The Bystander’s Guide To a Collaborative RUA

 

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And so I near the end of a second course on the COETAIL journey.

It is fair to say that this project provided me the greatest test I had faced on the COETAIL course so far; yet it also has to be said that it has provided me with the greatest reward – the finalised RUA that my group created. Another major difference which has made this project so tricky, and also so rewarding, is the group element i.e. having to work with other COETAIL students online to create something new.

A Big Thank You!

Firstly, I have to say a big ‘thanks’ to the other members of my team who I worked alongside for their incredible dilligence, hard work and creativity. Some of their ideas and thoughts were quite brilliant and allowed me to take more of a bystander’s role within the project. Now when I say bystander, what I actually mean is ‘less-involved participant’.

Less Involved Participant

Being a ‘less-involved participant’ is not something I openly embrace, but for me it is and has been a difficult mould to break out of; this is one of the reasons why I found this project so difficult to get to grips with. There are also a number of other reasons why I found this type of project much more difficult to complete than other projects I have been given on the COETAIL course.

Another major reason has to be the globally collaborative aspect. Jeff Utecht outlined a number of the reasons why global collaboration is a frustrating and difficult thing to achieve in his recent blog post. My own reasons also include many of the same ideas that Jeff wrote about in his post; other reasons that I could also include would be ‘not wanting to dominate the group’ or ‘Are my ideas actually any good?’

Ultimately though, I actually think that everyone has to have a role within any group activity and I genuinely feel that where there is a/are leader(s) there should also be a follower or followers. After all-one can’t exist without the other.

So I assumed my role within the group as we began our online correspondance. I soon realised that working in a group to achieve a centralised goal was a powerful tool when it worked as smoothly as it seemed to for our group of intrepid RUA pioneers.

The activity itself was an excellent way of uniting different teachers from different schools with different backgrounds. Using the RUA also helped to give us an achievable target that would give something back to our schools, colleagues and the online educational community. I have included our completed RUA below. Please take a look:

The purpose of the RUA

The purpose of the RUA is to provide the three schools involved (as well as any other schools interested) with an easy-to-use and child friendly primary/elementary school RUA. The RUA should also be easy for teachers, parents and children to understand and use in both their online life at school and at home.

The Top Ten!

Finally, this is my Top Ten (not in any particular order) of what I particularly liked and learned about the experience of being an online collaborator in a group of pioneering educators:

  1. Using a Google Doc to centralise our thoughts and ideas for the RUA was a great way to have a central repository for our thoughts and ideas.
  2. Shared email conversations brought a better understanding of what needed to be done.
  3. Learning about new APPs or programs like https://piktochart.com/ was great for educational understanding
  4. Working with people from very different schools with very different backgrounds helped me to expand my horizons.
  5. Making new connections opened up new paths to connect.
  6. Brainstorming, talking and working alongside the primary head of ICT at our school was an added bonus.
  7. Not having to do all the work on my own was a great burden reliever.
  8. Getting to test the effectiveness of different types of RUA (that had been suggested by different group members) on my own students before deciding on the final RUA was a great experience.
  9. Having my ideas (few though they may have been) acknowledged and recognised by the other members of our group was empowering.
  10. And most importantly-working with the members of my team Andria Visser, Anna Dawn, Palvinder Thurman and Kathy Burtscher was a terrific opportunity.

Overall, I can honestly say that it was a very rewarding experience and a task that every educator should have to do; if only to see the benefits that true global collaboration can bring.

 

The Greatest Quiz Machine Ever?

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The Quiz – is this one of the greatest inventions ever? I mean who doesn’t love a good quiz? Since I can remember (which admittedly isn’t that long ago), people have always wanted to test their understanding and knowledge by taking part in ‘The Quiz’. As a medium, it provides so many of our social needs: socializing and teamwork;  the need to find answers to questions; competition and recognition. The quiz sates a natural curiosity that drives us to search for the answers to any number of questions we might have.

I am a quiz lover! I have always loved boardgames like Trivial pursuit. I loved watching University Challenge, QI, Blockbusters, fifteen to one, the weakest link…the list could go on. Why? Maybe it was because I wanted everyone to see that I at least had a little knowledge about something (I wanted recognition) or maybe it was because I thought I was better at the quiz than the other contestants or maybe I just wanted to learn something new! Whatever the reasons, the simple fact is that ‘The Quiz’ provides people with a fun way of challenging themselves to find the answers to questions they are interested in answering / finding the answers to.

