FOMO – New Media are Designed for the Fear of Missing Out

As I’ve been participating in Infomagical, an attempt to MOOC-up a week-long learning experience in information literacy on the part of the fine podcast Note to Self, their recent episode on FOMO has sprung back into my consciousness. Infomagical has been fairly cool, but a few comments – gems in a podcast that otherwise wavers between interesting and so hipster-navel gazing as to be maddening – are worth sharing.

First, FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out, is a phenomenon that self-replicates and feeds on the impulses woven into social media – to shape our public personas into fabulous brands, to feel anxiety over some lack that can only be pursued, purchased, photographed, shared. FOMO is an echo of instant nostalgia.

Caterina Fake claims in the course of this podcast that we need media literacy to remember how to be human in the face of technology. The tech has a bias – she worries about us “productizing” ourselves as we “peacock” through social media. I couldn’t agree more. Media literacy is an essential piece of education, but it isn’t really in style (so sadly – this was a GREAT organization). As a former student told me last year, “now that I am literate, I just can’t stop seeing.”

Media literacy prepares us to recognize persuasion, to examine subtext and purpose, to expect untold stories and describe them, to become creators ourselves. As we engage in dialogues (multilogues?) through social media, guarding our humanity against the relentless “desire” of design requires the active engagement of a media literate public.

Innovation Kickoff!

Today, in fact right now, our Upper School faculty are engaged in the classic Marshmallow Challenge to kick off a year of innovation. The always-modeling-best-practices Elizabeth Wargo (@wargoelizabeth on Twitter) organized this mini-project to get people moving in the morning, excited about the day, and working together from the get-go. //instagram.com/p/roVKM4sxr1/embed/ I was tasked with using hashtags and social media, as well as WordPress blogging to later share as a PBL option for archiving and sharing. I used #zispbl and #marshmallowchallenge through Instagram linked to my Twitter account, adding in Twitter usernames of colleagues featured in photos and videos.

What do I love about this? As mentioned above, modeling best practices. This is a kick off, and will lead into a Speed Geeking session in which we share the various methods in which faculty recorded, archived, and shared this session. Perhaps obviously, this is an initial reflection – time has just been called! People are very into their towers. Jason Welker (@jasonwelker on Twitter) is measuring the towers, logging group numbers, tower heights, and time to completion into a Google form to track and graph data. Alison Callaghan has photos and notes in Microsoft OneNote, Geoff Peake has video and photos, Christine Jordan has audio going onto SoundCloud via her phone.  All are options, depending on the desired outcome, and can be mixed and matched.

Liz Wargo also retweeted one of my videos, sharing with Suzie Boss, PBL expert and all around great person who will be joining us in October for 10 days of workshopping on PBL. The same tweet was retweeted by an #edtech robot because I slapped that common hashtag on one video, which is an interesting example of how hashtags work, extending the conversation and aggregating information. Additionally, Carmen Crenshaw-Hovey, one of our do-it-all folks around the Upper School, liked and commented on my Instagram posts. Once again, social media has the potential to share learning experiences in ways we may not anticipate and to involve more of the community beyond the classroom.

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Liz is debriefing now and launching into the rest of the day while linking to our summer reading, Bringing Innovation to Schools by the aforementioned Suzie Boss. Now break, then Speed Geeking. Soon, I will share this post with colleagues and discuss how blogging for reflection and blog-as-digital portfolio for archiving might work for teachers and students. One final learning piece for me: if a Twitter username is used in Instagram posts shared to Twitter, those posts drop the @ and are not usable in Twitter. Weird. Play nicely!

Ok. For now, The End…

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Reconstructing Legacy: A Visit to a “Steve Jobs School” in Sneek, Netherlands

 

Maurice de Hond gets attention – in conversation, at a dinner table, and in national and international media. After a few minutes in de Hond’s company, the forces of both his personality and intellect assert themselves.

Steve Jobs School, Sneek
Steve Jobs School, Sneek

No wonder then that de Hond has taken on nothing short of the structure of public education in the Netherlands as a project in founding “Steve Jobs Schools” throughout his country.

