Monday, May 10, 2010

A New Life on The eDGe

I found myself with a few spare minutes this morning so I thought I would quickly post some initial thoughts on the Entourage eDGe.

In my efforts to go paperless, I grabbed my eDGe and headed off to 3 days of meetings last week. I experienced a little anxiety attack as I am used to having a pack of pens at the ready and my small notepad. It was strange showing up with my little cocoon case, my Blackberry and nothing else.
Long story short...I was very impressed. I found the eink side very easy to take all of my notes, store them, and retrieve them later. It is true that there is a slight bit of lag as you write but not enough to be disruptive. It felt almost as natural as writing on regular paper except for the fact that people kept coming over to see what this "funky" piece of tech was. It was also fantastic to be able to switch to my novel of choice by the press of one button. I don't need to be distracted but there was some downtime and I enjoyed filling it science fiction thrills and chills.
The tablet side was a trip down the lane fantastic! I felt like I was in Star Trek as I paid bills, read and responded to emails, scanned my RSS feeds, and seached for the latest news using just my finger! I prefered using the stylus for longer email messages but the virtual keyboard also worked well without it. For all you librarians and library fans...the eDGe utilizes epub files which means downloading books from libraries is a breeze!
There are a few things that definitely need some attention:
  • First of all, my hotel's wireless network was down which meant the WiFi on my eDGe was useless. The people at Entourage thought of this by providing a USB ethernet adapter option BUT they are sold out!!!! I hope they correct this soon.
  • My internet experience was also limited by my inability to access a lot of online video. If they want this machine to be a real contender then this needs to be rectified and soon. The 21st century is multimedia rich and so this device needs to navigate that world effortlessly. According to the tweets I have seen, this will be fixed with an update very soon. Supposedly very soon may mean this summer as they emphasized to me they want to be fully functional before the start of the next school year.
  • The lack of an app store also was a little frustrating. As an innovator...okay geek...I accept the fact that I will have to put in some effort to utilize new technologies. I toured forums and blogs to find apps and to find the tips necessary to install them. As a geek I view that process almost like a badge of honor. Most people (and me after the novelty wears off) just want to be able to effortlessly find, install, and utilize their apps. Once again I was assured that this is in the works and will be rectified soon so......we wait patiently.
  • Oh of the reasons I picked the eDGe was because it seemed more versatile than the iPad. It has USB ports, audio recording capability (works great) AND a camera. Too bad the camera isn't functional yet!!!!

The Entourage eDGe is a fantastic tool. I am thrilled I invested in this product. Judging by the number of principals who questioned me about it, the eDGe has the potential to take the world by storm. I just hope that their "very soon" to do list will be completed sooner rather than later. At the moment I fully trust this to be the case. Their staff has been highly accessible to me as a customer and they seem genuinely determined to be ready for back to school shoppers in the summer.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Education, Tech Integration, Star Trek and Goofy?

I believe that much of what we need to know about the universe can be found in old Star Trek episodes. My musings about successfully integrating technology into schools solidified this claim for me.

Short Version:

Successfully integrating technology leads to the technology almost becoming invisible as the users get to focus on what is most important (see video 1 below). Investing in users' confidence and capabilities can empower them to overcome any obstacles technology can throw their way (see the second video below). Technology integration is about investing in people first and foremost.

Longer Version:

Integrating any technology obviously involves planning. In their article "All Aboard!", David and Margaret Carpenter (2008) break down some key aspects to consider. They utilized the Honk Kong International School as their model for this article and here is some of what they found in regards to integrating technology into instructional practices:

  • Empower teachers - Teachers at HKIS had intense workloads combined with high expectations. Allowing teachers to take the lead and collaborate with other stakeholders was very effective.

  • Focus - HKIS didn't try to rewrite the manual on education; they took manageable chunks and constantly reviewed their progress.

  • Collaborate - Very simple...a collaborative focus allowed integration to flow more smoothly horizontally and vertically across the curriculum.

  • Define everyone as learner - "classroom teachers learned new technology and information literacy skills alongside their students." (p. 20)

  • Include Curriculum - It needs to be mentioned that all of the above steps involved a concerted effort to involve curricular changes/implications to their integration efforts.

Take a look back at the above list and ask yourself "What was central to the integration plan...the technology? the users? the curriculum?"

TPACK is another model that looks at the integration of technology. Keep the above questions in mind as you look at the quote and the image from their website below.

Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) attempts to capture some of the essential qualities of knowledge required by teachers for technology integration in their teaching, while addressing the complex, multifaceted and situated nature of teacher knowledge. At the heart of the TPACK framework, is the complex interplay of three primary forms of knowledge: Content (CK), Pedagogy (PK), and Technology (TK)...True technology integration is understanding and negotiating the relationships between these three components of knowledge. A teacher capable of negotiating these relationships represents a form of expertise different from, and greater than, the knowledge of a disciplinary expert (say a mathematician or a historian), a technology expert (a computer scientist) and a pedagogical expert (an experienced educator.

Sorry for all the highlighting but the above information is crucial. The implications of the above videos and quotes on education in the 21st Century are huge. While some may be looking for specific tips, I am not at that point yet. I am still stuck at wrestling with the big picture and with all of the connections between this topic and countless others.


1. Investing in people is paramount! It has always amazed me how the characters in Star Trek just seemed to know how to fix, adapt, and utilize every piece of technology especially in the heat of battle. Sure, the technology was amazing but at some point in the past there must have been some amazing PD opportunities that solidified their skills. Imagine how different the episodes would have looked if Starfleet built starships but filled them with people who feared technology and had no clue how to use it?

2. Solely focusing on access is counterproductive! There is a huge concern about the digital divide in our nations and especially in our schools. The temptation to focus on access issues by purchasing computers is great but...what if these expensive hardware roll out plans are actually feeding the digital divide?

When new teachers enter the classroom, many are armed with a variety of
technological tools to enhance their curriculum, but too often,a digital divide
exists between teachers and students. Without reform and the empowerment of
teachers and students, schools will widen the digital divide and create an
unavoidable abyss. (Mullen & Wedwick, 2008, p.66)

This quote further supports the TPACK model above and its focus on the complex nature of technology and human knowledge. Mullen & Wedwick go on even further to bring up other topics such as 21st century skills and novel definitions of literacy. I have experienced the frustration of being thrown into a sea of new technologies without any clue about what to do with them. I remember feeling angry, stupid, anxious...but I never considered the broader ramifications. This limited definition of technology integration ("if we buy it they will integrate it") not only harmed me emotionally but actually may have widened the digital divide, undermined efforts to instill 21st century skills in my students, and greatly hampered the level of literacy in my school.

