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Engaging young language learners with Web2.0 technologies April 23, 2010

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This is the third and final summary piece I’ll be writing for my secondary studies teaching unit, Enhanced Learning in Professional Contexts. It will be more narrative and reflective than my previous efforts, largely because I’ve found the process of investigating emerging trends in ICT-enhanced language learning just as fascinating as the content.

The process began with me eschewing traditional, scholarly research methodology for a colourful, adrenaline-pumping Web2.0 quest for cutting-edge language learning ideas and resources. Hoping to capitalise on the positive collaborative, social and authentic aspects of learning languages in this environment, I was particularly seeking innovative ideas to engage otherwise unmotivated adolescent language students. This was on the proviso that the learning methods were, following on from Australian Scholar Kathryn Moyle’s recent work, cost-free and based on web2.0 technologies. Ultimately, I found imaginative uses of popular games, and avatars in Facebook and twitter to be leading the way in this domain. I also found myself challenging my assumptions about my newfound research approach.

My research adventure began slowly – almost an entire day wasted bumbling around in scholarly journals seeking a departure point for my investigations. Despite the quality and intellectual rigour of the research I encountered, it appeared the scholarly discourse on ICT-enhanced language learning had stagnated around traditional concepts of Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL). For two decades now, commercial, CD-Rom-delivered CALL programs have been central in progressive approaches to language learning. However, lost in the labyrinth of scholarly search engines and article repositories housing this literature, I began to suspect that the once innovative vanguard of CALL scholars had since become CALL conservers, rather than adopters of new and more pedagogically powerful Web2.0 technologies.

I decided at this point that if I was genuinely searching for cutting edge, Web2.0-inspired learning ideas, then I needed to embrace the Web2.0 knowledge sharing realm. This would double as a practical examination of an idea I’d been contemplating for some time, regarding the vicarious learning potential of blogs as opposed to scholarly publications. Drawing on Bandura’s theories regarding self-efficacy, I’d been postulating that the immediacy and real-world application of well written, experiential blogs and wikis could have a much more rapid effect than scholarly literature on a teacher’s belief in their ability to perform similar or related educational tasks.

Instant results ensued. The next day was a “rich media” whirlwind of immediately useful blogs, wikis, slideshares, podcasts and vodcasts. An early success along this path included uncovering a student wikidot page – Web2.0 / Language Learning – operating in the same language pedagogy domain as I was. This was a clear example of the kind vicarious learning experience I had been imagining. Prior to encountering this wiki, I’d been somewhat unproductively dazzled by the abundance of useful resources out there. But Web2.0/Language Learning helped order my thinking and offered a fresh perspective apparently unburdened by traditional understandings of CALL. Combining Vygotskian social learning theory with Second Language Acquisition research conducted by Egbert et al, the author/s asserted that Web2.0-supported language learning offered authentic, collaborative, social and challenging experiences for students. The site also offered an eloquent, informative and unpretentious overview of modern uses of blogs, wikis, podcasting, social networking and virtual worlds for second language acquisition.

In addition to this wiki, I found further bearings from another Web2.0 hallmark, YouTube. The video introduction to freelanguages.org offered a similarly informative and articulate review of the types of freely available online language learning resources. These resources were invaluable and will now form part of my own learning and teaching toolbox. They ranged from flash card sites and specialised verb conjugators to formal lessons. Most of the products, however, assumed a pre-existing level of interest in language learning and essentially constituted online CALL programs with Web2.0 social networking sometimes ‘added on’.   

Beyond these products exists the emerging field of Machinima, along with ingenious uses of avatars on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Machinima, as described by one of its pioneer groups, Rooster Teeth, is simply the process of writing scripts and then using video games to act them out. Rooster Teeth’s own work grew out of their manipulation of the Artificial Intelligence online versions of The Sims – with entertaining results (See: The Sims Teach German). Rooster Teeth and other self-styled Machinima production teams have expanded into other games and platforms and the number of Facebook followers on their sites suggests the genre now has a committed following. The types of authentic, collaborative, social and challenging language learning experiences available in these environments is limited only by the imagination. Even before trying their hand at Machinima, young learners have the option of simply playing the game in their target language. Although challenging at first, the number of association-forming visual cues available to them makes this a feasible learning opportunity, as do efforts on the part of gaming developers to make playing instructions clear and direct. Games like The Sims are ideal for these types of rich learning tasks, as they unfold in a progressive manner and require the player to make discerning choices about the placement and application of every day items and tools. They also require the student to build their own characters, or avatars, which is a much more engaging way to learn vocabulary about physiology than the standard textbook approach. Incidentally, the use of avatars is central to emerging ideas for taking language interplay to social networking sites. Scholars working in this area argue that the creation of avatars and unique personas on foreign language social networking sites delivers (particularly advanced) students a level of authentic, intercultural language exchange and understanding unparalleled by anything other than in-country immersion.

