Category Archives: Communication

Creating Connections for Learning Using Social Media

This is the first of a series of posts which explore the what, how and why of social media in learning –

  • What Social Media is…
  • Why it is important in a learning context…and
  • How it can be used to create connections

This first post looks at the what and the why of social media, and once the scene is set, we will dive into an exploration of creative ways it can be used in learning and teaching to create connections and enable opportunity across a range of contexts.

flickr photo shared by mikefisher821 under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license

Social media in the classroom is not an end in itself. Used creatively, it can be an amazing teaching tool, providing students with new ways to communicate and express themselves and their learning.

It is also the space where students are building a digital profile; even young students’ actions leave  traces of their actions online. It is important that they are aware of their digital identity, and how this will develop and become increasingly important as they go through high school and beyond. Introducing social media into the learning context allows students to make informed decisions when online, and reduces the risk of actions which may lead to consequences for their future.

For our students, there is no differentiation between the different tools, between ‘going online’ and simply being…they use these tools naturally as part of their everyday lives. That’s not to say they are fully informed users; they know what they know, and they know that very well – but it does mean that to leave out social media from their education is to disregard a massive part of their everyday life, and to not acknowledge a major form of communication and networking.

Creative Commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by Stuck in Customs: http://flickr.com/photos/stuckincustoms/4991717429

Creative Commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by Stuck in Customs: http://flickr.com/photos/stuckincustoms/4991717429

So what exactly IS  ‘Social Media’?

Before we begin discussing social media, let’s reflect on traditional media. Educators have always accessed a wide range of traditional media in the classroom; books, TV, magazines, newspapers – all of these sources of information were (and still are) brought into the classroom to resource learning, to link students to the world, to inspire and engage them; but this traditional media is one to many, meaning that it is usually produced by one person or group, even if it is accessed and used by many- essentially a one way channel. Students can read books and newspaper articles, view television programs or documentaries, but they cannot contribute to their creation or shape the content being communicated. Traditional media is easy to manage, and there is no interactivity between creators and consumers; when we limit access to traditional media, the amount of information and access to experts students have is also limited.

Today – we continue to interact with traditional media, but also we can also engage heavily with social media. Social media is many to many, and two way; and this challenges us as educators, as it brings a whole new dynamic into the classroom. Social media is participatory, it encourages collaboration and interaction, it promotes open communication, and requires creativity and sharing.

social media definitionHow can we define ‘social media’? It is so much more than just Facebook and YouTube. Social media includes blogs, podcasts, collaboratively created mindmaps, wikis, polls and surveys, Skype, social book marking and content curation, online games, video sharing, photo sharing, online productivity tools such as Google Docs or Evernote, forums, listservs….any media that allows for creation and communication with others. If we use this definition, you can see that social media provides so many different sources and resources to enrich learning.

WHY is Social Media important in Education?

From what has already been discussed in exploring what social media is, it should be pretty obvious that it is important that we include social media as a way of engaging, working with and learning with our students, because it is a major form of communication, information access and knowledge construction being used in our world today. However, if you need more convincing, please consider reading this book: Why School, by Will Richardson.

Click image to purchase from Amazon.

Click image to purchase from Amazon.

Why School is from the Ted series of books, and it is just 35 pages long, and costs $3.75 to download from the Ted Books app, or you can buy it through the Amazon Kindle store. In it, Will Richardson, a teacher, speaker and writer, outlines why we need to engage in new ways of learning and teaching in a world of abundant information and provides a vision for the way learning can shift from content mastery to learning mastery; where students learn more than literacy and numeracy, but also develop skills in creativity, persistence, critical literacy, collaboration and problem solving. He acknowledges that this move to connected learning isn’t easy; but there are many strategies and tools that we can use to begin implementing change.

Richardson also states another really important fact; one that I believe we can’t overlook; access does not equal the ability to use the web well.

He points out that no matter how often we call our students ‘digital natives’, simply being able to access this wealth of information and knowledge doesn’t mean that they also automatically become self-directed, organised and web-literate; students need our assistance to develop the skills needed to connect and build relationships with others online in safe, ethical and effective ways. The environment of abundance that they live in requires in some ways even more support from educators than before; just a different kind of support, and with a different kind of focus.

Steve Wheeler, Associate Professor at Plymouth University says that to thrive in this new, hyperconnected world, learners will need new literacies;

new literaciesIt is interesting that he says ‘learners’ not ‘students’ for these are skills that we are all developing; and so how do we learn these literacies, and how do we teach these to our students? By engaging in the media that requires them.

