Friday, April 29, 2011

Model Good Digital Citizenship

After a discussion in the staff room with a teacher about the importance of teaching students (and teachers) about using copy free images and music, I decided to put together a quick and dirty list of my favorites sites. So here they are in no special order:

1. Wylio (gives an embed code and this is good for web pages like wikis.)
2. Flickr
Super Schnauzers3. Flickr storm (it is similar to Flickr but returns more results and with an embed code)
4. FlickrCC
5. Google images (with the advanced search for the Creative Commons license
6. Wiki Media Commons
7. FindIcons
8. Photos8
9. Compfight
10. Smithsonian Images

As teachers, we must model the behaviour we want our students to learn and so by showing them your repertoire of sites you visit to find "just the perfect image", as well as citing its source, you are teaching a powerful lesson about integrity and creative commons. The days of searching on Google or Bing for images with little or no care for their license are gone. There are many more wonderful sites for public domain photos that you and your students should have no trouble finding what you need. I like to introduce this idea of citing your image source when talking about plagiarism. In the same way they would cite the source for their text, they should cite the source for their images and music. (My favorite site for royalty free music is FreePlayMusic because it indexes music by both instrument and mood!)

You can turn this into a class activity and see how many sites the students can find by using a variety of key words such as "public domain" or "creative commons" and then the + sign to add other terms such as "museum" or "nature", according to your search parameters. Remember that museums, libraries and public archives are great places to start hunting for public domain images. In this activity, it would be a good idea to go to the Creative Commons site and learn about the different licenses. Students should know about the difference between a simple attribution license (allows others to use the work, remix, remake, distribute, and tweak but as long as they credit the source) to the more complicated attribution+non-commercial+non-derivative (the most restrictive). This will also encourage them to use a license of their choice on their own work that they post on the web.

Teachers modeling good digital citizenship encourages students to do the same. Of course, you can always grab your camera and take your own pictures!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

My Dad, Roger Ebert and Finding Your Voice

If you haven't listened to Roger Ebert's talk on TED, "Remaking My Voice", then take a few minutes and listen to video posted below - I guarantee nineteen minutes well spent. Even if you don't have time for the entire video, just a few minutes will help you think about this critical idea: you have a responsibility to yourself, your community and to this exact moment in history to make your voice heard.

Roger Ebert's story, told by his friends and a computer voice named Alex is, for me, hauntingly gripping. I have been able to think of little else since I first saw this a few days ago. My father lived through the cancer that Ebert is recovering from now. In 1994, he was diagnosed with mouth cancer. A horrendous twelve and one half hour operation where surgeons performed almost the same operation as on Ebert, left him unable to make the smallest of sounds, swallow or even smell food. To say it was devastating is a gross understatement. My father was a tall, good looking man who used his voice and 'larger than life' personality, to whip life and people into shape to do his bidding. After the cancer and the operation, he was left weakened, withered and silenced.

During his long convalescence, we shared many very important 'conversations'. I spoke and he wrote. (This was 1994, before the laptops and computer generated voices that helped Ebert.) Sometimes, just to tease, he would write without vowels and expect me to understand his sentences. "What's the problem?", he teased. "It's just like ancient Hebrew!" One day he told me that he felt "resurrected", a new man with an opportunity to live in a new way. (He lived for seven more years after that.) The loss of his voice brought a new ability; listening. He became more receptive and empathetic to others.

I share this story with my readers not because of the similar operations both men had but because of the similar life lessons they learned. Our voice, the physical one that emanates from our larynx with the help of our tongue, and the abstract one created by stringing together words and ideas, is core to our identity. Both men lost their physical ability to speak and both realized the power of their voice in the world.

As Ebert shared his experiences, he referred to other TED speakers who had gone before him that week; Sal Khan whose ambition is to teach the world with Khan Academy and David Christian who tells the very BIG story of the history of life on Earth and the Goldilocks conditions that create complexity on the planet. What a contrast Ebert gives us; one man's voice against the backdrop of global education and universal complexity! But what a perfect opportunity to learn about the meaning of one voice; your own.