Returning to the gaming environment and younger learners, and moving beyond the simple use of avatars, developing a foreign language Machinima might then become a higher order learning project. It is particularly appealing as an extended task into which several formative tasks and assessments can be built, perhaps over the course of a school term.Students might begin by preparing script ideas and storyboards, working either directly with, or translating into the target language, before building their animation in the gaming environment. Examples of language learning tasks of this nature are now starting to populate YouTube, as seen in Teenagers, a Machinima produced by Latin students using The Sims gaming architecture.

There appears to be unlimited potential for engaging otherwise unmotivated students with innovative use of Machinima, avatars and Social Networking sites in foreign language learning. Online gaming and social networking environments are already fun and familiar to students, and can be manipulated by teachers to offer rich and authentic collaborative learning experiences for students at different stages of second language acquisition. My research rollercoaster ride did not end with the landmark ‘discovery’ of foreign language Machinima and avatar usage, however. After initially seeing their potential and learning about the fundamentals, I lost far more time searching for feasible, real-world classroom applications than any of the hours ‘wasted’ on my initial forays into CALL literature. This experience reminded me of the value of cumulative knowledge derived from multiple sources in any field. I expect the rapid Web2.0-enabled dissemination and exchange of new knowledge will increasingly provide educators with useful resources and accessible know-how. But perhaps we should not be too eager to shun the considered findings and established practice of leaders in our given disciplines. Mastery of both research domains will produce a far more balanced and better informed educator!        

Resources

Free Language. Available at  http://freelanguage.org/ Accessed 10 April 2010.   

Krause K.L. Bochner, S, Duchesne, S. (2010) Educational Psychology for Learning and Teaching (3rd Edition) Cengage: Melbourne, Australia.

Moyle, K. (2010). Building Innovation: Learning with Technologies. Australian Council for Educational Research: Victoria, Australia.

Rooster Teeth. Available at http://roosterteeth.com/home.php Accessed 12 April 2010.

Teenagers (Latin Project) – A Sims 2 Machinima. Available at http://eclassics.ning.com/video/teenagers-latin-project-a Accessed 20 April 2010.

The Sims Teach German – Video Games for Foreign Language Learning Available at:  http://vodpod.com/watch/207344-the-sims-teach-german-video-games-for-foreign-language-learning Accessed 11 April 2010.

Web2.0 / Language Learning. Available at http://web20andlanguagelearning.wikidot.com/start-here Accessed 10 April 2010.

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Publish and Perish – The adventure continues April 23, 2010

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In my previous post I started wondering out loud whether or not the world of scholarly publishing was dead to me as a time-poor pre-service teacher. Having lost a day of my life unsuccessfully stalking cutting edge work on Web2.0-supported language learning in the unforgiving labrynth of scholarly journals, I’m now prepared emotionally to share the rest of my adventure with you…

Day Two – Web2.0land     

After Day One’s debacle, I decided that if I was genuinely searching for cutting edge, Web2.0-inspired learning ideas, then I needed to embrace the world of Web2.0 knowledge sharing. This in fact tied in with an idea I’d been thinking about for some time, regarding the vicarious learning potential of blogs as opposed to scholarly publications. Drawing on Bandura’s theories on self-efficacy, I’d been thinking that the immediacy and real-world application of well written, experiential blogs and wikis could have a much more rapid effect than dry, detached scholarly literature on a teacher’s belief in their ability to perform similar or related educational tasks to those covered by the authors.