The Greatest Quiz Machine Ever!
Photo credit: www.freequizzes.co.uk

Finally we have been given the World Wide Web, and with it, the search engines that transform this entity into the greatest quiz machine ever created! To reinforce this point you only need read the article by Bob Sprankle where he talks about Google’s ‘Google a day‘ as a method for encouraging students to think more carefully about the searches they make; however, for me, this quote from the same article is even more important:

I can imagine classes breaking up into teams to compete against each other, or graphing their best times each day. Each daily answer could also lead to even more research for students.

Here we have a perfect example of the Web’s quiz like qualities and it’s abilities to act as a tool for educating in a fun, interesting and open manner. I am going to try and adapt the ‘Google a day’ game so that the children in my class get the chance to have a go at being contestants on the greatest quiz machine ever created. Not only will they be learning about something completely new in a fun and exciting way, they will also be learning how to carry out a more comprehensive and detailed internet search. And who knows – they may even win a prize…

A final thought!

To me the Web is still a mystery and despite my attempts to read many of the articles designed to give you a better understanding of what the World Wide Web is, I still find myself struggling to make sense of it. For me, the problem is the sheer size and complexity of the web! I mean the internet is so many different things to so many people.

One article that did help me to better understand some of the web’s components was this list of twenty different things that make up the web and browsers by the Google Chrome team. After reading this article, I definitely had a clearer idea of some of the terms and phrases that help people to better understand the different aspects of the web. However, if I am being completely honest, even though I have read this article I still find the web an intricate and baffling entity which puzzles, amazes, helps and terrifies me in equal measures!

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Will somebody please help Robin!

Robin’s Tale

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Robin is seven years old. He has just received his first school email address and his parents have just bought him a brand new iPad for his birthday. He has an older sister who is 15 years old. She spends most evenings on her laptop chatting to her boyfriend, friends and classmates about everything and everyone! He also has an 11 year old brother who spends most of his nights playing on his Playstation 4. Robin’s mother works at a local supermarket where she often has to work the night shift. His father works for Apple – but his job means that he often travels away from home. At Robin’s school they have just begun to experiment with iPads, but they only have a single class set of twenty five for the whole school so Robin has only had a basic tutorial in how to use them. Robin’s teacher, Mr Milton, isn’t really comfortable using iPads, laptops or desktops for teaching and learning; preferring to use more traditional methods.

Robin, who only has a basic understanding of how to connect to the internet using his iPad, takes out his brand new iPad and decides it is time to start his online journey…

So, who is ultimately responsible for Robin’s online safety?

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A. The Teacher
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Absolutely! Although the teacher may only have a limited understanding of technology and the internet, he has a responsibility to himself and his students to be more proactive in keeping up with current Ed-Tech policies and practice. After all, it is no good burying your head in the sand and pretending that it is somebody else’s job to educate students about the possible dangers of being online.

B. The Parents
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Absolutely! Even though the parents are busy with other aspects of their work and family lives they are also responsible for ensuring that their children are connecting to sites that they have personally checked. I also think that it is important for the parents to demonstrate the positivity of being connected and online (which they/we often tend to forget).

A post which gives both teachers and parents a better understanding of online parental needs/concerns came from the commonsense media links attached to Mel Sylvester’s post which was recommended to me by Ken Ip.

C. The Siblings
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Absolutely! Who are the biggest educators of younger children in families?

The parents? No!

The older siblings? Yes!

When you were a child, who did you want to emulate? For me it was always the older kids! After all, they are the ones who teach you new tricks, sporting skills, gaming techniques…the fun stuff! Robin’s sister (and probably his brother) should/will have been taught the rudiments of online safety. Not only that, his sister is actually living the online dream. So who better to give him a clearer idea of what he should be doing to stay safe online. I know that a lot of you will be saying ‘But how can we trust a teenager to give our children good advice?’ My reply to this would be ‘If we don’t start to trust this younger generation then what sort of message are we giving them?’

How can I use Robin’s Tale?

While pondering the idea of internet safety and who was responsible for bringing this issue to the attention of younger children I thought that a more real world approach might have the most impact. I have therefore decided to use an edited version of Robin’s Tale as a way of opening up a dialogue, with my class, about online educational responsibility. My hope is that the children will start to generate their own opinions and ideas about who should be giving them online safety guidance and what that guidance should be.

A difference of opinion

As you have already read, I have my opinions and ideas about the people I think are most responsible for needing to provide children with a better understanding of what it means to be safe online. However I believe that the children in my class will have more varied ideas about the people they believe are most responsible for their online safety.

Reversing the roles

I am also considering a home learning activity where the students have to educate their parents on how people can stay safer while they are connected to the internet. After all a bit of role reversal might serve as a good reminder of just how safety conscious their children are when it comes to online connectivity. And who knows. It may help parents and carers to become more aware of how to protect and nurture their own digital footsteps. There is nothing wrong with a gentle nudge towards the big door marked ‘online safety’.