3. Evaluate who we are before we plan where we want to go! Every context, every individual is highly unique. This uniqueness has to fuel or temper your integration plans.

Our efforts to integrate technology will be facilitated or impeded by our answers to these questions. For instance, if we don't even acknowledge the pervasiveness of technology and that society demands novel skills from effective citizens, then integration efforts may be weaker or nonexistent. If we acknowledge the importance of 21st century skills BUT our view of risk directs us to filter everything then our integration strategies will follow suit.

One final thought. Integrating technology is not new. I came across a video today of a fictitious teacher who in his eyes had probably successfully integrated technology into his classroom. Watch the video through the lens of the above questions and ask yourself "Would this teacher embrace change?", "Should this teacher embrace change?", and "Who is benefitting from his use of technology?"

Nonhyperlinked Resources:

Carpenter, D. & Carpenter, M. (2008) All aboard! Learning & Leading with Technology, December/January, 18-21.

Mullen, R. & Wedwick, L. (2008) Avoiding the digital abyss: Getting started int eh classroom with YouTube, digital stories, and blogs. The Clearing House, 82(2), 66-69.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Professional Development, Complexity, and Mutual Responsibility

This week's exploration of technology professional development was probably one of the most intensely reflective weeks I have experienced in a long time. 1000 words is insufficient to describe this reflective journey we go.

Short Version:

Like snowflakes, every professional is highly unique and complex. In order for each professional to develop we need professional development opportunities that honor this uniqueness and complexity. Shifting topics in seminars does not actually produce diverse experiences. Responsibility for the effectiveness of professional development falls on the shoulders of the designers AND the participants.

Setting the Stage:

A) If the learning opportunity is passive, doesn't meet the needs of the learner, and the designer doesn't understand the participants then development is unlikely:

Click here for a humorous but poignant example.

B) Each individual has unique and specific needs, wants, histories, beliefs, experiences, working contexts, and perceptions that can make meeting their needs very demanding:

Judi Harris in her four part series "One Sized Doesn't Fit All: Customizing Educational Technology Professional Development" (2008) does an excellent job of exploring these complexities. Over this four part series she lists the following factors to consider in terms of technological professional development:

  • learning needs/preferences

  • personal/school/district goals. In Part 1 of her series she lists awareness, curriculum integration, shifts in instructional techniques, curricular/instructional reform, organizational change, and social change.

  • technological adoption style. In Part 3 of her series she suggests four highly distinct groups: innovators, early adopters, late adopters, and laggards. Individuals from each group vary in their openness to utilitzing new technologies and their ability to navigate the bumps and bruises along the way to adopting these new technologies.

  • curriculum content

  • pedagogical slants

  • and the list goes on

Kimberley Ketterer (2007) deepens adds to this discussion of complexity by exposing that different professionals prefer to learn in different ways.

  • Coach - "They are willing to take risks at integrating technology into their curriculum as long as they have support and encouragement from a colleague tbey can trust" (p. 21)

  • Nurture - "They need a nurturing teaching partner who is willing to help develop and model lessons. Someone to provide encouragement to move forward applauding small achievements while at the same time, continually building self-confidence." (p. 21)

  • Nudge - "only attend tecbnology integration workshops when attendance is mandated. They need to be gently pushed, prodded, and cajoled into learning how to integrate technology." (p. 21)

Hopefully the above points will support my claim that polarizing teachers into two camps (new school and old school) is not accurate.

As professionals we spend countless hours on differentiated instructional techniques for our students...why don't we apply the same principles to ourselves?


1) We need to redefine ourselves as learners above all else. If teachers, administrators, librarians, and educational tech. support staff did this then maybe we would afford ourselves the same level of expertise and attention we give our students

So much of professional development is throwing everyone in a room and having them learn the same stuff. Maybe there is some choice in the offerings, but by and large there is very little attempt at creating a customized professional development curriculum for teachers...Teachers are learners. If they’re not, they shouldn’t be teachers. In a world where we can engage in our passions through the affordances of connective technologies online, we need to be thinking about how to personalize the learning of the adults in the room as well as the kids. Will Richardson

2) Individualized development plans with a communal flavour is the recipe for success.

Technology-related professional development is undergoing a transformation. Previously, teachers were expected to become proficient with technology through a series of sessions and limited support resources (Plair,2008, p. 71)

According to Plair (2008) many plans lack the personal touch and the time investment needed to allow teachers to master the technology. Harris (2008) concurs:

"Research evidence indicates that 30 hours of focused professional development,
on average, is required to change teachers' professional practice...most
teachers probably have not had sufficient time or opportunity to engage in
the kinds of professional learning necessary to help them to use educational
technologies in new ways to assist their students'learning." (p. 18)

Personal learning networks may hold the key:

"A Personal Learning Network or PLN is a dedicated learning environment unique to each individual. What does that mean? It means that this is a place where people create their own environment which helps them to grow/learn. This can be done in many different ways through collaborating, blogging, social networking, etc. What makes PLN’s so great is that they are different for everybody but their goals are usually the same. That goal is to learn and share knowledge and to find a passion and follow it to the best of your ability." unquietlibrarian

In short, money and resources should be put behind teachers connecting with other professionals. These networks and communities mean more than sharing resources; they are mini research teams, instant "geek squad" tech support crews, midnight hour "Dr. Philish" emotional support teams, instantaneous/specific feedback syndicates and best of all...groups of professionals sharing real life examples of technological best practices. Thanks to web 2.0 tools there are countless ways to establish these networks with little or no expense. Cathy Nelson, David Kapuler provide some ideas on what these networks look like and how they can be set up.

