Category Archives: Weekly Blog Posts

The Potential of Social Media Activism

The word activism makes me think about protests, signs, marches and fighting for change – trying to make the world a better place.  But this is only one part of the picture.

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Photo Credit: Fibonacci Blue Flickr via Compfight cc

Simply defined, activism is  “taking action to effect social change” and involves efforts that “promote, impede, direct, or intervene in social, political, economic, or environmental reform“.  In other words, activism can have both positive and negative effects on the social agenda of specific groups.

For the purpose of our class, we discussed activism through social media and were asked to consider the following questions:

Can online social activism be meaningful and worthwhile? Is is possible to have productive conversations about social justice online? What is our responsibility as educators to model active citizenship online?

What is social media activism?

Social media activism is essentially using the platform of an online forum to lead or support a cause. It’s activism behind a screen.” (The Journal – Queen’s University)

“Bringing change or awareness about a cause through the use of social media, by posting or sharing ones thought about a particular event or issue.” (Life of Anna)

These definitions are very basic, but “social media activism” is somewhat self-explanatory – it is activism using social media. It could be liking or sharing a post on Facebook or using a hashtag in online posts to bring awareness to a particular issue.  If you use social media, you have probably viewed or participated in hashtag activism:

You may have added a filter to your Facebook profile picture to temporarily support a cause. Or clicked the retweet button to raise awareness while drinking your morning coffee. The question we must ask ourselves is if social media activism is meaningful and worthwhile and looking at the positive and negatives is one way to explore the answer.

Pros of Social Media Activism

“Successful maneuvering of social media platforms creates significant changes in society through the impact of an individual who cultivates awareness and makes knowledge accessible to millions.” Human Rights Education Research Outreach

Social media activism can:

  • Spread a message to a large audience very quickly
  • Organize events easily (like the Women’s March)
  • Allow marginalized groups to express their views freely

Using the power of networks, “online activism allows activists to organize events with high levels of engagement, focus and network strength” (The Conversation).  The ability to share, like and retweet instantly allows movements and causes to gain traction very quickly and draw in a large audience.  For example, when a tragic events occur, vigils are planned, shared and attended in a short time frame, all thanks to social media.  Larger events are organized in locations all over the world through hashtags and social media posts.

Greta Thunberg stops by City Hall, tells Mayor Valérie Plante she’s “still very overwhelmed” by the march today in Montreal. Calls crowd of 500,000 “unbelievable.” #climatestrikemontreal pic.twitter.com/Mz8vYrjXjU

— T’Cha Dunlevy (@TChaDunlevy) September 27, 2019

Finally, the good, badly and ugly part of the Internet is that you can post and support whatever you want at any time.  A positive example is that people all over the world can be part of Pride festivals, even if they are unable to attend in person.

One of the greatest things about social media is the platform it can give to otherwise isolated and marginalized people. Entire communities have developed and grown together over social media, and this has exponentially strengthened many activism campaigns. Social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter allow people to organize events and communicate on a medium that is accessible to anybody who has an email address, internet, and some kind of connectable device. This vastly increases potential audience size, and ultimately increases the possible effect that these campaigns can have on policies, politics, and everyday life.The Power of Social Media in Modern Activism

Cons of Social Media Activism

“The ease with which current social movements form often fails to signal an organizing capacity powerful enough to threaten those in authority.” Zeynep Tufekci

Unfortunately, social media activism has drawbacks:

  • #Slacktivism
  • Spreading misinformation
  • Unable to promote “real” change

A 2014 Maclean’s article explains that a “slacktivist is someone who believes it is more important to be seen to help than to actually help. He will wear a T-shirt to raise awareness. She will wear a wristband to demonstrate support, sign a petition to add her voice, share a video to spread the message, even pour a bucket of ice over her head.”  All of this takes place instead of offering time or money which could truly help a cause.

Image result for actions speak louder than like buttonsMy classmate Brooke dives into a deep discussion of #slacktivism and a few articles that explain and criticize the movement.  She included this image (shared in class by Dr. Couros) that highlights the problem with #slacktivism.

“If our desire for social change extends beyond the resolution of a single issue, we need to close our laptops, turn off our phones, and spend time in the presence of others.” – The Walrus

With the ease of liking and sharing posts or adding a hashtag, it is inevitable that the wrong information will be passed along.  #FakeNews is a perfect example of deliberately sharing misinformation, which was particularly problematic during the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election#Kony2012 is another example of a movement that exploded on social media without really understanding the true facts.  Social media activism has the potential to raise awareness, spread a message quickly and help grow a movement.  But it is important to not disregard the power of slow-growing, face-to-face, grassroots organization. Wael Ghonim (an Internet activist that helped organize the social media campaign during the #ArabSpring) discusses challenges facing social media today and how it can be used to promote real change:

Before we can have conversations about social justice online, I think it is important to discuss the concept of a digital citizen and to understand three different ideas of citizenship as discussed by Westheimer and Kahne in the article, “What Kind of Citizen“.

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Screen-captured image from class with Dr. Couros
  • Participatory – actively participates
  • Personally Responsible – acts responsibly in their community
  • Justice-Oriented – seeks to understand root cause

Katia Hildebrandt writes about the Digital Citizenship Guide in Saskatchewan Schools , which explains that,

“digital citizenship asks us to consider how we act as members of a network of people that includes both our next-door neighbours and individuals on the other side of the planet and requires an awareness of the ways in which technology mediates our participation in this network.” 

With this knowledge, we are able to explore the possibilities of using social media to talk about social justice issues online.  Below, I have shared Brooke’s (she made some excellent points in her post this week!) example of how each type of citizen may participate, using the food bank as an example:

The personally responsible citizen might donate money to the food bank online or share an article about how the food bank is in need of donations.

The participatory citizen might create an online fundraiser, like a GoFundMe page, where people can donate to the food bank and use their social media page to highlight some of the issues related to perceived injustices regarding food security. They may also decide to volunteer at the food bank.

The justice-oriented citizen might use their social media page to share potentially controversial articles, and viewpoints which spark discussion about the root causes of food security, inviting others to join the discussion and organizing followers to contribute to participating in working towards social change in online and offline spaces.

The conversations about social justice can happen online, but they are more effective when they are rooted in offline organizational efforts.  Another point is that online discussions should take place with the intent to promote change or raise awareness, rather than use the post for personal gratification (for example, getting lots of likes or shares).  But how do we teach our students to use social media to have meaningful conversations about social justice issues online?

