Online School of Opportunity (OSO)

Why write on the walls, when you can write everywhere?

Mashable posted  “Why Teens Don’t Tweet”, giving a range of data and view on the demographics of a social network growing at +1300% a month. It made me wonder about how effective we are at competing for the attention of students, teachers and educational leaders. Are we too busy pressing the ‘Digg’ button and missing the opportunities presented?

“Twitter’s different than Facebook or MySpace because Twitter is not about your friends … Teens, more than any other age group, care about their friends. It’s the continuation of real-life friendship (and the creation of online ones) that has driven the tremendous growth of MySpace, Facebook, Bebo etc”.

To use these spaces, today’s teens spend increasing amounts of time informally online. They are using informal learning. As formal public education provides almost no spaces for this it is no surprise that teens power down between 9 and 3.30, disconnected from their informal learning networks. And it isn’t a teen sensation; social games and online networks are actively marketed to pre-schoolers. The numbers participating in pre-school social game Webkinz alone dwarfs teen blogging.

McGivney (1999) a decade ago recognised the importance of informal learning pathways.

Informal learning generated by local people themselves often led to wider community involvement and activism, whereas learning arranged by education providers most often led to high rates of educational progression. Informal learning often started people on a continuing learning path by helping them become confident and successful learners. “

Space, time and organisation are cardinal elements of formal learning – which is the inverse of the online educational commons. Informality enables us to be successful learners in playful and social ways that we can take to new situations. Increasingly games and social networks provide this function. It is common to see two teachers talking about education online; but rare to see departmental CEO or Minister add to any authentic open discussion. They have attained their authority by abiding by the rules of formality; where as online authority is now earned through action in informal networks.

Teens use  mobile phones, Bebo, Facebook and MySpace – to successfully strengthen friend networks. What they don’t know how to do is apply it to the discipline needed in obtain life affecting qualifications. There is a clear role for teachers to do this, and students readily work with these teachers – who are not necessarily technocrats – but are adoptive leaders and good communicators. They talk with, not at – which is another characteristic of policy making bureacrats and politicians. You can’t co-opt your way to social change on your terms anymore. Get over it; move on. Stop building walled gardens and ignoring what is there already.

The problem with internalising everything and agreeing with yourself, is that it sustains nothing except yourself.

Seriously – why do we spend millions developing ‘closed’ applications using tax-payer money on things like a blog engine ‘pilot’, when the world is using Edublog Campus? The criteria is less than transparent and hardly going to give any real indication of pedagogical reform; if indeed there is going to be any public release of the findings. Per teacher; what is the investment?

The blog trial involves 20 teachers, each from a different school or TAFE Institute from across the State. Trial participants were selected though a variety of means but all are users of collaborative tools and are keen to use blogs for teaching and learning.

The Centre for Learning Innovation’s website (The public education tech-development arm) says “Connected learning projects allow students to engage with real-life situations, which involve communication, collaboration, self-directed learning, problem solving, researching and publishing findings.” it prompt you to download  a 1997 document which then explains what the internet is, why use it in the classroom and gives an illustration of how to use a website (Netscape 2). The link is dead, and obviously ancient history – yet is on the ‘new’ website.

Do you learn more by skimming last night Tweets than you did at your last technology ‘in-service’?

We don’t need to be at specific time or place to learn – just access the educational network commons that now exists online. We are seeing an effusion of activity in forming and joining new networks that is changing education philopshy, not technology itself. The tragedy is that teachers are often unable to benefit students from this action. It is locked stepped by political orientation to conventional, schematic discernment of the 21st Century itself.

We should be better utilising existing resources such as libraries and teachers, and investigating an ‘Online School of Opportunity (OSO) and not limiting students through long-familiar toothsome approaches to quality improvement (aka “School of Excellence” ). We need centres of opportunity before excellence can be afforded to all –  though investment in public Libraries and community spaces that encourage both teachers and students to get together and transform the way they use technology; not block it.

Ref: McGivney (1999). “Informal Learning in the Community: A Trigger for Change and Development.”  National Institute for Adult Continuing Education, UK.

