Course 2 Final Project: The Power of Online Communication

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Photo Credit: MarcelaPalma via Compfight cc

Our school is currently on the journey of integrating the inquiry approach as our teaching model so I have been reading Harvey and Daniels’ text Comprehension and Collaboration. In the first chapter Susan Heathfield is quoted as saying, “Fostering teamwork is creating a work culture that values collaboration. In a teamwork environment, people understand and believe that thinking, planning, decisions, and actions are better when done cooperatively. People recognize, and even assimilate, the belief that ‘none of us is as good as all of us.'” When I read this statement, I wondered if I would truly feel this way in regards to our Course 2 COETAIL final project. I was thankful for the timing in that I was both reading about collaboration and being asked to carry it out professionally. What better way to learn than actually trying it out!

I began with some emails to a few grade level teachers in the upper elementary range thinking that we would share the common thread of students with similar needs. Our group shaped up to be a grade 6 teacher in Canada (Erika), a grade 4 teacher in Korea (Colleen), and two grade 5 teachers, one in Dubai (Kara) and one in Jakarta (me). Being the practical classroom teachers that we are :), we gravitated to the second option of using the UbD planner to create a lesson that we could use to “teach students about 21st Century Literacy Ideas, Questions, and Issues.” And here is what we created . . .

Process: By using Google Docs we could contribute to the UbD planner when we each had time. Since we are located all over the world, the document would frequently change/improve/adapt while some of us were sleeping and there was always something new to edit, add to, reword, ask a question about, etc. We truly did use it as a live document. We each had a different colored font to represent our thoughts and wonderings and then once we were all in agreement we would change the font to black. Bit by bit sections became solidified and we collectively built our unit. I found the process of collaborating across the globe by using a google doc to be clear, organized, and convenient.

Content: Our group agreed to focus on the following Enduring Understanding: “The communication tools that exist today are powerful mediums to help spread positive change and global awareness.” By selecting this EU, we narrowed our focus in using an online communication tool to “spread change and awareness” but left it open-ended enough to meet the needs of each of our classrooms. I did not have the opportunity to implement this unit as we created it but now that it is complete, I can better visualize how it would be a natural fit with many of our units in grade 5. For instance, it could fit with our persuasive writing unit or our Perspective and Conflict inquiry unit or even our final Investigation and Reflection Grade 5 project.

Reflection: Having learned about collaboration for my students and having now experienced it on a broader and more global scale through COETAIL, I am more of a believer than ever. I now have a better understanding of how powerful a tool collaboration can be to deepen, expand, and fine tune learning for students and adults alike. Stephanie Harvey argues that “we cannot provide robust, engaged, and differentiated learning unless kids can break into a variety of groups and work together. . . we simply must train kids to team, give them plenty of structured practice, and then trust them to work as partners.” I can now see for myself how through collaboration we can create new and improved learning together.

The Power of Positive Connection

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Photo Credit: PhOtOnQuAnTiQuE via Compfight cc

I think the Kid President may say it best in this video about how we can each make the world better . . . “the internet can be an awesome place!” While I am not denying that the issues of access, the criminality of the deep web, and the ease of cyberbullying exist, I have really enjoyed focusing on all that the internet makes possible this week.

As David Weinberger writes in Small Pieces Loosely Joined, “The Web gives us an opportunity to re-think many of our presuppositions about our nature and our world’s nature. Only by so doing can we begin to discern why the Web has excited us far beyond reasonable expectation . . . The conversation I believe we need to have is about what the Web is showing us about ourselves. What is true to our nature and what only looked that way because it was a response to a world that was, until now, the only one we had?” I find this to be an interesting question in regards to my students. I wonder are they going to develop and explore new dimensions of themselves because of the Web? My immediate answer is yes, of course, but then I go on to wonder then how can educators use the Web as a reflection pool tool of sorts? What I mean by that is how can we provide opportunities for our students to use the Web in such a way that it becomes a personal tool for reflection, positive identity formation, and self-growth?

One potential way to do this is connected to why we teach: to give students the opportunity, the skills, the confidence, etc to find and share their own voice. Some of the more powerful blogs and videos out there are moving because of the strength, the passion, the conviction of the person’s voice. Like this one:

I think of Martha Payne and how much she was able to accomplish through her blog and yet in the video of her and her father she is too shy to say a single word on stage. The Web allowed her to demonstrate her courage, passion, and intellect from the safety of her own home and to then share it with the world to create change. The tool of the Web made that possible on a global scale. Kid President’s got it right, “The internet can be an awesome place!”

