The Future of Education

My initial assessment of this week’s articles is that the future seems terrifying.  I find this reliance on technology in society disturbing in a sense.  Specifically after reading the article “Future Work Skills 2020.”  Everyone who has used technology in the classroom knows that it is bound to fail on you at some point in time.  The power goes out, you lose internet connectivity, and you are forced to come up with an alternative techno-less lesson plan in the spur of the moment.  One lesson that stands out from my teaching experience was when the power went out and my classroom was dark.  The students and I were trying to figure out how we could work in a completely dark classroom when one student went over to the window and pulled up the blind.  Genius!  The room was flooded with light.  The point of this story is that even though we need to help prepare students for a technology infused future, isn’t it still important for students to be equipped with the skills to function if technology fails?

Photo Source:  Pixabay 2015
Photo Source: Pixabay 2015

In my science classroom, we use digital sensors called Probeware to collect data during various lab activities (temperature, pH, speed, acceleration, etc.).  One of the issues I have with these collection devices is that students can look at the tablet, read the value, but have no idea where this value came from.  In fact, they can collect a series of data points, analyze their relationship, but still have no concept of the way in which the data was derived.  It is great to be able to automatically calculate the speed of an object, however isn’t the learning and fundamental understanding gained by having students physically measure a distance, record a time, and to understand that this is how speed is determined.  The ability to critically think about speed and propose innovative ideas comes from the fundamental knowledge gained by understanding what the concept actually means.

One series of books I use for much of my science teaching is called “Stop Faking It” produced by the National Science Teachers Association.  This series of books each tackles one area of science (chemistry, light, motion, etc.) and breaks it down using simple activities and explanations.  The goal of these books is to ensure science teachers will “stop faking” the fact that they “know” science concepts and instead focus on really understanding the concepts.  I personally found that once I had a solid understanding of these scientific concepts, I was then able the think critically about them, rationalize the answers in my mind, and apply them to different situations.  Isn’t this what we want from 21st Century learners?

I suppose where I struggle as a teacher is that we continually expect more and more from our students.  We are requiring them to have the skills set forth in traditional education and we are wanting them to have the skills for the 21st Century workforce.  I think this mashup in a sense results in inadequate teaching of both.  Our curriculums are in a transitional stage between traditional education and education for the future.  We know that it is important to have students develop critical thinking skills, problem solving, decision making, yet the response is often to overwhelm them with so much information that they end up understanding a fraction of what we expect.  Rather than building knowledge from simple to complex, we throw the complex at them resulting in complete shutdown from many students.  We want them to be able to create and construct their own knowledge, yet we still teach them “facts” about the world.  Even higher education still expects students to have traditional literary and mathematical skills.

So what is the answer?  Are we expecting students to know both traditional skills (spelling, literacy) and the 21st Century skills such as those outlined in the NCTE Framework for 21st Century Curriculum and Assessment?  Are there key fundamental understandings that society would agree that students should possess?  Do our curriculums need to be more concise and specific about what knowledge is fundamental and thereby allowing students a solid understanding of fewer, but more vital concepts?  Or is it simply out with the old and in with the new?  Please share your comments

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Final Project Difficulties

I’m not going to lie…the final project has been difficult.  I have been so indecisive about which option to do.  I originally thought that I would do an experiment.  I love experimenting with my classes and collecting unofficial data regarding the outcomes of new teaching methods or assessment practices.  I was planning to survey my students to collect data on what information they already know/skills they already have with respect to common technology applications I would use in my classroom:  social media, blogging, creating interactive videos, using google docs, etc.  I would then use the results from my survey to design lessons that would be suitable to the prior knowledge of my students.  However, during the week on digital citizenship, I did so much additional research and found myself very invested in incorporating digital citizenship skills into my classes.  As a result, I decided to go with Option 1 to create an overall plan for incorporating digital citizenship within my Science 10 and Health Science 20 classes.  I decided to go with two courses rather than one.  This is primarily because being in a small town school provides me with the opportunity to teach the same students in grade 10 and grade 11.  I can structure developmental lessons that will build upon one another.  I also teach these same students in grade 12, but I figured that was too ambitious!

So far I have been looking at the Science 10 and Health Science 20 curriculum outcomes to see where I can incorporate Ribble’s 9 elements.  For the career outcome, I would like to focus on digital communication by modeling for students various ways we could communicate with professionals from various scientific disciplines (videoconference, ask questions on twitter/facebook, email, asking questions on blogs etc.).  Each student could select a professional and compile class results on google docs.  Prior to the start of this activity, we would discuss professionalism when using digital technology, appropriate questioning skills and commenting on social media.  In addition, digital footprints and discussions on what this profession might see if they chose to follow the student on twitter, for example, could be included.

