7 Pillars For Digital Learning For Schools

I watched a recording of a webinar by Eric Sheninger, a principal of a New Jersey school, who happens to be a big advocate of digital technologies in education.

His big point on Digital Leadership (“Changing Paradigms for Changing Times”) was that schools should mirror or parallel the real world.

If you’re a student or parent reading this, I hope you visit (or have visited) the Computer & Technology Lab, where I try to do just that. I’m cognizant of the fact that the ‘computers’ my students will use in less than a decade, won’t even look like the ones we work on today! (Consider: What if computers not only shrink to the size of cell phones, but become invisible, yet ubiquitous?)

Sheninger has a list of seven pillars we need to have in this new model of digital leadership

1. Communications
2. Public Relations
3. Branding
4. Professional Growth
5. Student Engagement and Learning
6. Learning Environments and Spaces
7. Opportunity

He makes some fascinating observations about our fear of technology. Interestingly, although he is a prolific blogger, he was at one time skeptical about social media!

Digital Citizenship. Why Should You Care?

Last week, I began introducing the topic of Digital Citizenship.

It’s easy to see what it means to be a Digital Citizen, by looking at what happens when people have got caught not doing the right thing. Or why Google Glass, though useful to some, is upsetting. No shortage of these examples!

Plagiarism, bullying, and password theft are the big three in schools. But as more and more of students get into online sharing and commenting, we must think of Digital Citizenship in terms of how they perceive Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp., Twitter and SnapChat –and a slew of others coming right after these.

Alongside this unit, I am introducing something that gets 4th, 5th and 6th graders all fired up: Learning how to blog. This is a fun class, and not only because I’m a writer. Teaching students to publish content is a great way to recognize how language arts (the mechanics, even), connects with the digital skills they need to have. It gets them to consider what it means to have an audience!

It’s also fun because you don’t have to sweat bullets to make these units cross-functional, and multi-disciplinary –to be in keeping with the Arizona College & Career Ready Standards.

Here’s something that could be sent homeA Digital Citizenship ‘Family Contract’ for children to sign.

The tug-of-war between social media ‘policies’ and ‘guidelines’

Social media in the education system is often treated with the broad brush. I’ve gotten used to this, and fielded this argument long before I got into education – as a communication consultant.

Organizations who have been mildly exposed to the uses and abuses of social media immediately throw two things at it: filters and policies. You see that’s how we always dealt with these things, didn’t we? When email came along we had gatekeepers (human filters), and policies. Long before that, when people started had access to phones, people did exactly that – they ‘locked’ phones inside booths and rooms, and were worried that employees might spend too much time talking on the phone.

Fast forward to today. Schools are wrestling with this age-old communication issue of Policies vs Guidelines. Gatekeepers vs Accessibility. To address this head on was a timely White Paper on Ed tech in Schools (by the American Association of School librariess) that noted how Acceptable Use Policies or AUPs, are more a list of things young people should not do, rather than what they ought to be considering as digital citizens.

Expanding on this, Frances Harris and Megan Cusick update it with a call to rethink social media policies in schools.(“What’s Not to ‘Like’? March 10, 2014), citing Common Core standards that call for making knowledge “robust and relevant to the real world.” I like how they dig deeper into CCSS to suggest that we ought to be teaching students to use technology  “to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products in response to ongoing feedback, including new arguments or information.” (Italics, mine). The point here being that, one effective way to solicit feedback is to get them to be out there in public, on published platforms. While we are busy erecting high fences around this pool, we may be leaving them unprepared to dive into the “real world” where the pools are everywhere and unfenced.

Don’t get me wrong. I teach K-6, and have children of my own, so I know the importance of guidelines and ‘small fences.’ But to the authors’ larger point, we parents often try to teach our children to swim, rather than making them fear the deep end.

I’ve just begun a class on blogging for my 6th graders. They’ve read the AUPs, and that’s behind us now. Now it’s time to see them go public.

Lesson Plan for Winter Olympics + Digital Learning Day!

We have a lucky collusion of events next week.

We have been planning to celebrate Digital Learning Day on the 5th Feb., but now that the winter Olympics is also getting started at the end of the week, we might be able to tie these two events together.

A fellow teacher in the Dysart Elementary school in El Mirage tipped me to a site that could let students collaborate in a mind-map sort of way, and I experimented with it using content around the Olympics.

