Friday, June 29, 2012

An evolving relationship – data and privacy

In the last week or so a conversation has been underway in a listerv of which I am a member, related to the gnarly question of where the data about students is stored. Should it be locally in schools or cloud computing?

There has been a full on discussion of the ethics of a school using cloud computing services that may well have blanket policies (often underpinned by US law, rather than a specific country's law), as well as around what happens to the data once it is in the cloud. The members of the listserv unpacked the pros and cons of cloud computing, the fuzziness of the policies often used in relation to data stored in the cloud, and their own responsibility.

I've included below my contribution to the conversation, as the subject is of concern to a wide range of fact, pretty much anyone who has data stored in the cloud. One of the key strategies I'd like to suggest is raising awareness so that folk know the questions they need to ask to find out about what is happening to their (or their child's) data, and do not abdicate responsibility to 'someone else'...or at least are given the choice to abdicate this responsibility (see this Educause initiative for example). Informed consent seems to me to be the way to go, but sometimes you may need to ask for the information to inform your decisions, and may also need to ask for assistance in figuring out what that information actually means in practice.

There seems to be a couple of underlying assumptions that I'd like to look at...
Absolutely - young children should have parents involved in decisions around where their data is shared, and have a say in what data is collected. This is in my mind the responsibility of the school policies to ensure that this communication happens. However, who decides on what data is 'essential' to be kept about a child attending a school? And who can guarantee absolutely that, even if kept on a local server, the data won't be hacked or lost? Perhaps it feels safer as their is a sense that there is greater control...but is there?

To step back, there appears to be a 'myth of privacy'. What is privacy? Good old Wikipedia has the following:
"The right not to be subjected to unsanctioned invasion of privacy by the government, corporations or individuals is part of many countries' privacy laws, and in some cases, constitutions. Almost all countries have laws which in some way limit privacy; an example of this would be law concerning taxation, which normally require the sharing of information about personal income or earnings. In some countries individual privacy may conflict with freedom of speech laws and some laws may require public disclosure of information which would be considered private in other countries and cultures. Privacy may be voluntarily sacrificed, normally in exchange for perceived benefits and very often with specific dangers and losses, although this is a very strategic view of human relationships. ....Privacy, as the term is generally understood in the West, is not a universal concept and remained virtually unknown in some cultures until recent times. Most cultures, however, recognize the ability of individuals to withhold certain parts of their personal information from wider society..." (source).

When have we ever really had privacy (in a western construct of the term)? Once you are living in a society things will come to the fore that you have preferred not to share...images someone else takes, letters removed from your post box or rubbish bin, eavesdropping on your conversations, etc etc.

I am most definitely not an advocate of putting it all out there for everyone to access, unless you have made a (informed) choice to do so. However, I do feel that some reactions are underpinned by media hype and scaremongering.
"How many of us have paused during conversation in the past four-and-a-half years, suddenly aware that we might be eavesdropped on? Probably it was a phone conversation, although maybe it was an e-mail or instant-message exchange or a conversation in a public place. Maybe the topic was terrorism, or politics, or Islam. We stop suddenly, momentarily afraid that our words might be taken out of context, then we laugh at our paranoia and go on. But our demeanor has changed, and our words are subtly altered" (source)

So, back to the students in our schools. The government already has access to a raft of information about those students, purely by them being born in NZ, much of it I am sure parents are unaware of, and much is already stored on computers / networks / databases / emails / documents. This data is will sometimes be shared in a collated format in reports etc... So, is it a case of 1) educating and empowering parents about issues around cybersecurity, data sharing, transparency, and their rights? 2) Where the parents and community ask for it (after being included in a consultative process) could a selective process be put in place whereby more sensitive data is kept on a local server in a school??? (or wherever is deemed most 'safe')...but it should be an informed decision made by parents?

Would be great to hear your thoughts :-)


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Think you're good at multi-tasking?

