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Is it possible to be proactive when technology and the use of social media sites changes so quickly?

A colleague of mine asked me this question today.  Here’s my reply:

I think it is possible to be proactive with technology and social media, because I think the growth of social networking is plateauing.  In preparation for our group assignment on games, I have come across this business researcher, Seth Priebatsch, who says:

For those of you still trying to wrap your head around the meteoric rise of social networking over the past decade, this post might hurt a little bit. Because just as you and most of the world were getting a handle on it, the decade of social abruptly ended.

I don’t mean that we will stop using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr to share with our friends, colleagues and families. In fact, quite the opposite is true, our combined usage of these social networks will continue to increase. Rather, the decade of constructing the social layer is complete. The frameworks that we’ll use to share socially are built, defined and controlled. Construction on the social layer ended with the launch of Facebook’s Open Graph protocols over the last several months. All the interesting social stuff that will occur over the next decade (and there’ll be lots, I’m sure), will exist within this predefined framework built and controlled by Facebook. In short, the decade of social is over.

What’s taking its place? The decade of games.

I really believe that we are at the end of a cultural infancy with the onset of social networks and that this is as bad as it’s going to get.  Anyone anywhere can take a picture of anything with a miniscule camera and have it on the internet in nanoseconds.  “Privacy is dead.  How can it possibly get any worse?”  I heard CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi say those exact words at our library conference a couple of years ago.  Here’s one of his podcasts on the topic: http://www.cbc.ca/q/blog/2012/04/27/is-facebook-watching-you/

Now is our time as parents and educators to take a stand against inappropriate behaviour and to demand that the privacy of each person remains with that person.  If I ask you not to take a picture, you stop. (In my case, I don’t allow any pictures of my double-chin or with a drink in my hand to be posted.)  If I ask you to remove a picture, you stop.  At the same time, we know that this instant fame is also affecting behaviour in a positive way.  Remember the Vancouver riots and the consequences for these young people?

http://youtu.be/4VzOUKODdZ4

With the plateauing of social networks, our school boards, our unions, and the law need to  negotiate some very strict cultural and legal guidelines to protect us. To not take this crucial step, leaves us, as I said earlier, unprepared for the consequences of social networking.

 
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Posted by on July 22, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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It’s Complicated: the social lives of networked teens by danah boyd

It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked TeensIt’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens by Danah Boyd

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Throughout danah boyd’s “It’s Complicated: the social lives of networked teens”, I’m very satisfied with the level of sophistication of boyd’s research and unbiased point of view in her writing.  Her tone is academic, professional and at the same time, approachable.  The three areas that most concerned me during my reading are boyd’s research on the digital divide, online teen behaviour of sexual exploration and her plea for the redefinition of crimes associated with online bullying.

I’ve been increasingly uncomfortable with Marc Prensky’s phrase “digital natives” (2005/06) and I am reassured by boyd’s acknowledgement of her own awareness and skepticism of this blanket term.  boyd (2014) talks of social networking as a type of literacy and warns that “It is dangerous to assume that youth are automatically informed.  It is also naive to assume that so-called digital immigrants have nothing to offer.” (p. 177).  boyd also goes on to say that since teens are in many cases left to fend for themselves in networked environments, that their exposure to becoming fully literate depends on many factors.  She references Henry Jenkins and his thoughts on the subject:

Yet, talk of “digital natives” may also mask the different degrees access to and comfort with emerging technologies experienced by different youth. Talk of digital natives may make it harder for us to pay attention to the digital divide in terms of who has access to different technical platforms and the participation gap in terms of who has access to certain skills and competencies or for that matter, certain cultural experiences and social identities” (2007).

This paragraph amplifies my own worries that this simple term has excused the education system’s lack of action in lessening the digital divide.  I’m certain that we still promote the use of technology in the classroom as a tool of engagement, rather than seeing becoming proficient with technology as a fundamental requirement for graduation.

In the Ontario curriculum, at least, there is no single mandatory place where students are given a number of digital strategies for studying success, although we know there are consistent issues in any student’s level of preparedness.  Again, in Ontario, technology is not a mandatory part of the elementary curriculum and so students come to secondary with an almost insurmountable range of disparities in their digital backgrounds based on the interest and abilities of their elementary teachers and their home environments with varying degrees of hardware support and exposure.  Along the same lines of boyd’s concerns, Jenkins (2007) goes on to say:

Talking about digital natives also tends to make these changes all about digital media rather than encouraging us to think about the full range of media platforms which shape the world around us or for that matter, the complex set of relationships between old and new media that characterize convergence culture.