Anyway, the results. The next day was a “rich media” whirlwind of immediately useful blogs, wikis, slideshares, podcasts and vodcasts. An early success along this path included uncovering a student wikidot page – Web2.0 / Language Learning – operating in the same language pedagogy domeain as I was. This was a clear example of the kind vicarious learning experience I had been imagining. Prior to encountering this wiki, I’d been somewhat unproductively dazzled by the abundance of useful resources out there. But Web2.0/Language Learning helped order my thinking and offered a fresh perspective apparently unburdended by old-fashioned understandings of Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL). Combining Vygotskian social learning theory with Second Language Acquisition research by Egbert et al, the author/s asserted that Web2.0-supported language learning offered authentic, collaborative, social and challenging experiences for students. The site also offered an eloquent, informative and unpretentious overview of modern uses of blogs, wikis, podcasting, social networking and virtual worlds for second language acquisition.  In addition to this wiki, I found further bearings for my research from another Web2.0 hallmark, Youtube. In particular, the video introduction to freelanguages.org, to which I’ve referred in a previous post, was simililarly useful in demystifying the world of freely available language learning technologies.

So far, so good.

As my investigations went deeper, however, particularly into the world of machinima, and how I might apply this emerging practice in a meaningful, feasible classroom contexts, my new research direction began to meander. After initially seeing their potential and learning about the fundamentals, I lost far more time searching real-world examples that I could implement into my lesson planning than any of the hours ‘wasted’ on my initial forays into CALL literature.

This experience reminded me of the value of cumulative knowledge derived from multiple sources in any field. I expect the rapid Web2.0-enabled dissemination and exchange of new knowledge will increasingly provide educators with useful resources and accessible know-how. But perhaps we should not be too eager to shun the considered findings and established practice of leaders in our given disciplines. Mastery of both research domains will produce a far more balanced and better informed educator. 

I was starting think we were seeing the beginning of a new era in academia – one characterised not by the term ‘publish or perish’, but rather ‘post or perish’. But about the only thing perishing here though was my faith in the promise of a Web2.0 research quick-fix. For now…         

Publish and perish – are scholarly articles dead to the reflective practioner? April 23, 2010

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I wonder if this story is familiar to any of you budding or experienced educators out there?

You’re planning a program for, let’s say, a four-week block of teaching. You haven’t taught the subject yet – you might have been passionate about this field when you were studying it, but for a few years you’ve been teaching other subjects, or, if you’re a pre-service teacher, researching another field entirely (as has been my case). The point is, you don’t have a ready arsenal of teaching resources in this field to draw upon.

As always, you want to make the next four weeks as rich and engaging and exciting an experience as possible for your students. You are also a convert to the new teaching paradigm of reflective practice – you learn from and reflect upon how you and others have taught before, and you seek to improve upon these performances through planning grounded in research.

So… when it comes to doing this research, when it’s time to gather the tools, ideas and inspiration you need to teach this subject…

…where do you go?

As a time-poor senior teacher do you hit the libraries and head home with an armful of trusty and dusty books filled with material already out of date by the time they hit the shelves? As a novice teacher so intent on engaging your students, building your personal teaching style and fighting your early professional insecurities, do you hit the scholarly journals with which you spent soooo much time in Uni? And what about those of you like me, the pre-service or trainee teacher, with very little frame of reference to begin with, assignments coming out of your ears, tutes and lectures to prepare for, and countless blogs to write – aaaarrrrggghhh!!! Where are we going to go to get all of this great stuff for our classes????   

Well, for my research into Web2.0 technologies and foreign language pedagogy (Yep – four weeks of Indonesian teaching fast approaching!), here’s where I went:

Day One – The well-worn out (?) path of scholarly journals
As I mentioned before, I’ve been researching in an entirely different field for the past few years, East Timorese oral traditions to be exact. I’m quite comfortable in libraries. I love the smell and feel and the spell of old books and documents – particularly those of the jaundiced, crumbling, Portuguese variety!  I’m also quite adept at searching quickly through scholarly journals online with the aid of google scholar and several trusty academic search repositories. Here, I’m unashamed to say, was my first port of call. Let’s face it – I was hardly going to find much cutting edge material on emerging Web2.0 assisted language teaching trends on the shelves of library itself. Even if there were ‘must have books available, often a quick search on the author’s name will produce more recent, related online scholarly articles with more timely content.  Famous last words.

A day later, I’m no closer to my objective. I’ve spent hours wrestling with reverse proxies, counter-intuitive academic search engines, hit-and-miss search terms and abstracts. I’m exhausted. My brain’s fried from skim reading and chasing tangential leads down scholarly bunny holes. Any creativity and imagination I might have brought to the task has dried up in the desert of language that is scholarly detached prose. I’ve achieved nothing, my deadlines are a day closer, and I wasn’t even procrastinating! 

