For the last couple of years, a group of secondary school teachers has been meeting regularly for breakfast at a local diner to talk about tech and education. People come and go as their schedules allow amidst plates of bacon and pancakes and cups of steaming coffee while we share ideas about instruction, implementation, cross-curricular connections, and new and evolving tech.
On one sunny Spring day, as the group exited the diner, a group of elementary school teachers were gathering just a block away for mid-day snacks and discussion at a local restaurant. We connected through Twitter and after leaving the breakfast diner, I found myself heading over to meet with this group. After great discussion, we decided we should bring the two groups together. Jeff Pelich suggested an extension of the two meetings into a full day affair of “eduhopping”. Breakfast, lunch, and supper venues were planned and invites sent out via Twitter for all to attend.
You know how people are always saying that the learning and connections they get most excited about take place over lunch at conferences? Even Owen Harrison, father of the open space meeting was told by participants the coffee breaks were the best part of his events. And that’s how this whole day is framed. Whoever comes are the right people, whenever it starts is the right time, wherever it take place is the right place, whatever happens is the only thing that could have, and when it’s over, it’s over. Except, in this case, Harrison’s framework is applied to the coffee break.
I can’t begin to write down what we collectively learned at Eduhop. It was different for everyone who attended. But, I can tell you that it was a rich opportunity to dialogue, form relationships, and make partnerships with people from various divisions and subject areas, all with a keen interest to move education forward in the best interest of our students. Much the same as anyone attending and enjoying the coffee breaks at any conference. One discussion in particular was bouncing around inside my head all day to the point that I need to write a full separate blogpost on tech’s pedagogical role in differentiated learning. Stay tuned.
What a fantastic end to a rough week. I had the opportunity to attend EdCamp Hamilton, coming off the back end of several heated discussions around the organization and attendance of a focus group held by Pearson last weekend. I had taken issue with the fact that some were unable to distinguish the difference between a conference and a focus group. Today, I stand somewhere in the middle.
My colleagues were at the Pearson session to share opinions about social media. They weren’t told exactly what Pearson was looking to gain from the meeting but I’m told by several attendees that it didn’t really matter since anytime Tweeps come together face to face, PD is happening. Fair enough. Members of this group have a high interest in advancing education into the 21st century and are well-meaning and forward-thinking people. Though I still take issue with the misguided use of the ontsm hashtag. It suggested that 50 educators were representing all Ontario teachers on the topic of social media. It also didn’t include Pearson’s company name in the hashtag. This led to the embarrassment of at least one colleague doing her best to smooth over the recent political turbulence with the public over education, tweeting how proud she was that Ontario educators were getting together over a weekend on their own time for PD. She did not know that this time, these teachers were being paid. Though I can’t go without mentioning that several of the same attendees of the focus group had paid for PD at the Google summit the week previously and showed up to the free edcamp event in Hamilton this weekend. Afterall, these are highly engaged teachers.
Edcamp felt like neutral ground. The uninhibited chance for everyone to freely post and select topics keeps current practice just that-CURRENT-with a capital “C”, and I thoroughly enjoy edcamp for that. The topics were also uninhibited by companies hawking their wares through sessions and trade show-like activities. Yes, there was some corporate sponsorship, but we’d be remiss if we failed to acknowledge that at least some money has to come from somewhere for an event like this. However, towards the end of the day, I overheard a publishing representative approach a colleague of mine asking for a meeting. It proves just how desperate these companies are to infiltrate the good things we have going on in education. Whether you view it as a goal to exploit teachers for profits or whether you chalk it up to simple recognition that we’re on to something big here, we’ll have to examine our relationships with publishers and educators. The line has become blurred between our meeting spaces.
I suggest that we need to take into account all the relationships that we have-with our employer, the college of teachers, our union, and our corporate suppliers. It’s time to revisit our contracts around ownership of our content in all arenas. Consider also whether you will take an open approach and use Creative Commons or whether you will go privately; corporate or as sole owner. So, the next time a company approaches you with a media release or some other sort of contract, what would it hurt to ask for it in advance and have it checked over by a board or union lawyer? Sometimes in our effort to be shift disturbers we push too hard, too fast without considering the agency of all parties. And above all, keep a critical eye open and remember that all media have commercial interests.
