Posts Tagged 'communication'

“Smart mobs” are great, except in school?

Cross-posted at Classroom 2.0

Today’s top story from eSchool News Online is “Smart mob” tech spurs student activism by Nora Carr. The article begins with the student protests in Jena, LA, and explores how blogs, RSS, text messaging, cell phones, and wireless technology are leveling the playing field and having a democratizing effect at all levels in educational institutions.

Carr cites the work of Howard Rheingold, who coined the term “smart mobs” in a 2001 2002 book by the same title. Rheingold envisioned both the disruptive and democratizing effects of global, pervasive, wireless computing.

I was really enjoying Carr’s balanced presentation of the issue. She even discusses how teachers in various academic areas might use recent events such as the Jena protests and the current presidential campaign to engage young people in a critique of these powerful technologies.

Then, oddly, she writes:

While most school leaders undoubtedly applaud anything that gets young people involved in civic affairs, most also would agree there’s an appropriate time and place for such actions–and that’s typically after school or on the weekends, and not on school grounds.

I am not sure how to interpret the above statement. Is it an endorsement, or is it simply a statement about the status quo? As a columnist, it’s certainly Carr’s prerogative to impose her viewpoint where appropriate, but in this case it just seems contradictory. How can she in one instance encourage teachers to capitalize on the “powerful learning opportunity” represented in cases like Jena and the democratic rebellion in Myanmar, and then suggest that the technologies that mobilize citizens for the greater good still have no place on school grounds or during school hours?

That just doesn’t compute (sorry for the stupid pun).

It would be nice to engage in a dialogue with Carr about her story. But eSchool News Online doesn’t provide any contact information for her, and the site doesn’t provide a means for users to comment on stories either. Apparently the site does host discussions on certain stories for users who register for TypeKey accounts. I registered for an account but couldn’t locate any threads or forums related to Carr’s article.

Frustrating.

So, what do you think?

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A refined focus for Fall ’07 independent study

It’s easy to dwell in the instant “wow factor” while neglecting to answer questions about how Web 2.0 will transform teaching and learning or even why the transformation is needed. Some, like education technologist and theorist George Siemens, are calling for more practical discussions that emphasize wise and effective implementation.

In his Connectivism Blog, named after the learning theory he pioneered, Siemens writes:

. . . we are seeking a window dressing solution when it is the house that needs to be renovated. If we present blogs and wikis as ways to improve education, our aspirations are noble. If we present them as ways to fundamentally alter the system to align it with the knowledge needs of the next generation, then we are fighting for real change. . . . Forget blogs…think open dialogue. Forget wikis…think collaboration. Forget podcasts…think democracy of voice. Forget RSS/aggregation… think personal networks. Forget any of the tools…and think instead of the fundamental restructuring of how knowledge is created, disseminated, shared, and validated. But to create real change, we need to move our conversation beyond simply the tools and our jargon.

The name of the post is: It’s not about tools. It’s about change. I like that.

As outlined previously here in this blog, I am undertaking an independent study of how to foster, support, and grow learning communities for new and novice teachers using the latest generation of web-based tools.

As I conduct my inquiry, I wish to be held accountable to the standard outlined by Siemens.

What do you think?

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Update on eMentoring tools

I am knee deep in my assessment of eMentoring tools. So far I’ve explored the Ning platform and the Tapped In web site. These explorations, combined with feedback from some helpful folks and my own background reading, have led me to reconsider and reshape my rubric for assessing eMentoring tools that I posted a few weeks ago.

First of all, issues common to traditional software assessments — licensing, cost, system requirements, usability — seem to fade in importance when the focus is on web-based tools. It’s still good to consider these factors (and I am), but here is the kicker: start up is amazingly accessible and affordable with this new generation of tools. It’s an important aspect of what drives the phenomenon that some call “Web 2.0.”

As concerns for installation, hardware upgrades, and user manuals recede into the background, the users (in this case, teachers representing all levels of technical expertise, from non-existent to superior) can really focus on the features that best ensure collaboration and innovation.

This is really exciting!

So, on the one hand, we have these tremendous platforms for creating virtual “hubs” or learning communities to support mentors and novice teachers. A school community might choose Ning, Tapped In, or one of the many course management, blog, or wiki applications currently available online.