In my next post, I’ll cover what happened when I changed tack on this research journey. I know you’re dying with anticipation to find out what happens next, but please do try to get some sleep tonight 😉

Free online language learning aids – Part Two: Gaming and Avatars April 23, 2010

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N.B. This and the previous post  are a work in progress. I’ll continue adding free language learning resources to this page as I encounter them. I’d love to hear from any readers if they know of any similar resources.  

Gaming environments 
Earlier I foreshadowed that online gaming environments were producing the latest trends in truly engaging younger language learners in online learning. Be sure to check out The Sims Teach German, which introduces a lot of great new innovative ideas for using games that were never intended to be used as language learning tools.  Take The Sims, for example. Simply by playing the game in the target language, students can learn and reinforce vocabulary, syntax, grammar and more in a rich learning environment that engages the audio-visual senses in a fun and constructive way.

Machinima
Taking the program further, a group called Rooster Teeth has shown how The Sims’ and other games’ artificial intelligence can be used to create machinima , described by Wikipedia as “the use of real-time three-dimensional (3-D) graphics rendering engines to generate computer animation”. The folks at Rooster Teeth are somewhat more laid back in their description: “We just write scripts and then use videogames to act them out. It’s a new style of animation that some people call machinima. It allows to make weekly pieces of animation with a small group of people.”

There appear to be endless possibilities for practising foreign languages in this fashion appear to be be endless – the following example brings Latin to life:

Social Networking Avatars
Another way to practise languages in an online environment is to use avatars. This can range from visiting your target country in the virtual online world, ‘Second Life’, to creating a fictional profile in the target language environment of social networking sites like facebook (To be continued).

Free online language learning aids – Part One: CALL-inspired sites April 23, 2010

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N.B. This post and the next will be a work in progress. I’ll continue adding free language learning resources to this page as I encounter them. I’d love to hear from any readers if they know of any similar resources.  

Alrighty, so here’s a sample of the kinds of ideas floating about in the cost-free, online language learning world. As I said in my previous post, I’ve tried to focus on imaginative, engaging ideas and particularly those that use Web2.0 technologies (which I guess is a bit of a departure from traditional commercial Computer Assisted Language Learning [CALL] packages – more on this later).

I hope language teachers out there find this post useful. I’ll keep adding resources to it over time. Of course, if anyone out there knows of any new and exciting trends or ideas in the same genre, I’d love to hear from you!

Freelanguage.org
The name says it all, doesn’t it? These guys have almost my job for me. As they say in the introductory video below, they’ve already scoured the web for free, online language teaching resources that are practical and actually work. Most of the big European and Asian languages are covered, and they’ve even got some ideas for teachers of Bahasa Indonesia!

In the must-see introductory video, they cover resources like:
Flashcards
– Word of the day 
Lingro.com, a vocabulary helper that assists learners read authentic texts – this would be a great resource for senior high school/college and university students.
– free online foreign language books (from Project Gutenberg and wikibooks), and
– social language learning sites (from the ‘social’ tab of the freelanguage  site).

Under the final ‘social’ category, which certainly meets my Web2.0 requirement, highlighted sites include busuu.com, babbel.com, myhappyplanet.com and palabea.net. These offer interactive forums as well as free courses, vocabulary trainers and so on. But it’s time to check out the video and have a look for yourself, you won’t be dissapointed:

Despite its obvious value as a language teacher’s online toolbox, Freelanguage.org does not necessarily meet all of my requirements for engaging new, adolescent language learners in the way that I’m seeking. Most of the the resources assume some degree of enthusiasm on the part of the learners in the first instance, and offer opportunities to take that enthusiasm as far as they want without hurting their pockets. We could perhaps call it a free, online CALL compendium, and that’s awesome, but in part Two of this blog, I’ll be looking at more innovative approaches that perhaps offer a greater chance of getting students hooked in the first instance. See you then!

Social Networking in Schools – do the benefits outweigh the risks? March 29, 2010

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The following is an assignment submitted for my Enhanced Learning in Professional Contexts (ELPC) unit. Previous posts demonstrating the development of my thinking on this topic are tagged “ELPC Summary 2”. I welcome any feedback – particularly of the constructive variety 🙂

The past two-to-three years have seen an increasing volume of independent and government-commissioned studies lauding the educational benefits of online social networking sites. In almost every report or article of this nature, there has been an accompanying call for governments to remove internet content restrictions in schools. The need to develop students’ critical and independent decision-making skills is often cited as the rationale for such action, in line with modern, social constructivist philosophies of learning. Meanwhile, government policy makers often maintain that blocking access to popular social networking sites is consistent with educational ‘duty of care’ requirements. Both arguments are persuasive and, it would seem, are genuinely formulated with the best interests of students in mind. But the question remains: should the risks identified with unrestricted online social networking warrant a government veto against a potentially rich source of student interaction and education?

