A Plea for a (paper.li) Holiday Gift!

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With the holidays already upon us this will likely be my final post of 2013. I hope that each of you who has visited my new blog this year has a safe and fun-filled holiday season!

Today’s post focuses on paper.li and also serves as a call for your support in building an invaluable online resource for those who share my passion for a profound paradigm shift in education. Consider it your holiday gift to me!

Paper.li – which describes itself on its Twitter page as “The curation platform that enables you to turn Twitter, Facebook & RSS into online papers and treat readers to fresh news, daily” – has considerable potential to enrich professional development and to facilitate dialogue in teaching and learning, as well as to help our students stay abreast of the very latest developments in whatever they may be researching for their senior project (K-12) or thesis (undergraduate/graduate student).

Based on your own source selections, paper.li pulls online content tailored to your specific interests and passions into a nice-looking cyber journal. You simply curate through your source selections, which you can edit at any time as you discover new and better sources.

At my school, where senior project serves as the culminating experience of each student’s high school education, this could really be a research game changer, provided plenty of guidance is supplied from project mentors on the subject of evaluation of Internet resources. It could put our students in touch with real leaders within their respective fields of study, with those who update us daily on new and exciting developments via social media channels.

In the past, I have developed a paper.li cyber journal for the school I currently serve that targets the passions of our particular student population. It gets regular retweets from a few devoted followers.

Last night, I spent considerable time putting together a new paper.li cyber journal geared toward my fellow educational technology enthusiasts, which I have called Educational Technology Today.

One of the stumbling blocks I encountered was the 25-source limit on paper.li. There are simply so many sources out there commenting regularly via social media on developments in the field of educational technology, which is both wonderful and challenging to the curator.

So, please consider giving me a holiday gift this year in the form of your curation suggestions. What Twitter, Facebook, and RSS feeds would you include among your sources? Feel free to email me at npjobe@gmail.com.

Happy holidays, all!

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Google Hangouts at Denison University

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Google Hangouts Logo

If you are part of the Independent School Educators listserv, you may have seen a conversation recently regarding the number of schools moving away from FirstClass in favor of Gmail and Google Apps for Education in the K-12 independent school world.

The particulars of that transition are not the focus of today’s post; rather, I’d like to highlight how one feature of GAE, once enabled, has true potential to meet the mobile learner’s present and future needs in virtual spaces.

Google Hangouts, the subject of an earlier post here at transformingteachingandlearning.wordpress.com, is being deployed in innovative ways K-12 and beyond, as evidenced by German Professor Dr. Gabriele Dillmann’s recent presentation at the annual convention of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. 

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Denison University logo

Dr. Dillmann’s approach is truly maximizing the potential of virtual spaces and harnessing the power of social media and the collective to engage and activate learning.  

Rather than having the teacher present at each Hangout session, Dr. Dillmann – working in collaboration with Denison Instructional Technology Specialists (particularly Cheryl Johnson)  – has developed a step-by-step guide for her students to take charge of their own peer-peer Hangouts.

Student leaders organize and initiate Hangout sessions following the guidelines supplied by their professor. The Hangout session leader records the session, and then posts the video to YouTube, subsequently sharing the YouTube link with their teacher (see this video for more specifics on the process). This in turn becomes a living, breathing artifact of learning that can be used as a teaching tool in a spiraled-style curriculum where students become teachers and true partners in the teaching and learning process.

Students are assessed according to a highly sophisticated rubric incorporating the following evaluation criteria: 

  • Linguistic Accuracy
  • Communicative Effectiveness (body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, affective gestures, etc)
  • Fluency and Circumlocution
  • Pronunciation
  • Participation as a Learning Community Member (essentially, to what extent did each Hangout participants’ contributions advance the conversation?)
  • Dialogue Etiquette (interactions demonstating respect, sensitivity, interest, etc)
  • Group and Leadership Competencies (fulfilling individual responsibilities with care and dedication).