Here’s a sneak preview below.

Padlet - Digital Learning Day, Salt River Elementary

The website is called Padlet, and it has the look and feel of Glogster, but in a less distracting way.
I particularly like how it lets you export the content in a variety of ways – from PDF to QR code, to an embed link – as you see below.

What’s neat with Embed Codes is that, should I update the the page it the code is pulling from (in this case Padlet, and my Olympics-related content), that latest version gets pulled into this post.

View it herehttp://padlet.com/wall/m2iy0fn1fy

As for how we could use the QR Code, that opens a slew of possibilities, doesn’t it?

Be a ‘Content Creator’ – No keyboards required!

Yesterday I began to prep some of my classes for next week’s Digital Learning Day, by getting them to think about content.

Where does all the content we read and watch come from?

As I ramp up my 5th grade class from finding and reproducing knowledge, to putting together their own ideas, I want them to explore some things that seldom get talked about:

  • What does publishing mean today? How many tools could they find right now, albeit hidden under the hood of their computers?
  • Why is important to share their ideas using these tools?
  • How could their ideas be assembled in a way that makes them valuable to someone else?

I stress this last point because of two recent occurrences.

The first with a 4th grade class l taught on Patents and Copyright to 4th graders in 2013 –in relation to how there are more important places to do ‘research’ at, than on Google. Given an opportunity for them to research patents on the USPTO website, they could see how some of the most gee-wiz tools out there all began with (and still look like) a doodle on the back of a napkin. I’ve seen students come up with some amazing ideas and wondered why we don’t channel these!

The second was when I stumbled on a story in Fast Company magazine, on a weird pair of shoes fitted with GPS technology. It struck a chord because of an idea my robotics team came up with 16 months earlier. Working on their project for the FLL competition, (the challenge was called ‘Senior Solutions’) they thought of solving the problem for a visually impaired elderly person, using a pair of shoes embedded with sensors. The shoes detect obstacles, and communicate with the person via the soles of the feet.

We seem to never have platforms for kids to develop these ideas and publish them, do we? After all, the unspoken message is that they have to get to college first, to be worthy of having their ideas published in some journal.

Back to my plans for Digital Learning Day. I’m giving 1st graders a chance to see what it means to pick up a microphone and record their thoughts. Microphones have become less complicated to use now, and becoming a content creator can be as simple as telling your story, or weighing in on a topic at the click of a button.

I’m using Audacity, and headsets with microphones for this. It’s a work in progress, so…stay tuned!

Teachers who podcast, Principals who blog

I’ve been a podcasting fan for as long as podcasting was around, I suppose – at least from the days of Adam Curry, referred to as the ‘podfather’ in some tech circles.

When I took up teaching, I kept saying it was time we started deepening what we teach in computer class. Instead of dwelling on the usual suspects – Powerpoint, Photoshop, Excel etc– we ought to teach kids what they might dabble in in the real world of collaboration. This included the use of analytics, and media monitoring dashboards, creating and publishing their own podcasts, and content curation, to pick a few.

So it’s been a pleasant surprise to discover that there are teachers who have taken to some of these tools –though you never see a story about it in the popular press.

There are even many principals who blog, and tweet… A few good starting points:

Related note: My school’s just getting into a content publishing platform. If there’s no podcasting feature built-in, I’ve got some tools to get started.

My Upcoming Book: “Chat Republic”

It’s official. I’m now ready to announce the title of my upcoming book. It’s called Chat Republic. I’m planning to launch it in June.

Angelo Fernando, Chat RepublicThe book is the crystallization of work I’ve done covering the intersection of technology & business / technology & culture for more than 20 years.

Now, as a teacher I see digital media in a whole new perspective. Chat Republic is packed with interviews with thought-leaders, businesses strategists, media practitioners and content creators. The chapters take on issues such as ‘media snacking,’ crowd-sourcing, information overload and engagement are no less relevant to education.

Chat Republic is not a fictional country. It’s the world our children live in as well –those conversation spaces they learn to operate in, and will take over in just a few short years.

I just reconfigured my computer and technology lab to encourage just this: Conversation!

No ‘sage on stage’ in my tiny republic!

For more updates on the book check out my other blog: HoipolloiReport.com