Course One Final Project- Reducing Disparities: A Collaborative Task

This lesson will be used next week to complete a unit on disparities in wealth and development taught as part of the IB geography course.  The idea is that students need to look at different global strategies designed to reduce these dipartites and evaluate their effectiveness.  In the lessons students will be paired up and will be required to explain the different strategies by designing two slides, which will make up part of a wider Google presentations.  I have two classes, so this will create two different presentations covering all the material they need to know.  These presentations will then be shared with the other class and the students will be required to comment on the effectiveness of each of the strategies through the comment feature in Google presentations, thus fulfilling the evaluation requirement of the syllabus.  Hopefully it will create some debate on the different strategies, for example a comment thread on whether aid is needed to kick start economies or creates dependency.

You can view the collection of documents, templates, and the rubric for this series of lessons here.

I am hoping that students not only develop the content knowledge needed, but hone their skills with Google docs and the commenting function as it is a tool I see myself using more in the coming months.   I am hoping to print the finished product, both slides and comment threads to make up a display of the evaluation process we went through for future use.  It will be interesting to see how Google docs will be with this.

Ill reflect on how the lesson went and any problems I encountered in the coming weeks .

Clouds on the horizon

Earlier in the week Tim Shadbolt, the mayor of a largish town in New Zealand, came out with the pearl that social media might just be a fad “like the hula hoop”.  The same week in just 5 days 67 million people viewed the now viral Kony 2012 video, this clip was largely shared through the Facebook friend network and has no doubt created a social movement against the use of child soldiers across Africa.   Is Shadbolt an ill informed Luddite or just trying to make his own connections with an aging constituency who make up a large section of society who are oblivious to the technological revolution which is going on around them.   As I progress more through the COETAIL course I have begun to notice and reflect on these kinds references to web based connections and think about what they mean for me as a teacher and my role in preparing young people for the world in which they will function.

Anyway, I digress, week 5 saw me digesting the Horizon Report 2011.  This report identifies six technologies to watch within education across three different time-frames.  I guess the technologies that most interested me were those expected to be significant in the next 12 months or the near-term horizons, which are:

  1. Cloud based computing
  2. Mobile devices

‘The cloud’ is something I have been hearing more about recently so I was interested to read more about it only to find out that rather than some kind of complicated new system or application I was going to have to get my head around I was already well into integrating cloud based systems into my teaching and learning.  Teaching at International School Bangkok has really opened my eyes to the Google suite, which is integrated across the school.   More and more I have been using Google docs as a way encouraging students to work collaboratively on projects and note taking tasks.  Although still a Microsoft Word fan (I am writing this blog on word, old habits die hard) Jeff’ Utech’s blog on 10 Reasons to Trash Word for Google Docs has me thinking about transitioning for good.  There is no doubt that the ability for students to share ideas through this system cannot be beaten.  It is quite simply the best tool for the job and has revolutionised the old classics like the group expert task, sharing of exemplar work and peer review.

Outside getting students to record homework on their phones the mobile device is a new one for me. One of the real challenges I see with this is around the availability of the technology, do we expect students to provide this hardware themselves or does the school/ government fund it, if so how long before it is dated and where does the funding come from?  Last year a publicly funded high school in New Zealand added an iPad 2 to the stationary list, the school was in an affluent area of the country and despite a huge public outcry about the cost to parents most of them would be in a position to afford the device.  What happens in the poor communities around the country? Does this create a two-tiered education system?  In an international school with a fee-based structure these issues are not so significant, but for countries or school boards/districts they probably become bigger issues for consideration in the future.   Hopefully Shadbolt will be retired by then.

COETAIL guinea pigs

Last week I gave my IB geography students an option for their homework;

a) Leave a 100-word comment on the forum section of a TED talk looking at inequalities within countries.

b) Write a 150-word reflection on the talk to share with classmates next lesson.

Out of the 18 students not one of them choose the first option.  In class the reflections they had written and shared with their peers provided for a great discussion about the content of the TED talk and led to some interesting debate.  Their writing was insightful and perceptive, and is some instances, even made good arguments against what the speaker was saying.   So why would they not chose to leave their reflections as a comment and become involved in wider academic debate?

Not surprisingly the overwhelming response given, was a lack of confidence with the content and the intimidation factor caused by the perceived high academic level of comments left on such a site by others.  I know that’s how I would feel if asked to do the same task, have you seen some of those comments?  However I was a little surprised none of them took up the challenge given the anonymity the comment thread allows.

I spoke to them openly about my thinking and motivation behind the task (they are now my COETAIL guinea pigs) which was based on some of the findings drawn from the  Foundation white paper on Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project .  They reiterated the ideas in the findings that yes they were open to the use of commenting on blogs or other content on the net but only of they felt completely comfortable and familiar with the content and many of them do in fact connect with others outside their friendships groups about music and movies and other aspects of youth culture.

After reading Are Online Students Hiding Behind Text?  By Michelle Pacansky-Brock, which is a great blog about engaging students in commenting on content using Voicethread, I have a few tools to help scaffold my students into sharing their ideas about a given topic in a “safer” environment.  Hopefully after feedback and giving students a chance to review and exchange ideas they would feel more confident in sharing their views in a more open academic setting.

