Using “secondary/tertiary sources” (yeah Wikipedia!) to improve your research

My last post highlighted my recent use of a web tool, Meograph, in creating a history resource about Australia’s history for my 5/6 team at school. While my previous blog entry centred on my presentation of the topic, today’s post is more concerned with how I collected the information contained within my Meograph.

Wikipedia can often get a bum rap from many in the education community. Sometimes, it’s for good reason, as it can be a VERY overused information source by students AND adults alike. I wrote a post in defense of Wikipedia back in March 2012 so I won’t go into battle for it again. Today I want to reflect on its benefits as a starting reference or secondary (maybe tertiary) source to start of your research, based on how I used it to research my History resource.

When I undertook the task of creating my Australian History Meograph, I had no qualms about heading straight to Wikipedia as a starting point. I searched Australian HIstory timeline and sure enough, I found the Timeline of Australian History Page as well as, with the help of Google (the lazy student/researcher’s other ‘great friend’) various other timelines of varying quality, accuracy,reliability and depth.

Now I could have just copied and pasted dates from the Wikipedia article, added some pictures and I would have had my Meograph finished in a day, ready to be used as a quick reference for a group of 10-12 year olds to access at the start of a History unit. How much do we want kids of this age to read about anyway? That, of course would have been unprofessional and a waste of an opportunity to follow a process I hope to instil in students ( and hopefully, teachers) I work with this year and beyond. ( in no way am I suggesting I have started a revolution in researching here but particularly for students in pre-university, it’s a process that needs to be modelled and taught better than it has been in the past.)

The Wikipedia timeline became my starting point for every moment that I added to my Meograph. It was a comprehensive, wide ranging collection of events in the history of my country, many even this old “font of useless knowledge” ( one of my official nicknames!) wasn’t aware of. However, it was just a collection of facts, which students might think is enough, but it isn’t. What I want my students to come to terms with this year is that bibliography filled with Wikipedia, Answers.com and Google Search results  links is not a bibliography, nor is it evidence of any sort of research .

Instead, each event on the Wikipedia timeline became the beginning of the real research as I sought out first of all verification on the actual date ( some were wrong –  but then some were wrong on some official Australian government sites too!), a collection of sites to corroborate the facts on the event ( while I was only able to reference one link on the Meograph, I fact checked every event with several references) and whenever it was possible, actual primary sources that proved the event beyond a shadow of a doubt. Now, of course, I could have done this without Wikipedia but I believe starting with the much maligned site had several benefits that will transfer over to the students’ use.

  1. Where do I begin? The biggest problem I have found with student research in the past ( apart from them just using Wikipedia and the first page of Google search results) is the difficulty they have getting started with a Google Search. Despite years of workshops on “How to use Google Search more effectively”, the problem still comes down to what do they actually type into the search engine. I’m of the belief that starting with a Wikipedia article sharpens the focus of a student’s research. This is because a wikipedia author has already pooled many of the basic facts a student needs into the entry, meaning the student has most of what he needs to research in front of him.
  2. Key Word search – From there, the student can better put together the required key words and phrases to make his search on Google much more productive. I’ll admit that I found better results using the basic points found in the timelines I used rather than thinking of what to search for with such a broad topic.
  3. Secondary source drives me to primary source – Because I knew I was starting from a secondary/tertiary source like Wikipedia or one of the other timeline sites I found, I was more focused in finding evidence from more specific sources. Starting from the secondary meant I had the basic idea I needed to complete my timeline event; what I needed was the primary source to verify the facts. I didn’t just do this with Wikipedia articles I browsed to; I did it to every site I went to, be it an official government or university linked-history site or a left or right leaning history site like Convict Creations or Creative Spirits. Having some specific details to work with though made it easier to search for evidence. As a result. I came across some fantastic primary source sites for Australian history like Trove, a digital archive of historical newspapers from as far back as the first published newspapers in Australia; Founding Docs, a site that had scanned copies and explanations of all the bills and laws debated and passed leading to our Federation and future governments; the National Archives, which had a range of photos, videos, paintings and documents related to historical events.
  4. Effective time management for checking sources – Having the secondary source, in my case the various timelines ( I eventually left Wikipedia and and moved onto the Museum of Australian Democracy site’s more specific Federation timeline) as the reference point for all of my research, i used my time more effectively. I could go straight to a specific search for an event each time, rather than randomly searching for major historical events. This allowed me more time to check the validity of the websites I used, going to the About us sections that outlined who the authors were. I found out the Creative Spirits site was not run by Indigenous Australians at all, but a German/Australian with a big interest in their culture, who spent time sourcing info and getting approval from those whose history and culture he was depicting. Reading the introduction, I found out that Convict Creations was compiled by someone with a “fair and balanced” conservative leaning who spent time looking for alternative interpretations from the accepted left leaning history that is commonly accepted. The time I had thanks to using secondary sources as starting points allowed me to find a range of sources with different points of view that I can use with students instead of what I personally consider to be narrow views in official texts and resources from Education Departments.