3) Leaders are needed to make technology integration possible. Scott Macleod very bluntly asserts that "administrators are the only individuals with the ability to redesign school
organizations. They set the vision, control the budget, reassign personnel, empower others, alter school culture, establish priorities, facilitate buy-in, reallocate resources, and ensure organizational alignment." I agree with him that administrators are key as they can get creative to free teachers up to pursue professional networking opportunites and to play with technology. I would go one step further and say it is also the teachers' and librarians' responsibility to demand this type of leadership and creativity. If we don't demonstrate a desire for more effective professional development, if we don't persistently vocalize how present models hobble our effectiveness, and if we don't actively pursue technology integration ourselves then we are just as culpable for our inability to meet the needs of 21st century learners.

I am out of room for this week. Take a tour of my blog postings. I am the evidence for the power of sustained and focused professional development. Since September I have been part of a digital professional network and I can confidently say that I am a completely new teacher ready to tackle the 21st Century. Imagine the state of education if system wide professional development empowered every educator to make the same claim.

Nonhyperlinked resources (all of these are must reads):

Harris, J. (2008). One size doesn't fit all: Customizing educatonal technology professional development. Learning and Leading with Technology, February, 18-23.

Harris, J. (2008). One size doesn't fit all: Customizing educatonal technology professional development. Learning and Leading with Technology, March/April, 22-26.

Harris, J. (2008). One size doesn't fit all: Customizing educatonal technology professional development. Learning and Leading with Technology, May, 22-25.

Harris, J. (2008). One size doesn't fit all: Customizing educatonal technology professional development. Learning and Leading with Technology, June/July, 24-27

Ketterner, K. (2007). Coach, nurture, or nudge: How do you learn technology best? Learning and Leading with Technology, May, 21.

Plair, S. (2008). Revamping professional development for technology integration and fluency. The Clearing House, 82(2), 70-74.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Trust and Privacy in a Knowledge Based Economy

Setting the Stage

"The knowledge-based economy: Developed economies have traditionally relied on the production and sale of manufactured goods, like steel, cars and consumer goods. In the modern knowledge-based economy, it is the creation and management of technology and information that drives commerce and the creation of jobs." Canada’s Office of Consumer Affairs (OCA)

"There's an old saying. It's never the problem you see that gets you, it's the one you don't see. So it is with secondary uses of personal information. This hazard arises when information is collected for one legitimate and authorized purpose, and then later used for another, unauthorized or illegitimate purpose." Canada’s Office of Consumer Affairs (OCA)

"Privacy seems to come down to trust. Trust that the people in charge are considering my best interest." Dawnelai's Blog

Short Version
Living on the internet is like walking through a mall with a group of corporate execs and shady characters with notepads documenting everything you do. The business execs learn what they can so your next walk through their mall will be more fruitful for you and for them. Who knows what the shady characters are doing...they're shady. Thank heavens for the giant bouncer you are walking with (the government) as he/she is trying to make sure you and your info are okay.

Longer Version

Canada's Office of Consumer Affairs offers a lot of great information about how public our privacy actually is:
1) "When we make a phone call, use our bank machine, or make a purchase at the store, we leave an electronic record of our whereabouts and habits."
2) Modern technology allows all the digital pieces of our travels to be collected. This includes info from cell phones, faxes, answering machines, debit cards, credit cards, emails....the list goes on.
3) Almost anything I do online creates some sort of record on my computer and on my internet service provider's servers.
4) You can delete your trails on your computer but:
"every time you connect to the Internet, you create an electronic record -- a data shadow -- that shows every web site you have visited while on-line. This kind of shadow is temporarily recorded on your Internet service provider's (your "ISP's") computer. Whether it is deleted frequently, or kept permanently depends on your ISP. Now governments have asked service providers to keep that data, to help fight the war on crime and terrorism." (OCA)

5) Communicating online through emails can be risky. Your messages can be intercepted and even if you are at work your correspondence could be viewed by your employer. Encrypting your email is a good idea.
6) Data cookies may be advertised benign and nonspecific information but they do say something about you and they are used to influence your online experience. If someone gathered all these little pieces of info. they could get a fairly accurate picture of who you are.

Watch the following videos about cookies and privacy settings. They are informative. As you are watching, ask yourself whose interests are truly being served? Do I trust the information being offered from a corporate entity who exists to make money?

Now compare the above message to the message in the video below. Before you watch below...ask yourself "Are social networking tools designed for me to share or for others to learn about me?"

So What?

I really appreciated my colleague's posting on this issue entitled "Privacy…we just can’t hide.". Dawnelai directed me to a quote by Danah Boyd who is quickly becoming a digital mentor to me:

"People of all ages care deeply about privacy. And they care just as much about privacy online as they do offline. But what privacy means may not be what you think.

Fundamentally, privacy is about having control over how information flows. It's about being able to understand the social setting in order to behave appropriately. To do so, people must trust their interpretation of the context, including the people in the room and the architecture that defines the setting." Danah Boyd
I believe educators have the moral and ethical responsibility to teach students the critical components of trust. In Danah and Dawnelai's writings they reference trust. In the above quote, trust was linked to understanding and interpretation. If schools are going to spend millions of dollars on technology and in training librarians and teachers how to appropriate the strengths of web 2.0 then we need to equally focus on staff and students being critical consumers. Everything we do online leaves a trail. We trust the government and our ISP's to guard that trail and to make sure we have some measure of control over what is done with our information. We trust our friends and the friends of our friends to honour us by following unwritten codes of social conduct when it comes to our information. We trust businesses to protect our information as we believe they want to keep us as repeat customers.
The key words for me in Danah's quote are "interpretation and context". Schools need to become institutions filled with people who are professionals at critically interpreting immediate and broader contexts. For instance, it is important that we teach staff and students that the information they place on a social networking site actually may become the property of that site. This may not be a big deal if all people involved in the immediate context understand the rules of the game.

But what happens when the broader context changes like we are experiencing now? In order to protect us from terrorism and intellectual piracy, governments and corporations are changing how privacy and control are interpreted/experienced.

"In accordance with our conceptualization of the privacy of the act of reading, libraries have traditionally treated the privacy of readers as sacred. Privacy is a central, core value of libraries. This is the reason for librarians’ anger over provisions in the USA PATRIOT Act that can force libraries to reveal information about the reading habits of their patrons to the FBI and other government investigators."

"In 2007, the Conservative government amended copyright legislation. Under the new rules, making illegal movie recordings became a criminal offence punishable by six months in jail and a $25,000 fine.

Brand is concerned the enforcement of those piracy laws could violate Canada's privacy laws, because in order to monitor illegal uploads and downloads online, authorities would have to monitor a person's entire internet connection, he claims.