The next blog post will explore the HOW of social media – not by looking at lists of tools, but by focusing on what we hope the students will learn and what skills and knowledge they will take away from the task.

Every school has a different context; different levels of access to technology, different security requirements, some schools are very open when accessing the internet and social media tools, others are quite locked down. Every teacher has their own comfort level with using technology and students come into the classroom with varying capabilities. Focusing on the task and the outcomes helps us see that we can work creatively in the context we are in. The next post will explore Twitter, so that you can take these ideas into different settings and share them with different groups.

I have curated a range of the related social media tools that are mentioned in this and future posts on my Pinterest Board here:

Read on!

Creating Connections for Learning using Social Media: New Ways with Twitter

Building on from Part One, which focused on what social media is, and why it is important to include it in learning and teaching, this post aims to investigate creative ways social media may be used to enable students to engage, create, publish and connect with others.

Suggestion One: Be a connected educator!


flickr photo shared by Castaway in Scotland under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license

The best way to become comfortable with social media is to be your own guinea pig. By using the tool you wish to implement for your own purposes, you will learn about the requirements of signing up, how time consuming it is to familiarise yourself with the tool, whether it works on the school computer/network environment, and then you will feel more comfortable with introducing it to the students. You will probably have also discovered many different ways you may include it authentically in learning that you hadn’t considered before.

New ways with Twitter

Twitter is well known as a fabulous tool for educators (and others) to use in developing a Professional Learning Network (PLN). I have written about Twitter and the value of Professional Learning Networks before, and with the ability to connect with wisdom from all over the world, it is one of the best sources for new ideas, resources, teaching tools and feedback. If you have a quality network, just ten minutes on Twitter will reward you with a bounty of education insights.

10 Minutes on TwitterTwitter is a great tool for professional learning, but it can also be harnessed for powerful learning with students. Not every student needs to have an account for you to use Twitter in the classroom. In fact, as students under the age of 13 are not permitted to have an account, often a class account, created by the teacher is the only way to go. You can use a class account very effectively to not only model how to use Twitter safely and appropriately, but also to share the work students are doing, collaborate with other classes on Twitter, communicate with parents and stay up to date with current affairs.

Twitter accounts can be protected, so what is shared is only available to those who have asked and been permitted to follow. Therefore the community may be closed to just parents and students, or left open (if you have older students) to communicate with the world.

Why not use Twitter in the classroom to:

#Engage

Increasingly important world and local events are being shared using social media, including Twitter. One great example is @AnzacLive, which was an experience across multiple channels (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram). 30 journalists ‘took on’ the personae of 10 real people who lived through ANZAC Day, and using the journals of these people, recreated their lives on social media, as if it were a tool of communication 100 years ago. The ten individuals posted daily pictures and updates, sharing their experiences of the war, and members of the public were encouraged to interact with them, asking questions and chatting with them. The journalists had access to war historians who guided their responses, to ensure an authentic experience.

engage2

Many events now have a hashtag (e.g. International Women’s Day, Australia Day etc) and these provide an engaging way for students to interact with the world and share the experience with others, as well as learning about others’ perspectives on the celebration.

#Connect

An increasing number of classes are getting online to share their learning with others. One fantastic example is #KidsedchatNZ – a twitter chat that takes place every Wednesday between 2-3pm across New Zealand. The aim of Kidsedchatnz is to motivate kids to be active, engaged and connected learners, and each week a series of questions are posted on the Kids Ed Chat blog, for the participants to respond to during chat time. The experience not only provides a monitored experience of social media, it gives students the ability to discuss their learning with students from all over the country, and acts as a moderation tool for teachers, as they can assess their own students’ level of understanding against others. Why not consider creating a chat opportunity with a range of classes across your state or region? The model of Kidsedchat NZ is easy to follow, and can be explored both on Twitter using the hashtag #KidsedchatNZ, as well as the blog: http://kidsedchatnz.blogspot.co.nz/

Students are given an image via the blog to reflect on prior to their chat. This is a sample of their responses.

Students are given an image via the blog to reflect on prior to their chat. This is a sample of their responses.

#Inform

Click the image to read more about the #notsilent campaign.

Click the image to read more about the #notsilent campaign.

This year the Anne Frank Trust and Penguin books marked the 70th anniversary of Anne’s death with a one minute campaign called #notsilent.

Instead of a one minute’s silence to commemorate Anne Frank’s short life, participants were asked to read out loud a one minute passage from Anne’s inspirational writing.  They provided a selection of passages suitable or participants could choose one yourself, or they were encouraged to read something they had written about their own life and hopes. Participants were also asked to start or end the reading by explaining why they chose to take part.

