Student Voices in Curriculum

21 Mar

I have considered myself to be a constructivist educator for a few years now.  I believe that it is important for students to develop their own knowledge and construct their own meaning from what we do in class.  Up until recently this applied only to the material that I delivered to them.  My process has been to create an overall thematic outline for my year (for example, this year was Past, Present and Future) and select curricular outcomes from the curriculum document, tie those to current events or events in recent history and then develop activities and projects around those.  I expect my students to take the information that I present them with, ask questions about it and find something within what we have done together that they care about and wish to explore further.  This usually leads to an Inquiry project and a presentation of what they have learned.  Overall, in the past three years this formula for constructivist teaching has worked fairly well.  I am sending students that can question their world and seek understanding on their own into highschool and that has been my main objective.  What I have not considered in this process is student voice.  I chose the theme. I chose the Outcomes. I chose the topics. I chose the activities. I choose what’s important.  They chose the final project. After reading Alison Cook-Sather’s article Authorizing Students’ Perspectives: Toward Trust, Dialogue, and Change in Education, I am beginning to reconsider my process.

Cook Sather says that listening to student voices in school “can help teachers make what they teach more accessible to students” and that “when students are taken seriously and attended to as knowledgeable participants in important conversations, they feel empowered and motivated to participate constructively in their education.” (p. 3)  In theory, I agree fully with this and I have to say that having my students help me decide what we will do in the course of a year has crossed my mind and my teaching partners (two other 7/8 teachers) and I have considered it.  It would make learning more meaningful for the students and I really do think that it would be in their best educational interest but there are many questions that I have about the logistics and realities of undertaking such a huge shift in the way my student’s experience school that have not been answered or even addressed. Until I can find some solutions to the questions and concerns that I have, I am not sure that I am ready to embark on such a task.

Here are my questions and concerns:

  1. All of my students come to me with a perception of what school and learning looks like as they have already been experiencing it for 6-7 years. Already my constructivist approach to learning and lack of “teach to a test” methods sends some students reeling for another more traditional teacher.  I am afraid that if I started the year by saying “what would you like to learn about this year?” some kids that thrive in traditional routines would crumble.  Even those that would eventually thrive in this kind of framework would take an adjustment period to get used to the idea that they have a say in what they learn.  Inevitably, I am sure that we would start off by having suggestions that were not plausible like “all Bieber, all the time” or “let’s just play World of Warcraft all day, I learn lots on there” so they would need to be made aware of the curriculum documents that I am legally bound to.  Introducing them to that daunting document would scare them all away but would be necessary.  Even if one were to change the outcomes to something more child friendly, they still look incredibly boring. So, my question is how would we transition students from a traditional school framework to one where they have a voice without overwhelming them?
  2. My next concern comes into play once I have established with my students that they will have a voice in their learning. Once I present them with the idea that they can choose, what questions would I need to ask them about what they would like to see in their day-to-day learning? How much voice can they have? Would I chose the curricular outcomes and present them with the choices of topics or direction that those outcomes could take us? What happens after they chose the direction? Do they then go on to select activities, ways of demonstrating their knowledge (that is one of the things that they have choice in right now in my class) and assessment methods as well? How would we find time to do all of this? Would we plan the whole year all at once or one topic at a time and see where it takes us? What happens if they do not like what they have chosen, do they have the option to change it?  So many logistical questions.  I am usually all for jumping in with two feet and trying new things but I am afraid of how the students and their parents would feel about being my education reform guinea pigs.
  3. My third question is again another logistical question but because it is so daunting to me I think it deserves its own point. Inevitably, not all students are going to agree on what is learned.  So whose voices do I choose to listen to and who’s get’s ignored? Do I allow groups of students to go off in their own directions based on what they would like to learn and if so how do I manage this without over working and over burdening myself? Is this where working with other teachers could become most useful where we have homerooms and student move around between teachers based on the direction that they would like to go?

As I write this, my head screams Yes! Yes! This would be an incredible way to structure school, begin next year, just do it and figure it out as you go.  I find it all very exciting and inspirational but I would like to learn from teachers and students that have tried this and have some advice to help answer all of my questions and concerns and I just have not found anything that talks about it.  Cook-Sather says

When students have the opportunity to articulate their perspectives on school, they not only offer insights into that schooling that are valuable for educators.  They also have an opportunity to home their own thinking-to think metacognitively and critically about their educational experiences.  And as a result of this newly gained perspective and investment, students not only feel more engaged but are also inclined to take more responsibility for their education because it is no longer something being done to them but rather something they do.” (p. 10)

School reform of this manner would also allow the students to take into consideration their own experiences and stories that they bring with them on the first day of class.  They could expand on what they already know and have experienced and this alone would make teaching and learning in this manner plausible in any classroom within any demographic and any situation regardless of ability etc.  It seems so ideal, so why is it not being done?  Would all teachers have the same questions and concerns as me and if so, why are they not being addressed and who should be addressing them? Me? Is that why I am in grad school?  To question and seek answers? Maybe I need to.  Maybe next year should be a project… oh dear, what have I started?

