The iPad 2 for Learning: A Student Experiments

Recently, a student in my Digital Journalism class decided to do a feature article on the experience of closing his school-supplied Lenovo tablet laptop for the week and only using an iPad. His article is spectacular student writing in our nascent culture of journalism at ZIS, and I found the scope of his successes and challenges enlightening in one particular respect: We are not asking students to use their computers in new ways. Students like this are creative with their computers like I was creative with a darkroom and a typewriter in 1989, and the creativity is still great. Students also use their computers as textbooks, as notebooks, as Trapper Keepers, as easels, as paper, as media studios (this bit gets me excited), as telephones, as shopping malls, as billboards, as video game consoles, as televisions and movie theaters, as the conference social (think networking), and as printing presses. But, none of this is new, really. Almost everything our students do digitally has an analog in the real world. If this young journalist had to program, had to build new opportunities for other computer users, he would have had many more problems with only an iPad for the week.

Only. I realize, as one who taught in a very resource deprived American public school, how ridiculous that sounds. I know every teacher and student on Earth would take an iPad if offered, but they’d use it to keep doing the same things they are already doing. While he concludes forcefully that it would be a “huge mistake” to replace the laptop with an iPad, which I agree with, if the infrastructure at school supported Mac, much of what happens on a daily basis would still be possible for students. I don’t know exactly how to change that – maybe offer programming, as a start, and give lots of time and freedom for students to choose such courses – but I recognize that it is a problem. At any rate, if you’ve read this far, be sure to read the piece linked above.

Instructional Videos in an English Classroom

It’s all the rage, and I’m a sucker for fashion, so I’ve been making some instructional videos. I’ve made a few “flipped classroom” style videos that are basically short lectures, introducing a new concept, for example. However, that seems like a waste for my classroom, best for absent students or for those who wish to brush up on a concept down the line. However, what makes the most sense to me is to record myself writing a model essay or planning a response to a prompt in such a way that basic skills, covered repeatedly throughout the year, can be reinforced. Additionally, I’m a big believer in modeling and in exposing my thinking as I do, making explicit the internal conversation and experience as I write or do something.  Often, I find myself believing that experts at something must just act or react in perfect confidence, without doubt, exuding the awesome. But, in reality, I think we all question ourselves or maybe even just revise as we go, refining for a better product. By making that conversation explicit, kids learn.

Youtube is great for learning little things, likely those things that we already know something about. I’m a fly-fisherman, but when I’m doubting myself, I go check out a video on roll casting, for instance, and refresh my memory. I’ve learned knots, the disc golf jump putt, and how to behave during a Chinese tea ceremony which used to throw me off whenever I tried to buy tea in Chengdu. In all of these cases, I watched somebody do and narrate their actions in order to learn. I’m considering videos on using and citing source material, doing research, writing a poem, reading and annotating a text, and revising a piece of writing. These are actions, skills, active behaviors that may translate to video. So far, the feedback is positive, but I doubt how much students are really using these videos because the play counts are low. In fact, the only video that has taken off is my tutorial on making a podcast, which other teachers have used. Maybe if I include a cat falling off a TV or a clip from “Friday” my numbers will jump. Maybe if I do a better job of conceptualizing and producing the videos, they’ll be more popular with the kids. Yeah, I’m going with the latter.

OTM & dana boyd on Internet Age Restrictions, Privacy, & Implications for Schools

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.

The iPad 2 for Learning: Students’ Choose Laptops

These days, now that the shine has worn off, students involved in the action research project involving iPads more regularly come to school without them. This may sound minor, but considering the initial buzz around the iPad in the classroom and the school, it marks a shift. Indeed, when students are accessing information, consuming media, or producing media, their overwhelming choice is to use their tablet laptops, not the iPad. In fact, the savviest students use the iPad as a kind of sidecar, like an extra monitor for holding text that they can use while they make things on their laptop. This is anecdotal and it remains early days, but the sense I’m getting is that the iPad is not as good as a full-powered computer for what students do most.

