Archive for category media caution

The Internet might be an extension of the Panopticon—SM might be a prison after all.

 A short little post that might be too much of a downer–I’ll be more positive next time:

I began a mini-unit entitled “the architecture of control.” with my students the other day.  Our introduction centers around Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon.  In Michal Foucault’s now famous analysis of it (in “Discipline and Punishment”), he concludes that Bentham made visibility a trap.  By being visible all the time, prisoners had to regulate and normalize their own behaviours because they were constantly able to be scrutinized.  Visibility was a mechanism that made us partners with authorities to limit our own autonomy and homogenize our behaviours.  Conformity becomes normalized; difference is viewed as dissent or with suspicion.

 While this is certainly true in prisons, many hold it to be true in society as well.  One might also extend the argument to include our online culture.  We are being watched while online.  As I type this, departments in my school board are recording my computer use—it is tied to my account and this computer specifically. Companies place cookies on our browsers; they compile our profiles; they data mine our purchases; and increasingly, law enforcement is entering the data mining and surveying game as well.  Everywhere I go, I leave a digital foot print that is permanently attached to my identity.  With this kind of surveillance, I had better conform.  The only chance I have to remain anonymous is to hide in the anonymity of the data stream—to do that is simple—don’t stand out!  Conform!  Monitor my own behaviour!  Regular my autonomy to coincide with society’s expectations!

Our students are being introduced into an environment that might ultimately end up controlling them rather then freeing them.  It might force them to regulate themselves and each other.  It might teach them to view with suspicion those who act differently.  It might add conformity to our world, not diversity.  Even in our most enthusiastic embrace of the Internet and SM, let us at least for a moment consider that we might be wrong—it might not be a perfect world after all.  If we do that, we might end up better preparing our students for some of the possible difficulties they might encounter…

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Don’t teach with tech until you know what you’re doing (did I really just say that?)

 I was talking to @mbcampbell360 on twitter the other day…oops…did you catch it? I of course wasn’t talking; I was using Twitter, the micro-blogging publishing and broadcasting service, …but I digress…. I was reminiscing about an old friend who liked to learn as he went. He’d not really plan and think things out—for him, the first idea was always the best and it was “go time” – time to explore. Often this led him into trouble…I remember the 40 ft ladder falling off the building into the parking lot, I remember the 100 year old tree falling the wrong way and almost crushing most of my cottage guests (don’t worry, it only rushed the outhouse-vacant!). I think this “don’t worry-it will all work out-you don’t need to have deep understanding of what you are doing or the consequences of such” is a very worrying trend in education right now…

I am getting a little concerned by the level of ignorance we tolerate, even encourage, in teachers using digital technology and SM with their students.  Often educators insist that the tech shouldn’t be “the lesson”, but a tool–its not about the tech!  I agree with their reasons, but it does also allow teachers to have a cavalier attitude to tech instruction.  I believe there is a vast amount of instruction to be done regarding the tech. before it is opened to be used by students as a tool (you can see the process I went through before students were encouraged to blog and tweet here: -its not tech specific; studetns can still explore).  This requires the teacher to learn it first. 

I’d like to highlight 2 tweets that were sent recently (without identifying the person—while these were sent by individuals, I feel that they represent common trends in education):

“hey PLN…I need help. I’ve borrowed 10 iP@ds for two months to use with my class. What are must-have apps?” This concerns me a bit. While it may be the case that she already has well thought out reasons and uses already planned for these iPads (well not certain, but hoping), I guess my fear is that she doesn’t. That she is going to do some exploring with her kids and see what they can do. That she’s going to teach them the technology (or let them explore and learn undirected) rather then a learning goal. For her and her class, I worry, that it will be about the technology and it will be directionless and without other learning goals. It will be dangerous.

another tweet was:

“introduced the Ipads to my kids yesterday and was AMAZED (sic) with what they came up with!” While it is sometimes the case that our students surprise us, and there can be no happier occasion then when students exceed our expectations; nonetheless, I can’t help but fear that this teacher really had no idea what she was doing with the iPads to further their learning. If they outstrip your expectations in the introduction, the process you went through to develop your expectations was flawed. It could be she’s only talking about how surprised she was at their speed of ‘mastery’ but the fear lingers in me regardless.

