Information abyss – in the era of global education

The more I look the more certain I am that I stand at the edge of an information abyss, rather than at the dawn of a  golden age of information and life-long learning powered by the digital environments.

Perhaps there are two sides to this:

The good side encompasses savoring the growth of creative knowledge and nurturing the  understanding for students engaged in the topic of discussion. In this way students can sometimes surprise and delight us with insights and even lead us in new directions taking the teacher mentor along with them.

The bad side encompasses that information abyss that exists, but which is misunderstood,  largely unmentioned, and yet which is creating a new form of the digital divide – content and conversation ignorance in an era of mass information.

Knowledge and creative/scientific  understanding is always at the heart of the educational endeavour. Teachers gnawing at the syllabus bones of their subject may find juicy marrow, but it’s still the same pile of bones.    The officially mandated parameters of accreditation organizations (think departments of school education or higher education) means that content and process may run parrallel to the natural learning needs of students.

Designing any long-term educational action these days (especially in the face of 1:1 computing and mobile devices) involves creating scenarios for acquiring and developing competencies and knowledge in subject domains that are enabled by personalization. Competences are the main element of the learning process and personalization in virtual learning scenarios involve designing and executing learning paths, learning activities within a subject and some kind of analysis that ‘tags’ the success of the particular lifelong learning elements involved.  That’s education, but is that learning?

Ah – here it is again, that information abyss.

Educators were never information experts, but in the era of ‘industrial schooling’ this did not matter.   Information was organized and made available in structured ways, quietly providing access to tacit and explicit knowledge at point of need.

Then technology transformed the information landscape, pushing changes into education. Unfortunately education experts forgot that they were not information experts, and in the age of web-enabled information some educators and educational   leaders, in their enthusiasm and  ‘debunking’ of industrial schooling,  have also advertised their ignorance in how to work with the most precious of all commodities – information!   Did they toss the baby out with the bathwater!  Nope, they actually never did know what information organization was all about, what metadata means, when digital preservation is important, how information access can be facilitated, how information is organized, and what strategies are needed to find, analyze and synthesize information.  Pre the web era , this didn’t matter. There were librarians around to fill the breach and provide the knowledge gap.  Now things are different.

Information (and the knowledge it contains) is the underpinning of society, learning, and future developments. Information is what lead to the creation of the web, and which leads to developments in all forms of our web engagement.  Social networks are enabling information sharing. We need to be able to read, and read well, to access information. We need to know how to find and make available to others the information that matters.

But while educators “toot” the use of web tools, and play with virtual environments, they seem to remain more ignorant than ever about the impacts of web organization on information access and information retrieval.   Only a fool closes a school library down because information is on the web, and fiction books are sitting in a box in the classroom.

How should we ensure we refresh the mental browser of pre-digital thinking to suit the evolution of the web?

What school leaders need to do is to go out and find the best information and library experts they can find to re-vitalize their school library.  What school leaders need to do is to go and empower an information expert within their school to lead in curriculum design, and ensure that it incorporates the required fluency with information access, use, manipulation, remix, and dissemination.  What school leaders need to recognize is that all the reshaping of classroom spaces, and use of tech tools and mobile devices for   curriculum innovation is nothing more than a hollow shiny bauble  (which may well be crushed in the next iteration of the web)  and really useless .

Kids aren’t learning how to be adaptive in complex information environments.



Someone HAS to help the teachers of our 21st century kids understand reading, literacy and information seeking in a connected world.  The information abyss is right there at their fingertips, and each day teachers are doing a great job of throwing kids down into that abyss!  (Test your knowledge of the abyss by perusing Knowledge 2)

Our students now need help in navigating diverse information pathways within their personal and creative learning environments. They need a range of literature and information options, delivered to them via a variety of physical and virtual means, from books to all manner of media and digital objects, via a plethora of digital devices. They need to know how to juxtapose text, sound, media and social connections in real time, and how to filter, then mix and match what they see, hear and experience in order to build personal knowledge and understandings of the curriculum.