The iPad 2 For Learning: Not So Great for Video

My students have just completed a unit of discovery based on creating video news reports. The idea in the course is that students are trying to use the iPad, but not past the point of frustration; in short, they are problem solving when the iPad gets in their way. Students found that it was difficult to get decent video with the iPad and that the audio was very poor. iMovie on the iPad was deemed by students to be useful for sprucing up a single video clip for quick upload to Facebook or YouTube, but not for anything else. Additionally, video was difficult to get off of the iPad. Email attachments have size limits and, for some reason that I am sure is related to copyright protections, they couldn’t put any video file longer than one minute into their Dropbox accounts.

When students had video off of their iPads, they opted not to use our Lenovo tablets’ native Windows Movie Maker, which really is awful in Windows 7, but opted instead to edit the video at home on Macs with the full version of iMovie. I found this really interesting, and wonder if Microsoft hasn’t punted a bit on their formerly useful Movie Maker software as a concession to the primacy of Macintosh in this arena. The Windows Live adaption is just weird and I can’t understand how this is better for users. Final video products, which I will share once I ask students for permission, show decent fluency with the medium, but also show clearly the limitations of the iPad for academic or amateur quality video products.

The verdict is clear. No students said they would edit video on the iPad. Only three said they would shoot video with their iPad again, and several said they would rather use their smartphones. The limitations of the iPad for quality media production appear obvious.

Digital Footprints, Networking, & Conformity

My school recently did a digital footprint exercise with our students, asking them to Google themselves and check out Intel’s Museum of Me. I found our the exercise interesting not so much for the ah-ha moments, which some students had, but for what I didn’t see. Truly, most students are on board with the basic concepts of what might be called digital citizenship or understand how to cloak their poor decision making with anonymity, protecting their footprint while being a poor digital citizen. Basically, I didn’t see surprise; I saw students who pretty quickly grasped the concept of building a positive digital footprint so that a namesake on MySpace can’t cast too long of a shadow over their relatively good names.

However, they’re not too worried about college admissions or job prospects, and I think that what I want to call the Dan Allen Effect is to blame for this. Like a kid in a giant metropolis, they see the odds are in their favor and don’t see that the graffiti is likely to lead to big problems down the line. They’re happy to have all the other Dan Allens create so much white noise that they can operate happily unnoticed. I calculated my digital footprint using the tool linked to Moodle and I’m well over a terabyte and climbing. That’s a lot of white noise. I can’t decide if I agree or if I see this as a self-defeating, tragedy of the commons sort of problem.

The other piece that I have sympathy for is that they hear a message to conform and blow it off. Articles like the USA Today bit just sound ridiculous – post a list of people who share the same name as me? Looking past the redundancy that seems so obvious to me, does it look worse that I cyberstalk my namesakes or that some dude in West Virginia with my name also goes by Tweek on his forgotten MySpace profile? The subtext of these pieces is submit and be predictable.

What I like much more is a focus on the power of networking and networking literacy. Like Clay Shirky points out, transparency is a sharing of ourselves in order to get back more in return, what he sometimes calls reputational capital, amongst other benefits. Surfing through my different groups of Facebook friends, I quickly see the social norms of their closest social group and cultural context; the Kyrgyz kids are sharing Pan-Turkish media and political messages, the folks from my small town deride the hippies at Occupy Wall Street and shout for them to get a job, and the members of my Peace Corps group post messages of OWC solidarity. I would argue that these people are creating identities and reflecting their identities beyond virtual networks in ways that they also do in the bazaar, at the tackle shop, or while waiting for the barista. Kids do the same thing in social networks, reflecting the identities that they think will win them the most reputational capital, or cool points, and are at their best when they employ these tools ethically, to contribute and build.

Of course, kids are slow to see social pressure as a force of conformity and quick to view messages from the elderly (like me) as demands for conformity. My bet is that the kids who will try risky, thoughtless, or silly behaviors online to look cool at one moment for a particular group are the same who will try these behaviors offline. When I was in Berlin, I saw a great quote from Ludwig Mies van der Rohe: “True education is concerned not only with practical goals but also with values.” I wonder if, amidst all the furor about digital footprints and citizenship, we should focus more explicitly on the nature of the behaviors we value, on footprints and citizenship. I know that we do this already, but the relationship is so clear to our discussion that it bears mentioning. By teaching kids to use their power to be positive contributors for their own sake, if not for the sake of others, empowerment might overcome the urges to be destructive to self or others. If not, at least we’d be exposing the values we teach rather than keeping them implicit, which sometimes feels coercive to me.