Educator Responsibility

As educators teaching students who only know a world with social media, we should:

In Spring 2018, I participated in a joint Regina Public Schools/Regina Catholic Schools project called #YQRActivistArt.  The project involved bringing the Landfill Harmonic Orchestra to Regina with an opportunity for our students to see the group perform live. To participate in the project, you had to commit to producing an art project in response to a social issue.  Through planning and collaboration with other classes, our students chose social issues they wanted to explore and created an art piece to raise awareness about the issue.  Every school did something different, and my students presented their projects in a school wide gallery opening:

The reason I share this story is because of the importance of teaching activism in schools. My students were engaged, motivated and excited to spread awareness and it allowed us to have conversations about meaningful and worthwhile ways to share information about different social issues.  The guide, “Facilitating Activist Education” explains by teaching about activism, students may become “engaged citizen-activists – people who see themselves as capable of affecting positive change for social and ecological justice”.

By starting with offline activism experiences for our students, we can then move online with confidence.

“Edtech, at its very core, is about privilege” – Katia Hildebrandt

Hildebrandt explains that by participating in social media activism, we take a few things for granted, like access to educational tools, computers and the Internet.  With this privilege, she adds that “we have a responsibility to risk our privilege to give voice to social inequities and injustices. We have a responsibility to risk our privilege to give voice to those who have no privilege to risk.”  Furthermore, as educators we have the responsibility to teach our students about this privilege. Wasting our time with #slacktivism is not an option because we have the power and ability to promote real change with our access to edtech tools and social media to support these efforts.

Jeffrey Knutson explains that, “we need to teach digital and media literacy in the context of empathy and understanding each other’s differences. Talk about integrity, the importance of humility, and other important SEL (social and emotional learning) skills while working on digital citizenship and media literacy.” He also provides two Common Sense Education tools to lead the teaching and learning: SEL Toolkit for Educators and the Digital Citizenship and SEL Guide.

Finally, Yes Magazine shares four tips for using social media activism:

  1. Take advantage of interactive activism opportunities in online communities
  2. Make sure your activism is accessible and inclusive
  3. Remember that small steps are critical to getting the work
  4. Share the work that other activists are doing

To engage our students, we need to provide relevant tools and information to “speak their language” (using social media and edtech). Through conversations of digital citizenship and offline activism, we have the ability (and responsibility) to mold the next generation as informed and compassionate citizens who care about social justice issues.  Let’s use social media to make the conversation relevant for our youth.

“Social media activism is great for so many reasons: It is more widely accessible, it gets conversations started, it sustains momentum, and it helps empower people who may have never thought of themselves as activists.”Yes Magazine

Until next time,

@Catherine_Ready

Let’s Talk About OEP

This week in EC&I 831, we were fortunate to have a guest presenter, Dr. Verena Roberts, speak to us about Open Educational Practice (OEP) and examples in a K-12 educational setting. Prior to this class, my knowledge and exposure to OEP was very limited, as well as my understanding of the concept in general.  I am going to explore:

  • what is open educational practice?
  • what are the pros/cons of OEP?
  • what should OEP look like in an elementary (primary grades) school context?

What is Open Educational Practice?

First, let’s consider Dr. Roberts’ very thorough definition:

Open educational practices (OEP) in K-12 learning contexts can describe an intentional design that expands learning opportunities for all learners from formal to informal learning environments. Individualized open readiness can be demonstrated contextually, as a result of  teachers and students co-designing for personally relevant learning pathways where learners can collaboratively and individually share their learning experiences, that encourages communication of meaning through multiliteracies, that blends curriculum and competencies and that promotes community and networked interactions with other learners and nodes of learning from multiple cultural perspectives in digital and analog contexts (Roberts, 2019).

In Dr. Roberts’ presentation, she highlighted a few key elements in her definition: intentional design; expands learning opportunities; and formal to informal learning environments.  Open educational practices focus on the process over product and the idea that learning happens everywhere.  Furthermore, she discussed the importance of collaborative opportunities to create meaningful learning experiences that are personally relevant.  Finally, learning takes place in a community of networked learners blending curriculum and competencies.

To try and wrap my head around OEP, I did some more research to understand the goal of OEP.  Luckily OER Commons provided a specific definition:

The goal of Open Educational Practice (OEP) is to build the knowledge, skills, and behaviors that support and improve teaching and learning. Using open educational resources (OER) presents unique affordances for educators, as the use of OER is an invitation to adapt, personalize, and add relevancy to materials that inspire and encourage deeper learning in the classroom and across institutions. –OER Commons

This definition highlights how OEP can support teaching (as well as learning) and allow educators to differentiate open educational resources (OER) for their diverse student needs.  The key factor here is that by adapting material, teachers are able to provide relevancy that will allow for quality learning experiences.

Although this is not a review of a specific Open Educational Resource, I found OER Commons to be very useful in my perusal of OEP.  In particular, there is the ‘OER Commons Virtual Academy’ with a series a modules to help “advance your open educational practice”. I recommend checking this area out if you are not sure where to start or are new to OEP.

oer commons

A few pros of OEP:

  • ability to adapt material for relevant learning experiences
  • collaborative learning opportunities
  • high engagement among students

These are only a few of the positives of OEP, but they resonated with me as the focus is put on the learning experience of the student.  This relates back to Dr. Roberts’ explaining a flipped learning environment – from formal learning to informal environments as a way to engage students and focus on the process rather than the product. Teachers are able to design learning opportunities with students using open educational resources.   BC Campus Open Ed states:

When you use open pedagogy in your classroom, you are inviting your students to be part of the teaching process, participating in the co-creation of knowledge.

The idea of co-creating knowledge with your students sounds fulfilling and dreamy. But also a little “pie in the sky”, which leads me to some potential drawbacks of OEP.

A few cons of OEP:

  • learning curve for teachers to understand how to use OEP with students
  • limitations in certain classroom settings (ex. primary students vs. high school students)

In a small group class discussion, we talked about how exciting and meaningful these kinds of learning experiences would be with our students, but that the thought of using an OEP was a little daunting.  It feels like it would be a lot of effort to get set up using OEP with our students, and as Loreli mentioned, teachers may not have adequate time to find good open educational resources.  Teachers need to be very invested and see the potential benefits in order to take the time to learn and implement OEP.  Furthermore, it appears to be difficult to find resources appropriate for primary students compared to the vast array available for middles year and higher students.