Steve Jobs Schools have ambitious plans to change the structure of the school day and year, allowing students to meet required curricular outcomes via virtual school spaces, apps, and coaching from a team of teachers in and out of school. Currently, the schools must adhere to Dutch regulations requiring a uniform length for the school day,  but they have been able to consider 10% of the school year “virtual”, according to de Hond, ostensibly reducing the amount of time students are required to attend school in person.

We visited one of several Steve Jobs schools operating since August, 2013. A full day trip, a group of international school teachers traveled from Amsterdam to Sneek by bus, regaled with Dutch history and geography, and informed about the history of this project by de Hond as we went.

Kids still work in analog at the Steve Jobs School
Kids still work in analog at the Steve Jobs School

Once we arrived at the school in Sneek, a small, nicely designed school in what appeared to be an economically diverse area, we were free to wander and speak with anyone we wished. I witnessed lots of normal behavior for any school: students read books, filled out worksheets, had conversations, played on and off the iPad, got shushed by teachers, got coached by teachers, and gawked a bit at their visitors.

I also saw plenty that was interesting. Students have an individualized learning plan with goals created by the teacher, parent, and student working in concert. Students learn language, math, and science in classrooms during 20 minute blocks, then retire to a central common area to work. In these classrooms, kids of all ages appear to be learning together. Students come and go independently, reminded by their iPad’s calendar when to move. This was all pretty impressive.

In the common room, the teacher in charge worked with two assistants to keep kids on task and to help out when needed. This teacher reported enjoying his new job a great deal, stating that it was both more fun and fulfilling than his prior position because he could help each student individually via their “Learning Talks” and goal setting.

Rainy day recess turned into a little Despicable Me viewing.
Rainy day recess turned into a little Despicable Me viewing, which gave me pause.

Clearly, the Steve Jobs Schools are a response to the current lockstep curriculum of the Netherlands, in which inspectors enter a certain class on a certain day, expecting to see everyone working on the same page of the same book. EDIT: Maurice de Hond shared via email that these inspections are less rigid than I described here, stating that ” of course the tests are forcing many in a rigid system.” As an option to what could be a stifling academic environment for some learners, de Hond’s project makes good sense.

But these schools are fledglings, with a palpable sense of running on enthusiasm inherent to such a new, attention-grabbing enterprise. Teachers are working long hours compared to their previous jobs, and the personalization level they hope to reach is not currently in operation – eventually, they plan to have each child’s iPad set up around her goals. Currently, the set-up is the same for all the kids. Ever greater personalization will lead to more hours, I imagine, particularly if the school is responsible for organizing such a set-up, rather than transferring responsibility to the child.

Additionally, succumbing to the fantasy that being busy is the same thing as learning can be intoxicating, at least as alluring as the classic teacher fantasy of controlling learning. Watching a child swipe randomly minute after minute across number and mathematical operator symbols to arrive at an answer was unnerving. I saw many abacus apps, and a good deal of app jumping. However, I also saw kids using blocks and good old analog manipulatives, sand tables and books. In this quick, drop-in tour, my biggest take-away was that this was a school, working like a school, with a good deal of learning and some healthy mucking about taking place simultaneously.

11th Century Learning.
11th 17th Century Learning. Thanks to Maurice for the correction!

At lunch following the visit and on the ride home, de Hond shared his vision of education freely and his hopes for his organization, O4NT (Education for a New Era). We visited the Sneek school because it is currently the most compete realization of the organization’s vision for Steve Jobs Schools, but a handful of others exist, employing recommended strategies to varying degrees. De Hond didn’t express an interest to force schools to conform to a standardized approach, but he can see a time in the future when some adherence to basic norms – once more well-established than they are now – is necessary.

I went into the Steve Jobs Schools fairly skeptical of what I might see – personalization as a playlist of worksheets or more old things done in new ways. However, this iteration of Dutch schooling as an innovation on the past and on existing regulations has potential to offer variety for students turned off by traditional schooling.

