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Final project for COETAIL Course 1: Comparative Images of Africa

Last week I spoke with one of the MS Humanities teachers at UNIS about their upcoming unit on Africa.  Back in the US, I taught two semester-long courses on Africa, one on East Africa and one on West Africa, so it’s a subject that I know a bit about and is also dear to my heart.  I’ve been working on lots of map-based lesson ideas recently, so I spoke to him about possibly using a website that I’ve been working on, http://www.mapeverything.org.  The idea for the site is to give students, teachers, travelers, and others a place to put various types of Google Maps that they have created; some of the maps there are collaborative, while others are not.  My vision for it is to create a ‘Wikipedia of Maps’ where people can contribute to different types of maps about all sorts of subjects.

Initially, I had just thought that I could help enhance a map-based activity that the class was already doing.  Instead, the teacher offered to let me come in and teach a class on map-based activities related to Africa, either this coming Friday or early the following week. I decided to use this class as an opportunity to flesh out my final project for Course 1 of COETAIL, and this is what I came up with:

To begin, I will show students images from washingtonpost.com in the slideshow below. We will discuss the themes that the images depict, and assumptions about what life in Africa is like.

Next, we will look  at a few images from http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/.  We’ll find images that students can connect to, that remind them of things that they have seen before. Then, I’ll show them the map from www.mapeverything.org called Comparative Images of Africa, seen below.  As a class, we’ll locate one of the images chosen and insert it into the map of Africa, and also provide an attribution for the image.

I’ll ask the students to look for similar, familiar images at www.flickrcc.net or similar, Creative Commons, image archives.  When they find an image is found, they will insert it at the same point on the map of Africa and give it a similar attribution.

Finally, we’ll talk about some of the connections that we have made between the different images. We’ll compare the images that we chose with the washingtonpost.com images that we began with.

To see the Google Doc of the lesson plan, click here.

Global Collaboration as Revolution

Every morning at UNIS we read the morning announcements to my homeroom of 23 grade eight students.  Today there were no announcements, so I decided to use the time to get feedback from the students about one of our current tech initiatives.  This year we decided to give the staff at UNIS a choice about whether to receive a Fujitsu Tablet PC or a MacBook Pro. The staff split almost exactly evenly, and we were hoping to give students a choice of platform for next year.  I was curious about which platform the students would choose and why.

Like the teachers, the students split about evenly between PC and Mac. They gave reasons like “I’m more familiar with a PC”, and “Mac’s are just cool”.  I also asked the students about how they felt about opening up the school wifi to their own smartphones and personal devices.  One of the students said that she didn’t want that to happen because it would mean that students would just be staring at their phones all day long.  Another student pointed out that they already are staring at their phones, but at least the wifi would be faster than 3G.  A third voice chimed in that students were using the cameras and such on their phones for classwork, but they were hampered by lack of connectivity.

I brought this discussion to the Tech Director at UNIS, Ed Gilbreath.  Ed and I readily agreed that we should work harder to include all the grade 4-12 students in our decision making regarding 1:1 since the students are the ones most directly impacted.  Our conversation broadened, though, to look at BYOD in general, student voice and empowerment, and top-down versus bottom-up leadership and decision making. There always seems to be a contradiction when we tell students to be critical thinkers, problems solvers, leaders, and to take a stand on issues that matter to them, but then we set up schools so that virtually every important decision is left to teachers and administrators.

Falling Skyward

This tension between top-down and bottom-up is at the heart of the information revolution, innovative education, and global collaboration.  It is at the heart of Understanding by Design and inquiry based education, the New Bloom’s Taxonomy with its focus on student Creation to demonstrate learning, and Cathy Davidson’s pioneering work at Duke University in showing the power of learning that is truly student centered. Global collaboration isn’t simply about two French classes exchanging photos and videos; it is one element in a shifting balance of power that affects schools, communities and countries.

The difficulty is that it can be hard to implement bottom-up practices even when, ideologically, we want to.  This is why so many PD presentations on inquiry and collaboration still take the form of a lecture/slideshow.  It’s why many teachers still ban use of Wikipedia rather than embrace it as a learning tool.  It’s why we’ve been talking for months about giving students choice of device at UNIS but we haven’t even begun to systematically uncover what students actually want.

