January 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

If there is a definite disadvantage to not paying attention to pop radio, and spending most of my time listening to audiobooks rather than music, it’s that I often don’t get cultural references or understand spoofs.  I could name many examples, but the one of the more recent was when the Librarians Do Gaga video was virally spreading throughout the library world.

Thus, when this video was mentioned, I didn’t realize at first that it was a sort of spoof:

My lack of recognition of the cultural reference aside, this is an awesome video.  The students not only manage to make math fun and create an easy way for fellow students to remember math function, but THEY DO IT SO WELL.  I’ve seen less-than-fabulously-produced songs and raps that achieve a similar purpose, but this one renews my faith in such endeavors.

Simply fantastic.

Thanks to Michelle Luhtala of EdWeb seminar fame for posting the video.


Sense making and censorship

January 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

When I was in college, my favorite professor would ensure us that it was OK that we had no idea which end is up, because understanding history is like nailing jelly to the wall.  In my historiography class, he told us this so often that we conspired to make him actually attempt to nail jelly to the wall, producing an extra large iron nail, a hammer and a packet of jelly from the cafeteria.

I’ve been reminding myself of this lately, as I’m trying to make sense of the goals of education.  As pointed out by Jerrid Kruss in Teaching as a Dynamic Activity, goals do not equal the phrases that we name them with.  I agree that labels are slippery things.

I’ve also been pondering about what technology integration means, and what education should look like. Believe me, for a non-teacher, this is a difficult topic to wrap your brain around. Here are a few things that have gotten my brain firing lately:

A TEDxNYED talk by Jeff Jarvis, and the response by Teaching as a Dynamic Activity, and Dan Meyer. George Siemens in his TEDxNYED talk. This post, among others, by TeachPaperless.

Particularly in the Gary Siemens video, I’ve found some phrases that appealed to me: “authentic information interrogation systems,” “the combat for lucidity”, “the act of showing others how we are learning is an instructional task” [this is the value of blogging].

I thought that these posts such as these may benefit others who are thinking about technology, education, and how they interact.  Last week, I shared Jarvis’ talk with a Diigo group I belong to.  Or, I should say, belonged.  When I went to share a TeachPaperless post today, I found that I was no longer a member.  When I tried to contact the owner of the group to find out why, I found that I was blocked from contacting him.  I can only assume the rather brazen title of Jarvis’ talk prompted this.  I must add that nowhere in the Diigo group were any rules posted about content sharing.

I wrote to the owner of the group (it was easy enough to find an email address, along with the rest of his online presence) apologizing for offending him, but justifying my actions of sharing a thought-provoking blog post.  I have yet to hear back.

***Update*** I have heard back.  Apparently, given the title of the post I shared and the fact that he didn’t recognize my name, the owner of the group assumed I was a spammer.  Apparently, the group is also mostly meant for a certain user base. This is interesting, since I think I shared quite a bit with this group over the past year or so (I can’t check because my items were also deleted from the group), and because the group is open to all Diigo members.  But at this point, it doesn’t look to necessarily be censorship, but rather an unfortunate misunderstanding (on both sides).

What use are catchphrases?

January 11, 2011 § 1 Comment

This morning I read this post by Jerrid Kruse of Teaching as a Dynamic Activity. Having myself used “21st Century Skills” as a tag in yesterday’s post, yet very much agreeing that the phrase is eye-roll-worthy, I thought I’d put in my two cents about the subject, and explain why I use the term despite my qualms.

Along with “Web 2.0” (did you see me shudder?), 21st Century Skills is a ubiquitous phrase.  The two expressions are not exactly the same–the ideas encompassed by Web 2.0 describe a set of tools, are by definition rather new, and to my knowledge had never been known by any other name, while 21st Century Skills describe a skill set or educational goals, and have in some form or another been around for a long time by various names– but I feel that they are similar enough to serve as two examples of the same phenomenon: labeling.

I had been an avid user of social media before attending library school, but had never heard of Web 2.0.  It took me quite a while to realize what it was that people were talking about. When I did, I didn’t understand the point of putting a label it. All the label seemed to achieve was to act as fodder for pointless blog posts and articles in Library Journal; mind you, not specific or useful information, but just vague allusions to how Web 2.0 would be useful.

In much the same way, I had never heard the term 21st Century Skills before coming to my current position. In discussing the aims of these skills, multiple faculty members pointed out that these “new skills” were no different from what they were already doing, and teaching their pre-service teachers to do. What they amounted to was simply good teaching.

One has to wonder about the usefulness labels at all.  Telling someone that I am a vegetarian often does not accomplish much.  The meaning has been diluted, so that many people have no idea of it’s actual meaning (don’t even get me started on “flexetarians”).

