Reflections of the week’s Conversations about NML, OLPC, AWNM and other acronyms

Wow! What a week!

On Tuesday, Jan 15th, we at WOW2 had the incredible privilege of speaking with Nichole Pinkard about her inspiring work with urban students in Chicago and her passion for New Media Literacies (NML). She is quite a lady – educated at Stanford and NorthWestern and now taking her gifts and passion for learning in the digital age to students who may otherwise be left behind. You can listen to her inspiring vision for education on the podcast over at ETT. There were some who said it was one of our best shows ever!

Below is a video of the Digital Youth Network as a sample of what Nichole’s programme is accomplishing with robotics.

Twitter is a happening place for educators right now. Not a day goes by without me hearing something new or learning about a new resource. And so it was last weekend as I watched Alec Couros and Ben Wilkoff exchange some thoughts about the OLPC programme. This was a situation where a mere 140 characters just does not cut the mustard. So I asked both of these gentlemen if they would be interested in having a webcasted conversation about their views. They enthusiastically agreed and so it was that the three of us had a late night (for me!) conversation about OLPC, our reservations, our endorsements, our fears and hopes for the future. It was a good conversation. I think we will certainly be speaking again about this topic. So many of us have wanted to the opportunity to share our ideas and exchange opinions. No doubt it will continue to be a very controversial programme.

Earlier in the week, the Economist sent me an email asking me to participate as an observer in the Oxford-style debate between Ewan McIntosh and Michael Bugeja about social networking and whether it brings positive change to education. It is an interesting debate - the rebuttals are in as of yesterday. Join and vote for your pick of the winner! Danah Boyd's take on the debate is the more interesting read of all! I agree with her on just about all of her points.

And finally, on Friday, I had the exciting opportunity to live blog with grade 9 students in Colorado about Daniel Pink's book, A Whole New Mind. I was very impressed with the calibre of the students' thinking both in their live discussions in class (we used mebeam to "beam us" in so we could hear the discussions - we did not speak though) and in their live blog comments to which we added our own thoughts and ideas. It was the first week of about ten weeks of live blogging discussions the students will have as they go through the book. Darren Draper and fellow Canadian Jeff Whipple were also on board for the time we were live blogging. My hat goes off to Karl Fisch who was able to pull this off and make this an opportunity for students to think critically on the fly. Clearly this was a learning opportunity for students that could not have occurred without the appropriate tools and educators' vision.

And in a few days, I will be off to Philadelphia to meet so many of my edublogger peers at Educon2. My daughter, Meg, and I will be making a presentation/having a conversation about New Media Literacies. Hope to see some of you there!

WOW2 Discussion of New Media Literacies for Urban Students

You can imagine my disappointment when Lucy Gray said there had been a mixup in communication and she would not be able to join us for our WOW2 show on January 15th. Okay, given the choice, I would be at MacWorld too! (She has rebooked with us for March).

She graciously offered to ask her boss, Dr. Nichole Pinkard, to be her replacement. Nichole, director of technology for the University of Chicago’s Center for Urban School Improvement, agreed and I was pretty jazzed when I looked at the websites Lucy sent along. Wow! Nichole has done some fantastic cutting edge “real life” stuff with students to make a difference.

Please join us Tuesday night at 9 PM EST, 8 PM CST, etc. at ETT as we have a lively conversation about the importance of New Media Literacies and addressing the “digital discrepancies” that comes with socioeconomic status in our societies.

I had a fantastic old school phone conversation with Nichole tonight and I know all of us can learn a great deal from her. Hope to see you there!

More on Nichole:

Preparing Youth to be Multiliterate (Macarthur Foundation)

University of Chicago Chronicle article about Macarthur Foundation grant project

Sensitizing Software article

Digital Youth Network (DYN)

How to describe Web 2.0 to Administrators

Today I was startled to receive an email from a colleague who works as an IT consultant for one of the Québec school boards. She wanted a two paragraph description of web 2.0 and its importance for educational uses that she could use in a publication going to the principals and directors of her board. Wow, what an opportunity! I spent some time pulling together the wording that I thought they could understand clearly. Mostly for my own sake in recording it, I would like to post it here.

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C’est quoi, un blog? Meaning-making for Educators

C’est quoi, un blog?

Originally uploaded by Stephanie Booth.

For the past four or five years that I have been in the classroom, I have watched my high school students use online environments and tools. I could speak of many examples and models of great learning that have happened as a result. In my new role of the last few months, I have been asked to give sessions and workshops about the educational uses of such things as blogs, wikis, skype, moodle, and the list goes on. Most of you reading this would know what those terms mean and probably are also aware of many great examples of teachers and students using them.

On the whole, though, I think many of you would agree with me that there is still a great lack of understanding and possibly even resistance on the part of most educators about these tools and environments. So I have been spending a lot of time reflecting about why teachers (and administrators) are reluctant and choosing not to explore the use of these tools. It has also been pointed out to me that in order for teacher practice to change, teacher beliefs must change. How are we going to change those beliefs? I have come up with a few ideas (most of them borrowed from others, so think of this as a summary of those ideas).