This is a new way to raise awareness, share information, and reflect; it could be transformed in many ways for students to promote a particular cause, or share reflections on a text. By recording voice clips using Vocaroo, or creating short video clips and sharing on a website such as YouTube or Vimeo, a tweet with the link and a relevant hashtag could be a powerful way to inform others of student learning or opinion.

#Guide

One of the great aspects of using social media in learning and teaching is that you can actively teach critical skills that allow students to participate more safely online. A fantastic activity which does just that is to search for well know public figures on Twitter, and identify which account actually belongs to them. A good example is Julia Gillard’s account- the first is fake…how do we know this?

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It may be that the open nature of Twitter is just a little too much if you are completely new to social media. If this is the case, why not try Twiducate: a solution for elementary and secondary students. Rather than having your students sign up and enter an email address, you sign up and create a class code. Using this code, your students log in to your class network.

Here, they can answer questions, collaborate on problems, and even embed pictures and videos. As a teacher you have full control over the network. You can even add other teachers! This gives a similar experience to Twitter (although they will not be able to connect with the wider community).

twiducate twiducateJust like Twitter, there are lots of ways that you can use this tool to model proper and responsible use of social media, and loads of creative teaching ideas; some of which you can read about in this great blog post by Tait Coles.

 

 

Creating Connections for Learning with Social Media: Bringing Blogging Back!

Building on from what was suggested in earlier posts, educators who become familiar with social media tools and who use them in their own personal practice are more likely to feel confident introducing them into the classroom. Blogging is a tool that often isn’t considered when thinking about Social Media, however it is a platform for authentic communication, which allows users to express ideas and connect with others, and therefore is a teaching tool that should not be overlooked.

New Literacy

The title of this blog is ‘bringing blogging back’ because as an older social media tool, it may seem that blogs are passe or not likely to draw student engagement. However, setting a student up with a blog where they share their learning is a great starting point for building a positive online presence – and even if you choose to go with a tool that is not entirely public, allowing students the chance to develop skills and familiarity with this genre will mean that should they choose to keep a blog of their own in the future, it is more likely to be a well-presented document of themselves online – always a positive in a world where social media is often the first place potential employers browse when deciding among applicants!


flickr photo shared by rebe_zuniga under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

Blogging is also a great strategy for teachers to not only develop their own online presence, but for reflecting, sharing, clarifying their thinking and more. Steve Wheeler writes very convincingly and comprehensively when presenting Seven Reasons Teachers Should Blog, another fan of teacher blogging is George Courosread his reasoning here.

To begin blogging with students, start off low tech. social media doesn’t have to completely rely on computers and the internet! Try wall blogging, suggested by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano, where students share their blog post and others post their comments using post it notes before moving onto publishing online.

When making the move online, it is good to consider a number of different platforms, as each have their strengths and weaknesses. Two platforms to consider,  that represent different approaches, are WordPress and Kidblog.

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WordPress is an open blogging platform used by the general public. There are two WordPress formats; .com which is hosted by WordPress, and is the best one for beginners, and .org, which is self hosted, and requires just a little more tech expertise (as well as somewhere to host it). I would advise going with .com for students. WordPress  is open, flexible, and lots of options – and it may be a good platform to consider if you have switched on high school students who want lots of flexibility in how they publish and share their work. However for younger students or when privacy is a consideration, Kidblog is worth exploring, as it allows the teacher to set up student accounts which they can access without needing to create an account or have an email address themselves.

If neither of these take your fancy, don’t despair! There are lots of blog platforms out there- a good guide is the The State of Educational Blogging 2014 which summarises a range of platforms from an educational perspective.

flickr photo shared by langwitches under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

There are many reasons why you might consider having your students blog. Some schools are using a student blog as a portfolio to capture their work, or as a place where students can reflect on their learning. The act of writing regularly is a valuable literacy skill, and the ability for other students to comment enables peer support and an authentic audience. Depending upon the platform you choose, blogs can be as open or as locked down as you wish, and many learning management systems have a blogging tool built in.

Blogging also informally teaches students about digital safety, and the language of digital publishing as they’ ‘tag’ their posts with keywords to assist in locating them later, comment and respond to comments, manage their account, choose copyright free or creative commons images to include and assess their blog ‘stats’ to measure how many hits they have received, from what locations and more.

A great blog post on blogging as pedagogy has been shared by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano, who has put together a number of resources on blogging in the classroom including this fabulous printable handout, Getting to Know Your Blog.