My previous school, Harmony, placed a huge emphasis on student voice and empowerment.  We had a Student Selection Committee where kids could help decide who was accepted to the school; we had a Student Advisory Committee where students helped decide consequences when discipline problems occurred; and every meeting was led by a student who was selected the previous week by his or her peers.  Yet even in an environment like this we still felt ourselves slip time and again into the trap of trying to lead, rather than collaborate with, our students.

Underneath it all seems to be some type of fear on the part of the adults, though it’s hard to tell exactly what we’re afraid of.  Are we afraid of not being in control?  Is it a fear of being unnecessary or irrelevant to the process of education? Are we, as Dan Meyer suggests, trying to ‘help too much’, perhaps because we like feeling needed?  Or is it more simple: since most of us never experienced school in this sort of way is it a fear of the unknown?

Edutopia

Back in 2005, Marc Prensky wrote in Edutopia that the main barrier to achieving this ‘edutopia’ was the hardware obstacle of getting to 1-1 computing.  In Clint Hamada’s presentation at Learning 2.0 in Bangkok, he talked about a new 2:1 initiative at Yokohama International School in which the 7th grade students were getting both MacBook Pros and iPad minis. Clearly, at both YIS and at other 1:1 schools, the edutopia that Prensky dreamed of didn’t materialize when the 1:1 ratio was met.

In my own school, at UNIS Hanoi, I regularly hear teachers talk about how they aren’t able to get enough training on new technologies that get rolled out.  Today, when we talked about some of the new developments and future of education, one recurring theme was that the DP curriculum of the IB restricted our ability to try out new ideas.

As many schools that have gone 1:1 have found out, technology alone does not do very much.  Even schools that invest time into training workshops for the teachers often underestimate how many hours of training teachers will need for it to make a difference to their students (According to research from Stanford University, stand-alone or fragmented workshops lasting 14 hours or fewer have no statistical effect on student learning.

In order to teach and learn ‘new things in new ways’ we need to make advances in imagination. Marc Prensky’s concept of Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives is important here, because it requires a leap of imagination to try to design new lessons, classrooms, and schools for our current students, Digital Natives. This is the heart of what Prensky’s discussion of teaching and learning ‘New Things in New Ways.’

Imagination is also the essence of Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR model of tech integration.  As SAMR makes quite clear, it is easy to fall in the trap of doing the same tasks with new devices (a.k.a. Substitution).  The difficulty in creating lessons at the Redefinition level is usually not a struggle to find the appropriate hardware, or to learn new software; it is a most often a failure to see the learning potential inherent within a new tool or technology.

Part of this ‘failure to see’ comes from information overload.  It seems like there are so many new devices and apps appearing every day, and so many updates to old devices, that often we find the need to shut out anything unfamiliar.  At times this can be strategic, for it allows us to process what we already know and begin to master it more completely.  Other times it can make us retreat back to the familiar.

I don’t think that the answer is that we all need to speed up our rate of change with regards to tech.  I think we need to embrace change but do so thoughtfully and strategically, so we are able to concentrate our focus on the technologies, the training, pedagogy, and the learning environment that will further teaching and learning most efficiently.  As Prensky points out, this change does not come overnight. In that same article in 2005 he wrote: “So, let’s not just adopt technology into our schools. Let’s adapt it, push it, pull it, iterate with it, experiment with it, test it, and redo it, until we reach the point where we and our kids truly feel we’ve done our very best. Then, let’s push it and pull it some more.”

Tangle by Pendlestock

How is teaching and learning changing with the introduction of new tools? Teaching and learning are changing, but not in a direct, causal fashion.  New tools are stimulating new teaching techniques, which address new pedagogical areas, which creates new learning issues, which stimulates the need for new tools.  New tools, primarily hardware and software, are just one part of a technological/educational landscape that contains numerous variable in complex relationships. Teasing apart this relationship is a major challenge for educational researchers today and in years to come; presumably this challenge will also build a market for some new tools.