Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"I'm Scared"

Edvard Munch The Scream

Of what? I asked.

My caller was a new student in EDM310 who feared disclosing anything about herself or her family on the Internet. Why this fear?

There are predators on the Internet was the basis of her reply (she was afraid for her children), in addition to a fear of losing control over her privacy.

How do we, as teachers who have embraced the use of the internet, respond to such expressions of fear?

One response I always give is that if you want your kids (and you as an individual) to have an equal chance at economic (and political I would add) success in the new world, they must be skilled in and willing to use the most powerful communication and information tools available to them and others. Right now that is the internet and the associated communication tools that have been developed to extend our ability to interact freely and at no cost with practically anyone around the world using text, audio and video.

This answer, however, does not get at the fear of danger lurking "on the Internet." Usually the fear is expressed in terms of "being stalked" or being sexually or physically attacked.

We should then ask how often this happens as a result of interaction with the Internet.

If we read the papers or listen to District Attorneys (especially those running for office) you would think it is an extremely frequent occurrence. What do we know about interactions on the Internet? Here are some interesting figures. Chris Gayomali reported on July 1, 2011 that there are 200 million Tweets a day on Twitter. That is six trillion Tweets a month. What about Facebook? In one minute Gary Hayes (August 2011) estimates that there are 699,073 items shared on Facebook per minute! That is 41,944,380 per hour or 1 trillion a day.*

Now pretend that you are a stalker or some other kind or pervert that scares the living daylights out of pour souls just because you exist. How do you select from all the communications traffic whom to pick as your victim? A rather daunting task given the enormity of the communication events that you encounter! The answer is you troll. You fish for a victim. You try and get someone to respond to you. One way is to try and get people to accept you as a friend on Facebook or in chat rooms(or elsewhere) and share their personal stories, desires, fantasies, hopes and attributes. (Yes, sometimes those revelations are enhanced so they are more interesting, attractive or alluring). Now you, as a predator, have a much smaller pool of potential "victims" to work with. You know that they are "interested". They have identified themselves as potential cooperative participants, or at least have spiked your interest in them. Looking at thousands of blog posts, Facebook items or Tweets means fishing in too large a pond. You are now able to fish in a pond where the fish have indicated a possible willingness to bite. Now your efforts are far less daunting than surfing the entire communications network.

How do you protect yourself and your family? Not by hiding entirely from the Internet world. Instead you learn when and where to reveal what about you. My Mother told me over and over again not to accept rides from strangers. But she did not say that I could not get a ride home from school with Susie's mother. I was expected to learn how to make wise decisions and good choices. The same applies to the Internet.

You must teach your children (and you must learn yourself) how to safely use the Internet. Like crossing the street: look both ways before you cross and obey the lights. But do not refuse to ever cross a street!

One more thing. The greatest danger to you and your family is not "a pervert on the Internet." It is an automobile accident. Thirty-three percent of all deaths of 15-24 year olds in the USA come from an automobile accident. Forty six percent from all accidents. Think drinking and driving or texting and driving. Fifteen percent are homicides. The vast majority of these are caused by someone known to the victim. Thirteen percent are suicides. Eleven percent are diseases or congenital conditions.

Be aware. Not afraid. Help you family to learn to drive responsibly (no alcohol, no texting, no racing, etc. help your family to learn to use the Internet responsibly. And remember: The interactions you have on the Internet are a relatively minor part of your life. At least I hope you have a life other than an Internet life!

* Although not directly relevant to my argument in this post, I call to your attention the number of YouTime videos watched as reported by Gary Hayes far exceeds even the Facebook items shared. Are you ready? Here are Hayes' figures for Videos Watched on YouTube (August 2011):
Per minute: 2,097,221
Per hour: 125,833,260
Per day: 3,019,998,240
Per month: 93,619,945,440

Saturday, August 27, 2011

What Do We Want Our Students to Know, Be Able to Do, or Have Experienced?

Book cover of Amusing Ourselves to Death

I recently reread Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death. His major complaint is that TV has ended (or is in the process of ending) the Era of Exposition which he defines in this way: "Arguments, hypotheses, discussions, reasons, refutations or any of the traditional instruments of reasoned discourse..." (p. 148, 20th Anniversary Edition, Amusing Ourselves to Death.). He bemoans this change because he feels that the major traits of an educated person will be replaced with amusements. He goes on to contend that classrooms have been converted from educational centers into "a place where both teaching and learning are intended to be vastly amusing activities." (p. 148)

This led me to think about what I want my students to know, be able to do and have experienced. (I will have more to say later on the amusement portion of Postman's view of what has happened to education.) I think most desired outcomes for education can be found in these three categories. Some may question experiences. I respond that some learning activities have objectives which cannot be measured or evaluated immediately (such as art appreciation) require us to content ourselves with a set of experiences, especially when we have reason to believe that those experiences will lead to the outcomes at some point in time when we can evaluate their effectiveness. This deserves more discussion which i will reserve for a later post.

Back to my list. I will start with Do since I think that is the most important list.

1. Be able to write. I tell my students they must meet Mrs. Yollis' 3rd grade standards for grammar, spelling and capitalization. And they also must be able to effectively argue a position and be an effective peer reviewer.
2. Be able to read. Yes, we can now listen to most written works. And I listen to a lot of material that is also in print form. But listening is now enough. I want my students to know how to read. And I would that add I want them to want to read. I guess I need a values category for my objective.
3. be able to find information using the most effective tools available. We are nearing the time when "all information will be available at all times in all places." (Guttenberg II)
4. Be able to assess and validate the credibility of information.
5. Be able to apply the scientific method in his or her scholarly activities. More precisely
a. Be able to Ask Questions
b. Be able to Observe
c. be Able to Describe
d. be able to Compare
e. Be able to Contrast
f. be able to Categorize
g. be able to Analyze
h. be able to Hypothesize
i. Be able to Ask Questions

Now the Know:

I have no absolutes here. It all depends. More important are points 3 and 4 in the list of skills above.

And the "Have Experienced" list?
1. Have engaged in developing and maintaining a personal Learning Network or PLN. Why? Because the sources of our intellectual support are critical for a successful career and life.

Nothing we have to know? Well, we have to know a lot. But there is no universal list unless it is our name, address and phone number.

But what do we test for in school? In most cases what is known. And that seems to me to be a fatal flaw in our educational system.

Needed to complete this discussion are the levels or standards to be attained in the skills identified above as well as ways for evaluating them. But the points I wish to make here are two:
1. We do not articulate clearly the learning outcomes or objectives that we wish to address.
2. If what we test for defines those objectives for us, which it indeed does, then we are not focusing our efforts as educators where we should be!