I’ve written about this metaphor before, but I’d like to explore it more fully. Teaching SM to students should be done like driving instructors. We should be experts first, our exploring days should be behind us, and we should advise caution (you can see the original here: ).

Experts first:

We used to talk about deep understanding and master teachers. Of course now we talk about innovators and experimenters and willingness to fail. While these are desirable traits at times, I’m not sure that using SM with students is one of them. Assuming for the moment that SM is a powerful learning tool, shouldn’t that power have a little direction. If it is a powerful opportunity, it is all the more tragic when it is squandered and wasted. If anyone feels there is no wrong way to use it; that it is so intuitive you don’t need deep understanding, or it is so powerful that in can overcome the instructor’s ignorance, then let them come forward and argue it below; otherwise, me must posit that increasing our knowledge increases the power of the tool. It was the master teacher who know many teaching techniques (TDSB and YRDSB—remember Instructional intelligence?) and had the deep understanding to know when and how to apply them to extend and maximize student learning. Sure kids can learn on their own, sure they can learn in spite of our ignorance- but wouldn’t a knowledgeable instructor help? Can we afford inefficient models of teaching? Are we being professional if we utilize them? The answer used to be a resounding and emphatic no. What changed? What role do we play better wrapped in ignorance like scholarly garb?

Out exploring days should be behind us:

We should be masters in technology and SM firs; before we introduce it to our students. What other subject would we tolerate such teacher ignorance? As students progress in school, should they be more tolerant of it or less? Should primary teachers not understand young kids or not be masters of reading and teaching techniques? Is there any other place that we praise teachers for not knowing and for learning concurrently with their students so completely? It really bothers me to hear teachers talk about using SM to have a conversation—they aren’t conversations. They are broadcast and publishing mediums permanently attached to your identity. They are advertisement delivery services-neither free or safe (without understanding). I have said several times: read some Neil Postman, and some Danah Boyd. If you are going to bring minors into this environment, you had better understand it. Would you bring them into any other environment that you weren’t knowledgeable in? The forest? The subway? A desert? On a Frozen pond? How can we prepare, utilize, trouble shoot, assist, protect, and guide effectively when we don’t have deep understanding of what’s happening?

Advise caution:

look before you leap! Check your mirrors! Look both ways! Don’t talk to strangers! In unknown or alterable situations, we advise caution. Why wouldn’t we be cautious with SM and digital technology? Imagine our driving instructor saying such things as, “I don’t know, lets find out!”, “lets see what this can do!” , “feel free to explore a bit!”, “don’t be afraid to make mistakes”, “the highways work by everyone being nice to each other, don’t worry, people will help you!” Hmmm…Of course, you have to be knowledgeable to realize there are dangers on the Net and such. This is especially true because of all the bad advice about how safe and wonderful it is. Of course it is these things, but just like a car, it is only true when the conditions are right and you know what you are doing.

Some one else tweeted: “When introduced to a new technology, I’ve never heard a student say, “when’s the workshop?’” I hope that when you teach it to them, you do it with such rigor that they would never need to say that. I hope that when intorduced to tech, you did it with in the frame work of a workshop—why wouldn’t you? If you leave them not understanding, you have failed them and left them at risk. Don’t use Tech. Until you know how to use Tech. Don’t teach tech. until you know how to teach it and use it to teach.

