Monday, May 11, 2009

Speculation on the Power of the Web

It is still too early in the evolution of the Web to say with certainty where its ultimate power lies. At this moment, it is less than an infant, only a little more than a technological zygote. What it eventually becomes is open mainly to speculation, but there is one power it exhibits already in its nascent state. Like technology itself, the Web is overwhelming us with the intensity of its exponential growth and evolution. In barely a couple of decades, it has become an integral player in the shepherding of mankind, and yet in as little as another decade or two, its power may be such that it is no longer recognizable as the beginning entity it is today. The Web can well be considered as part of the “Future Shock” Alvin Toffler wrote about almost fifty years ago, but it is more of a shock than anyone could have imagined then.

The tendency of most people is to think linearly: It has taken mankind a few thousand years to reach our present state of technology, so in another few thousand years, we will be perhaps twice as far along as we are now. But technological (and Web) development and evolution are not linear activities. They are products of geometric progressions, and as Ray Kurzweil points out in his book, The Singularity is Near, by the time a geometric progression makes itself known, it has already become a raging torrent. Such is the ongoing state of the Web. It is at the beginning of a geometric torrent, doubling and doubling and doubling again. This doubling is of information, the very essence of everything in the Universe itself.

Power? In the immediate decades to come (not in thousands of years), man’s assimilation and technological use of information will be several thousand fold what it is now. Many people in generations alive today will experience what this means. The individual, in a newer, better, more durable form, need no longer die, and the Web may well become another world, literally, in which we live, without limitations, essentially forever. It will transcend the banality of religions, and many advanced thinkers believe it may evolve into its own eternal version of Heaven or possibly, though hopefully not, Hell. In any case, the Web’s power most certainly heralds the possibility, and even likelihood, of a wondrous future for the puny, insignificant and fragile little creatures that currently comprise mankind.


Safety Online

Whose responsibility is it to teach students to be safe online?

Today’s students have two powerful tools at their fingertips—mobile phones and personal computers. These students are the original digital natives. Technology is their world. However, until they are mature enough to use these expensive gadgets appropriately, it is the responsibility of schools and parents to guide and protect them. On their web site, THE X LAB, Mac OX addresses Internet safety for children. They identify education and supervision as being “the two most under utilized techniques for insuring safe computing.”

Educating children to the problems and perils, so they know what to avoid and what to look out for.
Parental supervision of a child's activities on the Internet, including Web surfing, downloading, and participation in chat rooms.

Teachers and administrators recognize their responsibility for students’ safety at school and take steps to assure that students are following and learning safe guidelines when using the Internet. At home, parents must assume this role. Many parents are knowledgeable and diligent about keeping up with their child’s online activities. Too often, however, parents are not equipped to do this. Consequently, schools need to be prepared to educate the parents about the ramifications and possible dangers that result from some online behaviors and provide access to guidelines for safe computing at home.

This responsibility includes netiquette and cyber-bullying. We try to teach our students how to handle bullies face to face in day-to-day school activities—on the playground, in the hallways, the gym and dressing room. In one school, a second grade teacher taught his students how to assume an aggressive stance, look an individual in the eye and tell the person that they didn’t like what they just said or did. The teacher had a cue, and on cue the students stood up and went through the drill several times a day. Knowing how to respond and being able to show that they were not an “easy target” reduced the reports of bullying from his students by about eighty percent.

Online bullying is different. There isn’t anyone to look in the eye. That’s what makes it so easy to take place. Making sure that students are aware of what constitutes cyber-bullying is fundamental. Many students do not realize that some of their activities, done without thought, can be considered cyber-bullying. Defining online bullying as part of the AUP and having a published procedure for students to follow whenever they feel that they are being bullied will send the message that such activities are not acceptable and will be addressed by those in authority. Knowing what their rights are and how to respond can keep some students from becoming easy targets.

Also of consideration is the nebulous area between home and school. Incidences of cyber-bullying that occur in this area must be addressed as well. When children are bullied, whether it occurs online, via mobile phone or in person, they need to know their rights. Electronic bullying is more problematic since the source can be difficult or impossible to find. Where does the school’s jurisdiction begin and end? If bullying originates from a home computer but comes onto campus, does the school have the authority to act? Will including strict rules in the AUP/School Rules make it possible for schools to take action whenever action is needed?

Take a stand against cyberbullying

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” We must teach our children that silence, when others are being hurt, is not acceptable. Learning to recognize cyber-bullying as bullying is the first step in teaching them how to react, which means not merely refraining from being involved but also reporting an offense when it happens to someone else. In the end, our children will be safer online and offline as well. We will have helped create a generation of good cybercitizens, who control technology rather than being controlled by it.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Copyright Confusion

Do we as a global society need to rethink copyright laws?

I had always thought that I had a basic understanding of what copyright should mean to me as a student and teacher, for years thinking of the subject in black and white terms. Whatever applied to my needs was surely outlined with straightforward rules and guidelines. Now I find the copyright and fair use regulations sending me adrift through a vast sea of gray -- and with a great deal of confusion, major contributors to which are the increased volume and variety of creative work produced and its easy availability via the Internet.