Why Bored of Studies PWNs the BOS

Picture 4

There is no shift of control of information when you bolt technology onto what you already do. This is the strategy of public education, when you look behind the facade and grand statements. This is the approach known as “spray and pray”. Research shows there is little added value from automation, and incremental improvement. (“In the Age of the Smart Machine : The Future of Work and Power” by Shoshana Zuboff). We can’t simply put a class in a Ning and call it a community; or exchange paper for a blog. In fact the current National Curriculum approach is to defer all measures of attainment to other professional bodies, just to make sure it stands a safe distance away from potential criticism (standard mode of political-operation).  Of course these bodies are politically driven and differ regionally, and Western Australia is using self-evaluation – which NSW DET’s Digital Revoltion portal (the have so many) references – via ‘evaluation’.

The good news is that students are 21st Century learners; and 97% are engaged via social gaming and friend based networks, so have access to pretty much all the answers they need to PWN the current assessment system – and they did it with no help at all.

7 million hits can’t be wrong

twitter_pushbackThe illustration at the top of the screen is the Bored of Studies Wiki; go check it out – it tells students how to pass the HSC and beyond; and to me screams why the current methods of teaching are so easily ‘gamed’ by students. The website was created in 2002 by four former HSC students who had completed their HSC in the previous year: Mark Czajkowski, James King, Tim Cheng and Ian Keong. Of course the real Authority – called the Board of Studies has warned teachers against being anywhere near the thing! So is it cheating or just 21st Century Learning.

Yet, with over 250,000 subscribers and 7 million hits a month (claimed) – its safe to say that students have pwned the system. It positively road-maps how to be a strategic learner – and perhaps is our most outstanding educational achievement, along with Rate My Teacher – which now has one click links to Twitter, Facebook and Stumble Upon.

It matters nothing if we agree with these sites being there; only that they are. These are the social networks kids use – that gives them Authority. Its socially constructed knowledge; do we need to replicate it in class or inside what Clay Burrell called schooliness.

Chris Lehmann wroteBuild consensus – If only a few people are on-board with the idea, it won’t work. But consensus doesn’t mean taking something from everyone and sticking it onto the original idea until what you have is the worst of committee-based decisions. It means listening for the truths in what other people are telling you and being willing to make substantive change when it makes sense.”

So there’s the positive – students are doing what Chris suggests, long live Bored of Studies. I wonder if Mark, James, Tim and Ian are consulting?

Webkinz in Year 1 Class

 

This is from my  wife’s work with her year one class. This is using a Webkinz that she bought off eBay. Here’s her reflection and explanation of using plush toys and virtual worlds.

Introducing ‘Buster’.

Buster is the 23rd member of 1G and is the most popular class member. He is the link between real word and virtual worlds for the Year 1 class.

When Buster first arrived, he was kindly introduced to the students as a homeless pet that had been rescued from the pound. He was in dire need of a home and 1G had been selected by the council to look after him. Then the fascination, social networking, mathematical and language skills began to develop.

 Each day a student is selected to take Buster home for the night. If the student has internet access, they are given the code and tend to his needs on line. They are allowed to feed, play and care for Buster. This develops the student’s awareness of needs and wants and links with social studies units.

 Students are invited to chat with other ‘furry friends’ in the carefully moderated online chat rooms. The students also need to write in Busters journal to bring to school the following day to share. This reinforces the need for literacy in terms of reading and writing. Students without online access are given 20 minutes at the start of the day to tend to Buster’s online needs.

Students have signed an agreement with their parents to follow WebKinz and 1G WebKinz rules. This enables the student’s access to the site but they are unable to spend KinzCash. A budget is calculated weekly. Game prizes of KinzCash are calculated and graphed in maths lessons and decisions about how to spend the money are made. The students collaborate and debate on what the money should be spent on and one group of students each week is given the time to make these changes.

Students are encouraged to use part of their computer time each week to compete in online creative competitions as well as construct new knowledge through the problem solving challenges.

The student’s number skills are becoming well developed as they have an authentic need to learn about money and computation skills. The notion of budgeting is often foreign to a Year 1 student but is very important to the members of 1G. The more money we can save, the more we can buy.

 The ability of the students to debate and negotiate has developed. They are critical in their debate as to what the class should spend money on and are getting very good at justifying their reasons for their choices.  These improved language skills are reflected across all key learning areas.

The use of this online learning simulation is an authentic, hands on, motivating and student directed learning opportunity. The skills learned area used in context whilst developing fundamental care, mathematical, problem solving and language skills. ‘Buster’ has been an effective tool and reflects the ability of web based resources to enhance learning opportunities even in early childhood.