Posts Tagged 'schoolReform'

New Literacies and conflicting “mindsets”

This is the second in a series of reflections based on New Literacies: Everyday Practices and Classroom Learning, 2nd edition by Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel. Check this post for an overview of New Literacies as presented in Chapter 1 of the book. Here are some thoughts generated from Chapter 2, “New Literacies: Challenge of Mindsets”:

I am very interested in the subject of paradigm shifts and values conflicts in general and the way these play out in relation to technology and education reform, specifically. So, Chapter 2 of New Literacies was a fun read.

This chapter is framed by a tension between two distinct “mindsets” regarding the impact of information and communication technology on the contemporary world. Lankshear and Knobel explain:

The world is being changed in some fairly fundamental ways as a result of people imagining and exploring how using new technologies can become part of making the world (more) different from how it presently is (second mindset), rather than using new technologies to do familiar things in more “technologized” ways (first mindset) (p. 34).

The authors refer to these worldviews as “Newcomer” or “Outsider” (first mindset) and “Insider” (second mindset), with the pedagogy of New Literacies drawing heavily upon the emergence of the second. The distinction might remind you of the “digital natives” versus “digital immigrants” dichotomy popularized in an essay by author and futurist Marc Prensky. These buzz words are commonplace among technology educators today; although, some have since critiqued the concept as polarizing and shortsighted.

Of course, no where is the tension between the two mindsets felt more acutely than in our schools. Last year I witnessed this firsthand when I gave a short presentation to a small group of teachers about social bookmarking services, highly accessible web-based tools that enable groups of individuals (in this case, teachers or students or both) to collect and annotate web resources collaboratively.

Shortly after giving the presentation, I posted a long reflection on the experience; it boils down to the fact that my audience, rather than being receptive to the potential of this new web tool, was largely preoccupied with the fear that somehow students would misappropriate it or abuse it.

This preoccupation with safety, security, and control limits the ability of schools to keep pace with the evolving “Insider” mindset. Lankshear and Knoble write:

Schools are often trapped here and inevitably go for the safe option, because for teachers to play an educative role that truly assists young people to assume moral responsibility for their internet activity, teachers themselves need to “know their internet,” which, to a large extent they still do not (p. 39).

But I would argue that the solution goes beyond teachers merely needing to “know their Internet.” It’s about school systems truly valuing the Internet and participation on the Internet as an educational resource equivalent to traditional, adopted texts and classroom tasks. The need to teach “filtering behaviors” and the rules of engagement in cyberspace has to be viewed through multidisciplinary lenses, rather than relegated to the purview of the media specialist or computer teacher.

One aspect of teaching the “New Literacies” that I am missing in Lankshear and Knobel’s Chapter 2 and hope the authors will address in a subsequent chapters is the need for educators to set up and facilitate opportunities for students to evaluate and judge the merit of all this rapid change. I absolutely embrace the new worlds opened up to me as a teacher/learner via Web 2.0, and I admire and often try to emulate the multitasking abilities of the “Insider” set. But what are the costs? What are the consequences to our identities and relationships in real time and in real space? What about the largely economic divide that prevents “out-of-school access to ‘new’ literacies” for certain groups of learners (p. 30)?

And I bristle just a little at dispassionate assertions about the complete obliteration of the “text paradigm” (p. 52). The authors maintain that “norms” still exist,

but they are less fixed, more fluid, and the sheer proliferation of textual types and spaces means there is always somewhere to “go” where one’s “ways” will be acceptable and there will be freedom to engage them, ad where traditional emphases on “credibility” become utterly subordinated to the pursuit of relationships and the celebration of sociality.

Isn’t it a bit dangerous to accept that all this change is purely inevitable? What are the consequences?

For example, I take exception with the authors’ uncritical take on Google’s “free” search services (pp. 43-44). Yes, I use Google, but I do so with the knowledge that every time I do, I “pay” with bits of information about myself. If you have a Gmail account, then you know exactly what I am talking about with the microadvertising on the right-hand column that is pinpointed to the subject matter of each and every email message that you open and read.