But, luckily Dr. Roberts introduced our class to her framework, Open Learning Design Interventions (OLDI) to facilitate this process.

What should OEP look like in an elementary (primary grades) school context?

 OLDI (Roberts, 2019) takes place in four stages:

  1. Building Relationships
  2. Co-Designing Learning Pathways
  3. Building & Sharing Knowledge
  4. Building Personal Learning Networks (PLNs)

Using this framework, teachers can begin the process of incorporating OEP in their classroom.  Dr. Roberts also explains that younger learners (up to age 11) experience a “Teacher-Led Walled Garden of Open Exploration”.  This means the teacher helps provide different experiences for their students through inquiry-based learning opportunities. Some examples that could work for primary grades include: Skype in the Classroom, LiveArts Saskatchewan broadcasts and PenPal Schools.

Amanda tweeted asking her followers this question:

Including the image in her tweet helped show educators that they may already be using open educational practices without realizing it!  Amanda has some great ideas of how to use OEP in the primary classroom.

While this is by no means an exhaustive look at OEP, it is a start and will hopefully encourage you to learn more about how you can include open educational resources in your teaching practice.  We have to remember that our roles as educators are shifting to teaching students how to access, assess and apply knowledge by allowing creative learning opportunities. OEP is great direction to move towards if we want to continue to engage our students with personal, collaborative and meaningful learning opportunities.

Until next time,

@Catherine_Ready

 

Sharing is Caring: Let’s Discuss Open Education

In our EC&I 831 class this week, we began a discussion of open education and the culture of sharing. The term “open education” is something I have heard many times, but I have never taken the time to really understand the concept or what it means for educators and learners.

“The idea of free and open sharing in education is not new.  In fact, sharing is probably the most basic characteristic of education: education is sharing knowledge, insights and information with others, upon which new knowledge, skills, ideas and understanding can be built.” – via OpenEducationWeek.org

The quote above suggests that sharing in education has always taken place.  We share with our colleagues during breaks in the staff room, lending hard-copy books and resources, professional development sessions and more recently (in the last decade), through online platforms. My classmate Amy points to a great summary of open education through Tony Bates’ blog post, “What do we mean by ‘open’ in education?”.  Furthermore, Bates’ explains that “open learning must be scalable as well as flexible” because in an ideal world, “no-one should be denied access to an open educational program”.  This is the part that makes open education exciting to me as the opportunities to share and collaborate are endless.

Since the beginning of my career, I have searched Pinterest or TeachersPayTeachers for inspiration or resources and I usually try to find something that I can manipulate for my own needs and students.  Turns out what I am really looking for are Open Educational Resources (OERs) that line up with the “5 R’s of Open Education” as described by David Wiley:

OER Infographic: Open Educational Resources can be used for free and without permission.
Image Source: Fort Hayes University OER

A unique aspect of OERs is that the creators “waive some (if not all) of the copyright associated with their works, typically via legal tools like Creative Commons licenses, so others can freely access, reuse, translate, and modify them” (“What are open educational resources”).  I think this is the part where I start to get a little overwhelmed and confused about what is considered fair dealing for educational purposes.

For example, in my division we have professional development groups called a “Community of Practice” (CofP), which are self-selected groups of educators with similar interests.  A couple of years ago I partnered with another colleague to create a CofP specifically for arts education teachers in French immersion schools.  We felt that there was a lack of resources for this particular area of arts education.  We developed a shared Google folder, Pinterest page, YouTube playlist, etc.  But, things started to get a little bit “icky” when people considered scanning in songs from hard copy books into our shared folder.

via GIPHY

Was this okay? Since we were using it for “educational purposes” and not sharing it beyond our group, did it fit into the fair dealing rules?  Correct me if I am wrong, but I think that because the original resource was not created as an OER, it still had traditional copyright rules.  If someone created a collection of French songs through OER Commons, then we would definitely be able to share the work using the 5 R’s of Open Education.

In my own practice, I have created unit and lesson plans for arts education and shared this folder with other teachers.  If the resource is an OER, I include it directly in the folder.  Otherwise, I simply include a resource list to make sure I am complying with copyright guidelines.  This folder was created for me as a place to store my resources, but I made it a shared folder because, why not! I think it is important that we share ideas among educators and stop reinventing the wheel.  Plus, sometimes I get other resources shared back in return!

via GIPHY

As a side note, for anyone who was in band or choir in elementary and high school, did you ever receive photocopies of music? Entire scores copied for hundreds of students? This definitely does not fall under the “short excerpt” fair dealing guideline.  A conversation about musical score availability online is a whole other world, but I will say that a simple Google search with “(title) pdf free” will pull up just about any piece of music you want. That is why I rely on websites like MusicNotes to make sure I am using authorized music either personally or with students. Other sites like Scribd also have musical scores, but often they look like scans of hard copy books.

As we begin to scratch the surface with the endless possibilities of open education, we should bring the focus to “Why Open Education Matters”.  I love this video from our class since it is short and sweet and highlights how open education helps remove barriers that prevent students from high quality education. Students and teachers can have access to updated resources online.

Why Open Education Matters from Blink Tower on Vimeo.

 

Open education and a culture of sharing is important to me as an educator because meaningful experiences can take place through collaboration and community.  Why is open education important to you?

Until next time,

@Catherine_Ready

My love-hate relationship with social media

I would consider myself an ‘early-adopter’ of technology, especially with the Internet and social media.  As a millennial (born between 1981 and 1996), I grew up in a time when using the Internet was a new way of life as I learned alongside new developments.  E-mailing, peer-to-peer music sharing websites (like Napster and Limewire) and instant messaging (MSN Messenger) were all part of my elementary school years.  I remember coming home from school, connecting to the dial-up internet (who can forget that connection sound?) and beginning a series of online chats with my friends over MSN. This was the beginning of my social media ritual that would continue and evolve over the next 20 years.