 

Level 6 History Skills Descriptors

I want to be able to use this experience as a model for the students this year. In fact, I want to be able to lead them through this very process, not as a one off workshop presentation which just leaves them with a list of instructions they won’t follow effectively, but as a shared research experience. We have the technology for large groups to collaborate on research, starting from a secondary source like Wikipedia ( or alternatives) and sourcing references for various facts within the  events. The technology that allows direct hyperlinking to references is also an effective way to check on the type of sources they are using as well. This would be a better way to develop the research skills that our History curriculum in Australia expects, particularly the Historical skills.

As adults, we are expected t0 have advanced research skills. Students, on the other hand, are a long way off. We need to guide them to be better researchers. I think a good way ot start is to allow them to access secondary sources as a starting point to find the real evidence. What do you do when teaching research? I would like to know what others are doing. Join the conversation.

Meograph – 4 Dimensional Story Telling Web 2.0 Style

What I love about Web 2.0 apps is the simplicity. Bloated desktop apps like Office and Photoshop, with their hundreds of menu items and toolbars, are powerful tools but become difficult for non techies to handle. Web 2.o tools, on the other hand, are focused on specific purposes, allowing them to be streamlined and simple enough for anyone to use.

Meograph, a relatively new tool ( released in July, 2012 and still in Beta form) is one such simple to use but still powerful web app. It sells itself as a “4 Dimensional Story telling” app. In a nutshell, it allows you to tell stories through (1)images/videos, (2)narration,  (3)maps and a (4)timeline (hence the 4 dimensions) OR WHO/WHAT, WHEN and WHERE. Now this could be done using a variety of software options but what I love about Meograph is that the whole process only involves 8 simple steps, which I am about to outline for you using the above screenshot and some simple instructions. There is also a video embedded below that provides a demo of the tool.

