Let’s not be the cows of online information

A few days ago, a colleague stopped by my desk for one reason and stayed to understand what she saw on one of my monitors.

“You’re like a day trader,” she said, noting the stream of information that was scrolling by.

It was my twitter feed. More to the point, it was many twitter feeds, burning through multiple columns of TweetDeck.

“Are you reading all of those?” she asked.

No, I explained, they were segmented pieces of the whole, and I’d broken them apart so I could look at the information in a way that made sense to me.

Selecting one of the more depressing columns via which I follow the hashtag #phled, I explained how I controlled and decided what went where and why.

Picture your feeds, whatever they may be, as gallery spaces. And the art, rather than a hodgepodge of what’s been bequeathed, is rotating collection of the latest works by those you consider to be masters.

After a few minutes, I think she still thought me addicted, but she walked away a little more informed, so that’s something. It took me back to this Wall Street Journal piece I’d bookmarked years ago via Will Richardson’s blog on the neurological effects of information grazing.

It struck me as a better metaphor then, and I’ve used it since when talking with schools and organizations all over the world. Still, it is imperfect.

What I do on twitter, what I look for on Feedly isn’t exactly grazing in the sense of what is conjured up by the word.

I don’t know about you, but this Illinois son sees cows meandering through a pasture, glutting themselves on whatever they’ve stopped in front of.

This is also what likely scares newbs away from social media and connected learning – visions of the human equivalent of those cows with pastures replaced by the digital fields of the InterWebz.

So, let’s think of it differently.

Picture your feeds, whatever they may be, as gallery spaces. And the art, rather than a hodgepodge of what’s been bequeathed, is rotating collection of the latest works by those you consider to be masters.

From time to time, often by way of vouching from one of those whose work you appreciate, a guest artist’s work is invited in for a probationary period, and you decide whether or not to make that artist a resident.

And the thing about this gallery – and really it’s more like a collection of galleries spread across the geography of your network – is that it’s there, rotating, waiting for you in your pocket or whatever screen is handy.

You visit it like you’d visit any other cultural institution – whenever you like, for as long as you like. Sometimes, it may go days or weeks between visits. Other times, you may lose whole days to wandering its virtual halls. Depending on the requirements of your time either or both of these is exactly the perfect approach for appreciating information.

One other piece, one of the best pieces, (written about in much greater detail by Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green) is the ability to share pieces and artists with other galleries.

This is where the grazing metaphor is most fallacious. When we graze, we consume. We take in and negate access for others. When we curate galleries of information, we put on display those creators and works we appreciate and want to share with others. It’s not about transparency as much as it’s about publicity. Of all the information we curate, not everything is worthy of sharing. The pieces that are, though, are easy to spread.

The wrong way to think about copyright in the classroom

Copyright license choice

“Keep in mind that in the whole long tradition of storytelling, from Greek myths through Shakespeare through King Arthur and Robin Hood, this whole notion that you can’t tell stories about certain characters because someone else owns them is a very modern one – and to my mind, a very strange one.” 
― Michael MontoureSlices

We might just be teaching copyright wrong. Even those who regularly talk to their students about the importance of fair use, citing sources, and linking to original content are still missing the big ideas. They are still looking at copyright from a consumption model.

Salt-worthy teachers are talking to students about things like Creative Commons and explaining what it means when a content creator claims a specific kind of copyright for a given piece of work.

The boat we too often miss, though, is asking kids how they want to license the things they create. As the quality of what students can do with the tools in their hands increases, students are making things that have worth standalong projects or increased remixing and hacking potential.

If this is true, and the stuff that’s coming out of classrooms is high-quality, we owe it to our kids to ask them who they want to be as content producers and how they want the rest of the world to access their work.

For students blithely torrenting movies and other content from the web, the conversation can become quite different when asked if they want to freely release something they’ve spent time and energy creating. Do they want credit for their work? Do they want compensation?

Perhaps we are mum on this topic because we are worried about hte complicated possibilities of opening up the choices and opportunities that could arise if students start thinking about how they own their work.

