Posts Tagged ‘Maine Learning Technology Initiative’

Lock Students Out of Applications, Teach Them to Make Responsible Choices, or Both

June 4, 2013

Introducing Guest Blogger, Laurie Walsh: There was a recent discussion on the state list serve for technology-using educators about how to respond when students use technology inappropriately. Do you block it for the offenders? Do you blog it for everyone? Can you really even block it? Do you teach digital citizenship and model appropriate use? I was especially impressed with Laurie Walsh's response and thought others might like to read her views, too. So I asked her to write a guest post for Bright Futures. She is the Tech Integrator for RSU 13, which serves Rockland, Thomaston, Cushing, South Thomaston, Owlshead, and St. George. Mike

 

As educators we often get bogged down dealing with kids using technology in inappropriate ways. Last night's Facebook drama spills over into our classrooms. Skype is used to share too much and someone is humiliated. It is frustrating because instead of focusing on all the innovative work we are doing in our classrooms every day, administrators or parents complain about how this video chat program or that social media site is creating problems at school or at home. They just want it to stop, so they demand we block the website or remove the tool from the laptops.

At the same time, the NETS digital citizenship standard requires that kids “advocate and practice safe, legal, and responsible use of information and technology” and “demonstrate personal responsibility for life long learning” and “exhibit leadership for digital citizenship.” How can we expect kids to develop this kind of responsibility if they have no chance to use the tools? How do we help kids grow into these responsible digital citizens and yet keep them safe at the same time?

With skills like research and Internet use, we create a progressively more open environment as kids move through our schools. Little kids need to be kept safe until they have enough experience to make good choices, so kindergarteners may not have access to a browser on the devices they use. As they get older, we introduce kid-safe search engines, MARVEL, and Portaportals or teacher created webpages to keep them safe and on task. In late elementary school we teach students search methods explicitly and walk them through finding and evaluating resources online while we closely supervise their work. Finally, we have to let them prove that they know what to do by allowing them to work on the Web without as much direct instruction or close supervision. Hopefully they've learned enough to stay safe and work productively. If they haven't, we corral the ones who need more instruction and reteach, then try again. And again. And again. Most students seem to achieve responsible independent use at some point.

Shouldn't we take the same approach with our communications applications like Skype, Google Hangouts, chat, and messaging? We could model their use with the little kids by contacting other classrooms and experts through the teacher machines and projectors. We could supervise small groups of older elementary students as they do the same thing but in a more self-directed manner, identifying their own experts, making contact and arranging appointments, and conducting the interviews. Eventually we could allow regular use of these tools by individuals or groups of students as a way to do school work. Through an incremental process they could learn how to use them responsibly.

Maybe under-use of these tools in school is actually the cause of some of our problems. We avoid these tools because they can lead to trouble or because we are uncomfortable with them ourselves. If kids were encouraged and supported as they learned to use them in school on a regular basis, would they be more likely to use them responsibly when they are unsupervised? I think need embrace these tools and make them a regular part of our practice if we want to see or students develop into responsible digital citizens. More practice is the key, not less access.

Laurie Walsh

 

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Lessons learned at the 2013 MLTI Student Conference

May 28, 2013

LessonsLearnedIn2009The annual MLTI Student Conference is an incredible learning opportunity for students and their teachers, Maine teacher educators, and the dedicated MLTI team. Every year I marvel at the enthusiasm, passion, interest, and knowledge of the middle and high school students attending. As the conference director, Jim Moulton, likes to remind us, “This will be a day dedicated to fun—to hard fun!” I certainly had fun again this year and I learned some “hard” lessons as well. Here are three of them.

#1—The best lesson: MLTI promotes amazing student learning in many ways that aren’t reflected in student test scores. Excellent workshops, outstanding mass learning, scholarship awards, but the highlights each year for me are the student speakers,  middle and high school students from Maine schools, who use technology for learning and for doing good. Their stories are powerful. In past years, Hannah Potter, Chris Jones, and others have spoken about their personal journeys through learning with technology.

This year’s speakers were outstanding as well. Izzy Labbe and Julia Bluhm, 9th graders in central Maine, spoke of their work as bloggers and activists for SPARK. Julie and Izzy led a successful campaign to encourage Seventeen Magazine to stop using Photoshopped images of young girls. Both young women are now active bloggers and speak widely about their work. Watch their excellent presentation at TEDx Women 2012 to hear their full story.

The second student speaker was Yuval Boss, Orono High School senior, a web designer who also got his start with his 7th grade MLTI laptop. Yuval took advantage of many opportunities—”play around” with Sketch-Up and other software that caught his interest, join his high school’s student technology team, attend MLTI Student Conferences, teach himself HTML and other programming languages, and perhaps most importantly of all, “…find out that kids like me are doing all of this.” It wasn’t long before Yuval interned at a local web-design firm, free-lanced for other businesses, and ultimately used his skills to give back to organizations like CISV. Watch Yuval’s presentation here.

These students are amazing. Now I would like someone to deconstruct the skills these Maine students have developed largely because they had the tools (their own MLTI computer and Internet access) and the support of parents and teachers. These young people are self-learners, they are go-getters, and they make significant contributions to their communities and society. The learning they are so passionate about has little to do with learning measured by standardized test scores. (And it certainly has nothing to do with learning to use a computer that businesses currently use or having a computer to take tests on.)

#2—The hardest lesson: The elephant in the room is sitting on my computer.  What will happen to MLTI and technology and learning in Maine? The recent decision about the next MLTI phase has caused consternation everywhere as schools struggle to determine the impact in their communities. Is this really about “choice”? Will the “level playing field”, a key component of MLTI since the beginning, endure without continuity across the state given different devices, networks, professional development opportunities, and aspirations arising from the selection made in each district? And what about everything we’ve learned about technology and learning in the last 11 years? Are we throwing that out to start over? Ultimately, the decision must be about what choice(s) provide the best opportunities for student learning and not the least expensive cost.

#3—The most baffling lesson: Did you see the news coverage of this year’s MLTI Student Conference? Neither did I, nor did anyone else. Outside of one short paragraph I found in an online newspaper, I saw no TV or major newspaper coverage of this event. Evidently, 1200 students and 200 teachers in one place learning from each other is not news. (Sarcasm intended!) I’m convinced that at its core, this paucity of media coverage for such a significant event has more to do with a fundamental lack of understanding about the role of technology in learning than from obvious disinterest. This story is much more complex than students using computers to do interesting things in the classroom…and that may be the problem. But that is a story for another day! Fortunately, MLTI schools and students made and recorded their own news. See this short YouTube video from Gorham Middle School about the experiences of the 19 students and 5 teachers they sent to the conference.

Three lessons…do any of them resonate with your experience?

Photo by Brian Snelson, http://www.flickr.com/photos/exfordy/


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