The memory of my father's tragedy (because the cancer claimed his life in 2002) and Ebert's reflections on the meaning of voice and identity have created a 'perfect storm' in me this week culminating in this blog post that is a poor attempt to express my deepest conviction: to teach is to help students find their voice, and in accomplishing that, I express my own. My success is tied to theirs; my voice must support theirs. We live in a time where expression and communication, so bewitchingly simple, is seemingly taken for granted. SMS, cell phones, instant voice and visual communications is the life blood of this time. Against the backdrop of the amazing array of communication mediums, I remind myself that one voice, even the small soft ones, counts and that as educators, our job is to help these voices find expression.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Creative Commons Pictures and the Wiki

It is important to teach students (and teachers) about how to find pictures with a creative commons license.  In the same way that students need to learn how not to plagiarize, they need to learn about how to find creative commons pictures.  To that end, I put together a quick video featuring Flickr storm (but could have also used Wylio as well) and giving simple instructions for how to embed those images on our class wiki.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Books in the Ditch of the New Media Landscape

I believe in maximizing my learning time so I listen to podcasts whenever I can.  Today I took the dog out for a long stroll and listened to Michael Wesch's keynote (New Media Environments) at the recent Educause conference in Chicago.  Michael Wesch is a professor of Anthropology at Kansas State University who has some very famous videos on YouTube here and here.  I had the good fortune to hear him speak last year in Boston at Allan November's Building Learning Communities conference.  I admire his innovative work with the students.  He might say that he  is only harnessing the collective intelligence in front of him (large lecture hall) and responding to John Dewey's question, "If students learn doing, then what are learning sitting there?".

In his keynote, he addresses several converging issues facing teachers who know that the old ways are simply not working.  He has such a gift for translating complex issues into simple and compelling bite-size morsels.  For example, "we need to prepare students to be knowledge-able instead of knowledgeable".  This is not just semantics but an existential shift.  In this media  landscape with the sum total of the world's knowledge available to us, why are schools focused on creating knowledgeable students when what will serve the student is a lived experience of being knowledge-able?  Education is not about the transfer of content (with new fancy technologies so we feel cool about the sparkle of the transfer process) but about how these young students will examine, question, create and re-create the world that they inherit from us.  Most teachers know that - I think.

He also spoke about the other face of this new media landscape;global connectivity brings both new opportunities for collaboration and surveillance, for deep connection to people (virtually anywhere) and for alienation and isolation, for participation in democracy as well as mindless distraction.  He tells us that technology is more than a neutral tool; it is also a mediator of human relationships.

As I thought about those contrasting possibilities, I came across an unusual sight - several boxes of hard-covered books.  When I looked closer, I saw that they were an encyclopedia set of Canadian History published in 1937.  Hidden in the corners were several smaller greenish books; one with the title of "How to Excel at Public Speaking" and another at using wit and humour.  I was struck at the loneliness I felt for those books.  The public library was directly in front of these discarded books.  Their heartless owner did not even take the time to donate them.  A part of me wanted to scoop them up and save these beautiful ruby history books from the ravages of weather and indifference, but I did not.  I walked away from those beauties of yesteryear leaving a spotted trail of uncertain guilt and melancholy.  I have books of my own that I have loved for years and years.  I would never put them out to the curb; not even in this heady new media landscape.   

The choices in front of teachers are not print versus digital, content versus process (in learning), knowledge acquisition verses skill building but more about a shift of the learning and teaching bodies on this new landscape that includes all these possibilities.  Michael Wesch collaborates with his students and teaches them.
 " I still maintain that I'm the most experienced in the bunch — the expert learner, the expert researcher. But the students also have skills to bring to the table, and it's important to recognize those." - A Sense of Purpose on Educause.
Educators must include the students in the design of these new learning environments or, like the sadly discarded books, risk curb-side irrelevance.