Saturday, 29 May 2010

Web Power

Where does the power of the Web lie? Are we preparing students for Web power?

I'd like to take up connectivism as it pertains to the writing process relative to these questions. After looking over a few readings prior to this post (Will Richardson's post on 'Connective Writing' was a good source), after completing two COTAIL Projects—most recently on Fair Use Policy and Practice, and after having spent the last five weeks having my advanced English as an Additional Language (EAL) students complete a Web 2.0 research and blog writing project, I'm convinced that web/ blog writing, especially for the second language (L2) learner, is a distinct genre and one that requires some explicit instruction.

It's the idea of 'live' writing that Richardson refers to. It's not that writers can't stop in the middle of writing for fear the idea can't be saved, but it's more the concept that the 'great unknown' audience is out there and can be connected to within the time it takes to click onto a link. And that great unknown holds the writer accountable for meaningful ideas to be shared and for meaningful ideas to be conveyed clearly. Richardson goes on to ask:
Are their certain skills or nuances around “flowwriting” for live audiences that we need to teach and nurture? Certain “rules” or norms for use?
So, I like this 'flowwriting.' It reminds me of 'stream of consciousness' writing that any high school student learns about in high school English literature (one prime example being the Holden character in Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger). But is flowwriting capturing that 'interior monologue of thought and feeling' in the same way? Or is there an inherent process going on inside the mind as the writer writes. As I metacognize writing this post, I do feel a sense of exposing my interior monologue, but maybe it's the level of coherence that differs. In the stream of consciousness, you can let your style wander and not worry too much about coherence or even whether the reader can follow along, but here, I am concerned with the reader following my line of thinking. But in either case, whether you expect a writer to use stream of consciousness as a particular style say in a pastiche, or you expect the writer to produce a blog in class, both require identification of text type (this 'Basic Text Types' has been adapted for use in the K-12 EAL department put together), appropriate vocabulary, verb tense, sentence structure and other language features.

Let's have a closer look at the text types here and see where blog writing might fit.

Is it more 'Diary/ reflection'?How about 'Exposition'?'Discussion'?'Persuasion'?
More 'Multiple texts'?

The 'multiple texts' text type is a safe guess at this point, but a more extensive analysis is required (and beyond the scope of this post and beyond the descriptions in these charts). But I am inclined to have a closer look at what constitutes the text type of blog writing and to make this explicit to my L2 students. And, as it goes without saying, most often, these explicit descriptions work well for all students to work with. Given that students are blogging in the elementary school, are assumptions made that students automatically know how to write a blog? And, in the high school, wouldn't it be to everyone's advantage to prepare students to write their blogs well as they enter college and the workplace where blog writing abounds?

Recently, I asked for student feedback in my Theory of Knowledge (ToK) class (#14) regarding the value of their blog posts for understanding the knowledge issues we've studied. One student responded that of course it's of value:

It's preparation for my world of writing and communication.
Then when I sat to write this post, I made the connection (connectivism?) that there's a bigger picture here. One that points to the 'ole 'scope and sequence' in curriculum writing, whereby we collaborate between schools and determine what needs to be taught where so that we are preparing students for the type of communicating they are doing and will be doing (unless blog writing is a mere fad). In 'Kids Don't Try This at Home...' by Jennifer Brown Banks, Franky Branckaute, one commenter, has an interesting idea:
Not every ‘writer’ is a great ‘blogger’ and not every ‘blogger’ is a great author.
But every blogger has the potential to be a great author. And in reading through the rest of the comments, I agree that the distinction seems more to be between being great at something vs. just being able to do something, as well as recognizing the distinction between formal and informal blog writing.

So, given our ISB standards, we choose the 'great' standard for most everything, which supports the argument for incorporating blog writing into language arts/ language curriculum somewhere and making its text type explicit so we can work to assess it.

And in asking where the power of the Web lies? I'd say it lies at the heart of our ability to effectively communicate in writing.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Whose responsibility is it to teach students to be safe online?

Well, this Q obviously seems to point to 2 main constituents: parents & educators. In terms of educators, without the backing of a more powerful force, like a government, educators may fall short of being able to enforce whatever policies are set out in schools (even interna-
tional schools). It seems like 'teaching students to be safe online' also involves a set of policies that would drive the curriculum. In the States, this may be a little easier given the laws being written probably even as I write this blog post. I found these US cyber bullying state laws and policies that seem to be the result of the barn door being closed after the horse has left.

But, maybe that's how these laws and policies have to be manifested. I also found this law in Thailand that will require user tracking in Internet cafes. Although a double-edged sword hinting at violation of freedom at the expense of security, this seems to be the crux of the solution, if we are in agreement with the underlying assumption that local and government laws are fundamental to policies for educational institutions.

