Where do you keep your ketchup? If you run out, what do you reach for? Chances are, if you keep your ketchup in the fridge, you are white or northern, and if you are not white or from the south (of America, to be clear), you keep it in the cupboard. This Reply All podcast begins with a “Yes, Yes, No” segment on the “Manosphere,” which is throw-up-in-your-mouth worthy, as concepts go. Listen, or skip ahead until the Leslie Miley story about diversity – or the lack thereof – at Twitter.
The point about ketchup is this: if you keep your ketchup in the fridge and run out, you are likely to reach for other condiments you keep in the fridge, like mayonnaise or mustard. If you keep ketchup in the cupboard and run out, you are likely to reach for a condiment that you keep in the cupboard, like malt vinegar (or mustard, I suppose). Diversity offers ways of problem solving in ways that we can’t anticipate in monocultural or monolithic organizational cultures. Even a diverse culture may lose out on problem solving options native to someone with a background not represented in the decision making space.
Diversity is a moral imperative in schools not just for obvious reasons, but also because diverse learning environments are necessary to prepare students for life in a broad, diverse world! This podcast makes the argument better than I can, so give a listen.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sometimes, an education blog post crosses out of the Twitter educhat echo chamber, into the larger Twitterverse of politicos, journalists, and ür-parents. Roger Schank is today’s pole vaulter, springing out into the Zeitgeist of our moment, criticizing much that is wrong in high school while engaging in more than a little over-pragmatic, under-intellectual pandering to the lowest common denominator. Hate high school? Here’s why you should, kids. Yet somehow, I feel this isn’t aimed at kids…
Schank writes of English (represent!):
English: this is a subject which has its good points. There is exactly one thing worth paying attention to in English. Not Dickens (unless of course you like Dickens.) Not Moby Dick, or Tennyson, or Hawthorne, or Shakespeare (unless of course, you like reading them.) What matters is learning how to write well. A good English teacher would give you daily writing assignments and help you get better at writing (and speaking). By writing assignments I don’t mean term papers. I mean writing about things you care about and learning to defend your arguments. Learning to enjoy reading matters as well but that would mean picking your own books to read and not having to write a book report. Lots of luck with that.
Do high school students still write book reports? Probably, but that still feels 25 years out of date. Parentheses abuse aside, I can’t quibble with Schank’s points; indeed, I model my English classroom after them. While students don’t write daily, they structure oral, written, or media communication in class most days. The problem with daily writing is that is difficult to ensure quality feedback for each, or most writing opportunities. Daily writing can be longer form, as well, with guided practice from day to day as formative feedback. Again, Schank more or less nails it on all counts. I particularly like the choice reading concept, which I am incorporating more and more into how I teach. Each of my classes includes choice assignments, with the digital journalism courses being almost all student choice. As in math, as in science, students should grow in English proficiency by doing, by critically examining texts and media and by communicating in a variety of styles and genres.
But where Schank’s argument grows facile is its treatment of academic subjects like economics as so abstract as to be meaningless (emphasis mine):
Economics. This subject in high school is beyond silly. Professional economists don’t really understand economics. The arguments they have with each other are vicious and when they economy collapses there are always a thousand explanations none of which will matter to a high school student. What should you be learning? Your personal finances. How to balance your check book. How much rent and food costs. How you can earn a living. What various jobs pay and how to get them. A high school student needs economic theory like he needs another leg.
How to balance a checkbook? I can barely type that sentence without an F-bomb in it, the concept is so ridiculous. Who’s out of touch – the person teaching economics as case studies and the application of theories or the person who still has a checkbook? How can one earn a living? A job. Entrepreneurial application of self. Holes in the tax system, nepotism, irresponsible banking. Spurious reasoning breaks through breathless disregard for all things high school, subject silo by subject silo, and a smattering of fair points are quickly subsumed in a tide what the reader already expects (American education is all bad!). It’s as though Schank has never heard of students doing actual things in school, or working together effectively – it happens, regularly, and it’s not useless learning.
I regularly wish that the discourse around education in America was more constructive. I regularly read shock titles that look good in tweets and witness them leading the discourse. At least Schank didn’t use the words crisis or war. It’s too bad that, as a reaction to responses to this sensible article in The Washington Post, Schank chose the lowest hanging fruit in this blog post.
