Connections – ECI831 Presentations

I gave a short presentation in EC&I 831 tonight titled “connections”.

Slides are available below:

Ustream also available:

Audio is available here.

Letting Go

Bob Cringely of PBS (thanks Keith) recently wrote something that resonated with me. His was one of those articles you find every once in a while that helps your mind coalesce scattered fragments of thought and helps to give clarity to an important idea. He begins:

There is a technology war coming. Actually it is already here but most of us haven’t yet notice. It is a war not about technology but because of technology, a war over how we as a culture embrace technology. It is a war that threatens venerable institutions and, to a certain extent, threatens what many people think of as their very way of life. It is a war that will ultimately and inevitably change us all, no going back. The early battles are being fought in our schools. And I already know who the winners will be.

Now without reading the article, do you know what he is talking about? Do you see it? If you are reading this, you are likely closer than most of your colleagues to understanding it. Now read this:

Here, buried in my sixth paragraph, is the most important nugget: we’ve reached the point in our (disparate) cultural adaptation to computing and communication technology that the younger technical generations are so empowered they are impatient and ready to jettison institutions most of the rest of us tend to think of as essential, central, even immortal. They are ready to dump our schools.

Now read it again. The idea has been an underlying notion in the edublogosphere for a number of years, and of course, it has a much longer philosophical history. Whether the approach is schooliness, deschooling or School 2.0, I do not think we are anywhere near in understanding what the future holds for the education of our children, and theirs.

And I think there is something big here for me. After reading this article, it wasn’t that I was surprised. I felt guilty. Really guilty. As a professor of edtech and media, i have the opportunity to effect hundreds of preservice and practicing teachers. I have typically focused on helping improve technological competency, media literacy and instructional practice with these individuals. This seems OK, doesn’t it?

But what if you know it is just a band-aid? What if you know deep down that schools need to change drastically or cease to exist at all before there will ever be any significant change? What if you feel you are just prolonging the inevitable, and simply giving temporary life to a model that is clearly in its death throes?

It is about honesty. It is about being truthful to our students about the flaws of our educational system. It is essential that we open a dialogue with our children to help them design their educational processes. Together we can do more than simply patch the existing system, and we need to do it soon.

The walls are crumbling, but it’s OK. The future is in good hands.

Related: While you are here, check out Mr. Winkle Wakes, “an amusing, animated retelling of a popular educational story”. Thanks Matthew, this is a nice conversation starter.

What Does the Network Mean to You?

I’m presenting to my colleagues at the Faculty of Education, University of Regina this coming Wednesday on the potential for networked learning in teacher education, K-12 and higher education. Inspired by a very recent initiative by Robin Ellis, I’ve decided to put up a Voicethread slide and ask for feedback from people on their experiences with networked/social learning.

I would very much appreciate your feedback and would love to have faculty members hear your thoughts throughout the presentation. Thanks much in advance!

Click here for the full size view of this Voicethread.

Wisdom of the Chaperones

A recent Slate article describes the reality behind user-generated content champions such as Wikipedia and Digg.

Social-media sites like Wikipedia and Digg are celebrated as shining examples of Web democracy, places built by millions of Web users who all act as writers, editors, and voters. In reality, a small number of people are running the show. According to researchers in Palo Alto, 1 percent of Wikipedia users are responsible for about half of the site’s edits. The site also deploys bots—supervised by a special caste of devoted users—that help standardize format, prevent vandalism, and root out folks who flood the site with obscenities. This is not the wisdom of the crowd. This is the wisdom of the chaperones.

Why is the view presented in this article important to you? If you are touting sites like Wikipedia as proof of a social media utopia and someone (say, a Luddite-type administrator) confronts you with data like this, it is important that you have done your homework. Seek better examples for your arguments. They do exist.

Attention Economy: The Game

Ulises Mejias has developed a pen-and-paper game to help students better understand the Attention Economy. The game is developed as part of the course, “Friend Request Denied: Social Networks and the Web”.

How do new bloggers gain recognition? Why are some people in MySpace or Facebook more popular than others? Why does one YouTube video get seen by thousands of people, and another by just a few? What does it mean that “on the internet, everyone is famous to 15 people”? Can the subject matter of the content we post to an online network make us more or less popular?