  1. ADD A MOMENT. Once you have set up your FREE account and created your first Meograph, click on +ADD A MOMENT. This brings up the simple data field box for you to input the required information.
  2. THE DATA FIELD BOX. Here you can see the 3 fields to input information. WHEN, WHERE and WHAT. Type in the year or specific date (in MM/DD/YYYY format), the location the event took place (be specific for correct location on map) and information about what happened. The information can be a single sentence or at least a whole paragraph – I haven’t tested its limits but some of my entries have been over 100 words. Once you have added the information, it becomes part of a list of dates. If you add another Moment that occured before your last entry, it will automatically move the moment into the correct chronological order.
  3. LINK. You can add a link to related information by clicking on the Link button and typing or pasting in a website address. The link appears between the image and timeline in a black band. The website page name appears but if it is a PDF web link you only see a diagonal arrow icon.
  4. TEXT. The information you input into the WHAT field is displayed above the image in a simple text box. If you want to add extra information, you can edit the text here instead of the small WHAT field.
  5. MAP EDITING. You can change the Zoom level of the Map by clicking on the CHANGE MAP ZOOM button. You will get a familiar Google Maps slide scale to enable you to zoom in or out for your desired result. That is the only editing you can do – you can’t drag the map around or move the placeholder.
  6. MEDIA. You can upload an image or embed a YouTube clip using the two buttons provided. You can only add one or the other – not both. You don’t paste YouTube embed code; just the page link. You can resize the image and move it around. With the YouTube clip, you can select specific sections of the clip so that your viewers don’t have to view the whole clip when you are only referring to a specific part. This is a useful feature – I only wanted to show 3 minutes of an hour long documentary on YouTube for my History Meograph below.
  7. NARRATION. You can record narration for each moment to help tell your story more effectively. The length of your narration determines how long the moment plays before it moves on to the next moment. Without narration, the Meograph moves from moment to moment almost instantly. The maximum length of narration for each moment is 20 seconds.
  8. MAP VIEW OPTION. You can choose between Google Map or Earth view for the Maps in Meograph. What isn’t in the screenshot above is the option to include or exclude Lines connecting placeholders as you move from moment to moment.
  9. SAVE. Once you have finished your Meograph or you simply want to stop your editing for the day, you simply click the DONE AND SAVE button which returns you to the ready to play Meograph page. You can always click on the Edit button if you want to continue to add or make changes.
  10. PLAY CONTROLS AND TIMELINE. At the bottom of the Meograph is the Timeline and controls. If you want to simply view the Meograph, hit the Play button and it will progress from Moment to Moment. The timeline is like a video progress bar that has the dates displayed instead of the minutes played. There is a time display on the far right. If you want to manually control the progress of the story, pause the video and use the FF/REW buttons for greater control. This is recommended if you want to check out the linked information.
That’s all there is to it. ( One more thing – it has share and embedding options so that you can add your Meograph to your own website/blog, as I have done, or post it directly to Twitter, Facebook and other popular Social Media sites like Pinterest, Google+ Delicious and StumblUpon.) If you want to see first hand how to use Meograph, you can check out the tutorial video below.

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

While I have found Meograph to be a very useful and simple to use storytelling tool, there is room for improvement. Of course it is still only in Beta so there are still glitches to the tool. Since the creator actually asked me to do a review, I will list my ideas and criticisms here. I’m not sure if these can all be addressed but hey, worth an ask.

  1. The Timeline. The only way to move from event to event is using the video controls. I would like to be able to drag the timeline dates across like you can on videos so I can move more quickly to a specific time or event without laboriously going moment by moment. This is probably not a big deal for quick stories but in a big presentation like my History Meograph it is needed. Meograph is being aimed at the Education and Journalism markets so there will come a time when I’m not the only one making really long meographs!
  2. Maps. Would like to be able to move the map around rather than just zoom in and out. Would like to move the placeholders too. Some of my locations were a bit inaccurate and a quick drag of the place holder would fix that problem.
  3. Text. Not a big deal but possibly some simple textformatting tools wouldn’t go astray for greater emphasis – size, colour, bold, italic would be enough. Then again my opening paragraph did talk about Web 2.0 simplicity vs Software bloat, so no drama if not done.
  4. Full Screen view. At present, the Meographs are a touch small to view. A Full screen option like Youtube and other video sites offer would make it better for viewing, especially for whole class viewing on a screen or iWB.
  5. Image AND Video instead of OR. Again not a big issue but sometimes I was faced with the choice of using video or image. Would have been nice to use both. Same goes for….
  6. Multiple Links.  From an Educational perspective, it would be good to link to multiple references to verify accuracy of information.
  7. iPads. You can watch it on an iPad just fine but editing is very difficult. Sometimes I managed to add new moments but often the buttons didn’t work. of course that is common with a lot of web 2.0 tools ( but not all). Be interesting to find out if it can be improved.
Everything else is Beta based Bugs. Sometimes it slowed down to a walk, especially when adding additional text. There were times when images or videos wouldn’t load and I had to close the browser and restart a session. There was a bit of a lag when inputting Where/When/What Data at times as well. Sometimes there was inaccurate map placements but that may well be Google Maps’ problem ( Apple’s IOS maps aren’t alone in location errors).
Having said all that, I have found MeoGraph to be a great addition to my teaching toolbox. Below is a yet to be completed but still lengthy Meograph I am putting together for my Grade 5/6 teams who are teaching Australian History this year. I see a lot of possibilities for History, Geography, Biographies, place and time based narrative investigations in this tool. I would like to hear from teachers about whether they would use or have used Meograph.
(Word of warning: Like most Web 2.0 tools, the Under 13s get a raw deal here. However, I can’t see why you can’t set up a class account controlled by you to avoid COPPA problems-Meograph’s Terms and Privacy policies are inconclusive here and the site itself doesn’t seem to have any inappropriate material easily accessible once logged in. It appears possible to use one account on multiple computers – I’ve tested it with my Meograph and even added different moments from different computers logged in at the same time. Meograph might not agree with me here but I’ve said it)

