Saturday, 21 February 2009

Readin’ Writin’ Rithmatic and Responsible use of Technology

This week’s topic frightened the hell out of me! Copyright and Intellectual Property Rights. Whew, scaaary stuff. Especially when you read an article like this one by Doug Johnston that petrified me!! What CAN I use? What ARE the rules for teachers? Who IS in charge of enforcing the CanCopy license? What does the CanCopy license mean? CanCopy is not that helpful either, it’s not any clearer than copyright legislation!!

There’s copyright and copyleft (AKA Creative Commons) and CanCopy and citation rules and trademarks and the list goes on and on and on . . .

How can we expect students to “respect intellectual property rights” (as this week’s discussion revolved around) and the laws surrounding it, if they have never learned about it, don’t understand it and it’s so complex that even their teachers are fuzzy on the subject? In order to respect you must first understand (“Seek first to understand” was what on of my university professors always taught us).

I believe students do understand intellectual property rights, they just don’t know that it’s called “intellectual property rights.” Just this week there was an incident in one of my classes that exemplifies this. A group of students were arguing vehemently in the corner of my classroom. When I approached the group, one student “Max” explained to me that his group had kicked him out of their group project in English that morning but refuse to give him the poster he had worked so hard on. The other group members believed it should stay in the group because although they agreed he created the poster, they said he did so with the work they did prior to its creation, essentially he amalgamated their work onto the poster. So who does the poster belong to? All the students involved have a clear idea of what their own intellectual property is and have a definite sense of their rights with regards to their work. “Max” feels that his creative efforts in putting the poster together merit some authorship rights. After a calm discussion about the amount of work the group had already done, they agreed to let “max” back into their group and thus the issue was resolved. But had I been teaching a course on ICT I definitely could have used this example (and probably will in the future) to teach a lesson on intellectual property rights and copyright.

I did try to fit this topic in to my course this year by creating a Trailfire for my students to follow on Digital Law and Responsibility. The students had to read this article and then watch this video and then we had a discussion about file sharing.

Copyright becomes a great big gray area when discussing it with students; they have a sense of justice that can only be described as follows: many felt copyright only protects big businesses making more and more money. However, they also admit, when questioned further, that they DO recognize that copyright also protects the struggling artists. Most said that when it comes to downloading music, they’ll buy music from their favourite smaller Indie bands via the bands’ websites or iTunes, but download music from well established big wig bands.

So where do we teachers go to find out about this stuff? How do we go about learning ourselves and then teaching our colleagues and students? Now that I know about it, am I obligated to share my knowledge and become the copyright police?

The following quote from Mike Ribble’s Passport to Digital Citizenship sums it up nicely for me: “We Need not only to educate our children on the issues that are occurring with technology, but provide resources for our teachers and parents as well” (p. 16). Hurrah! So True! The four stages he refers to are a great model for developing an ICT class curriculum/implementation strategy. If I were a teacher librarian (ahh, dreams . . .) I would insist on seeing students at least once a cycle for some ICT training. I would use Mike Ribble’s book Digital Citizenship in Schools (here’s a nice excerpt) and Digiteen as well as Manitoba’s own Literacy with ICT document (and maybe these lessons created by Doug Johnston) as the foundation of the course, and Ribble’s Four-Stage Technology Learning Framework for Teaching Digital Citizenship as the model for implementing the course. I would also share with the school staff the curriculum topics for the course so that they knew what to expect from their students after they received the course and so that they could ask questions if they were unclear on any of the issues or topics.

I loved both the “Kids Know Your Rights!” article and the “Intellectual Freedom for Youth article, as they are great documents that could be used with my students. It’s too bad that there are not Canadian versions of these documents as those would be much more useful and appropriate. Hmmm . . . maybe I could have a final project in my course that had students creating a document that looks similar to those two articles, as both a way to show their learning, and help other students understand the issues. Of course I’d have to get permission from the authors!

As a professional I appreciated the short article “Intellectual Property Defined” as it helped me understand some of the terminology better. I honestly had not realized that all that fell under the purview of “intellectual property”.