1 Millennials
Source: Forbes.com

Since I was figuring out these sites at the same time (or before) my parents, they didn’t have a lot of control or understanding of what I was doing on the Internet. An example: Yahoo Chat Rooms. One of my best friends growing up has a brother (who now makes his living creating video games like this one) who was very computer savvy. He helped us create Yahoo accounts so we could join large Yahoo chat rooms with strangers from all over the world. We even figured out how to participate in audio chat, usually with adults. Keep in mind we were young – in grades 4 and 5. All of this took place with our parents oblivious to what we were doing and before conversations about cyber safety existed. Did we tell them where we lived? Did we give out other identifying info? I don’t remember and I shudder to think of the potential dangers we could have encountered. Long story short, if there was something new on the Internet, we tried it.

Fast forward through high school (Hi5, MySpace and eventually Facebook) and I began to see the negative or bullying effects of social media. Does anyone remember the “Top Friends” feature on MySpace?

1 Todays kids
Source

Then you add in the “relationship status” feature on Facebook…sigh.  It wasn’t all terrible though, as it was a really cool way to connect with people from around the world.  In grade 12 I went on a school trip to Europe, and our group joined with another group from a small school in southern California. A decade later, I am still connected with some people from this trip and we keep in touch sharing photos of our growing families and professional endeavours.  Heading to university, I was able to join ‘Class of 2011’ groups on Facebook and ‘meet’ other students before starting classes.  This was extremely helpful to discuss everything from textbooks to the first social gatherings of the semester.

I have spent the last decade exploring successful and failed social media including Google +, YouTube, Skype, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Vine, Weebly/Blogger/Wordpress, Tumblr and Snapchat.  Some have held my interest longer than others as I feel they add value to my life.  Other apps are cool ideas, and should be really successful, but they don’t seem to have the same staying power as more popular apps (like TikTok or Vine [in it’s prime]).  For example, I used the app “Mazu” with my younger nieces, and I thought it was a really positive experience.  It was created to help teach digital citizenship and the positive power of social media.  But then they just stopped using it one day. (Possibly a reflection on the short attention spans of this new generation?)

I am now at the point with social media that I feel “too old” to learn about some new networks, like TikTok.  All I know about TikTok is my nieces and nephews had it for about 5 minutes and became WAY too obsessed that my sister (their mother) made them delete the app.  As an arts education teacher, I feel like TikTok could be useful for ‘research’ and to reach my students, because we could learn some of the dance crazes like “The Git Up” or “Hey Julie”, but that’s why I use YouTube.

Even dating apps like Tinder and Bumble came after I met my husband, so although I understand the ‘swipe right/left’, it is something I will never experience in my social media journey.

When I consider how social media has affected my personal and professional life, I have a lot of positives but a growing list of negatives. Here is an example:

Snapchat: The only way that I communicate with my 16-year old niece. We have a great relationship and tell each other everything, but if it’s not face-to-face, it’s through Snapchat.  According to my niece, it is the only way she communicates with her friends (not through texting or other messaging). Why? Because the chats are not saved unless you want to save them and also through snapstreaks. The stress of snapstreaks is something I know all too well, as I send and receive a picture of the wall every day to my niece to maintain our streak. We have been doing this for 910 days. NINE-HUNDRED AND TEN DAYS. I even have a reminder in my phone – “Snap!!!!! Streak!!!!”. What is the point of this?! It actually causes stress in my life because I am afraid of losing the streak and how it would affect our relationship. Before I gave birth to my baby, I gave my niece my Snapchat login info so she could maintain the streak when I went into labour (turns out my baby came quick and we didn’t have to worry about losing the streak).  Is this the world we live in now? I was about to give birth, but one of my concerns was maintaining the streak as I felt like it is part of my relationship with my niece.  That being said, I still do it every single day with no end in sight. (Insert shoulder shrug emoji here).

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On a positive note, social media allows me to share milestones, travel and important events with friends and family.  I can stay connected with people wherever they are in the world and maintain important relationships.  In my professional life, I used Twitter, a personal website and LinkedIn to create a following that led to a full teaching studio of piano students within a few weeks.  These positive networking experiences helped me grow and maintain my business.  I also enjoy using Twitter to connect with other educators and sharing what we are doing in the classroom.  LinkedIn has allowed me to interact with people in other industries that share common activities (like same universities and volunteer commitments).

But with these positives, there are also negatives like #fomo and feeling left out when not included in social activities.  I think this is something that is an even bigger issue with our students and something I look forward to exploring further in this course.  Also, as a new mom, I have spent A LOT of time on my phone perusing Facebook and Instagram while holding a sleeping baby. It is hard not to compare your baby to other babies and get wrapped up in the “Instagram vs. Reality” world. And then there are sponsored posts/ads (are they listening to our conversations??) that make me feel a little bit uncomfortable. Finally, as a teacher, I find that I get a lot of student follow/friend requests that I must decline.  This is not necessarily a negative, but it does require having a conversation about privacy with my students.

In a recent conversation with my sister (mother of 4 of my nieces and nephews), I said “I hate the internet! I hate social media!”.  I could see how it was affecting my sister and her kids and the daily struggles she is having with them and access to social media.  She wondered if she should unplug the wi-fi? Move to a deserted island? How can we turn this around? What has to change to make it a positive part of our daily lives?  What can teachers do to help our students navigate the constantly changing world of social media?

On that note, I have to go take a blurry picture of my face or the wall and write the letter ‘S’ to maintain a daily ritual.

1 streak

Until next time,

@Catherine_Ready

 

 

 

 

Equality and Equity in the Digital World

This week in EC&I 830, two teams argued the statement:

Technology is a force for equity in society

The general consensus during our class discussion was that Team Disagree had a tough side to argue as nearly two thirds of the class sided with Team Agree.  That being said, Team Disagree raised some very valid and important points in their opening and closing statements and rebuttal.

The image below is the first thing I thought about when I read the debate statement. Equal distribution and use of technology will not work in our society – it can’t be a ‘one size fits all’ approach.  Instead, equitable distribution and access to technology is required to have positive and successful integration of technology.  Therefore I completely agree with the debate statement this week, provided there is equal opportunities for all.

IISC_EqualityEquity.png
A classic illustration of equality vs equity

Although my ‘agree’ opinion did not change before or after the debate, my eyes were opened to some of the negative aspects of technology and equity in society.  One of the points Team Disagree focused part of their opening statement on is the issue of gender inequality in the technology world.  In one of the suggested articles, technology is considered another avenue for men to oppress women.  In fact, many women have come together to reveal the sexist culture in Silicon Valley tech and venture capital firms.

