September Think-About

Well, here it is… over a month into the school year. There’s still so much to do and things to consider for technology and education.

One topic to mull over: what’s the best way for schools to teach kids about internet safety and responsibility?

The “Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act” was introduced in the Senate on January 4 of this year. It has only been referred to committee, so no further action has been taken. Depending upon which article/blog/journal you read, this “act” will either be more hard-nosed when it comes to internet blocking and monitoring in the schools… OR, it might be a slightly more relaxed version of previous legislation.

One of the requirements that may come about is mandatory internet safety classes for students in all schools receiving specific eRate funds (see this August article from eSchool News).

How do you feel about even stricter requirements imposed on web blocking in schools and public libraries?

What kind of plan could be implemented in schools now that could help kids learn more about internet safety?

May’s Think-About

So long, 2006-2007!

The 2006-2007 school year has come to an end. Over the summer, while students are taking their well-needed break, what do you think they’ll be learning? My guess is that those with access to the internet are going to be spending a lot of time on their social networking sites, blogs, instant messaging, podcasting, online gaming… and probably a few things I don’t even know about yet.

The point I continue to make in nearly every post is that we, as educators, need to know what are students are doing and understand what draws them in to those activities. The students we’ll have returning to our classrooms again in the fall are digital natives. We need to teach them in their language (“digital”), and we can’t do that effectively if we live outside that world.

Spend some time this summer learning something new… maybe you’ll read an education blog, or subscribe to a podcast, or start your own MySpace(tm) page! Whatever it is, be sure to keep an open mind about your experience, and try to see the world through your students’ eyes. The digital experience isn’t going away any time soon, and our students will be expected to think, produce, evaluate, and be creative in a digital world. Will you be able to help them?

Have a great summer!

March Think-About

It’s been almost a month since I last posted. I know there are only about two of you reading this blog right now, so I should apologize to just you.

What’s concerning me today is what I see… or rather DON’T see… happening in classrooms. There are great educators out there doing great things in their classrooms. We’re having truly meaningful discussions about the tools we use to facilitate communication and gather information. BUT– of course there is a “but”– I don’t think we’re incorporating our discussion topics into the classroom practices. In simpler terms, we’re not changing the way we teach to accommodate what students need to learn.

One example: I still see many teachers use computers as a reward and not an everyday necessity with kids. I hear, “If you finish your classroom assignment, you can then work on the computer.” The students in these types of classrooms don’t see the computer as a tool; they see it as an object where games are played.

Funny, but I’m guessing they don’t view computers at home the same as they do at school…

… which brings me to yet ANOTHER point. In many of my in-services we discuss the Digital Divide, or at least the topics that people associate with the term. Let me set this up–

  • Some teachers have explained to me that they can’t use “technology” in their assignments, because not all students have access to computers at home.
  • Many of these same teachers use computers or other technologies as rewards in the classroom for those students who either finish classwork early or who have done well on particular assignments. In essence, the computer has become an enrichment tool– or on the worst level, a distractor– so that the teacher has time to work with the students who need more help finishing classwork, mastering a topic, etc.
  • When we study which students have computer/internet access at home, we also find that these tend to be the students who finish their classwork on time and are understanding the concepts. It’s not a direct correlation, but the odds are better than average that those who “have” continue to get more time with technology than those who “don’t have.”

By continuing to use classroom technologies as games or rewards, we’re not helping the kids who need help most. If a child has limited or no computer/internet access at home, he or she should be able to learn those digital skills at school. Isn’t that the most natural conclusion? Or are we assuming that these same students need more important skills before focusing on digital literacy? Couldn’t we do both at the same time?

Digital Divide links you might read:

The Digital Divide Network

Digital Divide on Edutopia

Bridge the Digital Divide

Many of the articles and information you’ll find in the above links will focus mainly around the “access” issue. However, it’s not just about limited access. I can donate computers to schools, homes, etc.; but if I don’t provide the “how” and the “why,” those tools aren’t going to help bridge any gap.  Digital literacy skills don’t simply appear on their own. They must be taught.  More on this in my next post…

February Think-About

Today, while giving an in-service to some really great middle school teachers, I pulled an analogy out of the air… and now I wonder if it painted the picture I wanted.

 I compared MySpace ™ to Elvis.

A lot of adults- educators, parents, or otherwise- hate MySpace (and other sites like it.). They don’t like the potential threat it carries with kids who don’t understand or care about internet-stranger-danger. It is commonly considered a bad influence on the thinking skills of young people. Adults don’t always understand why anyone would want to spend that much time posting and communicating and requesting “friends.” Many adults wish that MySpace would just go away, so that things will go back to the way they were before.

In the mid-1950s, Elvis Presley was all the rage. Girls screamed and cried over him. Boys thought he was the coolest. Some adults even got caught up in Elvis fever. But many adults saw Elvis as a threat. His effect on the minds of young people was dangerous . His singing and dancing was scandalous. Why would anyone want to waste time listening to him? They wished he would just go away, so that things could go back the way they were before.

Elvis didn’t go away just because a lot of adults didn’t like him. Neither will MySpace.  In their respective generations, both have made a significant impact on the lives of young people.

How adults respond to the MySpace issue will also make a significant impact. Are you as an educator going to be the naysayer, the finger-pointer, the accuser of the “evil empire” that is the MySpace generation? Or are you going to open your mind to the possibility that there could be something useful, productive, and… yes, even educational about MySpace?

With the appropriate boundaries, MySpace-and other sites like it- CAN BE a good thing. Let’s do a better job of teaching kids how to use the tools they have appropriately.

January “Think-About”

In one of my recent presentations, I asked the questions:

What is so appealing about blogging? Why would a person WANT to blog? What brings readers back to a blog? What would possess a person to post a comment to a blog?

An audience member immediately shouted out, “Because they need to get a life!” But if you are at all familiar with blogging, you know that’s not always true. For every one blogger who never leaves the comfort of his/her ‘cyber lifestyle,’ there are hundreds of bloggers who live very active and productive lives.

So, let’s think about this: what is the draw to blogging? Authentic experiences? A sense of community? Great storytelling?

And the bigger question is: how do we tap into this appeal as educators? Students blogging about assignments, for assignments, etc. are great ideas, but what else is there?