Students don’t always need to have their own blog – a class blog which is jointly constructed could be a fantastic shared writing experience for younger students, and older students could be extended by writing blog posts from the perspective of different characters in a book – a single blog could have posts written by a different character each day.

visual blog

Click on this image for a live demo of this image focused blog theme.

Blogs don’t necessarily have to be text based either; while Tumblr and Instagram are popular image blogging social media apps, more control could be maintained by establishing a single traditional blog account, and having students upload images they have created (photographs, scans of artwork etc). Platforms such as WordPress have a range of templates, some of which are designed particularly for image based blogs. This would be terrific for art students, photography classes or any student who had a preference for visual expression.

When it comes to commenting, there is an art to this also. While blogs don’t encourage the same level of interactivity as Twitter or Facebook, there is definitely the capacity for conversation to develop in the comments section. Leaving constructive, clearly expressed comments is a skill that many overlook, and yet this type of feedback can be a powerful form of instruction, particularly when it comes from peers. In addition, there is always the potential for teachers to negotiate with colleagues, or even better a ‘guest commenter’ such as an author or expert in the field of study to add their thoughts – a very authentic learning opportunity!

And so, I encourage you to think about beginning a blog; or getting your students to blog; or creating a class blog – and if and when you do, share your experience in the comments and bring THIS blog alive too!

 

Remix, Reuse and Re-energise using Creative Commons and Open Education Resources.

Beth Noveck Open GovTeachers and students are becoming creators and publishers due to the possibilities new technologies provide. Traditional copyright can limit creativity, however Creative Commons and Open Educational Resources open up a new world of content to re-energise the possibilities when developing resources, and encouraging students to design new ways to demonstrate their learning.

It used to be that when teachers and students created content, it could only be shared within the classroom walls. Today, the classroom walls are flattened, as we share resources and publish our learning to a worldwide audience. Not only do we have the ability to publish to the globe, students and  teachers have unprecedented access to content which is easily able to be remixed, recreated and reused. We have come a long way from the days when scribes painstakingly handwrote copies of manuscripts. Now, Control C, Control V are the keys of power, and with a video camera on every phone, and free editing tools just a click away, students and teachers (and everyone else besides!) must be familiar with their rights as creators, and must also be aware of the need to respect others’ intellectual property also.

It all begins with Copyright

Statute_of_anneCopyright, first initiated by the Statute of Anne in 1710, is a tool which aims to promote creativity, by protecting works from replication. As artists derive their income from selling their works, Copyright seeks to protect this source of revenue from being exploited by others. However, there are many that argue that in the internet age, Copyright is broken. While it is true that wholesale piracy and profiteering from the work of others must continue to be legislated against, the avenue of the internet as a forum for sharing, communicating and creating may be limited by stringent enforcement of Copyright regulations against those who do not seek to make commercial gain, but only to use others’ ideas and work as a part of their own creative expression.

One of the strongest proponents of the need to seek changes in Copyright law is Lawrence Lessig, the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership at Harvard Law School, and the founder of Creative Commons.

There are some provisions within different countries’ Copyright laws that allow students and teachers to use some copyrighted material in the course of education. These provisions, which fall within Fair Use, Fair Dealing and Statutory Licences are useful, and should be taken advantage of; however they are only of use within strict educational settings. For those who wish to share their work more publicly, other options exist.

Public Domain Content

One source of content which can be freely used is that which falls into the Public Domain.publicdomain

Once the term of copyright has expired (usually between 50-70 years after the death of the creator, although this varies internationally, and according to the type of work), it enters the Public Domain. The underlying idea of a work cannot be copyrighted, and therefore concepts such as mathematic and scientific formulae are also within the public domain. Content created before the existence of copyright also falls into this category.  Some government agencies and public institutions donate their content directly to the Public Domain. Some of the most notable include NASA and the British Library.2015-02-20_1821

Content which is in the Public Domain is able to be freely used or remixed without any permission, although it is good practice to acknowledge the source. Fantastic examples of public domain remixes are everywhere – one to check out is the Tate Gallery 1840 Gif Party, where works were recreated as animated Gifs as part of a competition. See the results here.

There are many sources of Public Domain images online; access a range of sites on my Pinterest board here.

As rich as Public Domain content is, it is still limited by the length of copyright. A middle ground between Copyright and Public Domain is Creative Commons. Creative Commons is an effective way to source images, videos and documents while giving credit to the original owner. Creative Commons creates a “some rights reserved” model. This means that the copyright owner retains copyright ownership in their work while inviting certain uses of their work by the public. Creative Commons licences create choice and options for the copyright owner.