Future challenges exist. Is this model exciting enough to help teachers and students maintain their energy and enthusiasm long term? Can O4NT keep personalization and community relevance at the fore while demanding some sort of brand standardization for Steve Jobs Schools, or will this lead to stronger echoes of the existing system of education? Once finely-tuned, what relationship will the O4NT suite of virtual school apps have with Steve Jobs Schools, and to what degree will such apps drive educational, curricular, or pedagogical decision making?

New approaches in education are few and far between, with much that is new or reform-minded providing little more than a fresh glaze over last century’s progressive-isms (many of which featured great ideas). De Hond and his Steve Jobs Schools are executing some thoughtful concepts and forging a clearly welcome path through the community of Sneek, engaging kids in the process. And de Hond seems to bring enough energy to the project to keep it steaming along for some time.

On Quiet

I just love this piece in today’s Gray Lady. In it, the demands of quiet for thinking are discussed, with some examples – the framers of the US Constitution apparently covered the street in front of Independence Hall with dirt so as not to be disturbed by cart wheels, which differ from this surprise cartwheel.

Noise elicits a physiological response that we cannot control. Noise can be stimulating for an extrovert like me, but is can be an endless jangle to our nerves as well. For focus, nothing beats some quiet. For the past three years, working in a shared office at school, I have been wearing earphones for quiet, which is hilarious and sad. This piece makes it clear that real silence is essential for truly uninterrupted thought.

Additionally, controlling the interruptions of digital technology and all of the noise that surrounds them, real and imagined, is implied and examined in the piece. In our 1 to 1 school, pop-ups and flags are constant interruptions to our students’ concentration, but they will be there for the foreseeable future. I’m glad we now have a silent room in our school for study and work. After a summer of study at Columbia University, I re-experienced silence, and remembered it’s powerful effect on concentration.

Silence. I am a fan.

Wrapping My Partners in Learning Project

This past week, I presented my Microsoft “Partners in Learning” Innovative Educator project at their Global Forum in Prague. Partners in Learning structures the presentations as a competition between educators, which in practice is much more about connecting with like-minded teachers than about “winning” among the competitors.

My project is my ongoing development of a curriculum in my digital journalism courses, particularly focused on podcasting as an example. When I applied for the program in January, I had no idea what I was applying for beyond a conference in Lisbon, Portugal. I won an Innovative Educator award in Switzerland and was invited to Lisbon. While I was there, my project was judged by the likes of Gavin Dykes and I received incredible feedback, opening my eyes to the possibilities of the presentation, essentially placing my young curriculum in the spotlight. I won second runner-up in the “Collaboration” category and was invited to the Global Forum.

The curriculum is unique, I think, giving time, space, and total choice of content to students in order to learn writing and communication skills. We cover news, opinion, feature, and investigative writing through writing for web publication, podcasting, and video production with student-selected content focuses and increasing freedom in setting deadlines throughout the year. Students also work in teams based on media choice in each nine weeks after the first quarter.

In short, it works: Kids began seeing themselves as writers and media creators, improving their communication skills and, for some of them, falling in love with journalism. Students asked for a second year of the course, so I created one, experimenting and revising this year as we go. What is amazing in this class is how students are working so hard to produce the student newspaper online, managing their peers, working together without guidance from me, and exploring areas such as editing, graphic design, marketing, SEO implementation, and many more.

In both classes, I provide feedback as necessary on individual pieces, conference with students on their work, lead discussions of ethics, and help students find examples of high-quality journalism to learn from. In fact, learning from excellent online media examples is a centerpiece of the curriculum. Students even write and revise rubrics based on these models.

So, that was what I presented in Prague. I was not recognized as a winner, but am proud of my curriculum and am happy with what my students are doing! I connected with many amazing educators from all over the globe and look forward to connecting our students to empower and publish student-created media. I also got feedback not from judges, but from other educators. Many people have suggested that my students might benefit from publishing to “real” audiences like professional websites or journals, or websites focused on specific causes like those in “Taking it Global.”

Interestingly, my core “soft” or foundational value is to create a space for students to explore content that they care about or are at least interested in. This is the main shift in my curriculum, as I see it. While some students explore, create, and publish about global issues like human rights, others do the same on Italian football or school events. I don’t judge, treating each topic as equal to honor student choices and interests. Also, I only assign one topic in the first year course, something timely to begin the exploration of opinion writing (and to model it myself, showing research skills in the process). I don’t want to assign sexy topics in order to facilitate publishing to existing publications.

