Jan 30, 2009

Filters? To teach or not to teach, that is the question.

“To not teach technology use responsibly is neglecting the charge of universal education.”
Don Knezek

The Problem:

Filters are supposed to be protecting school networks from malware and hackers, while also stopping access to inappropriate or offensive content. Those who believe that filters are protecting users are preventing those users from deciding for themselves which information they would or would not like to access (
Ryan, 2003). For example, filters are being used to keep a tight control over usage of certain applications like instant messaging, youtube, facebook and many sites that someone out there has deemed "dangerous." With filtering software, you don't know which sites are blocked or rated, you know some, but not all pre-programmed stoplists of words, phrases, sites, and topics deemed objectionable and these products are not created by educators (Schrader, 1999).

Other than filtering blatantly obvious sites that parents and educators would not want their children to come across, I think it is up to parents and teachers to teach students how to be responsible on the internet. It is the teachers job to preview sites before a lesson, the same as previewing videos before letting students watch them in class, and when students are on the internet, it is our job to supervise and to make sure students are able to be critical of information that they come across.

Why would we need provincial ministries to create web filtering standards for schools?

When I read "Patrolling Web 2.0, " I realized that it is the educators that need to make the decisions for our students, not the information specialists like Losinski, the author of this article. He claims that web 2.0 has "little or no value to education," and that social networking sites like MySpace and facebook are "sheer trouble," and these sites should be blocked. We don't need a policy or web standards to dictate where each and every individual can and cannot go when online.

We teach a curriculum that clearly strives to:

  • reflect the essential knowledge, skills and attitudes that Alberta students need to be well-prepared for future learning and the world of work
  • anticipate and plan for the needs of the future by considering the changes and developments in society, such as trends in employment, globalization, advances in technology and stewardship of the environment
  • provide learners with attitudes, skills and knowledge that will enable them to become engaged, active, informed and responsible citizens

The curriculum is designed to prepare students for the future, including lifelong learning and the world of work and as teachers we need to make sure students have the knowledge, skills and attributes to be successful (Alberta Learning). Therefore, we need to create critical thinkers and students who can evalute content. When students have free computer time in our school they know which sites, we as a school, have deemed acceptable. We value a safe and caring school, so students know that if they play on mini-clips, they cannot choose any games with weapons or violence. There are always those students that will test boundaries and there needs to be consequences. Whether they wear an offensive t-shirt to school or go to an offensive site, there are consequences in place. Our school doesn't need a policy to tell us where students can and cannot go when they are online. If students get lost by clicking an advertisement and it takes them deep into the net, they know how to get back "home" safely. They also know how to tell a teacher when something isn't right. They have learned to solve problems when on the internet and how to be responsible students.

The Solution:

The solution is pretty simple. We need more professional development so teachers can develop techniques for educating their students about responsible internet use (Villano, 2008). When teachers have the opportunity to try web 2.0 tools such as nings, facebook, and flikr, then they have the chance to see its educational benefits and teachable moments. They would quickly learn the digital culture that students are living in and would see how social networking can actually empower teens and be used as a learning tool on how to be smart and safe when using technology (Abram, 2007). Also, when teachers go surfing for information and come across questionable material, they learn how it happens and can teach students how to search safely and how to critique different sites. We don't need to censor and hide information, we need to teach responsibility and thinking skills. As Will Richardson says, "the only way to get teachers and students to master the web, is to let them use it" (Richardson, 2008).

Jan 8, 2009

21/21 Vision

"Here is where people,

one frequently finds,

lowers their voices

and raises their minds (R.Armour)."

Can you remember being in elementary school, and going to the library once a week to listen to a story from the librarian and then having the opportunity look at lots of books? You knew where to find the fiction and non-fiction books and learned all about the Dewey decimal system. When you had research projects, you knew where to find the encyclopedias, (which were very heavy, with super small print), and other references that fit the topic. The library was so much fun. It is now 20 years later and as a teacher, I still take my students to the library at least once a week, and when we do research projects the students know where the non-fiction books are found. They look forward to a special story read to them, by the librarian. After 20 years, the library seems them same.

What could and should a school library, in the 21st Century, look like?