If anyone has answers or advice for me regarding my questions, please comment!

Article reference:  Alison Cook-Sather.  Authorizing Students’ Perspectives: Toward Trust, Dialogue, and Change in Education.  Educational Researcher. Vol 31. No. 4 (May, 2002) pp. 3-14

http://www.jstor.org/pss/3594363

Social Action and the Curriculum

19 Feb

If I think back to the content of what I learned in elementary school, I am hard pressed to remember most facts that were delivered to me and I was expected to recall onto a piece of paper. I have taken that knowledge and compiled it into a general knowledge of the world. Given that I did relatively well in school, would it not be safe to assume that my students, if I taught them the same way that I was taught, would also not remember the delivered content even if they also did well?  I am assuming this is true.  Since I do not teach in a manner that delivers facts and information to students, what do I think the purpose of our time together should be?  I think that my job is predominantly two fold. 1) to create students who know how to learn on their own and do not need a teacher to fill them with information and 2) to create students that are socially conscious, active members of society.  I want them to be able to question, think critically and have the confidence to act when they believe that they can make a difference.  So how do I do that when I have a responsibility, as set out by my government, to ensure that all students meet prescribed outcomes that focus mainly on content knowledge? The answer is, I read between the lines.

In my Social Studies curriculum, the guide provided a list of goals that do reflect a focus on fostering social action in students:

“The role of social studies education is to help students develop the values and attitudes, knowledge and understanding, and skills and processes necessary to become active and responsible citizens, engaged in the practice of democratic ideals and aware of their capacity to effect change. Social studies supports active and responsible citizenship by enabling students to:

  • value the diversity, respect the dignity, and support the equality of all human beings
  • develop a sense of social compassion, fairness, and justice
  • recognize, speak out, and take action against injustice as it occurs in their schools, communities, Canada, and the world
  • understand Canadian and world history, to better comprehend the present and to influence the future wisely for the well-being of all
  • critically consider and understand historic and contemporary issues, including controversial issues, from diverse perspectives
  • develop a global consciousness with respect to the human condition and world issues
  • understand how political and economic distributions of power affect individuals, communities, nations, and environments
  • understand geographic concepts and skills, and that humans exist in a dynamic relationship with the natural environment
  • develop a consciousness and sense of stewardship for the land, as well as an understanding of the principles of sustainability”

From Social Studies 8, Saskatchewan Curriculum

The goals set out in the curriculum sound well intended and right on track for fostering social action in middle years students but when you focus on the Outcomes and Indicators it is difficult to see how what they would like students to be able to do and how teachers can expect them to demonstrate it, meets these goals. The Outcomes do not do enough to meet the goals.  To prove my point, I will focus on the goals of  “understand geographic concepts and skills, and that humans exist in a dynamic relationship with the natural environment” and “develop a consciousness and sense of stewardship for the land, as well as an understanding of the principles of sustainability”.  The following Outcome and Indicators relate directly to these goals:

OUTCOME: Critique the approaches of Canada and Canadians to environmental stewardship and sustainability.

INDICATORS:

  1. Represent on a timeline the evolution of Canadian policy on global environmental issues, including historical First Nations approaches to environmental stewardship.
  2. Outline the issues involved in finding solutions to an environmental challenge (e.g., sharing water resources with the US, logging in Canadian forests, expansion of nuclear energy, development of tar sands).
  3. Tell the story of changes made in his or her behaviour to protect the environment (e.g., walking, purchasing locally-produced or seasonal products, recycling; composting; disposing responsibly of garbage; using less paper; using less plastic; factoring packaging into purchases).

Timelines, reports and stories do not sound like true Social Action to me.  Reading the article “An inescapable network of mutuality”: Building Relationships of Solidarity in a First Grade Classroom” by Shira Eve Epstein and Celia Oyler, which outlines a social action project in a first grade classroom, has inspired me to do more. In the past, my social action projects have done what the curriculum has done, forgotten to do the actual “action.” and while these project did meet curriculum outcomes, they did not meet the goals of the Social Studies curriculum.

Within my classroom and among our other two grade 7/8 classrooms, we will soon be embarking on a Social Action project that will directly address the above mentioned curricular outcome along with other related Science Outcomes and Literacy Outcomes. Students will introduced to a variety of different social activists, environmental issues (our example will be the effects of Oil production on the environments and society and will be framed through the lens of the Gulf Coast Oil spill) and will be asked to make a plan for action and most importantly FOLLOW THROUGH on that action. You can visit our wiki to follow our process on this endeavor and I will be blogging about it further. I am also going to be encouraging the use of Social Media like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube for this project (even though that may be dangerous, but that is a whole other issue.  Please see my Roadblocks post for my concerns.)