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Eventually, I say we need to add ‘forgiving’ to our practise of Digital Citizenship…


Eventually, I say we need to add ‘forgiving’ to our meaning of Digital Citizenship…

A couple months ago, I lost my enthusiasm for blogging. At some point during the discussions on twitter, my blog; and other blogs, about my post, “Should Kindergarteners be on Twitter?” I realized I was no longer enjoying it. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I learned some lessons from it, but I still found it hard to move past it and post again (yes I have two posts after it, but they were written and posted as the conversation was continuing about kindergarten). I have many ideas for posts that I’d like to write, and I think about them quite a lot, but I need to get past that discussion first. I hoping this blog will be part of that and a start to push me to write more. I haven’t read through the comments again but I know someday I will…The part that dragged me down the most was, during the discussion I was constantly (or so it seemed) labeled arrogant (something I felt/feel was unwarranted).

I think that comments sometimes become the context your post is evaluated in; you’re known by the company you keep, as it were. Once someone labels you as arrogant or any other label, it pushes others to see you similarly—where they might have given you the benefit of the doubt before, the context of “arrogant’ pushes them to interrupt your writing a similar way. No matter how: I tried to soften my message; I tried to leave parts of it as agree to disagree; I tried to accept part or at least partly accept what others were writing, I could not escape the charge of arrogance once it had been raised. I think that I had a sense of the ‘principle of context’ before I started. One of the reasons I argue / respond to my comments at such length is because I don’t want to leave it to influence others….I want them to consider my points separate from the context (at least initially….after they have formed their initial impression of me or my point, then other comments just serve to give them more to consider rather then a light to understand me by…). I think this is something basic about blogging that we all should understand…

Why does this happen?

I think that people are influenced by the context of text on the Internet more than in face-to-face. Ads, fonts, comments, etc are perhaps used to replace some of the missing information that we’ve evolved to seek out and interpret in face-to-face communication. I’ve heard many times that most of out communication is non-verbal. People point out: tone, pitch, speed, facial expression, body language, social context as aspects of communication that help construct and interpret meaning. On a blog these aspects are largely missing. We get a shadow of the rich communication we are used to. In the absence of these aspects, people are still looking for more information to inform their interpretation or that information is streamed to them unbidden to enhance/obscure the original intent.

Because we are writing for the invisible audience in a de-contextualized, persistent way, messages require more interpretation on the part of the receiver to construct meaning. Because more is required from the receiver, they influence their interpretation of meaning more. Because of this, there is inherently more chance of misunderstanding intent/meaning on the Internet then there is is face-to-face communication.

Given the above premises, what should we do? I would like us to emphasize a new component of digital citizenship (could be just the emphasis that is new). People are good at articulating the need to be polite and thoughtful as part of citizenship; now I am suggestion they also have to push the need to: give the benefit of the doubt; be generous in your interpretation of others; realize your influence on the message you’ve decoded; seek clarification; be empathic; and most importantly, be forgiving.

This will help everyone, including your students. On web 2.0 tools people are learning. Inherent in that statement is that they will make mistakes (me, you, your students). The mistakes can be many and varied. You may be teaching your kids to be careful and thoughtful, but obviously they will make mistakes too. It behooves all of us to make an environment that is tolerant of mistakes, understanding of mistakes, and forgiving of mistakes. This needs to be part of out digital citizenship as well because without it -because social media is persistent and scalable– it is too dangerous an environment to learn in….people will be labeled, judged, regarded on their learning process, not themselves at the ‘end’ of the journey or after they’ve learned more…

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Learning to use social media shouldn’t be like learning to ride a bicycle, it should be like learning to drive a car.


 Learning to use social media shouldn’t be like learning to ride a bicycle, it should be like learning to drive a car.

Generally, children start to be taught to ride a bike when they are physically able to learn. We start by doing. We don’t worry too much about them going too fast or too far as they are still young and are watched by their parents. They are also small so going too fast is rarely a concern. We don’t worry too much about the rules of the road; those come later. The rules aren’t that important to their learning process because they are, again, not going far, not fast, there’s always a parent around. Often, the rules of the road are immaterial as they are learning on paths, parks or parking lots. Eventually, we teach them all that as they begin to go farther away from a parents gaze. Eventually, we fill them in about the dangers and the we warn them about the rules. Maybe we wait so we don’t dampen their enthusiasm; maybe we don’t want to worry them. In any case, it doesn’t really matter, they have plenty of time to learn the rules as they go. There is little danger in learning to ride a bike this way.