Plus, Google (and other search companies) are constantly experimenting with the promise of optimized personal searches, in which our personal search histories can be mined for data about us, supposedly for the purpose of refining and perfecting our future searches.

As a practice, I don’t trade in conspiracy theories, but as is seen in two spoofs based on Google’s web dominance, Google’s Master Plan and EPIC 2014, there are a lot of issues to consider. These are issues I would love to explore with digital “Insiders” and “Outsiders” alike, but especially with the “Insiders” who don’t necessarily have an alternate context from which to judge.

And that’s what I think.

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What are New Literacies?

As part of my coursework this semester, I am reading and reflecting on chapters from New Literacies: Everyday Practices and Classroom Learning, 2nd edition by Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel. Here are some thoughts generated from Chapter 1 of the book:

New Literacies Ch. 1 is a discussion of the historical context in which “reading” evolved into “multiliteracies,” a field that aspires beyond “functional” levels of reading and writing.

I had heard the term “functionally illiterate,” but never “functionally literate,” and the more I read, the more the line blurred between the two. If literacy encompasses more than decoding and encoding the printed word, then it seems being “functionally literate” is the new illiteracy.

Or, perhaps the new illiteracy is “uni-literacy”? In other words, print-centric literacy (the focus of most in-school learning) simply isn’t adequate for survival in our text-rich, multimedia world.

This throws the word “illiteracy” into a whole new light, where it has less to do with an inability to read and write (basic skills adequate for the industrial era) and more to do with an inability to adapt to diverse situations and contexts in the present day as well as in unknown future pathways.

Lankshear and Knobel maintain that living and learning in this hyper-mediated world places complex demands on teachers and students: “Learners need new operational and cultural knowledge in order to acquire new languages that provide access to new forms of work, civic, and private practices in their everyday lives” (p. 16).

But multiliteracies is about much more than mere “workplace readiness.” There is an essential “critical dimension” as well. Here, the authors quote fellow Australians Mary Kalantzis and Bill Cope (1997) who acknowledge that, yes, students must learn a “new language of work”:

But at the same time, as teachers, our role is not simply to be technocrats. Our job is not to produce docile, compliant workers. Students need to develop the skills to speak up, to negotiate and to be able to engage critically with the conditions of their working lives.

Thus, the illiteracy “crisis” of the 1970s, which Knobel and Lankshear recount on page 10 of their book, should not have been about helping the learner reach a “functional level” but about developing the whole person, equipping him or her to meet the challenges of living in a diverse and unpredictable society.

What a missed opportunity!

It seems to me the real crisis in the 70s was not about illiteracy but about coming to terms with new standards for engaged and informed participation in a post-industrial society.

And, if that’s the case, then we are still in crisis!  I am not just referring to the onus of No Child Left Behind legislation. Look at this post about an upcoming Education Summit planned for my community here in East Tennessee, USA, an area some refer to as “Innovation Valley.”

As member of multiple “stakeholder” groups (student, teacher, parent, citizen), I will attend and contribute to this summit, and I am especially interested in the morning break-out session titled “Making Learning Relevant,” which I suspect will echo themes from New Literacies pedagogy: hands-on inquiry, problem solving, networking, collaborating, and so on.

Yet, when exactly did “education” become synonymous with “workforce development”? I find it utterly regrettable that, in my community at least, we have to trade in such gross economic terms in order to “sell” education reform to the public at large.

And that’s what I think. (More about Lankshear and Knobel’s New Literacies to follow. . . .)

Build as we go

In previous posts I’ve called out for examples of state-of-the-art web policy for schools, and I’ve reflected on the overall lack of response to that call.

What there is no lack of is evidence that educators around the world are creatively incorporating web technologies into their personal lives and professional practice. Just visit the K-12 Online Conference and listen to or watch a few of the sessions that have already been posted.

Clearly, the shift is happening with or without official mandate or endorsement.