I am very excited to be starting on this endeavor with my students but I am wondering why direct social action and following through on a plan are not part of our curriculum? Do we think that our students are incapable of making sustainable, authentic change in our world?  We only have to look to the stories of Craig Kielburger, who founded Free the Children when he was 12 and Severin Suzuki, who appealed to the United Nations to stop destroying our world, to know that this is not true. So why do teachers have to read between the lines and invent these kinds of projects on our own? Why is there not direct support for this in our curriculum. My young students can be full of energy and passion, they just need the guidance and resources to take advantage of that.  Surely, we can expect more from our students than a timeline, a proposal for action or a story of someone else that has done something.  I intend to do so and I will let you know how it goes. Who knows, maybe I have the next Kielburger in my class, maybe you do. Why is our curriculum not encouraging us to find out?

What are you doing to inspire social action in your students?

 

Science as A Humanity: A Metaphor

29 Jan

 

I just finished reading Legitimating Lived Curriculum: Towards a Curricular Landscape of Multiplicity by Ted T. Aoki and while I know he was using the examination of Science as a Humanity as a metaphor for relating the official “Curriculum as Plan” to the “Lived Curriculum”, I was struck first by the fact that I always approach science as a humanity in my classroom.

When I look at the official science curriculum for my grades, I see a dry, fact filled exploration of scientific knowledge which I am to impart on my eager students who will learn it, memorize it and know it forever. Being aware of the “lived curriculum” in my classroom, I know that will not happen if I deliver science to them in that manner.  I am always framing my science units within a story of humanity.  I even most often have an actual story in the form of a novel to go along with it.  I know that in order to engage my students in the knowledge and facts part of science I have to give it a real world context, a human context.

Here are some examples of what I have done in my classroom to teach Science as a Humanity.

1. The first project that I did came shortly after returning from New Orleans and seeing the devastation that was left from Hurricane Katrina even three years later.  At that time there was still a unit in our grade 7 Science curriculum called Structures. My student’s task was to redesign the New Orleans Levee system.  As we started the unit, I noticed that the part of the project that was engaging them the most were my stories of the people and the tragedy that occurred during the flooding.  I realized that in order to sell them on the importance of their project I had to make them love the city as much as I did and make them want to help the people.  In Science we leaned about racial tension, inequality, poverty and human struggle as much as we learned about the strength of a triangle  and the properties of concrete. I acknowledged the curriculum that was alive and growing in my classroom and used it to teach the document. It was a break through for me as a teacher.  The success of this project is what inspired me to investigate cross curricular teaching.

2. The grade 8 Science Curriculum includes a unit on Cells and Cell Systems.  Last year, I used this unit as a jumping off point for an examination of racism and genocide.  How did I go from cells to genocide?  I used the cell unit as a starting point to talk about race as a human social construction not as a genetic predetermination.  We learned about animal classification and how humans were once classified according to the colour of their skin and ordered according to intellectual superiority (I think we all know who was at the top).  From learning about the origins of racism in scientific history we looked at power relationships in the world and how they have allowed genocides to go on unstopped throughout history.  To teach this I also used many Outcomes from both the grade 7 and 8 Social Studies curriculum.  We read the novel Shattered by Eric Walters (which we had used as we examined poverty and homelessness before Genocide) as a starting point. The students also read various novels about Genocide such as “Over a Thousand Hills I Walk With You and Alive in the Killing Fields.  It was a heavy year for my kids but I think it was an important eye-opening experience for them and it took them out of their protective bubble of privilege for a little while.  I sought out to trouble them and I succeeded. The culminating project was a digital textbook of sorts: The Milliken Genocide Project

3.  This year we are working on a two-part project with our students on disasters.  In the Grade 7 curriculum there is an Outcome relating to the Earth’s Crust. Through this Outcome we have been learning about Earthquakes, Volcanoes and Tsunamis.  This could be a very simple unit to teach but we (my two colleagues and I) wanted again to put into a human context to engage their empathy.  We have framed this unit around the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004, the Haiti earthquake and the Iceland Volcano (which centers more around economic impact than loss of life).  We have learned the science of how these natural disasters occur but most importantly we have learned about the impact on humanity that they have.  Again, we have used the novels of Eric Walters; Wave and Shaken to frame this portion of our learning. Shaken also has a heavy religious over tone that addresses a whole other spectrum of humanity.

Following our look at natural disasters, we will be using the Gulf Coast Oil Spill to teach density, buoyancy and viscosity.  We will be tying our Literacy into this unit by examining through reading and writing the impact that humans have on our planet.  We will be reading the novel Empty Suzanne Weyn as well as newspaper articles and other writing to learn about the world’s dependence on oil and the effect it has on our environment.  This part of the project also allows us to meet both Grade 7 and 8 Social Studies Outcomes on Stewardship and Sustainability.

