Interview with my 8 year-old on digital citizenship (a.k.a. my summary of learning )

Hey all in EC&I 832, here’s the vid for my Summary of Learning:

I’d like to thank my eight year-old for being such a great interviewer, if only slightly distracted by the bribe (chocolate) I used…

Thanks, too, to my prof for this course, Dr. Alec Couros, and to my classmates for all of their contributions.

I haven’t yet figured out how to embed my WordArt word cloud, but please stay tuned for updates on this blog entry…




My daily news, and why I’m sad

My topic for this week is, “What does an average day look like for you in terms of reading and making sense of information, media, and the world around you? What are your personal strategies for analyzing and validating information (e.g. fake news or other information)?”

As someone who is just starting to adjust to a life on social media, I’m not yet at the point where I rely on it for my news… and after reading the articles my classmates have posted on social media and fake news, I think I’ll try to continue looking to more “old school” news sources even as I get accustomed to using social media for its other features and uses.

What does my average day look like in terms of how I get information and make sense of my world?  Well, I’ll start by saying that I can’t make sense of my world. What I learn about in the news constantly tells me that there is so much going on that I can’t understand and have no way of even beginning to understand.  I feel overwhelmed by the complexities of the moment we’re in, politically, socially, humanitarian-ly, and environmentally. There is just so much going on, and while some of it is good and inspiring, most of it is horrific and completely depressing. I also get very sick of seeing Trump’s ugly mug on my computer screen first thing in the morning. For these reasons, I try to keep in touch with the major events taking place, but I don’t allow myself to get too absorbed in any news forum. Basically, the time it takes for me to have my morning three cups of coffee is where the bulk of my news-viewing happens. What do I read during those three cups?  Well, pour yourself a cuppa and let me tell you…

In terms of my news sources, I stick to news agencies I feel I can trust to not spread fake news.  I spend my first cup of coffee of the day with CBC online.  It’s my homepage. I try to scan all of their headlines, but my focus is usually on their top stories, local stories, health, and tech and science sections. I also keep up with what they’re posting in their Indigenous section.

For my second cup of coffee, I’ll turn over to The Guardian. This British publication gives me a different perspective on world news stories, with great international writers, and their online articles are way more in depth. I highly recommend reading (and supporting) the Guardian. They also have a great video and documentary section.  For example, check out this scary interview with Christopher Wylie:

Then, if I get the time for a third cup of coffee, I’ll browse through the Tyee, a Vancouver-based independent news source that is, well, AWESOME.  Take a look at this two minute vid to see why:

So there you have it. I never allow myself more than three cups of coffee in the morning, so hence I’ve now introduced you to the three main sources of news I take in each day.  (Oh, I also listen to and support CBC radio 1, though I’m frustrated with them at the same time).  Occasionally, I’ll look at an article in the New York Times that arrives at our house every Wednesday, or the New Yorker we get delivered on Tuesdays, or the Harper’s that comes ones a month, but to be honest, with working full time, being a mom, a swimmer, and a ceramist, I don’t get in as much “deep news” reading as I’d like to. And as I said above, I need to protect myself from “bad-news-overload,” which can happen very easily.

Speaking of bad news, I found it disturbing to read in our materials for this week that “a false story is much more likely to go viral than a real story,” and that

“[a] false story reaches 1,500 people six times quicker, on average, than a true story does. And while false stories outperform the truth on every subject—including business, terrorism and war, science and technology, and entertainment—fake news about politics regularly does best.” (The Grim Conclusions of the Largest-Ever Study of Fake News).

The reasons given for this fact were that “fake news seems to be more ‘novel’ than real news” and “fake news evokes much more emotion than the average tweet.” The writer, Robinson Meyer, goes on to say that:

“The researchers created a database of the words that Twitter users used to reply to the 126,000 contested tweets, then analyzed it with a state-of-the-art sentiment-analysis tool. Fake tweets tended to elicit words associated with surprise and disgust, while accurate tweets summoned words associated with sadness and trust, they found.”