"Any prohibition on downloading works — that has a huge impact on the sort of privacy side of things. In order to know that I'm not downloading any works illegally, you have to monitor my internet connection. That's not the kind of society that I want to live in," Brand said"

This week was an eye opener for me. I am still pumped about teaching in the 21st Century. I was just reminded in a new way that we can't play school or hide our heads in the sand. If we take either of those options, our students may continue to express their fundamental freedoms online with no true understanding of what that may mean in an imperfect world full of rules, interpretations, corporate interests, and political contexts that are constantly in flux.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Creative Commons and A Tale of Two Traumas

Childhood Trauma #1

When I was just a lad sporting a lovely but lopsided afro (trauma for another posting) I often suffered from canker sores or aphthous ulcers if you prefer. One day I asked my mother how to get rid of them. Her instructions were to use a glass of hot salt water, and she emphasized hot. I took her advice without question and went on to rectify my problem. Long story shorter, I began drinking salt water!!! As you can imagine, something didn't feel quite right inside but an how could my mom be wrong? Much later, when she found out, she had a laugh and corrected me. "Gargle son, what would make you swallow salt water?" Traumatic.

Learning about intellectual property and copyright law has been a similar experience. Over the past week I have realized I have based much of how I teach on interpretations of other teachers' interpretations of these issues.

Key Lessons and Corrections:

1) Copyright Laws are Complicated: Okay, this belief was true. I defy any kid let alone any busy teacher to make sense of Canadian copyright law (Document found here). These laws do establish the rights of my students' intellectual property which is basically anything their minds can produce (Butler, 2005) but not the ideas themselves (intellectual freedom wiki). They establish what other people can and can't do but the language is so complicated it often turns people like me off.

2) Copyright Laws can be Restrictive: This I knew but Professor Lessig opened my eyes to how restrictive. He shared that our new digitial world founded on the idea that every user is a creator and the key function of creating is sharing. He also shares that copyright laws were created before this common reality and therefore limit the freedoms of creators who genuinely want to share. This brings in the new alternative...Creative Commons (Take the time to watch Professor Lessig's video below)

3) Creative Commons = anti-trauma device: Creative Commons is a relatively new movement(created in 2003) that provides creators of content a simple, clear, and effective way to share (not restrict the use)their content. In short, with the use of a few basic symbols people who access your intellectual property will know exactly how they can use, copy, remix, and share your property. Bye, bye insanely huge legal documents. For a full explanation view the video below and click here.

4) Educators aren't gods: Early on in my career multiple colleagues shared with me that as a teacher I could copy pretty much whatever I wanted as long as it was for school. As long as I could label the activity as educational...I was untouchable. Much of what I believed is actually only partly true and the myths I believed are common to many teachers (Matthew Neeldeman) Once I looked at Canada's fair dealing exceptions many of my materials are in direct violation of our laws. Did you know there are strict time restrictions on how long teachers can have recordings of television or radio broadcasts? Did you know that there "are no guidelines that define the number of words or passages that can be used without permission from the author. Only the courts can rule whether fair dealing or infringement is involved" (CIPO)

Implications and Trauma #2

My dad didn't really set curfews. He allowed me to decide when to go to bed. I interpreted that freedom as it didn't really matter to him or anybody else. I selectively ignored his important statement "Don't let your night life interfere with your day life." I stayed up super late every night and it took me a long time to realize that my dad, my teachers, and countless other people were impacted during the day by my poor decisions at night. You think I would have learned quicker as my dad always made a point of getting me up early after my latest nights.

1) Students have rights - I was reminded teachers and librarians have been tasked with protecting and facilitating students' intellectual freedoms. According to Lamb (2007) this includes allowing our students to participate in rich experiences that the read/write web has to offer. She also includes removing restrictions and increasing access. This fits perfectly with utilizing Creative Commons licenses and materials. If they have access to materials that were designed with sharing in mind, they can freely wander, borrow, and create...legally!!!

2) What we do matters - It seems weird saying this to teachers but...our students learn about how to exercise their rights and their freedoms from us so we need to know what we are doing. Mike Ribble (2008) wrote about the importance of digital citizenship to our students. In this article he outlines a four stage model for teaching digital citizenship. The stages are awareness, guided practice, modeling and demonsrtation, and feedback and analysis. Key statements from this article:

"Awareness means engaging students to become technologically literate....Students need to learn what is appropriate and not appropriate when using different digital
technologies." (p. 16)

"Following awareness activities, educators need to provide their students
with opportunities to use the technology under their guidance by focusing
on “appropriate use of technology.” (p. 16)

"Adults need to be positive role models of good digital citizenship so
students can follow their example." (p. 16)

I was short changing my students by not acknowledging issues like copyright and intellectual property. By modeling a wreckless abandon approach as I surfed, copied and pasted from the net I was modeling poor digital citizenship. In short, how can teachers participate in any of the above activities if they refuse to educate themselves and fully acknowledge the value intellectual property? Or as Jennifer Janesko asks "If we, teachers and parents, do not clearly understand copyright and fair use issues, how do we properly teach our students?" (2008, p. 9)

3) Change takes time - My colleagues and I discussed about how quick and easy it is to ignore copyright and just do whatever we want...after all it is for the kids. Learning about copyright laws and finding highly effective and engaging creative commons content will take time. BUT if we communally explore the commons we can help each other out (Click here to get started or try ccMixter)

4) Ignorance and apathy have consequences - Some people make their living through their intellectual property...through their creative works. Haphazardly stealing from others just because technology makes it easy harms real people. One of my colleagues this week shared how the intellectual theft of her husband's artwork profited the burglar but hurt them. Our actions do have consequences and we as educators need to act as if this is true and instill this truth in the hearts and minds of the next generation of digital citizens.

Non-hyperlinked Resources:

Butler, R. (2005). Social responsibility: Intellectual property defined. Knowledge Quest, 34(1), 41-42.

Janesco, J. (2008). Do students respect intellectual property? Learning & Leading with Technology,May, 8-9.

Lamb, A. (2007). Intellectual freedom for youth. Knowledge Quest, 36(2), 38-45.

Ribble, M. (2008). Passport to digital citizenship: Journey toward appropriate technology use at school and at home. Learning & Leading with Technology, December, 14-17.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Digital Divide...Simple to Spell...Complex to Fix?