In our grade 7/8 classrooms in our school, there are very fine lines drawn between three very different, separate official curriculum documents. We have read our students (the lived curriculum) and know what we need to do to engage them into caring about what they are required to learn (the curriculum as plan). To do so we need to “smoosh” the curriculums together and seek or invent contextual commonplaces .  Perhaps that is something that should be looked into and taught in university education programs Smooshing 101: Cross Curricular Planning for Curricular Multiplicity. That’s a class I would take!

Teacher As Curriculum Maker

16 Jan

Calvin Reviews the Education System

This blog entry is a response to the chapter Teacher As Curriculum Maker written by D. Jean Clandinin and F. Michael Connelly. Please see reference at the end of the blog.

This chapter attempts to address the role of teachers as they interact with the curriculum.  As this chapter is very long and intensive I will be focusing on the sections that specifically resonated with me and my experiences as a teacher, not the whole chapter.

  1. The Teacher Framed by the Conduit Metaphor

In an attempt to summarize and understand this metaphor I found some information on the Encyclopedia Britannica Online that supplemented that of the chapter. The Conduit Metaphor refers to the  idea that knowledge is a “commodity that is external to learner”, meaning that it is provided for them rather than something that they construct themselves.  In practice it refers to the idea that the student is an empty vessel waiting for the teacher to fill them with their infanite knowledge.  Success can be measured by the student’s ability to regurgitate that knowledge with a high percentage of accuracy. It is the job of the student to memorize the information provided for them without consideration for their own context or experience.  The teacher is expected to provide a scripted wealth of information through prescribed methods. These methods and content were provided for them through the curriculum.

This is what I believed teaching to be when I began my career.  As I began teaching, I quickly became bored and unsatisfied with this method and deviated from it. In doing so, I abandoned the curriculum except for obtaining the grade appropriate “topics” that I could address with my class in a way that I thought they would find the most engaging. The chapter refers to this abandonment when it refers to a study of the Toronto secondary school biology curriculum conducted in 1978 in which it was found that

“Roughly two-thirds of the curriculum taught was outside the bounds of policy specified in the provincial guidelines document and was therefore technically illegal.” (372)

While it was assumed that teachers were and should be using prescribed curriculum and were acting in accordance to the “conduit metaphor”, it was not happening.  Teachers were instead being “curriculum makers” (Side note: I put that in quotations not as a refernece to the chapter but instead to Norm Yakel of the University of Regina as during my undergrad degree he would tell us not to be curriculum users but instead curriculum makers.  This resonated with me and I used this as a rationalization in my mind as I deviated from the curriculum during my first years of teaching).

Happily, I think that in my school division and province, we are now moving away from this model with the renewed curriculum and through my board’s “Structural Innovation“. Through the use of Outcomes and Indicators teachers are given a guideline of “Big Ideas” that they are to meet through their teaching, there are not prescribed units that they must follow anymore, allowing the teacher to become a maker of curriculum that meets both the interests and learning levels of their students.  The Indicators are to me, suggestions of things that I should look for in their demonstration of their knowledge but I do not treat them as a list of tasks that I must have them perform.  I use them as inspiration as I plan their learning path.  Since the release of the new Saskatchewan Curriculum, I have actually been using it and even have the Outcomes that we are addressing posted predominantly in my classroom. This is good because this is also the first time that I have ever actually been held accountable for my use of the curriculum within an Inquiry and Project Based learning framework.  This approach to my student’s learning is a lot of work but “making curriculum” is one of the most exciting things for me in this job, I would not have it any other way.  My teacher librarian refers to them as my “idea explosions.” It is what I do best!

My board’s Structural Innovation framework allows me the flexibility to structure my classroom, my student’s learning and my teaching in a way that allows me to facilitate the learning my students engage in rather than dictate it. I consider myself a Constructivist and the roles of curriculum maker and learning facilitator are integral to my practice.

Having said all that, this does not resonate well with all teachers.  In the chapter, the authors refer to a study conducted in the 1970’s that found that when it comes to educational reform, teachers can be the most resistant. It found that any reform efforts were often thwarted by three things; 1. The grade level of the teacher (secondary teachers were less likely to change than elementary teachers). 2. The longer the teacher had taught, the less open to change they were. 3. The teacher that believed that all students could be motivated and successful, the more willing to engage in reform they were.  Being in the schools as Structural Innovation was introduced and implemented, I witnessed all three of the above mentioned first hand.  It also states that in order for change to follow through long-term, teachers needed to be directly trained on how to change and that the training needed to be practice and self developed, not prescribed.

2. “Teacher-Proof” Curriculum Within The Conduit: From Teaching Machines to Distance Education

This section of the chapter refered to attempts to make it very difficult for the teacher to deviate from the prescribed curriculum.  In the video below, the Teaching Machine and it’s purpose is described.

I think that you would agree with me when I say that I am very glad that those machines did not become common place as they are the epitome of the teacher as conduit model!