This sentence has been the basis of my learning in the TLDL program at the U of A, where I now understand that the crux of my position is to raise the bar for transliteracy for both staff and students. (King, 2014)

A large part of the digital divide that I know teachers are having trouble improving is the use of networked communities to help students.  In many ways administration fears of privacy and legalities have closed the networks for their possible misuses, meanwhile eliminating all possible positive ones.  Although I have concerns for all of our students, I have a particular worry about the LGBTQ population that are getting their information from unreliable sources when they desperately need support as they renegotiate social spaces.  The anecdotes from boyd’s research reassured me that LGBTQ teens are finding each other online and developing supportive communities.  However, boyd warns that “They are grappling with battles that adults face, but they are doing so while under constant surveillance and without a firm grasp of who they are.  In short, they’re navigating one heck of a cultural labyrinth” (p. 53).  I wish that the education system could find or create places, possibly in tandem with social support structures, where teens could create networks to reliable information.  I wish there was a way we could better support this.  I’m not sure what the answer is.

One of boyd’s research topics that particularly affected me is cyberbullying and the complexities in these cases.  Within boyd’s Chapter 5 on Bullying, she references the journalistic research work of Emily Bazelon who covered the case of Phoebe Prince, a teen victim of suicide and reportedly, cyber-bullying.  After linking to Bazelon’s extensive reporting on this case, I found that the law is responding with a variety of consequences to cyber-bullying and that because of the after-school, non-geographic locale of this bullying, that school boards have very little to offer to victims and bullies.  One of her final reports on the case revealed that in the case of Phoebe Prince, none of her aggressors were met with serious consequences.  Bazelon (2011) says:

After more than a year of covering this case, it’s hard for me to square that duty with the way these cases unfolded. “If you bully someone to death, that’s murder,” explained Joseph Kennedy, a criminal law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, when I called him earlier this week. “But if you bully someone, and then they kill themselves, and that’s not something you anticipated, that’s not a crime.”

The digital divide is not just between economic classes and about developing transliteracy skills.  Boyd has revealed that the digital divide also includes how living and working as educators in this era of social networking we are not prepared for the consequences of these networks; and we are currently unable to model how to use social networks effectively.

References

Bazelon, E. (2011, May 25). It’s Over: None of the six teens charged in connection with the suicide of Phoebe Prince will go to jail. Slate. Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/articles/life/bulle/2011/05/its_over.html

boyd, D. (2014). It’s Complicated: The social lives of networked teens. New Haven, MA: Yale University Press.

Jenkins, H. (2007, December 5). Reconsidering digital immigrants… [Blog post]. Retrieved from Confessions of an Aca-Fan website: http://henryjenkins.org/2007/12/reconsidering_digital_immigran.html

King, A. (2014, April 13). Transliteracy and the teacher-librarian [Blog post]. Retrieved from Threadbare Beauty website: http://threadbarebeauty.com/2014/04/13/transliteracy-and-the-teacher-librarian/

Prensky, M. (2005/2006). Listen to the natives. Educational Leadership, 63(4).

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Posted by on July 21, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal

Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World

I don’t think of myself as a gamer.  I have been known to play lots of those Flash-based Facebook games with my Candy Crush Saga friends, and occasionally a great puzzle-based novella will come along like Gabriel Knight 2,  Syberia or Ripper that I devour, but generally I didn’t think they were a big part of my life.  After reading just part 1, Why Games Make Us Happy, of McGonigal’s book, I started feeling that I could admit that I play Plants vs. Zombies and Game of Thrones Ascent almost every day!  Now that I’ve read McGonigal’s book completely, I know that it’s cool to be a gamer and I really want to believe that a game designer will win a Nobel Prize someday.