In recent years, a growing scholarly lobby in Anglophone countries has been calling for governments to embrace the educational benefits of unrestricted student participation on social networking sites (For example, Byron, 2008; Cook et al. 2008; Notley, 2008; Moyle, 2010; Ofsted, 2010). These appeals are generally couched in the vocabulary of social constructivist learning theory, which sees social and cultural processes as integral to learning (Krause et al. 2010, p.188-189). Notley (2008, p.23) argues that the information sharing, bonding and network expanding that occurs on social networking sites such as Facebook and Myspace can help students build the type of ‘social capital’ that leads to higher educational achievement and better health, among other things. This accords with most descriptions of the educational benefits of Web2.0 technologies (For example Byron, 2008; Cook et al. 2008), although Moyle also reminds us of the need for educators to make learning activities more relevant and meaningful to students personally (2010, p.5). Elliot (2009) goes yet another step, calling for a new pedagogy altogether, that of “connectivism”.      

The stance of such scholars is often in tension with a tendency on the part of governments to block school internet access to publicly available social networking sites. Only in the past few weeks, this issue has come to a head in Australia, following the handing out of some 66,000 laptops to Year 9 students in NSW as part of the government’s $2.2billion Digital Education Revolution (Pauli, 2010). Students from across the State, and even some of their parents, have claimed the laptops are of little educational use given the heavy online access restrictions put in place by education authorities (Shaw, 2010). Many of the scholars noted above would support the students position, arguing that it makes far more sense to educate students in media literacy, equipping them to make independent and critically reasoned choices regarding their online usage (Byron 2008; Notely 2008, p.22; Ofsted 2010).

Governments, on the other hand, often cite the requirement of their schools to provide ‘duty of care’ in  arguments for the restriction of social networking access. It is a relatively easy argument to support, with an abundance of research available linking dangers such as pedophilia and cyber-bullying to youth engagement with Web2.0 technologies. Even though understandings of student online use in some of these studies may be misconstrued, the findings are still concerning to naturally cautious parents and educators (Byron, 2008; Notely, 2008, p.21; Crook et al. 2008, p.22). To offer the benefits of social networking without the ‘dangers’ of open interaction, some Australian State and Territory governments have commissioned the development of private, teacher monitored educational sites with social networking capacities. These include Queensland’s ‘Learning Net’ (Notely, 2008, p.25) and the Victorian government’s recently released $77million Ultranet (Tomazin, 2010). At the same time, Education authorities in NSW have responded to the recent laptop controversy by undertaking to renegotiate content blocking policies in consultation with student representatives and parents and citizens associations (Crozier, 2010; Head, 2010). Despite this apparent flexibility, however, the State has reserved the right to monitor, check and filter access to certain materials and sites on the new laptops under ‘duty of care’ auspices (“Students’ learning”, 2010; Notley, 2008, p.24 [in the case of QLD]).

While both parties in this debate have built strong and persuasive cases in support of their respective stances, both are lacking the empirical evidence to gain any real ascendency over the other. Almost without exception, Scholars supporting open access to social networking sites have acknowledged a lack of substantive research pointing to definite learning benefits for students (Byron 2008; Notley 2008; Crook et al 2008). But the same lack of evidence, they argue, leads to misconceptions about student online behaviours in a way that prompts conservative and overly cautious government policies. Education authorities, by contrast, can support ‘duty of care’ arguments by drawing on the many available case studies identifying the risks of unfiltered access to social networking. However, many would argue that this is an approach based on a ‘fear’ mentality, or even outmoded interventionist approaches to student behaviour management. It does not help students develop the capacity to make independent and critically reasoned choices about their online use, and may even, Notley contends, cause social disadvantage to students without access to social networking sites at home (2008, p. 25-26). Furthermore, there is insufficient evidence at this stage for governments to rule out the potential positive impact that training in ICT literacies and responsible online usage might have on the risks they wish to avoid exposing children to. One wonders what kind of impact Victoria’s $77million contribution to the Ultranet might have had were it channelled into this kind of training, whilst at the same time embracing cost-free usage of ‘open’ Web2.0 technologies, as advocated by Moyle (2010, p.55-59).

