There is no “now” now.

October 29, 2009 · Posted in citizenship, culture, social networking · 8 Comments 

A few days ago I had a conversation with a colleague that went something like this:

C: I just want to do what I do now with technology. I don’t want to know about social networking. It’s too hard to keep track of everything.
Me: I…ummm…it’s…did you get the time for the next faculty meeting?

What I wanted to say, and what I’ve been thinking about for some time, is that there is no such thing as catching up. There’s no “now” with technology. If you’re not constantly moving forward, then by default you’re moving backward. Particularly with technology, moving backward is an express ticket to irrelevancy. I liken it to being the best typewriter repairperson in the world–you may be very good at your craft, but who cares?

Two years ago, we weren’t talking about Twitter, and not much about Facebook. In a bit less than four years, YouTube has gone from a cautious startup to serving over one billion videos a day. Fifteen years ago we were just starting to talk about the World Wide Web. The processing power used for the first moon landing is roughly equivalent to the processing power of a Furby, a toy that was interesting 5 or 6 years ago. As quickly as things seem to change, we’re probably still on the early curve of an exponential explosion of technologies that will vastly change the way we do just about everything.

But we seem to be stuck on viewing technology as an object and not as a process. Much of the daily work I used to have to perform on my laptop (which replaced my desktop when it became much more important to be able to carry my work with me) can now be performed on my iPhone. The vessel is irrelevant to me as long as I can do what I need to do. Technology isn’t my laptop, or my iPhone. It’s a process for communicating, collaborating, creating, producing, and (somewhat recursively) for keeping up with technology. For an educator, it’s simply a tool of the trade. If you don’t understand how to use it professionally and instructionally, you’ll soon be looking for an office next to the typewriter repair shop.

Tackling Copyright Issues with Flickr Storm

August 17, 2008 · Posted in citizenship, graphics, Tools · 6 Comments 

In my classroom, we deal with digital images on a daily basis. They end up in our digital videos, PowerPoint stacks, blogs, and posters. My “Teaching with Technology” students are required to have Flickr accounts to organize and share their photos, and we spend a lot of time learning how to resize and repurpose images for different media.

A couple of well-chosen search terms entered to Google will return a plethora of images on any imaginable topic. And therein lies the problem; it’s so easy to find the images that we want that we tend to forget that every image published on the web is copyrighted. In order to legally use that image outside of the classroom, we must have permission of the copyright owner.

As a teacher of teachers, I feel doubly responsible about modeling the right behavior for my post-secondary students. I need to make sure that my teacher candidates know the copyright ropes so that they can properly instruct their students when they become teachers. That’s why I love Flickr Storm.

Flickr Storm is a web-based service that allows you to search Flickr for photos by license. The key is to use the Advanced menu for all of your searching.

When you click the Advanced menu link, you are presented with a drop-down menu with a choice of license types. The majority of photos posted to Flickr are licensed under the “Attribution” agreement, meaning that you can use the photo in a commercial or non-commercial project as long as you give credit to the copyright owner.

There are many other nice features of Flickr Storm. The attribution URL is clearly shown so that you can copy/paste the attribution information into your project. You can create an online library (a “tray” in Storm lingo) of found images on a topic with a URL that you can share with others if you want.

Using Flickr Storm for searches helps me call attention to copyright issues with my students, provides them with a rich source of usable images for their projects, and gives credit to the copyright owners for their work. It’s an essential element of working with digital images.

Does Technology Produce Antisocial Kids?

April 29, 2008 · Posted in citizenship, Teaching 2.0 · Comment 

There are many times when the reality of a situation seems counterintuitive to an observer. A heavy skier reaches the bottom of a hill more quickly than a lighter skier, even though we think that objects should fall at the same rate or that a heavier object should push down harder on the ground and therefore move more slowly. (Google “terminal velocity” for the answer to that one.)

Similarly, we may intuitively feel that technology inhibits social skills of K-12 students, assuming that students must be interacting less with each other if they are using a computer. However, a pair of recent studies reviewed together in eSchoolNews suggests that, at least in a school setting, the use of technology can increase social skills among young students.

In “Tech Encourages Students’ Social Skills,” researchers X. Christine Wang and Cynthia Carter Ching explain the social upside of technology in a primary classroom setting. The first study, “Social Construction of Computer Experience in a First Grade Classroom: Social Processes and Mediating Artifacts,” examined the social interactions of a group of kindergarten and first grade students around two computers scheduled for their use during the classroom day. The newer, more capable computer was the students’ favorite, being everyone’s first choice for free time. Access to the computer was determined by a sign up sheet, and the rules were fairly simple. “Only two students could use a computer at one time, and a timer was used to limit each student’s time on the computer to only five minutes. Those students not being the first to select computers as their first choice activity had to sign up on a waiting list and do other activities while waiting for their turns.”