If you live in North America, it is hard to escape the existence of and the growing reliance on digital technologies. For many, being digitally connected is a given, an expectation, a right. Even our cars have gone from being modes of transportation to being highly mobile digital communication devices:

This technological shift appears to be creating a divide nationally and globally. These digital divides are "the imbalances in physical access to technology as well as the imbalances in resources and skills needed to effectively participate as a digital citizen. In other words, it is the unequal access by some members of society to information and communication technology, and the unequal acquisition of related skills. (Wikipedia)

In the above quote this divide is caused or manifested in people's lack of access to technology and their lack of skill to use the technology in complex manners. Notice it also frames this divide in terms of people being digital citizens (we will come back to that one).

At first glance it seems easy to address this divide or technological imbalance. Pump money into infrastructure, ship computers nationally/globally, and hire trained digital citizens to make sure everyone is up to speed.

The divide has more components than skills and access. This is where it gets really complicated. The digital divide actually mirrors other divides in our societies along racial, gender, socioeconomic, cultural, religious, and political lines:

(Thanks Dawn for finding this)

The American Association of School Librarians suggest that policies that dictate institutional purchasing of technology and filtering content influence this divide. They also suggest "motivation, cannot be overlooked. That is, we’re seeing children, teachers, media specialists, and administrators all having different motivations to either adopt, ignore, or actively thwart learning innovation with Web 2.0 tools" (AASL October 2008).

I fully admit that the last two semesters of learning about Web 2.0 has whipped me into a bit of a panic. I live in a remote, fly-in community. We are progressing with our technology. As teachers we see the value of this advancement but a true sense of urgency and panic hit me when I came back to Alberta. I gained the impression that the world has changed almost over night in a way never imagined before. George Sciadas' research calmed my nerves by putting this present digital divide into perspective:

Despite perceptions about the meteoric rise of the Internet, fast as it
may have been, the penetration of television in people’s lives was
faster1. The penetration of the VCR was also very fast, particularly
during its first decade. While the speed of adoption among commodities
differs, their penetration is generally characterized by accelerating
growth in the initial periods, which eventually gives way to decelerating
growth. (p. 2)

In short, technological divides have happened before and to some degree these divides shrink with time. His research did support, however, that our present digital divide is expanding in Canada between the poor and the rich...which obviously is an issue of concern.

Major Question Leaders Need to Answer:

Is the digital divide a cultural/political construct based on the assumption that there is one right way of being?

In the YouTube video above, digital technologies and related skills were defined by their ability to allow America/Americans to compete in the global economy. Wikipedia's definition of digital citizens describes them as being able to complete duties such as filing taxes, child registration, and other commercial endeavors online. These examples and countless others support Sonia Liff's assertion that the existence of and the plans to eliminate the digital divide have agendas behind them. For instance, research has shown that boys and girls use digital technologies differently (Looker & Thiessen, 2003). Sonia Liff picked up on this and shared the risk of defining women as poor users and men as good users. This would lead to policies and programs to improve women. This approach ignores the key question...what do women want to use technology for? Other presenters besides Sonia Liff emphasized that one set of policies/projects to eliminate the divide doesn't fit all as different nations/cultures perceive technology differently and therefore would use it differently. These thoughts came from the video below (thanks Natasha) and is well worth a watch.

Implications for Educators/Leaders:

1) Be aware - We need to be aware of how we define success. We have an agenda in schools. Educational gurus that are pushing the educational envelope have complex and unique skills in mind for digital citizens (ShirJorg, Jackie, Joyce Valenza). Even though many students are using web 2.0 tools they would still be considered on the bottom of the divide as they may not be using them in the way we define they should be.

2) Avoid simplistic responses - Our gut reaction is to buy, buy, buy. "If students and teachers have access then we are okay." Focusing on hardware while ignoring policy, the skills your teachers have/lack, the infinite ways users perceive and interpret experiences with technology is short sighted. Add the existing socioeconomic, cultural, gender, political barriers in your school/community = limited success or complete disaster. Danah Boyd does an excellent job of exploring these elements in the digital world (Click here. Make sure you read her papers)

3) Think context - Solutions do exist but they likely will be unique to your area. You can learn from others though. Thanks Dawn for examples of contextual solutions.

4) Respect play - My peers and I discussed at length the importance of teachers being competent technology. If teachers value and have the skills then they can help battle your local digital divide. Administrators...please get creative with scheduling and create space for your staff to play with technology. I guarantee you will see results :)

For further ideas check out Dawnelai's blog.

Non-hyperlinked resources:

George Sciadas completed a report entitled "The Digital Divide in Canada" for Statistics Canada. This report can be accessed here.

Looker and Thiessen (2003) compiled research for Statistics Canada. I referenced their report that you can access here.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Digital Natives,Immigrants, and Pioneers: Going Beyond my Gut Reaction


Before this week I had not heard of the terms "digital natives" or "digital immigrants". My brief journey through this topical landscape ended up being far more emotionally charged and confusing than I had expected. This emotional involvement and confusion was not unique to me and seemed to be fueled by one Marc Prensky's views on the subject.

A couple quotes from his paper "Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants" (2001) will help set the stage:

It is amazing to me how in all the hoopla and debate these days about the decline of education in the US we ignore the most fundamental of its causes. Our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach. (p. 1)
It‟s very serious, because the single biggest problem facing education today is that our Digital Immigrant instructors, who speak an outdated language (that of the pre-digital age), are struggling to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language. (p. 2)
He identifies digital natives as the first generation to grow up in a world permeated by digital technology. Digital immigrants are older generations who are drafted into this digital world but are fundamentally different from digital natives. He suggests and defends the idea that digital natives' actual psychological and mental processes have been altered by the environment they have been raised in. So much so, that widespread educational changes including utilizing fast paced, digital media/video games, need to be incorporated to meet their needs. His follow up paper "Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, Part II: Do They Really Think Differently?" (2001) explores some of the research that supports the premise that our brains are far more malleable than traditional thought acknowledged.

Initial Response:

I admit that I became quite offended, skeptical, outraged, hurt, and reflective when I first read Pensky's thoughts.

Joyce Valenza shared my skepticism:

I've also wondered about Prensky's (and other educational futurists') contention that kids' brains have significantly altered over time because of their exposure to digital technology.