Ultimately though, it may be more helpful not to frame this discourse in combative terms. It is sometimes easy to criticise governments and, to an extent, parents in instances where conservative and cautious approaches to new technologies appear to impede potentially huge benefits to education. However, the recent NSW example demonstrates that governments are willing to be flexible on such issues. The United Kingdom government’s full endorsement of Byron’s 2008 study, which emphasises the need for student and teacher training in new technology literacies, is also promising (Ofsted, 2010). As long as both sides in the debate continue to foreground student welfare in their approaches, the prospects look bright for increased and more educationally beneficial use of social networking sites in the future.   

Reference List

Byron, T. (2008).  Safer children in a digital world: The report of the Byron Review, Department for Children, Schools and Families, and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, United Kingdom.

Crozier, R., & Kotadia, M. (2010, March 16). NSW to relax content blocking on school networks. Endpoint Security. Retrieved from http://www.securecomputing.net.au

Crook, C., Cummings, J., Fisher, T., Graber, R., Harrison, C., Lewin, D., Logan, K., Luckin,R., Oliver,R., & Sharples, M. (2008).  Web2.0 Technologies For Learning: Current Landscape – Opportunities, Challenges and tensions. BECTA, United Kingdom.

Elliott, B. (2009). E-Pedagogy. Does e-learning require a new approach to teaching and learning? Accessed on 16 March from   http://www.scribd.com/doc/932164/E-Pedagogy

Head, B. (2010, March 15). School students may win social networking reprieve. iTWire. Retrieved from http://www.itwire.com

Krause K.L. Bochner, S, Duchesne, S. (2010). Educational Psychology for Learning and Teaching (3rd Edition) Cengage: Melbourne, Australia.

Moyle, K. (2010). Building Innovation: Learning with Technologies. Australian Council for Educational Research: Victoria, Australia.

Notley, T. (2008). ‘Online network use in schools: social and educational opportunities’. Youth Studies Australia 27(3):20-29.

Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills [Ofsted]. (2010).  The safe use of new Technologies. Ofsted: Manchester, United Kingdom.

Pauli, D. (2010, March 16). NSW gets world’s largest Wi-Fi network. Network World. Retreived from http://www.networkworld.com

Shaw, E. (2010, March 10). Cyber daft: Student laptops rendered ‘useless’. Illawarra Mercury. Retreived from http://www.illawarramercury.com.au   

Students’ learning goes digital. (2010, February 25) The Ridge News. Retrieved from http://www.theridgenews.com.au  

Tomazin, F. (2010, March 16). Online schools portal goes live. The Age. Retrieved from http://www.theage.com.au

Learning through social networking. ‘Social Capital’ vs Mitigating Risk March 28, 2010

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As I approach the end of my reading on this issue I’m concluding that both sides of the debate have very strong and quite persuasive arguments. But both sides also seem to be lacking the kind of empirical evidence needed land the knockout punch. To grossly oversimplify matters, in the one corner we have ‘the education authorities’, implementing measures (i.e. content blocking, restricting access to popular social networking sites, creating closed artificial ones) that they believe will protect our children from harm whilst operating within the physical or virtual school grounds.  We as parents and citizens expect and pay our government to provide this level of protection when our children are in its care. There is plenty of evidence available to support the view that strangers and bullies can and do seek to cause harm to children when using social network sites. As Notley and others have argued, sometimes the actual location of such harmful encounters is misunderstood or misconstrued, and not at all linked to activity on popular networking sites. However, instances have occurred, and are likely to occur again, and I feel it is right for governments to exercise a healthy degree of caution when determining these types of policies. Even one or two children harmed in circumstances where such harm could have been prevented is a cause for government and societal concern.

However, Notley, Byron, Moyle and Co. suggest a philosophical approach which would empower students to make the appropriate, independent choices about their online activities. After all, the minute they graduate college or high school, these folks need to be able to take care of themselves, right? How are they going to do that if they have been equipped with the critical thinking skills and literacy to operate in the now obiquitous online world? Unfortunately for scholars holding these quite defensible views, there may not yet be sufficienct empirical evidence to support a case for building ‘social capital’ in a way that justifies the full removal of safeguards to our children’s psychological welfare.