Where once the bibliographic paradigm created text-book learning and school libraries, learning today requires that teachers and school librarians understand reading and information-seeking in a connected world.

Deal with the information abyss.  In the name of education, get a new school library!  This is what I’ve already debated in the post  Why Teacher Librarians are Important. 

Essentially though, in this new library we find that the literature, magazines, information, technology, learning and teaching activities are designed to support the needs of the networked learning community, creating a partnership between teachers, students, school, home and the global community.  Moving to a Networked School Community is essential, and is the only way to ensure that a school is dealing with the information abyss.

Images:
1. cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by Ka Rasmuson
2. cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by heyjudegallery

Purpose/ed: Unlocking education, unlocking minds

It’s worth stopping and thinking back to some of the most exciting times in your learning life – to feel once again that cognitive buzz that energized your spirit and made you want to know more.  I mean something deep, visceral, urgent, demanding – like a child building and rebuilding a set of blocks with persistent fascination.  What have these learning moments been for you?

I still feel the utter disappointment of having found only dried macaroni inside the rocking clown that I demolished. I have so many memories from when I was a kid that remain charged with positive frustration (learning) and wonderful, sizzling amazement.   How many of them can I attribute to a learning experience as a by-product of formal education?  How many can you? Honestly!  What about our learners in schools today?

Learning and knowing cannot be separated, and relies on transactions and interactions with information. However, different people, when presented with exactly the same information in exactly the same way, will learn different things. Most models of education and learning have almost no tolerance for this kind of thing. As a result, teaching tends to focus on eliminating the source of the problem: the student’s imagination!

The purpose of education is surely about cultivating the imagination, for without imagination there would be no knowledge, no development, no scientific discovery, nothing. Most of us at some stage in our lives have had the thrilling experience of seeing a new solution to a problem, not necessarily in lofty theories of the professional world, but perhaps in making something, or cooking, or gaming, or solving a social conundrum. You don’t have to be Einstein to experience that wonderful feeling of a strong sense of uniqueness through a new insight or idea – making a connection that you’ve never made before.

For me, this is the challenge and purpose of education – nurturing ‘eureka’ moments for every kid. Not only are Eureka moments extremely exciting, they also reinforce an inner conviction of being special, someone worth having around.

So when it comes to our digital environment, we must work with existing and emerging media tools to promote creative and reflective learning. The challenge is to go beyond the constraints of the classroom and to push the understanding of what is possible. You only have to look at projects like the Flat Classroom Project to appreciate the possibilities.

No-one likes to grow old – but hiding in the 20th century mindset won’t stop you aging!! In fact it will definitely give you digital dementia, and simultaneously disenfranchise your student’s right to learn at the same time.

It’s time to go beyond worksheets, pathfinders, and lock-step learning. We’ve been saying it for years now, but many schools still ‘throttle’ young minds with essays, exams, cross-form marking and more.  It’s not curriculum that’s the mind killer – it’s what teachers do, or are forced to do with it that’s the problem.

I wonder what you could do today to unlock learning and energize the minds of your students?  Eureka!

Learning online through CSU – looking for solutions

This is the first week of the new session at Charles Sturt Uni – and my first week dipped into a fully online world of learning for current and future educators.  I was lucky to meet some of them in O week at the barbeque, and was ‘rocked’ by their aspirations and passion about work in libraries in schools and in the community and public sectors. The conversations covered many things – and of course Twitter and Facebook came into it pretty soon.  Of those starting the course many had a Facebook presence, though only a few were twitter followers.  Never mind…the queenslanders got together for a ‘twitter training session’ to get connected and stay tuned.  You know who you are :-)

This week I began to ‘meet’ my students in four subjects that I am teaching this session.  It’s a time of reflection and re-organisation for me, as I move into the potentially flat-bed delivery of courses that Uni learning managment systems can be.  I’m looking for solutions.