However, the fact remains that buzzwords exist, and that people often feel they understand the meaning behind them. For me, they are shorthand. I use them instead of a more lengthy explanation or definition. When you say “Web 2.0,” most librarians follow your meaning.  Similarly, teachers have a particular idea of what 21st Century Skills encompasses.  Granted, much like “vegetarian,” some may have no idea of the actual meaning of these phrases, or miss the point altogether.  But this is a risk I’m willing to take to use such shorthand in certain situations.

I use my 21st Century Skills tag with mentions of new technology, since really, otherwise, I’d be using it for every single post about teaching ideas, methodology, or other such subjects. My use of the term indicates ideas or or uses of new technologies that will aid the enduring goals of creativity, collaboration, etc.  It may be misguided, but it’s my attempt at proposing the “concrete strategies” that will “promote the goal,” as Kruse puts it.


Transliteracy definition

January 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

Today I finally had time to read this post by Sense and Reference.  I very much like his explanation of transliteracy, and it meshes with several other posts I have read on the subject (mostly at Libraries and Transliteracy, some of which were also written by Wilkinson of Sense and Reference).*  Here’s an excerpt, when he describes what transliteracy is, as opposed to literacy, translation or transliteration:

“Within the English language, digital media have introduced a range of new domains with new linguistic competencies required for comprehension. The neat part is that, in many cases, these new syntactical techniques are conceptually tied to other domains. When reading or writing in different media, our reading brains make these connections behind the scenes.4 These connections come to the surface when we try to teach a new language or skill. This is why we make analogies between different formats: hyperlinks are like footnotes, hashtags are like words in the index, Wikipedia is like an encyclopedia, JSTOR is like a file-cabinet, etc. When we can comprehend information in multiple domains we exhibit multiple literacies. When we can step back and compare different linguistic domains, we engage in a second-order literacy: a literacy about literacies. This, I contend, is the meat of transliteracy. It isn’t about learning how to use a particular digital tool. It isn’t about social media. It isn’t about new media, augmented reality, immersive story-telling, or any of that jazz. Transliteracy is about our ability to understand when and how we move across an ever-expanding realm of linguistic domains.” (emphasis mine)

The only thing that I might add to this definition is that transliteracy increases understanding within individual literacies through the connections it creates.

*The writing process is truly amazing.  I began this post with a small qualm about Wilkinson’s definition of transliteracy, but the more I wrote, the more I had to think about the concept, and the more I understood his argument.

Blogging in a physics class

January 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

Here is an interesting article shared on Twitter by @notinmy. It explains how a professor used blogging in both a large physics class and a smaller honors student course.


I think this is a great example of how to use technology in a course.  Alternative assignments could have asked the students to bring the article to class, but as pointed out, asking the students to blog produced better writing, and I’m sure more thoughtful preparation, precisely because the result will be public. Again, this is not so much changing the way the class is presented, but how the student experiences the course/subject matter.

See also: this post about how blogging is ridiculously easy.  Also shared by @notinmy.

Technology aids the student, not the teacher

January 4, 2011 § 1 Comment

I’ve said it before: I am not a teacher.  At least not in the formal sense.*  I do not have a teaching degree.  However, I consider myself a dilettante (in the most positive sense of the term) as I’ve spent the last two years building a PLN that includes teachers and librarians, and reading about education.  I have certainly learned LOADS since coming to my current position.

As you may have already figured out from previous posts, as well as my Twitter profile, I am an enthusiastic user of technology.  I often become excited about the vaguely imagined “possibilities” of a technology long before giving its use considerable thought.  However, I usually find this useful, since it eventually dawns on me how a particular technology may fit seamlessly into a project, or aid a current effort.

All this is by way of introduction, to explain my interest in a couple of posts by Teaching as a Dynamic Activity and ITBabble.

I definitely fall into the camp of “it’s not necessary, but man, is it nice” when discussing technology.  I don’t argue that one can’t be a great teacher with only a chalkboard.  And I definitely agree that many people can lose sight of a goal when using a particularly glittery technology.

The point I usually argue with the professors I work with is that the use of technology does not necessarily change their teaching in the classroom, it changes the student’s experience inside and outside the classroom.  Since I am recently (relatively) out of graduate school, and my graduate experience was vastly different than my undergraduate experience, I often use these as examples, and I will here as well.

Here’s the scenario: a professor is teaching a new concept. The class is partially taken up by student brainstorming about what the concept is and what it means, and partly by the instructor lecturing.  The professor makes notes on the board, possibly draws a picture.  The student leaves the class feeling like the concept is tentatively understood.

That’s it.  Most of my experience as a learner that I can recall goes something like this.**

Now, the above scenario can take place in two different settings. One, with only a chalkboard, notepaper and pencils (my undergraduate life).  Two, with PowerPoint (or some variation of presentation software, my favorite being Prezi***), computers, an interactive whiteboard,**** a course software technology like Blackboard or Moodle, cloud computing and social networks (my graduate school life).