Learning to drive a car is a radically different process. First, we wait until we think they are old enough to handle the responsibility safely. Teens are physically able to drive a car long before we begin to teach them; obviously, we feel the dangers / responsibilities are a more important criteria then mere physical strength. When they are finally viewed as old enough, we still delay their participation in social driving.

First, we teach them the theory. Either by studying a book and taking a test, or by taking classes, or most often by doing both, we are finally ready to take them on guided lessons about driving. Then, at least in Ontario, they go through a 2 year probation period before we give them full access. As a society we take learning to drive very seriously. We are proactive in mitigating the risk. We have professionals who are aware of the dangers, not just the advantages of driving, teach them to be safe. No instructor says, “wow, look what a car can do – explore! Test the limits!”

Even though they grew up in a culture where cars are the norm, even though they are natives in a driving culture and can’t imagine a world without it, we take the time to make sure that they are ready before we let them drive on their own.

I think we should be as responsible and serious about teaching them to use social media; I think pretending its like a bike is irresponsible and harmful.

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Should Kindergarteners be using Twitter?

 Last week I offended someone. For those of you who know me, that might not come as a shock, but I’d like you to bare with me. I was reading an article about Twitter in a kindergarten classroom. I re-tweeted it and called it reckless.

@ginrob_pt P. Tucker

Rather read about their understanding of SM and privacy-reckless! MT @OISELibrary How a SK class uses Twitter to learn

@happycampergirl was good enough to engage me about it on twitter, and I am hoping she will respond to this post. Since my initial re-tweet, I’ve learned more about her and what she is doing. Not that she needs my approval, but I think she’s doing a good job. She seems to have the current privacy of her students well in hand, and she is using twitter to do really interesting stuff. She has found a way to use it for a very engaging, authentic, ongoing, literacy, learning activity. If you disagree with my objections below, you should check out her blog about it @ . If you disagree with my points, you could hardly find a better use for Twitter with kindergarten students; however, if I were a parent of one of those children, I would not have signed the parental consent form; I would not allow my child to participate. By the end of the post, one of 3 things will be apparent: 1) I was reckless to call her reckless; 2) she was somewhat reckless in using twitter; or 3) we both were reckless.

Objection 1: The invisible curriculum.

By using Twitter in the manner described in her blog, this teacher is violating the terms of use set out by Twitter. This, and behaviour like this, has the unfortunate effect of teaching students 2 lessons that we should wish to avoid. First, one is teaching their students that they don’t have to behave ethically by modeling this behaviour. The “terms of use” are an explicit social contract. Twitter is a free service but it is not freely offered. The conditions for use must be followed; Twitter is someone’s intellectual property. You have no right to it unless you follow their conditions. If one wishes them to be different, petition the company or attempt to get an injunction…in either case, in order to fulfill the requirements for ethical behaviour as set out by social contract theory and by our courts, we must abide by their conditions in the meanwhile. Second, students are learning to ignore the “terms of use.” By passing them off as unimportant you are helping to foster a climate where people ignore the fine print. I don’t think this is a safe mentality, nor is it one that will guard their privacy or utility in years to come. If you aren’t worried about you students learning these lessons because they are too young to grasp the concepts; well, I might agre.  This, however, brings me to my second objection (later): if students are too young to grasp the complexities of the digital environment, perhaps they are too young to be using it.

It is startling that people in education want to extend the reach of a company in the market place, even to places it doesn’t dare go on its own. Twitter has rejected young children as a market to deliver to its advertisers; why are teachers trying to do it for them? Has twitter seen a danger we haven’t? Have we even asked?

