Curation

When reading about 21st century learning I often come across the term “curation”.  Beth Kanter defines content curation as  “the organizing, filtering and “making sense of” information on the web and sharing the very best pieces of content that you’ve cherry picked with your network” (be sure to read the whole post).

As more and more information is published on the web, we need tools to help us find, filter and organize that information.  Students need to learn that not all information is created equally and that learning requires us to evaluate and edit information constantly.

I use quite a few tools that help me with these activities:

twitter – a continuous rich stream of links come to me from my PLN through twitter

delicious – a great way to bookmark sites, research papers and other sources of information to refer back to

google alerts – an easy way to automate searches that you perform on a regular basis

rss reader – a “dashboard” for bringing all the blogs, news sources, and other things together in one place for catching up

Increasingly there are tools that bring disparate sources together and present them in a visually appealing way – almost like a magazine – and it is one of these that I’ve been playing around with lately.

Scoop.it is a tool that helps you to explore your favourite topic by bringing content (sites, posts, videos, etc) together in an online exhibit. Scoop.it will even crawl the web looking for links that might be of interest to you. You can follow topics and other scoop.it posters and easily pull links that appeal to you into your own curation page.

I’m just getting started with this project, so far I’ve pulled together some of my all-time favourites and will add new things as I come across them.  I’m hoping this will be an effective way to pull together information to engage people (in particular parents) who aren’t necessarily tuned in to the latest web tools.

Asking people to jump right into twitter or blogging or social bookmarking can be a bit overwhelming. My hope is that by exploring topics of interest through scoop.it they will see the power of curation tools for their children and might even try it for themselves.

What I’m scooping right now:

Leading and Learning in 21C

Family and Community Engagement in Education

School – Family Partnerships for the 21st Century

I read a lot of articles about improving the school – family dynamic in public education. Some focus on parent involvement, others go toward parent engagement. I have been inspired by the work of Joyce Epstein and Debbie Pushor as they both encourage the development of true partnerships based on mutual respect and a desire to enhance student learning.

(For those interested my friend Lorna Costantini brings their research out of the journals and into our living rooms through conversations with both women that are rich with real examples. See here and here for archives).

Today I read an article on home – school relationships that contained a sentence that really popped for me … made me say out loud “exactly!”.

(As I love the flickr group Great quotes about learning and change, I knew I had to make a poster using this line; I’ve wanted to use my orange mushroom photo for a long time and longed for a quotation about families and communities).

Wanting to know more about the author Marilyn Price-Mitchell I read her paper Boundary Dynamics: Implications for Building Parent – School Relationships. It really meshed with my own beliefs that connections, trust, networks, and knowledge creation are coming together to provide us with a real opportunity to build school – family partnerships that benefit all of us – students, parents, teachers, and community.

The knowledge society, the learning organization, and the information technology revolution represent trends that are bringing the family into the mainstream of education in ways never before experienced p. 22

EXACTLY!!!

I’d like to give credit to Chris Wejr who’s “Things that make me go BOOM” linked to this article and had me reflecting on all kinds of great things today.

Connect

On August 31 nearly 1000 teachers from this District gathered in one place for a day of learning together.  As Chair of the District Education Council I am invited to speak for a few minutes at the beginning of the day.  As I am there in an official capacity I’m cognizant of delivering a message that is true to the Council’s mission and goals, so I decided to continue with the theme of “connecting”.

I encouraged educators to model 21st century learning by exploring networks and using technology to connect to their own passions and to have conversations with educators far and wide. I suggested a few easy things they could do to begin: Tech20Tuesday, #edchat, Learning: Everybody’s Project, or even their own association’s social networks. As the major theme of the event was “responsible use” of technology I even suggested they might want to read a great blog post on the CEA website. Our District schools have developed some very good professional learning communities, but I asked them to go beyond the usual for conversations and then to bring back what they learned to their PLCs.

BUT as I was writing the remarks for the event, I realized that as a Council we have been distracted, albeit by some important responsibilities, from our own true purpose of connecting citizens to the public education system.  Whether we meet online or in person we have to spend more time in conversation with our community, exploring how to connect to the learning that is happening and celebrating the innovation that exists in so many places.

