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Teachers & Open-Source : education’s spark

Teachers are an innovative bunch. I think you have to be, to keep twenty or thirty children engaged day after day. Entertain, grade, support, coach and teach and that’s all before they tackle the work outside the classroom. With their innovative nature it’s no surprise that teachers embraced technology so wholeheartedly, two and a half decades ago. It was no surprise multi-media applications found their natural home in education and it was as if Apple had created iPad for education apps foremost.

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Teachers are an innovative bunch. I think you have to be, to keep twenty or thirty children engaged day after day. Entertain, grade, support, coach and teach and that’s before they tackle the work outside the classroom. With their innovative nature it’s no surprise that teachers embraced technology so wholeheartedly, two and a half decades ago. It was no surprise multi-media applications found their natural home in education and it was as if Apple had created iPad for education apps foremost.

Education technology  continues to evolve particularly with collaborative projects causing a stir for educators, students and parents. This is more than sharp teachers creating content on iBooks Author or Scrivener. A couple of years ago there was much talk about a visionary project at the Bering Strait School District (BSSD) in Alaska, USA – and how they replaced textbooks with an Open-Content, Creative Commons licensed,  wiki curriculum project. This electronic curriculum provides thousands of pages of content that can be modified by not only teachers, students and parents but by outside contributors also, with content then reviewed by a Curriculum Committee.

“The district’s OpenContent wiki curriculum project has over 13,815 pages of education standards, curriculum content, staff development tutorials, and various user-oriented pages. Although some pages are very well populated, and some are article stubs, the body curriculum resources is increasing rapidly. Over 6,224 files have been uploaded, and daily use by students and staff was exponentially increasing as of October 2007.

Nearly all of the organization’s teachers, students and administrators have contributed in the first two years of the project. All content is Creative Commons licensed, and editing by educators and interested parties outside the district is encouraged.”

— http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bering_Strait_School_District

Late last year I read a quote from a Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce official:

“Most debates about the curriculum start from the wrong place. Instead of asking ‘what should the curriculum include’, our starting question should always be ‘who should determine what the curriculum includes’? Such a question enables curriculum development to play a significant role in building and reshaping civil society.”  RSA Director of Education Joe Hallgarten

It’s more than forty years since Lawrence Stenhouse said there was “no curriculum development without teacher development” – and sharp minds, like those at BSSD have adopted Eric Raymond’s Bazzar of knowledge principle helping to foster the burgeoning movement for information socialism. Almost 90% of teachers in the UK believe  they should be free to design substantial parts of their school curriculum, and this atitude to open curriculum creation is gathering pace the world over. Open-source and wiki technology and resources are powering this movement. Imagine how the input of a class of local children at the heart, and place of a geography lesson can contribute to the curriculum of those learning about the place or event. Not just shared teaching, but shared facts. There would be less need for scholarly reinterpretation at the next edition of a textbook, instead students benefit from localised, accurate and personal views helping to shape an informed view of the world. More collaborative technology could allow school’s wikis to collect data from other schools wikis – a video or audio search across a wired world could enhance the experience students, delivering extracts from teacher designed curriculums across continents.

Broadband access remains an issue to be addressed globally, not only in developing nations but in many rural areas of developed nations; it genuinely is a human right now. We need one-to-one devices in the students hands. We need better interfaces for our wikis. and of course students still need to be entertained, graded, supported, coached and taught, – but I’m happy to trust our teachers to make that part happen.

External links & references

  1. BSSD Teacher Created Learning Plan : wiki
  2. Grand Curriculum Designs : RSA
  3. Eric Raymond : Cathedral & the Bazaar
  4. Global Schoolroom
  5. AHumanRight.org : 68% of the planet is off-line
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Education

Social Media & The School Curriculum

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Today I spoke with Will Faulkner on Midlands Radio on the topic of the changes at ask.fm‘ and also on the Slane photos incident which sparked a quick reaction from Facebook and Twitter to prevent access, and sharing, of photos of a 17 year old girl of an explicit nature that were retweeted or posted creating a viral incident in a matter of hours. I’ve written at length recently about internet trolls following the harassment of Caroline Criado-Perez, and in doing so reflected at length on my own experience twenty years ago with online chat, forums and digital communities.

Today I suggested to Will that the answer or at least the start of an answer, may lie in our school systems.

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Education

McAfee’s Digital Divide Survey : Parents in The Dark

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It’s no surprise to read in McAfee’s Digital Dividesurvey that teenagers are hoodwinking their parents, that’s unlikely to stop any time soon. The difference for teenagers now though, is the internet never forgets. The ten percent of teenagers surveyed who posted an embarrassing photo, or the twelve percent who used foul language may have a long time to reflect on their embarrassment. And that embarrassment could follow them to a new school, college or job. Online, the world is watching and you can be judged by your past behaviour for a lifetime.

Digital learning initiatives like tablets in schools and emerging MOOCs, Massive Online Open Courses are transforming education and the potential for learning so it’s disturbing to read in McAfee’s survey that a third of parents have resorted to taking away their teens mobile devices or computers, counter-productive in the extreme. Neither is avoidance the answer. Parents appear to be in denial and exhibiting a trust that was not granted to my generation and platitudes from teenagers should be treated cautiously as half of teenagers are doing things online that their parents would not approve of.

When I was a student Civics was taught to imbue good citizenship but as we transition to a society with a growing population of digital natives there is a greater need for good digital citizenship, I would suggest even a dedicated course, ideally in the Junior Cycle curriculum. We don’t just need to teach children how to write apps and study using digital technology, we need to teach them how to be safe and sensible, and how what they say and do online can impact themselves and others emotionally, socially and even professionally. Parents must accept responsibility for the development of their children as digital citizens by providing supervision and taking an active, but unobtrusive, part in their children’s online lives. I’m not suggesting a digital version of peeking in the teenage diary, but parents generally, are interested in who their children are friends with and where they are after dark, and they should be interested in what their children are doing online. Installing monitoring software on a child’s computer would be a step too far and may even hinder the development of a teenager’s technical ability, but open discussion in the classroom and at home brings a sense of reality to digital life that is often lacking in the consciousness of teenagers who treat so much of online interaction in a way akin to playing a video game, allowing them to dissociate themselves from offensive behavior, sometimes with tragic outcomes.

Good initiatives like McAfee’s Online Safety for Kids are a great start, but there’s some distance to go and the school curriculum and parents must be part of the answer to the development of the teenage digital native. Human nature being what it is, teenagers will behave better when you keep an eye on them, because they know you’re watching, and their parents should be watching, because the rest of the internet is.

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McAfee’s Digital Deception Survey

A fifth of teenagers have accessed inappropriate content online that disturbed them, according to ‘Digital Divide,’ a new study conducted in Ireland by McAfee, the world’s largest dedicated security company. The study also found that while Irish parents believe their children are doing enough to protect themselves from online dangers, that this is not the case.

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In today’s Irish Independent I wrote an opinion piece, Young Web Users Beware, The Internet Never Forgets where I advanced the idea that we definitely need a Digital Civics on the school curriculum, aimed specifically at 11 to 15 year olds. On Midlands Today, with Don Delaney, we chatted some more about the idea, and how parents seem to be in the dark about what they’re children are doing online.

A fifth of all Irish teenagers have accessed inappropriate content online that disturbed them, according to ‘Digital Divide,’ a new study conducted in Ireland by McAfee, the world’s largest dedicated security company. The study also found that while Irish parents believe their children are doing enough to protect themselves from online dangers, that this is not the case.McAfee Pressroom
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