I guess that what this information tells me is that people would prefer to spend time thinking about and posting things that are surprising and/or disgusting rather than thinking about and posting things that are sad and/or true.  And that we have “less emotion” about real world events than about made up, fake ones.

This in itself makes me, well, sad.

I know I’m guilty of not wanting to get too absorbed by all the sad news out there, and thus not knowing as much about today’s world as I should, but I think I can say that I don’t allow myself to get distracted from the real state of things by looking at surprising or disgusting news items instead of the sad truth of the world’s affairs.  It seems like there’s this tendency out there to get all wrapped up over some disgusting, surprising, and maybe even “atrocious” yet ultimately NOT hugely important issue, and then leave less time for considering the major events taking place in the world today.  Let me know if you think I’ve got it wrong.

I think it’s sad that some people create and others spend their time on often trivial fake news stories, when the real “surprising and disgusting” stories are the ones that are true:

… how could anyone need to, or even try to, make up news that is more emotion-evoking, and even more disgusting than the recent shooting? More disgusting than the the refugee crisis? Than climate change, or the slow but steady “sixth mass extinction” we’re causing?

I guess, though, that the situation I’m talking about is nothing new. I smiled when I saw the quotation from Johnathan Swift in Carter Davis’ vlog: “Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it.”

True.  But still, this is why I shy away from using social media to get my news.  I know I could be tempted to fly with the falsehoods, too.  However, not using social media as a news source doesn’t mean I feel I’m impervious to fake news… if I’ve learned anything in the recent weeks in this class, it’s that we can all be manipulated much more easily than we may realize. I feel I’m much more media-savvy now than I was before taking this class.  If nothing else, I’m more cautious about everything I do online.  I’ve learned from my classmates and from Alec (my prof) that there are tools out there that can remind us how to be critical of sources of information. For example, my classmate Regan Williams posted a great vlog in which she points us in the direction of EAVI Media Literacy and their tools for teaching/learning about this media literacy, and the info-graphic posted in Jaimie and Jocelyn‘s vlog with similar points to consider.

Once again, if you feel I have anything wrong in this post, please let me know. I certainly don’t want to be posting any more misinformation than what’s already out there. 😉

An issue to consider when teaching critical thinking in classrooms with students from different cultural backgrounds

My prompt for this week’s post is: What does it mean to be literate today? What might be some different elements of being “fully” literate (you might include digital, media, physical, or mathematical literacy, for example). I’m going to address the element of sociopolitical background when dealing with media literacy, and how students from non-democratic countries may experience an even greater challenge of coming to terms with media literacy if they have been systematically taught to not ask certain questions.

But first of all, what does it mean to be literate today? As many of my classmates have already spoken about in their content catalysts or blogged about in their weekly blog on this topic, being literate today must involve more than the ability to understand the information being presented in a message. With the prevalence of fake news, it is becoming all the more important to teach ourselves and our students the skills involved in critical thinking. Dani quoted a great website, Resource Ed, in her content catalyst video to share with us this quick definition of digital literacy:

digital literacy = digital tool knowledge + critical thinking + social engagement.

I also enjoyed watching Dr. Rob Williams’s TED talk on media literacy. Dr. Williams uses the parable of of the fish that “seldom thinks or is conscious about the water in which it swims” to illustrate his point that “skepticism is key to media literacy education.” Interestingly, after doing some digging around, I found out that it appears as though this “saying” originated from David Foster Wallace’s 2005 commencement address to Kenyon College, in which he begins his talk with “the standard requirement of US commencement speeches, the deployment of didactic little parable-ish stories”:

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

This provides a nice segue into my second question, what might be some “different elements of being ‘fully’ literate? I agree with Dr. Williams that being literate today must also mean being skeptical. However, I believe that part of our ability to be skeptical, to critically analyze, comes from the training we have via our families, our schools, and our societies about what and how much a person is allowed to criticize. In other words, we don’t all come from the same water.