She also found his work to be divisive and so broad that they ineffectively reflected the diversity of technological experience/affinity in any generation. Our class discussions this week also went in this direction. We all seemed to acknowledge that our world has changed due to digital technology but we struggled with the idea that we were immigrants and somehow innately at a disadvantage in this new world. We didn't buy the idea that by birth all digital natives were instinctively or innately digitally altered.

I quickly went from conflicted and confused to confident...almost cocky as Kathy Schrock expressed my thoughts perfectly:

I did not grow up with technology. It grew up with me, and I was there every step of the way. I think those of us who have been there since the beginning, and have adopted each technology as it came about, should not be called digital immigrants. I do not turn to the printed manual first. I always choose reputable Internet sites to locate information. And I do speak the correct language (and still do not accept Google as a verb!) There are very few technology skills that are foreign to me.

Preach on Sister! I am a pioneer! I began to dismiss Pensky. When I took some time to reflect and dig deeper, I realized my gut reaction was emotional and I was closing my mind to a key fact...I do believe education needs to change and it is mostly due to the influence of technology. Tech has fundamentally changed how we do we live.

Present Stance/Implications:

Anne Collier (unknowingly) drew me back to Marc Pensky when she wrote:

Many news reporters grew up in a very different (mass media) environment, as did a lot of parents, educators, and other news consumers. So we're seeing and participating in a distorted picture of social media and how youth use them if we're viewing young people's use through the traditional news media and our own mass-media lenses. (
Danah Boyd (amazingly brilliant) also gave a presentation that drew me back to Pensky and some final thoughts/implications I would like to share. The video is long...but worth it. My comments are mostly basked on the first half hour.

1) Adults need to acknowledge differences. Terms we grew up with like friends, community, meeting, sharing, privacy, etc. are still spelled the same but have totally new meanings. Our students live these new meanings that aren't constrained by physical space. If we don't acknowledge and make room for these new meanings, our effectiveness as leaders will be greatly diminished.

2) Adults need new skills...especially critical thinking. Up to this point I have been focusing on 21st century skills for my students. Up until watching Danah Boyd's presentation I was working on the tacit assumption that I possessed the skills that the students needed. Short version....I have to critically approach students online identities as they likely weren't created with me or the world in mind. I am an outsider that is ignorant of the influences/context that created that persona. In essence, I have to learn the new rules and language of social media before I can meaningfully engage/educate my students.

3) Modalities change but people don't. Educational leaders need to avoid confusing a change in technology with fundamental shifts in the human condition. I don't know enough to argue Pensky's assertions that brains have changed but I do know enough to recognize common traits between generations. Digital natives have grown up with new ways to do what humans have always wanted to do....connect, be known, find significance, belong to community, find meaning, experience acceptance and the list goes on. When I was a kid we found social status by the friends we were seen with. When my grandfather was a kid, social status was improved by owning a TV or switching from horses to cars. Now days this same process is governed by who comments on your blog or how many texts you do in a day.

4) Focus on individuals and growth. Educators need to continue to develop their skills and improve their practice but when push comes to shove, our schools are full of adults full of life experience that our students need. Pensky actually emphasizes that the new generation needs to gain our ability to reflect which comes from our wealth of experiences.

If we focus on divisive generational descriptions, then we alienate everyone....immigrants, pioneers, and natives alike (Anne Collier concurs). If we ignore fundamental changes in the world, we may be more comfortable but our students and our profession will suffer.

Nonhyperlinked Resources:

Prensky, M. (2001) Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1-5.

Prensky, M. (2001) Digital natives, digital immigrants, part II: Do they really think differently? On the Horizon, 9(6), 1-9.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Technology, Standards and High Jump

Last week's look at 21st century skills leads perfectly into this weeks exploration of the standards we set to help students and staff achieve/acquire these skills.

The American Association of School Librarians (AASL)has laid out an amazing document called Standards for the 21st-Century Learner. This document is based on the beliefs:
1) Reading is foundational.
2) Inquiry is vital.
3) Behaviour should be ethical.
4) Technological skills are crucial.
5) Access should be equitable.
6) Information literacy is complex.
7) Individuals need to learn unique thinking skills.
8) Learning is social.
9) School libraries are essential.

These beliefs provide the framework for an extensive set of standards in four key areas:

1) Inquiry/critical thinking
2) Decision making/creativity
3) Ethical/productive knowledge sharing/citizenship
4) Personal/aesthetic growth

The International Society for Technology in Education developed their own standards called National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) Summarizing their beliefs/standards would take more room than I have here but the following statement should give you a taste:
The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE®) is the premier membership association for educators and education leaders engaged in improving teaching and learning by advancing the effective use of technology in PK-12 and teacher education.

NETS has standards for students, teachers, administrators and technology leaders. Student skills are ultimately the focus in the areas of creativity, collaboration, information fluency, higher order thinking skills, citizenship, and technology. (Click here for a more detailed look)

Marjorie Pappas (2008) has an excellent summary of both standards systems including contrast and comparison charts. She also bottom lines the purpose for these documents:
Technology initiates change at an exponential rate, and information technologies are at the heart of the information literacy standards. No Child Left Behind and a growing body of research about both teaching and learning have changed education over the past ten years (p. 22)

That final quote hit me more than the standards themselves. For some reason a switch flipped and I realized that I personally and professionally haven't acknowledged a technologically induced societal/educational change. I still have some sort of mental barrier that views technology as cool but not as fundamentally crucial to the success of my students. How can this be? I am the tech guy for my school? I love sci fi and I teach mulimedia rich courses.

Shortly after I read Marjorie Pappas I paused to look at what I was doing. I had two monitors running with 13 tabs open plus Tweetdeck (five columns worth) and iTunes downloading podcasts. 5 days out of my week are like this almost 6-8 hrs per day.

HOW COULD I HAVE MISSED THE POINT THAT JOYCE VALENZA, WESLEY FRYER, WILL RICHARDSON, AND OTHERS HAVE BEEN MAKING? The world has changed. The rules of the game have changed (see Jackie's Thoughts on Web 2.0). As a learner and as a professional, I am exhibiting the skills that my students need. I am 35 but I can honestly say that I don't know how I could do what I do without my technology, collaborative, creative, and problem solving skills. These are the very things the creators of AASL's and ISTE's standards are focusing on.