A clear next step for these classes is to start sharing and promoting cool publication options beyond student blogs and the school newspaper in order to simply broaden the scope of possibility for sharing kids’ voices. I’m really excited about the possibility of connecting my students to peers in Hong Kong, Kenya, California, England, Hungary, and Slovakia. When I participated in Project Harmony’s Armenian School Connectivity Project in 2005, I saw great value in using online tools for cooperative PBL between continents. I wonder how the students might take advantage of such an opportunity on their own?

As always, I left this conference deeply grateful for my school’s resources and support for (hate this term) “entrepreneurial” curriculum and course development.The stories of teachers doing wonders in deeply impoverished village schools in Nigeria or the Philippines or El Salvador blew my mind; I’ve been there, of only briefly, teaching at the Babur School in Bazaar-Korgon, Kyrgyzstan from 1999-2001. Also, I was totally depressed to hear from a teacher in the US who was forced to take unpaid leave to attend this incredible professional development opportunity. I’m lucky. I am taking nothing for granted!

Were I to do this again, I’d focus on something like “Messy Learning – Students Constructing Skills and Knowledge Together” or “‘Time + Space + Choice =’ Our Media Classroom” (BTW, that piece is exactly awesome, and exactly what I’m trying to do (#validating)) or  “Students as Managers: Creating Together” or something. I’d print freakin’ business cards, but I would not give stuff out. PSA: Please, teachers, easy on the printing of elaborate brochures. Let’s love the earth. I can help you build a blog with all that information and share the link.h

That’s it for the PIL stuff. Congratulations to all the winners – you rock. Apologies for the long and clunky reflection.

Electronic Portfolios, Blogs, and The Imaginary Audience

Every time I attend a “edutech” conference, I get excited to attend a session about electronic portfolios. Every time, I come away with more questions than answers.

I am a believer in the power of portfolio assessment – it’s the power of turning over goal setting, of building reflective learners, of giving kids more control over their own learning and outcomes. Students in my classes have been required to create electronic portfolios on a variety of blog platforms, currently WordPress. Last year, my colleagues and I created a curriculum for our grade 10 English course that is based on portfolio conferences for the final exam and as assessments throughout the year. It worked fairly well, we tweaked, and now are doing this at both the 9th and 10th grade levels.

However, while these electronic portfolios are open on the Internet, they do not have any inherent “authentic audience.” I get embarrassed for anyone who makes this claim about blogs, that they have a “potential” global audience. Of course, it’s true in theory. But there is a little competition for this audience.

Take you, for example. You are either A) my mum or B) someone who landed here from a Twitter link. I sometimes publicize my blog posts, but I never make lists of 50, 25, or 5 useful ways to do something with a piece of technology, which would increase traffic, possibly. Such posts seem popular. I know this, because I am becoming ever more literate in ways educators in particular communicate online and in ways they self-promote to grow their audience.

You see, blogs don’t come with a built in audience. But this is the point that some people use to trumpet the use of blogs for portfolios and to criticize the use of blogs for portfolios. Blogs are dangerous invasions of privacy. Blogs are powerful global platforms. Neither is entirely true. Both perspectives take our eyes off of the practice of portfolio assessment.

 

Final COETAILS Course Reflection – Creating a RUP & Publishing Policy

Crossposted from ZIS COETAILS Blog

For Course 5, I participated in a group revision and discussion of the ZIS Responsible Use Policy and the corresponding ZIS Publishing Policy via the online platform BasecampThe result of this project is a revised, single RUP for all ZIS divisions and a unified publishing policy, replacing the policy wedded to the RUP and the policy as outlined on the ZIS blogs landing page.

Initially, we were unsure about whether a single RUP or RUP by division made the most sense. Using Basecamp as a tool for sharing documents and discussions, we came to consensus that a single document made the most sense. The RUP may be translated into more “kid friendly” language at the ECC, Lower School, and even Middle School, but the policy will remain the same. Major changes reflect language around COPPA, which now reflects the letter and spirit of this law as a guiding principal behind the RUP. Additionally, the language has been tweaked to place an explicit focus on digital citizenship and media literacy for students and teachers. Additionally, the Lower School representatives were essential in adding student-centered language to this document, which absolutely represents what schools should be doing with technology.