A system that pro-actively anticipates the shift is preferable to one always caught reacting to it, but some reaction is certainly preferable to no reaction at all.

Regarding web policy, perhaps the answer is not “build it and they will come.” Maybe it’s more like, “build as we go.”

So, with that in mind, I thought I would share some artifacts that a school or district might use to cobble together a web policy to support teacher- and student-created web content (rather than merely circumscribe or prescribe acceptable use of content). Here are some worthwhile resources:

  • Will Richardson discusses the educational value of social networking during October 17 chat session sponsored by the National School Board Association. If you read the transcript, you will notice a question about policy from an “individual from Knoxville, TN.” That’s me! Richardson provided a link to a model blogging policy at Arapahoe High School in Colorado, but he underscored the importance of starting “conversations with all of the constituents in a school district” as the primary first step to effecting change.
  • The Arapahoe High School Blogging Policy includes rules for safe blogging, a list of traits describing successful blog authors, and a writing sample from an actual student-authored blog. I think wording like this is essential for creating a durable and viable policy: “These guidelines are not meant to be exhaustive and do not cover every contingency. If you are ever in doubt about the appropriateness of an item – ask a parent or teacher.”
  • At the Generation YES Blog Sylvia Martinez has a wonderful post in which she encourages teachers to create Technology Vision Statements.
  • Karl Fisch and Steve Dembo have opened up dialog about this issue at their blogs. The comments at the Fischbowl are particularly interesting.
  • And here are some thoughts on the subject of computers, ethics, and schools by Howard Rheingold.

I want to thank my Classroom 2.0 friend Ian Carmichael who shared this Wallace and Gromit video clip which perfectly encapsulates the struggle of Web 2.0 teachers everywhere! Enjoy!

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Will better school policy provide “traction”?

Daedalus and IcarusCross-posted at Classroom 2.0

It has been almost a month since I posted a call at ThinkTime for educators and educational technologists to share examples of progressive policies that embrace web-based tools for content sharing, creation, and collaboration.

Realizing ThinkTime is not as high-traffic as some other “super-hubs” in the edublogosphere, I also posted my question at Classroom 2.0.

And I’ve been tracking comments on other blogs, such as Think42.com where Steve Dembo issued a similar call, also in September.

To date, the response has been zero, zilch, nada. Why is that?

I’m so confused. There are threads all over the blogosphere about Internet filters, censorship, and CIPA. (See recent dust-ups at blogs by Wesley Fryer, Doug Johnson, and Kurt Paccio.) But where are the parallel discussions about the need for proactive, systemic policies that embrace, or at least acknowledge, the changing information landscape?

To extend David Warlick’s flight metaphor from the K-12 Online Preconference Keynote, is our focus on filters essentially because they equate a grounding of aircraft? Without access to web content and the web-based tools that empower sharing and creation of content, educators and students can’t take flight much less contemplate detours, lay-overs, and emergency landings.

I get the problem of filters. I really do.

I have firsthand experience with blocked web sites in the classroom context. I resented the administrative process to remove a block from an educationally valid site. But, in truth — and please don’t mistake me for an apologist here — my system was reasonably responsive. I never once lacked access to Internet content I needed for instruction (provided instruction was planned several days in advance).

Yet, that was prior to 2005 — before my interest in interactive self-publishing sites and social networks.

Now, in 2007, the best that I can gather from my teacher and librarian friends is spotty, inconsistent blockage of blogs, wikis, and networking tools persists in our county. Enough to stifle creativity and production? Maybe, but that is only part of the problem.

You see, in my community we have a layer of system-wide web publishing policy that also acts as a “blocker,” of sorts. The filter blocks access to content; current policy as stated in the procedures handbook for web pages blocks administrators, teachers, and students from creating content. I may be interpreting the procedures incorrectly, but they seem only to address teacher- and student-generated web content on officially sanctioned web pages hosted on local servers.

