Saturday, November 24, 2007

Making Lemons into Lemonade

A couple weeks ago, I wrote in my blog about Wikipedia and Wikinomics. This topic is still one of fascination to me (no, I don’t have anything better to do!)

My husband and I are in the parenting stage we call “housefuls of teenagers”. In the 21st Century, high school students, much like college students, seem to form their own learning communities to study various subjects. I love it when they gather at our home because it gives me a chance to find out what’s happening. Recently a group visited our home and gathered around the computer in the game room. When I walked in, they had Wikipedia up on the screen. I casually asked what they were doing, and they said they were researching something. I noted that they were using Wikipedia and asked how their teachers felt about that. My query was answered with, “Mom! We’re just using it to get started!” Then they showed me that when you scroll down to the bottom of most articles, there is a list of resources from which the information was gleaned. This list was the basis of their research. No teacher had showed them this; some student just figured it out, showed someone else, and now they are all infected with the “Wikipedia-as-research” virus.

IMHO what these students need, and what is sorely missing from most school curricula, are media literacy and research skills—for the 21st Century. With the loss of licensed media specialists in most of our schools during the funding decline of the last two decades, and greater demands on standards and testing, media literacy is often left by the wayside. The advent of the Internet has made information more readily available than ever before in history—but misinformation is more readily available as well. Simply banning students from CITING Wikipedia obviously does not prevent them from USING it.

Perhaps a better strategy would be to meet this problem head-on: Teach students how to use Wikipedia appropriately, how to evaluate the information they find there, and--gasp!--maybe even contribute to the common base of knowledge found there. Omigosh, we have just touched on most of the recently-updated NETS standards for students (9-12):

  1. Identify capabilities and limitations of contemporary and emerging technology resources and assess the potential of these systems and services to address personal, lifelong learning, and workplace needs.
  2. Make informed choices among technology systems, resources, and services.
  3. Analyze advantages and disadvantages of widespread use and reliance on technology in the workplace and in society as a whole.
  4. Demonstrate and advocate for legal and ethical behaviors among peers, family, and community regarding the use of technology and information.
  5. Use technology tools and resources for managing and communicating personal/professional information (e.g., finances, schedules, addresses, purchases, correspondence).
  6. Evaluate technology-based options, including distance and distributed education, for lifelong learning.
  7. Routinely and efficiently use online information resources to meet needs for collaboration, research, publications, communications, and productivity.
  8. Select and apply technology tools for research, information analysis, problem-solving, and decision-making in content learning.
  9. Investigate and apply expert systems, intelligent agents, and simulations in real-world situations.
  10. Collaborate with peers, experts, and others to contribute to a content-related knowledge base by using technology to compile, synthesize, produce, and disseminate information, models, and other creative works.

As an educator, you might be wondering, “But how am I going to do this? I don’t know much about Wikipedia myself; how ever will I figure out how to teach students about it?”

As it happens, I came across an excellent article the other day by educational technologist Andy Carvin. Andy writes a blog called that is connected to the PBS Teachers site, and has blogged about both Wikipedia and media literacy several times. The article I came across is not his most recent on this topic, but what I found helpful is that there are many suggestions within the article on how to use Wikipedia as a vehicle for teaching research and media literacy skills.

Every course that asks students to do any type of research needs to explicitly teach the skills that students need, and not expect, as educators sometimes do, that “their previous teacher should have taught them those skills.” Utilizing the strategies from the article covers a plethora of content standards as well as the NETS standards.

It is imperative that our youth learn to research appropriately, to think critically, to question validity, to evaluate accuracy, and to use responsibly. Using Wikipedia as a vehicle to teach these skills provides us with a free resource, as well as an opportunity to do what educators do best: Make lemons into lemonade.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Monday, November 19, 2007

Music: The times they are a changin'

Downloading illegal music is a huge issue in most families with teenagers. UK rock band Radiohead has a solution: Give the music away. They have circumvented normal conventions and made their most recent album, Rainbows, available for download on the Internet--and the consumer sets the price!