Creative Commons Licences

There are 4 primary licence elements:

These elements are mixed and matched to describe whatever rights the creator wishes to reserve. The six standard Creative Commons licenses are

The Licences #CreativeCommonsFinding Creative Commons Material

There is a growing amount of content being released under the creative commons licences. This State of the Commons report released late last year shares the staggering growth of this amazing movement:

Click to access the whole infographic.

Click to access the whole infographic.

Click the image to go to Pinterest board.

Click the image to go to Pinterest board.

This makes it much easier to find Creative Commons Licenced content to use, remix and repurpose. A great place to start is the Creative Commons powered search, which enables you to search across multiple providers. However, for specific resources, check out my Pinterest board for lots of ideas of where to go to find more material. Another great resource are those put together by the wonderful people at Smartcopying, and Creative Commons Australia, who have just released excellent resources for educators.

 

I have also written about this in more depth on the ResourceLink blog here and in the Copyright Copyleft Wiki I created in my role at Brisbane Catholic Education.

Tips and Tools to Reference Correctly

Of course, you can’t go about using Creative Commons licenced material without clearly referencing it, and acknowledging both the creator, and the licence under which the work is released. Fortunately, referencing is simple, and this handy, printable (PDF) guide is excellent for providing examples and information. This wiki is also an awesome and easy to follow guide.

To make it even easier, several tools exist to make referencing as simple as copy and paste. I have written before on the ResourceLink blog about the wonderful work of Alan Levine, who has created a tool for Flickr, which loads not only the reference, but also an embed code for any Creative Commons licenced image shared on Flickr. You can get the button for your bookmarks toolbar by simply dragging and dropping – read all about how to do it here.

open attributeAnother handy plug in is Open Attribute. By installing this extension into your browser (works for Firefox, Chrome, Safari and more), whenever the site you are on contains a Creative Commons licenced object, a CC logo will appear in the address bar. Click on this, and the text or html attribution will appear, for you to simply copy and paste. Although this only works for content that has been licenced with the machine readable code (find out more about the layers of a CC licence here), many pages include this metadata, and it sure makes referencing content easier!

Wikimedia Commons is another phenomenal source of open content, and they too provide copy and paste referencing, known as the reuse assistance tool. Read this handy page on the wiki to find out more!

Open Education Resources

Click on the image to learn more.

Click on the image to learn more.

Many believe that the high cost of textbooks and other educational resources are leading to the commodification of education, and that education should be free and accessible for all. By encouraging educators and other educational resource producers to share their work by either releasing it to the public domain, or by licencing it in an open way using Creative Commons, a growing bank of resources is being developed, so that everyone can share access to knowledge.

This cause has many supporters, and resources can be contributed and accessed via a range of channels; some of the best known open educational resource repositories are listed on this Smartcopying page. The more educators are aware of these repositories, and contribute to them, the greater the availability of quality educational resources for all.

In a world where everyone can publish to a world stage, the concepts of Copyright, Creative Commons, Public Domain and Open Educational resources must be familiar to all. Take the time to explore, and remember, technology truly allows us to:

This work, "RRR,PPP", is a derivative of "Open source gifts for the holidays" by opensourceway, used under CC BY-SA. "RRR,PPP" is licensed under CC BY-SA by KayO.

This work, “RRR,PPP”, is a derivative of “Open source gifts for the holidays” by opensourceway, used under CC BY-SA. “RRR,PPP” is licensed under CC BY-SA by KayO.

 

 

 

Global Learning – Sharing, Connecting and Discovering together!

Today I was privileged enough to attend (free of charge!) an international conference at my desk here in Brisbane Australia. How? I participated in webinars which were part of the Library 2.014  Conference, hosted by the Learning Revolution Project. These webinars were run by two very valued members of my Professional Learning Network – one of whom I’ve met in person just once, the amazing Judy O’Connell, and one whom I have yet to have the pleasure of meeting – the ever inspiring Jennifer LaGarde.Both of these ladies share generously online, via a range of social media – they blog, they tweet, they curate and they share their presentations via Slideshare – and today I was able to learn from them as they spoke about Leadership in a Connected Age (Judy) and Imagining Library Spaces of the Future (Jennifer).

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You can learn from them, and from a huge range of other presenters too – all of the webinars are recorded, and shared (again free of change, thanks to the generosity of sponsors).