This game is an accelerated simulation of the process of gaining attention online (acquiring more readers, friends, hits, etc.). The goal of the game is to collect the most attention. The game tries to condense a process that can take weeks or months into about an hour. It is intended for people who are new to the study of online social networks, but anyone can play. The game can also be used to teach some basic characteristics of networks, such as the role of hubs or connectors in scale-free networks. Players are asked at the end to critically reflect on the values that drive this Attention Economy.

This looks like a great idea, and I wish I were as creative. While I feel many of these concepts are best actualized/experienced online, a game like this could help students gain a deeper understanding of their own online relationships within the greater networked context.

See also The Attention Economy by Goldhaber (1997). It is a bit older but still a very relevant read.

Danah Boyd on Social Networks

Discover Magazine recently interviewed Danah Boyd, a well known PhD candidate who has been studying social networks. The interview is described as “a look at how kids use technology, where mobile phones are going, and the Facebook vs. Myspace smackdown.” Click the photo to watch the interview.

Danah Boyd on Social Networks

For many, there will not be much new information on social networks here. However, for those who have missed the piece on the beginnings of formalized social network services and how kids are connecting online, there are some interesting points made here.

Rules for Teachers

Here are some rules for teachers from the beginning of the 20th century.

Rules for Teachers 1

It’s interesting to see how clearly the social expectations for women were laid out in the form of explicit rules. Thankfully, times have changed, although we always have more work to do. It would be interesting to pose rules like this with that of our contemporary schools, rules that are not always made so apparent.

See also.

Influences for Violence

It seems that a fight-club has emerged in Saskatoon and is being documented via Youtube. This one was discovered by a mother of one of the teens involved.

Amateur fight videos involving teenagers or young men have become increasingly popular on the internet, and when Brenda Burns saw her son in one of them, she was appalled.

One YouTube video shows Burns’s 16-year-old son, Jonathon Carroll, falling to the ground and being kicked in the head by another teenager. (link)

Since the release of the movie Fight Club (way back in 1999), real fight clubs have reportedly emerged. Documenting and sharing these violent events through Youtube (and other social media sites) should not be surprising. Depictions of violence, real and fictional, have been documented for centuries through various forms of media.

Is our society becoming more violent? Steven Pinker argues that our society is the least violent in recorded history. While I accept this general argument, I still believe it is important to understand human tendencies toward violence, whether it be war or happy slapping, and any influences that promote or encourage acts of violence. After all, in my mind, ANY act of violence is intolerable.

Yvonne Roberts offered a troubling theory last November regarding new influences for violence. While types of social upbringing have traditionally been correlated with acts of violence, Roberts touches upon a theory more inline with notions of digital narcissism.

If a growing minority, are ceasing to care about how the other person feels; if we believe in the cartoon violence that allows no place for conscience; if we think that a minute on YouTube or Facebook is worth several deaths or the ritual public humiliation of another human being and some of this is not rooted in poverty or emotional deprivation or intolerance then looking for the “causes” of crime may require a new approach.

Self-gratification and self-glorification appear, in some – a few? – cases, to be the overriding impulses. A justification to take what is wanted, to extinguish who they choose. Killing, rape and injury for its own sake – as part of a buzz, a high, 15 minutes of fame, sometimes filmed for all to see, appears to be a crime unique to the 21st century. A kind of greed for attention and/or self-pleasure and a desire to be a somebody, gone mad.

So what is your current thinking on the influences toward violence in our children? Democratic or mainstream media? Governmental or school policies/practice? Video games? Family? All of the above? And, if we can identify the influences, what do we then do about it as educators, administrators, and parents.

Yes, this is a huge question, but let’s hear from you.

Questioning Twitter

Peter Rock has asked some fair questions about Twitter on his blog.

I already use a blog and an RSS aggregator. Is adding Twitter as a tool to post and receive information going to enhance or burden my learning experience? Is it that I need to follow only those who use Twitter effectively to enhance my learning opportunities? If so, what is “effective” twittering and how does it differ from effective blogging? Is the energy required to add Twitter to my toolbox and follow Twitterers worth the payoff? Are really good ideas and resources found often enough on Twitter that never surface in blogs?