Internet Privacy and Social Organizing

Having read the ZIS COETAIL offerings for this week and then Dr. Cornel West’s Twitter feed, the contrast between fears of sharing information online and the power of social movements organized through social media stands starkly apparent. Dr. West was arrested at the Occupy Wall Street protest with 19 others and is publicly sharing the information (@CornelWest) because this information has power. When compared to the advertising scare piece about the dangers of posting underwear pictures online, Dr. West’s use of technology speaks loudly about the potential of sharing. Others like @Newyorkist are reporting events and curating content from others in real time. Yes, people are noticing. No, they aren’t stalking the protestors or asking about their underwear. The Guardian has a section devoted to the Occupy Wall Street movement. John Stewart is taking on media coverage of the protests in a manner informed no doubt by information garnered from social media because he seems to actually know what is going on, which would be next to impossible for someone following only the mainstream news narrative. The fears explicit in the ad linked above are planted in reality – there is a loss of privacy in the digital age. However, we shouldn’t fear how powerless we are as a result; we should marvel at how powerful we may become as a result.

The second narrative has promise and power for students, as well. Howard Gardner perhaps overstates his case about the end of didactic roles for teachers, but his emphasis on teachers coaching ethics in digital contexts is spot on. Once students begin to understand the power of public discourse through social media, I think they’ll be turned on by the ethical power of action. I also follow Jeff Jarvis, author, new media columnist at The Guardian, and professor at City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism (@jeffjarvis) on Twitter, and am looking forward to reading his new book, Public Parts. Jarvis, as he wrote on his blog, argues

that in our current privacy mania we are not talking enough about the value of publicness. If we default to private, we risk losing the value of the connections the internet brings: meeting people, collaborating with them, gathering the wisdom of our crowd, and holding the powerful to public account. Yes, I believe we have a right and need to protect our privacy — to control our information and identities — but I also want the conversation and our decisions to include consideration of the value of sharing and linking. I also want to protect what’s public as a public good; that includes our internet.

Plenty of other thinkers, like Clay Shirky (and in video), were making this point before the Arab Spring made it for them. It’s not all bad.

Of course, students need to have the positive models that Gardner speaks about showing them that online spaces like Facebook and Tumblr are not private rooms, but public squares. We should model the best possible uses of these squares. This is a time of change – a photo taken of you might have me in the background, and that photo might wind up online, public, and out of my control. But I am reminded of a photo taken of me in profile and of a good friend who is smiling radiant and gorgeous on a sunny Sunday afternoon right into the camera of a stranger. Years later, she was stopped on the sidewalk in New York by another woman who was shocked, said “Oh my God! It’s you!” She took my friend’s address and mailed her the photo that she had taken (on film. Remember film?), a photo she had always enjoyed having tacked to a corkboard in her house. My friend mailed the photo to me in Kyrgyzstan.

Privacy is an illusion in analog, too, and the public nature of society is often as nice, or as powerful, as it is menacing.

I Flip the Classroom, Sort Of

I maintain deep and abiding distrust of the “flipped classroom” model, because I see it largely as just the same boring lectures with more time to drill, baby, drill in the standardized testing-focused classroom. However, I see the possibilities of refining and recording moments of direct instruction for students via video lectures. Since I am missing two days of my IB course this week due to an adventure day with grade 10 and an IB conference (oh, sweet irony), I decided to revisit the mini-lecture from today and record the rest of the instruction I would try to give individually or in small groups as kids worked over the next two classes via screencasting. The focus of the series is “Essay Skills,” focusing on dissecting a prompt, writing a thesis statement, and organizing an outline while revising a thesis statement.

