Monday, March 15, 2010

Critical Website Evaluation as Teacher and Student

Kathy Schrock’s article, “The ABC’s of Web Site Evaluation” outlines the many factors a teacher should consider, and teach his/her students to consider, when accessing the Internet as an information resource.

In conjunction with Schrock’s guidelines, there are some best practices I’ve observed that seem to support responsible Internet sourcing:

In regards to selecting websites as resources for both my own research and for my eventual usage in the classroom, it is important that I allow myself sufficient time for thorough review of the material I’m presenting. The most irresponsible thing a teacher or student can do is present material without thoroughly reviewing it first. I’ve seen this happen on the occasion when a teacher has left me web-based materials to distribute to students as their substitute teacher. Upon subsequent review, the materials seem irrelevant to the assigned task or inappropriate. Frequently, it is the students who determine this before I’ve had a chance to, which does not reflect well upon the permanent teacher. I’ve also been on the receiving end (as a grad student) of web-based information that, upon review, seems extraneous or unfocused. It’s not enough for anyone presenting web-based information or materials, as either teacher or student, to “skim” the content or assume the content has merit because of its source, heading, title, etc.

As both student and teacher, I find cross-referencing to be an invaluable practice. Chances are the information I am harvesting from the Internet is not rocket science and is not just available from a single source. The more varied and numbered the sources I can locate to present like information, the more certain I can feel that the information is likely accurate.

Finally, as a teacher, I would dedicate a lesson to teaching critical Web evaluation and responsible usage to my students. Of the many articles I reviewed, Kathy Schrock’s “Critical Evaluation of a Web Site: Secondary School Level” checklist seems the most comprehensive tool for students. Throughout the course/semester, I would encourage students to obtain my approval of a web resource before using it in any research-based assignment. I might even create some sort of digital “permission slip” (students email me a link for approval before citing its content.)

While being able to fact check our students' work would certainly be ideal, I suspect it might be impractical simply due to lack of time in a teacher's schedule (specifically in regards to more complex high school students/assignments.) It might be more realistic to educate students how to evaluate websites and web-based content for viability and then put the honus on the students to fact check, holding them responsible for the accuracy of the content they choose to utilize.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

PBS's "Frontline: Digital Nation" Documentary

This documentary fascinated me. Early in the program, I was intrigued to learn that college and university professors expect to lecture to a classroom full of students who are on their laptops, wired to the Net while supposedly listening to the professor. Students “multi-tasking” (on their mobile devices, logged on to email and social networking sites) while in class is the “norm” in many higher education classrooms today. It was disconcerting to hear the experts interviewed in this segment of the documentary claim that students are in fact not multi-tasking productively, that students “have done themselves a disservice by…believing a multi-tasking learning environment will serve their best purposes.” Too frequently, I check my email, update my calendar, and review assignments for other classes while sitting in my EDU-533 Monday night lectures. While a part of me feels rude and inattentive doing so, the other part validates such behavior because it’s necessary to maintaining my busy lifestyle. To learn from the Frontline program that my multi-tasking may actually be a detriment to my productivity will give me pause before I logon to AOL and Facebook when in lecture next. However, while I might give pause, I likely won’t stay offline completely. Having fallen victim to the multi-tasking movement as so many of my friends and colleagues have, I do strongly agree with the comment made in the documentary that eliminating distraction or “unwiring” oneself can’t be done in a vacuum. Multi-tasking is a collaborative effort that involves many interdependent parties; if you quit, you let down your teammates and place them at a disadvantage.

Also of interest was the suggested metaphor likening the Internet to smoking; just as it took decades for society to realize and react to the devastating effects of smoking on health, society may only now, decades after its birth, begin to realize the negative psychological effects of the Internet. Nowhere is this parallel more evident than in South Korea. According to the documentary, 90% of South Korean children access the Internet daily. 10-15% of this population is considered “high risk” for addiction to video gaming. To combat this issue, the South Korean government is funding “Internet Rescue Schools” or “Camps” that offer free counseling and rehabilitation services to affected youth. While watching this segment, I noticed that most of the South Korean youth filmed in this segment were boys; I noted only one female in the dozens of children featured. I was both shocked and saddened to learn about the Internet addiction epidemic in South Korea. Furthermore, in the closing portion of the segment, it was unsettling to watch a class of second graders being taught how to navigate the Internet while supposedly learning how to do so responsibly. In a country so riddled with Internet abuse and online gaming addiction amongst its youth, why continue to foster Internet use in South Korean youth? Isn’t that like providing alcohol to the minor children of alcoholics? Or providing teenagers with marijuana, telling them to smoke up but to do so responsibly and stay off the “hard stuff” with full knowledge that marijuana is a gateway drug? It seems a blatant oxymoron: South Korean second graders singing about “Netiquette” when 10-15% of them will end up online gaming addicts within 10 years. Disturbing.