So why am I posting about these speakers who so generously share their time and talents? It’s not only because of the amazing things I learnt (some of which I’ll share below) but also to promote the wonderful work of The Learning Revolution Project, led by Steve Hargadon.

2014-10-08_1506This project truly democratises professional learning, and allows anyone with a web connection to participate in conferences with world leaders of many different professions. It’s not just listening to the person speak and seeing their slides – it is also having the ability to ‘chat’ via the back channel (a discussion that goes on synchronously which the presenter can also see), to ask questions, share thoughts and resources – to meet people from around the world who are also working in similar areas, and to connect and share learning. This type of opportunity demonstrates the power of technology in learning today.

This video, shared by Judy this morning beautifully captures the amazing growth, potential and capacity technology is enabling:

The learnings of those who participate, as well as some of the key resources are being harvested in real time on a Padlet created by Joyce Valenza – herself another guru in the Teacher Librarian and Information and Networking Literacy worlds. It is joint constructions and the pooling of knowledge by participants with such global, wide-ranging experiences which will enable the new breakthroughs in learning to occur; but are we preparing students for this type of learning and engagement? Are we as adult life long learners embracing these changes and modelling them?

Both webinars, although having slightly different focuses, brought home to me the need to be open – to learning, to engagement, to experience and to new opportunities and potentialities.

Judy explored the world ‘out there’: trends in knowledge construction, participatory cultures and social networks, and how we might use this information and access to lead others into a global, connected future. She shared research, such as From Chalkboards to Tablets (pdf) the power of the gestalt created by connecting via technology to solve problems (e.g. FoldIt – a computer game that allows players to contribute to solving scientific research problems through their gaming) and the awesome power of a simple Google Search  (Google Flu Trends – where searches with particular terms have been found to effectively indicate the spread of the flu ahead of any other measure). Judy challenged us to be aware, to be involved in knowledge construction, and to delve more deeply into this world – not to accept the surface level knowledge, but to become more literate via knowledge networks. I thought this quote was particularly powerful:

“The urgent dimensions of learning: the mechanisms for engaging with information and processes of learning in the acquisition of new knowledge has become a deeper process of individual and collaborative learning activities, problem solving and artefact development, occuring through an integration of face-to-face and online interactions within a community” Trentin, G. (2011) Technology and knowledge flows: the power of networks

Jennifer took us into the world ‘inside’ her school library, which, by offering experiences, the chance to play and experiment, to express student voice and create rather than just consume, is just as large, exciting and full of inspiring possibilities as the ‘outside’ world – because she has successfully connected her students to real world learning!

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Jennifer’s approach to learning is to make it real, engaging, and to bring the real world in. It is not about the technology, it is about developing a positive attitude to learning and providing a collaborative, ‘safe’ environment, where it is ok to learn by having a go – failing just shows you are trying something new! Jennifer values her students and listens to them – she lets their voice be heard, and considers their input – the kids have a say in their learning! This therefore gives them ownership and encourages engagement. Of course, Jennifer uses technology to bring about amazing learning – but even without this technology, her style and approach would remain the same – its not the tools it is the pedagogy.

I would encourage you to add these two thought leaders to your PLN – follow them on Twitter at @jenniferlagarde and @heyjudeonline, check out their blogs and become part of the global learning community!

 

Getting ‘REAL’ with web evaluation – tips and tools to develop information literacy

This is the second post in the series on developing critical and information literacy. The first post explored the need for critical literacy when learning from the web. This post explores strategies, tools and techniques for evaluating and verifying the credibility of information discovered online. The third and final post explores social media and how to verify its validity.

The ability to publish to a global audience is within the reach of anyone with a device and an internet connection. Identifying the signal in the noise is a challenge for anyone, and is a skill that must be taught. Fortunately there are many tools and tricks that make this easier.

Alan November, is an international consultant who is known around the world for his work in educational technology. He presents a great strategy for students (and anyone!) to apply whenever they are researching and need to confirm the reliability of the source of their information. He calls it the ‘REAL’ test. REAL stands for:

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1. READ the URL: When browsing the web or doing research, it is easy to follow one link after another, ending up somewhere completely different to where you started. Reading the URL in the location bar is the best way to answer the question where am I?. It is good to have the habit of checking the URL to see if you are where we thought you were, and to check the credibility of the website and therefore its information.

This diagram breaks apart a standard web address:

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Most web addresses begin with the letters ‘http’, which stands for Hyper-Text Transfer Protocol – the protocol which allows two computers to communicate. If you see an ‘s’ added (https), this indicates a secure protocol is being used. You are most likely to see the secure protocol being used on sites where personal information such as banking details or credit card details are being communicated, like when shopping online.