I am a self-proclaimed numpty when it comes to multi-tasking. If I am facilitating in a webinar and have to focus on tweaking something I have to ask everyone to be patient as I can't speak and read/click the correct buttons :-)

Well, it turns out that this is not unusual. This research conducted by a Stanford professor, Clifford Nass, into multi-tasking indicates that the practice is detrimental to thinking deeply and remaining focussed. I wonder though if a more sophisticated notion of multi-tasking is needed (or maybe it's in the research and I've missed it). When I'm pulling together ideas and concepts that will inform a paper I'm writing I'll often listen to podcasts, watch a video, flick through magazines, ask questions via Skype/Facebook about my peers' thoughts, highlight books with relevant quotes and so on. I guess I'm not trying to do all at the exactlythe same time, but I will often pause one resource to flick across to another to check something, and then move on to something else. I think the difference might be, at the center of all this is a focus - the development of a concept. And the ideas are all collated into a central space that helps guide the process and add structure to the ideas I'm developing.

I wonder if that is what some learners are sometimes doing when they are apparently not focussed (and note that the example is "teachers trying desperately -- mostly failing -- to control the level of multitasking in the classroom. But it seems like mostly a losing battle" [my emphasis]. Could it be that the learners are distracted because the 'stand and deliver' approach so often used really isn't engaging them?

Just some musings. It's sometimes easy to jump onto 'technology in the classroom is just a source of distraction' bandwagon, without reflecting on what else is (or isn't) going on in the environment. Would be great to hear your thoughts.

To read an interview with Clifford Nass who speaks about the implications of his research, please click here. And as a taster:
We know that there are a few things humans can do at the same [time], two things at the same time our brains can do, but not any of the things we think about as multitasking. So your brain can use two words at the same time. So if someone's speaking to you, and someone else is speaking to you, we can listen to both at the same time; if you're reading and someone's talking to you. In the case of music, it's a little different. We have a special part of our brain for music, so we can listen to music while we do other things. But in general, no, our brain can't do two things at once. [my emphasis]

Nantek multitasking by Thomas Hawk

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Prompting good learning and setting the stage for authentic student achievement

I have been reading and listening to Gary Stager for several years now, and much of what he says resonates with where I hope education in particular, and approaches to learning in general, are heading. In A Good Prompt is Worth 1,000 Words - Constructing Modern Knowledge, Gary provides some practical guidelines that help develop a learner-centered approach and space.

Gary Stager opens by stating that he has "seen curriculum used as a weapon and as a security blanket. Curriculum is often arbitrary, created far away from the students subjected to it". The word subjected jumped out at me - not only is this something that is done to learners, but it also is unpleasant on all levels. He goes on to say that "the richest learning experiences and greatest demonstrations of student mastery have emerged from situations where maximum flexibility is exercised", and then fleshes out some guidelines around how to write prompts that make it less us, and more them.

With the following four variables in place, a learner can exceed expectations.
  1. A good prompt, motivating challenge, or thoughtful question
  2. Appropriate materials
  3. Sufficient time
  4. Supportive culture, including a range of expertise
The genius of this approach is that it is self-evident. If you lack one of the four elements, it is obvious what needs to be done.

....The same is true for prompt setting. The best prompts emerge from a learner’s curiosity, experience, discovery, wonder, challenge, or dilemma. However, all too often teachers design prompts for student inquiry or projects.
If you absolutely must design a prompt for students, here are three tips you should follow.
  1. Brevity. The best prompts fit on a Post-It! Note. They are clear, concise, and self-evident.
  2. Ambiguity. The learner should be free to satisfy the prompt in their own voice, perhaps even employing strategies you never imagined.
  3. Immunity to assessment. The best projects push up against the persistence of reality. What is a B+ poem or musical composition? How does an engineering project earn an 87? Most mindful work succeeds or fails. Students will want to do the best job possible when they care about their work and know that you put them ahead of a grade. If students are collaborating and regularly engaged in peer review or editing, then the judgment of an adult is really unnecessary. Worst of all, it is coercive and often punitive.
Good prompts do not burden a learner, but set them free. Add thematic units, interdisciplinary projects, and a classroom well equipped with whimsy, objects-to-think-with, and comfort, and you set the stage for authentic student achievement.
I would say that there are two key things to bear in mind with this approach. The first is that teachers / facilitators need to trust the learners - they can do it - and they need to trust themselves to be comfortable with the long silences, the what appears to be chaotic interactions which are in fact collaboration and creativity, and to be able to mentor students when the need it, in spite of not planned a session to the nth degree!

