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According to STonline, this is an example of transformative schooling in Singapore’s Infocomm Media 2025 masterplan.

Imagine a future where each student goes home with a different set of questions for their homework, which are customised to address areas that an individual is weak in. That future could be at our doorstep over the next few years.

Using data analytics technology, teachers can easily sift through their students’ strengths and weaknesses, and assign homework based on areas they need more practice in.

This technology will also be able to generate customised worksheets and practice papers for students, such as generating more problems which students are weak at to practice on, or coming up with more challenging questions in topics they are breezing through.

It is a description of the holy grail of individualized instruction. To some, this might be transformative as we leverage on big data and more advanced analytics.

But just how transformative is the example? It certainly takes a load off teachers and leverages on what technologies can do better than people. However, it is still using words like homework, practice, and worksheets.

What would be transformative is thinking and acting outside that box. It is building on what has already started differently today instead of the all too familiar past.

For example, learners already watch YouTube videos that fuel their passions and actively pursue skills they want to develop. YouTube already has algorithms that suggest what other related videos to watch (like the way library systems might recommend books to you and Amazon recommends what you buy).
 

tall pine by mamaloco, on Flickr
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What would be transformative is a system that is learner-centric and predicts what each person wants and needs, be it curriculum-based or passion-based. But chasing curricula is going for the relatively low-hanging fruit; enabling the identification and pursuit of one’s passions is more worthwhile.

Now one might argue that ten years is not a long time to develop systems that help us climb higher up that tree. I disagree. With YouTube, we are already at the start of passion-based pursuits.

Building elaborate curriculum engines will tend to focus on content and providing it when the learner needs it. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is not enough. Doing this will not necessarily create context for authentic use and help learners make meaningful connections. However, focusing on what drives learners and learning creates context and connection, and is even fueled by these two elements.

Consider Singapore’s refocus on vocational or skills-based education. Now think about how many instructional videos there are on YouTube, e.g., baking cakes, putting on makeup, playing musical instruments, building your own X, hacking your own Y, fixing your own Z, etc. The desire to learn these skills is driven by the learner. The content is sought out as a result of context and connection, not the other way around.

If we are going to use the word “transform”, then we should be using it properly. Transforming is not just doing more of the same and better. It is doing something different and more worthwhile. In education, transformational edtech should enable passion-based learning, not just more curriculum-based learning.

Do the commonly labelled “new media” bring new dangers? Or are they just old dangers magnified or reinvented? Do “new dangers” actually hide something more insidious?

Put “cyber” in front of any established danger and it becomes “new”: bullying, stalking, theft, crime, and so on. I am not making light of these. I am merely saying the dangers are not that new.

They are new to traditional publishers who wish to spread fear. They are new to those who lack a critical lens with which to read what these publishers disseminate.

Such electronically-mediated crimes might be easier to commit and more difficult to detect, but that does not make them new. You might kill a person by remotely stopping his heart’s pacemaker, but that does not make it new murder.
 

Day 60 - Fear by juanpg, on Flickr
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What “new media” does require is for people to stay informed, keep up, and take action. So it might actually be fear, ignorance, or inertia that are the dangers. When not wanting to try something new, it is easier to call it “dangerous” from afar.

I know very intelligent people who make very poor assumptions or take questionable action because they choose not to know and do. The more frightening thing is that some of these people shape policy in large organizations.

New media use does not necessarily lead to new dangers. But there are many people with old mindsets fueled by old fears. I know which I am more afraid of.

ECG is an acronym for electrocardiogram. I had an ECG earlier this week, but it was not about my heart. I volunteered to share some thoughts at a school’s Education and Career Guidance event.

As with other events which are designed so that I give, I received much in return. Here are a few of my takeaways from the event.

Many thanks to this group for giving me the permission to share this photo.

The students were prepared with some guiding questions, but we found much of this scaffold unnecessary. When we made meaningful connections, questions and answers flowed naturally.

For me this reinforced the importance of being personable and personal as an educator.

Being personable is being approachable, having a smile that comes from deep within, and above all sounding human instead of high-and-mighty. Being personal is sharing meaningful events or stories. This sort of sharing is sincere and connects with heart and mind.

For example, when I introduced myself I mentioned that I was married to one of the teachers in the school. That naturally piqued interest and generated a Q&A game.

