Wednesday, February 21, 2007

See kids you will use this some day

Interesting article in the NYT today about wikipedia.

Middlebury College jumps the gun here a bit and bans the citing of wikipedia in essays and assessments. It is important to note that they did not ban its use, as that would be ridiculous, but there is a bigger question here: obviously we need to move towards teaching students to understand the premise behind tools like wikipedia and give them the skills necessary to look at the volumes of information available to them and make sense of it all. ( a daunting task for many of us) Are students at the middle level ready to sort through the volumes? Should we wait until High School to really hold them accountable for the information organization? Is it too presumptuous of us to think that students would be able to really question the validity of something they read on the internet?

This is a real world application knocking loudly-

Jason Mittell, an assistant professor of American studies and film and media culture at Middlebury, said he planned to take the pro-Wikipedia side in the campus debate. “The message that is being sent is that ultimately they see it as a threat to traditional knowledge,” he said. “I see it as an opportunity. What does that mean for traditional scholarship? Does traditional scholarship lose value?”

For his course “Media Technology and Cultural Change,” which began this month, Professor Mittell said he would require his students to create a Wikipedia entry as well as post a video on YouTube, create a podcast and produce a blog for the course.
I think in our zeal trying to make sense of all that is here and all that is coming redefining the basics has to take precedence. I remember being taught how to use those big encyclopedias but never being taught to question the validity of anything. Questioning the validity of the world around us is a basic skill that has to be taught as early as possible.
One of my wife's students quoted this the other day- Girl Moved To Tears By Of Mice And Men Cliffs Notes from The Onion half joking but half thinking second guessing the obvious use of satire.
The point is this: we are so thouroughly drenched with media that the lines of reality are blurred. Unfortunately questioning ones parents and authority figures comes before (and is a sharper honed skill) than questioning the validity of resources.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Where is the line?

The New York Times today printed this article about blogs- Debtors Search for Discipline via Blogs . It seems that these people are putting their financial information on their blogs in order to find a support group in an effort to pay down their own dept and manage their spending habits. As I read this article I couldn't help but ask myself the obvious question...if adults are doing it and and looking at posting their spending habits online as the norm, then how can our students determine the difference between safe and unsafe blogging...and is this considered unsafe? I could not help but to play Devil's Advocate with myself, as I often do, and ask so what? So what if these people are putting their personal habits on what if they think nothing of tracking their own financial trials and tribulations, even going so far as to post their net worth on line, for complete strangers. Then I began to ask myself what is the difference? Aren't I doing virtually the same thing right now? What is the difference if a student seeks support from his or her peers by blogging on "My Space"?

I am asking a lot of questions and I really don't have the answers. For me though we have to lead by example and finding support on the web is fine, the personal info is not. Our kids think nothing of posting specific facts about themselves and while I don't subscribe to the popular idea that everyone online is a predator...I do think that students will never learn where to draw the line if we do not draw it as well sometimes.


Saturday, February 17, 2007

Are we ready?

How are we going to prepare students for jobs in the future that do not even exist yet? How much has our job changed in just the last 5 years and with what is expected of a school changing every day, is it impossible to keep up? The following was posted in a blog I recently read:

I posed the question - What if you were to stand at the front of your class, on the first day of a new unit, provide them with a list of learning outcomes and say “Here is what you need to know, how are you going to go about it?” --Conversations on Change
Questions like this one are a step in the right direction. This is the way we have to begin thinking, for our kids sake. They will be required to deal with volumes of information and be asked to soft, classify, validate, synthesize and connect to the pertinent stuff and disregard the rest. Where is this skill being taught? It certainly is not something that students just inherently understand. Students are very savvy technologically but it is an unfocused savvy. This is not their fault but it is a reality. They have been born into an environment that spews information from every which way, but have not been given the proper filter system. Start a dialogue with a student about what constitutes a valid web source or even about the ways in which the student can filter information and you will be amazed at how little experience they have doing this.

If we are going to service our students properly, we have to start asking these questions and start thinking about ways to provide them with a filter of their own. This means, however, we have to start brushing up on our own savvy and being open to all this field of technology has to offer.

Friday, February 16, 2007

going against the handbook

I have recently ben looking through my school's handbook and I am begining to realize how out of date it is becoming. Teachers in my building are doing wonderful things with technology. Using cutting edge software with their smartboards that allows them to record entire lessons and make those lessons, along with the power point component, available to students on their IPODS. Teaching using wikispaces and encouraging students to spend more time in front of the computer than ever before.

Yet the handbook reads, as I am sure most handbooks read, very much like I remember mine reading when I went to high school.

Why not let a student carry an IPOD or a PDA around? It's almost a mixed message we are sending to this generation- on the one hand we are constantly finding new ways to connect to them using their language and on the other hand we are frowning upon the use of the same technology we are encouraging.

I can see both sides here and I don't exactly know were I stand yet- I do know that a student can walk out of one class in which the are encouraged to use their IPODS to stimulate their creative writing and into another class or even the hallway where they might have their IPOD confiscated as per the handbook.