The article also expresses the idea that, “we have to challenge the presumption that it (the workplace) is neutral and allow women to reach their potential in workplaces where they feel safe and respected”. I have never really considered the idea that technology can be biased against women, but it does make sense.  I know I don’t question the fact that certain tools like Siri are set to a woman’s voice.  Although you can change this in the settings, it is interesting that the default is often a female voice. As the article describes, we need to have a neutral technological system for gender and social equality.

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Often a barrier for technology is limited access in some developing countries and poverty stricken areas. Facebook created Free Basics, a limited internet service for developing markets, (which) is neither serving local needs nor achieving its objective of bringing people online for the first time. Maybe the intention of this service was meant to be a great solution for developing areas that do not have internet access, but instead it narrows what users can access and search for online.  Ellery Biddle, the advocacy director of Global Voices says, “It’s building this little web that turn the user into a mostly passive consumer of mostly western corporate content. That’s digital colonialism.”

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Protesters against Facebook’s Free Basics service

The term “digital colonialism” showcases one way that our society is not making technology equitable across different socio-economic groups.  Instead of giving these groups “internet” (like Free Basics) that pushes certain messages or propaganda, Biddle explains that we need to fix, “the barriers to internet access (which) include signal availability, device ownership, education, digital literacy and electricity”.

Finally, bringing the technology access closer to home, a Huffington Post article explores access to internet in Canada.  The Canadian Internet Registration Authority’s 2014 Factbook (CIRA) states that while 95 percent of Canadians in the highest income bracket are connected to the internet only 62 percent in the lowest income bracket have internet access.  Some communities in Canada (like Nunavut) only have 27 percent of communities with internet access.  Unfortunately, the CIRA explains that Canada has no national strategy to improve access, speed and prices.

Team Disagree made some very good points in their rebuttal that for technology to be equitable in society, internet should not be a luxury. It needs to be affordable and accessible to everyone and we need to redesign systems that discriminate against social status, gender and race.  All this being said, technology is here to stay, so we need to find a way to make it equal and fair for everyone.  This issues raised in Team Disagree’s argument are a great starting point for how we can improve technology to be an even better force for equity in our society.

Team Agree opened their argument by suggesting that technology has achieved a lot in our society, like removing barriers (ex. helping people read) and connecting the world (ex. real time video chat).  Most importantly, they focused on the idea that technology is not the problem and neither is the “digital divide”.

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In my own experiences and those expressed by my classmates during our class discussion, we have seen how technology can help remove learning barriers for students in schools.  A big discussion took place on how one school division (my division) redistributed technology across all schools for equitable use among students.  During my short career so far, I have only taught in community and lower socio-economic background schools.  The equitable distribution plan has been crucial in my teaching and use of technology, because many of my students do not have access to reliable internet and technology at home.  It has also affected how I prepare lessons and assignments, as I have to assume that students will be able to complete assignments with technology at school, but not necessarily at home.

Some students have an assigned laptop (assistive technology) that follows them throughout their school career.  As a teacher, I know that I can design instruction that will allow these students to have the most success because they are guaranteed to use the assigned technology to help with their learning experience.  An example is the ‘Read&Write for Google Chrome‘ extension that is used throughout my division.  This tool has a variety of options including reading text to the student, dictation and simplifying text which has been extremely valuable with students who have reading difficulties.  A couple of years ago I taught in a school with a high EAL population, and ‘Read&Write’ helped my students (with a variety of English speaking and reading levels) to achieve their learning goals.

Another reason I agreed with the argument is the availability and affordability of online education.  A few great examples provided by Team Agree include Open Education Courses (OEC), Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), Open Education Resources (OER) and Virtual Classrooms.  The suggested article explores that a process that is helping share knowledge is, “the use of ‘open education resources’ (OER) – freely available, high-quality materials that can be downloaded, edited and shared to support teaching and learning.”  Team Agree explains that open education is based on fairness (among gender, socio-economic status and ethnic origin) and inclusion (a basic minimum standard of education should be available to everyone).

During my B.E.A.D. program (Bachelor of Education After Degree) at the University of Regina, I was able to complete my program in a shorter time period and maintain working nearly full time by taking courses through Athabasca University.  This was my first experience with online education, and I do admit that it was a challenge at first.  I found that by not having classmate interaction and only assignments to complete that I needed a lot of self-discipline to stay on track.  I eventually figured out the time management piece and overall felt that the experience was positive.

My first “blended learning” course was for Standard First Aid.  The course required completion of online modules and quizzes prior to attending a one-day in class session.  This is a great model as it allows for a deeper understanding of the information and can then be applied in person during the one-day course.  I enjoyed this experience as it did not take up my entire weekend and I could work on the modules at my own pace and schedule.  My husband is currently enrolled in professional development learning through his work.  The course started with a one-week intensive in person to dive into the course material with the instructors and other classmates.  He then has one year to complete a variety of modules and assignments through an online portal.  There is continuous contact with course instructors and motivation to complete the coursework with an online course community.

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And of course,  EC&I 830 is my first “blended learning” web based academic course.  I think one of the benefits of this being an educational technology course is that there is lots of engagement online through blog comments, Google Plus community, Twitter and of course, our weekly Zoom sessions.  This keeps the motivation for learning and completing course work in a timely fashion, something I struggled with in my Athabasca courses.

This brings me to the point raised by Team Agree that the concept of open education has revolutionized the learning classroom and allowed for digital inclusion.  Instead of referring to a digital divide, the term inclusion was used to reframe the divided in a more positive way.  This can be achieved with equal and equitable access, affordability and a mindset to embrace the digital world.

A Forbes article explains that many advocates believe that digital technology has the potential to expand access to education to underserved children around the world.  In 2015, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called technology the new platform for learning at the annual South by Southwest conference and said, “technological competency is a requirement for entry into the global economy”.   For this to happen, we need to increase equity for children and communities that are historically underserved, and one way is through digital technology.  This solution almost seems too easy – to help poverty stricken communities have better education, all we need to do is supply the students with technology!  An example is the “digital school in a box” provided by the Vodafone Foundation,  which supplies a laptop and 25 tablets pre-loaded with educational software to a refugee settlement in Kenya.  I think this is an awesome initiative and it is great to see organizations looking for ways to support education around the world.  But in reality, it is a band-aid fix – as it is only a temporary solution to a problem.  What happens when the technology is out of date? What about all the other underserved areas in that community? Or the underserved areas in our own country?

