Recycle the past, invent the future

As a kid, I remember someone in my class getting their hands on the ‘teacher’s textbook’. It had ALL the answers, and I am sure the school Librarian thought it strange that dozens of students suddenly were studying and diligently working though the book at every spare moment. The teacher’s text was the wikipedia of the 1980s. It had both questions AND answers.

Of course the teacher didn’t keep up his end of the bargain, insisting on generating his  own questions. It soon became obvious that he hadn’t actually read it! We figured that was why he made up his questions. We thought we had the edge. Amazingly to him, the previously uninterested class seemed to ‘know’ things about the subject, and after a few weeks of access to our goldmine, we started asking questions. “Sir, but if …”, came the numerous attempts by braver students to catch him out. We did occasionally, which usually ended in him ‘dictating’ notes to shut us up for the rest of the hour. But what is important in the story – is that we had greater access to information that we thought would make us ‘better’ than we might otherwise be. We could skip ahead, and didn’t have to be drip-fed information. We had access to a more powerful resource than the student text book. The test came and went, and I’ve never had to list the king and queens of England since.

Today, teacher’s notes and ‘resources’ are put online – where they take on a new life. A week or so ago I uploaded a document to Slideshare, when in fact I should have used Scribd. An hour later I realized the mistake and was amazed to find that the document had been downloaded hundreds of times. I’ve been archiving presentations and resources in those two spaces for a few years, and don’t really mind who uses them, but I wonder just how much content we create is now recycled into other classrooms – or is it being used by students. This also causes a major dilemma for schools – the best resources and e-learning resources reside in the domain of the teacher – not the system *(who largely block this stuff). So as teachers retire and others move online – much of the intellectual property of schools will evaporate. I am not seeing people talk about this too often, but it is a major sustainability concern. Push people outside the system and they are unlikely to return. This is not to say all online resources are ‘better’ or even ‘perfect’ – just as class texts contain mistakes. But they do offer teacher and students to publish and correct information.

picture-16My advice is to recycle. Just like we no longer use one waste ‘bin’, sort through your resources. Anything that has a value to students – post them online and avoid buying ring-binder or keeping ‘masters’ in plastic wallets. Staff rooms are lined with resources that often only appear annually or worse. Teachers use flash drives and CDs, but all too often these don’t offer a sustainable solution. Teachers are far more likely to work with students online, if they are using online spaces for their own work.

Don’t  make ‘new’ resources, as chances are there are hundreds of things they can use online already. The process of looking is enriching – as you’ll get so many new takes on one idea. Start aggregating content and then share that with students. This is ‘Web2.0 enhanced’ teaching – or ‘digital’ environment friendly courses.

Giving students wider resources to consider in contextual learning at is important in world with information overload. They have to learn how to sift the good from the facile (we hope we are filtering the bad). I had it easy at school, information came from the book of the teacher, so it wasn’t that hard to predit what was on the test – but providing aggregated content to students who are using enquiry approaches with digital text is vastly different.

Teachers who are exploring the use of technology – don’t have to make ‘new’ resources, which is often cited as the ‘barrier’ to starting. Guiding teachers though what is there already, so they can digest it and then begin to apply it to their own style and discipline allows them to get a much deeper understanding of just how massive the internet is, and just how easy it is for students to get lost.

So here’s what I think at 10 tools that enrich learning.

Slideshare – a flexible place to keep ‘powerpoints’ – but also add voice to them!
Scribd – store documents and images that are not powerpoints – allows others to download in multiple formats
YouTube – I don’t need to explain this one I hope
Diigo/Delicious – Start collecting and organizing the web
Flickr Pro – spend the money – throw images online in collections
Gmail – your passport to Web2.0
Google Docs – share your work with collegues, don’t email it
Twitter – connect to works largest staffroom
Classroom2.0 – get writing, get thinking, get connected.
Second Life – start figuring out why more teens use virtual worlds and MMOs than social networking – because virtual learning environments matter.

Of course there are thousands of ways to use technology, but one of the common questions I hear is ‘why do I need to?’ – because even though, as a teacher, you are comfortable with your resources and boundaries that you have set – students lack the experience you have. Modelling how you learn and how you share – gives them a roadmap to follow – it’s a pedagogy thing; as learning with these tools works when they are embedded in the learning strategy.

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