And admittedly, I have not yet had time to read the Library Bill of Rights (and its eighteen interpretations!), Code of Ethics of the American Library Association nor the Freedom to Read documents, but I have them bookmarked and plan to read them at my earliest convenience.

“But when copyright moves from text into the realm of media, the lines of what is and what isn’t acceptable become blurred.” (Joanie Proske, p. 4) This is an excellent point; we need to do a much better job of teaching this to our students and ourselves. After reading all the articles and this week’s discussions I firmly believe we have to bring copyright to the level of the students, we have to provide PD to teachers on copyright and Creative Commons and proper updated citation rules for things found on the net, and we need to either develop sound curriculum foundation documents that incorporate ICT or greatly assist our fellow teachers in the integration of the already existing Literacy with ICT document across all subject areas.

Maybe we as educators also need to put more emphasis on structure, form and process than actual content. Students focus on what is “worth the most marks” so if a bibliography and proper citation are worth 5/10 instead of 1/10, maybe they would see its importance. We need to shift the way we think about what is important, change our priorities on an institutional and curricular level so that time and focus CAN be spent teaching these things, rather than rushing through them and justifying it with the same old, “there’s no time” excuse.

The ethical use of technology should become a staple part of a child’s education; the 3 R’s should become either: “Readin’ Writin’ ‘Rithmatic and Responsible use of Tech” or how about “Respect, Responsibility, and Rights”

Christine :)

Sunday, 8 February 2009

United We Stand, Divided We FAIL

This week I’ve learned that the Digital Divide is a much more complex issue than I had previously thought, and I’m ashamed to admit I have been so na├»ve. I had assumed the Digital Divide referred to the gap between Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants (or Pioneers!) but I soon discovered there are many more facets to the issue of a divide. Wikipedia says the Digital Divide has to do with, “unequal access by some members of society to information and communications technology, and the unequal acquisition of related skills” (Retrieved Feb 8, 2009, from

Studies (Study: 'Digital divide' affects school success, The digital divide in Canadian schools, The Digital Divide in Canada) have shown there is a Digital Divide with respect to:

~ Age (Natives vs. Immigrants)
~ Level of education (uneducated vs. highly educated)
~ Race (Caucasian vs. Minorities)
~ Gender (males vs. females)
~ Socio-Economic status (rich vs. poor)
~ Location (rural vs. urban)
~ Globally (developed nations vs. underdeveloped or developing nations)

With regard to race, most studies focussed on the US and refer to a gap between the Caucasian populations and the Hispanic and Black populations of that country. But I wonder what the situation in Canada is with regard to our Aboriginal peoples who live on reserves. They often lack even the basics of adequate housing and it seems to me that they fall into the categories of race, level of education, socio-economic and location divides (as most reserves are quite isolated, at least here in Manitoba they are). So I have to assume a digital divide in access to technology and the internet probably exists in these populations as well.

The statistics discussed sound eerily familiar. Are they not virtually identical to illiteracy statistics for the poor and underprivileged, minority groups, the elderly and underdeveloped nations? (See the following articles: Canada's shame, Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey, specifically the section “Literacy gap between technology users and non-users,” Literacy and Poverty, Study: The link between information and communication technology use and literacy skills, or the full report on the previous article here, there are so many more, but I don’t have the room to list them all!)

What is so scary about this is that not only do our poorest students have to cope with the issues that come with their poverty, but it seems they also have to contend with illiteracy and a digital divide in their access to technology, the Internet and related skills. It is a vicious circle. This is probably why Hugh W. Glenn concluded that “closing the purported digital dived will not necessarily decrease the achievement gap between racial and ethnic groups.” (Retrieved on Feb 8, 2009 from They have so many more issues to deal with than just the digital divide. They have lower literacy rates and less access to technology so obviously they are also losing out on learning the “new literacies” (connective writing, communication skills, editing skills, information evaluation skills, critical reading skills, and information management skills) that Will Richardson speaks of in his book “Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other powerful Web Tools for Classrooms” (2006). These are obviously the “related skills” referred to in the Wikipedia definition of the Digital Divide. So in today’s world being illiterate takes on a whole new meaning. You not only have to be able to read and write, but you have to have the related technology skills.

