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!