I’m excited for the new year to begin, I look forward to connecting more myself!

my message

LearnEast 2.0.11 – Parent Perspective of 21C

There’s an excellent learning event underway for NB educators in Fredericton this week. LearnEast 2.0.11, a high quality, low cost event attended by 200 keen teachers from around the province, has been organized by Bryan Facey (@Faceyman) and Jeff Whipple (@jeffwhipple) of District 18 and Jay Colpitts (@JayColpitts) of District 14.  I was happy to be asked to sit on a panel this afternoon and discuss my views (a parent’s perspective) on 21C and virtual learning opportunities for NB students.

In advocating for 21C and virtual spaces I outlined three areas where our modern tools can significantly improve our public education system.  Acknowledging that 21C type learning doesn’t require a tech-rich environment, I commented that tech tools and the internet do however enable us to make so many more connections that strengthen the role of public education.

1) Connecting students to their passions – our modern tools allow us to make personalized learning possible.  We can go beyond differentiated instruction, beyond ability grouping and reach out and touch the passions of every student of every ability in every school.

2) Connecting parents to the learning in classrooms – be it through inviting comments on a student/class blog, contributing ideas to a school wiki or skyping in from the office to provide real-world perspective on a discussion in the classroom – technology allows parents to interact with the learning in schools that goes far beyond reading comments on a report card or signing off a homework sheet.

3) Connecting the community to the school and the school to the world – the role of public education can be enhanced significantly by building connections between our local resources and our schools as well as by linking our schools to other communities around the world.  Many teachers have utilized local/global partners to enhance classroom learning, but the ability to do this virtually expands our capability tremendously and really enables us to authenticate public education as a community building institution.

I summarized my contribution by paraphrasing Stephen Downes (@downes) and encouraging the group to embrace a system where students do not have an education provided for them, but one that empowers students to build an education for themselves.

On Consultation and Engagement

I’ve just returned from a day long meeting hosted by the provincial Department of Education regarding a controversial decision made by the Minister in this province. Near the end of the day a comment was made that the round table discussion seemed to move us beyond “consultation” into the realm of “engagement“. It is a comment that distracted me all the way home.

Stakeholders at each “level” (province, district, school) have the authority to make certain decisions, as well as the capacity to involve other stakeholders in decision making. Every few years we endure swings from centralization to decentralization and each time we create confusion, lack of empowerment, and dis-engagement of stakeholders at all levels. Our public education system is very bureaucratic and protective and though it often consults the public, it rarely engages the public in collaborative decision making.

A greater emphasis on collaborative decisions made through public engagement would mean better decisions and likely greater satisfaction with the results. So while the Minister would have the ultimate authority for any major decision, support for decisions made via a collaborative effort would be greater and the political price for the decision easier to absorb.

How do we move from schools as factories to schools as community learning centres? How do we foster collaborative decision making? How do we engage reluctant participants? How do we make sure students are full participants in the decision-making process? Which decisions do we need to work together on, and which decisions should each of us be empowered to make on our own?

I have more questions than answers, but I hope that what I experienced today was the beginning of citizen engagement in public education in NB.

Reflections on QESBA Internet Report

Sharon Peters recently blogged her thoughts on the recent report by the Quebec English School Boards Association on Internet Use.  I was curious to find out if the report looked at how school boards and their associated schools used Internet tools to communicate with parents and communities so I read the full report (Towards Empowerment, Respect and Accountability  PDF here). 

While the research did not address my questions it did make some very interesting recommendations about involving parents in the development of a technology-rich school environment.  The report clearly encourages us to move from seeing the Internet as a “threat” to embracing it as an “opportunity”.

The QESBA Task Force set out a framework of prinicples to guide policy and practice which includes the following:

…parents can and must be active partners in better understanding the dynamics and impact of new technologies on their children, and in engaging and guiding them in the responsible and accountable use of those technologies.

There are many good recommendations in the report, but the following are pertinent to parental involvement.

  • Educate and involve community partners in responsible and informed Internet use
    • Involve students, teachers and parents directly in developing and delivering (as well as receiving) information, skills and approaches on rules of Internet use, conduct and respect for privacy.
    • Enhance on-going and open communications between school and home on these issues. Seek to involve the co-operation, collaboration and participation of parents who are a key source behind the possibility for action and change.
    • Provide accessible materials, interactive training for interested parents on Internet use and abuse, appropriate supervision techniques and modeling behavior for their own consideration.

The authors of the report also recognized the importance of involving students in this process. I particularly like the following statement:

The task force has learned of a pressing need for educational and transformative approaches and preventative practices to more fully engage students in dialogue, provide them with responsibility, leadership and learning opportunities within ethical frameworks that guide both young people and adult stakeholders to appreciate the impact of their words and expressions on others.  