Would be great to hear from anyone who uses this approach, or has been involved as a participant in a session where the facilitator has used such an approach. How was it? What happened? Would you do anything differently next time? Any tips?

Friday, June 15, 2012

OER: The quality vs credibility vs access vs pedagogy vs legitimacy vs money debate (Dave White)

The conversation around Open Educational Resources (OERs) , Copyright, Intellectual Property, fair use, and Creative Commons licensing is rumbling along. The outcomes seems to be reasonably inevitable to me, with those organisations that distribute, for example music, using a system that is rooted in an now outmoded business model are looking at rather a sticky end - evolve or die as the saying goes.

Vasi Doncheva shared via Twitter (@playnice_nz) "a thought provoking post with useful links and discussion about how OERs affect pedagogy". The post, entitled Open Educational Resources and Pedagogy (by Jenny Mackness) features a summary of Dave White’s presentation, as well as a link to the audio from his session.

(Slide 6 from Dave White’s presentation, sourced from here)

Jenny highlights the fact that:
when thinking about OERs we cannot neglect ‘contact’. It is not all about ‘content’. So how do OERs ‘drive pedagogy back into what it’s meant to be’? (quoting Dave from the presentation). For me they do this in a number of ways:
  • Now that we have more clarity around what we are allowed to do with OERs (through Creative Commons Licences), we can remix, repurpose and feed-forward OERs (to quote Stephen Downes). We can be more creative.
  • Perhaps OERs also enable us to challenge the ‘status quo’ – in the sense that ‘credible, quality’ content might no longer always be in peer reviewed journals, articles and academic sites, but might instead be on ‘John or Jane Doe’s blog’ or deep below the water line (iceberg metaphor).
  • They do tend to force more critical thinking and the framing of critically relevant questions, e.g. what is a credible, quality resource? How do we recognize it?  And this in turn raises the whole question of whether learners have the skills to navigate the web to find the quality resources.
  • And from the teacher’s perspective, as Dave pointed out, we will have to come up with assessment tasks that don’t allow the student to simply find the answer through an easy access easy to find OER. This has always been a challenge for teachers, but even more so now."
 Would be good to hear your thoughts on the points that Dave and Jenny make.
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Monday, June 11, 2012

On choosing the wrong drivers for whole system reform

If you are in any way involved in education, schools, and / or professional development I would highly recommend the following paper as a 'must read'. (The paper was shared via email by Vince Ham.)

Fullan M. (2011). Choosing the wrong drivers for whole system reform (Centre for Strategic Education Seminar Series Paper No. 204). Melbourne, VIC: Centre for Strategic Education.
"In the rush to move forward, leaders, especially from countries that have not been progressing, tend to choose the wrong drivers. Such ineffective drivers fundamentally miss the target. There are four main ‘wrong driver’ culprits that I discuss with their matched pairs that refer to the more effective alternative. In all cases choosing a combination of the drivers makes matters significantly worse (or better)." (p. 5)
Fullen identifies the culprits as:

  1. accountability: using test results, and teacher appraisal, to reward or punish teachers and schools vs capacity building;
  2. individual teacher and leadership quality: promoting individuals vs group solutions;
  3. technology: investing in and assuming that the wonders of the digital world will carry the day vs instruction;
  4. fragmented strategies vs integrated or systemic strategies.
"Dominance is another word for saying what system leaders state and acknowledge as the anointed, explicitly articulated lead drivers. The encouraging news is that the judicious use of the four right drivers ends up accomplishing better the goals that those espousing the wrong drivers are seeking. And it does so in a fundamentally more powerful and sustainable manner. The right drivers – capacity building, group work, instruction, and systemic solutions – are effective because they work directly on changing the culture of school systems (values, norms, skills, practices, relationships); by contrast, the other formal attributes of the system without reaching the internal substance of reform – and that is why they fail. (p.5)"

Stephanie Bader opens the "Curtain on Lurking"

This thoughtful, honest reflection about moving from a lurker to a more confident community participant was shared by Diana Ayling (here). In her post Stephanie Bader, reflects on the fear she faced when initially jumping into the development of her personal and professional learning network, and the steps she takes from a fearful first (and abandoned) attempt, to a fully fledged active member of social networks. It is reassuring to read Stephanie's account, and she also offers some great tips for folk who are just lurking in the wings, wondering how they might confidently take a meaningful part in the performance on the main stage.