A group of grade 11 girls were showing the music video they had just finished producing for my Communications Technology class, when it occurred to me how differently the video would be perceived in some parts of the world. It was a video about three girls all doing different sporting activities but coming together at the end to high-five and yes, even chest bump each other.
I asked them to explain the main message of their video. They looked surprised, as we had conferenced over the video several times through the production stages and they knew that I knew full-well what their intentions were. I asked them again, adding “for the sake of the class”. The girls explained that the message was about the fact that even though these girls enjoyed different sporting interests, they could still be good friends. Can you read the message laying beneath their statement? The realization just about knocked my socks off, especially after reading about the recent bus rapes in India and viewing pictures on the Internet of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who was sent to a U-K hospital to be treated for a Taliban gun attack she endured for promoting education of females in her homeland. I thought about my students. We enjoy so many freedoms in Canada. Without a global perspective who can be blamed for taking these freedoms for granted?
I asked my students to consider if and how the message in the student music video might be received differently elsewhere in the world. After some silence I prompted them with, “how about, for example, in the middle east”? They were still very quiet. After this even lengthier moment of silence I mentioned there were some countries in the middle east where girls are not allowed to go out of the home without the accompaniment of a male family member, let alone play sports. This led into a discussion about culture and the importance of becoming acquainted with various global perspectives. In the end, the girls who produced the video said they wished they had been able to make the connection earlier, but were now even more proud of their project outcome, high-lighting just how lucky they felt they were to be living in Canada and empathising with those women who will never know the joy of sport.
It’s a topic worth re-visiting and requires digging deeper, as it’s really not so black and white. Women of privilege in Saudi Arabia are training for sports amidst constant criticism, while state run schools neither have the facilities nor the approval for physical education classes. The Human Rights Watch was quoted, “Millions of (Saudi) girls are banned from playing sports in schools, and women are prohibited from playing team sports and denied access to sports facilities, including gyms and swimming pools.” The division of rights based on class is worth a discussion.
Ohio-born and Saudi-raised Equestrian Dalma Malhas was to have been the first Saudi female to compete at this past summer’s Olympics, but the International Equestrian Federation reported she was disqualified from the Games in late June for failing to meet minimum eligibility standards. Two other women did end up qualifying in their sports for the Olympics. Wujdan Shahrkhani and Sarah Attar became the first women ever to represent Saudi Arabia at the Olympics; Shahrkhani in judo and Attar in track and field. Shahrkhani had to jump many hurdles in meeting both the dress code demands of her country and the Olympic rule-book. Still, one North American news outlet viewed Saudi Arabia’s allowance of the women to compete as a “sham“. Perspectives of cultures holding deeply polarized oppositional and dominant readings is certainly worth a look with students.
Saudi Arabia may be the only country still banning women from sport in government schools, but that doesn’t mean women in other countries are completely free of barriers to play. Obstacles such as war, gender-bias, and violence against women put survival first and foremost on women and girls’ lists, leaving very little consideration about sport. One only need look to the situation in the Congo where a Refugees International report says women are choosing between rape and hunger. While it’s important to consider the various barriers to women playing sports in the world, we also have to take care not to place the issue in very geo-specific areas such as the middle east.
Extensions of the topic may include a look at American perspectives of how sport enhances female power. I recommend using a Forbes article titled, “The Secret to Being a Power Woman: Play Team Sports“. How might this perspective be viewed by other cultures?
Lastly, shifting the topic from sports to the Saudi ban on women driving is worth a look as the release of MIA’s music video, “Bad Girls” is sure to get students’ attention (my personal favourite music video from 2012). At the beginning of our Music Video unit, I showed this video to students first without any explanation of the laws in Saudi Arabia, then after explaining the situation, I played the video again. At first, students had no idea what message MIA was presenting, but felt the pimped out cars being rolled on the edge was kind of cool and then a bit overdone by the end of the video. However, on second viewing and with their new learning, they were able to point out so many details of subversion including the men cheering on the women driving, women toting guns, and exposed female skin and fashions. They also pointed out that the desert was likely a whole lot closer to Hollywood than Riyadh (actually, it was Morocco).