The increase of technology and the digital world has give many different groups around the world a chance for better education.  I completely agree that technology is a force for equity in society, but the complicated part is how technology is distributed and used.  I think this is still a learning process and we will continue to see many trial initiatives as possible solutions to the complicated issues of technology access.  By being aware of the issues raised by Team Disagree (like inequality among different gender, race and socio-economic groups), we can continue to improve distribution, access and affordability of technology to remove the digital divide.  Technology is here to stay and grow, so it is society’s responsibility to search for solutions that close the accessibility gap.  Both teams presented great arguments this week which served as a reminder that issues that existed before technology will continue to take place with technology use.  As educators, we must continue to focus on teaching digital citizenship to develop positive online identities.  As members of society, we need to rally for equal and equitable technology access in our communities.

Until next time,

@Catherine_Ready

Is openness and sharing in our schools a good thing?

This week during EC&I 830, two teams debated the statement

Openness and sharing in our schools is unfair to our kids

Initially, I fully disagreed with the statement because I think that it is openness and sharing that makes this era of education exciting and unique. Through Twitter, blogs and Youtube, I have been able to connect with parents and students and share what goes on in the classroom. As expressed by Team Disagree, sharing promotes connectivity and is the reality of today’s childhood experience. We have all this cool technology nowadays, so why wouldn’t we use it?

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This is the point when I begin to realize that maybe technology and sharing in the classroom is not always so great. Team Agree explained in their opening statement that sharing in schools is not always negative.  But then they asked the question, “Are we being ethically fair and responsible with the amount of sharing?”

This question gives educators a chance to reflect on how we ask for parent/guardian permission to post photos of their children on the Internet. One of the suggested articles states,

“The challenge for schools is to balance their (and parents’) desire to publicize the great things that are happening in their organizations with their responsibilities to protect children and satisfy parental concerts about student privacy and safety”.

At my school (and schools in my division), a ‘media release’ form goes home at the beginning of the year that asks parents/guardians for permission to distribute photos, video, use a variety of social media platforms, etc.  My school has created a culture of sharing and celebrating student successes through social media, and we are very aware of which students can or cannot be included. In my role, I teach every student in the entire school, so I very quickly figured out which students I can include in my photos and videos at the beginning of the year. In past years I have a tried to use a blog to share what is going on in the Arts Ed classroom, but I have found that Twitter is a lot easier for quick sharing AND has the bonus of engaging with families and other educators.

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But, Team Agree then made me realize that when I post images on Twitter of students and student work, I am basing my decision on whether or not a media release form has been signed by the parent/guardian.  I rarely ask the student if I can post their image on my Twitter account – a discussion of permission usually only takes place when an older student expresses that they do not want their photo taken or posted anywhere. Upon reflection, I feel like I am doing a disservice to my students by not explaining the rationale for a post or including the students in the decision. I didn’t even think about the fact that these students will inherit a digital footprint that they had no part in creating.

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When did the sharing culture shift to feeling like we have the right to post any picture on social media simply because it was a photo taken by the poster? In the early days of social media, I remember asking my sister if I could post certain images of my nieces and nephews, but now it isn’t even a conversation. A BBC poll showed that 70% of adults believe it is not okay to post photos of anyone else, including children, without permission, and 56% of parents avoid ever posting images online.  I think that if were to take this same poll, I would agree with these statements. But in reality, my practices do not reflect my opinion.

So, something needs to change. A good piece of advice by a spokeswoman for the NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) urges parents to consider the fact that “each time a photo or video is uploaded, it creates a digital footprint of a child which can follow them into adult life”. 

There is a lot of good advice in this suggested article  like parents should advocate digital consent and ownership so they can help teach their children to value it as well. Another campaign is the #talkb4sharing movement which asks parents to talk to their children before posting their images online. While this is directed towards parents, educators could use similar practices to encourage consent among their students.

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(As a side note, Team Agree really struck a nerve when they discussed the fact that any innocent photo could be used by Internet predators. In fact, 50% of images posted on child pedophile sites were sourced from parent social media profiles. Shudder)

Where do we go from here? The first step is to think before we share.

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Team Disagree helped calm my mind a bit and helped me to remember my original opinion that I think openness and sharing among our students is a good thing. In one of the suggested journal articles, the benefits of social media in education are explored and how it can be used to promote student engagement. Certain web-based applications can simplify the communication among students, between student and teacher and with parent and teacher. One could also note the negatives of this easy communication, especially with parent-teacher communication.  Boundaries are necessary so the ability to be in constant communication is not abused.

An exciting point about social media in education is that is fosters collaboration and allows students to work together to achieve a common goal. Recently, my students participated in an activist art project with students in both RPS and RCS school divisions. We connected on Twitter using the hashtag, #YQRActivistArt as an outlet to share our work. While it was not used by a lot of schools, the hope was that it would be used to engage our students and see what other groups in the city were doing to create socially aware art projects.  Collaborative learning is meaningful for students and social media is one way to let students share and express their ideas.

Finally, Team Disagree helped me realize that, yes we need to be aware of what we post about our students online, but we have an opportunity to help our students build and keep a positive digital identity 

The EdTek White Paper explains that educators are very important in building students’ understanding about how technology can impact personal and future professional lives. Educators have a responsibility to teach our students how to create habits that will lead to a positive online identity. The article uses ISTE standards to provide recommendations and questions to help students:

  1. What info am I sharing?
  2. How secure is it?**
  3. Whom am I sharing it with?
  4. What am I leaving behind?
  5. What are my rights?

**Security online is expressed using the STEP method:

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Our role as educators is to give students the skills they need to protect themselves online and create a positive digital footprint.

Let me reflect on the debate statement again:

Openness and sharing in our schools is unfair to our kids

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I feel like the debate this week took me on an emotional roller coaster. First I disagreed with the statement, then Team Agree made me fear and question my teaching practices. Am I bad educator for not asking my students their permission to post photos? And what about the gross idea that pedophiles could be taking these images? But then Team Disagree calmed my nerves a bit and reminded me that openness and sharing in our schools promotes engagement and collaboration.  As a responsible educator, it is my job to inform and teach students ways to create a positive digital footprint and to help students understand consent and permission to post photos and work online.  I can do this by modelling good online behaviour and discussing sharing online with my students. I still have a lot of work to do in these areas and intend to implement some of the good sharing practices shared by both teams.