One major implication to stress powerful can technology standards be if the people tasked to implement them don't fundamentally acknowledge their necessity? This goes even can information specialists like librarians establish their place in education if other educational leaders don't understand/acknowledge the technological shift in the world? Zmuda and Harada (2008)touch on this link between acknowledgment of need, standards development, and standards implementation but they use the term mission:
Such clarification of what the learners must do to achieve mission goals defines for all staff what good business looks like in the library media center. Good business is work (instructional activities and assessments) that develops student learning around the goals that are most important (again as defined by the mission). (p.43) This article is a must read so please see the reference section at the end of this posting.

Successful students/staff need to work in an environment where the heart (mission) drives the mind (standards) and the limbs (people) of an organization. This is a cyclical relationship as the people of an organization are the heart of the organization.

In my opinion, many schools in the North aren't ready to implement NETS or the Standards for the 21st Century Learner. As leaders we are just beginning to recognize the need for the skills outlined in these documents. Once we corporately acknowledge this need, then these standards will be essential to focus our efforts and alter our practice. At present I am using these documents as conversation starters within our technology planning group. A place to start anyway.

My classmates have expressed a different scenario. They have the heart and the passion but within their Canadian context they lack clear/concise/practical standards or direction to define their roles.

One final scenario included schools with 21st century missions and some standards in place but had problems finding new teachers with the skills to pull it all together. This scenario hit home that the issue of new standards and skills impacts learners of all ages...including post secondary learners (Marcoux, 2008).

What does all this have to do with high jumping?

In order to complete my degree I had to take an athletics course. Part of this course consisted of a high jumping competition. In essence my world had changed and I needed to acquire a new set of skills. High jumping was no longer something I watched on TV. It became an essential skill to my success as a learner/professional. Sure, I could jump. Sure I could have found anyone on the street to teach me how to jump but for me to succeed I needed to know how to do it right. Thank heavens for my coach who had a heart for the sport, competed in the sport imself, stayed on top of the latest training techniques, and was an expert at helping others to meet the required standards. This complete formula is what we need to support our learners today.

I will close with a question and a quote.

This following quote is directed at librarians but it applies to all other educational leaders as well:

Learning standards are as important as librarians consider them to be. We have to be sure that as a profession we both master and model the skills that students are expected to demonstrate. (Dickinson, 2008)

Question: Who should serve as the high performance educational/technological coaches in our schools to help staff and students meet these standards?

For those of you interested in more of the specifics of AASL's and ISTE's standards, visit Ruth Elliot's blog.

Non-hyperlinked resources:

Dickinson, G. (2008). A place to stand. Library Media Connection, 26(6), 10-12.

Marcoux, B. (2008) New standards-refreshing our work, again! School Library Media Activities Monthly, 24(7), 18-20.

Pappas, M. (2008). Standards for the 21st-century learner: Comparisions with NETS and state standards. School Library Media Activities Monthly, 24(10), 19-26. Fantastic comparison/contrast/summary.

Zmuda, A. & Harada, V. (2008) Reframing the library media specialist as a learning specialist. School Library Media Activities Monthly, 24(8), 42-46.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

It is all about SKILLS

Skills have been vital to the success of our species since the dawn of time. For some reason, the 21st century seems to have renewed educators' focus on skills. This may be in part to the rousing, unifying call of the great 21st century philosopher...Napoleaon Dynamite.

The best synopsis comes from The Partnership for 21st Skills website. Their framework suggest the following skills are critical for 21 century learners:
-Learning and Innovation
-Information, Media, and Tech.
-Life and Career Skills

While none of the above categories may seem unique to this century...many educators view this century as being unique. This perceived uniqueness is drawing many to redefine core concepts to education...especially the idea of literacy. I personally find this interesting as I have always viewed literacy as being simple. Personally, I viewed literacy as being able to comprehend written and/or numerical information where ever you may find it. Take a few moments to watch the video below. As you watch, count the various types of literacies that are referred to. Some of them go way beyond my limited definition and refer to skills that don't even involve text (ie: outdoor literacy, emotional literacy, etc.) Also ask yourself "Are the listed skills unique to the 21 century? Are the skills unique only in terms of their focus? Are the skills unique in terms of the tools present to put them into practice? Is there any real uniqueness at all?"

I personally believe that many of the skills they list, especially skills like critical thinking and creativity, are not unique to the 21st century. George Manthey agrees:

For me, it's hared to think of a century in which it wasn't important to think critically as well as be analytical, creative and collaborative. (2009, p.11)

Think of the Aztecs, Galileo, Aristotle, Archimedes, Mayans, Newton, Darwin and countless other examples of individuals and civilizations in the past that required analytical, critical, communication, and collaborative skills to survive and excel.

When I ran into the next video I realized that my interpretation of what I was reading about 21st century skills was wrong. Maybe people from this movement aren't stating that these skills are only important to this century. Maybe they are stating that these age old skills have a new twist to them now and are even more important given the challenges we are facing. Watch the video and reflect on the implications of a society that reflects the stats they share:

George Manthey (2009) eloquently summarized some of the thoughts that ran through my head and some of the thoughts that have obviously sparked debate in other circles:

I'm not sure why I should be surprised, but I am when I learn that teaching critical thinking, analytical and technology skills-as well as teaching students to be creative and collaborative-has become controversial. There seems to be a bit of a backlash against such skills, often called 21st century skills. The concern is that if such skills are emphasized, it will be at the expense of core content(p.11)

I don't know why my gut reaction to this topic was " comes another fad" but that was my reaction. After watching the videos and revisiting The Partnership for 21st century Skills website I realized I was wrong. This organization and other educational leaders are actually asking me as an educator to do my job....better. For instance, math and science curricula focus on the tools used in these areas as well as communicative, collaborative and innovative skills required to understand and succeed in related fields. Do these documents state that we are only to use the tools that Galileo had at his disposal? I don't think so. If doctors, astronauts, lawyers, city planners, interior designers, counselors and countless other professionals have always sought to used the best tools and skills available, why would this trend stop at the 21st century? If our kids are growing up in a would inundated with media...why wouldn't we pursue directions/skills/practices that would allow us to prepare them to navigate their world safely and effectively?