Cybersafety websites for parents, teachers and students

Last week I attended a Cybersafety presentation aimed at parents. I went along mainly to see the message that was being presented to the parents who attended from our school. I wasn’t expecting to learn too much myself as I have always seen myself as a very cyber smart parent who has taught my two children, now 14 and 16, how to be responsible digital citizens. While I heard much that I have done for years, the presenter, Tony Richards from IT Made Simple in Australia, hammered home a few points that made me think.

What I appreciated most was his promise of a wealth of resources he would send us the following week. True to his word, this list of resources just landed in my inbox and I thought it appropriate to share with you on this blog. If nothing else it’s a good place for me to store them for future reference. There are probably too many resources, as Tony said himself, but what teacher doesn’t like a truck load of resources to browse?!?

Hello,

I hope you found the session you attended the other week informative. Please feel free to pass on these links to others that were not able to attend.

Remember to talk with your children and ensure they make smart decisions online.

If I can provide any assistance feel free to contact me, I also provide sessions for community organisations and businesses around social media and online issues.

Tony

The following are some of the sites I spoke about or alluded too during the presentation. Please keep this email somewhere safe to return to at a later date.

Sites – General Information and Help

Google Online Safety – http://www.google.com/goodtoknow/online-safety/
Australian Government – http://www.netalert.gov.au/home.html
NZ NetSafe – http://www.netsafe.org.nz/keeping_safe.php?sectionID=parents
Childnet International – http://www.childnet-int.org/
ThinkuKnow – http://www.thinkuknow.com/
Scams Little Black Book – http://www.scamwatch.gov.au/content/index.phtml/itemId/726050

Cyber Safety Sites for Children and Parents
Parents – http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/en/Parents.aspx
Hectors World -http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/Young%20Kids/Hectors%20World.aspx (A site for young children to explore online safety.)
CyberQuoll –Cybersmart – Have fun (This site is for primary aged students.)
CyberNetrix – http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/cybernetrix/index.html (A site for teenagers to learn how to be smart online.)
Super Clubs Plus – http://www.superclubsplus.com.au/ (An environment for students to learn about online social networks)

CyberBullying
Facts about Cyberbullying – http://www.familysafecomputers.org/bullying.htm
Tips on how to respond – Parents – http://www.adl.org/education/cyberbullying/tips.asp#family
What is CYBERBULLYING? – http://www.stopcyberbullying.org/what_is_cyberbullying_exactly.html
Types of Cyberbullies – http://www.stopcyberbullying.org/educators/howdoyouhandleacyberbully.html
Quick Guide to Responding – Parents – http://www.stopcyberbullying.org/parents/guide.html
Texting Glossary features thousands of relevant and up to date terms. – http://www.dtxtrapp.com/glossary.htm