 

Until next time,

@Catherine_Ready

Should we teach things that can be googled?

Last week, I teamed up with two colleagues, Shelby and Amanda to form Team Disagree for the debate statement:

Schools should not focus on teaching things that can be googled.

We created an opening statement video for the debate, and after a strong rebuttal with Team Agree and class discussion, I still strongly support our disagree stance.

Our opening statement video:

To support our argument, we focused on three main points:

  1. Google should be used as a tool to build foundational skills and understand how to verify factual information

  2. Memorization has an important place in developing student learning skills

  3. Google is hindering our ability to concentrate and focus

It is interesting that both Team Agree and Team Disagree mentioned the significance of critical thinking in education. Team Agree focused on the importance of learning to problem solve and develop critical thinking skills as knowledge is changing faster than ever and continues to grow. Furthermore, as stated in one of their suggested articles, students and educators teaching in the 21st century need to learn 21st century competencies. The emphasis should be on content creation instead of reproduction of information, as this will be most beneficial to learner development.

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Similarly, my team (disagree) also focused on the importance of critical thinking and teaching students how to use tools like Google to guide students through the information and think about what they are accessing. In short, teachers need to help guide our students to learn ways to use Google appropriately and develop critical thinking skills. As stated in our team’s suggested article, when students think critically, they actively engage in these processes:

  • Communication
  • Analysis
  • Synthesis
  • Problem-solving
  • Evaluation
  • Reflection

To help students reach these processes, teachers need to prepare a variety of hands-on activities that allow the students to be involved in their learning.  While both Team Agree and Disagree believe that critical thinking is important, we have to teach our students how to develop the skills without Google first. This goes along with the idea of “smart searching” as described in our suggested article.

IMG_0819Instead of just releasing our students into the world of Google, teachers should first model the process for searching online. Since Google is so open and accessible, a good tip is to teach students how to predict results they expect to see.  This way students can evaluate what they are typing in the search box and if they think it will produce the results they want.

In high school, I had a teacher briefly touch on the idea of “smart searching” on Google. Fast-forward a few years later in a university career session, an advisor expressed the importance of “googling yourself”, so you could see what future employers may find about you.

ProtectYourIdentityOnline-600x400.jpgWhen you search Catherine Ready, there is a wide range of results, from websites relevant to me, to articles that simply included the words “Catherine” and “ready” – ready being a very common term! Once I began using a few “smart searching” techniques, I was able to find articles and websites related specifically to me over the last decade. These searching tips are easily found on Google, but it was through the guidance of a teacher that showed me how to use Google in an efficient and effective way in my learning.

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The second point to support our argument is that memorization has a place in learning.  Interestingly, Team Agree spoke to the detrimental effects of rote learning, or simply memorizing through drilling and repetition.

In our research and suggested article, memorization is considered a tool in learning and involves a variety of methods to help students recall and remember information. Rote learning is only one way to commit things to memory and instead students can use techniques like visualization, imagery and mnemonics.

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Growing up, learning through memorization was (and still is) something I loved. I always felt that I had a really good handle on how to memorize, using songs, rhythms, imagery and mnemonics. I also heavily relied on rote memorizing through drilling and repetition of skills like multiplication tables, French vocabulary, science facts, etc. Additionally, I danced, figure skated and took music lessons – all areas that required memorization. My first undergraduate degree was in music with a concentration in piano  and part of the degree requirements included memorizing over an hour of music to be performed in recital.

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Excerpt from Liszt’s Consolation No. 3 (one of my favourites!)

I like to think I mastered the art of memory work and have experienced firsthand how memorization helps learners grow and move beyond the basic level of recall and remembering. Through my strong knowledge basic of facts (from math facts to music theory terms and rules) I have been able to “move up the ladder” of Bloom’s Taxonomy and go deeper into my learning to the more sophisticated levels of analyzing, evaluating and creating.

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But,

as an educator, it would be naive to think that every student would be able to learn and memorize exactly as I did as a student. Since memory work is something that I find simple and enjoyable, I could assume that all students would feel the same way. My job as an educator is to teach students how to memorize and build a knowledge base. One of the suggested articles by Team Agree states that:

“The objective of education is learning, not teaching”.

I agree with this point, but I also understand that we can teach our students how to memorize through hands on activities, especially with song, dance, rhythms, patterns and imagery.

As an arts educator, I am trained in the Orff Schulwerk Approach. This style of music education is a process that encourages students to explore and experience music through singing, movement and playing instruments.  But interestingly enough, all music and songs in the Orff Approach are taught to first be memorized through rote learning and then movement and instruments are added. This is a starting point in music education to develop the musical ear before we introduce music theory and learning to read music and rhythms.

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Students in my classroom learning guitar.

In higher grades, I teach guitar and I require students to memorize a few basic chords so that they can grow and improve their playing more quickly. Sure, they could google the chord every time, or they could commit the chord to memory through repetition, visualizing and practicing the finger placement on the fretboard – a very “hands on” activity. This is much more effective for a developing musician and allows students to eventually move to the creating and composing levels in music.

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Finally, there is research that every time you learn something new, a connection is formed between neurons in the brain. The more you repeat the learning – possibly through memorization – the stronger the connections.  The more you keep something in short term memory, it will eventually be pushed to long-term memory, so therefore practice makes perfect, and memorization is one way to do it.

Our last point to support our argument is that Google is hindering our ability to concentrate. Last week, I touched on how technology has played a distracting role throughout my education. One reason it is more difficult to concentrate is that when we are on the Internet for answers, we can be easily distracted by advertisements, videos, links and other information that is strategically targeted to the user, but unrelated to the topic we are searching. In our suggested article, there is concern that we are relying on skimming rather than deep-reading information.  If we want an answer quickly, all we have to do is “google it” instead of creating our own pathways to learn new information.  The article even goes on to suggest that our brains are changing to adapt to this new form of quick thinking. As educators, it is our responsibility to continue teaching and showing students how to learn and acquire new information. If we go back to our first point, it is important to practice critical thinking skills and teach our students how to use Google effectively.

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At the end of the day, the Internet has no limits to the amount and kind of information that can be accessed by our students. If we did not teach things that could be googled, there would not be anything left to teach! Educators have to find a way to balance a variety of learning techniques (include using Google) and how to incorporate these ideas into 21st century education. With so many ways to learn, access and explore information, we can rely on research to support our teaching methods so we can foster strong critical thinkers and flexible learners.