I’m going to speak about my experience living and working in China for a while. First, I want to be clear that I am in no way suggesting that Chinese people are not able to think critically, analyze, or speak up on issues that concern them. One of my favourite artists is Ai Weiwei, who has made a career out being critical. I will, however, make a few generalizations based on my own observations and experiences in China for the sake of demonstrating the need to be aware of different sociopolitical backgrounds when teaching a multicultural group of students (such as is often, if not always, the case in Canada today).

When I went to Beijing in 2003 to teach ESL in the Beijing Language and Culture University, I quickly understood that I’d need to leave my naturally critical/skeptical side behind in most situation I’d encounter. For example, before even entering the classroom, I had to sign a contract that makes the Sask Education’s Professional Code of Ethics I was critical of in my last blog post seem absolutely liberating. Here is an excerpt from it:

As you may be able to make out from this photo of my contract (don’t ask my why I still have it!), I was not allowed to “speak in any way, or at any place, against the Chinese government.”  There were several other no-nos that I had to obey.  I was also told that people were not allowed to meet in groups larger than five while in public places on campus, and that meeting privately with others for any religious reason would get me into trouble. These are just a few of the examples of “state control” that I experienced while teaching in Beijing.

I’m not sure how much has changed.  I do know that back in 2003, democracy was “booming,” or so they claimed:

A page from my scrap book: article taken from the China Daily, March 20th 2003.

And along with democracy, human rights were also getting more attention in Beijing starting in 2003, and so greater freedoms were just about to become available:

China Daily, January 2003

This was China 15 years ago. I’m not sure how much has changed, but I have the sense that large-scale social reform takes a long time to filter into one’s mind and unconscious… If for generations you’ve been taught to be careful of certain forms of criticism, that ingrained trait isn’t likely going to change in a matter of years.  And in fact, I know that many of my Chinese students today are very surprised to hear me voice my opinions on all sorts of topics that they consider forbidden to discuss while in China. For this reason, critical thinking applied to many topics, especially those related to politics, is a concept that is a sensitive one for ESL teachers to broach at times. One needs to be careful so as not to come across as “critical” of “non-critical” thinking.

As you can see, coming from an adult ESL-instructor’s perspective, I can say that engaging my students in the issue of digital/media literacy is complicated.  While there is a huge difference between speaking critically of one’s government and knowing how to read an online article to assess its legitimacy, I feel that these two issues are connected. Critical thinking, overall, is not a skill that I believe is as highly valued in all countries as it is in Canada. So, for teachers with students who come from a variety of cultural and political backgrounds, we need to be sensitive to the different experiences, training, or even skill-sets that our students have.

Critical thinking… applied to the Code of Professional Ethics

What is a school’s role in educating students about digital citizenship?

Of the six content catalyst videos my classmates have posted on this topic, one key term comes up in each: critical thinking.

According to Luke Braun, we are “bombarded” by 4,000 to 10,000 commercial messages a day. As he succinctly puts it,  “students will spend all their adult lives in a multitasking, multifaceted, technology-driven diverse vibrant world and they must arrive equipped to do so.” Staci S. notes that “people’s ideas, attitudes, and beliefs are being put upon us and shaping our interpretation of the world around us.”

Clearly critical thinking is important. So let’s think critically about teaching critical thinking in this province for a moment.

During our “visit” form Patrick Maze last week, I was disturbed to listen to the conversation that went on about teachers having to censor what they share online.