And this recommendation:

  • Encourage young technology users to work with adults to teach them more about the technologies, and show confidence in their expertise.

 The QESBA report encourages a reasoned, balanced and collaborative approach to embracing 21C tools. Hopefully it will be read by school boards and governance bodies across Canada.

Thank you Sharon for bringing it to my attention.

How much is too much?

Recently Cindy Seibel wrote a post asking the question “Can there be too much information for parents?” (you can read her post “Is it ever too much?” here and read the original story in the NY Times “I know what you did in Math Classhere)

As a parent interested in engaging other parents in our education system I wondered if these web service companies would go beyond what a parent would need to assess their own child’s performance – could they be used to increase the involvement of parents in schools, and ultimately to engage parents in school improvement planning? I decided to explore a few of these commercial school data systems and as in everything I found there is a wide variety of services – some simply offer parents access to information on grades, homework, and attendance, while others go much further and provide tools for multi-level communication and collaboration.   

Those of us involved in education governance often discuss the role of communication in increasing parent involvement/engagement, we talk about the processof communication.  Some of us see great potential in using web technology to improve this process – to reach more people where they are, when they want and how they want. Web tools such as blogs, wikis, nings and webcasts provide us with a lot of options for reaching parents (and many of them are free!). So in the absence of an integrated school community management system accessible to parents these tools could be quite useful.

But what kind of information should we be sharing to improve collaboration? What do parents need to know and discuss in order to be engaged in schools?

In my province we are a long way from finding that tipping point from enough information to too much.  A large number of parents I talk to do not feel really connected to what is happening with their child in the classroom, and fewer are aware of what is happening educationally on a school wide basis. They want to have more frequent contact with classroom teachers as well as school administrators. Until parents feel there is adequate communication with teachers and principals can we really expect them to feel comfortable in a open, collaborative school improvement process?

Homework

Over the past few days I’ve spent several hours reading 8 blog posts at The Faculty Room debating the pros and cons of homework.  So many opinions, so many comments ! (100+ across the posts). If you’re interested in the debate I suggest starting with the wrap up post and then going back to the beginning if you want more detail (If you can’t read them all, don’t miss the post by Alfie Kohn). 

I can really only comment on what I see happening at the elementary grades as that is where my children are. I would definitely be on the “no homework, please” side of the debate.  I would much prefer to use home time for other activities or for relaxation.  So far we’ve been lucky in that homework really has been light enough that it has not interfered with our other pursuits.

So why a post about homework in this blog? Because I can’t help but wonder if  what “pro-homework” parents are really looking for is a connection to what is happening in the classroom. I wonder if the desire for homework is really a desire for some sort of accountability…it is “proof” that our teachers are teaching and our children are learning.

If what we are really looking for is connection then communication is key. How can we use technology to fill this need for a connection to what is happening in the classroom? 

  • What if teachers took the time used for preparation and marking of homework to provide parents with communication specific to the progress of their child?  A once-a-week email hi-lighting progress toward outcomes with information on how parents can help their child if they are falling behind, or challenge them if they are working ahead of the class.  
  • How about using blogs and wikis for language arts and encouraging parents to read and comment?
  • What if teachers could use a learning management system that provides controlled access to assignments, grades, messages, even audio and video clips? (here is one example)

I know there are lots of ways to use web tools for homework, but what if we used those tools for what we really want during the early years – connection and communication – instead?

Engaging Parents

The number of bloggers writing about education, in particular technology in education, is huge.  I have more than 30 in my feed-reader that I try to keep up with everyday and I’ve visited hundreds more over the last year.  Teachers and technology leaders are definitely engaged in the conversation of learning in the 21 century.

But where are the parents?  I’ve seen a few blog commentators that look at things from the perspective of a parent, and of course many teachers/tech leaders are parents too, but it is rare to find people outside the school involved in the conversations. 

There is one group of people I’ve found trying to change that.  Lorna Costantini, Matt Montagne and Rhoda Cipparone host a webcast called “Parents as Partners” at EdTechTalk. They are using webcasts and associated chat rooms to bring parents together to discuss parent involvement and how social networking tools can help parents support education. (Lorna’s blog found at ourschool.ca has more information on past and future guests and some great links too.)

This webcast truly is a means of  using “tools of engagement” when you want, where you want, and how you want. You can listen live or later on, you can chat in the back channel or not, and you can follow the links that are provided to learn more if you choose. 

The next webcast is scheduled for March 17 - I’ll be there, will you?