Saturday, September 20, 2008

21st Century Focus at Conferences... near and far...

Hands On: Literacy in the 21st Century Classroom and Library is the one-day conference our Singapore international school librarian network is putting on Saturday, 15 November 2008 at the Australian International School Singapore. It's modeled on the Teach IT conference of the IT educator network, which was offered in November 2005 and 2007. Note that anyone is welcome to attend, whether you work in Singapore or not.

We're still at the Call for Workshops stage (until Sep. 30th). Topics can cover all forms of literacy, whether visual, digital, information, critical, mathematical, historical, scientific, political, media, cultural, spatial, social, ethical, or the traditional textual. We especially welcome workshops with a "hands-on" component or practical application of theory.

Wish I could have attended the Learning 2.0 conference up in Shanghai this week, but with a new campus we were in lock-down mode for the month of September. Others, from our old campus, did get to go, e.g., Ben Morgan gave a workshop on Creating a 21st Century Learning Environment in Your School: From Strategic Vision to Reality (his slide presentation and handouts are available for download from that link page). As IT director, his take is the big picture and I appreciate we've come a long way, however, I still chafe at StudyWiz and its inability to let people roam around and see what other teachers are doing. It's structure is basically silos, or, what happens in your classroom stays in your classroom. It may suit secondary, but not primary. Though we at the East Campus are trying to find ways to be as open as possible, using the StudyWiz junior interface.

Roaming around the Learning 2.0 conference ning, "21st Century" jumps out as a major buzzword. Note these workshop sessions:
Kim gave a workshop at the Teach-IT conference last November here in Singapore and her school, ISB (International School of Bangkok), is pursuing 21st century goals with a passion. See, for example, their ongoing professional development wiki, 21st Century Literacy, complete with minutes of meetings, teams, projects, resources, etc.

Videos and the US election

As an American overseas, I'm leery of mentioning the US too much. It's wise to keep a low profile/voice. We're not liked. Having said that, I can't help but note two great videos about the election.

The Common Craft Show excels at simple video explanations. Here's their latest, on how the US electoral college works (or why voters don't directly elect the president):

If you have been following any of the Sarah Palin media circus, you will appreciate this send-up of Sarah Palin and Hilary Clinton from Saturday Night Live, a comedy show:

Tina Fey, Saturday Night Live's former head writer and creator of the show 30 Rock, appeared with SNL's Amy Poehler as Hillary Clinton to "battle sexism" in the show's opening skit.

Michael Wesch, Media Literacy, and Classroom Portals

Michael Wesch is a professor of digital ethnography who has learned both from his students and with his students. His videos -- A Vision of Students Today, The Machine is Us/ing Us, and Information R/evolution -- are well known.

Over the summer he did two major presentations, with overlapping content, summarizing his work with students and providing a good overview of the cultural history of YouTube and the role of digital media in learning. He rebuts the digital native/immigrant distinction, saying we're all natives now in this rapidly changing digital environment. He also confirms that while students have been exposed to a lot of media, it does not follow that they are media literate.

One was "An anthropological introduction to YouTube" given at the Library of Congress, June 23, 2008.

The other, "A Portal to Media Literacy" or "Michael Wesch on the Future of Education", was presented at the University of Manitoba on June 17, 2008. This is the one I recommend for teachers, as it was aimed at educators. Wesch has only been teaching for four years and the story of his own learning path is fascinating. (NB: it runs for about an hour, so get a glass of wine or a cappuccino in hand before you start.)

Wesch keeps asking, how can we create students who create meaningful connections? How do we create significance?

He offers this wonderful quote from Barbara Harrell Carson (1996, Thirty Years of Stories):
Students learn what they care about from people they care about and who, they know, care about them.
He discusses first finding a grand narrative to provide context and relevance (i.e., semantic meaning, or a big picture), then creating a learning environment that values and leverages the learners themselves (i.e., personal meaning) -- doing both in a way that realizes and leverages the existing media environment. He asks, how do we move students from being knowledgeable to being knowledge-able?

Wesch uses Netvibes to provide a platform for student participation: Mediated Cultures: Digital Ethnography at Kansas State University

On a much smaller scale, for much younger students, Keri-Lee and I are playing around with Pageflakes to create a portal for our primary school students. My plan is to make a separate Library tab on the page.

Self-Organizing Learning

It's not just a new school year, but also a new colony of a school, that makes me interested in people uncovering new patterns of learning in children, e.g., how they learn without any teachers involved.

Sugata Mitra is behind the "Hole in the Wall" project in India where kids were given access to a screen and a keypad and the internet -- and left to learn it by themselves. In his TED talk -- Can Kids Teach Themselves? -- he also addresses the role teacher attitudes play in kids' learning.

Different research -- this time on teenagers who have plenty of quality access to the internet -- reveals the same self-organizing learning at work, thanks to videogames.

I was trying to think about how to watch students learn something technical on their own but in groups (a la Sugata Mitra's experience). Then suddenly there it was, happening in front of me. Keri-Lee teaches ICT in the other end of the resource center and she was busy helping one student at a terminal. Meanwhile, another child had got hold of the interactive whiteboard pen and was experimenting with whatever had been left up on the screen. Three or four students clustered around, shouting out suggestions of what to press and what to try. Made me think we should leave it up running every break and lunchtime, just to let that group learning continue.

It also made me think about how best to introduce our new library search catalog, when it's ready to go. Might just force them to work in groups of four (even though we have enough terminals for a one-to-one session) and make it a treasure hunt with no instructions, e.g., you have 20 minutes to see how many different things you can do with the new online catalog.