Until next time,

@Catherine_Ready

EC&I 830 – Contemporary Issues in Educational Technology

Let the educational technology journey begin!

“To understand their world we must be willing to immerse ourselves in that world. We must embrace the new digital reality. If we can’t relate, if we don’t get it, we won’t be able to make schools relevant to the current and future needs of the digital generation.” – Ian Jukes

 

The Post-Truth Era – Part 2

Click to read The Post-Truth Era – Part 1.

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This week, our professor Alec, asked us to write about an average day (for us) in terms of reading and making sense of information, media and the world around you by discussing personal strategies for analyzing and validating information? After all, if we are going to teach others (especially our students) about being media literate and about being able to spot fake news, we must first analyze our own practices. 

I am finding more and more that my parents are talking to me about “news” they read on Facebook or wanting to purchase something off of ads they have seen on Facebook.

Signe Wilkinson – Philly.com

Trust me, I have tried to explain filter bubbles to them. I have tried to explain fake news to them. My mom is constantly phoning me asking if I have heard of this make up or fancy lotion that she has seen in an ad on Facebook. When I tell her that I haven’t heard of it before, ask her if she has checked out their website or read reviews and inform her about why she is likely seeing the ad in the first place, she scoffs and rolls her eyes. However, her generation has not previously had to critically examine news in the way that people are required to today. I am constantly emailing articles to her so that she can better understand the algorithms that are controlling what she sees online. She is learning though!

I recently sent this video to her:

Fake News often uses seemingly shocking headlines to get readers to click. This video asks readers to stop, think and check before sharing. This video also lists the variety of items on a new site that you should be skeptical about. I think about many of these items as I scroll through news articles daily.

Like most people, I receive much of my news through social media sites, in particular through Twitter. My first line of defense is looking at the web address. If it is an opinion piece I am looking at, I am a little more lenient because many opinion pieces I read are from personal blogs. However, if it is news I am looking for, I want a web address that I am familiar with like CBC. I have friends on Facebook that post “news” articles from the most bizarre web addresses and I never click if it doesn’t look like a legitimate web address. I also roll my eyes at them for posting without being thorough. I’d say my thoughts coincide with my classmate Kelsie, as she talks about not knowing what to say when other post obvious misinformation on Facebook. I often end up just scrolling past.

With Ideas from the video I posted earlier in this blog combined with a list of critical questions in my mind (similar to the ones in my classmate, Luke’s blog post A Day in the Life of a Media Consumer), I set out to explore my daily intake of news.

If I read something that seems a bit fishy I often see if I can corroborate one news story with another. I also always check the date and the source of the information. I often (but not always) check the background of the author to see what else they have written and if they are writing for/working for a reliable source.

One new idea that I am now becoming cognizant of is circular reporting which makes it more difficult for people to corroborate their news stories with others. Check out this video to understand how circular reporting works and how it creates an fertile environment for the spread of false information.

Recently, I have also learned about websites like Snopes.com and FactChecker which I will be starting to use now that I am aware of them!

What personal strategies do you use for navigating the (mis)information you see online?

 

The Post-Truth Era – Part 1

Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year for 2016 was post-truth as defined as “an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less  influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.

This week’s class discussion focused on the new and emerging challenges of literacy in a fake news world or if you will, a post-truth world. Many of my classmate’s presentations this week discussed how fake news spreads rampantly compared to factual articles and that fake news stories tend to have some sort of flair or novelty, thus appealing to the emotions and personal beliefs of their readers.

Why is this such a big deal? Well, it isn’t just a big deal for journalism, fake news is attacking the foundations of democracy by hacking into the human psyche in a way that has not been done before. Fake news is eroding epistemological and ontological values and understandings in humanity’s worldviews. In his article How the Business of the Digital Age Threatens Democracy , Aiden White (2017) references the BBC’s Grand Challenges for the 21st Century where many experts “named the breakdown of trusted information sources as a primary threat” in the 21st century.

Aiden White (2017) writes about the business model of the digital age,

“Using sophisticated algorithms, bots and turbo-charged distribution systems and fed by limitless databanks providing personal access to millions of subscribers, this business model thrives on “viral information” that can deliver enough clicks to trigger digital advertising. It matters not whether information is true or honest or whether it has public purpose; what counts is that it is provocative and stimulating enough to attract attention. Digital robots are useful but they can’t be encoded with ethical and moral values. Clearly, the best people to handle ethical questions regarding online content are sentient human beings, however the digital business model eschews any significant role for journalists and editors to do this work. The development of business models driven by algorithms which put clicks before content has created a new culture of communications in which truth and honesty is obscured by fake news, bigotry and malicious lies; and it legitimises a political space that encourages ignorance, uncertainty and fear in the minds of voters. These realities raise bigger questions about fake news that not only concern the future of journalism but also the nature of democracy itself”.

It is a big job then, for parents and teachers to tackle the big business of the digital age. Anthony Golding (2007) in Fact or Fiction: Fake News and Its Impact on Education writes that “Students armed with a positive skepticism of fake news can become change agents rather than victims”. In The Grim Conclusions of the Largest-Ever Study of Fake News the author states “falsehood consistently dominates the truth on Twitter, the study finds: Fake news and false rumors reach more people, penetrate deeper into the social network, and spread much faster than accurate stories”. In all elementary classrooms, reading comprehension is a big deal. But in this “post-truth” world, simply understanding what we read is not enough. Young people must be taught the necessary skills for not just understanding what they read but being able to interpret the validity, quality and credibility of the sources they read. They must be able to analyze the difference between real and mis-information.

Adam Zyglis / The Buffalo News (CagleCartoons.com 2016)

So, where do we start?

In Jaimie and Jocelyn’s vlog, they discuss a video called The Problem with Fake News on the 5 Cs of Critical Consuming (context, credibility, construction, corroboration and compare).

The video argues (and I agree) that critical thinking citizens are good for democracy and democracy is good for everyone. Jaimie and Jocelyn also included this infographic to help teachers, parents and students begin to spot fake news:

Last week on Twitter and in our EC&I832 Google+ Community, I posed this question:

My students are too young to analyze most news articles because it is above their current reading ability but I would like the opportunity to incorporate this topic into our discussions at school.

My friends and classmates came back with the following ideas/resources:

Other ideas welcome!