Family Safety resources
Google Family Safety – http://www.google.com.au/familysafety/
FaceBoook Family Safety – https://www.facebook.com/safety
Scams and Tricks via FaceBook – what to avoid – http://facecrooks.com/
Online Privacy – http://www.microsoft.com/security/onlineprivacy/reputation.aspx#findout
Google Jargon Busters – http://www.google.com/goodtoknow/jargon/#cookie
Australian Government – Easy guide – http://www.dbcde.gov.au/easyguide/social_networking
Google Privacy Tools – http://www.google.com/intl/en/privacy/tools.html
Chat Acronyms – http://www.netlingo.com/acronyms.php
Digital Reputation Management: Remove content from the web: http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=164734

Surf Safely with Browsers
The Facts about Search Engines – http://www.familysafecomputers.org/searchengines.htm
Google Safe Browsing – http://www.google.com/tools/firefox/safebrowsing/
Parental Control Toolbar: Free Filtering Tool – http://www.parentalcontrolbar.org/
How to use Parental Controls on IE Explorer – http://www.ehow.com/how_2033277_use-parental-controls.html
KID-FRIENDLY SITES – http://www.bewebaware.ca/english/KidFriendlySearchEngines.aspx
Web Surfing Tips – http://www.commonsense.com/internet-safety-guide/web-surfing.php
Safety First – Internet Explorer @ How Stuff Works – http://computer.howstuffworks.com/internet-explorer-82.htm
Internet Explorer vs. Firefox: Which is Safer? – http://itmanagement.earthweb.com/secu/article.php/3698606
Safe Surfing Tips for Teens – http://kidshealth.org/teen/safety/safebasics/internet_safety.html
Google Safe Search – http://www.google.com/safesearch_help.html

Monitoring Software
The following software allows you to monitor activity on computers systems – it’s up to parents to decide on how severe they want the monitoring to be. Personally, I like to use monitoring programs that aren’t spyware, meaning they show up on the device and my kids know the program is there. I feel that monitoring solutions should be used to reinforce positive behavior without taking away a child’s privacy by spying on them without their knowledge.

SpectorSoft http://www.spectorsoft.com/
The software is extremely comprehensive and utilizes key-logging, website tracking, social media monitoring and chat/IM logging, among other useful features that can give parents a comprehensive look into their child’s computer activity.

Screen Retriever http://www.screenretriever.com/

Mobile Monitoring Services
Code9Mobile – http://www.code9mobile.com/
Mobile Spy – http://www.mobile-spy.com/
eBlaster Mobile – http://www.spectorsoft.com/home-solutions.html

Social Media
Parenting with the Digital Generation (Article) –http://mashable.com/2010/05/13/parenting-social-media/

Videos
The following sites have a range of video content that you may be interested in watching and even later watching with your child/ren if you deem it appropriate:

Interview with Andrew Fuller on Self Harm – http://vimeo.com/46672640
Common Sense Media Advice Videos – http://www.commonsensemedia.org/video/advice
PBS – Growing up online – http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/kidsonline/
Cyber Bullying – a view of this issue from the student view – great for children to watch – http://www.digizen.org/cyberbullying/fullFilm.aspx
Exposed – a view of the issue of sexting and its consequences. – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ovR3FF_6us
ThinkUKnow – make sure you know who you are talking too. – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDBDUX7KPT0&feature=fvwrel
Megan’s Story – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwKgg35YbC4&feature=relmfu

TalhotBlond
ABC aired an interesting documentary called “Talhotblond ” around an online chatting event that will make you think about the conversations we need to have with our children, even other adults about chatting and communicating online.
The website for the documentary can be found here:http://www.talhotblond.com/
* Please note this documentary contains adult content and language and is not suitable for children.

Online Books
Kids and Video Games
http://www.videogamesandkids.com/index.html

Student Links
20 Things I Learned Online
http://www.20thingsilearned.com/en-US

Password Bird
http://www.passwordbird.com

Protecting your PC
Lastly the following are the products I spoke about in regards to having on your computer to avoid viruses. All these products are free and do a very good job when used together, if you have Norton or McAfee or any other commercial product – please do not download the first product called AVG – as this performs the same task.