My husband and I recently had dinner with a friend from the States who plans to pursue a degree in Internet Law. Being a digital native he's fascinated by the unseen growing demand to figure out jurisprudence for the new web world we're in. He believes he'll be entering an ultra-dynamic world whereby laws will be written, revised and rewritten according to the new crimes that manifest with the new online developments, like cyberbullying issue that Facebook is currently grappling with.

And, we members of society, are found to be in agreement with another fundamental in ethics as part of the Ethical Domains I described in my previous post: that of not harming others (Domain 1). To further the point, 'the harming of innocents' is even worse. So, as various stories unravel, we learn of victims (especially young ones) of 'crimes' like cyberbullying, like the Palo Alto student who was victim of a hate group. Or, rather I would say members of society are in agreement with not harming others, again, until it crosses the line of freedom of speech (which BTW is under 'fairness/ rights' in Domain 2). Interesting article in the Tech Herald about Facebook's attempt to appease those in an uproar over the hate group incident, yet others who fear their freedom of speech is further eroding. It's a battle over these two fundamental values, and according to the J. Haidt research, it's more of a battle among liberals who tend to hold these domains as more important than conservatives. Try taking the 'Moral Foundations Questionnaire' at to see how you fair with these two domains.

Despite the counterclaims out there about our freedom being further jeopardized by yet another law or policy, it seems to me that it's more a matter of getting the new law/policy in and the old ones out, rather than just adding new ones. I'm hoping that more young people entering Internet Law like our dinner friend will be able to keep pace with the needs as they arise, and maybe be able to find that balance between freedom and security. Then, maybe we educators can also find the proper balance.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Do we as a global society need to rethink copyright laws? What's our role as educators in copyright usage in schools?

Do we as a global society need to rethink copyright laws? What's our role as educators in copyright usage in schools?

I'd say my initial response to the first essential question here is a no-brainer. Given that we already have so many dilemmas from 'owners' and consumers using digital technologies, we can't remain complacent and accept the 'laws' that are out there. The two examples of young people being exploited by web-posted photos: Allison Stokke, high school athlete and 'virgin', Allison Chang illustrate the problem. What's funny about these laws is that they seem antiquated. In the Ted Talks VDO on 'How creativity is being strangled by the law,' Larry Lessig eloquently points out that we're not using our collective 'common sense' when it comes to what's 'right and wrong' with copyright laws given the changing times. Are people, especially young people, the 'read-write culture' just wanting to express their creativity out of a love of what they're doing as an objective, rather than seeking commercial gain? I love the Bush & Blaire remix in Lessig's talk!
How can democratic societies guarantee freedom at the same time guaranteeing security and fairness in the Web 2.0 world? It seems as if we're moving in the right direction with the creative commons licensing, whereby informed people make informed choices before making the final click on an upload.

I'm reminded here of the 5 Ethical Domains described by Jonathan Haidt, Moral Psychologist at the University of Virginia in his book: The Happiness Hypothesis, whereby he sets out 5 universal ethical domains that seemed to be shared by humans across cultures. I made the diagram seen on this post for my Theory of Knowledge class based on these domains, since we grapple with ethical questions tied to various facets of life. 'Fairness' fits the second domain and respect for authority fits the fourth domain. Given that Haidt's research suggests that fairness is a fundamental value held by all (although political liberals hold fairness as more dear than respect for authority) and given that typically adolescents challenge the authority domain, this digital clash becomes more understandable. The youth want to rebel no matter what, and given the restrictions held by copyright laws, there's lots to get their teeth into. All seek fairness. Who would ever argue against the premise that fairness is an important value? Liberals tend to lead revolutions, so maybe the more liberal-minded will help bridge this generation gap before we educators lose more connections with young people.

And, as far as our role as educators?
We need to look for ways to embrace the younger generation, rather than widen the generation gap. There's a new definition of literacy or an extension of the literacy we've been used to, i.e. digital literacy, that we have to acknowledge. As Lessig says:

It's how our kids understand access to this culture... how they think--what they are & their relationship to themselves
So, it's that delicate balance and our responsibility as educators to achieve it with today's students. We want to avoid the 'growing extremism' that is resulting from the 'extremism' on copyright laws that lawyers must love getting their teeth into. Does the 'private solution' that Lessig talks about involve us? It does to the extent that even at a school level, we can make agreements among our inhouse experts as to acceptable use (specifically the Acceptable Use Policy like the High School one recently developed). I'd say we do still need to ensure that its' a 'practical set of guidelines' and if we need to revise it along the way to ensure that it is, that we consider it a dynamic policy, rather than a set one.

I'm a firm believer of teaching critical thinking skills and the use of reason as a fundamental key to whatever other policy or manual or set of dictates we come up with. In the end, kids have to make their own decisions. And if they believe that we truly want them to, they'll rise to the occasion. Gone are the days where we have the exclusive right to be teachers. We're all teachers in this day and age in the classroom and if we as teachers don't already know that, our students do!