I also noticed all members of one group were armed with smartphones. So instead of answering the “What do you do?” and “Why do you do it?” questions the standard way, I asked the students to Google me. It was my way of showing them that:

  1. they should use the tools they already have,
  2. they could teach themselves, and
  3. it was important to be Googleable in a good way.

All three are important in modern work. If that is not career advice and guidance, I do not know what is.

I took the opportunity to ask different groups of students what they thought about the state of technology use in school compared to their personal lives, what games they played, and what social media tools they preferred. I will focus on their social media habits since that was the topic I discussed with all of them.

Almost without exception, the students seemed to favour Instagram. Some were on Twitter, and if they were, they preferred to keep private accounts. YouTube was also popular, but it is not really a social media platform if the behaviour is largely consumptive. Only a few had heard of or used more current tools like Snapchat, Meercat, or Periscope.

The serendipity ship sailed by because a tweep shared this the next day:

Her students were slightly older, but they had a similar evolutionary social media profile.

Take one or two accounts and you have anecdotes; collect more anecdotes in a disciplined way and you have data. Groups like comScore, TheNextWeb, and MindShift provide similar anecdotes and data about how teenagers use social media.

The more important question is whether teachers know and care enough that their students are on such platforms. If they do, the next question is whether teachers use appropriate strategies (read: non-LMS, non-traditional).

Students and teachers have different expectations of social media. For example, teachers seem to forget how they use social media in their own lives and resort to push strategies instead of pull.

Push strategies include making announcements, giving instructions, requiring online discussions of a certain quantity by a certain time, etc. These are pushed towards students and rely on an external locus of control (the teacher).

Pull strategies, on the other hand, originate from the students, a shared event, a common interest, or some other internal locus of control. No one has to tell them to take a photo (like the one above) and share it on Instagram, to talk about Amos Yee or Taylor Swift on Twitter, or to discuss homework on Facebook.

I let some of the students know that one of the things I do now is try to show teachers how to unlearn old habits and pick up new value systems for teaching. The secret sauce is this: Teachers have to use social media in their own lives and transfer what is good and useful to class. It is social first, not content first.

One student asked me if I could come back to her school and tell her teachers how to do that. I would love to. I can, but will the school leadership or staff developer even bother?

If all goes according to plan, the auto-posting of this entry will coincide with the start of my hour-long seminar on social media-enabled PLNs.

Unlike my previous talks and seminars, I am dispensing with a backchannel. It is not that I no longer see its value. I have other activities for my participants.

I have created a simple companion Google Site to house all the components of the seminar. As with most events I design, I have included a bit more than is required and will leave items out depending on the need.

I normally create my slides from scratch by using large images and as few words as possible. I tell the stories and let my slides support them (not the other way around). I also provide just enough information for participants to teach themselves by linking to activities and reflection spaces.

This time, however, I have an audience that is very new to the concepts. There is a bit more text so that the slide deck can serve as a reference. To do this, I opted to use the Banquo template from Slides Carnival. Disclosure: I do not benefit in any way from mentioning Slides Carnival.

I was very impressed by the variety of slide layouts included in each template (see a few examples in my tweets below).

I have not had to create formal learning opportunities in the areas of social media and PLNs for a while (the last time was in 2012). These have been a passion of mine since I joined Twitter in 2007. But they have also been a “background” topic in that most people taught themselves these topics and I have been asked to facilitate learning of other topics.

I am glad that I can return to one of my roots and will cast some seeds today. I just hope that the soil is fertile and the conditions ripe for the picking.

Addendum: Here are a some takeaways from a sample of the participants. Click on the tweet below to see three screen grabs.

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When I rationalize with old-school teachers why they should change their ways, the majority clam up or a minority push back.

If they are reflective and brave, they might ask about the risks of adopting the changes I suggest. For example, what are the risks of integrating social media into teaching and learning?

I can answer this question in at least two ways.
 

 

The expected set of answers is that you might find the going tough, make mistakes along the way, or get into a bit of trouble.

These are the risks of changing old mindsets and behaviours in order to learn new ones. You make calculated risks (not foolhardy ones), take the leap, and deal with what comes your way.
 

 
Here is the example question again: What are the risks of integrating social media into teaching and learning? The less expected answers might not be easy to stomach.

You risk being disconnected because you refuse to do what matters now and you do not learn from educators who are already plugged in.