I sent a link to his post via Twitter and asked people to respond. Within a couple of hours, he received 23 posts, many of them very insightful.

Check it out and contribute to the conversation. What are your thoughts on Twitter?

Understanding Digital Citizenship

(Note: There is some sensitive content discussed here, especially under item #4.)

I recently spent most of the day with Dean Shareski in Moose Jaw co-facilitating a couple of digital citizenship sessions. Here’s the wiki for the media literacy portion, in case you are interested.

Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about digital citizenship. I even dreamt I twitted about it last night (when Twitter is in my dreams, I know I need a break). Here is mostly what I have been thinking.

To me, the current approaches to digital citizenship seem to leave out important meanings of the term citizenship. It seems the Dr. Mike Ribble and Dr. Gerald Bayley are associated with the term quite frequently and they have a lot to say about it. At their digital citizenship site, it reads:

Digital Citizenship is a concept which helps teachers and technology leaders understand what students should know to use technology appropriately. But Digital Citizenship is more that just a teaching tool, it is a way to prepare students for a society full of technology. Too often we are seeing students as well as adults misusing and abusing technology. The issue is more than what the users do not know but instead what is considered appropriate technology usage.

This is as close to a definition that I can find on the site. From this, it seems that digital citizenship is about using technology appropriately, and not misusing or abusing technology. Not bad, but pretty vague.

So I explore the site a bit more, and there are “Nine Themes of Digital Citizenship“. OK, this is better. These include: digital etiquette, digital communication, digital literacy, digital commerce, digital law, digital rights and responsibilities, digital health and wellness and digital security (self protection). The item I am most interested in is the “digital rights and responsibilities”. Up until now, most of what I have seen related to digital citizenship relates only to safety, literacy and etiquette and the strategies we use in teaching these to children. While these approaches have merit, I still feel there is something significant missing.

So under “digital rights and responsibilities” it reads:

Digital Rights & Responsibilities: those freedoms extended to every student, administrator, teacher, parent or community member. Just as in the American Constitution where there is a Bill of Rights, there is a basic set of rights extended to every digital citizen. Digital citizens have the right to privacy, free speech, etc. Basic digital rights must be addressed, discussed, and understood in the school district.

Wait a minute … there’s the rights, but where’d our responsibilities go? I looked around … yet, no where in sight.

So I turn to a colleague down the hall … actually walked down the hall, didn’t Google him. Dr. Marc Spooner who recently wrote the paper, “Full-Spectrum Literacy, For Full-Spectrum Citizenship: Education as a process towards agency, engagement, and critical awareness and action“. Ironically, the title itself has told me more about citizenship than anything I’ve read so far under the digital citizenship label. In the article, Dr. Spooner writes:

A fully literate citizen is at once critically self-reflexive and critically reflexive of his/her collective and position within it.

This helps a great deal. Will get back to this.

Also helpful is the description of polis citizenship in Wikipedia. Most specifically,

The obligations of citizenship were deeply connected into one’s everyday life in the polis. To be truly human, one had to be an active citizen to the community, which Aristotle famously expressed: “To take no part in the running of the community’s affairs is to be either a beast or a god!” This form of citizenship was based on obligations of citizens towards the community, rather than rights given to the citizens of the community. This was not a problem because they all had a strong affinity with the polis; their own destiny and the destiny of the community were strongly linked. Also, citizens of the polis saw obligations to the community as an opportunity to be virtuous, it was a source of honour and respect.

I’m not sure if its my Greek roots or my leftist views, but this appeals to me as well.

So in bringing these two last source together (and I know I’m taking a giant leap here), I can say that digital citizenship can be extended to include;
1) A responsibility to critical interpret our place in the collective, especially in terms of power, authority, influence and position, and
2) An obligation toward bettering our (digital) communities through critical, ethical and moral decision-making.

Again, I know it’s a leap, but I may fill in the gaps later.

OK, enough theorizing. I’d like to give you an idea through examples of why I think this missing piece is critical to our understanding of digital citizenship.

