Sunday, March 22, 2009

How do you Eat an Elephant? Integrating Technology One Byte at a Time

When I was an Education student in 1996, I had a professor who was incredibly dynamic and had a genuine passion for teaching. At exam time our class was feeling pretty fatigued and overwhelmed by the mountain of work we felt we had to climb before the end of term. I'll always remember our professor's pep talk because it was so simple: How do you eat an elephant? (one bite at a time.)

Dining Together - Munching on Collaboration

The process of integrating technology into our libraries and classroom spaces seems daunting at first, much like climbing a mountain or eating an elephant - but if we simplify the process, start small and work our way up and out, great things can and will happen.

When David Loertscher was invited to speak to teacher librarians in Winnipeg last year his big push was to have teacher librarians collaborating more with classroom teachers. His mantra seemed to be: two heads are better than one. Loertscher suggested we revamp the way library time is scheduled - stating that teacher librarians should make extra room for those who wish to collaborate, so that higher-level activities could take place. He was quite practical in saying that not everyone wants to collaborate at first, but once they see the quality of learning that can take place, that collaborative style of teaching will become more valued and valuable. The main point I want to make is that Loertscher had the wisdom to see that a collaborative approach to integrating technologies like wikis and blogs could be done in smaller steps. Teacher librarians need not approach all staff at once, we can start small - with those classroom teachers that are most willing. Then, over time, we can invite the more reluctant teachers to join us (by then, hopefully, they will understand the benefits of collaboration by witnessing it in classrooms around them).

In Avoiding the Digital Abyss, by Rebecca Mullen and Linda Wedwick, we are also presented with a simple approach - they shared 3 practical and relatively easy ways to integrate technology into our schools:
  1. Use YouTube to share meaningful - just in time - clips with students.
  2. Create Digital Stories - I appreciated their suggestion to focus on storytelling first and technology second - warning that stories tend to become watered down if emphasis is too heavily weighted on technology.
  3. Blog - setting up a classroom blog provides an excellent place for homework reminders, book suggestions, podcasts, etc. What I like about the blog platform is the various other Web 2.0 tools that can be used within that space.

Mullen and Wedwick's approach for integrating technology into our classrooms could easily be achieved by many teachers as advanced technological skill to use these tools is not required.

Glimpsing - a Fly on the Wall

My first teaching position was at Davison Elementary School in Melville, Saskatchewan. I would like to spend a little bit of time highlighting this K-6 school because it has, in my opinion, been extremely successful in their integration of technology.

Back in 2000, the grade 4 teacher was interested in documenting her students school year by creating a video which she shared at our year-end assemblies. A couple of years later, the school was designated a Community Access Program (CAP) Site in which the school received a digital video camera and a computer to be used in the school and community (with the intention that the community could access these tools as well). Around this time, a grade 6 teacher pursued her Master's in Education and brought a knowledge and interest in new technologies back to the classroom using SMARTboards and blogs. In 2005, Davison School received the Saskatchewan Public Access Network Award for Excellence and Innovation in Technology, and they received a research grant from the Dr. Stirling McDowell Foundation. Today, if you view their website and classroom blogs (such as the Grade 1 class blog) you will see students engaging with technology as part of their daily learning.

Why has this small-town school been so successful at integrating technology into their classrooms? I believe there are several contributing factors:
  1. A willingness by administration to explore new technologies without an over-protective use of filters.
  2. A foreword-thinking Principal that encouraged her staff to learn about emerging technologies.
  3. Acquiring funding by applying for technology grants and participating in research studies.
  4. Two highly motivated teachers who went on to do their Master's degrees and shared what they were learning about new technologies (such as SMARTboards) with staff. One teacher took on a mentoring role and supported her colleagues in learning and integrating these new technologies. (Incidentally, this teacher is now the Principal and recently won the Prime Ministers Award for Excellence in Teaching; the previous Principal has gone on to be a Superintendent of Schools).
  5. A willingness by staff to be mentored.
  6. A staff that frequently collaborated on school-wide initiatives such as First Steps with morning breakfast meetings. The collaborative climate was already in place as new technologies emerged.

What I hope I have shown through this glimpse at Davison Elementary School is the idea that small steps can have a tremendous impact on our integration of technology. A couple of highly motivated teachers can pave the way for others to incorporate technology into their classrooms.

Like David and Margaret Carpenter say in their article, All Aboard: "The ripple effect for introducing 21st century learning opportunities can become an unstoppable force in your school’s learning community."

A Mantra (or 2)

I have 2 mantras that move me through those times when work seems overwhelming. One, I've already shared - that is to eat the elephant one bite at a time. The other came to me as I sat in the taxi after my 5 month old son had heart surgery. We were on our way to the airport and were quite rushed for time. The taxi wouldn't start. The driver was apologizing and trying everything. Normally, getting to an airport on time would stress me out. Not anymore. I was calm. I had just handled the hardest situation of my entire life. I was peaceful, and I was certain we could handle any mountain we had to climb. My 2nd mantra is, it's not heart surgery; we'll be okay.