My students in Digital Citizenship in Schools are the ones that I am keen to see what we can do to improve on the way we deliver online courses. After all, understanding digital citizenship assumes a level of interaction with digital content and digital modes of interaction!  Our content is delivered in ‘modules’ and can be quite static text based products. However, there is functionality that allows for online meetings, forums, and shared spaces through Wimba.  The Sakaii platform (latest one is not rolled out yet) does allow embedding of many files, so videos and more can be incorporated – a real plus!

But it’s still not easy to share online learning together, unless we adopt more visual, interactive approaches with our students – who in many cases are teachers or teacher librarians looking for or implementing interactive learning for their students.

So what am I doing with the Digital Citizenship in Schools ETL523 group?  Setting up things that will benefit them, me, you, and model how what we learn today will continue to be part of the learning collaborative that we create.

I’ve created a Diigo group  Digital Citizenship in Schools which not only informs the course work we are engaging with, but becomes a pool of information for anyone, and can continue chugging along.

I’ve created a Facebook Page Digital Citizenship in Schools – with the same mission.

These two plug directly into a blog I have created for the students, as a way of sharing updates in a more interactive way  (not sharing this link yet, as I won’t go live with this for the students until tomorrow).  The feeds from Diigo and Facebook update automatically within the blog too.  The videos I am going to make will also plug into that same blog and update.  So now we will have a nice colourful, hyperlined, information rich  exchange that can be embedded right into our Sakaii system – and bingo – easy, up-to-date communication from me – leaving the forums for the questions, queries, and discussion of the ‘formal’ learning.   We’ll be using a number of other tools too as part of the learning experience.

So a simple little adaptation has created a nice one stop shop in the LMS – that’s actually a composite of many worthy online tools.   I think next time I’ll add a wikispace, now that they have free Wikispaces for the Higher Education.

I’m enjoying this, and really looking forward to working with my students in INF330, INF505, ETL523 and ETL401.  Not sure what adaptations will happen in my other courses yet.  That’s the challenge for Week 2 :-)

Digital literacy across the curriculum

Digital Literacy across the Curriculum (pdf), from FutureLab, UK, is a 63-page handbook aimed at educational practitioners and school leaders in both primary and secondary schools who are interested in creative and critical uses of technology in the classroom. The handbook is supported by case studies (pdf) of digital literacy in practice and video case studies.

The handbook aims to introduce educational practitioners to the concepts and contexts of digital literacy and to support them in developing their own practice aimed at fostering the components of digital literacy in classroom subject teaching and in real school settings.

Developing digital literacy is important  because it supports young people to be confident and competent in their use of technology in a way that will enable them to develop their subject knowledge by encouraging their curiosity, supporting their creativity, giving them a critical framing for their emerging understandings and allowing them to make discerning use of the increasing number of digital resources available to them. p.10

Developing digital literacy in the classroom can allow students to apply their existing knowledge of creating with digital technology to learning in school and in the process be supported to think more critically and creatively about what it is they are doing. p.24

Fostering creativity in the classroom involves applying elements of creativity to subject knowledge. This can be done in all subjects across the school curriculum. p.25

This is an outstanding document that can be used as an information primer for helping schools develop a whole-school approach – particularly relevant in the current 1:1 laptop scenario in Australia.

Good intentions win the (Second Life) day!

I love our online technology world!!  This morning I was up and online at 6 am for the ISTE Webinar From Good Intentions to Best Practice: Teaching with Second Life in Middle School.  I was ready to listen to Peggy Sheehy (Maggie Marat) from Ramapo Island talk about her Second Life work – Peggy inspired the Aussie crowd at NECC, so i knew I would be hanging on her every word . The presentation was all about kids researching, building, discussing, creating, exploring and more, with teachers who are taking excellent pedagogy from their classrooms into a virtual world – in which students can extend their understanding and learning in many different subject areas.

Peggy reminded us that teacher preparation is vital. We need to Get Informed: read second life press and forums; read SL education wikis; and belong to SLED – the educator’s email listserve. We need Experience: get a SL account; tour popular places; visit educators spaces for collaboration and join groups; and start to learn to build simple objects. We need to Develop: identify a learning objective; build curriculum with appropriate space!