I would like to suggest that this topic of 21st century skills is important for teachers and students alike. Watch the news for the next week and track all of the stories related to just the topic of attention and technology. How we interact, form friendships, listen to the people we care about is being altered by technology. Parents, kids, teachers, students and almost every other group in North America is trying to learn how to live meaningfully in this type of world. With this in mind, watch Howard Reingold's lecture (at least from the 6 minute to the 20 minute mark where he focuses on the basic skill of attention) and then ask yourself how effective education/educators could ignore responding to the unique needs of our time.

What really struck me this week was reading the thoughts of my fellow classmates. My classmates are leaders within education who excel at what they do. One shared that her students prefer to stay within the box rather than wondering creatively. Another classmate shared a vision of education where learning went beyond the walls of the school and meaningfully impacted the very communities the students lived in. Another shared the tough issues students face when they aren't nurtured at home for various reasons. Most of our thoughts around 21 century skills/education came back to education meeting the needs of each individual student. Meeting these needs walked hand in hand with topics such as collaboration, community, creativity, accessibility and fairness rather than knowledge or content. None of us believe that content isn't important but we seem to be excited about the opportunity the 21st century is giving us to make learning meaningful for us and our students.

The big question...How can educators raised in the knowledge/independence/individuality addicted 20th century learn how to teach in a 21st century world that is founded on connection/collaboration/creativity?

Nonhyperlinked resources:

Manthey, G. (2009). The knowledge vs. skills debate: A false dichotomy? Leadership, 39(2), 11.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Very thin link between Eli and SLW

This past week I was introduced to a variety of information about libraries, librarians, and the realities of both in light of Web 2.0. I am not a librarian but what I read created an instant connection (in my mind at least) to the premise for the new film The Book of Eli. If you are familiar with the film...don't run away! Give me a chance to explain. If you aren't familiar with the Book of Eli film, take a quick look at the trailer below:

Short Explanation:

People in the know are noticing a huge shift in the educational landscape generated by the read/write web. They sense that this shift is "laying waste" to how education was done and is generating a new way (world) of researching, learning...interacting with knowledge. Librarians are a group of heroes that are charged with proactively responding to this shift, protecting the key elements from the old world, and developing new skills to aid the students/staff of the present and future.

Slightly Longer (but less dramatic) Explanation:

The Threat: Obsolescence and Ineffectiveness (not nuclear in any shape or form)

"While the influences of Web 2.0 may vary in regions around the world, there can be little doubt that the challenges raised by new technologies must be addressed by the entire school library community.
Without facing the new realities of how people use information and communication or digital learning technologies, we risk a real danger of becoming isolated as print-only learning environments. We need to draw on our traditional leadership in building collaborative teaching and learning activities in order to engage students in new learning environments which harness their innate interests in new technologies and connect their in-school and out-of-school literacy practices."(SLW 2008)

What should libraries do to become relevant in the digital age?
They can't survive as community-funded repositories for books that individuals don't want to own (or for reference books we can't afford to own.) More librarians are telling me (unhappily) that the number one thing they deliver to their patrons is free DVD rentals. That's not a long-term strategy, nor is it particularly an uplifting use of our tax dollars.(Seth Godin)

Listening to podcasts and reading blogs/manifestos gave me the impression that librarians are excited about their profession but the source of their excitement is also generating fear or concern:

It is the best time in history to be a librarian. We have rich opportunities to teach and guide in new information and communication landscapes...perhaps our biggest nightmare is the lack of urgency in our profession. Educational change, technological change, and funding reductions are pressing in on all sides. (Joyce Valenza)

Librarians are signaling that change is happening and they are taking on Denzel's role. They are braving the new world, with new skills, and with new passion.

What needs to be protected or what is truly at risk....libraries? librarians? or something else? I would argue that, unlike the movie, physical objects aren't the focus in this discussion. True, powerful, and meaningful research + critical thinking skills are being lost and librarians are trying to respond to this educational extinction crisis (okay...a little drama left).

The Response (no kung fu required)

Joyce Valenza initiated a wiki (click here) on the topic of librarians. This wiki hit home that the most effective response to the above threat is human....not technological. Two statements from this wiki emphasized to me that a philosophical shift...a fundamental change in the discourse held by all educators (librarians, teachers, administrators, ministers, parents etc.) is the key:

The library is not just a place to get stuff, it is a place to make and share stuff...Know your physical space is about books and way more than books. Your space is a libratory.

Imagine how different the movie trailer above included Denzel and about 100 000 partners who all shared the same level of capability, vision, and focus. That probably wouldn't make a good movie but that is what is needed in education. Joyce's manifesto is a useless document if only one person in each district fits that description. If a school division became permeated with leaders who believed schools are physical places where youth explored creation in all its forms....imagine the implications and the possibilities:

1) Libarians would no longer have to ask how "to begin to make the school library program indispensable to the success of every learner at [their] school?" (thanks Cyn). They would have a whole community reflecting alongside them.

2)Libarians would no longer have to ask how to "involve other teachers, administrators, parents, and students as stakeholders in defining library program goals that support school goals" (thanks Cynthia). The whole school would be founded on this premise of involvement.

3) Staffing models and hiring practices would be altered to make sure a strong core of specialists are hired, supported, and utilized in staff professional development. These specialists would likely be creative in nature and highly skilled at navigating the technological and informational universes (sounds like a librarian to me....thanks Dawn).

4) People like Joyce Valenza would no longer have to push librarians and other educators to stay current with their skills. The general culture and the individuals within that culture would demand this as stagnant individuals/practices would contravene the core value of creativity. (Click here to read more about Joyce's charge)

In closing, I want to emphasize that fundamental skills in our students are what is at risk. My discussions with colleagues this week kept coming back to this perception. We perceive a difficult road ahead as we try to impart effective research and thinking skills on the next generation. Our experiences and research supports the fact that the presence of technology alone does not guarantee that youth will gain these complex skills (Todd, 2008).

Simply put...Denzel in the movie "The Book of Eli" could probably save the future without the physical book, but the book couldn't save the future without Denzel. Our students will succeed even if libraries as we know them cease to exist but their future is bleak without specialists like librarians.

Nonhyperlinked resources:

Todd, R. (2008). Youth and their virtual networked words: Research findings and implications for school libraries (14),2. School Libraries Worldwide, 19-34.