There is no doubt, as stated in the chapter on Six Degrees of Separation, that “The global village we’ve grown used to inhabiting is a new reality for humans.” And what seems to logically follow as a result of humans developing in this new reality, is the realization that what humans are capable of, who we can become, is also a new reality.

So, how do we, as educators, empower students to use technology to make a positive impact in our world?

We listen to and inspire their voices.

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Photo Credit: Ben Piven via Compfight cc

We provide the tools they need.

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Photo Credit: Jhong Dizon | Photography via Compfight cc

We encourage them to share.

and then we “get out of the way” and

admire a new reality unfolding . . .

It Takes a Village

This week we were asked (in regards to digital citizenship): Whose job is it to teach these skills? When and where should we be having these conversations with students? Are we taking this seriously?

The answers to these questions seemed simple: it’s everyone’s job; these conversations should be ongoing, not restricted by time or place; some of us are taking it seriously and if we aren’t we need to.

It’s everyone’s job.

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Photo Credit: cybrarian77 via Compfight cc

The resource The Truth about Teen Sexting states, “It is the parent’s job to make sure to keep their child safe and the only way to do that is to monitor their phone calls, text messages, and social media sites.” While Dave Saltman comments, “teachers are helping students investigate the weighty issue of intellectual property rights in order to keep them within legal and ethical bounds” in Turning Digital Natives into Digital Citizens. Teachers, parents, peers, colleagues, anyone engaged in the digital world has a responsibility to model, teach, and share the skills needed to become healthy digital citizens.

Conversations should be ongoing.

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Photo Credit: tonyhall via Compfight cc
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Photo Credit: Jose Maria Barrera via Compfight cc

In Passport

In Passport to Digital Citizenship Mike Ribble advocates for the nine elements of digital citizenship in order to build a common language. He comments, “The way we provide a common understanding among all groups will allow all of us to be included in the conversation about how we should be looking at technology within this rapidly changing society.” Janell Burley Hofmann provides a very thorough example of a written conversation, of sorts, with her son in Gregory’s Iphone Contract. She supports this idea that conversations should be ongoing when she writes, “You will mess up. I will take away your phone. We will sit down and talk about it. We will start over again. You & I, we are always learning.” Our world, including our digital world, is constantly changing and as Janell reminds us we are therefore constantly learning. For these reasons, these conversations need to be ongoing.

Some of us are, if we’re not we need to.

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Photo Credit: kid-josh via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: kid-josh via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: kid-josh via Compfight cc

It is immediately clear from What Teens are Doing Online that almost 3/4 of teenagers are mobile internet users giving them access whenever and wherever they want. This is different from when we were teens as Danah Boyd comments, “the kinds of trouble that we may have had when we were running around with our friends is now taking place in a very traceable very persistent environment. So we have to recognize that that changes the dynamics.” Michael Allen provides an example of just this in Teaching Respect and Responsibility – even to Digital Natives. He says he “has seen a couple of kids ‘crash and burn’ trying to manage their use of tech at home and school — one incident involved a girl who had sent 8,000 texts in one month’s time. When it came to his attention, Allen recounts what he said to the student: ‘If you take all these texts – 8,000 – that’s 30 seconds per text, 2.5 hours per day with a phone in front of your eyes. Think of what you are missing in the world, not to mention what it could mean for your learning experience.’” There is no doubt that we need to take this behavior seriously in children, teenagers, and even adults.

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Photo Credit: Oberazzi via Compfight cc

So what floats to the top for me now is how do we go about this? How do we get everyone on board, create a common understanding and language (perhaps the nine elements are a start), and take it seriously enough that people aren’t taking advantage of their digital native status?

Danah Boyd may offer a place to start as she believes that these issues have deeper roots than simply the internet, “We need to create environments where young people don’t get validated for negative attention and where they don’t see relationship drama as part of normal adult life. The issues here are systemic. And it’s great that the Internet is forcing us to think about them, but the Internet is not the problem here. It’s just one tool in an ongoing battle for attention, validation, and status.”

This seems to have so many layers . . .

Ask the Remix Natives


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Photo Credit: via Compfight cc

I have to confess that I began this week’s content under the bias of the first myth (listed in Code of Best Practices in Fair use for Media Literacy Education): “FAIR USE IS TOO UNCLEAR AND COMPLICATED FOR ME; IT’S BETTER LEFT TO LAWYERS AND ADMINISTRATORS.” This didn’t mean that I didn’t value fair use nor that I wasn’t interested in educating myself more about the dos and dont’s, rather that it seemed too much to take on as an educator with a long to do list. However, through this course I found the following resources to be most helpful: Copyright Flowchart, Creative Commons Overview, and Copyright 101 for Educators. Each of these documents gave me enough bite-sized, applicable information to not only broaden my own understanding but to approach this topic with my students. My students, who I now know, are natives in the remix culture . . .