Do I think the gap will close? I don’t know. But I can do everything in MY power to close it for those students I influence yearly. So how do I effect change?


~ I continue to integrate technology and teach all my students the related skills they need to
use that technology. (Skills level)
~ I continue to improve my own technology skills and be a role model for my students. (Skills
~ I continue to quietly scream about the importance of technology related literacies to fellow
teachers, other educational staff, parents, and even my students. (Access and Skills level)
~ I continue to encourage my fellow teachers to integrate technology and teach the related
skills to use that technology, and to increase their own skill level. (Access and Skills level)
~ I encourage parents who do not have internet access at home to get it. (Access level)
~ I do my utmost to engage EVERY student in school, and recognize that may mean using
technology in new and unique ways. (Motivation level)
~ I become an advocate for increased access, bandwidth, and more computer labs in our
schools. (Access and Policy level)
~ I become vocal about policies that inhibit access and encourage policies that open up that
access. (Access and Policy level)

The issue of a Digital Divide is so complex, but I believe it is important for all educators to understand. After all, if there’s a divide then we’re failing our students. I think Manuel Castells said it best when he said:

“The fundamental digital divide is not measured by the number of connections to the Internet, but by the consequences of both connection and lack of connection.” (Manuel Castells The Internet Galaxy, 2001, p. 269)

Christine :)

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Knowledge is Power, Educate to Protect

Alright, my last couple blog entries have been entirely too serious, too long and too dry!! I promise to make a concerted effort to lighten up! This weeks issue was that of filters used by school divisions/districts that “protect our students” (note the quotation marks; I’ll come back to that ludicrous idea in a moment). Hmmm how to lighten the mood on this topic? Let’s start by suggesting that all school divisions banish their filter for one week (as an experiment, say) and wait for the response. Wait, wait, can you hear them? All those conservatives who “run” the school boards? All those non-educators who make important decisions affecting teachers and students? Wait, wait, they’re all laughing! They think I just made a funny joke. How will we ever be able to control (Uh . . . I mean protect) our children if there are no filters? I know, I’m so silly!

If you haven’t already figured out what my stance is on this topic, let me just lay it all out for you: filters do not protect students, they protect administrators and divisions from appearing lax, from liability, from angry parents and from reality (as evidenced in the article “Web 2.0 The Virtual Wild Wild West” where Don Hail recommends “Ensure your teachers understand that Web resources used inside the district are filtered, and alert them to use caution when recommending them for student use outside the classroom” as a way to avoid educators receiving “calls from some irate parents who are unaware of the need for filtering systems.” This is scary for two reasons 1) why are the sites different at school and at home, what is the use of using them then and is this not an argument for removing filters and 2) he is making a judgement assuming that all parents should use filters, but don’t know any better. I find this highly condescending!)

Filters only teach children that 1) we don’t trust their judgement 2) they are incapable of being responsible 3) if you want something and you can’t get it, cheat (re: finding proxy servers to get the blocked info they seek) oh and 4) that someone or something will always be there the “protect” them (when they should be learning the world can be a scary place and they need to be careful, illusions of safety are more dangerous than an accidental viewing of a sexually explicit site in my opinion).

In “I’m Mad and I’m Not Gonna Take It Anymore!” Mary Ann Bell cites the Pew Study form 2002 called , “The Digital Disconnect: the widening gap between Internet-savvy students and their schools” where it shows that students are “frustrated and disgusted by the lack of internet access and consciousness on the part of their teachers.” I believe this frustration comes from the fact that they feel they can handle what’s out their but we (as in school divisions) don’t give them the chance. Just this past week at my school, I overheard a student call our school a “welfare school” when he was frustrated by Bess (our filter) and later that week a colleague lamented in the staff room about how a student researching Canada couldn’t search for the words “topography” or “photography” because the filter said they were words associated with “pornography”! So are all words ending in “-graphy” considered pornographic? How ridiculous is that! No wonder that student called our school a “welfare school.” (I did pull the student aside and explain to him that we were one of the schools in the division that had more technology, and that his frustrations were in fact due to the filter, at which point he said “oh, that means I can get to what I need, I’ll just use a proxy!” Yes we are now at the point where students are
blatant and obvious about their use of proxies, because even the teachers cannot access what they need and have on occasion asked a student to show them how to get to it, mostly because their entire lesson hinged on what they thought was a relatively innocent site. But I digress . . . .)