I know that the case of the teacher being told to resign or be suspended because of a Facebook post of herself holding a drink happened in the States, not Canada, but nonetheless I heard in the conversation last week that many teachers here feel the need to be very careful about what they post.  There was discussion about the need for teachers to make sure that not only do they not post photos of themselves doing any behaviour that could be deemed inappropriate (such as even having a drink in a bar during their holidays), but also that teachers should ensure that friends/people around them are not taking photos of them that could be posted online.  I gather that no one has actually had disciplinary action taken against them in this province for anything posted online (let me know if I’m wrong, though), but even just having this concern about needing to surveil oneself sounds very hard to live with. I can’t really imagine being out with a group of people, some friends, some acquaintances, some strangers, having a good time and perhaps “letting go” a bit, and still needing to be aware of the threat that someone may post a photo of me that the Ministry of Education may deem inappropriate.  Is that how it really is? If so, I think that’s so unfortunate. As several people pointed out during our class last week, having a drink when you’re an adult on your vacation is not illegal…

Photo Credit: mitchell haindfield Flickr via Compfightcc

As a follow-up to that conversation, I’ve looked at the Code of Professional Ethics for this province, and here’s where I’m going to go out on a limb.  As a faculty member at a Canadian university, I think I can say with a fair degree of certainty that the majority of university faculty members in this country would rather strike than sign a document stating that they will “act at all times in a way that maintains the honour and dignity of the individual teacher and the teaching profession” (6.2.1). There was enough upheaval when the administration at the university where I teach put forward a Conflict of Interest and Conflict of Commitment Declaration which comes nowhere close to the explicit, but also at times vague, language that I see in the Code of Professional Ethics.

(Just as a note: I’m not  judging teachers for following this Code; I’m speaking from how I would feel if I had to).

My critical thinking about the Code goes like this:

Regarding 6.2.1, To act at all times in a way that maintains the honour and dignity of the individual teacher and the teaching profession:

  • at all times” – in my classroom, yes, but also while I’m preparing my classes, riding my bike to school, brushing my teeth, and going to bed?
  • maintain the honour and dignity of the individual teacher” – whose definition of “honour” are we using here? I’m afraid I didn’t see one in the footnotes.
  • honour and dignity of the […] the teaching profession” – can any teacher tell me that there hasn’t been a single moment in a classroom when they’ve been grateful their boss wasn’t watching just because, well, it wasn’t exactly their best example of honourable and dignified teaching?

Then there’s  6.2.3 of the Code: “To act in a manner that respects the collective interests of the profession

  • In my experience, there are often differing opinions of what is “the collective interest” of a profession. Does that never happen in K-12 education?

And 6.2.7: “To respect the right of students to form their own judgments based upon knowledge

  • What if a Student X’s judgments are severely racist/sexist/etc? Do I still need to respect her/his judgments?

And 6.2.8: “To support each student in reaching their highest levels of individual growth across intellectual, social-emotional, spiritual and physical domains

  • Um, excuse the English major here, but I have no idea what this means. Am I now my kindergarten students’ psychologist, Rabbi/Imam/Priest/First Nations’ spiritual leader or other spiritual leader, and physical trainer/nutritionist/etc.???

And 6.2.12: “to model the fulfilment of social and political responsibilities associated with membership in the community.” In my opinion, fulfilling one’s social and political responsibilities means speaking out when necessary… and what if one’s own social and political views are not considered “honourable” to all others

And then there’s 6.2.18, “To maintain awareness of the need for changes in the public education system and advocate appropriately for such changes through individual or collective action

  • While maintaining the “collective interest”?
  • Only in ways that are deemed “honourable and dignified”?
  • Would changes to this Code count?

There are several points in this Code that I see the value of, and I guess that every educational institution has something in place to keep people accountable… but for a few of the points in this Code, such as above, I know I wouldn’t feel comfortable signing on the dotted line.  Is everything in this Code really necessary?  Is it as unambiguous as possible?  Is it reasonable to expect teachers to follow it all the time?  I don’t think so.  I think that some of its language is vague and at times, if we’re honest, contradictory and/or simply impossible to follow.  And yet teachers are required to follow it.

And this is what bothers me – teachers, the people we are asking to help us teach “critical thinking” to our children, are being told they have to follow a code of conduct this detailed regardless of what their own critical thoughts on it may be.  This doesn’t sound to me like good modelling.(But please correct me if I’m wrong – maybe teachers aren’t required to follow this Code?).