I found so much to agree with in our readings and videos. It reminded me right away of a brilliant clip I saw of Adam Levine recently on The Tonight Show. Enjoy!

I can’t imagine anyone denying the creativity shown here. What Adam and Jimmy are doing is exactly the remix. They are taking an established artist and combining that signature voice with a published song in their own way to create new art. Maybe I have a blind spot here, but why wouldn’t we want to encourage our students to do this?

The Code of Best Practices in Fair use for Media Literacy Education advocates the remix culture for our students. It states, “Students strengthen media literacy skills by creating messages and using such symbolic forms as language, images, sound, music, and digital media to express and share meaning. In learning to use video editing software and in creating remix videos, students learn how juxtaposition reshapes meaning. Students include excerpts from copyrighted material in their own creative work for many purposes, including for comment and criticism, for illustration, to stimulate public discussion, or in incidental or accidental ways (for example, when they make a video capturing a scene from everyday life where copyrighted music is playing).” Larry Lessing sums it up quite directly, “It is how your kids speak. It is how your kids think. It is what your kids are as they increasingly understand digital technologies and their relationships to themselves.” It seems pretty established that our students/kids today are remixers by nature. So the question that rises to the surface for me now is: as immigrants to the remix culture, what is our role when asking our remix native students to create?

1. We involve students in the conversation.

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Photo Credit: Foxtongue via Compfight cc

The article entitled Dr. Mashup poses some excellent questions that could easily guide a discussion with students. “What, exactly, constitutes a valid, original work? What are the implications for how we assess and reward creativity? Can a college or university tap the same sources of innovative talent and energy as Goole or Flickr? What are the risks of permitting or opening up this activity?” These concepts need to be a dialogue in our classrooms.

2. We continue to teach students to think critically.

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Photo Credit: Stuck in Customs via Compfight cc

Sarah Jackson comments in PLAYBACK: The Freedom to Read, Research and Explore, “Students must develop skills to evaluate information from all types of sources in multiple formats, including the Internet. Relying solely on filters does not teach young citizens how to be savvy searchers or how to evaluate the accuracy of information.” Greg Toppo further supports this argument when he writes in Digital library aims to expand kids’ media literacy, “Just as schools have always pushed teens to read critically and pick apart authors’ arguments, she says, educators must now teach kids how to consume media critically and, ideally, to produce it.” The higher level thinking skills, like evaluation and creation, that we already incorporate into our lessons directly applies here as well.

3. We look to the kids as the experts in order to reshape our own concept of creativity.  

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Photo Credit: schaaflicht via Compfight cc

We, as educators, must not only acknowledge the remix culture of our students but encourage it and learn from it! Seth Godin speaks to this point so eloquently: “We are going to see more people do art in more ways than ever before . . . We’re broadening the definition of art . . . what makes it art is that it’s a gift . . . that’s it’s new, original to you, that it’s real . . . and it has to make a change in the person you are presenting your work to . . . and that means that just about anyone has the opportunity, if they want to, to stand up and do art.”

These three steps are by no means the end all be all. They are simply words from thinkers on this topic reconfigured, by me, into a new product. My first official step in joining the remix.

Redefining Privacy

This prank could easily be me and the scary part is that it could actually not be a prank . . .

I now realize that in many ways I have been operating on the internet similar to how I interact with people. I assume positive intent. I assume I can trust someone until I have some reason not to. I assume that personal information about me doesn’t travel beyond our conversations. I know, a lot of assumptions here which could be considered naive or it could be seen as optimistic. Either way this week’s readings have given me pause to think about if this is the approach I actually choose. The key here is that whatever I decide I want my privacy to be online, I want to decide that. (Similar to the closing remarks in the Ted talk by Eli Pariser, posted by Kim).

Eli’s talk linked me to this Ted Talk by Gary Kovacs which helped me to visualize how I am being tracked online and to see how far reaching this issue goes beyond simply what I post on Facebook.

Once I realized the extent of online privacy, which was eye opening by the way, I immediately went to the next step. If this is the current reality (and I know I am not going to forego the internet) then what choices do I have regarding my privacy?