Student A releases a report into the public domain. Student B realizes they can pull entire swaths of that report without being legally compelled to cite the source material. What, now, constitutes cheating? Plagiarism? Intellectual property?

This question and others like it are all the ways we should be introducing and learning copyright with our students. It’s ineffective and out-of-touch to teach only a consumption model of copyright. It ignores the productive, creative, prodigious work being done in our classrooms.

What kind of publishing do students want to perpetuate? How do they want to release their work into the wild? What is the difference between the access they want to provide others to their work and what access they expect to the work of others. Above all else, why?

We didn’t have control before

I’ve been spending a great deal of time with educators who are thinking about the changes that will be necessary once a greater saturation of technology is present in their schools and classrooms.

The most frequent topic under this umbrella – classroom management.

Principals and teachers are concerned over a lack of “control,” and that students will be distracted to greater extents now that devices are in their hands. Students will be distracted and engagement will flag, they worry.

Instead of doing what they are asked or expected to, many teachers worry students will do something else, something they choose.

These educators are correct. Faced with the choice to do school and learning as they always have versus an activity or piece of content of their choosing, students are likely to favor the latter.

I cannot blame them.

To prepare for this distraction and tension of control, schools are readying policies and school-wide language for students. They share it with parents who are equally concerned their children will stop paying attention and choose anything else over the prescribed curriculum and tasks.

Schools will tell students when they are allowed to have their devices out and when they are not. There will be signs in the classrooms that teachers can turn over or point to for clarification. Students who are repeatedly off-task will meet with restricted freedoms until they can show a greater ability to act in compliance.

I wish the answer they were giving was a different one. I wish when educators spoke to parents they made a different promise and instead said that they would be working to make their classrooms more interesting, responsive, spaces connected to students’ curiosities and questions. I wish they committed in faculty meetings, not to a common signal, but to a common agreement to be better at asking students to do things that matter in the moment.

We have been skating by in our classrooms. This was a hard truth I ran into head first when I started working in my first 1:1 environment, and my instinct was to intensify the ways in which I showed my students I was in control of their learning. It’s not an instinct of which I’m proud, but that’s often true of the novice learner.

Luckily, I had access to communities (online and physical) who shared both their practices and their thinking about interacting with students in well-saturated technological learning spaces. Following their lead and writing in this space as a place to reflect publicly, I came to realize holding tighter to control wasn’t in the interest of my students or my peace of mind.

Any shift so seismic as the introduction of connected devices to a classroom calls for a greater awareness of practice. We may turn toward that awareness or we may dig in more deeply to what we have always done and choose not to examine our practices and beliefs about learning.

My hope is that teachers and principals will choose to lean in to the conversations and reflections during this shift of opportunity and begin asking what they should stop doing and start doing, given the affordances of a shifting landscape.

Professional Learning for Everyone (No, Really)

Some Things

  • Our district has started moving to a 1:1 device-to-student/teacher ration in secondary schools.
  • Our elementary schools will also be getting a sizable influx of devices.
  • There are only 6 instructional technology coordinators (ITC) in the district.
  • Realizing our capacity and teachers’ and students’ needs weren’t quite aligned, we started to design a new system.

Since not long after I started at the district, this project has been my baby. A few weeks ago, it started hitting its stride.

The basic idea is to create a range of 1-2 hour online self-paced modules in our district MOODLE install where teachers, students (anyone, really) can log in and  work through their learning whenever they’d like.

Design

Each module follows a simple structure:

Overview – This offers a description of the main ideas within the module, the driving objectives, and the essential questions.

Investigation – Here is a curated pathway for learning about your module’s topics complete with explanations, links and ideas for learning.

Application & Discussions – In this section, you’ll complete a specific activity related to the module topic that asks you to put your learning into action, and a link to posting and sharing your learning for deeper discussion.