Check out their website at

Technology writer Steven Levy discusses the potential future effects of this phenomenon in the October 29, 2007, issue of Newsweek.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The power of distance learning

Sometimes we get so caught up in the day-to-day tasks of our jobs that we forget the broader view. This week I have had the opportunity to step back and take a hard look at how distance learning affects students and schools. And the view is impressive!

As products of the factory model we call schools, many of us tend to take the school schedule for granted: start at 8, change classes every 50 minutes, eat lunch from 11:50 to 12:30, more classes, out at 3:30. Halls should be empty and quiet during classes, students work primarily independently and out of textbooks, are only allowed off campus during lunch, only fraternize with students from their own community, and tuck away their communication tools at the door. How does this type of schedule prepare our students for their future jobs, where they are likely to telecommute, work with people from many cultures across mostly transparent international boundaries, and use technology tools ubiquitously?

Part of the answer is distance learning. Distance learning provides opportunities for students to learn outside of the box. It transforms both time and place as well as world view. Teachers can be available during extended hours by email, phone, instant message, or chat. The teachers have lives that extend beyond the communities in which the student live, communities that for those in small, rural areas are in many ways extensions of the four walls of the school—the same people with the same opinions doing the same things.

I visited this week with students in Prospect, Oregon, a small former timber town of about 650. The entire school district has only 180 students. Their principal states that distance learning is vital to their school because it provides the students with opportunities that they otherwise would never have. In one room, two students were taking an accounting class via videoconference, while 5 additional students, working on computers along one wall, were quietly working on their online classes which ranged from Japanese to Algebra to American History.

Not only are these students learning the content for these courses, they are gaining valuable skills in the use of technology and communications that can not only expand their own world views, but help transform that of their community. These students, whose education would from outward appearances seem underprivileged by many standards, no longer assume that everything worth learning happens within the four walls of their school. Wherever these students go, they will be forever shaped by distance learning, where they are discovering that the scope of their experience is not limited by time or space. As future parents, teachers, community members, and citizens, they will never assume that all learning has to be from 8 to 3:30 inside of the four walls of a building. By working with these students, we are helping to shape the future of not only the lives of these students, but of education as a whole.

Thanks for all you do!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Mindstorms from E-learning Conference


Usually in this space I rant about how we must change our teaching methods to fit the learning styles and habits of today’s students.

Instead, today’s blog is about how these same technologies affect the economy. This effect is called wikinomics. Wikinomics is a term used by authors Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams to describe how Web 2.0 technologies have transformed many aspects of 21st Century society. More than just a way to engage and motivate students, Web 2.0 has become a corporate strategy to facilitate collaboration not only among employees, but suppliers, customers, and perhaps even competitors as well.

In the first chapter (which you can download for free), the authors tell a story about a company who took a chance and used collaboration with their own competitors in a desperate attempt to stay afloat—and it worked. The company is described pre-collaboration as “desperately needing to inject the urgency of the market into the glacial processes of an old-economy industry.” (I can’t think of a better way to describe schools.)

Tapscott and Williams believe that businesses will have to “harness the new collaboration or perish,” and that individuals will be required to “embrace constant change and renewal in their careers.” But the good news, according to Tapscott and Williams, is that growth and innovation can be achieved by learning how to facilitate this engagement through co-creation activities such as wikis.

This concept has interesting parallels with Cable Green’s stance that learning can no longer be proprietary: witness MIT and Stanford’s posting of all their coursework online.

And these authors walk their talk. On their website,, anyone who’s interested can collaboratively write and edit the last chapter of the book.

On second thought, this post IS about teaching, learning, and schools. I stand corrected.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Herding Cats

One of the students in my professional development class recently shared her frustration of her school district’s policy that not only blocks online videos but also purposely neglects to install sound capabilities in their school’s computers.