In the first setting, the student will have to furiously take notes, hoping to both capture the conversation and lecture, and be able to pay enough attention to understand what is going on and contribute to the discussion.  Later, when reviewing the topic, the student will have only his or her notes to refer to.  The chalkboard has long been erased, and there is no hope of seeing if the drawing in my notebook is accurate to what the professor drew.  Some students are friendly outside of class, and decide to form a study group.  They meet and share notes, and take more notes from others’ notes.  They ask additional questions in class.  Consequently, the professor will probably have to take more class time to review the subject.  This is how we never got to the end of a syllabus in any class I took in college.

In the second scenario, students  still take notes, but on their laptop.  In my experience, I’m a much faster typer than writer, and can get more down in less time.*****  But since the teacher is using an IWB, there is no need to copy down what the professor is writing on the board, only particularly helpful points to refer to later.  The professor will save the board and post it on the class Blackboard page later so students may refer to it and review.  For the lecture portion of the class, the professor has prepared a Prezi.  This, too, will be available for students to review.  The professor has also created a video she will use in class, using the overhead projection unit, of herself drawing the picture of the concept so the students can watch the drawing being created over and over again if necessary, so no subtlety will be missed.  Students are encouraged to use social media to discuss topics introduced in class, and through this they learn that several other people are having trouble comprehending aspects of the new concept, and agree to meet to review and help each other.  They create a Google Doc to share their combined understanding, and ask the teacher to participate.  The professor has time to correct some misunderstandings before the next class time, and so the class can move forward in their discussions.

OK.  I realize that what I just gave you was an idealized version of the classroom (I think in both scenarios).  In the second scenario, I’m assuming that the student is engaged enough to be taking notes, rather than cruising Facebook during class, that the teacher will actually post the IWB screenshot and Prezi in a timely fashion, that students will review the posted material and discuss their respective realizations and frustrations, and that they will take the initiative to create a document summarizing their mutual understanding.  Not every student will be thus engaged.

However, this is no reason to shy away from technology.  Technology doesn’t make a better teacher, and it certainly won’t make a better student.  What it will do is give the student opportunities that he or she wouldn’t have otherwise.  Ideally, it will free them to think more critically about a subject, since they won’t be struggling to write down everything, and can review at their own pace.

* Full disclosure:  I was an education major until the end of my sophomore year in college.  I didn’t make it past the psychology prerequisites, and decided to focus on history instead of history education.  I blame NCLB (I started college in the fall of 2000), as well as a distaste for being told what I can and can’t do (i.e. textbooks to use, subjects to cover).  Originally, I intended to get a PhD in history, but stalled out due to fear of failure and taking the GRE.  Librarianship seemed a the perfect answer to my career dilemma.

** If I could remember more of high school, I could confirm it being my experience there as well.  As it is, from what I can recall this is accurate.

*** I particularly like Prezi because of the zooming feature.  I prefer to think of the space as a content map, so that you can zoom out and the full picture makes sense for the topic, and the viewer can see an overview (quite literally), and zoom in to various places to see detail.  I am obviously a visual learner.

**** Again, full disclosure: we didn’t have one of these when I was in graduate school, but I wish we did.  I’m including it here for the sake of showing how it could possibly be useful.

***** I’ve been known to actually transcribe an entire class session on a particularly frustrating topic.  Seriously. If we had been using an IWB, I may not have needed to, but I probably still would.  It is for these instances that I think that digital recorders are useful for some subjects.

And the statistics are in!

January 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

So, I know that I shouldn’t be super excited about 4,000 checkouts in a year. But heck, I’ve got about 275 students and faculty as my patron base, so that’s roughly 14 checkouts each over the past year.*  Sadly, I’m sure there are still students in our program who have never set foot in the Curriculum Library, but I’m working to remedy that.  I hope to give presentations in each of our EDUC 205/207 courses (the course required before entry into our program), as well as Children’s Literature and Education Technology courses.**

I didn’t have a chance to do any door statistics this last semester, but I hope to this spring.  Last year’s count showed a marked increase in the number of students using the library as a study space, and I expect that this number has grown in the past year as well.  I’ll share those statistics when I have them.

Facebook “likes” have remained steady since last spring. I’ll be brainstorming in the near future about how to get more students to follow the page, as I’ve been trying to use it to disseminate valuable department information and deadlines, as well as fun stuff.  Does anyone have any suggestions as to how to accomplish this goal?

* Actually, if you want to get technical about it, most of these checkouts would take place in the eight months that students are here.

** Last semester, I gave nine presentations, though only one in a 205 course.

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