AVG – this program runs as a virus protection option and will scan email and software loaded onto your computer.
Product Information:: http://free.grisoft.com/
Download software:: http://free.grisoft.com/ww.download?prd=afe

Spybot – this program checks and removes any malicious software from your browsers, it also helps to scan common locations on your computer for items that should not be there.
Product Information:: http://www.safer-networking.org/en/index.html
Download software:: http://www.safer-networking.org/en/mirrors/index.html

AdAware – this program also checks your internet browser for malicious software.
Product Information:: http://www.lavasoftusa.com/
Download software:: http://www.download.com/Ad-Aware-2007/3000-8022_4-10045910.html?part=dl-ad-aware&subj=dl&tag=top5&cdlPid=10837062

Windows Defender
Site:http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/winfamily/defender/default.mspx
Microsoft recently released this free tool that will do many of the functions the programs above provide – this tool is highly recommended. However please note that you must have a valid copy of windows to install this application.

The key with these tools is that you need to scan your computer based on your usage – if the internet is used a lot then scan with Spybot and AdAware every fortnight – if the internet is only used a low or moderate amount then scan once a month. if you are every concerned with anything on the computer then run a scan just to be sure. These products are designed to simply help eliminate viruses and unwanted software on your computer.

One other tool to have a look at is Norton Online Family :http://onlinefamilyinfo.norton.com/ – more information on this product can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OnlineFamily.Norton

Or check out the K9 Web Protection tool:http://www1.k9webprotection.com/

Open DNS – http://www.opendns.com/parental-controls
OpenDNS is the only Internet parental controls solution that empowers parents to manage Web access across every device that accesses the Internet on your home network. This includes phones and computers that your kids’ friends bring into the house,

Thanks for being involved and taking time to understand the environment your children are growing up in.

Regards

Tony

Tony Richards
Web. www.itmadesimple.com
Twitter. itmadesimple
Blog. http://blog.itmadesimple.com/
Podcast. http://www.edtechcrew.net

I’d like to thank Tony for the effort in compiling these resources and his presentation. While it focused on the dark side of the Internet, which was necessary in being a strong wake up call for parents who excuse themselves sometimes from responsibility of being in control of Internet usage in their house, he still took time to stress the good that children do online as well, which I tend to focus moore on here on my blog. It was well received by all who attended and if you are in Australia, I recommend getting him to your school to talk to all stakeholders – students, parents and teachers.

21st Century Fluencies

21st Century Fluency Institute from Fluency21 on Vimeo.

The 21st Century Fluency Project is an organisation dedicated to improving education. Central to their vision is their focus on the development of what Lee Crockett, seen above in the video, calls the critical skills students need in the 21st Century to succeed. The organisation has developed these 6 major Fluencies in responses to questions asked by all interested in the education of our children.

Solution Fluency – the ability to solve problems in real time
Creativity Fluency – thinking creatively and divergently in both digital and non digital environments ( a key distinction made by Crockett in the video – we are not talking only technology here; these are life long learning skills for everyone, not just tech lovers) to develop solutions to see problems
Information Fluency – Crockett here talks about the higher end of Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy – evaluating, analyzing, synthesizing, comparing/contrasting – to make sense of the information overload they experience in a Google/Wikipedia driven, media rich world
Collaboration Fluency – ability to work collaboratively ” in physical and virtual spaces with real and virtual partners” ( again not throwing out traditional forms of communication but also embracing digital forms )
Media Fluency – communicating learning not just in writing and in speech as we have been accustomed but also in multiple multimedia formats, the communication forms of the present and future.
Digital citizen – Crockett mentions ethical thinking, action, accountability, personal responsibility, resilience, risk taking, global perspectives and understanding a diverse range of cultures in a global world our current students have no choice but to be part of

Their Website goes into a bit more detail on each of the fluencies and also contains links to a range of resources to support their philosophy as well as regular blog posts on specific topics regarding 21st Century Learning ( they even linked to one of my posts in April!)