For the climate and ecosystems dynamics unit, we would focus on digital literacy, digital law, and digital rights and responsibilities.  I think this would be a good unit to incorporate the use of Twitter.  Prior to signing up for Twitter, we could go through the privacy issues and usage rights.  Many of the environmental issues explored in this unit have resources on twitter.  One activity I had thought of for this unit is to find two articles on twitter related to one of the environmental issues we had discussed in class and to review the article – one article that you think is credible and one that is not.  Research the source, analyze content, and confirm statistics.  Then students could select and research one issue that is important to them and to share the resources, videos, and useful information they have discovered on social media or through the creation of a wiki.  This would require some pre-teaching on usage rights and copyright law.

The chemistry unit in Science 10 would be a great time to explore some of the chemistry related apps that are available.  There are numerous interactive period tables and resource-based apps.  The lessons created around these apps would center on digital literacy.  It would also be neat to look at who created the app and for what purpose.  Does it make the organization money, are they simply looking to provide credible information, or is the information even credible?

The “Motion in Our World” unit would be a great unit for focus on student blogs.  In this unit, we do lots of motion-related experiments and it would be great to be able to publish our observations (descriptions, tables, pictures, graphs), results, and conclusions.  There are many of Ribble’s elements that could be included while setting up and publishing on the blogs.

This is an overview of where I am at thus far.  My next step is to create an overview for Health Science 20 and then to begin planning specific lessons for both units.

Remembering the “Citizen” in Citizenship

While doing some additional reading on the topic of digital citizenship, I came across this article by Keith Heggart, “Why I hate ‘Digital Citizenship.’”  In the article, Heggart argues that the majority of time we claim we are teaching “digital citizenship” we are actually teaching digital responsibility.  How to stay safe when using social media sites, the importance of password protection, understanding privacy settings, and permissions.  While all these considerations are important, the actual “citizenship” part is missing.  He advocates for not only teaching students how to participate in the digital world safely, but also to participate with purpose.

Although I fully support the point that Heggart is making, realistically digital citizenship is an umbrella term.  Its purpose is to bring about awareness and discussion regarding a series of considerations individuals need to have while participating in online spaces.  Each of the Nine Elements of Digital Citizenship summarized by Mike Ribble could have its own discussion point.  Digital literacy or digital law, for example, are also huge areas that one could branch out into countless discussions and debates.  The larger point is that combining these different avenues into one term serves as a starting point for implementation.

Heggart goes on to provide three suggestions for teaching active digital citizenship:  showing students the correct way to share their ideas and respond to others, inviting students to use their digital profile for social justice, and encouraging students to ask questions of their elected representatives.  I thought these were three easily implementable suggestions for encouraging citizenship development within students.  It brings the focus back to the idea that a citizen should be an active participant in society.  We have a responsibility as citizens to advocate for equity and to think critically and thoughtfully.

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http://Photo Credit: Fibonacci Blue via Compfightcc

An alternative perspective by Vicki Davis outlines what students need to know regarding digital citizenship:  passwords, privacy, personal information, photographs, property, permission, protection, professionalism, and personal brand.  Although her list is more succinct and seems like a nice checklist to follow, most of the suggestions do center on the digital safety aspect of digital citizenship.  So what is the most important aspect of digital citizenship?  Is it more about obeying the rules of society or actively thinking and participating in society?  Are the two mutually exclusive or can they be taught together?

Jason Ohler, in his article “Character Education for the Digital Age,” states that “we must help our digital kids balance the individual empowerment of digital technology use with a sense of personal, community, and global responsibility.”  It is important to understand that digital technology is empowering for youth, but with that empowerment must come a sense of responsibility.  Perhaps before they can become active citizens we must first help students navigate the digital world safely and responsibly.  Luckily we have thirteen years to assist our students in becoming meaningful and safe digital citizens.  It is not about providing a handout or teaching a one-hour class on digital citizenship and thinking you have checked all the boxes.  It is about incorporating age-appropriate activities and discussions continually that build upon this idea of becoming meaningful contributors to society.  The discussions will change and the goals will differ from year-to-year, but the point is that we need to start incorporating these ideas now.  As Cortney Leonard mentioned in her blog post, we should not be waiting until high school to have some of these discussions since many students will already have created a digital footprint by this time.

