Friday, February 09, 2007

Information Literacy: The Points of the STAR

With the explosion of Web 2.0 and all of the media surrounding it, it is hard to escape hearing or seeing some example of its use in our daily lives. Along a somewhat parallel path has been a 'School 2.0' discussion that has traveled along the web. While there has not been an explosion of Web 2.0 tools used in schools, there are many instances where you can see these tools in use. Due to the role in society where schools are found, change in education is often a slow and often tedious process. In most cases, when you start talking about change in education, it is often some recycled program or idea that has been repackaged and sold as something new.

This is different. Information Literacy is on everone's mind now... and trying to define how that will look in schools is definitely starting to take shape. In my own mind, I want to define it for myself, so that I can accurately define and articulate it for other teachers and members of the community. So, this is just one way I started organizing things so that I can speak to teachers and members of the community and make sure I hit all the right 'talking points.'

So, here we go!

As I started looking at this I wanted to have a visual model where I could quickly draw in front of someone and have a few words connected to it that would organize my thoughts. Your own model may be completely different, but I am looking at this as a mini-graphic organizer.

I decided to use a 'star' as my organizing point. It's quick, easy to use and I can draw one with out much assistance, despite my lacking artistic skills. If you think of colors and light, the combination of all colors in light produces 'white light,' which is where all members of the school community need to be. Everyone needs to be able to see everything, it needs to be 'transparent.' Transparency, has become the new educational 'buzz word' of the day, taking over from 'ubuqitous.' In the model, where the white light is are: Students, Teachers, other Adults and Retention. The students, teachers and other adults are obvious, but the reason I added 'retention' was that I wanted to emphasize a 'shared set of skills and experiences' that will facilitate the conversation between all of the other three groups. The center of the star becomes the focal point of the five points that surround it. Each point taken separately sheds some light on the center of the star, but only when all five points of the star combine their light together do they become 'white light' or transparent.

So, what are the five points?

1) Tools / Applications: The tools of the Web 2.0 are now for the most part free. If you purchase a computer and have an Internet connection, most of what you want to do, you can find a tool for free that will allow you to do it. Some come connected with ads, others dont, but the point to be made here is that the 'point of entry' into the digital world has come very close to zero. It makes me understand Nicholas Negroponte even more. What tools... Open Office, Blogger, Google Docs and Spreadsheets, SketchUp, Google Earth, Picasa, Google Pages, Glifffy, wikis and the list could go on and on. The other issue surrounding 'point of entry' is the increasing power of cell phones becoming a computing tool. Everytime I do an SMS search infront of a new group of teachers, watching their eyes get really big and do a search with their own cell phone it is a very cool thing.

2) Relevance: As students and others move through there lives, there is always a desire to find ways to give meaning to the things that are part of our lives. Students are already using e-mail, text messaging, Instant Messaging, Social Networking sites (MySpace, Friendster), podcasts and online video (YouTube, Google Video). The use of Web 2.0 tools in education, which students are already using to connect to each other, gives them a level of comfort that is traditionally missing in most classrooms with desks in rows and a teacher standing at the front lecturing away.

3) Validation: Being able discern the difference between fact and fiction is an important skill in the lives of all adults today. But the even deeper importance comes from being able use information in a meaningful way. Search strategies, using the 'advanced search' functions of Google, the Way Back Machine and other search engines, allow students and others to find the history of different web pages, as well as sites linking to and sites being linked to.

4) Ethics: As part of the process of introducing a new 'Literacy' into schools, we need to understand that students do not understand many of the implications of their behavior in the connected society of today. This is something that many of us as adults have just learned over the past couple of years. Imagine turning the clock forward 10 years on the students we have today and the ability of a future spouse or employer performing a search on them and digging up some blog post or random reference on a web page that may not portray them in the most positive light. It has already been well documented where colleges and employers are using searches to determine admission and hiring practices. As part of the Global Communications curriulum, we included an entire unit on Digital Citizenship, much of which we used the material by Bailey and Ribble from Kansas State University.

5) Synthesis: Putting it all together is the key to all of this. Whether you call it remixing, synergy, mashup, sampling or something else, the goal of Web 2.0 and School 2.0 is to take the material available to students and synthesize it into something new and different. Once you have brought several ideas into a new form, you need to share that in some way, through a graphic, a podcast, blog post, video, etc. As students, and others, become more comfortable with this process of bringing together ideas from several different sources and sharing them out, it starts a conversation.

The conversation is what this is all about... We want students and their teachers and other adults in their lives to have a conversation. This conversation will take many forms, but it ultimately create situation where students will learn to work collaboratively with others towards a common goal and learn to teach themselves. This process will allow them to solve the issues that will undoubtedly face in their adult lives.

I once wrote an article about coaching, and the first line said, "Teachers and coaches are the biggest thieves known to mankind." I still believe this, but I need to refine it and say, "Teachers and Coaches are the biggest facilitators known to mankind." This is the role of teachers, where we become the facilitators of learning, not the source of it. In the past, teachers performed the remixing, mashup, sampling function for the students we teach, we did this for several reasons. First, it allowed us to have a deeper understanding of the curriculum we were teaching and improve our ability to relate the knowledge we had to the students. Secondly, we drew upon our own experiences in school, knowing that we didn't automatically 'get it' the first time the teacher introduced material and developed different ways to represent the same knowledge. Anyone that has been a teacher more than a few minutes has heard the phrase that we are moving from being "the sage on the stage, to the guide on the side." It is now time to really test all of that out.

In developing all of this I have taken and remixed and mashed up all of the things I have read and experienced over the last 2 years from: Alan November, Will Richardson, David Warlick, Miguel Guhlin, Wesley Fryer, Chris Walsh, Mike Lawrence, the Google Teacher's Academy, Vicki Davis, David Pogue, Mark Wagner, Kathleen Ferenz and a countless band of others that I read and interact with. I have not met all of these people face to face, but that is the strength of the new literacy, the ability to have the conversation, regardless of time or location.

So, to finish in the words of Dennis Miller.... ' of course I could be wrong.'

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