In early June, a great friend and colleague of mine, Geoff Grimmer, was abruptly terminated from his position as Principal of Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy. I wrote the following letter to Dr. Sandra Smyser and the Eagle County School Board in response and in support of Geoff. I also attended the public appeal hearing where I spoke in support of reinstating Geoff. In my remarks, I expressed great surprise at Dr. Smyser’s unfortunate characterization of good principals as “middle managers” and about the power of modeling as good leadership. In my opinion, firing Geoff for being a poor “fit” in the district and for a perceived failure as a middle manager signaled that returning to teach in Colorado would be impossible for me in the future. If one gets fired for success in public education, we have major problems. Happily, the Board voted not to uphold Geoff’s termination and he will return to VSSA this year.
Dear Dr. Smyser,
I am writing today to express my extreme shock at your failure to renew the contract of Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy’s Principal Geoff Grimmer. Mr. Grimmer is a former colleague of mine and an inspiration to me in my teaching practice as an English teacher and department chair at Zurich International School in Zurich, Switzerland. Mr. Grimmer is an example of an ethical educator who places the whole student firmly at the center of his practice. My only consolation for the loss of such a leading educator to the children of VSSA is that we may be able to lure Mr. Grimmer to our school.
First and foremost, I am surprised at your decision to terminate Mr. Grimmer’s contract. Mr. Grimmer is a nationally recognized leader in education, as noted in coverage by The New York Times of the great success of students at VSSA. Negligence or incompetence on the part of an educational leader is not mentioned by the journalist in this coverage; rather, success and positive innovation aimed at helping students realize their highest potential form the backbone of the article. Mr. Grimmer was also very recently featured in Microsoft Vice-President of Worldwide Education Anthony Salcito’s “Daily Edventures” blog aimed at uncovering “global heroes in education.” Do you disagree with Mr. Grimmer’s view of education as expressed in these two media pieces? Is the vision that Mr. Grimmer expresses so out of touch with your vision, or the vision of Eagle County Schools, that this represents grounds for termination? If so, I would be interested in learning the areas in which you disagree. On your “Office of the Superintendent” page, you state that “Eagle County Schools is an innovative district that pushes the boundaries of what public education can do.” Surely VSSA, created and led by Geoff Grimmer, stands as nationally-recognized proof of such a statement. Is this grounds for termination in the Eagle County Schools?
Perhaps more surprising is that by any objective measure, VSSA is flourishing under Mr. Grimmer’s leadership. As your district reporting on 2010-2011 CSAP results states, “Eighth graders at VSSA and GCMS improved their [math] scores from 55 to 79 and 62 to 77 this year“ and scored “79% proficient or advanced” on the reading portion of the test. Your report goes on to note that VSSA students and 8th grade students district-wide “boasted stellar improvement scores at 79, 76 and 70 percent proficient or advanced.” If such success as measured by the admittedly questionable instruments of Colorado state standardized tests proves grounds for dismissal, have you failed to renew the contracts of Mr. Grimmer’s similarly successful colleagues? Of course, as you declare on your Superintendent page, “We are clearly a district that is serious about student achievement – not just test scores, but meaningful learning that is relevant, interesting and promotes abilities like critical thinking and problem solving. We expect that every student can function at high levels, and we are determined to help them achieve.” As VSSA allows students with exceptional talents to pursue their skills at the highest levels while at the same time employing 21st Century learning platforms to maintain high standards of education, it seems a model for your claim. In the design and implementation of this innovative model for learning and teaching, what failed to meet your expectations, or the expectations of the Eagle County Schools?
Finally, I wonder by what standards you assess your instructional leaders? By the ISTE NETS-A standards for administrators, Mr. Grimmer is an outstanding example of educational leadership in the digital age. Beyond areas previously mentioned, Mr. Grimmer understands key metrics for evaluating success in a diverse, unique environment like VSSA and has clearly utilized them to provide a safe, positive environment for individualized instruction – best practices all around. Per the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium, Mr. Grimmer clearly meets all standards and, most importantly, is a reflective educator and lifelong learner dedicated to continually improving his practice and the learning community under his charge in a healthy, humane manner. Even the inconsistent Colorado Principal Standards provide a steady list of strengths attributable to Mr. Grimmer or areas in which growth can easily be realized. While I am certain that Mr. Grimmer “Exemplif[ies] a personal and professional commitment to ethical conduct and respect for others and their rights,” I cannot be sure that he does not hold the bar for student achievement higher than “Colorado State Model Content Standards” or that he always “Convey[s] respect for the roles of elected officials and administration.” What is unclear in the Colorado Principal Standards are the benchmarks upon which a meaningless abstraction such as respect for elected officials and administration are judged; does the absence of a positive, for example, prove a negative? Of course, ethical behavior and the holding of high expectations seem minimal expectations taken for granted until compelling evidence of their absence is uncovered. In lieu of such evidence, surely it is incumbent upon you, Dr. Smyser, to present findings worthy of termination of employment for an otherwise fine educator.