Although Jeremy Black brings up a good point regarding the role parents need to also play in digital citizenship, we will only be benefiting our students if we teach digital citizenship as a “group” effort.  We cannot assume that every parent will be like Laura Hunter who was planning to read the Instagram privacy agreement with her daughter before signing her up.  We have the opportunity incorporate many of Ribble’s Nine Elements of Digital Citizenship in lessons that we are already teaching.  I think it is time to acknowledge that the way we communicate, receive information, and even participate in society has changed.  It has changed for teachers and it has changed for our students.  Our students may never be published in a journal or a newspaper, but they are already being published in online spaces.  I personally feel that we will be doing our students a disservice if we only talk about citizenship in school and not digital citizenship.

Is it Possible to Have an Authentic Online Identity?

As an educator, we are taught from early in our university education that you always need to be aware of your image.  This includes online and offline images.  George Veletsianos’ research about fragmented identity discussed how pre-service teachers’ social networking sites present only a partial image of reality.   It is the edited or “teacher-appropriate” version.  But in reality, does anyone’s social network feed represent their entire reality?  The truth is that reality has ups and downs.  Luckily our edited reality has only as many ups and downs as we want it to have.  We all know those people whose posts are overwhelmingly positive and those individuals whose posts tend to look for affirmation or consolation.  The reality of life is that it is a mixture of both.

Although it may be tempting to blame social networking sites for allowing us a venue to post “tweaked” versions of ourselves, the truth is that most people do this in real face-to face conversations.  There are those who always complain about their job, spouse, or children and there are those who will always tell you that everything is wonderful.  Perhaps it is not just social media, but media in general that results in all of us needing to create for ourselves a type of meaningful, interesting, challenging, or difficult life.  Perhaps it is the movies and T.V. shows we watch where drama seems to happen daily that causes us to want to create our own stories.

Maybe the truth of real-life is that, for many people, it is full of uninteresting and everyday occurrences.    This does not mean that the events are actually uninteresting or everyday. However, when compared to the fast-paced and drama filled lives of the characters in Grey’s Anatomy, going to work and having a good uneventful day is considered meaningless.  Which would get more likes:  “my day was good today…students were well behaved and respectful” or “why doesn’t my husband get the hint that our toilet is not self-cleaning.”  I would bet that the first post would get no likes and the last post would get a bunch of supportive responses from wives in similar situations.

Photo source: Flickr

As was pointed out in Jason Millar’s article, even if we did write about what is actually happening in our lives there is no guarantee that the magical Facebook algorithm will allow our friends to see.  This is just another filter that further fragments our reality.

Perhaps each of our online selves are created by the reasons we filter.  Do we filter for appropriateness, for “likes,” for comments, for shares or for ourselves?  I would say posting or tweeting simply for ourselves is likely the last consideration.  Perhaps this is not a bad thing as thinking twice about what others may think is another necessary filter for many people.  Perhaps this prevents some of the social shaming or cyberbullying that would have otherwise occurred.

As for an authentic online identity, maybe it is not a bad thing that your authentic self is preserved for only a few people – your significant other, friends or family members with whom you have long winded conversations about relationships, work, children, and general everyday life?  These are the people who see the image before the one you upload where you are smiling.

Empathy is Free

I was moved by Monica Lewinsky’s video.  In fact, after listening to the first five minutes of her talk I had to stop and consider what had been my previously held biases regarding her as a person.  I had to question why I was surprised that she was so articulate and well-spoken.  This was a women who was an intern at the White House at the age of twenty-two.  I’m assuming that you have to have fairly outstanding credentials, work-ethic, and personality to even have an internship position.  The second thing that resonated with me was when she stated that she was a twenty-two year old who fell in love with her boss.  People make mistakes.  It is tragic that the online world has created a place where mistakes can survive indefinitely.

What I loved the most about Monica Lewinsky’s video is both her message and the fact that she has now had the ability to change the conversation about herself.  She does not have to be defined by what happened when she was twenty-two, but can now be defined as an advocate against public shaming.  She can use her fame as a platform to reach millions of people and especially those who may have encountered similar online harassment.