These are big concepts and challenge a lot of teachers today. For school administrators and experienced teachers currently involved in leadership, these are ideas that were never really explored back in our training days or years in the classroom. Some of these ideas may be beyond our comprehension or comfort level. What I am excited about with what Crockett is “selling” in this video is that the 21st Century Fluency Project’s solution goes far beyond your standard Professional Development session in  a way that I think will make a big impact in schools still on the leaning curve towards true 21st Century Learning.The 21st Century Fluency Institutes Crockett describes here is based on workshops that are follwed up with months of collaborative support freom their team to embed their innovative practices into your school’s way of being. It is far more beneficial to a day of keynotes and hour long workshops that we come back from excited but then lose the impact of as time goes by and we are disconnected from the experts. Its a great PD model that I hope is adopted by others. Watch the video, visit their website and hopefully get engaged and involved. Our students deserve the chance.

For Australian readers, here is a link to information about the workshops being run in Australia in February/March next year

The iPad competition: sell us the educational advantage, not the tech specs

20121110-132204.jpg

During the week, I attended an ICT Network meeting. A Lenovo sales rep attended the middle session to spruik their latest products, including a laptop/tablet hybrid, which we could at least see and their latest Windows 8 based tablet, which we couldn’t because it has not been released yet. Later in the day, one of our network leaders spend some time showing us the new Windows 8 on his laptop and his Samsung Galaxy (whatever the small one is called).

As I sat there respectfully paying attention, I spent most of my time thinking why do proponents of iPad alternatives spend so much time selling the technical specs that outmatch the iPad and so little time telling us how their preferred product will improve the way our students will learn compared to the iPad.

I’m not trying to be cute here – the iPad is not a perfect product by any stretch of the imagination.( I’d really like a file system structure built in. And a a way better management system for deployment school wide) Despite the Apple themed header of this blog and the heavy emphasis on the ipad, I’m neither an Apple Evangelist nor a “refuse to use Windows” fanboy. My point is this. The iPad clearly got a substantial jump on its rivals and have a major presence in a lot of schools. By now many schools have been using the apps that have to varying degrees changed teaching practices, improved engagement and provided new ways of demonstrating learning. They would have worked out how to get content to and from the iPad without USB connections for data sticks or cards. Many schools would have made substantial investments in iPads and apps. Inboxes are crammed, Scoopits are inundated and Twitter feeds are awash with countless articles on the success stories of iPads in schools (as well as the problems, to be balanced).

In this environment, the iPad opposition has to do something more to sell themselves. What is it they’re selling to schools?

The half laptop/half tablet mutant – if you want something to work like a laptop, get the laptop! We have iPads and laptops. We know the difference. We use them for different purposes. Sticking them together and carrying around both at the same time just seems pointless to me.

Tablets with real keyboards – I know there are plenty of iPads being attached to keyboards. I get it ( but don’t see the point personally). But it’s not Apple’s selling point, it others. The opposition, though, make it one of their main selling points. Again, tech specs. Again, if you want a physical keyboard, get a laptop.

Windows 8 – not going to turn this into a Apple/Microsoft thing. I’m only talking about tablets. I regularly use Splashtop to access my Macs on my iPad. It works for a quick connection to do a few tasks on my Mac from another room but using a full computer desktop system on a tablet is not a great experience. I also occasionally use CloudOn, the online version of Microsoft Office. Again, it works and all the features are there but I can’t last five minutes using all those tiny icons and menu items on my iPad using my finger. The touch interface is a pain with a menu based scrolling window system. I know Windows 8 has the whole tile based touch interface. On a Windows tablet, that makes sense and will make it as user friendly as an Android or iPad. But I keep hearing about how it’s going to allow for a full Windows experience. The demo I saw this week was about how you can switch the tile based interface over to a “more Windows 7” look. So again I ask, if you want the Windows look so much, just stick with a laptop/net book.