Have an opinion on anything you’ve read here?  Please feel free to let me know 🙂

Guidelines, please!

I’d like to address this week’s question of, “Do schools really need to change? If so, in what ways?,” although I’m going to focus on adult-education, and specifically on post-secondary ESL classrooms, as that is where I teach.

So, do schools really need to change?
Well, within the context that I’ve just mentioned above, I can’t speak exactly towards whether “schools” need to change, but I can talk about how “ESL/EAL Programs” may or may not need to change.  My answer is – absolutely, yes.

What immediately comes to mind is that I believe that the program I teach in would greatly benefit from having a go-to protocol or set of guidelines for smart phone use in the classroom. Why? Well, in short, I had to nod my head several times while reading Alissa Sklar’s article in Learning Landscapes “Sound, Smart, and Safe: A Plea for Teaching Good Digital Hygiene”. Using her own experience raising three teenagers, she writes:

It got harder and harder to get them off their screens, and more difficult to know where homework ended and FaceTime, Instagram, and Netflix began. As they and their friends acquired these digital tools, their social lives became almost completed mediated by apps and screens of various sizes, and we worried about the ways it was changing their habits and personalities. Their bedtimes stretched later and later. Their voracious reading habits ground nearly to a halt. They spent less time outside. Their heads were always down, eyes focused on a screen; their spoken responses to questions became distracted and disengaged.

I don’t have teenagers at home to contend with, but I do have teenaged ESL students in my classroom five days a week… and I can definitely say that they also find if difficult to “know where homework ended and FaceTime, Instagram, and Netflix began.” I know that several struggle with time-management and spend FAR too much time on devices rather than practicing their English or doing their homework. I can definitely see how their lives are “completely mediated by apps and screens of various sizes,” and the number one issue for me as their teacher is that “their heads [are] always down, eyes focused on a screen; their spoken responses to questions [are] distracted and disengaged” whenever they are on their phones.

Photo Credit: Mercersburg Summer Flickr via Compfight cc

Sure, I can tell them that they should not be using their phones during class time, and for the most part the “good” students, the ones who are motivated to learn, that is, will oblige. Nonetheless, during break times, which happen for ten minutes at the end of each hour, I gaze out over a sea of bent heads, in silence, staring at small screens, and I wonder how much more they’d get out of this time were they engaged in actual interaction with the people in our classroom… how much cultural learning, not to mention English, they’d gain from spending their time with the bodies in the room. After all, they all claim to be so interested in making multi-cultural connections and friendships among their classmates… and they all know the importance of using the English language as much as possible in order to master it.  Yet there they are, communicating with their country-folk (most likely all of the time) in their own language, while supposedly living in this “English immersion” environment.

That is one issue I have. What can I do? I don’t feel right taking away their phones at the start of each class… I’m not there to confiscate their personal possessions or police their use of time during their breaks. So what can I do?

Another issue is, sadly, with cheating.  I’ve heard told of numerous ways that students can use smart phones (and now, smart watches) to improve their quiz/exam results. Is it my right as their teacher to take away their devices before an exam? I’ve learned that I can, but I even feel uncomfortable about doing that – and yet I don’t see better alternatives when I know that cheating does take place. Of course I’ve called out to the masses “turn off ye cell phones and put them in ye backpacks” millions of times, but I’m not fool… I know that the ones who want to cheat are the same ones who will just ignore my pleas.

As you can see, I’d like to see my program develop guidelines for, if not “digital hygiene” in general, digital use within the classroom. I think this is a missing part of our “ESL Program Student Handbook” (that nearly no students read, sigh). If we were to have a set of guidelines, perhaps including a few policies, for both teachers and students to follow, I think this would make things better for both parties.  And this would be a wonderful change.

First vlog!