 

In Part II Reinventing Reality, McGonigal really opens up on the topic of how games can change our education system for the better.  I’m really intrigued with the idea of the game-based education being offered by Quest to Learn (p. 128). A very real challenge of my current position is to develop my staff’s comfort and skills with 21st century learning which largely focuses on digital fluency.  However, there are constantly battles between our current system and the growing desire from staff to collaborate and teach creatively.  The idea of redesigning the system from the ground up, the way that Quest to Learn has, is very appealing.  In hindsight, I know that the mindset of the administration and the staff has often been what held back change for the better design of our school and I wonder what kind of experiential learning the staff needs to help them grow in this direction.  We have a local company called Eagles Flight which worked with our department heads for one morning last January during exams, and essentially we played a quest game where we needed to get from one side of a desert to the other maximizing our resources, within a time limit and never having all the information we needed to play.  It was really fun!  Was it transformational?  No but it helped us to bond and gave us lots of fuel for good discussion for the rest of the day.

 

Having spent 5 years as a teacher-librarian now, one of the aspects of my job that I like best is how it gives me space to see the school as a whole system, and I can see the problem of the department silos.  At the risk of overglorifying the situation, I’m omniscient in a way that even the administration isn’t.  I’ve always enjoyed this role in my gaming experience as well, and was a big fan of many of the games McGonigal mentions in Part III, Chapter 14: Saving the Real World Together.  Besides Will Wright’s Sim City and The Sims, I was fascinated with the idea of Peter Molyneux’s game Black & White in which you need to make decisions for villagers based on moral quandaries. After reading McGonigal’s praise of the game, I dug out our old copy of Will Wright’s Spore and played through 4 levels with new appreciation for its design and trying to imagine what it would be really like to drop into the Ukraine, for example, and try to sort things out a bit. Maybe that’s the reason why I still like reality tv shows.  There’s a new one coming out this week called The Audience where 50 people make a life-changing decision for someone.  This experimentation in McGonigal’s “Saving the Real World Together” of taking a long view, practicing ecosystems thinking, and pilot experimentation (p. 297-98) are exactly the tools that I think we need our graduates to have exposure to.  One of the first computer games I remember loving is Lemonade Stand, where I simulated making a lemonade stand profitable based on fluctuating weather predictions and costs of lemon and sugar.  If I could remake school today, I’d start by making every single assignment follow McGonigal’s Saving the Real World criteria.  I might not be able to reconstruct my school into a Quest to Learn environment, but I can advocate for these 3 aspects in teaching design and that gives me hope that my influence will help save the world.  I suppose I need to see this through for the epic win.

Overall, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World is a game-changer (excuse the pun).  I’ve started a Twitter List called Epic Winners that includes all sorts of people who are using games for positive change and deeper meaning inside schools and beyond.  It even lead me to find a library game that I’d like to try out called (what else?) Librarygame.   This isn’t the first time I’ve thought “I wish I could give a little surprise to a student who signs out the same book twice, or has signed out 10 books this year, or returns everything on time”.  Even if it was just a virtual badge to add to their student e-portfolio, I think they would appreciate it.  I know I would.

References

McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is broken: Why games make us better and how they can change the world. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

 

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Posted by on July 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Storify: CaneLearn summit for K-12 Online & Blended Learning

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden

Through Black SpruceThrough Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Boyden allowed me to feel that I had been to Moose Factory and felt the complicated nuances of self-government and survival that happen there. And yet it’s a wonderful modern mystery as we try to understand what has happened to Suzanne and we hope that her uncle Will’s story is going to end well. The complicated intertwining of these two narratives takes us over much of Northern Ontario and New York State. It crosses all sorts of social boundaries but feels rich in detail and authentic. I thoroughly enjoyed this read and I would highly recommend it to mature young adults and adults.

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Posted by on July 7, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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The Shallows by Nicholas Carr

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

When Nicholas Carr wrote the infamous article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” (2008), he made waves in the education community who had bought into the Marc Prensky vision of today’s students as “digital natives” (2005).  While making impetuous decisions about technology integration in schools, Carr halted everyone into thinking maybe we should be a bit more skeptical about technology’s long term effects on the brain.  Essentially, Carr asks if our depth of thinking has been doomed to ‘the shallows’ with the advancement of digital technology.  He cautions that society has lots of breadth in the sources we have available to us to skim and scan, but that we are losing our ability to read deeply.  Using himself as a research subject, he argues that his behaviour in reading digital material appeals to his need for instant gratification, but has caused to become more easily distracted and more susceptible to the control of information corporations.

