Is bandwidth the new school bus?

In Saskatchewan, many students are faced with a very long bus ride to and from school every day. For example, the Prairie South School Division covers an area of over 34000 square kilometers in southern Saskatchewan, and the vast majority of that is very sparsely populated. There are students who take a 90 minute  bus ride to and from school each day. That’s 15 spine crunching hours per week bouncing over southern Saskatchewan roads. Yuk.

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Photo Credit: BC Gov Photos Flickr via Compfight cc

I see the internet as the new school bus, and when I say internet, I mean bandwidth. Bandwidth is bringing the education to the students instead of the bus taking the students to the school. I really don’t care about which particular tool is being used, as it is all about how the tool is being used and why it is being used that way. I will say this again and again, teachers must be willing to use technology with an eye on the future. The 21st Century Learning Competencies  and the 7C’s are vital to the future of our students. Naomi mentions in her blog about how distance students don’t get the same support as the face to face students, and I agree with her that the tools need continual improvement in order to help each individual meet their learning goals, but we also can’t take our eye off the importance of 21st Century Learning.

I think the students who ride the old school bus are facing a potential advantage that urban students won’t have as the province faces “transformational change” and distance learning i sure to increase.  For example, a student may have a great idea for providing clean water to impoverished communities around the world. Who has the experience to communicate their ideas to the appropriate authorities – the student who took half or more of their high school credits online and o University classes using effective distance education tools, or the student who simply changed classrooms in the same building?   No one knows what the tools will look like in 20 years, but the skills will remain. Communicate, Collaborate, Create, Critical Thinking, etc. should be at the heart of every distance learning opportunity. Anything less is a waste.

A teacher used the internet with his students. What happened next will leave you speachless.

Actually, there will be nothing amazing here, and I am 100% certain that you will retain your ability to speak if you choose to finish reading this.

I have always liked the analogy that the internet is like a big city . In cities and the internet, there are places to shop, places play,  and there places for entertainment. They both have spots where you definitely wouldn’t take your children, and ones where that are just right for the whole family. There are many people in both a city and the internet, some of them can be trusted, some of them you can’t. If someone is telling you they have a great deal for you on high end electronics in the back of their van, the alarm bells should be going off in your head. When a website shares a link to 25 “never before seen pictures”, the same bells should be ringing. The point is we have choices to make. There are as many distractions on the internet as there are in the real world, and it is up to each user to manage that.

The following is how I have the Internet gets broken down in my world.

Twitter, for me, used to be a relatively quiet place. When I followed less than 150 people or so, my twitter feed was pretty tame and easy to keep track of. Now that I follow close to 1000 people, its like the classroom where nobody raises their hand and everybody has something to say. Twitter can be chaotic at times…but it certainly isn’t boring.

Reddit, is my quiet zone. I can pick and choose what I want to concentrate on. Whether its music on vinyl,  whisky, or hockey, I know I can spend time exploring the topic. (There is even a Reddit for edtech). Reddit is a form of organized chaos.

Facebook is for family and friends. Enough said…

Google is serious business. Its where I go for work, or school, or for directions! (Google is also helpful for fantasy football, but I digress) Google Plus has some very nice, quiet, communities. I can see myself spending more time there once I have finished my masters degree.

YouTube is for learning skills. I can’t even begin to list the things I learned by watching YouTube videos. I think building a cigarbox guitar was the most fun, and reading the diagnostic codes on an old Jeep was the most practical.

So, is it fair to ask if the Internet is a productivity tool or merely an endless series of distractions? The answer to that is up to each individual because where you go and what you do when you get there is up to you.

Learning for the Next 100 years

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Michael Fullen writes in his book Coherence (2016) that technology and digital devices in the classroom can be used to accelerate learning in order to get really deep into the content. Fullen argues, though, in order to achieve this depth of knowledge, new pedagogies are required. In other words using edtech to support outdated teaching practices does not improve student learning. John Hattie might agree as Hattie’s Table of Effect Size shows that computer aided instruction and instructional media have a below average effect on improving student learning.  Fullen  suggests that the structure of teaching  needs to change so that the use of technology in classrooms can act as a conduit to deep learning and greater understanding by students. I think this is a key point that can’t be understated. The old way is for students to become masters of the content, and good teachers are able to convey the content using various direct teaching methods to help students with the mastery. The new way is for students to master the process of learning.