The question we need to ask is, Are these technologies blocked for the students' benefit, or for our convenience? In 2001, education technology visioneer Marc Prensky labeled students as "Digital Natives" and those of us who are older than 25 or so as "Digital Immigrants". Teenagers ubiquitously navigate through audio, video, IM, text messaging and many other forms of digital communication on a daily basis. Just because we "Digital Immigrants" don't understand, does that make it useless? or bad?

A study published in August, 2007 by the National School Boards Association found that 96% of students with online access use social-networking technologies. No one taught them how to use MySpace--they learned from each other. Big surprise that many use it inappropriately! There are some obvious parallels we could draw here.

School administrators keep asking me how their schools can use electronic portfolios, and they are surprised when I tell them that their students already are--it's the teachers who need to learn how to do it. Some school districts, like Seattle Public Schools, are proactive, purchasing services such as Medley and providing the requisite training for teachers and staff--as well as instruction for students regarding media literacy, evaluating sources, and other 21st Century Learning Skills.

IMHO we need to accept that our teenagers probably know a lot more than we do about many of these technologies. However, we tend to have a couple things they don't have: experience and judgment. Together, these provide us with the ability to make predictions regarding the potential results of our actions. Students, as the ultimate optimists, rarely think what they do is going to injure them. The side benefit of this optimism is the willingness to learn and try new things. Isn't this the attitude we want to promote in our students? IMHO we as educators spend all too much time and effort in an attempt to control something we don't know about, understand, and are afraid of. And in the end, it's like herding cats. Maybe if we walked among them, we could lead them in a direction that's more appropriate.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Ramblings of a Self-Appointed Technology Evangelist

I had the opportunity to attend and participate in the Pacific Northwest/Washington Blackboard Users Group Conference in Eugene, Oregon, on Friday, October 19.

For some reason, this particular conference resonated intensely with me. I gleaned many valuable concepts, resources, and strategies to share with the many groups with whom I am working: Oregon Online teachers, SOESD School Improvement Team, SOESD Ed Tech Cadre members.

The Keynote presentation, by Cable Green, introduced the concept that education should be (is?) in perpetual beta; that is, that our methodology and pedagogy and content should be constantly changing and evolving as our society and technology change. One question that arose is: Are educators modeling lifelong learning if they don't model and integrate the use of technology?

The question we should all ask ourselves is, “What am I doing differently today/this term/this year than what I did yesterday/last term/last year?” If the answer is “nothing”-then Houston, we have a problem. The world has changed since yesterday/last term/last year; what are we doing to keep up with it?

One could argue that it is impossible to keep up with everything. But those of us who have chosen education have a special responsibility: To prepare children for their future. One of the great quotes from the conference is:

“We are preparing children for jobs that don't exist yet
using tools that haven't been invented yet
to solve problems we haven't discovered yet.”

One could argue that education's mission is not necessarily as narrow as preparing students for the workforce. But if we replace the word “jobs” above with “tasks”, it seems to give the quote more of a sense of students as the global citizens who will, in a few short years, be taking our places as the leaders, inventors, entrepreneurs, parents, citizens, and even teachers of the future.

One of the anecdotes I've heard regarding this is about Rip Van Winkle. As we all now, this legendary figure fell asleep for a hundred years. Imagine his confusion when he woke up, wandering the roads and cities, seeing so many unfamiliar sites: skyscrapers, automobiles, television, cellphones, shopping malls. Finally, old Rip wandered into something familiar from 100 years ago: a school.

It would be funnier if it weren't so true. How many classes in how many schools around the nation-the world?-teach in the traditional style of stand and deliver? How many classrooms have desks in rows, seats assigned alphabetically, and work primarily out of textbooks, where students copy down answers to questions that don't matter onto the remnants of dead trees? And how much of our so-called online learning is simply the digital version of this?