Opening the Curtain on Lurking was written and posted by Stephanie Bader on May 18, 2012 in Global Communities of Inquiry13 comments

Act One. The scene is a large conference room. Laptops and iPads litter the tables that stretch from one end of the room to the other. Black power cords snake vine-like over and around the men and women in numerous chairs. They seem to wriggle out from the floor and the table legs and the leather attaché cases, in search of outlets.

At rise, we meet our subject of interest, seated back left, third row. She is by no means a principal character, but merely plays a small part in the intricate backchannel chat ballet that will unfold the moment the presentation begins. She positions her fingertips, poised to weigh in on the discussion, and much to her dismay, the stage fright sets in. Without so much as a keystroke, she slinks into the scenery and then disappears out the backstage door.

Act Two. Three months later. Ditch the conference room, keep the laptop. Add an active Twitter account, a handful of posts on her newly-launched professional blog, and a healthy dose of confidence. Our lowly player has catapulted herself into a more noticeable role in a learning community that is a living, breathing protagonist in its own right: defining and redefining its character with every click. She is replying to discussions within her online learning communities, she is writing blog posts, and she is transparently sharing her successes and failures as a learner and as a teacher. She is even starting her own discussions that — to her genuine shock (and secret pleasure) — have elicited responses and taken on a threaded life of their own, leading to others learning from and with her.

With this, her eyes are opened and her approach to the role she plays in this ensemble is no longer self-centered, riddled with worry about sounding uninformed or being cast aside as useless. Now, she sees herself in the part she was truly born to play, a role into which she has been written and with which many can identify. She is connected to every other player in a way that allows her to be a source of knowledge as well as an active participant in the shared learning that occurs.

But, with newfound confidence and involvement comes newfound respect and, consequently, responsibility. Eager, she volunteers to write for the Voices From the Learning Revolution blog. I have credentials, she says. A backstage pass. Experience. A writing degree. I can do this, she says. I have found my voice.

And then suddenly it arrives. The stage fright. Again.

It’s me, Stephanie

Our player is me: Stephanie, a second-year fourth grade teacher and novice player on the teacher-tech stage. I could be any one of the many teachers on a similar journey toward becoming connected educators who value life-long learning not only for our students but ourselves. I would venture to say that we all experience bouts of stage fright at some point in our careers, from directors to actors to understudies. It is normal. Expected, even. We ask ourselves the same questions: What do I have to offer that someone else can’t supply? What good will my opinion do? Hasn’t my question been asked countless times before?

At first, these questions were left unanswered. This collaboration thing was hard. I was plagued with Lurker Syndrome, and I resigned myself to thinking that I’d spend the rest of the year watching and waiting, letting this valuable time slip by without taking advantage of what was being offered. Soon, though, through conversations with educators in my PLN, answers began to surface.

Aren’t those teachers smarter than I am? (Some are, of course.) Won’t they fare just as well without my input? (Maybe, but they’ll be better off with it.) Who will benefit from what I have experienced? (Give it a break; no way to be sure, but someone will!) I began to realize that the journey toward connectedness, toward incorporating technology into my curriculum, has not been about the fear itself, but about how to overcome it, and furthermore, how to help others in overcoming it and fully transitioning into the 21st century educators we were written to be.

I am still faced with stage fright time and time again. But the professional relationships that I have cultivated with those who have a wealth of varied experience, and the conversations that have ensued on Twitter or other online communities, have given me the tools to confront it, to understand it, and to transform it into the kind of learning and teaching that effects change, promotes transparency, and showcases successes and failures.

Finessing the fear factor
Through several conversations and interactions, I know that some of my colleagues—both in my school and in my PLN–are still struggling with the stage fright. How to stand up to it. How to move past it. And surely there are many other educators who have entered this brave new place called “connected community” with some trepidation. Allow me to share what I have learned in hopes that it helps you to forget the heat of the spotlight and the pressure of a large audience (however difficult they are to see beyond the virtual footlights).