Further Investigation – If the initial Investigation was dipping your toe in the learning, this section gives you a chance to dive in, explore things more deeply, and provide yourself with an archive of resources for shifting your practice.

Wherever possible, the application gives participants a choice of tasks that both speak to the learning of the module and remain open enough to fit participants’ needs.

Realizing that 1-2 hours only scratches the surface on many topics, the Further Investigation section holds all the resources we identified as valuable, but not necessary. The hope is that participants will follow their curiosity.

Implementation

Anyone can look through a module. There’s no need to complete the application if you drop in and find what you were looking for, we’re happy you stopped by.

If you’re looking for something more, we’ve built that too. The fine folks in Professional Development have included module completion in the PD Course Listings. Participants can sign up to complete 4 modules (including application and discussion) for .5 hours of course/salary credit.

What’s more, any face-to-face course we teach has an accompanying, abbreviated module. This way, a teacher completing a course can answer a principal’s request for sharing what was learned in a faculty meeting can reply, “Sure, I’ll walk them through the module.”

Finally, modules de-centralize the knowledge. Whereas there might have been one of us in the office who was equipped to lead a training on classroom workflow or any other topic, modules mean we can all own the landscape of any course. It’s not a script, it’s a container, a bag of tricks.

Alignment

When we started planning, we didn’t want these modules to be “another thing” for teachers. This made it important to align each module with other district instructional initiatives. Each connects with Tier 1 instructional practices, the teaching and learning cycle, and the newly-adopted Colorado Teacher Quality Standards.

Building

Everyone is building these modules. It’s part of the beauty of starting from a basic structure. ITCs, curriculum coordinators, teacher librarians, classroom teachers, and contracted instructional designers have helped us bring 17 modules to life with the goal of having around 50 completed by the end of the school year.

Monitoring

When a module has been created by someone in the school district, that person remains the teacher within the course. They are notified when assignments and forum posts have been submitted, and jump in for conversation and comments.

When a contracted instructional designer has built the module, I fill the role of teacher.

Participants completing 4 modules for credit complete this form when they’ve finished their work, I confirm completion, and sign off on the work for OPD.

Discussion

One piece that’s different for our MOODLE courses is the location of the discussions. While each module includes a discussion portion, those discussions all live in a single course here. This allows all curious folks interested in discussing a topic to find the forums in one place. It meant an interesting course architecture dilemma, but we’ve got it working.

Open to All

Perhaps a unique aspect of our MOODLE install is that anyone anywhere around the world with an Internet connection can sign up for a user account. Thus, anyone with an account, no matter their district affiliation can work through a module.

We also started the project with an eye on openness and sharing. Each module has been Creative Commons licensed for attribution, non-commercial sharing and uploaded to moodle.net, the hub for sharing MOODLE courses. If you’ve got MOODLE, you can install these modules and tweak them to your edu-landscape.

In Defense of the Digital Footprint

Image from acruas via flickrAt least once a day, I hear it maligned – the digital footprint. I’m not sure when, but at some point in the not-so-distant past the digital footprint became a cultural boogeyman.

Hiding under the bed of every child’s future is a digital footprint ready to reveal the darkest mistakes and actions of their past to any future employer, partner, loan officer, or in-law who knows how to google.

It may sound like hyperbole, but listen the next time anyone warns children or warns teachers to warn children of their digital footprints and the tracks they can leave. From folks who love kids and see only the best versions of who they are becoming you will hear language that makes it sound like any kid with an Internet connection is immediately drawn to deviance, felonious acts, and sins of untold peril.

Instead, let’s flip the script of how we talk about students’ (and adults’) digital footprints. Let’s remind people that they have an opportunity to leave tracks online that speak to the kind, creative, intelligent, wise, and collaborative people they are in the physical world.

Instead, let’s not frame their actions in what we would hope them not to do but in the opportunities of what they can do and the imprint they can leave on online spaces.

Instead, let’s ask them to think of the Internet of the place and ask what community service they can perform.