This section of the chapter also discusses another method of computer assisted learning that they refer to as Computer Assisted Learning environments.  In this case, computers are used to facilitate student learning but that the role of the educator in this model is unclear.  They go on to introduce the Computer Mediated Communication System. This is described as

“Helping distance educator develop their own kinds of interactive classrooms: small and large, local and regional group configurations of learners are created by a telephone, computer conferencing and face-to-face meetings and workshops.” (375)

The authors write that this type of computer assisted learning is one in which the teacher must take on the role as curriculum maker as they must work collaboratively with the learner to create this space and what they will be learning within it.  At the time of the writing of this chapter (1992), it was not yet known just how far this would go!  Think of all of the online collaboration that occurs now through social media and the discussion around the use of Personal Learning Networks (PLN) and Personal Learning Environments (PLE) as the face of new educational reform.  What the authors are referring to through the use of Computer Mediated Communication Systems in education was a rudimentary form of the PLN/PLE.  In a PLN/PLE, a learner creates a network of people, digital resources and information that they access via various forms of social media, digital tools and means of communication and collaboration.  In the formation of a PLN and/or PLE in a structured school environment, it would be the role of the teacher to guide the learner in setting their own learning outcomes and helping them establish relationships with the people, resources and tools that are necessary for their PLN as well as being part of the student’s PLN.  Many scholars are exploring the use of PLN/PLE and digital learning as the future of education.  See the work of the University Of Regina’s Alec Couros as an example of this exploration. When education reform and our technologically driven world leads us to this type of open learning, teachers will have no choice but to be curriculum makers and will work alongside their students in this capacity.

An example of the PLE of a Grade 7 Student

3. The Humanities Curriculum Project

When my board office introduced Structural Innovation to teachers, I heard a lot of people comment, “We tried that in the 70’s, it did not work then, it will not work now.”  I found this very discouraging because I thought it sounded very exciting an I was energized by the idea of trying new things.  This was because I was already doing so and I was excited to see that I would have admin support.  I am not sure that the thing that was tried in the 70’s with my board was related to the Humanities Curriculum Project but it does sound very similar.  The chapter goes on to say that just like Structural Innovation, some school had success, some did not.  One of the key aspects talked about earlier in the chapter was that change only works if the teachers are involved in the decisions.  In the case of the Humanities Curriculum Project, it was intended for the teacher to be central to the reform in the classroom but how that would look was shaped by the researcher and not by the teacher.  As mentioned previously in the chapter, that would not work. I know that in our application to become a Structural Innovation school, all of the teachers had full input however, I did hear of other schools where all decisions and ideas came solely from the administration. I believe that we will have a similar results in our school system as the Humanities Curriculum Project because of this reason. So, yes, in some cases it will not work.  That does not mean that we give up trying.  There are some success with change.  I can speak to this from my experience in my Professional Learning Community and how we have structured our senior classroom. For a peak at what we do, visit our Wiki.

4. Teacher as Curriculum Maker

The authors of this chapter call attention to the need for educational reform. Through examples, they show that the reform will only truly be successful and sustained when the teachers are directly involved in the decisions that are made for change. How do we engage teachers in these decisions?  The authors state that teachers must become curriculum makers (and in this, they do not mean only what will be learned but that curriculum should be a “course of life” encompassing all things related to teaching and learning) and that in order for teachers to become curriculum  makers, researchers must listen to their stories.  Through this listening, a usable, realistic, engaging format for educational reform can be formulated.  I agree with this idea wholly as I have seen and heard the difference that it is making in the success of Structural Innovation in the schools in my system.  And while I  can not speak for other schools and other teachers, in my school, where the needs, wants, and success stories of the teachers were considered in making our plans for innovation, we have seen many successes.

 

A Call For Educational Reform:  What are We Going to Do About it?

Related Articles

Curriculum as a Multistoried Process by Margaret Olson

Article Reference

Clandinin, D. J., & Connelly, F. M. (1992). Teacher as curriculum maker. In P. Jackson (Ed.), Handbook of Curriculum Research, pp. 363-401. New York: MacMillan.

Final Project Research

5 Dec

Opinions

Social Media has become part of our 21st century lives and shows no signs of being a passing fad. Having said that, most Social Media tools are not without their share of controversies. Facebook is arguably the most popular social media site with 500 million users and counting. It has had more controversies than most with concerns over it’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policies. Despite the issues, educators all over the world are embracing the idea that Social Media sites offer new opportunities to take school beyond the walls of the classroom. This has spurred many conversations and controversies as schools scramble to figure out how to regulate the use of social media in schools. This section of my project will look at the opportunities and issues surrounding the use of social media in schools.

Facebook Criticism

Facebook has been under scrutiny from it’s beginning for it’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. It has been criticized for not being transparent with

it’s policies, making it difficult for it’s users to be aware of how their personal information can be used. A change to their original Terms of Use gave Facebook the rights of ownership to all information posted on Facebook, including photos and other personal information. Facebook was openly criticized for this change and in 2009 reverted back to it’s original Terms of Service.