Or, a school might elect for a combination of these.

On the other hand, each platform includes a variety of user features. It is this menu of customizable components or “accessories,” if you will, that will figure most prominently in the choice of platform.

A post by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach at the TechLearning Blog titled Virtual Communities as a Canvas for Educational Reform includes a number of helpful tips, tricks, and questions to guide a physical community in their virtual journey. I used her list of questions along with some input from Sarah Stewart to tweak my rubric. Sarah reminded me that user features must be judged by the degree to which they foster collaboration and relationship-building and by how well they enhance the moderator’s role. (Nussbaum-Beach provides an excellent description of how virtual communities live or die by the quality of the facilitator/moderator.)

As I mentioned before, all the other factors for reviewing software are still up for consideration, but I’ve fleshed out a more thorough checklist for user features. Here is that checklist:

  • demos or online tutorials for new users
  • secure login, privacy settings, and passwords
  • user-generated content and interactivity (reviews, forums, chats, discussion threads, blog posts, file uploading and sharing, etc.)
  • link sharing
  • file uploading and sharing (documents, movies, photos, slideshows, etc.)
  • archives for webcasts, chats, discussions, etc.
  • search by categories, keywords, or tags
  • customizable layouts, themes, and templates
  • member profiles
  • polling or surveying capability
  • voice capability for synchronous events
  • support for multiple languages

When a community of educators, bound together by a common interest or passion (such as nurturing the next generation of teachers), decides “to go virtual,” they should think long and hard about what they want to be able to do, see, create, and share online. Then, they should select the tool (or tools) that will allow them to accessorize their virtual home accordingly.

What do you think?

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Tag cloud of superindentent specs

I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to play with TagCrowd, a tool that instantly generates tag clouds from text you paste, type, or upload at the site’s home page.

I first learned of the TagCrowd application when I stumbled upon these clouds created from the April 2007 Democratic debates. While the clouds are by no means a substitute for actually listening to the debate or reading the transcripts, they provide a glimpse of the interplay between language and human values.

Recently, as part of its search to identify a new superintendent, the local school system here in Knoxville, Tennessee, released a 14-page “position specification” draft document that outlines the traits of an ideal candidate. I used this document to create a tag cloud.

A few word about how I made the cloud:

  • Out of a suggested range of 10-100 tags, I specified 100 tags to show in the cloud.
  • I also specified that similar words be grouped together, i.e. “learn” and “learning.”
  • The generator does not count common words, such as “a” or “the.”
  • I copied the text from a PDF file and pasted it into the window on the TagCrowd home page; I did not include the cover page or contact information on the last page of the PDF.

So, what do you think? What does the superintendent tag cloud reveal to you? What surprises you? What words are missing that you expected to see? What conclusions, if any, can you draw from the cloud?

SuperCloud

created at TagCrowd.com

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Web 2.0 and the primacy of print

I jotted this diagram in my notes last month during a philosophy of education class. The instructor had cautioned us against using labels such as “myth” and “folklore” to describe non-scientific evidence, as these terms are evoked by Westerners who seek to marginalize the oral tradition. Prior to the Age of Enlightenment and the explosion of print, which helped elevate the scientific method, personal witnessing, dreams, prophesying, and story telling were highly regarded forms of truth seeking. Today, the effect of “print primacy” on the flow of knowledge capital and what constitutes literacy is the subject of debate among reading and language arts educators and scholars.

I am still thinking about this. Have we come full circle?

And then there is this video explanation of Web 2.0 by digital ethnographer Mike Wesch from Kansas State University.

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Think on this:

"What if we just ignored the status of students in other countries? That wouldn’t be especially neighborly, but at least we wouldn’t be viewing the gains of children in other lands as a troubling development."

Alfie Kohn


"When I hear people say it's our job to create the 21st century workforce, it scares the hell out of me. Our job is to create 21st-century citizens. We need workers, yes, but we also need scholars, activists, parents -- compassionate, engaged people."

Chris Lehmann

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These are the communities where I network and cross-post. Come by for a visit!
Classroom 2.0
School Matters (East TN, USA)
Media Literacy