Dr. Smyser, as an experienced educator yourself, you must recognize the relationship between objectives or benchmarks and judging performance. By measures qualitative and quantitative, Geoff Grimmer is a successful educational leader of Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy. When district leadership suddenly terminates the contract of a successful school leader, especially so very late in the school year and without any prior notice, they risk deeply undermining the trust and authority placed in them by the community, and so should not do so without a volume of compelling evidence. If gross negligence or incompetence was obvious before, why did you not act earlier to mitigate the damage? In fact, such a decision fails to meet all communication and environmental management standards for administrators such as those linked above. For these reasons, and for the children of your learning community, please accept this statement of protest of your decision not to renew the contract of Principal Geoff Grimmer of Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy. You should reconsider this decision immediately and move to renew Mr. Grimmer’s contract today. The health and vibrancy of your learning community demands it.
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!
What core elements should the curriculum of the future contain?
How will Learning 2030 affect social relationships in schools?
Should schools prepare students for the world of work?
Two other questions deal with learning spaces, which is an important and fascinating topic that I have been thinking about regularly since a recent visit to Microsoft Switzerland’s headquarters. But beyond physical environments, what is the future of curriculum, creativity, and relationships in school, particularly in terms of what students should know after they leave school?
Thinking about the future of school is tricky. As Dr. Seymour Papert pointed out, “It is impossible to predict what the school of the future will be. History always outsmarts the futurists.” A large disconnect already exists between what the world of today is and how schools operate. Schools are inherently conservative institutions, where change comes slowly. As such, we continue to sort by age ( rather than interest area or fluency level, for example. As such, kids are robbed of a diverse community of learners, one more socially traditional than the hierarchical age model. Learning 2030 should be about social relationships predicated on a shared journey of discovery across age groups, including a student-teacher relationship of cooperative learning. As a teacher, I’d rather be a learner than an authority – a guide with experience in my areas of interest who creates opportunities for students to learn and build meaning individually and socially. As Papert goes on to say, “But it is easy to predict what it will NOT look like. I am sure that the practice of segregating children by age into “grades” will be seen as an old-fashioned, and inhumane, method of the “assembly line” epoch. I am sure that the content of what they learn will have very little in common with the present day curriculum.”
I hope Dr. Papert is right. A responsive curriculum is no curriculum at all. Curriculum tends to focus on facts that need to be learned or a banal, arbitrary “spiral” of skills; learn persuasion in 10th grade English as you read Julius Caesar, learn comparison in 11th grade English as you read Othello. Dr. Papert also described an “intellectual diet” of content for children and a broader curriculum predicated on fluencies in various skills like accessing information with “knowledge technologies.” Teachers engaged in a mutually engaging, constructivist process of learning with students can craft this diet to help kids explore their passions by doing things. Doing is creating, permanently, temporarily, or ephemerally. The role of creativity in school is central, or should be. Standards and curriculum can’t really address that without being extremely broad.
At the end of the day, I don’t know any happy people who make a living doing something they hate. As such, preparing students for the world of work means helping them build positive working relationships, understand their areas of interest, build fluencies in skills essential for life in the 21st century (most of which were essential in the 19th century), and create habits of mind and habits of work for success, happiness, and ethical engagement in society.
As a part of my COETAIL course at ZIS, I am required to answer the question “Whose job is it to teach the NETS (and other) standards to students?” NETS stands for the National Educational Technology Standards and is a set of standards for various groups in schools, like students, teachers, administrators, coaches, and so on. Like most standards, these statements aren’t analytic, but big, broad statements such as “Students understand human, cultural, and societal issues related to technology and practice legal and ethical behavior.” Then, each statement is parsed into 4-5 areas of application, also broad. So, who teaches creativity, collaboration, communication, information literacy, technological fluency, critical thinking, citizenship, innovation, research skills, and media literacy? You. Wait – didn’t you get the memo?