The domain is the part of the URL which commonly identifies which company, agency or organization may be either directly responsible for the information, or is providing the computer space where the information is stored. In 2014, the number of active domains reached 271 million. The domain name may give clues as to whether the information can be trusted, but it is not the only part of the URL that is useful. The domain extension usually identifies the type of organization that created or sponsored the resource: e.g. * .com which identifies company or commercial sites,*.edu for educational sites,* .gov for government sites or * .net for Internet service providers or other types of networks.

If the domain extension is two letters, it identifies a country, e.g. .us for the United States, .uk for the United Kingdom, .au for Australia, .mx for Mexico or .ca for Canada. This can be useful if you are researching country specific information. For example, I often add site:.au to my searches if I am only looking for Australian results.

Information after part of the address is the file path, which shows where the file you are looking at is stored. This is really important. You can see in the example above that the file path is /~oddone/tutorials/page1.  While the domain name is useful to identify the validity or quality of a website, the filepath is also really important to look at. If the filepath has a personal name, a tilde, a percentage sign or the words ‘user, people or members’ it might mean you are on a personal site.

This is often the case with sites that have the extension .edu, – it is quite common for universities to give personal space on their servers to students – this means that the information on the page has not been published by the university, but is the personal page of student and therefore the information is not subject to the checks and balances that would be on the official university pages.

A good example of this is this website, the life and work of Jacopo di Poggibonsi which can be found at http://www.umich.edu/~engtt516/lifetimes.html. Although the site is hosted on the University of Michigan’s website, it is a very cleverly created forgery – no such person ever existed. The presence of the tilde indicates that the website is merely being hosted by the University.2014-10-03_1422

2. Examine the site’s content and history:

creative commons licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by dullhunk

The currency of a webpage can often be seen by the date at the base of the page. However this only really tells you when the page text was copyrighted or last published. How can you see if the information is regularly updated, or if the website has changed over time? We can chart the progress or history of a web site thanks to the Wayback Machine.

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The Wayback Machine:  allows you to browse through 430 billion web pages archived from 1996 to a few months ago. To use this site type in the URL of a site or page of which you would like to research, and click the Take Me Back button. Once you have conducted your search, select from the archived dates available. This gives you an idea of how the site has developed over time, whether changes have been made and how regularly the information is updated.

3. Ask about the publisher or the author: Using a domain lookup service like easywhois, you can see who owns the site or who has published the material.

Alan November the example of martinlutherking.org because it is one that students could easily choose (it comes up very high in search results) and has been published to look appealing to students. Using a domain lookup to find the owner of the site reveals it is actually hosted by the server stormfront.org . If you search stormfront, you will find that it is a white supremacist organisation. You might not use this type of tool all the time, but if you are looking at information which could be controversial, open to bias or if you would like to know more about the publisher, this can be a handy tool to use.

Sometimes it just takes a simple Google of some key information from the site to check its reliability – take this example:  The idea of conducting Lasik laser eye surgery at home doesn’t immediately ring warning bells – and this graphic from the website should be warning enough!!
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However, if users are still unsure, a simple Google search for the Doctor who appears on the site confirms that this is indeed a hoax:

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4. Look at the links: Students usually only search using one search engine. They also believe that the top hits are the most important. Sadly, this is not in fact the case. Many businesses specialise in SEO – Search Engine Optimisation. SEO is all about improving the visibility of a web page in search engines search results. The higher ranked on the search results page your website is, and more frequently your site appears in the search results, the more visitors it will receive. The process of getting a website to appear high in the listings returned by a search is not based on luck, but on a complex series of strategies, including how the website has been built, and what key words are embedded in the metadata of a website.


creative commons licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by tamper74

A great activity to explore the way web rankings work is to get students to enter Australia into the Google search bar. These are the results they will probably get:

Google: Australia
Why did WIKIPEDIA get first hit?
What is common about top three sites?

The search looks at the search terms and tries to compare with other content. When lots of pages have similar titles or content, it is the links that make a difference. Wikipedia almost always comes up at the top of a search not just because it is well known and popular, but also because there are so many sites that link to each Wikipedia page.

You can find out what sites are linking to the site you are evaluating by typing in the word link: and then adding the web address. Take the first site- Wikipedia address and type link: with address. It returns a list of websites that link to the site. Quite often, the more links the website has to it, the higher it appears on the hit list.