What I appreciate most about the Frontline documentary, however, is the even presentation of both sides of the debate over our Digital Nation. As disturbing as the stories presented in the first half of the video are, the second half presents a far more optimistic view on the present and future state of our digital age. I was inspired by the interviews conducted at the New York school in which, through the full integration of education and technology, attendance and violence issues were drastically reduced while test scores radically improved. According to the technology in education proponents interviewed, the responsibility of teachers of today’s digital natives is to prepare students for an adult world that will require them to be technologically fluent problem solvers, not “stay in their seats and be quiet.” Perhaps the infusion of technology in education is valid simply because, as one expert quoted so simply stated, “the world has sped up in a lot of ways…and education hasn’t.”

"Frontline: Digital Nation" is a fascinating documentary. It provides a very even-handed, unbiased presentation of both sides of the debate surrounding our Digital Nation, portraying arguments from the very right, the very left, and much of the ambiguous reasoning between the two. Ultimately I agree with the final analysis of the hosts offered in closing, that it’s likely “too early to tell” to what end we’re headed as a Digital Nation.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Suggestions for EDU-533

I'm repeating myself, but I strongly believe a "master tool list” would be an extremely helpful “take away” from this course. This list would serve as a fast and easy reference guide to the many sites/applications learned through our class lectures and text book. The list need only include a web address, name, and brief description. Returning to the course links or the “World Is Open” index for this information is cumbersome. The "master list" could be a Google Doc or some form of open document built and maintained collaboratively by students and teacher. To maximize its effectiveness, the list would include only those tools (sites, applications) that we as pre-service teachers collectively feel we might or would use in-service.

I would also recommend inviting 2-3 guest speakers over the duration of the course to speak to the class about real-life experience with and application of technology in education. These guest speakers would be current, in-service teachers with an array of experience. Perhaps one speaker would be a “techie” who finds multiple ways to use technology regularly in the classroom and also has the resources available to do so. Another speaker might share his experience with having little access to technology in his school. I also think it would be tremendously helpful to have a panel of teachers from various content areas and grade levels (a primary and secondary teacher each in English, Science, Math, Social Studies) to speak briefly on how they use technology in their individual content area classrooms.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

K12 Online Conference Presentation

As I move through my first term as a Secondary English M.Ed. student, my goal has been to expose myself to as many English classrooms and teaching styles, and as much Secondary English Education theory/methodology as possible. I used this week’s “free-choice” blog assignment as an opportunity to learn more about literacy in the high school English classroom.

K12 Online Conference 2009 Presentation
"Promise Into Practice: What It Now Means to Teach Adolescent Readers”
Presented by Sara Kajder

This presentation details Kajder’s action research project on the effectiveness of various literacy practices in 9th grade “standard” (low level) English classrooms. For a complete Fall semester, she studied 4 separate 9th grade classrooms totaling 120 students that had been assessed as borderline proficient, struggling to meet 9th grade GLE’s. She separated the 4 classes into 2 groups of 60 each. Group A students were exposed to various technology-based literacy practices throughout the course of the term, whereas Group B students were taught with a more classical approach.

The following is an outline of the semester tasks and how the tools for execution varied from Group A to Group B.

Task 1: Literacy Narrative - student self-introduction
Group A: voice thread
Group B: written letter

Task 2: Independent Reading - book summary/review
Group A: book trailer
Group B: book talk, oral presentation

Task 3: Literature Circle “Projects”
Group A: podcast
Group B: presentation

Task 4: Literature Circle Groups – discussion groups
Group A: outside of class
Group B: in class

Task 5: Writers Workshop
Group A: screencast feedback
Group B: written and oral paper

Task 6: Elements of Persuasion
Group A: remix
Group B: written paper

The findings of Kajder’s action research project suggest collaboration with peers and opportunity for sharing work with an authentic audience while providing a learning environment that fosters creative expression gave students a purpose for their reading and writing, and therefore motivated them to read for comprehension and write for reading. While both groups improved literacy proficiency, the “technology-infused” (Kajder) environment of Group A posted a greater improvement in literacy proficiency than Group B. With a purpose for their work and knowing they had a peer audience to capture, students showed they possessed stronger individual and collective literacy skills than had been previously assessed.

Having viewed Kajder's presentation, I will consider the alternative technology-based forms of literary exploration and project presentation in the English curriculum when designing my own.

Who's with me?

I think a hugely helpful "take away" from this course would be a master list (a Google doc or Word doc) of the educational technology tools we were introduced to throughout the course, including a web link and brief definition/explanation of each.

The document might layout like this, for example:

Tool #1: Quizlet
Use: make and share flashcards online; print flashcards; self-quiz

Tool #2: VoiceThread
etc etc etc

This would be a similar resource to Jim Moulton's site which JonKNH shared with us all on Twitter last week.
(By the way, Jon, thanks...I found this an invaluable reference!)

What do you guys think? Should we ask Dave if this is something he or WE could compile? Feel free to comment. I'll probably mention this in class this week as well. Thanks!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Educational Technology Tool: the IPL and its Literary Criticism Collection

As a M.Ed. student focused in Secondary English, I’m constantly exploring online resources for literary analysis and critique. While SparkNotes has become my go-to source for literary summaries and analytical overviews, I have wanted to find an online resource that provides higher-level literary analysis from various sources.