So, while integrating technology into an already crammed curriculum may seem like an overwhelming task, it isn't. It's just technology. It's just another tool to add to the stew. It's not heart surgery. And like eating the elephant, we don't have to wolf it down all at once. Small bites/small steps can be a highly effective way to go. With each step, our comfort level will increase. If we just realize that we're not alone in this - we can experience the strength of collaborating and facing the journey together. We can learn with/alongside/from our students. As Don Knezek (ISTE CEO, 2008) has remarked:
"Teachers must become comfortable as co-learners with their students and with colleagues around the world. Today it is less about staying ahead and more about moving ahead as members of dynamic learning communities. The digital-age teaching professional must demonstrate a vision of technology infusion and develop the technology skills of others. These are the hallmarks of the new education leader."
If we accept the challenge to collaborate in the digital-age, we'll all benefit from the ripple effects.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Privately at odds with Privacy Issues

I gave my privacy away the day I became a mother. No matter where I am in the house, one of my 3 boys finds me. I never imagined washing my hair with a 5 year old on the other side of the shower curtain telling me all the details of his Star Wars Transformer. But, it has happened, and it seems like I'm never alone. And yes, someone is always watching me or listening to what I say.
This week's topic about Privacy has made me realize that I am also being watched on-line. Everything I do on-line is being recorded somewhere. But in the grand scheme of things, does it really matter?

After watching the video Does what happens in the Facebook stay in the Facebook? I was a little shocked that Facebook wants all rights to anything I post there. It doesn't seem very socially polite of them, if you catch my drift (I'm a firm believer in social netiquette). I was also extremely interested in the negative comments regarding this video. One of the cleanest comments (there were several with profanities that I came across) reads as follows:

. . . what exactly does this person put on their facebook that they don't want
other companies to see? For that matter, what does ANYONE put on their facebook
that they don't want others to see? God forbid that they give away the pictures
of her at her college reunion! The only thing anybody would want with your
information is surveys. Do you care that people you don't know know you read
Harry Potter? (Comment posted by nommayomnom 2 weeks ago)

This got me thinking:

Do I care if my information is used in surveys? No. It's a little creepy to think my information is being shared without my knowledge, but I don't post information that I want to keep private anyway, so why does it matter?

Do I care if people know what I read? No. If I post a book on Shelfari that I've read, I'm aware that it's out there for people to see. If I did care, I wouldn't mention it.

Would I care if they gave my photos of my children away? This is where I do care. I believe it's common courtesy to be asked before photos are used elsewhere. I would probably get a little upset if I saw pictures of my children published without my consent. I have to weigh the possibilities of this happening with the joy of sharing with friends and family.

Should I share this knowledge about privacy with staff and students? Probably. I think that it is good to help others be aware of what rights they are giving up while using social networking sites like Facebook, but I think we have to realize that a lot of them simply don't care.

So, why is it a non-issue for some, while others feel so strongly against the lack of privacy that they refuse to use Facebook and such? I realized earlier today while muddling through this issue that there is a lack of urgency for many youth regarding on-line privacy. Look at their privacy role models - Paris Hilton is the one star who comes to mind with regards to their privacy being violated on-line. And look what happened to her - fame. Ms. Hilton has not been jumping on the privacy bandwagon as a result of this experience. As far as I can tell, she hasn't been asked to do school visits to spread the word about protecting your privacy on-line.

Deeper Reasons for Protecting our Privacy Rights

I think we can all agree that there are more serious issues on-line than simple marketing surveys.

In the video clip, Facebook Killed the Private Life, Clay Shirky (author of Here Comes Everybody) asks us to comtemplate: "what are we going to say as a society about looking into other people's lives?" Is it right for employers and schools to search out information about you on Facebook and Myspace?

The most relevant piece of information about privacy that stood out for me from this interview was Shirky's comment about the effects of technology on ones private life:

"What the technology makes possible is colliding with our social sense of this
kind of semi public, semi-private sphere - that's what is being contested,that's
what being fought over. The most serious negative consequence of this is: if we
don't carve out some space for documented personal action that's okay, then we
will really have robbed young people of something they won't even know they're
missing because they never leave the web of surrveillance. "
When it comes right down to the bottom line - there is no bottom line. We have never experienced such a blurring of private and public life before - so we don't know all the answers.
For me, I've been witnessing 2 types of response:

1. Engage in a knee-jerk reaction saying to avoid Facebook and Myspace - such as the recent warning from B.C. College of Teachers (see, Warning for teachers: Facebook can kill career).

2. A proceed with caution approach- and with an awareness that whatever you post can be viewed by anyone, and possibly misunderstood or misinterpreted.

As an educator, I definitely think we should be engaging in these conversations with our staff and students. I also believe this is just the beginning. As a parent I will continue to educate my own children as they grow up with this "web of surveillance" (Shirky) using Doug Johnson's sage advice as presented in Lighting Lamps:

  • Write assuming your boss is reading
  • Gripe Globally; praise locally
  • Write for edited publications.
  • Write out of goodness.

I appreciate Johnson's straight-forward manner, and his words are quite wise. These guiding principals to on-line writing could easily be shared with staff, students, and probably pre-service teachers as well.

If we traverse the web of surveillance with knowledge and awareness, and follow guiding principles like Johnson's, I believe many of us can enjoy the benefits of on-line writing and sharing, while at the same time model the public/private balancing act for our students and children.