The publishing policy places new importance upon student responsibility for published materials. Uniformly, staff from each division, students, alumni, and parents found the concept of student-owned product sensible and, generally, a given, which I found surprising. Perhaps we are reaching a new point of perspective on information literacy and “21st Century skill” fluency as a learning community in which the default is online authenticity and ownership, especially in academic contexts. Of course, students and families will be able to opt out of open publication or choose a “walled garden” approach in which they publish behind a school firewall (or veil, perhaps). As safety and visual information privacy concerns exist, they should be possible to address and solve on a case-by-case basis.

Course one and two of COETAILS formed the basis of this revision, but course four provided the inspiration for the project: technology’s catalytic effect upon learning. As my Digital Journalism course evolved this year, students grew independently fluent in a wide variety of ways and reflected non-linear learning in online platforms that I never explicitly taught or tangentially mentioned. Students used Instagram to explore if the iPhone could replace an SLR for journalists and gathered information via Reddit; neither of these arose through me. When students are free to explore digital spaces and create personally meaningful publications as they see fit, they will own them. Digital citizenship, like national citizenship, can be learned best through participation – democracy depends upon it. Maybe citizenship isn’t even the correct noun in this context, because we are focused on building skills for participation that shares, that makes, that adds value, that is ethical, that is honest, and that is above all active. At least in America, citizenship has become too often a passive concept. Maybe we need to shape digital leaders in a new, open, and democratic online community, leaders with the skills to resist corporate and government control of their communities.

COETAILS was a great opportunity to geek out, reflect, and learn. I’m proud that I and several COETAILS mates (I’m looking at you, Allens) worked together to create this new policy for ZIS. I look forward to conversations that follow the reworking of this policy (if they happen) and a student-centered technological paradigm at ZIS.

On Peripheral Technology in the Classroom

Crossposted from ZIS COETAIL cohort blog

Today in Digital Journalism: “Can I use my iPhone to record video?”

“Which iPhone?”

“The 4s.”

This student has an iPad to use, but the camera isn’t HD, as it is on the iPhone 4s. So why not? I can’t think of a reason. For teenagers, their phones are not peripheral; they are central, hubs around which they organize family, social, and academic lives. When I see a student texting in the hallway, I assume they have a purpose for doing so. I don’t see nefarious purpose built into a peripheral device any more than I see it built into a 1 to 1 laptop. As such, I manage peripherals by trusting students to use them appropriately and having conversations around inappropriate use when it occurs, which is rare and minor, like a vibration during a quiet moment or the odd ring).

Student devices can be powerful tools – mine is, too. I allow them to be used and haven’t had a problem yet. Students have, however, made creative, unique media to share with their peers because they had HD video cameras in their pockets. I struggle to see the downside, frankly.

The NETS and Good Teaching

Cross-posted from the ZIS “COETAIL” group blog.

When I read this question seeking a gauge of how important the NETS are to good teaching, I experienced a massive wave of cynicism that was broken by returning to the standards. Promoting creativity, designing progressive curriculum and assessment, modeling skills, engaging with ethics, and continually learning are lofty and important goals. Are these essential for good teaching? Yes.

I heard the term “common formative assessment” this weekend from a fine educator in the States, which seems like Orwellian English for standardized test. In too many US schools, students are treated as interchangeable parts, completing identical tasks or tests for data. Data makes great spreadsheets, but I’m not at all sure how that is formative. For the love of all that is sacred, can we not cultivate creative acts? How much more interesting for everybody – pity these poor teachers delivering the assessments, too – if kids spend common time in school or between schools working on a self-directed or cooperative creative, authentic activity. The data could be gathered in a celebration of creativity, an exhibition, and/or a website, if not shared in a more organic, authentic manner. Just NET Standard 1 is a powerful reminder that school can be real, based on actual problem solving driven by students. If all teachers and administrators stopped at #1, school would be a more dynamic place, full of uncommon formative assessments.