The problem with such standards – probably all standards – is that they at once seek to define all that must be known and done by everyone, everywhere. Standards have value and I find the NETS sensible and useful, but of course I understand the NETS through the lens of my subject area and age group. Most other teachers will do the same. As such, the NETS become a sort of planning and reflection checklist for the teacher – how am I hitting or ignoring certain parts of these, and how can I do better? That’s useful.
But, as long as we teach from pages 134 to 141 tomorrow, and as long as we shoot for standards like the Common Core, for example, there is little hope of generating the sort of student-centered, exploratory environment that would furnish the most powerful, transformational answer to this question: Together we learn the NETS through exploration in a supportive environment. I recently read something marginally snarky on Twitter that the tech-savvy person hits a problem and asks “How can I solve this problem?” and the tech-o-phobe asks “Who can solve this problem for me?” If that’s true, then the failure for the tech-o-phobe is in the environment in which they are working; perhaps a better question in a more supportive environment would be “Who can help me learn to solve this problem?” That is the sort of question I want students and teachers asking together.
If a school environment supported messy, time-intensive “project based-learning” or exploratory approaches, they need to cultivate the risk-taking (maybe low-risk taking is a good term), “play” mindset. Teaching media literacy, for example, gets sticky fast. As soon as we start drilling down past the surface, individual interests lead kids off in fascinating directions. Once they start producing media that “talks back” to mainstream media messages and values, it’s hard to have everything due on Tuesday. Instead, some time frames expand while others contract. Some students make a chunky poster, others geek out in Photoshop, and others still build elaborate sandbox sets for the destruction of a Matchbox car in explosion and flames. Each student may not even hit the same standards at the same time, but allowing open-ended exploration and choice helps students learn the NETS themselves in cooperation with each other and with the teacher or teachers. And that is the right answer.
Ohhhh, so that’s where the 13-year old concept comes from! When teachers talk about Facebook – and we do, oh yes, we do – the age restriction is always in the background and often the subject of conversation. Cyberbullying in middle school? Solution! The age restriction on Facebook. Does it have the force of law? I always scoffed at the idea, but it actually does in the United States. On The Media‘s current podcast addresses the issue of the age restriction resulting from the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and parental perceptions and decisions around it. I found parental perceptions of the age restriction informative and the implications of privacy violations by the very free web services like Facebook or Gmail that kids are clamoring to use fascinating, particularly in terms of the implications for educators.
When educators speak about privacy concerns, they worry primarily about cyberstalking or cyberbullying – interactions between people, facilitated by technology, that go horribly wrong. However, COPPA isn’t built to protect children from other people, per se, so much as it is built to protect children and their personal information from institutions or corporations. That’s fascinating. This concept is a game changer – privacy is more about protecting children from becoming the products of free online services, sold to advertisers for targeted marketing and come-what-may, than about protecting children in public interactions online.
dana boyd points out, however, that parents have mixed views of the age requirements of Facebook: only 53% of parents reported knowing that Facebook had a minimum age, and 35% of those believed it to be a recommendation rather than a requirement. Only two parents from this group “referenced privacy. Amidst the open–ended responses, the notion of maturity or age appropriateness came up frequently. Some parents highlighted maturity with respect to content; others referenced maturity with respect to safety issues like bullying and strangers” (¶50). In short, most parents who know there is an age restriction view it more like a movie rating than a restriction. Privacy is a slippery concept that is obviously hard to define.
At my school, we are having discussions about the “Responsible Use Policy” and our school publishing policy as we move to more and more student publishing online – e-portfolios in the form of blogs, an online student newspaper, and multimedia publication via Youtube, Soundcloud, and so on. Our policies state that they are “informed by” COPPA, and our focus for protecting children’s privacy should focus on those under 13, generally students in the middle school. Of course, this is not to say that we should be careless with how we handle demographic or personal contact information for anyone, student or otherwise, in our institution. But, as dana boyd points out, a regular approach of law enforcement and others teaching kids about online safety is to suggest lying for safety. She states in this podcast that a large number of kids on Facebook identify their location as Afghanistan or Zimbabwe, because these come first and last in the alphabetical order of countries, respectively. The flip side of this message is that lying gets kids access, as boyd points out. Ironically, it is lying that subjects Facebook and free email providers to the vagaries of COPPA, because they are then automatically holding, mining, and marketing the personal information of children under 13. Students are opting into violations of their privacy through lying in ways that they believe will keep them safe from a threat that may not exist or is, in my opinion, quite overblown.
