Friday, March 27, 2009

Emerging Technologies Shaping K-12 Education

I gather from the correspondence and phone calls I've received since my initial posting on school Internet policies, that this is a complex problem area shared by public schools across Australia and around the world.

The major sticking point seems to be what has been broadly termed as "Public Policy" and relates to politicians concern about the consequences of being blamed for students accessing offensive/inappropriate material or having inappropriate communication outside the school system. In particular the media find these kinds of incidents very news worthy and this encourages the public policy to one of risk aversion by pro-actively blocking access to Web 2.0 technologies served outside the school system and to blocking a large proportion of websites regardless of their content.

While I understand the complex issues, public school leadership needs to address these as a priority, otherwise we will continue to see the gap widen between what is possible in the non-government schools and the paralysis of fear in the public school sector.

If you have any doubts about the future of schooling, you need to look at what is occurring around the world and seriously consider the predictions currently being made. The following article is just one of many that makes substantial predictions:
eschool news-- Six technologies soon to affect education.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Followup to School Internet Policies and 21st Century Learning

My last posting dealt with closed IT systems in Australian public schools and as the comments reflect, this is a problem not just in Queensland.
I've also received emails and and phone calls regarding this issue that suggest that it is a major barrier to teachers adopting ICTs for use inside and out of their classrooms.
Thanks to Stephen Downes and James Farmer for providing a much wider readership and as a result, creating interest (and maybe some angst) within Australian education.

Many of my Blog postings have sought to expose colleagues to engaging learning design that caters for difference. This has also been Edutopia's goal (with regard to K-12 schooling) in the past and they have highlighted some excellent examples that are happening in the US and Canada. The following video is no exception and showcases what my pre-service teacher students are learning at the moment. The need to adopt learning design that caters and values a raft of learning styles and intelligences. This is absolutely essential for learning engagement in 21st century schools. It also provides many more opportunities for students to acquire and integrate and then extend and refine their 21st century skills and knowledge .

Friday, March 13, 2009

School Internet Policies: Protecting Students or the Organisation??

Since the introduction of Web 2.0 technologies the gap between what school students can do at home, Internet cafes or public libraries has grown dramatically.
This is exasperated by most Australian State Education authorities being painfully slow to even acknowledge the need for an integrated approach to the inclusion of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs)into school learning environments.
While States like Queensland are rolling out a new Managed Operating Environment across its state schools, the draconian policies of blocking almost all Websites and virtually all the available Web 2.0 tools, means that student learning experiences are much poorer than those they can experience outside of school.
Not only are they poorer, but the gap between what is possible and what the schools can offer is growing very rapidly.

When you add these issues to the ridiculously complex security regime that requires students to log on twice with different usernames and passwords and again if the computer is dormant for a relatively short period of time. The task for teachers becomes enormous, particularly for younger students.

Unfortunately, the issues with school Internet access does not stop there. Many schools in Queensland are starved of bandwidth. The author has worked in one large school in Central Queensland that was expected to manage with 1.5MB of bandwidth for around 800 students plus staff. Showing a streaming video clip, even in low usage time was not even possible. In this school, staff were told that they had to use the Internet as much as possible so that they could demonstrate to the State governing body that they needed more bandwidth. Of course, in these circumstances teachers give up on the technology as their working lives are already busy enough without having a disgruntled bunch of students complaining and becoming bored at the slow access.

Restricting access to all externally hosted Web 2.0 technologies and most external Websites, appears to be motivated by the organisations fear of being accused of allowing student access to inappropriate material and uncontrolled contact with persons outside of the school and the student's immediate family. This fear is not without foundation as the Australian media is quick to judge and make inaccurate assertions. Pedophilia (or grooming), and child access to explicit material sell newspapers and fuel television ratings. Because the State education authorities are responsible to the State governments of the day, the issue becomes political with ultimate responsibility resting with the Minister and the government.
But what about the Internet access at home, friends, Internet cafes and public libraries? Just because this is not "on school grounds" does not mean that the State authorities do not have responsibility for educating school students in cyber safety and issues around inappropriate material.
As yet none of the Australian State education authorities have integrated cyber safety and issues around inappropriate material into their curricula. "Stranger danger" of the physical type is there but not the former?
The video below offers a student perspective on blocking technology and access:

In Queensland, all of the mentors charged with implementing the "
Smart Classrooms
" initiatives that the author has spoken with, want better access to external Web 2.0 tools and are frustrated by the intransigence shown by the State authority in this area. They are also frustrated by the over the top security that make access difficult for students. These professionals are tasked with professional development that will result in the integrated use of ICTs in Queensland State school classrooms, but the teachers find it all too hard with the issues mentioned above.

As a teacher educator, the author regularly has students and graduates who complain that they are unable to implement the innovative digital pedagogies they are taught at University because of the security policies and procedures present in State schools.
As the video shows, this is not just an issue in Queensland schools. Other Australian States and other countries have similar problems around these issues.

Why is Web 2.0 so important?

As you would see from much of this Blog, learning engagement is the key to successful and deep learning experiences. In Australian schools the Literacy and Numeracy crisis is not due to the curriculum taught in school, but to a lack of learning engagement that leads to absenteeism and behavioural management issues that block learning in the students' early years. Once the student is behind the schools system marches them through into areas they are unskilled and under-prepared for and the die is cast for the majority of those students. They feel "dumb", develop low self-esteem and finish school completely unprepared for work or further study.
Low socio-economic status (SES) and indigenous students are over represented in this area and this leads to generational poverty and disadvantage (Vinson, 1999; Black 2007).
Keirsley and Shneiderman (1999) and Herrington & Oliver (2002) assert that authentic learning experiences with outcomes valued in the real world lead to learning engagement. In both cases, the integrated of ICTs plays a pivotal role in this authentic learning, as a quick search of this Blog will reinforce.
By way of example look at the video below to see just one example of how this can work with Web 2.0 technologies:

What's the Answer?

So here is the the tough question and one with no easy answer.
First and foremost, there needs to be a national curriculum that has cyber safety and recognition of inappropriate and dangerous material integrated within it.
Secondly, there needs to be a scaled approach to School Internet security with the most security applied to the youngest and most vulnerable students and a gradual relaxing as the students reach later years. In all cases, where a teacher deems it necessary/desirable for their students to have access to a particular technology, it should be provided and the teacher supported throughout its use.
Lastly, we need to ensure that the Australian media are aware of the reasons for this approach and an undertaking from them that they will not sensationalize incidents that may occur.

Regardless of what happens, there should be wide consultation with all the stakeholders an a genuine attempt to educate children, their parents the general public and the media on the need for 21st century learning approaches.
It is not impossible and many private schools are already managing this issue very well.