This video, along with Ron Jonson’s video, “One Tweet Can Ruin Your Life,” really solidified for me the importance of incorporating digital citizenship education in schools.  Our students are currently immersed in a world where a single thoughtless tweet or a tweet taken out of context could make them famous for all the wrong reasons.  As was highlighted in Jason Ohler’s article, “Character Education For the Digital Age,” ensuring our students become responsible and conscious citizens requires education in what it means to be a citizen – digital or otherwise.  The character education values we discuss in school should be expanded to include what these values look like online.  Our students’ social lives and experiences are intertwined with the social lives they experience on social networking sites.  It is naïve to think that we can teach one type of citizenship without discussing the other.

When we think of digital citizenship education, we need to stress the importance of empathy.  I was shocked when Ron Jonson showed the tweets people had written about Justine Sacco.   And the pleasure they seemed to take in waiting for her to fail.  Why is it that people feel so confident to say these hurtful things online when many would likely never say them in person?

Rather than lamenting about the reasons why some people chose to be hurtful, I think it is important to have a positive online voice.  Instead of simply inciting fear in our students that one mistake can become viral, we should highlight the opportunity they have to become conscience, meaningful and thoughtful contributors to society.  Branelle came to an excellent conclusion in her blog when she stated that she must “teach my students how to save one another, because they very well could be that one person to make a difference.”  We should emphasize the fact that students have the power every single day to make positive online decisions.  They can chose to support, encourage, and listen to friends in their social networks. And, as a result, they can leave an online footprint that shows evidence of their empathy.

Photo source: http://empathyfundraising.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/empathy-1.png

Questioning Social Media in Schools

In searching for an article, I was looking to educate myself on the reasons why social media should be explicitly taught in schools and perhaps the reasons why some may argue against it.  One of the themes uncovered through my research was related to Marc Prensky’s discussion of digital natives vs. digital immigrants.  As was stated in the PBS video “Do Digital Natives Exist?”, even if there is truth to the notion that students born after a specific date are more innate when it comes to technology, this does not mean they do not need guidance.

The TED Talks video by Devorah Heitner, “The Challenges of Raising a Digital Native,” also raises the point that being a digital native does not mean that there is no need for education.  Our students or children still need mentorship on appropriate online behavior and social skills.  They may technically know how to use a specific social media site, but they still require guidance regarding how to act on the site.  Although some may argue that this is not the school’s job to teach appropriate online behavior, it is completely in line with most Health curriculums.  When we are discussing relationships and social behavior, we must consider all the various types of relationships and all the various forms of social behavior.  Since the majority of our students are communicating socially on at least one of the social media sites, it becomes vital that we talk about the challenges, benefits, and appropriate behavior on these sites.

Devorah Heitner’s video also discussed parental fear about digital technology.  She raised an interesting point that reminded me of Alec’s lecture regarding the normal fear of technology that is present whenever we move from one device to another.  Devorah claimed that her research showed that this is a normal part of the cycle of anxiety about technology.  People feared the telephone would end personal communication and the television would affect family life.  Although the anxiety may be normal, we still must recognize that technology is currently evolving at a much faster rate.  New social media sites and apps are continually being created.  As educators, we may not always be up-to-date with the newest technology, but I believe it is still our responsibility to educate and model for our students what effective online behavior and communication looks like.

Another blog I came across regarding why social media should be included in the schools was written by Ronnie Carrier.  He states a belief that U.S schools have been neglectful when it comes to discussing social media with students.  I do not think it is a useful strategy for him to blame schools.  I would argue that most schools have their student’s best interest in consideration when being hesitant to approach social media.  There may be liability issues or privacy issues to consider.  If you are interested in learning more about potential liability issues check out the following blog, “8 reasons behind social media bans in schools.” Aside from liability issues, there are likely some administrators or schools personnel who fear the unknown.  Related to Mark Federman’s essay, “What is the Meaning of the Medium is the Message?” the unanticipated consequences of social media on today’s students cannot be fully understood.  I do not think this means that we should recoil from incorporating social media in course content. Instead we should accept that we do not know all the potential consequences, but should teach students awareness in the consequences we do currently know.

Carrier continues to state that “It no longer makes sense that, in 2014, several states still teach cursive writing when many students can text much faster on their smart devices.”  I do not believe that it is an “all or nothing” decision that needs to be made by educators.  We do not need to stop teaching student writing skills in favour of texting skills.  It will only benefit our students to have the ability to do both.  Rey Junco from the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University states that there is research indicating that texting language shows a positive correlation with stronger reading and writing skills.  He compares these results in being similar to those experienced when learning a second language.