Yes, there are issues of safety. Yes, people make mistakes online. Wouldn’t it be better, though, if an individual’s mistakes were awash in accompanying links to the myriad examples of how they’ve leveraged their connection to the world to do something good?

Talk to students about digital footprints, yes. Just make sure you’re reminding them those footprints can lead to more than depravity.

If Your District is Doing This, Convince Them to be the Adults

It’s at :51 in the video below that my disagreement with these local policies comes into sharp focus.

“I think it clarifies what an inappropriate student-teacher relationship is,” the interviewed teacher says, “and it identifies the means by which we have learned some of those relationships begin.”

That sound you hear is the intent missing the mark entirely.

It makes sense that a school district should want to protect students from inappropriate adults not because they are a school district, but because it is the job of the community to protect its youngest and most vulnerable from such influences.

Closing down all means of communication online doesn’t keep students safe, it makes them vulnerable or leaves them that way. I’ve always had online social networking connections with my students. Initially, in the days of myspace, I attempted keeping two accounts. One was the Mr. Chase who would accept student friend requests. The other was Zac who would accept the odd invite from college friends and people I was meeting in life.

Moving to Philadelphia (and Facebook), I collapsed them into one account. When it came down to it, Mr. Chase and Zac weren’t far apart and I found myself wanting to live by the standards I was hoping my students would adopt as our district attempted to terrify them into online sterility with threats of the immortality of their online selves.

Throughout all of that time, I’ve never once worried that I would be setting an improper example for students or calling my professionalism into question. In my online public life, I act as I do in my physical public life – someone who is charged with helping students decide whom they want to become and then being worth of that charge.

Moreover, this is how you break down communities. It is how you leave children unattended. It is how you miss cries for help and avoid bonds that can lead to lifelong mentoring and assistance.

Telling teachers they can have no contact in social spaces with students is not “clarifying inappropriate…relationships.” It is avoiding the conversation about what inappropriate relationships should look like, adding to the implicit accusations that teachers cannot be trusted outside the panopticon of school walls, and reducing the common social capital possible in online neighborhoods.

Instead, teachers must be given the tools and space to consider appropriate interactions and online content, helped to understand the proper channels when students share sensitive information online, and be trusted to be the same guides for digital citizenship that we should be expecting them to be for offline citizenship in our schools, communities and classrooms.

66/365 Stop Hacking Things (If that’s What We’re Doing at All)

Image from the movie Hackers

My first hackers

Remember about a week ago when we could talk about “innovation” and be cool? Those were the days.

I’m not sure what the half-life of a buzzword in education is these days, but I’m thinking, as private companies start to catch up with the markets opened up by new media in education and their marketing departments start to push out more glossy 1-pagers at conferences, the life of an edubuzzword is likely to be diminished.

The next word on the chopping blog…er…block is likely to be hack. Look at the next conference program you’re handed and chances are some panel or another will be hacking curriculum, professional development, assessment, recess, technology, school lunches…

It’s as though education has been given a shiny new ax and been set free on language to hack as we please.

I don’t mind all this hacking. I’ve been known to profess doing a bit of it myself. What concerns me is that we might not be hacking when we say we’re hacking, and we might not be hacking what we say we’re hacking.

Such uses are bound to dillute the terms as we’ve diluted 2.0, read/write, next generation, and 21st century before.

I suppose, in an era when pundits, politicians, and other leading personalities bandy language around as though it has no meaning, such a carte blanch approach is to be expected.

I also understand the arbitrary nature of language. The word tree and an actual tree have no inherent connection. But, this fragility of vesiles should mean greater care in our use of them, not less.

Yes, hacking is a simple term, and no great harm will come from its dilution into its mass application outside of context and thoughtful use. When we do this to words, we dimish what they can do.

21st century barely made it to its namesake with any of its spirit intact. At this rate, we’ll be making the case for 45th century skills by 2025.