So, provided teachers, librarians, and administrative leaders are vigilant about requesting access to appropriate sites, it is possible to operate under the flawed filter. But who is evaluating the web publishing procedures? Who is advocating that these procedures be refined to be a more accurate reflection of the new web landscape?

There is hope. Some folks in my community are willing to consider a new approach, but they want to see models.

I am begging for some outside perspective here!

I have considered the possibility that some educational systems and institutions have acceptable use policies (AUPs) that encompass both the access and creation of web content. I actually would love for that to be the case, as I am in no way advocating adding another layer of policy upon policy.

But what I fear is more likely the case is an overall lack of intentionality or conscious policy making regarding the read/write web.

Thus, we have situations like this, described to me in an email from a librarian friend who works in a school system here in the Southeast U.S.:

We go by the official AU policy . . . . And as you noted, there is really nothing about blogs, wikis, social networks, etc. I think our district shies away from getting too detailed because they don’t want to open a can of worms. I am just speculating it, but sometimes I think they take this approach in hopes that if they don’t draw attention to it, then they don’t have to deal with it. I do know “WordPress” is the officially approved blog host by curriculum, but there is nothing in writing about this — it is just what has trickled down to us, and I truly doubt most teachers know this.

In his keynote posted on Oct. 8, Warlick describes three brand-new conditions converging on our classrooms: info-savvy students, a new information landscape, and an unpredictable future. He warns, “We’ve tried to ignore them, we’ve tried to contain them, and to even block them out. But the best thing we can do is to realize that these three converging conditions can actually become new boundaries off of which we can gain traction.”

Warlick uses the metaphor of airplanes, which travel in invisible but established flightpaths and which still need runways for take offs and landings.

I am starting to wonder how we can pilot the aircrafts without flight manifests and air traffic controllers. How long is this under-the-radar, ask-forgiveness-not-permission way of doing things going to persist?

How desirable is it, really, to Build this Plane While It’s Flying?

What do you think?

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Graphic: Photograph of Icarus and Daedalus by Charles Paul Landon, from WikiMediaCommons

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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Leaving “competition” behind

Cross-posted at SchoolMatters (East TN, USA)

I’ve been steeping in a brew of educational conversation this week — first at a meeting on Monday afternoon in which board members, school personnel, and community leaders debated the future of our local school-community partnership and then tonight at a gathering in which a principal outlined an ambitious curriculum design for a new high school under construction.

So I was really primed for this column by Alfie Kohn. (Reading it requires a free registration at Education Week.)

Kohn, a longtime critic of the grading and testing procedures used in U.S. schools, critiques some loaded education verbiage we all know well: “competitiveness in a 21st century global economy.”

Kohn questions the conventional wisdom that treats test scores as a barometer of a nation’s economic health. But he goes beyond that to question the values system that links financial terms to teaching and learning:

Is the main mission of schools really to prepare children to be productive workers who will do their part to increase the profitability of their future employers? Every time education is described as an “investment,” or schools are discussed in the context of the “global economy,” a loud alarm ought to go off, reminding us of the moral and practical implications of giving an answer in dollars to a question about schools.

It worries me that educators and educational leadership co-opt language from the business community — “investing,” “buy-in,” “clientele, ” and so on. The prevalence of this language is everywhere, especially in my field of study, which is instructional technology. This is a passionate group of people who believe in technology’s power to foster creative problem solving and other-centered thinking and learning on a global scale. Yet, our advocacy is frequently framed in terms of “we must have x or y tool if we expect to compete in the 21st century.”

Is it because we believe that is the only way to get the establishment to listen?

For the last several months, I’ve been trying a little experiment. You can try it, too. It goes like this: next time you catch yourself saying “global economy,” try saying “global community” instead. Rather than “compete,” try “contribute.” Instead of “competitive,” use “compassionate,” and “collaboration” makes a nice substitution for “competitiveness.”

What do you think? (Thank you to Connie Weber at Classroom 2.0 for sharing the link to Kohn’s commentary.)

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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

Train of thought:


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