Here is an example of how you can use this tool as another way of evaluating its content. When I searched using the link: strategy and the blog I write for my work at Brisbane Catholic Education, you can see that three hits show that other educational websites have linked to the blog. If these educational websites consider the blog of value to share to their readers, then it is more likely that the content is reliable.

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The links to site will allow students to build a map of related commentary -who uses this site and considers it important enough to link to it?

The third and final part of this blog series explores using verification strategies when searching for information using social media. If you missed the first part of this three part blog series, click here.

App-dependent or App-enabled: a challenge that extends beyond the App-Generation

Read more about this book at the website http://appgen.yupnet.org/

Read more about this book at the website http://appgen.yupnet.org/

Howard Gardner and Katie Davis have authored a fascinating book entitled ‘The App Generation’, which focuses on how today’s youth navigate identity, intimacy and imagination in a digital world. The book is based on their extensive research, conducted over several years, which includes interviews, focus groups and, interestingly, an examination of young people’s creative output (e.g. artworks, writing etc), sampled from a twenty year period.

Unsurprisingly, like any text which seeks to ‘define’ a entire generation, the text has garnered praise:

“Gardner and Davis have offered a challenging and thought-provoking book: particularly rewarding for educators who are interested in thinking about how young people are changing, and how we might preserve the best practices of our profession while adapting the tools that define a generation.”—Justin Reich, Education Week (3/11/13)

and some criticism:

“While Gardner and Davis valiantly try to avoid the clichés and stereo­types typical of discussions about culture and technology, their work still feels trapped in a kind of nostalgia, pining for a lost world.” – Jenna Wortham, The Times (1/11/13)

In many ways, the text confirms what many educators already knew, and what is, essentially, common sense: that the ‘app generation’ are different in some ways to their predecessor generations, and, in some ways still the same.

What piqued my interest more than anything was the idea of being ‘app-enabled’ or ‘app-dependent’ – the terms used by the authors to describe two possible outcomes for a life immersed in digital technology.

Those who are app-enabled use apps  as a launchpad to lead a richer life, with experiences enhanced by the access to information and connections to others that mobile technology allows. This contrasts with ‘app-dependent’ individuals, who let the gated garden of the app world direct and focus their life encounters, and, in many ways, limit their potential.

I believe these terms can go far beyond a description of those within the ‘app’ generation. They could be used to describe an attitude to technology that can often be seen in education; those who see technology as a key to opening up new worlds of learning could be considered to be app-enabled;  those who see apps as tools that simply replicate what has always been done, yet digitally, could be seen as app-dependent.

The challenge is to model the true potential for technology to transform learning and life experience, so that young people do not see apps as the outer limits; so that rather than seeing apps as an ends, they see the tools as a means to reaching new potential.

Being ‘app enabled’ means working towards the ‘redefinition’ level of Ruben R. Puentedura’s SAMR Model. This model proposes that educators use technology at a variety of levels; none are necessarily bad, however they reflect both the purpose of the technology use, and the level of confidence and competence the user has to truly take advantage of the possibilities the technology affords. Not every tool or learning opportunity has the scope to fall in the ‘redefinition’ category – however being aware of the possibilities allows educators to always consider how digital tools enable students to achieve things never previously possible.

The levels can be seen below:

Taken from Puentedura's slides for his presentation at Spark : SAMR: An Applied Introduction http://www.hippasus.com/rrpweblog/archives/2014/01/31/SAMRAnAppliedIntroduction.pdf

Taken from Puentedura’s slides for his presentation at Spark :
SAMR: An Applied Introduction
http://www.hippasus.com/rrpweblog/archives/2014/01/31/SAMRAnAppliedIntroduction.pdf

Being app-enabled in the sense that I am referring to does not mean that every time a teacher reaches for a technology tool it must be transformational;  it simply means having the commitment, confidence and positive attitude required to think outside the box when using technology – for seeing how it might be used in ways not previously considered, and for not allowing the ‘rules’ of the tool to limit learning possibilities.

How does one begin? Perhaps by searching for creative ways of using the apps already in the teacher’s toolkit; those free and easily accessible tools that may be currently in use. The image below has just some ideas to get you started. These ideas are not necessarily at the redefinition level of the SAMR model – but they do demonstrate how one tool may have many different uses.

Click on the image to download a printable pdf version.

Click on the image to download a printable pdf version.

 

Being app-enabled or app-dependent in this way goes beyond the tools; it is an attitude that we can model to students, and a belief in the creativity and potential possible using the huge array of tools so readily available.

Are you app-enabled? Share in the comments tips for how you use technology tools creatively!