I used Jing and put the videos together in Camtasia Studio, thanks to a free 30 day trial. I managed to complete all of the screencasting, but then found that I only had the audio for the first two pieces of three. I was aiming for around 15 minutes total in length for all three videos and that should be about right. I’ve really doubted how useful this model would be for kids in the reading and composition classroom and am interested to hear student feedback after my return. I’ve embedded the videos below and welcome any feedback.

 

 

The iPad 2 for Learning – Podcasting Project Reflection

My Digital Journalism class has finished their podcast news reports and the process was as interesting as the products. We began this project by listening to model podcasts, such as Radiolab’s amazing short “Four Track Mind.” Once students listened to some models, they edited our English department’s oral presentation rubric, resulting in this modified podcasting rubric, which I expect to modify further. Students sought to build upon earlier news reports in these podcasts, so the subject matter was not an obstacle.

Students worked in a variety of processes. Some students recorded all their audio on the iPad in Garageband. Others downloaded free apps, recorded in those apps, and offloaded to laptops; still others recorded everything on their 1 to 1 laptops. In my opinion, the most fluent and engaging podcasts were those created entirely in the iPad. Students couldn’t upload their podcasts to their blogs via the Posterous iPhone app and the files were too big for Dropbox, so they emailed the files to themselves and uploaded them. Each student reflected briefly on the process and product once they were finished and all podcasts linked below include a reflection. All podcasts shared here are shared with student and parent permission.

The podcasts show incredible attention to the conventions of media, suggesting to me that “digital natives” may not come into the classroom equipped with media creation skills, but that they do bring with them a vast experience with media consumption and a finely tuned sense of how to sound cool in a medium. The structure of our course is discovery learning, so students struggled a bit at first, and then built a good deal of fluency in the podcast medium in only a week or so. This podcast features excellent aural variety, an engaging voice, good sound quality, and smooth editing. The subsequent reflection is here. This podcast mimics many aspects of the Radiolab model and even spins some conventions onto their head, messing around with a lighthearted sense of ironic awareness even in their first attempt. The second example is also a pair project, self-selected by the students. One student took the lead and allowed the other to stretch his legs a bit with the language and acting portion of the podcast, but also covering for some technological discomfort on his partner’s behalf. The reflection briefly alludes to this. For their current video project, all students will produce a single video, even if working in groups, in order to build skills in this introductory unit. The final podcast example is smooth and straightforward, lacking the depth and complexity of the other two, but featuring good use of details and facts, as well as a clear speaking voice and subtle use of radio-style conventions. The final reflection shows depth and specificity about the process employed.

The iPad works well for podcasting, but even as I made one myself as a teaser for a “Speed Geeking” professional development opportunity this week, I found that I liked playing with music on the iPad but preferred building the podcast in Audacity. In our current video introductory project, I see more laptop use. Students seem to be recording video on the iPad and transferring it to MovieMaker. We’ll see what they wind up doing in the end.

Project Based Learning – How Structured?

When it comes to reflecting on my own examples of Project Based Learning activities that I have designed in the past, little of it seems to be doing “new things in new ways.” I have viewed PBL as a means to achieve old ends in new-ish ways, meeting standard and benchmarks in a more student centered way that is sometimes constructivist, but often prescribed. PBL is so often just an extended, active version of the mindreading demanded by teachers; guess what I want you to know becomes guess what I want you to know how to do. Of course, I have some good PBL units that allow for discovery, but these are messy units, with loose time frames and challenging appearances for anyone beyond the classroom, like administrators.

If we take for granted that “Social and recreational online activities are jumping-off points for experimenting with digital media creation and self-expression,” then a way to do something new in a new way is to allow for students to control and design outcomes based on their interests and fashioned in ways that can be social while meeting learning targets (35). Fears about transgression online seem unfounded and often remind me of Puritanical fantasies about how sweet we were as kids. I haven’t thought that most kids are behaving any worse online than they are in analog, and this seems supported by the “Living and Learning with New Media: Report of the Digital Youth Project”:

In our work, contrary to fears that social norms are eroding online, we did not find many youth who were engaging in behaviors that were riskier than what they did in offline contexts…We do not believe that educators and parents need to bear down on kids with complicated rules and restrictions and heavy-handed norms about how they should engage online, particularly if they are not attuned to the norms that do exist among youth. Simple prohibitions, technical barriers, or time limits on use are blunt instruments; youth perceive them as raw and ill-informed exercises of power. (37)

A way to change PBL to become more real, more authentic, more student-centered, more constructivist, more “new,” is to let go entirely. This would be very hard, very messy, and entail authentic risks – kids might not learn at a quantifiable rate, and they may learn only that which they want to learn or need to learn from their own perspective. I think this is probably what they do anyway in the teacher-centered model until their spirit is broken and they become compliant. Will Richardson wrote yesterday about designing schools for kids, not adults. He wrote “We’ve been taught to hate ambiguity, that only one answer exists, that if we have enough money, we can game the test. We’ve been taught that learning ends once the test is mastered, that our passions don’t matter, and that numbers rather than goods tell our educational story.  Yet, this is what we perpetuate because for the adults, it’s the easiest path.” Instead, adults could get out of the way and allow for peer-based learning contexts:

Peer-based learning is characterized by a context of reciprocity, where participants feel they can both produce and evaluate knowledge and culture…More expert participants provide models and leadership but do not have authority over fellow participants. When these peer negotiations occur in a context of public scrutiny, youth are motivated to develop their identities and reputations through these peer-based networks, exchanging comments and links and jockeying for visibility. These efforts at gaining recognition are directed at a network of respected peers rather than formal evaluations of teachers or tests. In contrast to what they experience under the guidance of parents and teachers, with peer-based learning we see youth taking on more “grown-up” roles and ownership of their own self-presentation, learning, and evaluation of others (39).

This would lead to a stepping back for teachers, allowing others, including the students themselves, to become the experts. For most teachers, this would be a nightmare. But, even when I think about the writings of Ruby Payne on poverty that I read in my first Master’s program, I imagine that a structure like this would work in high poverty schools often labeled “failing” under our current system, schools that can be admittedly grim places for kids and adults alike. If students were engaged in real peer networks that included adults fluent in the skills and discourse of the area of interest, they would learn languages and modes of operation within different cultural contexts that would expand their abilities to work successfully beyond their immediate cultural context. These networks operate in the following manner for teachers:

Unlike instructors in formal educational settings, however, these adults are passionate hobbyists and creators, and youth see them as experienced peers, not as people who have authority over them. These adults exert tremendous influence in setting communal norms and what educators might call “learning goals,” though they do not have direct authority over newcomers. The most successful examples we have seen of youth media programs are those based on kids’ own passionate interests and allowing plenty of unstructured time for kids to tinker and explore without being dominated by direct instruction. Unlike classroom teachers, these lab teachers and youth-program leaders are not authority figures responsible for assessing kids’ competence, but are rather what Dilan Mahendran has called “co-conspirators,” much like the adult participants in online interest-driven groups (39).

Co-geeking out is what this “co-conspirator” might mean, and if the teacher isn’t the appropriate geek, then the role of the teacher is to allow the student to find the right geek or help guide him or her to a knowledgeable geek. As the report asks in conclusion, “what would it mean to think of public education as a responsibility of a more distributed network of people and institutions” (39)? All educational contexts could function in a more decentralized manner and, while this would mean a giant leap of faith for a conservative body of people – the conservators of culture mentioned in “Shaping Tech for the Classroom” – but would be a move into a new culture that is happening anyway, one shaped by the youth who live in this culture already to differing degrees.

In designing PBL, I wonder about ways to build an ecosystem in which kids can interact online, socially, within the school context, to learn skills of online interaction if they aren’t beyond “hanging out.” Then, good projects would lay out learning goals, provide models along a variety of possible outcomes, and then allow students to plan a timeframe and reach out to networks of interest, exploring or operating fluently, depending on their level of skill and comfort. Outcomes may be assessed on rubrics created by the student and “co-conspirators.” The teacher becomes a facilitator or coach in this model, giving up control for the possibility of greater student engagement and authentic learning.