The 21st Century library or Library 2.0, as it is often referred to, "aims at making the library space (both virtual and physical) more interactive, collaborative and encourages user participation and feedback in the development and maintenance of library services" (Wikipedia). Wikipedia points the reader in the direction of Laura Cohen's Librarian's 2.0 Manifesto, which was posted in 2006. She highlights how the information culture is changing fast and that libraries need to respond positively and to be an active participant and enjoy the positive change (Cohen, 2006). Cohen's statements reflect the need for change. Joyce Valenza's "Modest Manifesto," (posted on a Wiki, and in MP3 format, a 21st Century librarian's approach), provides a much more up to date and very comprehensive vision, reflecting the need for change and the ways to accomplish that. In her statements, she describes new ways to promote reading, and includes links like playaways, and while she states that librarians should use new technology tools for learning, she includes possible tools to use, like ipods to teach reading (Valenza, 2009). She provides a powerful vision of the teacher-librarian that and makes striking statements that reflect the potential of the librarian as a key leader in schools. After I read and reread the manifesto, and explored the School Libraries Worldwide site, a few statements from Valenza's manifesto kept speaking to me throughout the readings.

"Libraries must be everywhere and librarians must teach everywhere."

The phrase from Valenza's manifesto that "libraries must be everywhere and librarians must teach everywhere," created a great image in my mind of a person with a red cape flying from classroom to classroom with a laptop in hand (Valenza, 2009). Though I know Valenza means to have a presence and teach virtually, like the library she created online and physically, within the school. As I read through Valenza and Cohen's manifestos, I imagined the 21st century library and classroom. I realized that as a result of the course I took last term, I am starting to use more 2.0 tools in the classroom, including voicethreads and wikis and other 2.0 tools, but I still have a long way to go to turn my classroom into more of a 2.0 classroom. I have included digital books like tumblebooks books to my collection of resources in the classroom and will start to use ipods as a learning tool in centers. I am not a librarian, but sharing the information I am learning and trying to encourage other teachers to try web 2.0 tools, seems essential to me.

"Evaluate, to triangulate information in all media formats"

and "make solid, careful informed decisions."

I wondered what kinds of collections and to what extent we use media formats, with her statement, "evaluate, to triangulate information in all media formats" and "make solid, careful informed decisions" (Valenza, 2009). Considering that with new and emerging literacies, students need to interact, create and participate in their learning and they need to gain an understanding that the Internet is a collection of resources from different providers and be able to critically evaluate information (Asselin and Doiron, 2008). Teachers and librarians can teach students how to search and how to locate the information they are looking for. While searching skills are important there seems to be a movement towards categorizing the information shared online. We see this with social bookmarking sites like Delicious, and the library thing, where the users tag the information so others can find it. Something that I found interesting is the concept of "Open Access." Rick Kopak suggests that a resource like "open access" would give students access to credible and up to date journals (Kopak, 2008). This seems to be another way to begin categorizing the abundant information online. Teaching students to evaluate, categorize and make careful informed decisions is another role of the teacher-librarian.

"Embrace the multi-model, media rich learning environments ."

The 21st century librarian embraces the "multi-model, media rich learning environments" and understands that "exploration and freedom are key to engaging students in virtual environments to promote independent learning" (Valenza, 2009). The challenge is to use the media tools to enrich learning in meaningful and compelling ways (Todd, 2008). To get more people on board, teacher-librarians could use the tools to interact with their colleagues and use certain tools for professional development. Teacher- librarians can use web 2.0 tools like blogger, flickr and wikis, which bring rich media together to interact with peers and globally (Naslund and Guistini, 2008). We also need to consider other virtual environments like those that we see with gaming. Gaming can influence learning as gamers use their imagination, need to problem solve and learn about leadership, competition, teamwork and collaboration (Sanford, 2008). The virtual reality game Second Life can be used to teach various skills like design, query and the evaluation information retrieval systems (Kemp and Haycok, 2008). However, do the video games such as Warcraft, Warhammer, and Guild Wars fit into the curriculum and school values? Are there other video games that would fit the curriculum? I think there is potential for Civilization and Sim City to be great extensions to learning about economic growth in Grade 9 Social Studies. Perhaps, Second Life would be a learning tool to experience what it was like to live in Renaissance Europe, which is a unit in Grade 8 Social Studies. While we embrace virtual environments and virtual learning, whether we use web 2.0 tools or virtual reality games, we also need to embrace our school vision and ensure that what we teach is within the curriculum.

The changes during the 21st Century calls for teachers and teacher-librarians to guide students to learn from a variety of sources of information, and to learn how to construct meaning in technology-charged, information-rich environments (Kuhlthau, 2007). Using Valenza's vision as a place to understand the new roles of the librarian helps us to define what we could be doing and where we should be headed. In Valenza's words, teacher-librarians "represent our brand as a 21st century information professional” (Valenza, 2009)