Objection 2: Do they understand it?

The digital media environment is complex and difficult to understand. It is frustrating, but without a deep understanding, my warnings fail to alarm people; I find those who understand media better are more receptive to my arguments for caution.  Twitter, for example is not a conversation; it is not the same as talking to someone.  Twitter is a publishing and broadcasting system; it is also a business with a complex business strategy.  How can one properly prepare kids to use media, if s/he doesn’t understand media theory?  My objection is: teachers might not know the dangers that are out there (and there are out there); therefore, it is dangerous for them to lead their kids into SM.

I use twitter for limited purposes with my intermediate gifted students in late January or February, depending on when they are ready – when they know enough. I think kindergarten is necessarily too young. 10 % of them still cry on Monday mornings; some believe in Santa Clause (even that Virginia kid); that a bunny hides chocolate eggs for them to find because the world is a wondrous place; at least half of them don’t understand the difference between commercials and TV shows; they certainly don’t understand the techniques or reasons for them. Sadly, I think most teachers don’t understand the digital environment either.

One can’t just read “Here Comes Everybody” by Clay Shirky or watch him on, though those are a start. He and other technophiles are great and inspiring but not necessarily critical or cautionary. Teachers have to read things like: “Understanding Media,” by Marshal McLuhan; “Amusing ourselves to death,” or “informing Ourselves to Death.” by Neil Postman. Teachers have to analyze media like Twitter using something like this: . Do you think it is a conversation they are having? Then you haven’t read by Danah Boyd, or by Alexis Madrigal.  Teachers even need to figured where their students or even themselves reside in Twitter’s business model?

If you do understand all this, do your students? teachers might be able to keep them safe in their class, but by normalizing twitter at such an early age, students/children will not approach it critically the next time. They won’t give it the respect/caution in needs. (“ahhh, no big deal, we used it in kindergarten; I know all about it)…will they use it next year or in two years by themselves? Do their parents now think it is harmless because it was introduced in school?

What’s the rush? There must be other less abstract ways to get your students to relate and talk to others. What advantages does the digital environment offer to kindergarten students that cannot be replicated by other means? What great advantage outweighs the negatives? Eventual participation is not an argument for early exposure. Students will do all manner of things when they grow up: drive, drink, enter committed sexual relationships….is early expose necessary? I think that they are too young.

Yes, @happycampergirl and others are doing great things with Twitter…but there are other great things they could do (I have no doubt). Things that are age appropriate that their students will better understand. Use media that is more immediate, mundane and less abstract. Have them talk and read to each other or the class down the hall. Why, in our multicultural schools, do we have to abstract an opinion from across the world? They are right across the hall. Make a chat room by arranging your desks in a circle. Get them to know each other and share their diverse opinions.

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Technology and the alphabet

I have decided to change the alphabet. There are several things I have always hated about it and it is time to fix / change them. First, I have always hated that there was no letter for the TH sound. Surely so popular a sound deserves its own letter. I have chosen % to be known as the letter “Tum” (unfortunately, the closest approximation is the percent sign; the difference is that the circles are supposed to be touching the line for the letter “Tum”). I have also always hated the arbitrary nature of the order; I propose to change it. All stick letters first, followed by stick and curve, then stick and circle letters and finally “O” will be last as it should be. I want to do more changes but %ey will have to wait.

I can do %is because %e alphabet is an invention; it was made and can be modified. It doesn’t reflect any natural order. It is a technology as is %e language %at it encodes. Often we hear %e term technology used to refer to computer or electronic devices but %is is misleading. It is one small category of technology and deserves to be treated as such. Some of %e earliest technologies invented were part of %e Oldwan culture and predate modern humans by about 2.4 million years. Ano%er important technology was fire, which has been purposefully used for about 400 000 years. %e technology %at allowed %e Homo genus to colonize Europe successfully was placing stones around a fire.