Wang and Ching observed that students tended to cluster at the computer and enforce the rules in ways that were fair to everyone. Achieving a common goal–in this case, reaching a higher level on a popular game–was a driving factor in the students’ ability to maintain order and also be successful at the game. The students were learning valuable social skills through having a common goal and a common interest in using the computer.

In the second study, “Digital Photography and Journals in a Kindergarten-First-Grade Classroom: Toward Meaningful Technology Integration in Early Childhood Education,” Wang and Ching observed kindergarten and first graders in the same classroom who were creating photo journals using Apple iPhoto software on an iMac. While students were to work with an adult helper while composing their journals, the researchers noted that other students typically played close to the iMac and interacted frequently with the journalists, often asking questions, supplying tips, or commenting on pictures or journal entries. They also interacted with each other while they were taking pictures of their classroom for their journals.

Wang and Ching feel that these studies provide evidence that students’ social skills can be improved through the thoughtful integration of technology tools.

“…the children are engaged in valuable social construction…of their classroom experience and culture by engaging with well-integrated technologies, such as computers or a digital camera.”

I realize that the scenarios presented by Wang and Ching are a far cry from the image we may hold of a high school student locked in his darkened bedroom late at night playing games and chatting–although these are also social activities of a sort and probably deserve some additional study as well. But studies like these help us realize that there is nothing intrinsically “unsocial” about technology. In some cases, technology can be a strong factor in successful socialization.

Digital Consumers

February 26, 2008 · Posted in citizenship, Studies, Teaching 2.0 · Comment 

In a recent article on Ars Technia (The “Google generation” not so hot at Googling, after all), Nate Anderson reviewed a study by the British Library and the Joint Information Systems Committee that examined the internet researching habits of the “Google Generation”–those born after 1993 that have no memory of life prior to the World Wide Web. (The full report is available as a PDF file and is well worth reading.) One of Anderson’s statements struck an immediate chord with me:

“Knowing how to use Facebook doesn’t make one an Internet search god, and the report concludes that a literature review shows no movement (either good or bad) in young people’s information skills over the last several decades”

It was somewhat gratifying to see empirical evidence of a trend that I have observed anecdotally for quite some time. We tend to assume that, because post-secondary students typically have laptops, WiFi enabled cell phones, and other digital tools that they are expert technology users. I would agree that most of the “Googlers” are highly facile with the tools and processes that they use, but I would also assert that these tools may be limited in scope and are not necessarily the tools that will bring academic success. Students are quite adept at using social networking tools such as FaceBook and MySpace and with shopping sites, but many do not know the basics of productivity applications such as PowerPoint, Word, or image editing tools. Many do not know how to install software or add a printer. Wikipedia is often the first and only source of information for a research topic. And, for as much time as they spend Googling, many do not know how to form cogent search queries.

We tend to call students of this generation “digital natives.” I would assert that they may be more properly called “digital consumers.” And, we tend to blame them for their lack of skills when, in reality, we–their teachers–are the culprits.

One of the roles that educators at all levels need to embrace is that of a guide to the appropriate uses of technology for learning. Social networking tools such as blogs and wikis have tremendous potential for engaging students in the learning process if they are applied thoughtfully and evaluated rigorously. We should be teaching and reinforcing good research skills every day in every classroom, including instruction on how to compose search queries and where to look for reliable sources. (Check this web site from for 25 sites for reliable, researched facts.) We should be working digital content creation–digital photography, digital video, podcasts, etc.–into our lessons on a regular basis. And we should be good models to our students, using technology in our own teaching and learning processes.

Digital Citizenship

December 5, 2007 · Posted in citizenship, social networking · 2 Comments 

Well, I seem to have managed to get through November without a single post. My bad. I’ve been on the verge a couple of times but other priorities have taken over.

It’s in that context that I’m glad that this post from Alec Couros came across my virtual desk this morning. I needed to be jolted out of my complacency, and Alec’s post did just that.

This is going to be a short entry, because what you really need to read is Alec’s post. In it, Alec poses some powerful questions about what it really means to be a good citizen in a world saturated with social networks, virtual acquaintances, viral videos, instant fame (or infamy), cyberbullying, large-scale hoaxes, and issues of personal privacy. It is one of the few articles I have ever seen on the responsibilities of digital citizens as opposed to their rights. There are many powerful ideas discussed here.

Enough said–read the article and  make sure your colleagues and post-secondary students read it as well. And keep the discussion going. This is important.