Hacking is a thing, and hackers do a thing. Saying we are hacking a subsection of education like classroom management when we mean questioning classroom management approaches, researching proven effective practices of classroom management, and developing plans for the implementation of those practices of classroom management misleads others about what we hope to accomplish and makes it more difficult to call hacking hacking when we truly intend to do it.

Language will change, and we will always ask words to do new things. Applying those words because doing so is in fashion is not engaging the full set of tools with which we are equipped. It is not even a race to the bottom. It is a race to the popular.

65/365 Talking about Tools Needs More Space Than Gateway Posts

This post from edtechteacher came through twitter the other day, and I clicked on it for a number of reasons. I’m teaching a class on social media right now, so that was a draw. I’m working with student teachers and on the lookout for new tools that will help them with tech in their practice, so that was a draw. I own an iPad and want to feel like I’m getting the most out of my investment, so that was a draw.

The biggest draw? It was what I call a gateway post. I knew from the post title it was going to be bulleted (or some version thereof), it was going to have shiny tools, and it wasn’t going to bog me down in things like theory and considerations of the tools’ deeper implications for learning. (Such a drag, right?)

As I was reading, I noted David Bill was online, so I sent him the link. He scanned it, and a deeper conversation of this type of gateway posts entailed. Here are some problems and possible answers/next questions that came out of the conversation:

Issue 1: David made a good point that this post dredges up worries about the foisting of iPads on classrooms without teacher input or training.

If we know anything about the “new” and the “shiny” in education (tech or not), we know that it’s done with little input beyond a committee’s decision and compulsory trainings for the teachers who are going to have to pick up the New Shiny in the next teaching cycle. Sadly, these trainings are rarely based on teacher questions or welcoming of those questions.

Issue 2: The iPads/tablets are coming. They just are. Whether through mechanisms described above or more democratic means, more teachers are going to see these machines in their classrooms.

If I’m a teacher who knows iPads are headed to my classroom and I’m not comfortable with that thought, this post can be a strong gateway to helping me figure out what I can do in the first few weeks/months to make the machines do things that are helpful for students. That can make the difference between games, word processing, and wikipedia being the only tools used on the tablets and kids starting to see the machines a über-mobile creation tools.

Issue 3: We can’t stop there. Gateway posts can have a terminal effect. Teachers with little time or space in their schedules to play with new ideas will thereby not play with new ideas. They will bookmark the tool page or put the tools mentioned into the same lesson plans they’ve been using for years and that will be that, because tech will seem like “Another thing I’ll never get to.

Gateway posts need follow-up posts. Individual tools need their own space like this piece on Evernote from LifeHacker. Tools need to be situated in the ways they have helped practitioners expand their practices. Context, goals, affordances, constraints, reflections, next steps can inspire conversations and thoughtfulness that is missing in gateway posts.

So, I’ve challenged David to take each of the tools mentioned in the edtechteacher post and give each its own post on his blog, to help teachers see more deeply into their possible implementation and to start the better forms of the conversations.

Gateway posts have their place. They act as resplendent repositories of resources to which we can turn in professional development sessions, lesson planning, conference presentations, etc. They should not be the norm of our expectations for conversations around how we can think about the New Shiny in classrooms, schools and other learning spaces.

Something else social media does in education

Somewhere along the line, the tide started to turn regarding opinions on the place of social media in the classroom and as a conduit for connecting teachers and students. Whether those making policy have seen reason or whether the market reached an inescapable saturation point, I’m unsure.

Yes, arcane policies are in place in districts and schools across the U.S., drafted in fear that’s been labeled protection. Still, the more teachers I talk to and schools and districts I visit, the more social technologies are becoming commonplace in formal educational settings.

My own interactions first started in this space. Then, my students started asking for my myspace address. I had a page, but I was a novice teacher and was listening more to the fear I heard in the conversations around me about connecting with students online than my own argument for the affordances of such connections. Eventually, I made a second myspace page and shared that with students. It was bland and more often than not included updates having to do with homework rather than whatever we’re supposed to use those spaces for.

When I moved to teach in Philadelphia, regional standards dictated Facebook be my new online home.