Facebook also promotes sharing of user information for marketing purposes. It came under fire in Canada for this when the Canadian Privacy Commissioner threatened legal action against the site. When users play games or take quizzes on Facebook, they allow access to their personal information. Facebook users must agree to allow access to basic information and allow the application to post items to the user’s wall. This permission screen also contains links to the Privacy Policy and the Terms of Use. These have both been openly criticized for being wordy and long, making it difficult for users to read. The sharing of information to these third party providers is in violation of Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act. Facebook was again under scrutiny for this for it’s refusal to discuss these issues with Canada’s privacy commissioner. What makes this even more complicated is that the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy only applies to users over the age of 18, leaving those 17 and under in privacy limbo. (Facebook restricts use by those under the age of 13 but does not monitor this, allowing younger users the ability to lie about their year of birth.)

If users look into Facebook’s policies and terms of use and decide that they would like to leave the site, Facebook has made it very difficult to do so.

“It’s like the Hotel California,” said Nipon Das, 34, a director at a biotechnology consulting firm in Manhattan, who tried unsuccessfully to delete his account this fall. “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

Das learned just how difficult it is leave Facebook when it took him months of emails and the threat of legal action to have Facebook agree to delete his account. This is because when a user decides to leave Facebook they are not given the option to delete their account, only to deactivate it. Friends will not longer be able to view profiles but this leaves the user’s information on the Facebook servers for years. If a deactivated account is reactivated, the user will find their account as they left it. The only way to truly delete information from the Facebook servers is to delete each and every wall post, picture, status etc. individually. Emails to Facebook’s customer service to request deletion of an account have reportedly gone unanswered for weeks to months at a time.

All of these concerns become amplified when there are children involved as most will not take the time to educate themselves about the specifics of using Facebook. When I began this project, I searched most of my students and discovered that only one student had her profile blocked from public view. I would attribute this to a lack of knowledge of how to do this. Facebook has also been criticized for setting it’s default privacy settings to Public. A user has to manually change all of the 50 privacy settings and their 170 options to Friends Only, for all content to be blocked from public view. After realizing that most of my students had not done this, I went to school and encouraged them to change them. None have.

Issues in Schools

The concern around Facebook privacy is particularly prevalent in the discussion around it’s use in schools. There many reported cases of teachers coming under fire and losing their jobs because of inappropriate conduct with students on Facebook. In one example, a New York teacher was suspended from his job for inappropriate conduct with his students on Facebook. The teacher reportedly friended numerous female students and would leave comments about how sexy their photos were on their profiles. He also used Facebook to obtain contact information for a student and proceeded to send her flowers and other gifts to try persuade him to date her. The teacher denied the claims and the case was thrown out of court but his school board still decided to terminate his contract.

In another case, involving a female teacher assistant also from New York, photos of the assistant were posted on her Facebook profile that showed her kissing one of the male students from the school. An investigation was launched and it was found that she was indeed involved in a sexual relationship with the student. The teacher assistant in question said that both she and the student were not attending or working at the school at the time that the relationship began but the school board nonetheless has decided not to extend her contract further because of these allegations.

In another case, a teacher posted the names of her students that passed or failed her course on a Facebook group intended for use by her students. Controversy arose when the mother of a student who failed the course complained to the school about the post. School administration asked the teacher to leave the school and she has been on paid leave since the incident.

The instances of inappropriate conduct by teachers with their students surely demonstrate a lack of professionalism and common sense. Teachers that conduct themselves in this manner with their students should surely no longer be in the teaching profession. The avenue for their inappropriate behavior is not as important, as they would probably find a way to engage in their behaviors with students regardless of whether Facebook existed or not. As Mark Gabehart, Abilene Texas tech director said, ” The technology is not evil or good, it’s how people use technology that ends up being good or evil.”

Teachers are not only coming under fire for their interactions with students on Facebook but also for the content of their own private profiles. A teacher from Barrow, Georgia was forced to resign from her position after a parent found pictures that they deemed inappropriate and emailed them to the school board. The teacher did not have any students as friends and thought that she had taken all measures to ensure that her profile was blocked from public view. The pictures that were sent to her school board featured her drinking alcoholic beverages on a trip to Europe. She was also criticized for using the word “bitch” in one of her wall posts. She is now seeking back pay and retribution through the court system as the Georgia Professional Standards Commission has found no evidence that there is no probable cause for the school board to sanction barring her from the classroom.

Concern over Facebook in schools does not just include teacher/student conduct but also the effect that Facebook has on students. In a British study, teachers were surveyed about the effects that they believe Facebook use has on their students. The study found that teachers believed that Facebook has effected their student’s attention spans, ability to concentrate and left them distracted in class. The teachers also blamed declining achievement in school on evenings spent on Facebook instead of studying. Teachers also commented that they believe that general computer use has damaged their student’s ability to spell.