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Fagin’s law

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What does teaching and learning look like? Well, I would suggest that teaching and learning comes in a wide variety of forms. Sometimes the learning may be teacher centred, at other times it is student centred, it may involve small groups working together, it may involve a larger group discussion, it may have an independent learning focus, it may have students working together to find the solution to a problem in pairs. Whatever the lesson, the teaching and learning impact will be different for each teacher and student within that particular learning environment.

There you go-education all nicely wrapped in a tight bundle of pedagogical goodness ready for distribution to teachers, students and parents…Hmm..perhaps not!

As I sat thinking about education; the issues of copyright, privacy and fair use began to take hold of my thoughts. I suddenly found myself reminiscing and thinking back to the first time I had watched the movie ‘Oliver Twist’. Here was a story where the teacher was an old villain who taught his young apprentices the art of theft and deception by having them carefully watch and learn from their peers. As they observed and learned each other’s nefarious skills, their master (Fagin) continually praised their abilities at being able to carry out their criminal acts.

Photo credit:wikipedia.org/wiki/Artful_Dodger

So what does this have to do with copyright and plagiarism inside the classroom?

Well, ultimately, Fagan’s pupils were all plagiarists. Oliver was a copycat who mimicked his wiser peer-the Artful Dodger; he in turn, mimicked their teacher and educator-Fagin. And they were taught that this was the greatest thing in the world! When I first started to teach literacy (English) to Year Five students, I was schooled in the art of scaffolding and modelling different writing styles to the students. Planning involved one of the teacher’s writing a wonderfully crafted example of a particular text type. In the literacy lessons we would then share this incredible example of how you should write in a particular style. These sections of written text included any example of a writing genre that we were currently studying at that point in time. Examples included an introduction to a horror story, a conclusion to a Greek myth, a verse to a winter poem and an impersonal recount for a school trip.

After we had introduced the piece of writing we would then discuss, as a class, how great our modelled writing actually was. Next we would ask the students to go away to their desks and write their introduction, conclusion or verse for a horror story, Greek myth or poem.

And guess what? Yes! You guessed it! The whole class would pretty much copy the writing style we had used to model the task. Of course we differentiated the task-the less able students were allowed to copy more than the more able students as they didn’t have the vocabulary or knowledge to insert their own words into this glorified gapfill exercise.

Now this isn’t the worst part! No. The worst part is the fact that we celebrated the quality and beauty of their written work. We showcased examples of their work in class assemblies, we eulogised over the quality of their literacy books during parent-teacher conversations and we boasted about the children’s level of writing to prospective parents.

We had become Fagin. I had become Fagin! I had taught my students that it was alright to copy another person’s work and use this work to create their own versions of a story, poem or recount! Not only that. I had revelled at the similarities between the student’s work and the original version that we had shared as a class. I had taught my students that it was ok to plagiarize another person’s work; and more than that, I had instilled a value that this was actually a good thing!

In this day and age we continually talk about how we need to give our children the chance to be more creative and innovative. I am an enthusiastic disciple and devotee of this approach to learning. I absolutely and wholeheartedly think that students should have every opportunity to work in a manner which encourages them to develop their ingenuity and independence. However, by encouraging a method of writing by copying, I had discouraged their creative stimulus and thought processes. I know that I am responsible for being a part of this process and encouraging this as a tool for teaching and learning.

However, that was then and this is now! I am in a different year group, I am part of a new course and I am continuing to learn what it means to educate in the right way. This year, we have introduced something new to our literacy teaching. Something that will hopefully give something back, something creative that can be used and shared with others. We call it free writing!

You may already have something similar, but if you don’t, you might want to give it a try. Here is how it works-once a week we let the children write for an hour. They can write in whatever genre they want, in whatever way they want. When we mark it, we don’t mark it as a teacher but as a reader! We give them no input and we ask no more than they try to entertain and interest their reader. We also encourage them to share their work and read to each other-in the future I would like to develop this part of the process further. I ultimately see this as a way of introducing and discussing creative commons, fair use or even copyright.

So far it has to be said that the free writing has been a huge success; with both teachers and children learning valuable lessons from the experience!

And so to use a Dickensian analogy – I hope to finally say goodbye to the plagiaristic teaching villain that is Fagin and welcome a more open-minded facilitator that is more of a  Pickwick than a Fagin.

Photocredit:www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/charles-dickens

Facebookphobia!