You risk becoming irrelevant because you do not understand today’s learners and you fail to project tomorrow’s need.

You risk not making a difference because you rely on old, irrelevant strategies for new, complex problems.

These are the risks of giving into fear and the selfishness of not doing.


Video source

Do, or do not. There is no try.

If you choose not to do, can you live with the consequences of not taking risks for the sake of your learners?

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I found this social media advice for teachers.
 

 
I hope teachers do not take the advice like it is gospel truth because there are exceptions.

For example, I am all for keeping it “light and positive”. But sometimes there are heavy or serious matters that might be discussed on social media. The mostly asynchronous nature of social media affords time and space for thoughtful reflection and these might not be light at all.

You also cannot always be positive. Sometimes you have to be point out flaws, be a critical friend, or simply provide balance. But you can do it professionally and after you have established yourself as a trusted entity.

Some people might label providing an opposing view as “negativity” and the author advises disconnecting with it. This is not always advisable because you might suffer from group think or delude yourself into thinking that there is no thought contrary to your own.

The author also advises teachers not to follow students on Facebook. On the surface, this seems like good advice. Dig deeper and it is still good advice. Teachers should be never appear to be establishing and nurturing inappropriate relationships. However, following such advice blindly relies on fear instead of common sense.

Here is an alternative: You can be connected in monitoring mode without being in conversing mode.

For example, when I was a teacher educator at a university, I followed my student teachers on Facebook if they asked to friend me. I was able to monitor their morale and get informal feedback because they would share things openly on Facebook that they would not do elsewhere.

That is how I found out how one student teacher was contemplating suicide. If I did not read what she wrote on Facebook, I would not have been able to intervene by connecting her with an institute’s counsellor.

Bottomline: The list of social media do’s and don’ts are not rules, especially if they are grounded in fear. There will be exceptions based on the care you have for your learners.

In 2009, I asked my student teachers if they would “friend” their students in Facebook (see this VoiceThread).

Those that said they would recommended maintaining at least two separate accounts: One for personal use and another for professional use. If we can silo your identities, manage multiple profiles fastidiously, and put up with inconveniences, we might try doing this.

The theory seems sound and some might even cite this as a good practice. But we might eventually realize that we are lying to ourselves and setting unrealistic examples.
 

 
Why do some teachers still recommend split social media personalities in the first place?

A. A teacher or an educator is subject to higher standards than most. This is a fair expectation given that they deal with children or are in positions of influence and authority.

B. To this day, most educational institutes have strict social media usage policies and might even have codes of conduct to regulate behaviour. This is not fair given that the assumption is employees cannot be trusted and/or will do something wrong.

Combine A and B and you C why having different social media profiles in the same platform (e.g,. two Facebook accounts) seems to make sense. The professional (and often dry, humourless) account is used for work or official purposes.

This lie can easily catch up with us. Try juggling more than one account and we will invariably post something by mistake to the wrong account. We are human after all.

We are not only flawed, we are also complex. One person is many things to different people. For example, a person may be someone else’s parent, child, mentor, mentee, boss, employee, leader, follower, friend, enemy, etc. We can choose what to project and what to protect.

We can choose to be personal and professional, particularly with a platform like Twitter. Educators who flock to Twitter and persist with it learn how to balance their personal and professional personalities there. This tends to happen because they are learning in the company of mostly strangers.

On the other hand, a platform like Facebook favours the curation and collection of family and friends. Teachers avoid using Facebook for teaching or mentoring because they are there to chill out in the company of people they might know well.

(Credit to @hsiao_yun for mentioning something along the lines of: Twitter is learning in the company of strangers. Facebook is relaxing in the company of friends.)

Teachers would rather create another Facebook profile or use a platform like Edmodo for teaching and mentoring. It segments life nicely. Too nicely.

When teachers do this, they often do not transfer what is good about social media platforms. They might focus on worksheets or providing content or demanding answers to questions. They already do this in class, so they transfer what they are comfortable doing to the social media space. They forget to teach and learn by being social.

They forget how people do not need to be asked or forced to share. People already want to share, especially if there is something interesting or controversial.

Relying on split personas reinforces the behaviour of being one person in one place and being another in a second place. If we do this, we might forget that skills in one place can transfer to another, particularly in social media platforms for learning. We might also not learn how to be personal and professional at the same time.


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