Complaints of distraction, procrastination and inappropriate conduct on Facebook in schools has lead to many schools and universities around the world to ban or even block the application in the school buildings. Many school board are struggling with creating policy around using social media in schools and generally, the overall recommendation is to err on the side of caution and just don’t do it. They also point out that there are many education only tools, such as Blackboard and Desire2Learn, that can meet the needs that some teachers are using Facebook to fulfill.

Facebook in the Classroom

Watch almost any commercial on television and you will see Twitter and Facebook symbols at the end or an invitation to “find us on Facebook” The generation of students that are now entering the middle years of elementary school would be hard pressed to remember a time when social media sites did not exist. They use social media to communicate and connect with each other. Up until recently, most of this interaction did not include school related collaboration but as social media becomes more prevalent in mainstream society, many teachers are beginning to explore the opportunity that social media interaction could offer in terms of education. As explored in the sections above, this has been fraught with many issues and controversies but also offers many possibilities that deserve to be explored.

To effectively use social media in the classroom, teachers would have to become familiar with the technology themselves. As Steve Dotto of Dotto Tech said, “Social media are changing our world profoundly, understanding this world is our responsibility and we have to provide some form of leadership.” This comes back to becoming a digital role model for our students. When I think back to discovering that most of my students do not have their Facebook profiles blocked, I now realize that as a digital role model, it should be part of my responsibility to teach my students to successfully navigate social media. Using social media in the classroom would allow teachers to model how to protect their privacy as well as open up a conversation about why they need to. Teachers are already expected to teach students how to critically assess a website, successfully navigate the web and other information literacy skills. Teachers should also teach students how to write for an online audience and share their learning. These are 21st century skills that they now require. Using social media in the classroom would allow teachers to use the technology themselves and model effective and appropriate social media use. Having guidelines and expectations for this could eliminate the need to punish students and teachers for misconduct.

One of the most important skills that students must now develop to be successful in the workforce are collaboration skills. Facebook could allow for collaboration between themselves and their peers as well as themselves and their teachers. Collaboration on this manner brings this skill to a platform that they are already comfortable with sharing on. It could be argued that tools like Blackboard also offer this opportunity but that again is asking students to access another resources that is not part of their everyday lives. Technology offers the unique opportunity to break down the divide between school and “real life”. Collaborating using social media allows students to combine both their school life, social life, and would make them have to present themselves appropriately online. Extending their learning outside the classroom walls also encourages them to see their learning as something that is not separate from their everyday lives, encourages them to become life long learners and combines informal and formal learning.

In one example of successful Facebook use, Miami teacher Brent Solomo, uses Facebook to post lesson reviews, questions, answers, video and assignments. Since beginning to use Facebook with his students, he has seen an 80% increase in assignments being turned in and says that his students and their parents are using it to communicate with him and each other. With more cases such as this being broadcast publicly, Facebook could become the communication/collaboration platform of choice despite privacy concerns.

In an idea situation, we could find a way to use social media like Facebook while still maintaining privacy and professionalism. Perhaps Facebook itself should look to creating a tool that could be used by teachers, monitored by officials and accessed by students through their personal profiles. Certain things like personal information and photos could be blocked (unless tagged for school use) and news from their teachers still could be delivered into their news feeds. Instead of fighting against it, lets make it work for us. Inappropriate conduct will still exist online between teachers and students as it is the teacher that is causing that to happen, not the technology. Creating a platform for school use would allow those that see the possibilities to explore them without fear.

Engaging in this project with my students has put me in a situation that my school board has warned me not to be in but the feedback from my students has made me see the possibilities and I hope that one day the use of social media in the classroom will be encouraged and supported.

So Danielle, What Have You Learned?

30 Nov

Response to Lisa

27 Nov

Last night I read Lisa M Lang’s post Going to Extreams but I realized that I had a lot to say about it so I decided to do it in my own blog.  Lisa writes about the risk, dangers and issues with education reform especially related to social media and technology.  While she raised some points that I agree with and made me think about some things that I had never thought about before, I  would like to address some things that she said.

Before I begin I would explain my position.  I structure my practice from a constructivist position.  I believe that students should be taught to question, discover and share their learning and not be fed what they are to know and asked to restate it in a fancier way or on a test that only those with good memories will do well on.  My belief is that digital media, web 2.0 tools and social networking is only neccesary in classrooms where learning is being encouraged from this inquiry model.  For example, Twitter would not be neccesay in a traditional classroom as it would probably be used by students to ask their teachers if their answer to question 10 is correct.  That is boring and only useful for holding the student’s hands through their learning.