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Ladies and gentlemen, at this moment I have no facebook page and I probably never will! I do have a linked-in account but I have never really used it. Yes I have email addresses, a class Twitter feed and this blog but that is the extent of my gloriously limited electronic imprint upon the World Wide Web. And yet, as a teacher, I actively try to foster more connectivity and networking from the students in my class to the colleagues I work with. I strongly encourage my students to become more active in using personal email accounts, Blendspace lessons, Prezi production and blogging skills inside and outside of the school curriculum!

Is it just me or does something not quite add up!

The more I think about it, the more I sound like a hypocrite of the highest order! Surely I should be eulogising Facebook and Linked-in as the ultimate digital tools of connectivity and collaboration? Yet somehow…I just can’t bring myself to do that and, if I am honest, I don’t want to!

You would be quite right to ask why I am so closed in my willingness to connect. I mean the ability to create and work within so many diverse online communities and networks surely defies any argument about being willing to connect in the first place.

Well that is where you and I may differ in our views. You see I still have a great many reservations and issues about many of the social media sites that have taken up residence in the cybersphere. And if I am brutally honest many of these issues come down to-yes you probably guessed it-PRIVACY!

My worries about online privacy generally involve my own personal hang ups combined with issues that people, who I know, have had in the past. When you have experienced or heard stories about something (in this case Facebook) that  have given you a negative image of that thing you begin to become less willing to trust that thing. Examples of this might include people who have had road accidents being less willing to travel in a car or people who have had food poisoning from a seafood restaurant not wanting to eat oysters or mussels. The point is they have their reasons for not wanting to connect with that particular medium and I have mine.

My personal distrust of social media hangouts like Facebook becomes even more polarised as I continue to read articles like Husna Najand’s article on Facebook. Her quote ‘If Facebook had it’s way, the notion of online privacy would have been further eroded to nonexistence’ only reinforces my feelings of insecurity regarding social media sites like Facebook. I mean how am I supposed to put my faith and trust in social media when I read about Facebook trying to copyright people’s social lives?

Can anybody help me?

The two questions that continue to roll around my head as Facebook and other social media go from strength to strength are:

‘How do I begin to transform my opinions regarding social media?’ and ‘Should I change my opinions regarding social media?’

At the moment, I am currently saying ‘NO!’ However, I am willing to listen! And if anybody out there can provide me with genuine reasons why I should sell my soul to the social media demon then I might just be willing to put pen to paper…

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Hey everyone! Look at me!

What exactly was a digital footprint?…Did I have a digital footprint?

This image was from digitalfamilysummit

To be completely honest I just didn’t know! How was I supposed to find the answers to my questions?

Well, I decided that I needed to spend more time looking at a variety of different articles on what a digital footprint actually was. After I had spent some time reading through some recommended reading on the subject, I found an article by Steven Anderson. He suggested that you could find a more complete understanding of what your own digital footprint looked like by googling yourself to see what linked you to the internet. So my decision was made and I decided to take his advice and google myself…

I started by carrying out a google search using my full name (with middle name included) and discovered, to my amazement, that there were links to some of my class’s Prezi’s that children had previously uploaded; the Prezi’s were actually linked to a class account associated with one of my email addresses.

After that I decided to try another google search; this time I would complete a google search using only my first and last name.

Guess what?

I found this very blog on the second page I searched! I know this may seem like a very obvious and mundane thing but I was both surprised and proud that I had a presence within the vast entity that is the web. At last I was a genuine user and had joined the grid-sorry for the Tron reference but I thought it was apt!

This image was taken from scotthawker.com

So I did have a digital footprint! I don’t think it was a very large footprint-probably a mosquito sized footprint if I was to actually carry out a more extensive search.  However, the most important factor was that I was truly happy that I had left an imprint on something that was used by billions of people.

And this got me thinking…If I was happy about my digital footprint, what would a student’s reaction be to having a piece of work, a blog, a prezi or any online creation accessible to billions of people? In the case of my year three students, it would be like they had suddenly been given a two week-all expenses paid-pass to Disneyland!

So what does all this mean?

It means that as educators and teachers we finally have an unbelievable opportunity to provide students with the most powerful means to student self-empowerment since teaching became a profession! I mean think about it – what do all children want, what do all teenagers want and what do all adults want? Simple – Recognition!

Everybody wants to be noticed and praised; even if it is only for a short time! It is a fundamental part of human nature! And what is true for adults is usually magnified for the younger generation. Therefore as educators and facilitators we have an obligation to take advantage of this fantastic medium we have been given access to. Students want to start leaving their footprints in the digital dirt as they start trekking across the Web’s Savannah! They want people to notice what they are doing. They want to build that connectivity that gives them recognition. This means that we have a responsibility to provide them with the tools and a guide for this journey!

You might liken it to another famous journey, only this time you might say – One small digital step for teaching. One giant digital step for learning!

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