The unequivocal message that this rubric sends to Dr. Dillmann’s students is that they are being evaluated holistically and not solely on the basis of their German utterances. They are being prepared for a world in which their success will be determined not only by a sophisticated technology and (one can hope!) linguistic skill set, but also by the degree to which they have developed their own intercultural awareness as well as their style of delivery in virtual and group interview environments. 

Please feel free to contact me for further details on this exciting development. 

Connecting with Parents over The Big Disconnect

Late at night, I am reading a book that has become popular in school circles called The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age, by Catherine Steiner-Adair and Teresa H. Barker.

I wish we could make it required reading for all parents, and I offer some suggestions to facilitate that process in today’s post.

The book paints a pretty bleak picture of family dynamics in the digital age, and much of it rings true. Adults are withdrawing into our devices and interact far too little with our children at a time when they need us the most. We are more connected with the external world than ever, more invested in making computer-mediated connections than ever, and less connected with those right under our own roofs. All of that is taking a toll on the development of the whole child.

What does all this mean for those of us who have been actively engaged in the pursuit of a paradigm shift in education toward more systemic and ubiquitous technology integration in schools to better prepare our children for participation in an increasingly complex and competitive global economy (to transforming teaching and learning for the 21st Century)?

The reality on the ground in schools is that more and more technology is being put into our students’ hands. Given that reality, and in recognition of the powerful hold that computer-mediated communication in virtual spaces has over our children in their formative years, some schools are rolling out digital citizenship curriculums (Common Sense Media has developed wonderful and free curricular resources in this area). Some schools, on the other hand, are simply trusting students to develop their own digital citizenship skills – a high-stakes roll of the dice given the potential for the wrong Facebook post to impact lives.

The technology push in schools is not likely to abate. New teaching and learning technologies simply offer too much potential to spur more personalized and active teaching and learning environments, ultimately leading to improved learning outcomes. We live in a world, too, where a highly sophisticated technology skill set (hopefully combined with a strong interpersonal skill set) will be rewarded in a tightening and competitive jobs market.

The Big Disconnect focuses primarily on family dynamics in the digital age, but what about the dynamics of the school-family relationship? For obvious reasons, parental engagement with the life of the school remains an elusive goal. Parents lead busy lives juggling job and family responsibilities, but partnering further with their schools as primary stakeholders in the success of their children will (properly approached as a partnership) have a profoundly positive impact.

Ironically, however, virtual spaces are the tools that schools might well soon be deploying to facilitate the dialogue between schools and parents on this subject of The Big Disconnect.

I am imagining a two-pronged approach, with facilitated meetings in both physical and virtual spaces:

  • At the beginning or end of the school year, when parents assemble for beginning or end-of-year ceremonies, a challenge should be issued to parents to read The Big Disconnect and to engage with one another as well as with the school on the subject of successful strategies for helping our students make the most of today’s technologies as cognitive tools without neglecting the family and peer connections that are so vital to their socio-emotional development. Parent volunteers could host discussion groups, or those groups could be facilitated by school administrators or members of the school’s technology committee in face-to-face style meetings.
  • Since we are so spread out in physical space, meetings in virtual spaces to hold these same conversations should also be part of a holistic approach to the problem. Google Hangouts (the subject of both past and future posts here at transformingteachingandlearning.wordpress.com) or group Skype sessions should be regularly scheduled between school personnel and parents on the subject of The Big Disconnect. In your weekly newsletter push, send out a signup form for the various Hangouts/Skype sessions. These can be recorded and shared on YouTube (as unlisted or private) with the broader school community if they are particularly profound and productive.

If you are a school administrator and you are reading this, you are probably thinking that the last thing you want is a challenge from parents to your school’s noble push for innovation in teaching and learning. You probably already hear too many complaints from parents, and this book does open a bit of a Pandora’s box in the area of technology integration in school settings.

Ultimately, though – and that is the spirit of this very virtual space – thoughtful, guided, productive dialogue between stakeholders is most likely to lead to the best outcomes for all involved. These conversations should be happening, and in fact are already happening.

We are, after all, about the development of the whole child. Let’s have conversations along those lines, in both physical and virtual spaces.

Let’s connect about The Big Disconnect.