I have taught middle years students for 8 years and I have found that people underestimate adolescents. They are capable of much more than many people give them credit for. They can be articulate, responsible, trustworthy, and quite knowledgeable about what’s already out their on the “evil” net. They are also not crazed sex fiends searching out bomb making sites and trying to corrupt their peers through inappropriate sites. Most of the kids I’ve taught are normal decent kids who would benefit from some actual instruction in internet safety and Cyberbullying, evaluating websites, deciphering fact from opinion from lies, intellectual property rights (copyright and copy left), and citation rules and reasons.

Of all the articles I read this week, one line from “What Are We Protecting Them From?” by Matt Villano, struck me “Schools are spending millions and millions of dollars for technical solutions to comply with CIPA [in the US] . . . but our students can easily get around just about everything we throw at them.” He then goes on to say that “many K-12 expert say the best solution long-term is shifting the emphasis from policing . . . to educating . . .” HERE HERE!! That shift is hard for administrators to make though, especially with articles like “Patrolling Web 2.0” by Robert Losinsky where social networking sites are vilified and the fear mongering is perpetuated. Losinsky then proceeds to advocate for better “more improved” filters that filter out proxy servers as well as all the other “evil” social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace (GASP!). He only discusses education in a small paragraph at the very end. One has to wonder which of these types of articles the school board members read more of.

Even more pertinent than money being wasted, is the fact that filters interfere with delivery of curriculum (as seen above with the “topography” example). Oh, let’s talk about curriculum for a minute. In Manitoba we have a Literacy with ICT document, which is mandatory to implement and assessment of these outcomes is being included in the development of my school division’s “new” middle years reporting system. But there have been NO changes to staff, NO changes to programming and NO changes to time allotments to accommodate these mandatory outcomes and the fact that we must now assess them. So no one is specifically teaching and targeting these outcomes, there has been no real effort to create “classes” or programming to facilitate the teaching of these outcomes and so the classroom teachers are left to be the ones to implement and assess these outcomes. They are trying to cram an already heavy workload with just more stuff. But which “subject” does it fall under? Which teachers are actually covering the outcomes? Do they even know how to do some of the things required by the outcomes? Why isn’t there an accompanying document with suggestions for instruction like all the rest of our curricula?

After all the discussion this week and my thoughts on the issue laid out above, I’m left thinking about Joanne’s comments about intellectual freedom and who is going to ensure students and teachers have these rights. What is the role of the teacher-librarian in all this? And Rhonda’s question “If teacher-librarians are responsible for advocating for the higher ideal of intellectual freedom, are they also responsible for teaching the safe and responsible use of online resources?"

To these I say yes, Yes, YES, it should fall to the Teacher-Librarian! If I were a Teacher-Librarian in my school division, I would strongly advocate for the development of a program that provided students with the necessary know how to use the internet safely, without the use of a filter, included all the applicable Literacy with ICT outcomes and lessened the load on the teachers by providing time to work with the Teacher-Librarian to plan the program’s implementation across ALL subject areas. I would also work hard to create a comprehensive AUP for students, parents and teachers that was more in line with the recommendations from the Media Awareness Network.

I’m also left thinking about my own children. As they grow up, I would much rather they have the knowledge and confidence to deal with what’s out there, the ethical base to know what’s right and what’s wrong and the right to access it if they so chose, than shelter them and “protect” them by giving them a false sense of safety, and a limited view of the world. My basic instinct IS to protect, and I feel the best way to do this is to EDUCATE. After all Knowledge is Power.

Christine :)