Perhaps, in the end, there is a danger in seeing this as one of the many dichotomous debates in education, for there is some degree of compromise and flexibility on both sides of the coin. As noted in my earlier post on the NSW government response to the laptop controversy, and as seen in the UK government’s endorsement of Byron’s report, governments do appear to be exhibiting more flexibility in these realms. Likewise, sensible advocates of the educational utility of social networking like Kathryn Moyle have not thrown the policy baby out with the bath water. While Moyle argues that we should embrace openly available online technologies in our teaching, she still acknowledges that these activities should be ‘secure, with appropriate access to the content being held as required by the respective members of the school community’ (2010, p.5) .

Provided everyone in this debate continues to have the interests of the child at heart, a collaborative approach is best. And we would all be better at doing that if we had been networking socially from an early age, no!?

Byron, T. (2008).  Safer children in a digital world: The report of the Byron Review, Department for Children, Schools and Families, and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, United Kingdom.

Crook, C., Cummings, J., Fisher, T., Graber, R., Harrison, C., Lewin, D., Logan, K., Luckin,R., Oliver,R., & Sharples, M. (2008).  Web2.0 Technologies For Learning: Current Landscape – Opportunities, Challenges and tensions. BECTA, United Kingdom.

Moyle, K. (2010). Building Innovation: Learning with Technologies. Australian Council for Educational Research: Victoria, Australia.

Notely, T. (2008). ‘Online network use in schools: social and educational opportunities’. Youth Studies Australia 27(3):20-29.

Office for Standards in Education, Children’s services and Skills [Ofsted]. (2010).  The safe use of new Technologies. Ofsted: Manchester, United Kingdom.

Social networking technologies in schools – every child’s right? March 27, 2010

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Tanya Notley’s article Online Network use in schools:social and educational opportunities has been a topic of discussion in our tutes this week, which is advantageous because it ties in with the new direction I have taken in my next assignment. Notley is strongly in favour of the educational use of popular Web2.0 social networking sites, arguing that  the information sharing, bonding and network expanding that occurs on social networking sites such as Facebook and Myspace can help students build the type of ‘social capital’ that leads to higher educational achievement and better health, among other things. This accords with most descriptions of the benefits of the Web2.0 technologies (For example Byron 2008, whom Notley cites heavily; and Cook et al 2008). Some of Kathryn Moyle’s recent work could be considered in the same light, although Moyle also makes explicit the need for educators to make learning activities more relevant and meangingful to students personally if they are going to be of any benefit (2010, p.5). I would argue that most of these scholars are applying a form of social constructivist learning theory to their arguments, or at least couching their ideas within that framework and vocabulary. Elliot (2009), who we covered last week, goes one step further, calling for a new pedagogy altogether, that of “connectivism”.

There are some aspects of Notley’s “Building Innovation” that could be challenged on critical grounds. For example, Byron’s report into the online safety of children in the UK is compared to QLD State education policy on content blocking as if the documents were of the same categorisation. Byron’s less heavy handed approach, with its focus on educating children and parents in ICT literacies and minimally disruptive government access restrictions, is offered up as a new paradigm for Australian educators. But the context in which it was drafted is entirely different to that of the QLD education policies. Byron was investigating the safety of children in general, that is, in the outside world – a realm in which the government can only suggest and promote home-based content blocking. But not necessarily enforce it. Applying controls over content within schools and on school laptops is a different matter entirely, it is easy to effect and often justified on duty of care grounds. As in QLD, it would appear that the practise of content blocking, or ‘management’ remains widespread in UK schools (Ofsted, 2010).

cyberbullying2_05

Having said that, the positive educational and personal development aspects of social networking, as posited by the scholars in the reference list below, would seem to flow logically from greater involvement on the sites in school settings. The problem for those on this side of the argument is the lack of evidence offering clear links between higher educational performance and the use of social networking tools. Given that the other side of the debate – ‘the authorities’ – are drawing upon assessments of risk and danger to children (i.e. from paedophiles, cyber-bullies etc), it would need to be some hefty empirical data to challenge the current status quo.    

Byron, T. (2008).  Safer children in a digital world: The report of the Byron Review, Department for Children, Schools and Families, and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, United Kingdom.

Crook, C., Cummings, J., Fisher, T., Graber, R., Harrison, C., Lewin, D., Logan, K., Luckin,R., Oliver,R., & Sharples, M. (2008).  Web2.0 Technologies For Learning: Current Landscape – Opportunities, Challenges and tensions. BECTA, United Kingdom.