Wi% so many different technologies available, focusing on electronic technology seems risky. Aren’t chairs in a circle social media? Why is listening to a Ted Talk inherently better %en listening to a teacher? Why is Skype better %en letter writing or talking to %e primary class downstairs?

 Pencils are technology too and a powerful one at %at. It is still %e pen %at is mightier %en %e sword not %e netbook.

 PS…there are 21 % (Tums) used in %is (oops, I mean 22) post since its invention…see how important a sound it is…


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Educational video games?…Huxley and Postman role over in their graves

@missnoor28 is a terrific person to follow on twitter for teachers as she shares an abundance of sources and is always ready to answer a personal request or offer her help.  Last week, she asked me to explain a recent tweet of mine:  “@ginrob_pt I wish we could block twts with key words. I’d block “Educational Video Games” & pretend tht Huxley was wrong #EduJo#EdTech#Edchat#Gaming,” and then she asked me, “What was wrong with educational video games?”

In order to answer her question, I need to discuss Adios Huxley and Neil Postman.  Huxley wrote a dystopia novel entitled “Brave New World” and Neil Postman wrote a book in the 80’s entitled “Amusing Ourselves to Death” Both these books write about the emergence of a culture based on entertainment and about the possible/actual consequences of such a culture.  For a quick explanation of “Brave New World” (and a contrast to “1984”) please refer to this link:  which is a visual presentation of Postman’s forward.  For more information regarding Postman’s point, refer to page 185 in his book “Amusing Ourselves to Death” in Chapter 10: Teaching as an Amusing Activity.

Both works talk about the consequences of arranging discourse along an entertaining focus; this would also hold true in education.  When students learn through games, the arguments extends, they learn a shadow curriculum that learning is easy, and that learning is fun.  They do not learn that it is fun to learn.  The difference is vast. 

Feeling that it is fun to learn motivates and rewards engagement and effort; it offers a reward for learning; it makes the learning its goal and focus; it makes the struggle of learning worth it.

The video game “learning is fun“ offers surface engagement; it distracts from the learning and offers a fun activity; it trains students to learn effortlessly, but also to be less tolerant of exerting effort to learn.  I think that it was summed up well by the following 2 tweets:

@intrepidteacherJabiz Raisdana    Students become frustrated and bored when they realize even what they love requires hard work. They’re too used to surface engagement.

@davemorinDave Morin     “Gamification is the high fructose corn syrup of engagement.” – Kathy Sierra

As an analogy consider T.V.  Imagine using T.V to provide a language rich environment for your students:  This would seem ideally suited to the educational needs of the student.  They would be provided an almost endless stream of language that they enjoy and that could be tailored to their level and needs; problem with phonemic awareness—Sesame street; problems with sequence – Dora; problem with social rules – Thomas.  T.V. offers a rich variety of experiences presented by the Backyardigans or even the news which brought an entire American generation the experiences of Vietnam, the moon landing, and the Kennedy assassination.  T.V. is a medium that constantly provides attainable data to the viewer and can tolerate a variety of engagement levels.  Would we be comfortable with placing a student in front of a T.V. for even a portion of the day?  I suspect that we wouldn’t, even though teachers use T.V. and movies, not just to entertain, but with the purpose of furthering their student’s education.  Even though, we sometimes view T.V. as a powerful educational strategy, intuitively, and because of the works of such theorists like Neil Postman we know that T.V. is an entertainment medium, not well suited to instruct or to educate.  In fact, we used to blame T.V. for the quality of our students or their motivation, that is, before computers became so prevalent. 

After unpacking this analogy and applying its principles to video games, can someone tell me exactly how video games are advantageous over other modes of learning? Surely they can work (for limited purposes) but is it worth it?  Don’t they train our student to reject struggle?  Are they in a sense bribing our studetns to learn?  Won’t it ultimately back fire like all bribery based incentive systems?

That is a little of what I meant when I posted my earlier tweet.  We should consider what learning with video games undoes-I have, and have not found them worth the cost.

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