Tech Specs – Android vendors have been using this for years with their phones and more recently their tablets and for many it has worked. But a USB port isn’t going to transform learning. An SD card slot isn’t going to engage an 8 year old. Near field communication chips wasn’t on the mind of this primary school kid who made this Solar System video using Explain Everything and iMovie on his iPad. Tech specs may excite the technicians and techie teachers at school but the students just want a tool they are familiar with and use to help them learn. I’m not saying Android and Windows tablets won’t do that. I’m saying no one is selling how they can. They’re just selling the physical features. Physical specs of computers and tablets don’t help us learn. Usability, accessibility, portability and useful software do.

Apps – other than portability, the ease of touch for young students and the integrated audio visual tools of tablets, for me it’s all about the apps. Apple makes the iPad, but dedicated developers make the apps that make it worth having. We’ve used them, advertised them, rated them and there’s a truckload of them ( a lot not worth having of course.) Android has plenty of them too, many of them the same. It might be that I’m not looking, but it just doesn’t seem to be as important to Android vendors to push the apps for education as it does the tech specs. I would actually like to see a Galaxy in action being used for classroom purposes so I could make a comparison. If any readers can direct me to good examples I’m happy to take a look. Same for Microsoft’s Surface. Of course that will take a while because there are next to no apps at the moment – they’re at the iPhone 1 stage of development. Yes, you can use Office, I assume. But we’ve been using that for 20 years in school. Has it really made a difference? If you are going to sell me an alternative to the iPad, give me something groundbreaking in EDUCATION, not something I’ve been using for two decades on a different screen.

Microsoft cornered the market in PCs years ago and won’t get passed. They have business covered. Android will continue to win the numbers game ( but not profit ) in mobile phones. iPods crushed all opposition in the music player market. That’s all irrelevant though here. Ultimately, despite its substantial advantage at present, Apple may get surpassed in the consumer tablet market by Android or, who knows, even Windows 8 tablets in the future. In schools, though, I hope it’s because of a compelling educational argument. We’ve already spent the last 20 years filling up schools with labs of computers that were never fully utilized. I hope we don’t end up with schools full of tablets bought because of tech specs and technician preferences. Hey, I don’t want schools full of iPads that aren’t being used effectively either. All I’m asking is that companies and tech leaders pushing for iPad alternatives start selling the educational benefits of their products not just the price or physical features. We want products that will help us learn. Apple hasn’t got that 100% right either. Lets make sure these things improve education. That’s the bottom line.

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.

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.

The future of Learning ( a great post on Teachthought.com)

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I’m sharing a great resource here today that looks a must read ( or view actually ) for schools (and education and government bodies) who are serious about being involved in the Education revolution that is being trumpeted so much. In a post titled “What 100 experts think about the Future of Learning” the staff of TeachThought.com have collated 100 links to online videos featuring lectures, panel discussions, talks and seminars from TED, RSA and the USA’s major universities, categorized under the following topics (number of video links in brackets):

General (5) – learn about making technology work in education
Sharing Education (18) – explore the idea of open, shared education
Creativity & Innovation (18) – how you can foster innovation and the creative spirit
Internet & New Media (11) – how the Internet and new media has an impact on teaching and learning
Leadership (4) – how to better foster leadership
Educational Technology (18) – explores technology made for education
Brain & Psychology (8) – study how the brain works in learning
Technology Education (10) – about the state of technology education
Teaching Methods (12) – innovative teaching methods
Institution (2) – how technology impacts the institution of education.

From reading the summaries, you’ll be able to pick and choose what is relevant for your educational
setting ( from primary/elementary through to higher learning). Yes,there are talks we have seen before ( who has not seen Ken Robinson’s TEDtalk?) but the way TeachThought has grouped them makes it easy to find something for your own reflection on education or to use at your next related staff meeting or PLT.

I’ve put it on my blog instead of my usual Scoop-it or Diigo page so I can access it quickly and remember it through a Future of Learning tag rather than trawling through pages and pages of bookmarks. Hope you find something that can inspire you and your school in your revolution.

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.

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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.