Although I have used Voicethread as a collaborator I have not done so as the creator of the content, however, I now plan on incorporating it into my lesson for my course one final project.  I have embedded a tutorial on getting started with this software below.

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Here come the geeks, should we worry?

Straddling the cusp between Generation X and Generation Y I found the MacAthur Foundation white paper on Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project  an interesting take on the state of play regarding the interaction between young people and technology. Something I found refreshing was that the report was overwhelmingly positive about this interaction, rather than the usual cyber bullying and stranger danger discussions, it focused on real life examples of young peoples development and growth based on the use of tech.

Given that I have been teaching teenagers for a few years now I was not surprised by the fact that young people are more than ever embracing tech and incorporating it in all aspects of their daily interactions, what did surprise me, was the level of connection that applications like gaming and YouTube have created.   It is interesting to think that teachers and parents may be oblivious to the fact that their children and students could be world experts in their chosen ‘geek’ pursuits and share and contribute to an almost underground community.

One of the findings that took my interest in the reading was that young people are often more motivated to learn from peers than from adults.  I have always tried to integrate peer assessment and collaborative learning into my teaching with varying success, so was thinking if the online environment makes young people more open to peer-peer learning as it is completed in an setting where they are free from judgment of their classmates or even teachers.

At the heart of Web 2.0 technology is connection, does it matter that young people are connecting through sharing knowledge about Lady Gaga or the latest cheat codes for Halo?  No, because in the future these Generation Z’s interests and passions will have grown and moved on over time. They will be active nodes for their chosen careers and interests.  The information that they will be sharing, creating and discussing will cover aspects around politics, economics and social and environmental issues.  They will be joining a job market the same time as many baby boomers are retiring and might well overtake the generation X and Y groups because of the skills they have honed in their bedrooms during their teens.  Maybe a scary thought for some of us.    Check out this blog by janderson99 for more about this topic, Motivating, Managing, Retaining Generation X and Generation Y, Employees.

A final thought which resonated with me and has been a bit of a recurring theme in some of the reading I have done recently was this line:

Their efforts are also largely self-directed, and the outcome emerges through exploration, in contrast to classroom learning that is oriented toward set, predefined goals.

We have long known that giving student ownership over their learning is vital to successful outcomes. The key, particularly in teaching, is how we find the balance between preparing our students for exams and the best practice pedagogue.  See my earlier blog “its not what’s in the pipeline” which touches on this.

Its not what’s in the pipeline….

‘The pipe is more important than the content within the pipe.” A great line from the Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age by George Siemens on the relative importance of information flow and the idea of learning how to learn over the ability to recall content in our current knowledge heavy world.  Although I had heard some of the statistics before on the doubling times and rates of knowledge growth they did surprise me, “The amount of knowledge in the world has doubled in the past 10 years and is doubling every 18 months”.   I guess this got me thinking about what this knowledge is?  What proportion of it is based on some kind of academic rigor compared to Angelina’s leg thrust at the recent Oscars?

At the end of day the nature of the knowledge is irrelevant, its there and we have to prepare young people the best we can to wade through it, digest it and most importantly evaluate where it comes from, its intentions and its value.  Andrew Churches in his article, Bloom’s Taxonomy Blooms Digitally, notes that evaluation has been knocked off the top spot and now comes in at a close second to the idea of creation.  It’s the evaluation that is of interest to me as this is something my students seem to have the most difficulty with and is an important aspect within geography.  Churche goes on to give several valuable tech tools to use for evaluation, which reaffirms for me the importance of getting blogs up and running for my senior classes.  That’s my goal for this week – I’ll keep you posted.

Based on these ideas the key question has to be are we currently preparing our students for the ‘real world’? In two months my students will sit in a room and complete a series of questions.  Sure, there will be some analyzing, application and evaluation, but at the heart of it they will be trying to recall the huge amount of content dictated to them by the syllabus.  In a recent conversation with fellow COETAIL blogger Dan we shared frustrations around the content vs. teaching strategy trade off for IB classes.  Before I start getting comments on how the two are not exclusive, I am aware of that, and hopefully as I progress through this course I will be able to develop my skills to find more balance with this.

Well intentioned, but misguided

After several days ‘lurking’ I am now committing to my first blog.   Having registered late for the course I am feeling slightly overwhelmed with what lies ahead in the coming weeks and how far along some people already are, however Jeff’s blog ‘The wave of Information’  on the merits of failure and the large mandatory glass of red wine he advised when blogging has gone some way to relieve this feeling.

Having completed the readings for week one I have been reflecting on my own incorporation of tech in my teaching in recent years.  My conclusion- although well intentioned my approach may have been misguided.

Stuck somewhere between the tech hardcore and the head the sand group, my approach has always been to use tech as a tool to help me achieve more of the same- feed the information to the students in an ‘easy to digest’ manner.  I had done this through basic website design, moodle, google sites or directing students to specific sites. It is now clear to me after reading Reach, by Jeff Utech, that the real potential of the web within education lies in Web 2.0 technologies and the ability for students to develop networks, enable users to create content, evaluate ideas and concepts and play with content. Its fair to say that this was not what I had in mind when I was painfully linking together the pages of my FrontPage sites a few years ago.

I am excited by the fact even after such a short time reading and thinking about these ideas I am reevaluating my views on how to incorporate tech into my teaching. Its hard to imagine where I will be with this in two years time!