First of all, the “techie” language can be off-putting. If teachers do not think of themselves as tech-competent (and what that means from person to person is an individual perception!), they will likely believe themselves not to be competent or skilled enough to try something “techie” like “blogging” or using a “wiki”. After all, these are funny-sounding words.

The word “blog” itself has a certain non-academic pejorative connotation to many educators (and a lot of plain ordinary folks too!). They associate it with self-obsessed personal journals about “blah, blah, blah”. My own thesis supervisor told me with great pride he has never read a blog and never would (and this is a prof in educational technology – go figger!).

In a blog post by Johannes Strobel, a prof who was on my thesis committee and has since moved on to Purdue University, he writes:

“We need to realize that we don’t own terms, we don’t own meaning of terms and by entering a discourse with anybody else, we enter a stage in which shared meaning is rare and needs often first to be established.”

While reading Alec Couros’ recently published dissertation, I was reminded of Rogers’ classic Diffusion of Innovation Process where he states the important characteristics that innovation adopters look for:

1. Relative advantage – is the degree in which an advantage is perceived as better than the idea it supersedes.

2. Compatibility – is the degree to which an innovation is perceived as being consistent with the existing values, past experiences and needs of potential adopters.

3. Complexity – is the degree to which an innovation is perceived as difficult to understand and use.

4. Trialability – is the degree to which an innovation may be experimented with on a limited basis.

5. Observability – is the degree to which the results of an innovation are viable to others. The easier it is for individuals to see the results of an innovation, the more likely they are to adopt it.

Rogers, E. M. (1995).Diffusion of innovations (4th ed.). New York: Free Press.

Relative Advantage and Complexity

So instead of just using those terms as I demonstrate how blogs and wikis (and others) can be used in the classroom, I think I may try a new approach with my presentations. I think it is important (and please feel free to disagree with me – I welcome dialogue on this) for us to be showing or at least noting the academic research that supports the uses of these tools and environments in the learning process. Surely there is more than just the “gee whiz” factor to using web-based tools with our students? Along with this, I want to start to referring to these tools and environments in a generic fashion, something like online shared learning spaces or collaborative learning spaces. After all, the terms blog and wiki just might die soon enough or more likely morph into something else given the dizzying speed of Internet change. I think it is probably better to use a term most educators could readily understand and even approaches appropriate and acceptable (by the majority) pedagogese.

Drawing attention to the research literature and published studies adds considerable validation to our practices of using these spaces and persuading others to give them a try. Just from my own practices and successes in the classroom, I have become convinced, as many of you have as well, that these online social and collaborative spaces permit greater affordances for learning, and thus, better learning opportunities for our students. Of course, nothing replaces a great teacher and great teachers are still needed to design activities and situations that will make best use of all the resources that are available. Great teachers, I would also hope, would want to know about ALL the great resources at their disposal as they design learning and evaluation situations and activities.

A great example of such research was brought to my attention yesterday and we are all awaiting more about Konrad Glogowski’s dissertation on blogging the classroom. Please do let me (and others) know of any new research studies that have shown the benefits of using online shared learning spaces in education. My own thesis (pre-“web 2.0”) contains a fair amount of references of research literature about computer-supported collaborative learning.


I have been working on a way to show our Québec educators how the use of these tools and environments fits in to our new (and quite progressive) Québec Education Program. Here is a reworked diagram of the elements needed to be taken into consideration for the creation of learning and evaluation situations used to develop competencies (we assess “competencies” according to our program) which I have augmented with where the tools and environments fit in:

(Augmented from diagram in Cycle Two Secondary, Quebec Education Program – Cross-Curricular Competencies )

It may be a good idea to be thoroughly familiar with where these online shared learning spaces and tools fit in with the curricular standards and goals and one’s particular school, district, board or state.

Trialability and Observability

We need to allow new adopters the freedom to fail and give them support and encouragement as they experiment with new technology “stuff”. Realistically, we have ALL been beginners at one time or another and it might be a good thing to refresh those memories (as painful as they are) to share with our adopting colleagues.

Success is addictive! We should be tooting the horns of all the brave new adopters as they move forward into new territory. After all, many of us can probably recall that often those successes were lonely experiences with few or none to share. Let’s applaud new adopters for any of their successes. We now have the network to do that!

One more thing I wanted to add to this post. In my own thesis study, I noted the importance of the presence of sociality in online communication on the part of my students. They had fun with each other! At the time, there had been a push to keep students “on task” in their online behaviour. Now I see there is great value in playfulness and sociality as we communicate, collaborate and create online together. Nowhere is this more apparent than FaceBook where our students’ lives (and even our own) carry over to these online social spaces. We need to add that important spice of play to even the school “work” environments as it very much enhances the learning process.

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I’ve been d’Scribd

I have finally discovered a good way of sharing my M.A. thesis online! Thanks to Alec Couros for sharing his dissertation (a worthy read itself on the topic of OSS and implications for education).

Scribd is a great way to share documents because of the way it permits a variety of ways of viewing the content (online or by exporting) and providing feedback to the author. I also like that I can embed it in my blog.

I have been revisiting the research literature for my thesis recently as I have sought to justify the pedagogical use of web environments and tools. The critical mass of use of web 2.0 tools in the classroom is still a long long way away and I believe we need to start rethinking our approaches to getting teachers and administrators on board. More on that to come soon….