media and Learning by Henry Jenkins et al from MIT, titled “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century” (downloadable as a PDF if you want to read the whole 72 pages!)

This part of its summary really caught my attention:

A central goal of this report is to shift the focus of the conversation about the digital divide from questions of technological access to those of opportunities to participate and to develop the cultural competencies and social skills needed for full involvement. Schools as institutions have been slow to react to the emergence of this new participatory culture; the greatest opportunity for change is currently found in afterschool programs and informal learning communities. Schools and afterschool programs must devote more attention to fostering what we call the new media literacies: a set of cultural competencies and social skills that young people need in the new media landscape. Participatory culture shifts the focus of literacy from one of individual expression to community involvement. The new literacies almost all involve social skills developed through collaboration and networking.These skills build on the foundation of traditional literacy, research skills, technical skills, and critical analysis skills taught in the classroom.

The new skills include:
Play — the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving
Performance — the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery
Simulation — the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes
Appropriation — the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content
Multitasking — the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details.
Distributed Cognition — the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities
Collective Intelligence — the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal
Judgment — the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources
Transmedia Navigation — the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities
Networking — the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information
Negotiation — the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms.

Fostering such social skills and cultural competencies requires a more systemic approach to media education in the United States. Everyone involved in preparing young people to go out into the world has contributions to make in helping students acquire the skills they need to become full participants in our society. Schools, afterschool programs, and parents have distinctive roles to play as they do what they can in their own spaces to encourage and nurture these skills.

While the skills listed above rarely reference digital media specifically, it is clear that all of these skills are both developed and needed in using digital media for learning. While it is true that many of these skills have been and can be developed with traditional media and teaching practices, it is clear to me that they haven’t been in may cases and need to be addressed for all of us to succeed in what the Jenkins refers to as today’s Participatory Culture, one that is awash with digital technologies.

So how do we address each of these skills with digital learning as the focus? I’m going to give that a try.

Play — the fact a 2 year old can master the basics on a iPad quicker than her mother suggests that students already have the Play skill down pat. It also suggests that our students can learn a lot through play, which can be undermined by the “chalk and talk, drill and test” pedagogies still prevalent in many (certainly not all) classroom environments. We need to let children learn through playing more, something that is hard to do with just words on paper or a whiteboard or from a teacher’s mouth. Digital media offers the opportunities to explore preferred media sources. It also allows students to work at their own pace and level by choosing their entry and exit points to a learning task delivered through digital media, rather than sitting through 10 minutes of teacher lecture about content they already know. It also teaches them to think about possible solutions and strategies rather than always calling on the teacher instantly. On the creation side, being able to use digital tools allows the student to explore the possibilities of the software, restart quickly if the original idea didn’t work, try out the vast array of tools available and do it all independently IF we give them the opportunity to play with it (instead of giving then a narrow focused teacher tutorial based on our ideas).

Performance — As teachers, we ask students to connect with opposing points of view , people in history and characters in stories. Traditional drama and role play has an impact here but digital media offers the students opportunities to role play independently. Setting up Facebook type profiles of historical figures or novel characters allows them to use their communication model of choice to explore relationships and share each other’s interpretations. Twitter can be used in a similar way to have dynamic, realtime comversations as adopted characters. Adopting avatars to communicate provides introverted students the ability to communicate their ideas behind closed doors yet still get to perform. Using a web tool like Xtranormal lets them create and view re-enactments or conversations in an attention grabbing format that exceeds listening to a shared reading in a traditional model.

Simulation — Once the domain of the highly trained tech geek only, now children can use a myriad of web, tablet and computer based software to make sense of their world. From simple programming tools like Scratch, 3D modelling with Google Sketchup to Animation packages like iStopmotion and data crunching software to create real time graphs of statistics, students are no longer restricted to interpreting visual representations of information but also showing their understanding of it through creating simulations in a form they respond to – visual.

Appropriation — There is so much content on the Internet today that Google alone cannot sort it out for you. A big part of participatory culture now is curation tools. People all over the web are taking responsibility for collecting relevant websites under topics of their choosing and sharing them with the world. Tools like Scoopit, Pearltrees, Pinterest and Diigo can be searched as alternatives to search engines as the curating has been done for you. It’s not a easy skill though as many just grab any site they find and don’t sort through what is worth keeping. This has to be taught. This is a great way for collecting media content for class research as well and an alternative to boring, wordy bibliographies.

Stories can be told by pulling content from your social media feeds through tools like Storify. Emerging web tools like Meograph lets you publish compelling stories by combining video, audio, images, maps and text, creating multimodal texts that appeal to this generation and replicate the multimodal style of non text references we work with today.

Multitasking — the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details. An important skill in today’s busy environment, students need to develop skills in handling multiple tasks. Digital learning used well allows us to keep track of all of our work, giving us the ability to move in and out of different work spaces online or stored on our personal hardware choice. Organised digital media makes it easy to locate multiple sources, if we’ve worked on our appropriation skills.

Distributed Cognition — for me, this is the result of mastering all of the other skills in the list.

Collective Intelligence — Social bookmarking tools like Diigo, collaborative tools like Googledocs, sites like Edmodo and blogs where students and teachers can interact with each other purposefully will develop the idea that we work and learn best when sharing with each other, the antithesis of standardized competitive testing and comparison.

Judgment — Probably the most important one on the list. When I was a child, I had two newspapers, a couple of channels we watched the news on and Encyclopedia Britannica. We didn’t have to make many decisions about whether the information was accurate or not. Fast forward to today and our students are confronted with 59 million results for a Google Search, limitless cable news channels of varying bias, opinion based blogs, millions of YouTube videos and a combination of gossip and factual news coming from Twitter and Facebook feeds. If there is one thing we do with our students in time at school it is to teach them how to sort fact from fiction. Explain that just because the site appears first on Google doesn’t mean it’s the best. Tell them the difference between .org, .com, .gov and .edu. Show them the importance of checking the references on Wikipedia. This should be the number one skill in any curriculum for today’s schools.

Transmedia Navigation — I think I covered this in appropriation but suffice to say that most of the media today is awash with varied media types. Students need to learn how to disseminate.

Networking — The important skill needed to work with collective intelligence. In a global world, networking is vital and we can’t lock kids away in their classrooms and hope they learn how later on. This leads on to the final skill…………

Negotiation — up there with Judgement in importance, this is reflected in the message of the cartoon at the start of this post. We can’t network if we can’t cooperate with others and treat them with respect. We can’t network if we don’t know how to accept but still argue with different viewpoints. And we can’t expect cyber bullying to stop if we don’t educate our children how to responsibly use social media. As parents we need to be in control and as teachers we need to embrace digital learning at school so we can give them opportunities to use digital media for useful purposes instead of just writing garbage on Facebook or Twitter about a kid or celebrity they don’t like. This has to be part of our curriculum, not blocked by decade old laws like COPPA and SIPA.

So when you open up your new curriculum in the new year, follow what’s in there. It covers important skills we all need. But don’t be slaves to it. There’s a lot more we need to do to create the learners we want for the challenges of 21st century life.