For me, two things floated to the surface in response to this question:

1. Be more aware. 

This step won’t be too difficult because a) I am starting at ground zero and b) the articles we read for this week have provided a solid foundation to start from. For example, in Don’t Overestimate Privacy of Online Information Samantha MacConnell writes, “Knowing what a site’s terms of use are is critical before signing your name to anything, just as posting information about yourself.” In addition, learning more about online privacy resources such as Disconnect or Ghostery or have increased my awareness of the choices I do have regarding my privacy online.

2. Redefine privacy.

I couldn’t help but wonder if part of this issue may be in how we define privacy. I assume most of us are defining privacy in the traditional sense as our ability to control or determine what and how information is shared about ourselves. But it seems to me that with the new reality of how our personal information and preferences are being tracked online, we may need to shift our definition. In the post Beware: The Internet Could Own Your Future, Husna Najand writes, “We have come to a point where Internet privacy rights are eroding while simultaneously, the line between our private lives and the public persona are blurring.” To me, this indicates that a change in thinking needs to occur.  Jeff Utecht writes about just such a shift in his post on Privacy where he states, “We’re in a time period where we as a society are trying to figure out how much privacy we’re willing to give up. We benefit from giving up our privacy but it’s also a scary concept.” He goes on to say, “. . . privacy looks very different these days than it did a short while ago. That doesn’t mean that privacy doesn’t exist…it does. It just means you start with public. Everything you do is public and you work backwards from there. That’s a mind shift from where we were even just 15 years ago. Where we all started thinking our lives were private and we got to decide how public they were. That’s not the case! The moment you signed up for Facebook, bought a cell phone, or signed into an email account… became public.” Here Jeff advocates that our lives are public automatically as a default and therefore privacy has now become something we must create and advocate for individually.

There is a lot to think about with this topic both in regards to personal choices online but also to how those choices can impact our professional lives. I get the feeling that this week has only scratched the surface. In the end, maybe the simplest advice to follow is . . .

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Photo Credit: DonkeyHotey via Compfight cc

Students and Teachers Alike

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There was definitely a time in which the role of a teacher differed greatly from the role of a student. However, in classrooms today our roles and daily actions as teachers are very similar to what we expect of our students. We seek out new information alongside our students. In short, we persevere, we collaborate, we think critically, we communicate, we reflect . . . we grow! And we do all of this right alongside our students as they do exactly the same. No doubt, the roles of teachers and students are transforming.

This week I realized that the growing similarity between teachers and students as learners extends beyond our classrooms and into our digital worlds. When evaluating the performance task questions for this lesson (should we, as international teachers, have a digital footprint and how should we be teaching students to create a positive digital footprint?) I found myself thinking that there is no need here for a distinction between teachers and students. Yes, both teachers and students should have positive digital footprints and the process for how you go about creating one is the same whether you are in third grade or teaching third grade.

I found that this video from Common Sense Media really clarified not only what a digital footprint is but also why it’s important to create a positive one. I can imagine showing it to my fifth graders and I can also imagine it being shown on a teacher PD day.


At this point, I think teaching students or adults how to create a positive digital footprint can be accomplished by three simple steps.

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All too often people are unaware of how their digital footprint is being used. The infographic shown (left) in Erica Swallow’s “How Recruiters Use Social Networks to Screen Candidates” is a great example of a tool we can use to show how who we are on social media sites can impact our future opportunities. Additionally the quote from Will Richardson in William Ferriter’s article reminds us of the importance of having a digital footprint: “One of my worst fears as [my children] grow older is that they won’t be Googled well. … Or, even worse, that no links about her will come up at all. (p. 16) 


Once we educate as to why our footprints matter we are ready to practice creating a positive digital trail for ourselves. We need time, support, and practice to transform our online profile into one that we feel truly represents who we are. We need to practice hesitating and thinking about the impact of posting a certain picture of our weekend. We need time to think through an angry post that we may want to fire off in the moment. We need the chance to begin practicing online behaviors that The Power of a Positive Digital Footprint for Students outlines including: displaying groups we are proud to be a part of, highlighting accomplishments we are known for, demonstrating our constantly improving communication skills, etc. The good news about this step is that the younger we begin practicing these behaviors online, the more natural it will become and the less there will be to reverse.


Step 3: Hand on Our Hearts

I have a good friend who often uses this saying. He simply states, “If at the end of the day, you can put your hand on your heart and know that you gave it your best and that you remained true to who you are, that’s all you can ask.” I would recommend this self-check, of sorts, as the third and final step. If when you take a look at your actions online and review how you have represented yourself through social media, you can put your hand over your heart and say this is me, then I think you are well on your way to creating a positive digital footprint.

What floats to the surface for me after constructing this post is this: how lucky we are to be in a profession where our own growth is as encouraged as the growth of our students.