I wonder how bored students get when they are tasked with making yet another Powerpoint or Word document in order to regurgitate some information found using Google about a topic. When this is as deep as we go with the use of technology, we are not even scratching the surface of what our students need. In a world with disappearing borders and global issues that will affect everyone living on earth, our students are going to be faced with future problems we can’t even begin to imagine. Our students will be at a disadvantage unless they learn using methods that are appropriate for 21st Century learners. piaget

My feeling is that it doesn’t much matter which specific technology you choose to use with your students, what matters is how the technologies are used with students. Fullen identifies 6 skills that students need for the future;  Collaboration, Creativity, Critical Thinking, Citizenship, Character, and Communication. If the technology we use in schools can address these 6 skills, our students will be further ahead and will be better prepared for whatever the future throws at them.

Thoughts?

 

 

A post from deep left field….

I just finished watching a documentary on Netflix called 20 Feet from Stardom. If you are not familiar, the movie is about the life of several background singers and the impact they have made on popular music. I had no idea who Darlene Love  or Merry Clayton were prior to watching, but I recognized their voices. It’s a remarkable film that I highly recommend because of the great story it tells.  There is also an important lesson to be learned about different perspective. Everyone knows that Sting is a superstar, but he says it’s Lisa Fischer who is the star. I guess its all matter of perspective, and perspective is a key part of learning. Let me explain.

It has been said that history is the story of the conquerer. We rarely hear the stories from the side that has been defeated.
Case in point #1: I grew up and went to school in the 1970’s and 80’s which means I had classmates who were part of the 60’s scoop, and during a time that Residential schools were still operating in the Province. I had no idea at the time as these issues were certainly never written about in the local newspaper, nor talked about at the kitchen table. I don’t even know if the adults in my life were even aware of the these issues at the time.  I had no idea until well into my adult life.
Case in point #2: Has anyone ever wondered why so many people from Scotland emigrated to Canada in the 1800’s? Anyone? Have you heard about the Highland Clearances? I hadn’t until a couple of years ago when I had a chance to visit with Ewan McIntosh (no relation).  He told me about how the ruling classes (the British) decided to drive thousands upon thousands of Scots off their farming properties, sometimes following vicious battles, into small fishing towns on the coast or completely out of the country . The British felt the land was more profitable for sheep farming than it was for a collection of small mixed farms. Is it a coincidence that at the same time the British had colonies in Canada and Australia that needed to be populated with experienced farmers and other labour? I think not. It’s a perspective doesn’t jive with the official one that says they came to Canada on a promise of cheap land and a bright future in a new world. The word is that my ancestors fought like hell to NOT have to leave their home.
Case in point #3: Textbooks are reflective of the dominant culture. In the State of Texas, textbooks are reviewed and approved by a committee of interested individuals appointed by politicians. So, when recent text books referred to African Slaves as ‘workers’ and that Moses was an important influence on the Founding Fathers of the United states, we know that there is a bias in the content.  We think that nothing like that would ever happen here, but I recently saw an Economics 101 textbook for sale that was subtitled  A Customized Publication for Saskatchewan Polytechnic. I wonder who customized it and if there was any bias in the publication?

I had never before considered the perspective of the background singers and I learned a lot by listening to their stories. I didn’t know about the clearances until my conversation with Ewan and I was able to put one and one together about emmigration to Canada. I didn’t think about bias in teaching resources until I read a post on Reddit about the Texas textbook controversy. In each case, I needed multiple perspectives to make the picture a little bit clearer.

The questions I pose are; do we give our students opportunities to see multiple perspectives on topics and how is that achieved? Are we giving students real opportunities to create their own knowledge and opinions based on facts,  knowledge, and experiences or are we perpetuating the old ones because “that’s the way we think it or should be” or because “that is what is in the resource”? How important are critical thinking skills in this?

As always, I would appreciate your perspective on this! Let me know what you think.

That one time I hate technology…

It started at a meeting of school division in school administrators when my laptop needed to do an update. Everything was fine until the computer completed the restart, and then absolutely everything was gone from my computer. When I say everything, I mean everything. Unfortunately, I am not that diligent at backing up my computer, but fortunately the IT department was able to recover just south of 90% of the files. They put 754 word files, pdf’s, spreadsheets, and pictures all in one file folder.   I got interested in this computer stuff because it was supposed to make my life easier, and for the most part it has. Just not this week…