Carrier’s blog continues on to point out key privacy considerations that are vital for students to know.  I agree that there is a responsibility for schools to teach appropriate behavior and to help students be thoughtful participants in social media.  He states that social media is already so prevalent in the lives of students that teachers should see this as an opportunity for education.  Some of the specific areas he advocates for education around include personal privacy and safe internet use, online reputation, and understanding of privacy settings.

In addition to the cyber-safety concerns mentioned in Carrier’s blog, what I learned from reading numerous blogs on the topic is the immense opportunity that exists for students to actively be involved in social change.  As educators, we have the ability to assist students in developing the skills to participate in positive social action.  We can help guide our students in understanding how to present themselves online and how to become positive participants in social networks.  The work they are currently doing in school could potentially reach global recipients which is an incredible experience.  But rather than assuming the students know more than us and that we have nothing to teach them, we should still be giving them the skills to cope with this unique digital universe they are growing up in.

The Two Domains of Digital Technology

Digital native, digital immigrant, visitor, or resident.  After this week’s readings, I could not help but wonder what is the point of the classifications?  As a biology teacher, I understand that classification is generally used to sort and organize the world allowing us to draw conclusions and make assumption about specific groups.  I suppose Marc Prentsky’s digital native vs. immigrant and David White’s visitor vs. resident is an attempt to classify people in order to draw conclusions and make assumptions about specific groups.  Although classification serves a purpose, it is important to remember that organisms or people do not often fit into these neat little groups.  There are anomalies or exceptions, and classification systems continue to be revised.  They may serve a purpose and allow us to learn about the groups, but they are open to change, debate, and discussion as new evidence becomes available.

Photo Credit: Windows to the Universe
Photo Credit: Windows to the Universe

I learned this week that, according to Marc Prensky’s classification, I was born a digital native.  Yes I grew up emailing friends, chatting on msn messenger, and eventually had a “HighFive” account.  Technology seemed to be innate in a sense.  I could figure out a new application fairly easily and was comfortable exploring and failing until I figured out all the different ways the technology could be used.  But does that make me a digital native?  If so, does being a digital native give me an advantage in teaching other digital natives?

David White proposed a different classification where there is a continuum between visitors and residents.  According to White, visitors use digital technology for function leaving behind no social trace of themselves and residents chose to go online to be present with one another.  This divide is not based on birth year and instead on individual use of digital technology.  When looking at this continuum, I would consider myself to be closer to the visiting side.  I google everything, but do not typically blog.  I keep my social media presence to a minimum and prefer to connect with friends in person.  So if I would consider myself a visitor, does this give me a disadvantage in teaching residents?

What are the implications of classifications for education?  Regardless of whether we consider ourselves digital natives or immigrants; visitors or residents, it is likely that many of the students we teach, specifically at the high school end, will be more knowledgeable in some aspects of technology than us.  Although this may be an uncomfortable feeling for some teachers, does this mean that the teacher does not play a role in technology based education?

An interesting study from the Journal of Computing in Teacher Education looked at the technological strengths and weaknesses of digitally native preservice teachers.  Findings suggested that these teachers were proficient with basic technology and social-communication, yet their skills were limited when it came to more advanced technologies.  In conclusion, although these individuals grew up with technology, they still had much to learn.

I think this study, in addition to the statements made in the video “Do “Digital Natives” Exist” by PBS, highlights the notion that classifying someone as a digital native does not mean that they do not need to be educated in digital technology.  Certain aspects of technology may be more “innate” and they may have the confidence to explore various applications independently, but we cannot forget that there are still useful skills and knowledge to be taught.

If you prefer to use the visitor and resident classification, Jeremy Black brings up an interesting point in his blog “We Need to Talk:  It’s Not the Technology, It’s You (And Me).”  Black states that David White’s addition of the personal and institutional realm highlight the notion that students may have well developed resident status in the personal realm, but perhaps lack the knowledge for resident status in the institutional realm.  Although our students may spend 80% of their online time using social media sites, this does not mean they have developed the technological skills needed to be proficient at the use of digital technology in their professional lives.

Where do these classifications leave us with respect to education?  I suppose like everything else we teach, we must pre-assess our students’ specific skills and then look at what skills and knowledge are necessary for their future in this digital world.  David White’s video on mapping would be an interesting activity to try with students as a pre-assessment of what their skills currently are and perhaps what aspects of digital technology they are currently incorporating into their daily lives.

So what do you think are the skills and knowledge schools should provide students with respect to digital technology?