“What do you mean you don’t have a Facebook,” my students asked me in my first few days. I’d moved from an environment where even connecting with my students through a profession-specific online profile was questioned to a space where it was abnormal not to connect with students through your one true Facebook page.

I had a profile within the week. My rule persisted. If they were still my students, they needed to invite me to be friends, I wouldn’t seek them out. This wasn’t out of fear, but of respect. Facebook was their common space. Though I saw its use for leveraging learning, I respected the division of school and home.

In my four years at SLA, Facebook, IM, email, twitter, et al. proved invaluable tools for helping students navigate assignments and offering them a safe space to seek counsel.

But this is an old conversation in the compressed timespace of online tools.

Today, I was reminded of another reason for teachers and students to be connected online. One of my former students, Matt, lost his father a few years ago. A tremendous human being, Matt looked up to his father in the most touching of ways. Matt’s now a freshman at university in Philadelphia (half the country away from me).

Today, on Facebook, Matt announced he’d completed a media project for one of his courses, saying:

Exporting a wonderful film I made for my Dad now @ the tech center on Temple Campus. It may not meet all the requirements, but I put so many hours into it, I don’t care if I get a C, I am proud of what I made! It is really nice =)

I chimed in that I looked forward to seeing the film. Minutes later, he posted a link to the video below in the comment thread. It is a beautiful memorial to Matt’s father and grandfather. I am proud of him for its creation and for his own pride in that creation.

This is the benefit of social media in education that’s not often mentioned. I am connected to those students I was fortunate to have in my care. Ten years ago, the end of the school year was the end of my interactions with most of my students.

That needn’t be the case anymore. Connections between teachers and their students are no longer bound by 180 days. The impacts we make and made can be seen, felt, and built  upon indefinitely. I was a small piece of Matt’s life and the lives of all my students. Still, I realized today the connection I am able to continue to have with so many of them as they grow and build lives more incredible than I could have hoped.

Social media – +1

A Tribute To Mario & Nunzio Scuderi from Matthew Scuderi on Vimeo.

Inching closer to the light after Citizens United?

In writing for the majority on Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, Justice Kennedy hit several times on the idea of disclosure as a balancing factor to opening the ceiling on corporate elections donations.

If voters know who’s financing candidates and ballot initiatives, the logic goes, then the prejudicial effects of whatever they’re financing will be diminished. Modern technology, Justice Kennedy wrote, “makes disclosures rapid and informative.”

Somehow, following the ruling, Congress took little note of the window the Supreme Court opened in affirming disclosure requirements in campaign spending.

Luckily, the Internet, America’s shadow democracy, stepped in to model transparency and disclosure possibilities.

Here are a few of note for voters, teachers, and students heading into the final countdown of this election season.

The Sunlight Foundation has a host of tools and apps for investigating elections funding, the activity of Congress, and the movements of state legislatures.

One of my personal favorites is Checking Influence which “shows you how companies you do business with every day are wielding political influence.”

Voter’s Edge is designed to throw light on the funding of ballot initiatives. As of this posting, VE has information on initiatives in CO, CA, and FL. Clicking through, viewers are able to track who is funding efforts for and against the initiatives, the effects of the initiatives’ passage and contact information for major supporters or opponents of initiatives.

One of my first tools for investigating my options as a voter, Project Vote Smart has only improved over the years as it’s harnessed the power and possibility of the Internet. Billing itself as the “voter’s self-defense system,” Vote Smart includes candidates and initiatives at the state and federal level.

A quick search of my address revealed my state rep, her challengers and their records. For incumbents, this includes voting records, while all candidates’ recent public statements as well as campaign finance information can be reviewed through the site.

Finally, a direct connection to campaign finance is FollowTheMoney.org from The National Institute on Money in State Politics. Through this site, readers can track financial influence across state elections and more completely understand the flow of cash through candidates’ coffers. After the electorate-useful information, my favorite feature of FTM is its meta-disclosure, “Where do we get our money?