Sharing

As the past two weeks of ETMOOC have been dedicated to exploring connected learning one dominant theme has been “sharing“. Bloggers inspired by Dean Shareski’s session on Sharing as Accountability have explored the theme overtly in posts such as Lyn Hilt’s Sharing is Caring and Shane Brewer’s Sharing as an Ethical Responsibility. Some of the most powerful work in the last few weeks has been the sharing of questions as folks wrestled with the ideas presented by Dave Cormier in his session on Introduction to Rhizomatic Learning.

Before we leave this theme I want to share with you some words from Stephen Downes written earlier this week when he was asked to give advice to someone wanting to make a meaningful contribution to the quality of education around the world. Stephen is known to many as one of pioneers of connectivism; many of you likely subscribe to OLDaily. But he is also a philosopher and a photographer, and sometimes his words resonate in a way that goes beyond theory and discourse – they get at why I as a parent am advocating for change in public education – and at what I really want for my children.

(Click to enlarge)

downes_advice

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

Change the Tools

originally posted at: http://wp.me/p12hAn-89

Remember when you begged your mother to spend the extra money on the super-duper-deluxe package of your official high school grad photo?  I do.  It wasn’t enough to have 12 or 15 of the wallet-sized photos, I needed at least 48.  Remember when you looked for the least smudgy ball point pen you could find in order to write personal messages to each and every person to whom you gave one of those photos?  I do.  As I recall, we began to share these forced-smile, ridiculous background, did-I-really-wear-that-haircut photo wonders in junior high. I think the first sheet Mom popped for came with 9 photos, just enough to share with best friends and a few cousins. Each year my pleading for “just one more sheet” grew as the size of my circle of friends grew. I’m a sentimental person, but I bet I’m not the only one from the class of 1983 who still has a pile of these in a box buried in the basement.

My children have never, ever asked me to purchase a sheet of these wallet-sized photos, not once, not even the minis!  They watch as I decide how many to buy and who to send them to at Christmas time, but they’ve never once seemed interested in partaking in this photo-exchange process that I’ve tried to explain to them.  Seems it just doesn’t happen anymore.  But then why would it?  Our children are able to carry with them hundreds of photos of their friends, pictures they’ve taken themselves, pictures that will likely never be printed on photo paper. They have cellphones, iPods and digital cameras. They don’t need to write promises to stay in touch, while trying not to smear blue ink all over the place.  They have Facebook, Flickr and glogster to share photos with remember-when phrases.

The tools of memory-making have changed and the tools of knowledge-making are changing too.

Those of us passionate about shifting our education system to a model such as NB3-21C agree that the competencies we want to empower our children with: critical thinking and creative problem solving, collaboration, communication, personal development and self-awareness, and global citizenship, are not “21st century” ideas.  These learning goals have been taught by teachers, for many years, in many ways that did not require the internet. But while the goals themselves are not new, many of the tools most suited to facilitating mastery of these competencies in a networked knowledge economy are indeed 21st century tools.

The learning environment outlined in the NB3-21C Strategy Document would allow our students to communicate and collaborate across the street and across the globe.  Using netbooks and other technology tools, students will be able to personalize their learning path exploring topics of interest to them and finding others with similar interests. Multimedia publishing, video conferencing, shared authoring, and the development of  peer networks through social networking applications will bring added engagement to the curriculum. One-to-one access at the high school level will enable students across the province to explore subject areas previously unavailable in rural or small schools. This 3 year plan would eventually see all K-5 classrooms with clusters of netbooks as well as interactive whiteboards and FM sound systems, and all students in grades 6-12 would have 1:1 access to netbook computers.

So yes we can “teach” students how to learn, to communicate by reading and writing, to share ideas with their classmates, to be aware of world issues with pencils, paper and textbooks. But imagine what they can learn if we allow them to use the tools they already have locked in their backpacks, or give them access to the tools we use in our homes and workplaces. It is time to empower students in their learning journeys - it is time to put the tools in their hands.

NB3 21C – Why I Embrace the Shift

originally posted at: http://wp.me/p12hAn-5M

As a parent I have hopes and dreams for my children.  I want to see them exploring the world with open eyes. I want them to be literate and numerate enough to pursue any passion they discover, to follow any path that looks inviting and to contribute to whatever society they chose to live in. I want them to be optimistic, but at the same time skeptical. I want them to be creative, communicative, collaborative and compassionate. Our education system as it has operated in the 9 years I’ve been involved has given them some of this – some days, some projects, some experiences, some teachers, sometimes – but not enough.  I want more.

Two years ago I read this post by David Warlick and I began a blog post of my own (unfinished until now) with the title “Maybe Someday”.  The passage that resonated with me was this:

“Conservatism and conformity necessitate control, and the spirit and the affect of Web 2.0 are to democratize control and make it personal.  When teachers are released from district managed portals, and allowed to shape their own personal learning networks, when they are granted a voice and ear to a global conversation about education, when students begin to take a more active role in affecting the “what” and “how” of their own learning, then education changes, and the barriers between the “classroom” and “world” start to disappear.”

I knew a few educators who were working in this way – making global connections, using web tools, helping students develop their own PLNs (personal learning networks), but I wasn’t optimistic that my children would benefit from this personal approach to learning. Time passed, and my blogging efforts gave way to other things.

And then, a spark of hope.  Just over a year ago I was invited to participate in the N.B. Department of Education’s 21st Century Learning Advisory Committee.  The mandate of this Committee is to assist the Department in developing 21C competencies and to review research and consultation findings with the goal of shifting our system to a model of 21C learning.

I have witnessed such great openness to new ideas by the professionals involved in the Committee and the officials at the Department.  The NB3 21C Consultation Document outlines a number of shift elements that will help us move our system from pockets of 21C learning to systemwide innovation and exploration.

I no longer say “maybe someday” because that day is here NOW and it is exciting to be a part of.

What is my demographic?

I’ve just completed an online survey for the Canadian Education Association. The survey is being conducted to gather information on their publication Education Canada.  I enjoy the work of both the Association and their magazine and I do hope they make the move to a greater online presence.  Most of the questions are what you would expect, but I was completely surprised by one of their demographic inquiries. Here is the question (along with my answers):

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I would love to see some crosstabs from that survey data!  Go take the survey – you could win an iPod nano (I know, I know – they should have made it a Touch instead).

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?