I can’t stress how important it is to present these opportunities for critical reflection of pop culture and global perspectives, even for a Communications Technology teacher. Our students are producing cultural artefacts; snapshots of current perspective, trends, and interests of North American youth. It only makes sense that we do them the courtesy of validating their work by offering opportunities to consider the relationship of these cultural artefacts to oppositional readings, global and even generational perspectives.
As I skim educational resources and discussions on the web, I like that many of the conversations are changing towards thinking about purpose and ownership when planning tech integration. It helps us avoid implementing “novelty tech”, which I akin to clowns jumping around in the front of the classroom grabbing students’ attention. A checklist by Sue Lyon-Jones helps get teachers started.
But, after reading the chart, I still think we need to go further in our questioning when thinking about the purpose of technology in the classroom. We need to ask a whole other list of questions. I presented these at ECCO last year in my presentation about Google Docs. When thinking about integrating any tech, ask yourself:
How will the technology support…
social learning and communication?
differentiation for learners who learn best textually, auditorily, kinesthetically?
assessment and marking (teacher, self, and peer)?
We also need to think about some of the inherent changes online tech brings to the classroom. Anything posted in a learning environment with 24/7 access helps students have access to reviewing and continuing work; it also ramps up transparency, which most certainly increases accountability for both student and teacher (think time stamping and the permanency of text in public spaces).
There are some subtler differences to pedagogy that are all wrapped up in the choice and use of a particular tech. Some of these may be hard to spot until you’ve actually tried out the technology or poured through someone else’s action research. These may include significant shifts in pedagogical teaching/learning methods. I really noticed this while using Google Docs. After asking permission from the 18 years olds in my classes, here are some of my findings.
In looking for ways to help students improve their ownership for learning, I made a 360 at assessment time and tried something very unique with my grade 12 Communications Technology students. I allowed them to design their own summative projects based on their own interests and what they felt were their best strengths. By grade 12, I’ve had them for 3 to 5 years, and those areas of strength really become apparent to me. But, I wanted students to recognize both their strengths and weaknesses in themselves in order to recognize what areas they need to work on if they decide to move forward in a media production career, as well as those areas they could capitalize on with their talents. I also wanted them to recognize strengths of others in the classroom, so they could draw on each other for help and support. Before, you think I’ve gone over the edge, consider that my University Masters thesis/project followed many of these very same guidelines. For the production part of my Masters of Media Production program at Ryerson I produced my own documentary, learning just as much about production techniques as I learned about my own skill strengths, weaknesses, and who and how to ask for support and help.
Students were asked to create their own project sheets, summarizing what they hoped to accomplish with their production. Many chose projects with unique authentic audiences, from a school Athletic Banquet video to an Alternative Christian song for a local church. Then they were asked to create their own marking schemes using rating scales and rubrics with very specific criteria. They were able to weight these categories based on their strengths and weaknesses. All forms of assessment were required to contain a project management component (designing own schedule in Google calendar), and a project planning stage (selecting and using various forms of pre-production paperwork). One student complained at first, not fully understanding the benefits to her, saying, “That’s so easy for you as the teacher. We do all the work creating the assessment for you”. She changed her tune when she realized it would have been so much easier for me to just hand them my own assessment sheet, requiring them all to complete the same project. Instead, I dug through several assessment sheets they could draw on for examples and reviewed each individual assessment to ensure that it fit each student by both allowing them to shine in their skill strengths and talents, but also not neglecting the necessaries of the project as well. During this process, students were able to review where the “holes” were in their learning and request additional tutorial help and assistance from others in the classroom. It was fascinating to see them work like this. Initially, some were very flustered and had difficulty calling on others for help with their individual project, while others forged teams and created different sub-projects around the same project. Three students in particular came together as a team and designed a video with one student doing the planning and shooting, another focusing on the editing and graphics, and still another in charge of a photo shoot, DVD design and promotional posters. What they have learned in teamwork is something they will take with them into the working world.
So, to summarize, here’s a generalized list of benefits students got out of designing their own summative and assessment. They were able to prove an understanding of audiences, work together as a team, negotiate, research people and resources to help fill in their own missing links of skill and knowledge, thoroughly understand and utilize project management, and demonstrate a true understanding of the assessment criteria and where they fit into it. Lastly, they were to turn a critical eye on themselves as learners and take ownership and action.