What are the alternatives? Cable Green (yesterday's Keynote speaker) labeled the solution “Participatory Learning.” I'm sure he did not coin the phrase. Whether we've heard it before or not, we have all encountered the participatory nature of the new millennium: YouTube, Wikipedia, eBay, blogs-even American Idol. People like to feel that they have a choice and a voice. Are we preparing our students to live in a participatory, increasingly digital, globally-connected world, or are we preparing them instead for the world we grew up in, where we were admonished to color inside the lines, girls played half-court basketball, and people like our grandfathers often worked for the same company their entire lives?

Each of us needs to ask him/herself what he/she is doing to incorporate participatory learning into his/her (virtual) classroom. If you are doing the same things today as you did yesterday, it's probably not enough. Am I advocating that you immediately dive in and overhaul everything you are doing? Not exactly, but I'm hoping that you are all dedicated enough to children and to learning and to education to join with those who are working towards true educational reform: helping the digital natives learn to reason, compare, evaluate, communicate, and make thoughtful choices as they become lifelong learners and responsible global citizens.

I began 20+ years ago as a Self-Appointed Educational Technology Evangelist, and have since gone semi-pro. My mission is to continue to spread the word and to develop ways to model/encourage/nag/support others to join me in the ever-evolving pursuit of making learning more participatory by integrating technology into education.

What does this mean for ya'll? Consider taking one baby step at a time into the world of participatory learning. Begin by pledging to explore at least one new technology/skill/website each week, and to work towards incorporating participatory learning into your teaching strategies. Your students will be glad you did.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Digital Natives

Sounds as though the Seattle school district "gets it." According to an editorial in the September, 2007, issue of District Administrator, Seattle Public Schools are launching an in-district social networking service called Medley. As Lindell Anderson, one of the lead developers for the project wrote, "Incorporating Web 2.0 for education isn't 'sugar to help the medicine go down,' it's speaking the native language and honoring the digital world-view of a technologically fluent generation."

Friday, September 14, 2007

A Whole New World

On the front page of the Medford Mail Tribune on Thursday, September 13, there is a story about a local person who has been accepted by the the Wikipedia community as a high-level editor. What's unusual about this is that the person is a 16-year-old, and was voted into this position by the consensus of his peers--in an international, multi-age community. His age and lack of educational degree are less important in this online community than his reputation and past behavior, which is seen by his online peers as exemplary:

In this fascinating story of 21st Century community building, a couple new vocabulary words popped up:
- trolls: people who try to bait others and disrupt online civility
- sock puppets: people who create alternate usernames and masquerade as someone they are not

Next, I was browsing through the October 2 issue of PC Magazine there is an article using the "sock puppet" terminology describing the behavior of some corporate administrators who post derogatory comments about rival companies on public discussion boards to influence consumer behavior. While this is not specifically illegal, the question is posed regarding whether or not this unfairly influences stock prices. In question at present are the postings of John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, who, as a sock puppeteer, has been posting derogatory comments about Wild Oats--whom Whole Foods is planning to buy out.

It would seem that understanding something about online culture would be necessary for those who will soon take over the reins of drafting laws and passing legislation--a job for which I hope we are preparing our students.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Virtual 2x4

One of my "virtual 2x4" strategies is to use an image or video clip to get students' attention at the beginning of the class period.

I might give them a handout or have them write on a scrap of paper the answers to such questions as:

- What do you think this object is?
- What attributes does it have that make you guess this?
- What other terms might you use for the word "object"?

This could lead to a lesson on searching, a study of the location where this object was found, or many other things.

Monday, June 25, 2007

To kick off the annual 3-day Summer Institute, several members of the Oregon Online staff took a jet boat dinner cruise that traveled downriver from Grants Pass, Oregon into the famed Hellgate Canyon on the Rogue River. In addition to the scenery of the canyon itself, participants had an opportunity to view wildlife including bald eagles, osprey, great blue herons, Canada geese, and several varieties of ducks. There were several opportunities to get soaked when the boat was spun 360 degrees, an event not soon forgotten by a few fortunate members. Oregon Online staff are in the back two rows in the photo on the left.