Expecting the general public, global society, to adhere to rules that are confusing and seemingly contradictory at best, is an exercise in futility. If the copyright law is to succeed in what it was initially established to do, “protect works of intellectual property” and remain in line with the values of the First Amendment of the US, “emphasizing that sharing ideas and information leads to new knowledge and innovation,” the global society will need more common understanding and agreements regarding its rules and regulations.

The Creative Commons organization has opened the door to the increased sharing and access of intellectual property by making it easier for owners to release some of the rights regarding the use and distribution of their work and making it easier for users to have access to those works.

What's our role as educators in copyright usage in schools?

Doug Johnson speaks from the viewpoint of a media specialist or, as he refers to himself, a Copyright Counselor. He puts forth the idea that the focus of copyright instruction should be “changed from what is forbidden to what is permitted.” He points out that educators often “over-comply with copyright law, and even forgo using legitimate teaching tools and techniques for fear of violating copyright,” hence the need for educators to be knowledgeable of the Fair Use Doctrine.

Our role as educators is to make the rules of copyright as clear as possible for our students. Teaching by example as often as possible is the most effective way. Johnson points out that students are mostly uninformed and that the more they are made aware of the laws, the more their attitudes toward illegal downloading and copying will be affected. Once students are able to think of the copyright guidelines from the point of view of the producer and consumer, they will be more able to approach the problem with mature attitudes. Johnson points out that “as students become content creators themselves,” they become more likely to develop empathy toward other content creators.

Does ISBs AUP take this issue into account?

Copyright is referred to in ISB’s AUP, but copyright is a very large umbrella covering a lot of territory. Can it be fully addressed in one policy?


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Shadow of Privacy

Is there such a thing as privacy online?

First of all, what is privacy? One definition given (on-line) is:
a. The quality or condition of being secluded from the presence or view of others.
b. The state of being free from unsanctioned intrusion: a person's right to privacy.

There has been much talk about individual digital footprints, but what about our digital shadow? Our footprint is left from online activity that we initiate ourselves. We sign up, post, upload, share and on and on. What about all the times we are the "stranger in the background of the picture?" What about all the times someone forwards an email message to everyone in their list of contacts? I come from a small town, and I must have the names and email addresses for about half the residents there through forwarded emails. That means that they also have my name and address which are being sent to people all over the world on forwarded email messages that go on forever.

In reality, there is no such thing as privacy online. With effort and constant vigilance, a person might be less in the view of others. However, if one chooses to surf the internet, use email, have a blog or a site on Facebook or otherwise engage in ‘social networking’ you have compromised your privacy.

According to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, if you have signed up for Internet service, you have an ISP. Your ISP provider can connect your IP address with information you provided at registration to reveal the person behind the IP address. Your search history can be tracked and stored using your IP address. It is possible that a search engine could reveal the IP address behind a particular search or series of searches. If your ISP revealed the account information behind the IP address your identity could be linked to your search history. Google has a collection of videos with advice for protecting your privacy online. They assure the public that they do not/cannot trace or record your IP address, but there are always others who might.

The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse also gives this tip: It's a good idea to avoid using the same web site for both your web-based email and as your search engine. Email accounts will always require some type of a login, so if you use the same site as your search engine, your searches can be connected to your email account. By using different web sites for different needs -- perhaps Yahoo for your email and Google for your searches -- you can help limit the total amount of information retained by any one site. This makes me wonder about Gmail, Google Reader, Google docs, and iGoogle. Should we be using all resources from the same web site?

When you post information or pictures on one of these (social networking Web) sites, remember that if you want to remove it later there is no law protecting your decision. Unlike a note passed in class, which can be torn in a million little pieces, an Internet posting may not be so easily destroyed. Currently, companies are required to honor posted privacy policies. If a site’s privacy policy says it will remove information and the site refuses, you should file a complaint.

Does ISB’s AUP take this issue into account?

The ES AUP says, Suggestions for appropriate use
· Network storage areas are treated like school lockers. They are respected as belonging to individuals, but are open to inspection by ISB administrators.

· Passwords (to prevent access by unauthorized people into computers) will only be installed on computers when there is a good reason. The Network Administrator will be responsible for installing and keeping a record of all passwords.

ISB’s ES AUP makes no direct reference to privacy online. There is a slight reference to the use of passwords. This policy clearly needs updating.

Mass Collaboration--Are we preparing our students?

In a world of mass collaboration people combine their different skills to explore and solve problems. According to Charles Leadbeater in his newly published book, We-Think: The Power of Mass Creativity, there are five principles for successful mass collaboration: core, contribute, connect, collaborate, create. These creative mass collaboration communities have a social structure. The core group tends to do most of the work, and in the end makes the big decision regarding goals/purpose and projects. There is also the larger crowd of contributors who are less intensely engaged with the project. However their smaller contributions may be as significant as the work done by the core. People thinking in different ways contributing their diverse viewpoints are likely to generate more possible solutions. The larger the group and the more diverse perspectives involved, the greater the benefits. People with different ideas must have a way to connect that allows the free flow of these ideas. Taking this to a virtual world where an open discussion forum, wikis, nings, and even twitter allows these connections to be made. The actual collaboration itself is what presents the greatest challenge. How does a large community of diverse thinkers with diverse knowledge, ideas and values make the most of its diversity without being overwhelmed by their differences? The fifth principle is creativity. The many differing points of view and skills and the ability to think independently come together to form a mass social creativity. Although the lines between expert and amateur, audience and performer, user and producer may be blurred, it is not a free-for-all: it is highly structured.
Wikipedia and Linux are examples. The constant trialing, testing and refinement help to guard the integrity of the project.