I’ve just posted my first Prezi, first vlog, first screencast, and first YouTube video…. all in one! I better Tweet about it now 😉

Please check it out and leave a comment if you have one.  It is a response to the question: How do we approach the concept of identity in a digital and networked world?

The text I am quoting is Aaron Balick’s “The persona, the false-self, and the social network: who are you on Facebook.”



A response (and a confession)

Okay… it’s week four of the semester and I should be starting to feel comfortable with participating in, not just viewing, the digital world, right? I should be past what language acquisition people call “the silent period” of observing without speaking. It’s not happening yet, and I’m still at the point of feeling like:

How am I going to do this?

It’s not so much that I can’t grasp how to use the technology enough to write a blog post or post a gif (with difficulty). Using David White’s labels that he presents in “Visitors & Residents,” I’m a competent enough digital “visitor” that I can use the “tools” well enough to get the job done. I may not be one of Marc Prensky’s “digital natives” (I’m far too old for starters, and besides, I don’t fall for that once-used dichotomy anyways), but with much ease, I depend on the internet for help with the majority of the tasks I have to accomplish, from getting my news fill with my morning cup of coffee, to checking the weather, banking, booking trips, getting directions, etc, etc.

What makes me more of a “visitor” than a “resident,” though, is that I dip in and out of this virtual “tool box” without leaving much of a trace (at least to my knowledge!).  Apart from a mostly ignored Facebook page (I get emails reminding me of my 99+ unread notifications and 50-odd ignored friend requests), I was not a social media user before I joined this class. And I was totally fine with that.

No, I am not “patting [myself] on the back by demonstrating how much [I] don’t go on Facebook,” as Nathan Jurgenson may tell me I am in his essay, “The IRL Fetish.” It’s NOT that I avoid social media because I think, as he claims people like me believe, “of offline as real and authentic.” I understand that “real” experiences can take place online. I have real communication when I Facetime my stepson who is playing basketball in the States. I feel great when I get an email from a long-lost friend who lives on the other side of the world. And I believe I fall into Jurgenson’s phenomenon of “digital dualism,” using the net for so many components of my life, as mentioned above. However, what I don’t agree with, and what I don’t even see evidence of in his essay is his claim that:

[…] we are far from forgetting about the offline; rather we have become obsessed with being offline more than ever before. We have never appreciated a solitary stroll, a camping trip, a face-to-face chat with friends, or even our boredom better than we do now. Nothing has contributed more to our collective appreciation for being logged off and technologically disconnected than the very technologies of connection. The ease of digital distraction has made us appreciate solitude with a new intensity. (Jurgenson)

I don’t see examples of this in his essay or in real life. I’d be happy if someone could show me people appreciating solitude “more than ever before.” What I do see online is a lot of reaching out to fill voids in our lives that we either cannot or do not want to fill offline. I see a lot of need to be seen, and I just don’t share that need. I don’t feel the need to tell people who I don’t know about what I’ve had for lunch. And there’s just so, so much of that sort of connection taking place “out there” that it overwhelms, and, to be honest, depresses me.

I get that online communities can feel very real, but to me it’s still realness in too limited a context. One place where I nodded my head while reading Michael Wesch’s “YouTube and You: Experiences of Self-Awareness in the Context Collapse of the Recording Webcam” was when I read that:

The relationship between viewer and viewed is deep and profound but not strong. It is not just “loose,” it is in most cases completely anonymous, fleeting, and ephemeral. It is a deep yet diffuse experience of connection; an anonymous hand with the message, “You are not alone.” (Wesch)

And this is how I feel. Even if I were to make connections via digital tools with the greater “world out there,” these connections would not fill my need for people in my life. I also don’t see it possible to have a real, human “connection without constraint” (Wesch) – in my understanding of relationships, they just don’t work like that.

And so, as you can see, I’m still not sure how to proceed with my forays into the digital world. All I know is that I need to get Tweeting real soon. If anyone has any advice for how to get the ball rolling, I’d be grateful.