In tackling this week’s homework assignment, I came across the Internet Public Library (IPL). The IPL began in 1995 as a research project designed by students in a graduate seminar in the School of Information and Library Studies at the University of Michigan. Today it is an extensive online library managed by Drexel University, Florida State University (FSU) and the University of Michigan, and is maintained by a consortium of 7 additional universities that serve as managing partners (including Syracuse and the University of Illinois) and 9 additional participating universities. At the start of 2010 the IPL2 website was launched, the result of the merger of the Internet Public Library (IPL) with the Librarians' Internet Index (LII).

The IPL is exactly what its unabbreviated name suggests: an open access online reference library. Its content is extensive. On the homepage, the site is divided into five segments:

1. Resources by Subject
2. Newspapers & Magazines
3. Special Collections created by ipl2
4. For Kids
5. For Teens

While teachers, parents and students alike could utilize this site as a multi-faceted reference tool, my personal search for an extensive literary analysis/criticism database led me to the site’s Literary Criticism Collection. In this portion of the site, the user can browse by author, title, nationality or literary period. Once the user has selected a literary work or author, he/she is directed to a series of weblinks to other websites dedicated to the subject or to online critical essays on the subject.

For example, a student might be assigned to write an essay on 20th century American Literature. Via the IPL Literary Criticism database, that student would be directed to a series of essays on American Lit. Perhaps he/she would choose to explore the link to an essay on the Harlem Renaissance Movement. After reading about the Harlem Renaissance writers, the student might decide to explore the link to author Langston Hughes. After clicking on the link for Langston Hughes, the student would be directed to a site which hosts an extensive autobiography and guide to the author’s work. Via the IPL, the student could also link to critical essays analyzing the various works of Langston Hughes. Exposure to such essays would provide insight to the deeper thoughts of experts and academics, and serve as a model for the student’s own critical thought.

For the secondary English student or secondary English teacher, the IPL Literary Criticism library, while not a complete collection, provides a wide array of information - fact (historical and biographical info), literary analysis, and literary critique – on hundreds of literary subjects. I look forward to exploring it further.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

1/18/10 Essential Question

* Can teachers provide equal access to the digital world to all students?

Realistically, teachers cannot provide equal access to the digital world for students because education extends beyond the classroom. Unfortunately, student academic achievement is as much a product of socio-economic status and how education is valued in the home as it is the efforts of even the most successful educators. In this country in our lifetime, and likely indefinitely, there will always be a population of students who have unlimited access to computers outside of school, and those with little or no accessibility. There will always be wealthy school districts (ex. Windham, NH) that fund a 1-to-1 student/laptop ratio, and others like many inner-city public schools that can barely afford the electricity, water and heat required to remain operational. Truly “equal” access to the digital world is a Utopian dream.

However, teachers can strive to maximize access in any environment. A class such as EDU-533 should be mandated as professional development for teachers in a school system such as Windham’s where there is equal access in the classroom. In a more typical school system where a school might have a computer lab, or one computer per classroom, equal access is far more challenging. I am a substitute teacher at Pinkerton Academy, a high school recognized for its outstanding facilities. Even at PA, teachers must sign-out the computer cart for a given date/time or sign-up for computer lab access, and there is often a waiting list for both. In the average American school, it is less likely that students have direct, individual access to digital learning. A SMARTBoard is an excellent compromise. Costing $3000-5000, a SMARTBoard is on average half (or less) the cost of outfitting an entire classroom of students with laptops. At least in a classroom with a SMARTBoard, a teacher could integrate technology in the classroom regularly. The better educated the teacher on how to leverage a SMARTBoard effectively, the more equalized the access.

Most challenged for equal access are the impoverished school systems with no computer lab, perhaps one computer for every classroom at best, and an oppressed student population with no computer/internet access outside of school. I recently observed at such a school, Boston English High School in Jamaica Plain, MA. In that school, neither teachers nor students are required to use an online grading system, but a population of the teachers use Engrade (free online gradebook) and allow students to check grades at will. Most teachers allow students to use the classroom computer at lunch or during study periods for typing word documents or online research. Unfortunately, the opportunity for direct access for students like those at Boston English ends there. The only other option for granting students access is indirectly, with the onus on the teacher to utilize the Web as a resource for alternative or unique lesson planning and for articles or tools (games, puzzles, worksheets) that can be printed as a master and photocopied for students.

True “equal access” is not a reality in our society today. As free and open software becomes more prevalent and its usage more widespread, the number of desktop computers or laptops allotted for purchase in a given budget will increase without the need to budget for the additional costs of licenses for operating systems such as Microsoft Windows. Courses such as EDU-533 will continue to expose pre-service teachers such as we are to the many educational resources available digitally. The burden will then be us as working teachers to push beyond the limitations of school facilities to do our best to maximize access for our students.