The implications for teachers are many. First, we should work with kids under 13 to identify the sources of actual threats to their privacy, that they are the products and not the customers of web services like social networks and free email. Second, we should craft an environment and a curriculum for students over 13 that focuses on personal responsibility, honest and ethical participatory citizenship in public communities, and conscious use of the Internet with its myriad tools and sporadic pitfalls. To that end, I have proffered an edited version of our online publishing policy that states the following:
Publishing via the Internet is encouraged at (our school). It is viewed as an effective way for students and faculty to publish their work and ideas to the broader world because it:
includes broad representation from all students/groups within (our) school community
reflects the academic and social values of the (school) Mission & Philosophy
encourages students to produce their best work for publishing through a process of revision and to accurately reflect their developing levels of skills
creates an opportunity for students to discover how to be positive, respectful, contributing members of an open community
serves as a springboard for peer review, reflection, and collaboration with a global community of learners
encourages the conscious development of a positive online presence or “digital footprint” for every child
The US Children‘s Online Privacy Protection Act, while not binding on the school, has informed (our school) guidelines with respect to Internet publishing and privacy. The US Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act defines a child this way: “The term “child” means an individual under the age of 13.” As such, we recognize that (our school), in which all students are 13 or older, needs to provide a safe, guided approach to managing online presences or “digital footprints.” The following expectations apply for all members of (our school) community when preparing material for Internet publishing on (our school) Web Site or on external websites for school-related purposes, like blogging, posting media, or collaborating with others.
Students are solely responsible for what they choose to publish online.
Students publish material online with the understanding that their published content should adhere to academic and/or professional norms and appropriately reflect (our school’s) Mission & Philosophy.
No current, specific demographic or contact information will be published which will identify a student, faculty, or staff member (i.e. home address, telephone no., etc.).
Personal information regarding faculty or staff members will not be published without prior permission.
Online publishing is a public activity, and every effort is made at (our school) by teachers and administrators to teach and model appropriate public behavior in an academic context.
Students involved in specific academic activities which use Internet publishing as an integral part of their academic experience (i.e. student newspaper or literary magazine) should understand that their names and/or pictures may be published in relation to work undertaken as part of these activities.
Student Publishing Statement
Content published by students is not intended to be official (school) communication and does not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the school. (Our school) is responsible only for official content published through official channels.
Can a change of policy result in any actual changes of procedure, values, or perception? I’m hopeful that a statement of values may be a first step in the right direction. I’d love any and all feedback on these policy ideas, as well.
Today was interesting with our iPads in Digital Journalism. Students are working on a first podcast based on a short current event article written last week. I provided links to tutorials on two ways of making a podcast – one in Garage Band and one in Aviary on their laptops. Most students dove in, playing with different options and experiencing some real frustration with inflexibilities in Garage Band. However, many swiftly figured out ways to make Garage Band work or found other apps for recording voice and sound.
Two students spent almost the entire period searching the App Store for paid apps that would “make the podcast,” as they described it. They ignored the tutorials even after redirection and lost an hour looking for simple solutions for sale. Is this the design of the iPad and App Store?
Another student found the Stitcher Smart Radio app and explored podcasts, listening to several. She reported that she “just listened to a lot of podcasts to know how it should be.” This is an example of using models to learn and playing to the strength of the iPad – media consumption.
A number of students in the class are almost finished with this podcast project and stand ready to help their peers along toward completion themselves. Already, kids have gravitated toward one another based on percieved strengths and natural cooperative learning seems to be taking place, although for one student who dislikes and is uncomfortable with technology, I’m concerned he’s taking a backseat and not learning hard skills of media creation as a result. We spoke about how they are working together today and this is something I will keep an eye on going forward.
Finally, it was interesting to hear how students are developing strategies for the podcast, some working solely on the iPad or fluently on the device, as some might say. Others are offloading to their laptops or Macs at home in order to create the product. They will submit their podcasts by uploading them to their Posterous blogs (or Spaces, as they have recently been rebranded). I have an open mind right now about which way is best and figure the proof will be in the pudding!
Please excuse any weird formatting or lingering spelling or grammar errors. I wrote the first draft of this on my iPad in the WordPress app and uploaded photos from the iPad through that app. It was awkward at best, and I have endeavored to clean it up on my wife’s netbook with a German keyboard. This hasn’t been my favorite blogging experience ever! I think I like my Android phone for blogging more than the iPad. Hmm…