I really appreciate how Carr maps out in history how the very nature of reading has changed with advances in technology.  Carr (2011) says: “it is our intellectual technologies that have the greatest and most lasting power over what and how we think. They are our most intimate tools, the ones we use for self-expression, for shaping personal and public identity, and for cultivating relationship with others” (p. 45). The argument of the publication’s power has existed since the invention of the printing press … what are we going to publish and with whose voice?  Who is being left out of publishing and at what cost to society?  It’s possible to question this same problem of equity if we admit that “reading and writing are unnatural acts” (Carr, 2011, p. 51) and are shaped by parents, environments and school.  My concern is that in public education in a G8 country, that we need to try to level that playing field so that every student has an equal opportunity to learn.

I read a lot of news and magazine articles from my iPad which I control the flow of information using an app called Zite.  It allows me to turn on or turn off subjects of my interest and filters in my favourite writers, and filters out writers who I deem unworthy of my attention.  I love that every time I connect that there is a magazine filled with articles just for me.  Yet I’m turning into one of those people at parties who can’t talk about anything other than books, school libraries, chiweenies and the humble kitchen garden.  I read a lot but what I read doesn’t represent my renaissance upbringing.  It represents what Amazon has recommended for me based on my past choices, or what my filters have chosen for me in Zite.  However I don’t think that I’m reading any less deeply. I’m able to make big leaps in my intellectual logic, because I’m able to make room in my brain for bigger ideas than the quick facts that I can Google.

In contrast to Carr’s premise, Jim Collins (2013), Department Chair at the University of Iowa, argues that in order to get past “the debate between the defenders of traditional literary experience and the celebrants of digital culture…we need to distinguish between a delivery system and a medium.”  I’m still choosing to read a breadth of material on deep topics, but my reading has definitely changed in that I’m able to now metatag and share my reading with others in a way that I never have before. Collins (2013) also argues that “Reading literary fiction on an e-reader is not a gateway drug that leads to the hard stuff of digital culture — become psychologically dependent on that e-reader, and you’ll find yourself in an alley somewhere with a cell-phone novel written by promiscuous Japanese teenagers sticking out of your arm.”  Although I may be juggling a lot of new information (Carr, 2011, p. 139), I’m also making connections in new and interesting ways. Instead of tapping into a culture of fear about the internet’s potential for corruption, we should be using it to further our culture of reading into something more participatory.

Although Carr wrote The Shallows in 2011, his vision of libraries (p. 98) doesn’t represent my reality in 2014.  In 1994, the main floor of my library was converted to an open computer lab that could accommodate two classes at once and the books were relegated to a new lower level.  We’ve just made a major overhaul in moving the desktops out, the books back upstairs and doubling our computers by using cheaper, lighter mobile devices.  The emphasis isn’t on computers or books…it’s on learning.  Which makes me question once again Carr’s opinions on how schools should scaffold the use of technology?  I am more concerned that students in my community are missing out on technological advances, than if they’re indulging in technology for self-gratification.  Where is Carr’s research on the digital divide?  Does Carr believe as the United Nations does that access to the internet is now a fundamental human right? (Jackson, 2011).

While Carr has some valid arguments, especially those steeped in the rich history of language that he outlines in detail, I don’t want to believe him.  I want to believe that we are in a cultural infancy and that while we may be sacrificing some skills, that new ones will emerge.  Someday I believe that society will use the power of the global internet to solve the world’s problems rather than spending it playing Candy Crush Saga…unless each candy crushed will somehow eliminate poverty and hunger.

 

References

Carr, N. (2008, July 1). Is Google making us stupid?: What the internet is doing to our brains. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/306868/

Carr, N. (2013, April 20). The death of deep reading [Blog post]. Retrieved from big think website: http://bigthink.com/in-their-own-words/the-death-of-deep-reading

Carr, N. G. (2010). The shallows: What the internet is doing to our brains. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.

Collins, J. (2013). Reading, in a digital archive of one’s own. Publications of the Modern Language Association, 128(1).

Jackson, N. (2011, June 3). United Nations declares internet access a basic human right. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/06/united-nations-declares-internet-access-a-basic-human-right/239911/

Prensky, M. (2005/2006). Listen to the natives. Educational Leadership, 63(4).

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Posted by on July 7, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Storify: Treasure Mountain Canada 2014

What a fabulous day!  Even though I grumbled yesterday about our early 8 a.m. start, my jet lag had me up at 5 a.m.  I found a great coffee shop with an early start and energized.  There were so many new faces, familiar faces and people from my online PLN, that very soon we felt like family.  Here are the tweets from our day today:
 
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Posted by on May 30, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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