Start small. And this is true, even if the work you’re there to do is almost done. It is never too late to jump in and it is never too late to learn. In September, when I started on my road to connectedness, I was bombarded with email notifications containing links to discussion themes that in some cases baffled me. I shut down and repeatedly hit delete. I rarely spent time in the community discussion space and certainly was not an equal participant in our shared learning. My presence on Twitter was weak at best. Sound familiar? Try this: pick one. One discussion thread. One task. One tool. Something that appeals to you. That sends that tiny spark. That makes you think twice, if only for a second. Click over. Read. Write. Ask. Reply. Reply again. Trust me when I say that it will be liberating and exhilarating and will give you a sense of worth as contributor of experience, advancer of knowledge, agent of change.

Gather support. I didn’t even know what PLCs and PLNs were in September, let alone did I cultivate and contribute to one. (They are “professional learning communities” and “personal learning networks,” by the way.) And now, I am not sure how I’ve survived these several years without them. Within these communities and networks, look out for the friendly faces (or avatars). Our Voices editor, with his nudges to get writing, did not let me off the hook, even when I made the excuse of being caught off guard by stage fright and wanted to give up. A fellow Voices writer (Patti Grayson) offered her encouragement and direct support in the comment thread of a blog post we were both following. It happened to be a post about not being afraid to share. These are merely two examples of many that showcase what we can do—together. They are more than just a pat on the back. They are guideposts that seem to say, “I’ve been there. Others have been there. I’ve seen what happens when you get to the other side. Got your back. Don’t give up.” When I find something more valuable than that, I’ll let you know.

Keep going. In order for the two previous bits of advice to work, moving forward is a must. It takes precious time. And it is hard work. But the feedback, conversations, relationships, and changes that take hold are worth every minute. Make an effort to build upon the simple steps it takes to start. Try new things often and seek support to help you through the learning process. There are many people in every connected community (I am assured by veterans of this work) who are just waiting to help, yearning to offer guidance and share their experiences, and eager to get you to peak performance.

This brings us to Act Three. We’re not the same characters we were when we started. Our roles are being written and rewritten, constantly shifting with each new thing we learn and bring to our teaching. Whether you have been center stage, playing your part convincingly for quite some time now or whether, like me, you’ve been waiting in the wings and are just moving to the edge of the spotlight, there is always time to own your role and deliver your lines.

There is no excuse for stage fright now. In the world of connected educators, Time is always on our side. The learning curtain has yet to close. In fact, it never will. The crowds are cheering and we’re stepping toward the front of the stage.

Communities of Practice and Networks in organisations

Diana Ayling recommended this presentation from Etienne & Beverly Wenger.
The points they make are specifically referring to learning in organisations rather than distributed communities, so something I am pondering is how might the points they make be impacted (if at all) by the distributed nature of some online Communities of Practice.
I feel that Slides 12, 13, 19 and 22 really pull out clearly the key activities and the possible outcomes within a community (plus a vocabulary and structure in which to frame them). They could provide a working model, rather than a descriptive model, which might track an online Community of Practice over time....

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Opening up the world with open reading

Richard Elliott has some peaches in his eLearning Watchfor May. A couple that I was particulary taken with are The Open Library and The Open Academic Textbook Catalogue.
The Open Library
This amazing resource offers a searchable (editable) database, with, once you find a book you want oppoprtunties to read, borrow, and/or buy. Some books only have the buy option, but many have a download option in a wide range of file types (or you send to your Kindle - which I didn't try as I don't have a Kindle :-)).
Richard described the library as follows: "The Open Library. Is an ever-growing repository of books of all types and subject. It is an open project: the software is open, the data are open, the documentation is open, and contributions are welcome. Already the site claims to have over 1,000,000 free e-book titles. Plenty you will recognize and maybe read or direct your students to."

If you are studying, or just interested in learning this is the place to go. The easily searchable site offers textbooks to print (at a cost, but way less than it would cost to buy from a shop), as well as in the following formats .PDF, audiobook, EPUB, mobi, and 'read online' (usually free). As Richard says, "Always good to see efforts being made to ensure educational resources can be obtained freely and with minimum cost or no cost at all. This initiative is great and is open to any faculty world wide".

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