How do we prepare our students for a world of mass collaboration?
One of the main reasons I wanted to take these technology courses was to learn what I need to be teaching in my third grade class today to help my students become active and involved members of the society of the 21st Century?

I can see that preparing them to work in collaborative groups is a first step in this direction.

Working collaboratively is not an innate ability. Most children need a great deal of guided practice to be able to develop this skill. The co-operative learning strategies and desired outcomes serve as a basic foundation to prepare students for mass collaboration.

Students practice sharing their ideas verbally with a partner or discussion group learning to listen to what group members say and, take the ideas or thoughts of others and build on them. Working together to solve problems, again having to talk things through, listen to what others are saying and to be able to verbalize their own thoughts. Most importantly, students must learn how to listen respectfully to ideas with which they might not agree and hopefully learn to use diverse opinions as building blocks for new ideas.

My class has been learning to write informational reports. Since we have been studying crayfish in science and have had twelve live crayfish in the classroom for the past six weeks, the students have just finished a collaborative research project about the crayfish. Each student worked with a partner to become the experts for a portion of the research. The whole class then compiled their research results and now each person is writing his/her own report using that information. I can say that this collaboration made the research portion of the project go very well. I was worried that having everyone research the same topic might result in a lack of interest for some students, but having the living creatures seemed to keep a high level of interest and engagement and the students had free choice of the research that they contributed. This research was also used to create a collaborative class Voice-Thread.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Making Tracks

When and where should we be teaching students about their digital footprint?

There is a lot of talk about digital footprints. Imagine what an enterprising entrepreneur could do if she could design “digital mats” to clean up our tracks every time we take a waltz through the Internet. How do we prepare our students for the idea that “Big Brother" is not only watching, he is listening and keeping a record of EVERYTHING we do online? Young people by nature consider themselves to be invincible. Just like Nathan, many will see no reason to worry or even consider the effects of that footprint—out of sight, out of mind.

By the intermediate level of elementary school, students should be made aware of their "digital footprint." Since I work with third graders, my first concern is making them aware of things they can do to protect themselves when playing games and making contacts on the Internet. Earlier this year, our counselor did a great lesson with my class about using the Internet. One of his first questions was, “How many use the Internet when parents are not at home?” A surprising number said that they did. He addressed things like giving out last names and their specific location. Without being an alarmist, he pointed out that some of that information could be used in a negative way, and that they should always check with their parents BEFORE giving ANY information about themselves online. Teaching our students to be aware of questions they are answering online and what information they should not give would be the first step to building responsibility and awareness for their digital footprint.

Does ISBs AUP take this issue into account?

The ES AUP takes this issue into account if you know what “digital footprint” means. The policy is obviously written for teachers and parents--not kids. The term “digital footprint” or the fact that once something is posted or a site is searched online, “tracks” are left, is never mentioned. If the policy is to guide elementary students and how they use the system, it needs to be presented in “student language” and directly taught whenever developmentally appropriate.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Reflections on Creating the Final Project

From the beginning this whole process was a bit scary. I have taken a course in UbD and attended additional workshops given by both Wiggins and McTighe. Writing these kinds of projects is not easy. I found the “Reinventing Project-Based Learning” handout to be a big help, especially the section on “Overcoming Pitfalls” beginning on page 60. Some of the most common mistakes were described, and they were all the kinds of things I tend to do. During the planning of the project, I read this article/chapter several times. Making up my mind on the topic/theme/activity to make into the project was the dilemma.

During the morning, while listening to Susie and Jane speak about technology and project based learning, things started to come together in my mind. Their comment, “Don’t let technology lead. Match the tool to the task,” helped to put everything into perspective. Another thing they said, “Make it (student thinking) visible. Provide opportunity for discussion and questioning.” This seemed to fit perfectly with the inquiry process that is infused throughout the science program.

Since our science program is already activity based, I decided to use the next investigation of the “Structures of Life” science unit. Essential Questions are always difficult to word. With Kim’s help and critical eye, I was able to establish those and the Enduring Understandings. Keeping the technology component grade-level appropriate was the next challenge. Since my class has just completed a project in which they recorded their observations of seeds on a voice thread documenting different stages of seed germination, I decided to continue with this mode for students to make their thinking and learning visible.

For this investigation, students will be observing crayfish. As part of this task, they will photograph the crayfish and write in their science notebooks what they observe. Then they will record their observations using their voice thread with the photograph. They can also use the other record sheets and logs. Students will use writing and speaking to show their thinking about their learning. I am excited to see how the project goes.