Sunday, May 27, 2007

Expectations in a Digital Age

Transparency and accountability: Isn't this what we want and expect from our students? Isn't what we should expect from our teachers as well?

Many years ago, when I was a younger teacher, I remember seeing a video that a student had shot surreptitiously during an Advanced Placement American Government final exam. On this video tape, I was able to witness a student 'body block' the teacher, other students tossing stacks of paper out the window and general mayhem throughout the 15-20 minute video. I discovered a few weeks later that the video tape found its way into the hands of the principal. This teacher quickly was transferred to another school, but to my amazement, this teacher continued to teach for several years after this incident. I understand the laws in California regarding 'tenure' or permanent status, I think they were needed in the past. The low pay of teachers and the desire to allow teachers some level of autonomy in the classroom, tenure laws were necessary to protect teachers from over zealous idealogues who permeated school boards. The pendulum has swung so far to the way of teacher protection that bad teachers can't be removed.

Now, I am asking the question, how do we fix the situation? I have had as a quote on this blog, "There is a big difference between teaching thirty years and teaching one year thirty times," but how do we balance the situation to build schools that rewards good teaching and either remediates or removes teachers who can't get the job done?

What are the professional expectations we have of teachers? Especially, what are the expectations of teachers to incorporate 21st Century technologies into their teaching repertoire? There are several issues that make this difficult to achieve, including: lack of quality professional development, availability of tools, etc., but we have to move forward and who is going to make sure teachers meet these standards? Administrators? Most administrators know even less about technology integration than teachers do and have absolutely no frame of reference to evaluate teachers in this area. The one other issue we haven't mentioned is the fact that teachers do have an ego. It may not be as large as a professional athlete's, but they do not want to be corrected by one of their students, under any circumstances.

So, we are in a time warp... We have students that are consuming the media as fast as it can be produced, teachers unwilling to integrate technologies that will allow their students to become self-initiated learners and administrators who believe a PowerPoint presentation is the pinnacle of technology integration. (Don't laugh, I have had administrators tell me that they beleive that a PowerPoint is an advanced use of technology.)

Sorry for the rant... but if we are going to move forward in education in this country, we need to look at information differently. There is a difference between possessing information and the ability to manipulate the information students have access to. We are still teaching students to possess information, instead of being able to quickly manipulate it for their benefit.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Tentacles: Real and imagined....

First of all... It's been almost two weeks since my last post on this space. Why? Well, the Global Communications Grant progress report was due to the CDE on May 7 and my writing resources needed to be focused there instead of here. I really do miss the connections I make in my own mind here, infront of the legions of readers of this blog that I can count on my hands.

Let's talk about tentacles...

When we, as teachers, begin the process of looking at information literacy as a study unto itself and incorporating it into our curriculum, there are several places we look for items to illustrate the need for these skills. One of these places is a site of the Pacific Northwest Tree Octupus. Now, looking at the title, an average individual would think of this site as bogus, which it is. Although, I would challenge you and your students to take a look at this site. The site has a high quality look and feel to it and the average 13-14 year old might look at it and validate it on looks alone. Students, like many of us, judge the book by its cover! This really illustrates the need for information literacy(IL) and digital citizenship (DC) instruction in our schools. The road block? We need more teachers and administrators to include IL and DC as as part of the greater definition of literacy we want our students to achieve. How far do the fabled tentacles of the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus extend into our schools?

Students, the Digital Natives of our culture; are wired, unwired and ultra-mobile. It is not uncommon to find a high school student with the TV on, listening to music from iTunes on their computer, with three or four browser windows open and at the same time engaging in a few instant messages sessions and a cell phone call with one of their friends. The students we teach don't just use technology, they devour it. Last November, I was at the Monterey CLMS conference and went to the keynote presentation given by David Warlick, where he likened students use of technology to the tentacles of an octopus, far reaching and able to bring in many different resources at the same time. His talk quickly turned to the point that when students enter schools, we cut off the tentacles they use to pull in all of the information they use in their personal lives. What would happen to an octopus if we cut off all of its tentacles? It would more than likely die because it would be unable to feed and defend itself. Are we creating a situation where students can't feed and defend themselves?

What do they need to eat? Information, but not just any information, they need the information that is going to prepare them for the challenges of their adult lives. In the wild, animals quickly learn who their allies and enemies are and how to best provide for their survival. Students need to learn these same skills in the world that they encounter in their everyday lives.

How do students know what is valid and what is bogus? Do we teach them that? How much of what students consume as patrons of the Internet is valid? Are there opinions, or more accurately, different interpretations on the same set of facts that are available on the Internet? These are all reasons why information literacy and digital citizenship are so important and must be part of what we consider the new definition of what it means to be literate!

What do we need to do?

- Develop ways for students to build their own filtering system for Internet resources
** I am currently working on a criteria to validate Internet resources. What do you think should be involved. Drop me a note! I would like to have a single page guide that would assist students in validating Internet resources.

- Talk to teachers and administrators and get them to include information literacy and digital citizenship skills into the curriculum. I know everyone has more content than they can possibly teach, but these skills are the tools that will 'unlock' all of the information that will allow students to teach themselves.

- Read more: Parents, teachers, administrators and students. The more people read, regardless of the content, the more they develop their skills for identifying nuances in the text, discovering the 'under the surface' material in a passage and in turn become better consumers of the media.