She explained that we are not looking for extra time in curriculum, but looking for opportunities to move existing curriculum into a space that will engage students in a more powerful way. We still need structure, feedback and quality assessment.  Second Life is an equaliser – reticent students blossom and converse and contribute. It’s the teacher strategies that count!  The skills learned carry right back into the real world classroom, and both students and parents are reporting profound benefits from having a learning environment that incorporates Second Life.

There was a great deal of superb information in this ISTE Webinar. Follow Peggy’s work Ramapo – Suffern Middle School in Second Life

See and download the full gallery on posterous

A curious intellect

Curiosity is at the heart of our educational endeavour. For me curiosity has been the driving force of my life – it really has. Right back at school (yes, that was a long time ago!) I clearly remember standing in line waiting to go to my Year 10 English class (yes, we lined up then) reading a book on psychology – a new topic I had discovered. My English teacher Mrs Ferguson (yikes, we didn’t like her much) simply looked at the book and stated “you have a curious intellect”. Was that a compliment or a criticism? I was never quite sure, but I never forgot that moment. Somehow my burning curiosity rated a mention!

What I now know is that as a teacher I have to take pride in curiosity and creativity, and to harness that natural enthusiasm through creating new opportunities for learning.

I’ve lived with curiosity all my life – and I’m sure you have too! It’s gotten me into mischief more times than I like to admit. It’s gotten me into strife more times than I like to admit. But I love it nonetheless :-)

Seth Godin‘s short video about curiosity hit home for me the importance of curiosity. He says:

For 7, 10, 15 years of school, you are required to not be curious. Over and over and over again, the curious are punished.

Scott McLeod at Dangerously Irrelevant recommends that every educator (and other change agents) should see Seth’s speech at TED.

Technology-rich learning spaces

Recently I had the opportunity to both attend and take part in the 2nd International LAMS conference with my own presentation on School libraries for 21st century learning.

What I found particularly exciting was the opportunity to learn something about the design considerations for planning new libraries, the innovations in furniture and fittings, the re-conceptualization of learning priorities, the understanding of learning needs, and much more.

Thanks to the presentation by Maxine Brodie, Maquarie University Librarian, I have a number of very useful leads to add to my personal knowledge-base about learning and libraries in 21C.

Two of particular interest are:

  1. Scott Bennett from North America and the Library Space Planning site.
  2. Joint Information Systems Council (JISC) from the United Kingdom and their Planning and Designing Technology-Rich Learning Spaces

A wealth of information, case studies, research, photo evidence etc is available at each site. Even just trawling the JISC Flickr photos provides inspiration, before getting into more detail!

Some key questions were offered for our consideration – from Scott Bennet – which can equally be applied to school libraries as to tertiary settings since we all understand that:

Space designs that acknowledge the social dimension of . . . learning behaviors and that enable students to manage socializing in ways that are positive for learning are likely to encourage more time on task and more productive studying, and thereby yield a better return on the investment in physical learning spaces.

Question 1.

What is it about the learning that will happen in this space that compels us to build a bricks and mortar learning space rather than rely on a virtual one?

Question 2.

How might this space be designed to encourage students to spend more time studying and studying more productively?

Question 3.

For what position on the spectrum from isolated study to collaborative study should this learning space be designed?

Question 4.

How will claims to authority over knowledge be managed by the design of this space? What will this space affirm about the nature of knowledge?

Question 5.

Should this space be designed to encourage student/teacher exchanges outside the classroom?

Question 6.

How might this space enrich educational experiences?

There are many insights to these questions to be learned from the two resources, as well as from collaborative discussions about these issues amongst us all.

The key for me is the Planning Context – this context will drive the creation of new 21C Library/Resource centres.

Our facilities will

…….need to move from being collection-centred to being learner-centred

……in order to support research, learning and personal development in a new networked environment.

Bennett, S. (2007) ‘First questions for designing higher education learning spaces’ Journal of Academic Librarianship (33)1, pp. 14-26.

Photos: JISC InfoNet’s photostream