Elliott, B. (2009). E-Pedagogy. Does e-learning require a new approach to teaching and learning? Accessed on 16 March from   http://www.scribd.com/doc/932164/E-Pedagogy

Moyle, K. (2010). Building Innovation: Learning with Technologies. Australian Council for Educational Research: Victoria, Australia.

Notely, T. (2008). ‘Online network use in schools: social and educational opportunities’. Youth Studies Australia 27(3):20-29.

Office for Standards in Education, Children’s services and Skills [Ofsted]. (2010).  The safe use of new Technologies. Ofsted: Manchester, United Kingdom.

A change of tack – investigating content blocking on Australia’s new school laptops March 23, 2010

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Having looked over some of the recent media reporting on the government’s laptop rollout in NSW schools, I’ve decided I might change tack with my forthcoming ELPC assignment. A seemingly healthy public debate has emerged over the online access restrictions placed on the new laptops.

KRudd's Toolbox

Students from across the State, and even some of their parents, have claimed the laptops are of little educational use given the students’ inability to access social networking sites on them (Shaw, 2010). It’s refreshing to see some examples of progressive parents rolled out in relation to ICT literacy. But it’s also refreshing to see that the government response to these calls has not been (entirely) heavy handed but instead flexible and open to negotiation (Crozier, 2010; Head, 2010). At face value, State Education and Training Minister Verity Firth’s comments – that some restrictions could be relaxed in consultation with parents and teachers associations on a rewards basis – sounded entirely reasonable to me.   

Crozier, R., & Kotadia, M. (2010, March 16). NSW to relax content blocking on school networks. Endpoint Security. Retrieved from http://www.securecomputing.net.au

Head, B. (2010, March 15). School students may win social networking reprieve. iTWire. Retrieved from http://www.itwire.com

Pauli, D. (2010, March 16). NSW gets world’s largest Wi-Fi network. Network World. Retreived from http://www.networkworld.com

Shaw, E. (2010, March 10). Cyber daft: Student laptops rendered ‘useless’. Illawarra Mercury. Retreived from http://www.illawarramercury.com.au

A revolution by the government???? March 20, 2010

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By way of orientation, a quick and broadbrushed run down on the Australian Government’s so-called Digital Education Revolution (DER), a term coined by Labour Party leader and now Prime Minister Kevin Rudd during his successful 2007 election campaign

Goals

According to the DER website, which is administered by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEER), the Digital Education Revolution is

“to contribute sustainable and meaningful change to teaching and learning in Australian schools that will prepare students for further education, training and to live and work in a digital world.” 

$$$$$

Now that I’ve convinced myself that ICT is here to stay and is something that as a teacher I should learn to embrace, I’m happy that our government is spending our tax-payer money on such a vision, some $2.2 billion over six years to be exact. But it does sound like a HUGE amount when you put it like that – this is something I’ll have to revisit. Anyway, here’s where the money’s going. It should:

  • “provide for new information and communication technology (ICT) equipment for all secondary schools with students in years 9 to12 through the National Secondary School Computer Fund
  • support the deployment of high speed broadband connections to Australian schools
  • collaborate with states and territories and Deans of Education to ensure new and continuing teachers have access to training in the use of ICT that enables them to enrich student learning
  • provide for online curriculum tools and resources that support the national curriculum and specialist subjects such as languages
  • enable parents to participate in their child’s education through online learning and access
  • support mechanisms to provide vital assistance for schools in the deployment of ICT”

 Partnerships and Planning

The DER is implemented in educational institutions under two types of different partnership arrangements. Government schools come under the “Digital Revolution National Partnership with the State and Territories”, while private and independent institutions are governed by “Digital Education Revolution Funding Agreements”. All of this is guided by the DER Strategic Plan and Roadmap and a series of associated guidelines. The agreements, plans and guidelines are all available on the DER website.

Priorities and Timeframes

Inside the DER Strategic Plan there is a good visual representation of the government’s DER Priorities and Timeframes:

(Source: DEEWR, 2008:10)

It’s noteworthy that quite a few milestones were planned to have been achieved by and around now (March 2010). That’s enough of this (very dry) orientation for the moment, but I’m sure we’ll be able to get a good sense of how the government is tracking with these milestones after my next blog, which will deal with hot DER issues in the contemporary Australian media. Stay tuned!!!