NET Standard #2 is fine. It’s probably the least important of the bunch for me. I do this, but most schools don’t rain iPads and software, so I’m going to give everyone else on Earth a pass on this one, in terms of being a good educator.

NETS numero tres is fantastic. What I love about this statement is that it begins with demonstrating fluency and then moves into collaboration, communication, and critical research skills. By demonstrating fluency, I imagine this standard to mean that we don’t write a blog post and then behave like we’ve pulled a rabbit out of a hat, but rather use a blog platform to do what blogs do – communicate information. We make a video to share information that benefits from a visual platform. We snap photos with our cell phone when we need a photo. So we model fluency because we are fluent; the environments that we use this fluency, at whatever level of proficiency we have, to build are what matter most. If I ask students to write a descriptive essay about Genghis Khan or a pterodactyl using the five senses, I wonder if I am fluent in using my senses or in writing (have you tasted a pterodactyl? To be fair, it’s probably a lot like chicken). If I ask students to burp into a Voicethread and call it a project, I wonder if I am fluent in project management or design (the Voicethread bit is easy enough to learn). Anyway, that’s why this standard is essential, because it transcends the digital.

NETS number four, ethics. Essential. We should treat ethics as a vast field for exploration and reflection, not as a whipping post for the unwashed, of course. There are no children who I have met without a finely honed sense of justice, and if you doubt the accuracy of that statement, hand out brownies of different sizes tomorrow in class. However, students are rarely encouraged to explore the foundations of their belief and value structures, much less to use these as a means for engaging with the world beyond their heads. Making real-world issues available for exploration in the classroom lights students on fire and teaches important skills like reading, writing, arguing, and critical analysis. While it’s hard for me not to jump up on the soapbox when class discussions range into ethics, for example, or responsible, active citizenship, I also make a point of exposing my own biases and their ethical foundations, as well as how these ideas create a lens through which I encounter information online or elsewhere. Sometimes I appear as a real person to kids, I think, which is powerful. I also like the focus in this standard on using technology appropriately to reach out to peers and communicate openly. All around, #4 is good stuff for good educators.

And finally, #5. If you ain’t learning, you’re dead. And dead educators are often less effective than live ones, but not always. Zing!

 

Ensuring Learning, Meeting Needs

Cross-posted from the ZIS “COETAIL” group blog.

When it comes to tagging blog posts, I am a burgeoning maestro. For this post, I have selected “21st Century Skills,” which is a term approaching Pee Wee’s Playhouse-style Secret Word madness with me. So, you see, that’s it! That’s an answer to the question. How do we ensure that students are learning what they need when it comes to Technology and Information Literacy? Teach 21st Century Skills, that’s how!

Ok, so that’s clearly not an answer. Here’s how: give the kids something to do and let them work out how to do it. I truly don’t believe that it matters if the solution involves picking a dodgeball side or working to protect the rainforest via a vast global network of like-minded youth, because I believe both are essential skills for this here century of ours, at once here and futuristic. It is not for me to decide what each kid needs, and need is essential to the question at hand. As we have been told by Sir Ken and his contemporaries, many of the jobs of the future don’t yet exist, so we can’t tell what kids need. Of course, the family of the future, the community of the future, and the future of the future do exist now, so we should keep teaching 20th, 19th, and 18th century skills, too. The world of work isn’t the whole world, after all.

Of course, I am more excited about authentic curriculum than I am about dodgeball (mostly). If we know what we would like students to know and to do, then I think we are best suited to help them if we couch their learning in authentic learning opportunities or projects. Of course, these should include the authentic use of technology, not to reach out to pretend audiences or to solve pretend problems, like writing a letter to the editor about dinosaur extinction, but to connect with anyone, anywhere, to talk to strangers, to take the ideas of others, ethically, and use them, advance them, in the pursuit of a solution for something. What won’t help students is using lasers to answer chapter review questions or the gamification of spelling tests. Learning a mix of skills for human interaction in the physical realm and the virtual realm is the best bet for securing a future for ourselves and our students that meets our individual and collective needs in this 21st century.