I teach 12 and 13 year olds in a split 7/8 classroom at an upper middle class school in a small city.  My students can read, have supportive parents and for the most part do not have the issues that some students in our city have.  Because of this, I am able to set my expectations for their learning higher than the average 7/8 classroom and they are able to meet them.  Inquiry and Project Based learning have been initiatives of my school board for the last two years but I have been structuring my classroom this way for the last four.  In addition to inquiry and project based learning within the structure of our curriculum, we also throw in a dash of social justice education.  My class uses technology as a support for their learning as it allows wider access and more options. Having explained this, I will now address Lisa.

Lisa says:

1. I am at the center of my learning.
This is good for me — I like it. I want my PLN and my instant information, my Google maps and my blog. But I already went to school, and know how to learn and what might be worth investigating. Is it good for my students, who want to spend all day playing video games? whose idea of the future is after class? Does such an approach encourage narcissism and narrowness? I’m starting to think so.

My response to this is: in the new constructivist classroom, it is my responsibility to help my students narrow down what they are trying to learn about a topic, what their question really is and help them choose what is worth investigating.  I do not leave them to hang out to dry on their own and tell them to google stuff.  I am trying to teach them to be in charge of their own learning and how to do it.  When school is approached in this manner, I think that students should be the center of their own learning. I think that if I do this now at the age they are at, when they get to high school they will be better prepared to think outside the box and do more than what is expected of them. I also think that it will make learning easier because they will know how to analysis what they are being asked to learn and figure out the best way to learn it for themselves.

From Lisa:

2. If I can’t find it, it isn’t there, because everything is on the web.
Everything is not on the web. Most of the sources I used for my thesis are not on the web, nor are they likely to be. And it’s not just a lack of sources. One of my top students, now at university, asked me recently, “what do we need older people for, when we can look up all the knowledge on Wikipedia?” I explained the difference between data or information, a lot of which you can find on the web, and wisdom, the meaning that is developed using information. He understood. Many of my younger students don’t.

This one, I agree with for the most part, especially the wisdom. My students often ask me how I know so much stuff, I tell them that I pay attention to life  AND that when I don’t know something, I find out.  Which means, sorry Lisa, I google it.  This just shows that teachers are still necessary in the classroom.  The web is good for data  and information as Lisa says but we still need actual classroom teachers to mentor students about how to use the data and information and put it into a real life context, or share their wisdom and experience.

From Lisa:

3. My interests are of high importance in my ability to learn.
We keep assuming that engagement is crucial to learning. I haven’t seen evidence of this.

Sorry, but I have. Case in point; I have a boy who is well above grade 8 ability and is bored out of his tree. When he is able to take the content that I am expecting him to learn turn and morph it into something that he cares about, he blows me away with his sophisticated thinking.  When he is not, he does either nothing or crap. (We’re working on the whole, sometimes you have to just learn things even though it’s boring thing, and he’s getting better but, man does he shine when he’s engaged.) I discovered this earlier this year when we were in the phase of teaching/reviewing the Inquiry process.  I was in charge of a group of about 12 “experts” and he was one of them.  This group was supposed to choose a question for inquiry and use it to model the process to the rest of their classmates.  This boy chose “Is World of Warcraft Really Addicting?” I thought “whoa boy,  a project about a video game and how awesome it is, not what I had in mind.” But I let him go on it. When he presented his project, I was blown away.  He used World Of Warcraft to teach everyone about the psychological aspects of addiction.  It was amazing but I was worried that it was a one time shot because he was able to do anything he wanted and that would not happen again.  During his parent conference, I discussed this with him and his mom and stressed that if he could take the material that we were learning in class and do something with it that would make him care about it, he would soar this year.  I guess he listened because he blew me away again yesterday.  We have been learning about how European immigration and settlement changed Saskatchewan’s ecosystem and how it affected the First Nations people. Their culminating assignment is a summary of learning.  He and his partner chose to make a game that we could play as a class.  My experience with student made games has not been great, but I let them go ahead.  Yesterday, they explained how the game works.  If you have played Civilization, you will understand how it works and I am not going to explain their game here because it will take too long.  But let me tell you, I have tried Civilization before and it was very complex.  So, my point is, he is engaged on his own terms and he is learning. You will also notice that there is no technology involved in this except that his inspiration game is online.

Lisa says:

4. My teachers are there to understand my needs and meet them.

I really liked the part of working against your leaning style.  I never thought of that but I will now be challenging them to do so.

and finally the last of Lisa’s statements that I would like to comment on:

So do we try to reform the whole educational system in a way that encourages these extremes? Do we hold up the student in the New York Times article “Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction” as what we want? a young man who cannot get through a book and thinks that you can get the “whole story” of a novel in a 6-minute YouTube video?

As I said earlier, I do not believe that educational reform should be about just digital media, it should be about teaching kids to questions, discover and learn from that instead of being fed information and regurgitating it. That is how I learned and yes, I turned out okay but I only really figured out how to learn for myself as an adult.  Imagine how much more I could have done if I had learned that when I was 8, 12, 15,  or even 20. That is what I think education reform is really about.  Digital media, the web, social networking and all those technologies just give us more tools to do it.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.