1) Star Wars Kid: Perhaps the greatest tragedy for Ghyslain Raza is that he will forever be known as the Star Wars Kid. This young boy was a victim of a global, yet widely unintentional, bullying assault which prompted him to end his school year in a psychiatric ward. At the time, most could claim that they didn’t know better, and this is likely true. There had never been a viral incident like this, and some predict there will be nothing like it again. So what have we learned? Have we been any kinder to our youth or adults that make mistakes? Do we join in on the laughter? Do we act? What do we do?

2) LonelyGirl15: Controversy emerged when “Bree”, a supposedly 16-yr-old YouTuber who went by the screen name of LonelyGirl15, was revealed as a corporate hoax. Since then, other Youtube hoaxes have emerged including Bride’s Massive Hair Wig-out and The Pit Breakup. Types of democratic media (e.g., blogs, video) which have been instrumental in exposing the lies and biases of corporate media (e.g., RatherGate) are also being used in these same, coercive ways. While it may not be the end of the world when the content is light as in these examples, this can be much more severe when the topics are more critical (e.g., Global Warming is a Hoax, or Pro Suicide). Certainly, critical literacy is important here, but it’s more than that. If deception continues to be the fad, what are our roles and responsibilities?

3) Prison Thriller: A while back I blogged on the “Prison Thriller Video“. When I first saw the video, I didn’t think much of it, until I saw a post from Scott McLeod reporting on the “not so thrilling” background to this video. With media rushing at as so fast, it is so difficult to analyze anything very closely. Do we need to slow down and explore in more depth? And when we find cases like this, what should/can we do about it?

4) 2G1C: In recent weeks, the 2G1C video has been classified as a viral video, as well as a shock site. I have linked to the Wikipedia page about this video, I encourage you NOT to seek out the original, and I assume that after you have read the description, you will not want to. This is not a video I would usually talk about in an educational blog. I would not usually want to bring more attention to something like this. The problem is, it’s too late, and I don’t see any educators talking about this and what the implications may be.

The problem I see is that this video is becoming somewhat mainstream. Boing Boing (they’re ranked #3 in Technorati) has covered the issue several times. A search in Youtube, which will NOT bring up the video itself, links to over 6300 reactions. These are people watching the video, reacting to what they see, usually getting sick and disgusted. Most of these reactions are from young adults and teens. One individual even set up his grandmother to watch the video to tape her reaction. Horrible.

5) Facebook-like Petitions: A while back I asked a few questions about the Internet and prosocial change. I received many excellent responses (Dave Cormier’s for example) but one that has stuck in my mind was from Brian Lamb. He writes,

Is there any more anemic and ineffectual form of protest than a Facebook petition? The practice seems to be solely about a form of preening self-indulgence: “look at me,” the Facebook activist is proclaiming, “I care.” It reduces political and social engagement to a form of self-branding, no more or less significant that the lists of favorite movies, bands, silly quotations and virtual hugs and SuperPokes.

This quote pretty much speaks for itself in the context of this post. When social activism and engagement are reduced to these types of activities, what do we need to do to change this?

Of course, there are many more examples I can include. If you have your own that fit within (or outside of) this thinking, let me know.

I’m just beginning to rediscover what digital citizenship means. I know it needs to cover more than safety issues, literacy and etiquette. I know it is not just about our rights as online citizens. It needs to concern itself much more with social responsibility and social learning than is currently being addressed.

Value Openness: Twitter On CSI

There’s a video clip of Twitter on CSI that has been making its rounds. I don’t watch the show (I watch very little television), but the scene features the dialogue between two detectives as they search the Twitter account of a homicide victim.

From the Clip:
Detective 1 – “Some people just don’t value privacy.”
Detective 2 – “They don’t expect privacy. They value openness.”

As I’m preparing for a digital citizenship/media literacy presentation with Dean Shareski tomorrow, I’ve been thinking about how differently youth may view privacy vs. openness. With social networks, blogging and services like Twitter, we are certainly seeing a distinct change. There is not much to the transaction above, but in some ways, it may help people glimpse differing views on issues of personal privacy and openness.