Thursday, November 12, 2009
Shonette and I arrive at the GooglePlex
The Breakthrough Learning Forum wasn't at all what I expected it to be. First of all, I was under the impression I would see Google—but I didn't even get a tour! It's so funny because I was in a couple of the buildings that were a part of Google, but I didn't really get to see it as an entirety (this was me being dramatic). However, I did get to see what their employees are like when they are just hanging out with one another, or hard at work—and I also got a chance to see Sergey Brin speak. Most importantly (I think for everyone who attended) we got to experience the snacks at Google—I say this because the entire mass of snacks laid out in the morning were just about poof—gone by around 4PM. Anyway, the most impressive thing at the Googleplex for me was the T-rex that was surrounded by flamingoes!
Shonette and I with the T-Rex!
I have to admit that I was impressed with Sergey Brin—not only because he sounded smart and was smart (I think it's relatively important to separate the two), but because he said something that was strikingly true. My generation has been labeled over and over as apathetic and lazy, but Sergey, in my opinion, said something that explained the mentality a bit better. I can't quote him exactly, but he said that many of us had this existential perspective on life, and he used the example of him seeing his goals as a child as "just over the hills" whereas many of us see our goals as over a massive mountains. There is definitely a feeling of "Yes, it's possible, but definitely not probable". I'm definitely one of these people, I'm not one to see myself as someone who is any more likely to become someone extraordinary than all the other 6 billion and whatnot people. However, I do think Global Kids does try to encourage the idea that anyone has just about unlimited potential, and can attain anything and everything that they set their mind to. I can't help but admire the self-confidence and motivation of many of the Global Kids youth leaders because when one of them says that they want to be the Secretary General of the United Nations—they really do mean it and truly believe that at the end of horizon awaits their dreams. It must be an extraordinary feeling that many of us miss out on because we feel constrained by what is realistic.
I must say because of this outlook on life we end up taking for granted a lot of the things we do get to have. We have so many resources that many children around the world don't get to have—first and foremost, we have the basics: food, water, clothing, and shelter. We definitely don't have the best educational system, but we have one that'll at least require us to get some form of an education. I can't speak to for everyone, but I have been blessed with some of the most wonderful teachers and educators, ones that have gone beyond what is expected of them for me. And, I can't imagine what this would sound like to a child in a "Third World" Country, we have people that will design and attend a forum on using and incorporating digital media into the educational system. We take all of this for granted, really, and how bewildering, if not outrageous, that must sound to some child that works all day and night, and prays of having some sort of filling meal sometime soon. It must be the most amazing experiences to see one of these children smile—to hear about their dreams, to see hope in their eyes after facing all the harsh realities that could possibly exist.
I bring this up because while I was at the Forum I remembered discussing with one of the attendees that I ran an event on Teen Second Life streaming Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier, speaking about his book (and I constantly forget all the things I've done with Global Kids, so I need to come up with a list). Ishmael Beah really has one of the most cheerful smiles that I have ever seen, and it really is amazing because he has been through so much and he can still stay so optimistic and happy. So although, understanding this, I still do not consider myself any more extraordinary than the next person, I must admit that I have been given so many extraordinary opportunities thanks to Global Kids. I say this on behalf of many of the teens that have worked with Global Kids because GK definitely puts effort into giving us opportunities that not many people get to have—and I am very grateful for that. It's funny because all the opportunities that have been presented to me are always so unexpected—I definitely didn't expect an email asking, "Hey, how do you feel about attending the Breakthrough Learning Forum at the Googleplex". It didn't really occur to me that getting the opportunity to go to this event was particularly exceptional until someone said that they would give up concert tickets to see their favorite band and put down everything that's going on in their lives just to have the opportunity to go to this event. So I'm very fortunate to have the opportunity to go, especially since I got to meet a lot of great adults as well as teens.
The Youth Team presents their skit about digital learning at the Forum
So of course, one of the main parts for the teens was the skit we worked on to invite the attendees to go to the Tech Playground to check out the different breakthrough learning technologies provided. The best part about this was first coming up with the skit, which actually did take some creative thinking. For those who missed it, the skit was about a bunch of teens attending a meeting of "Misunderstood Media Teens" and we all gathered together to talk about our grievances as far as adults not understanding how we use technology in our lives, and also talking about how organizations like Global Kids, Mouse, and BAVC encourage the use of different forms of digital media. Since we felt like many adults weren't listening to us, I found this application (iJim) that turned one of us into the games and learning scholar James Paul Gee. However, when one of us turned to James Gee, he realized that adults do care to listen to what younger people have to say. So we used the iTouch to time travel (using iTimeTravel) into the Breakthrough Learning Forum to ask everyone attending to join us at the Tech Playground [Disclaimer: please do not get your hopes up, technology has advanced, but not that much; therefore, these iTouch applications are not real]. I thought it was very cute, and it was fun because we got to do a lot of fake and exaggerated/amateur acting. Plus, it gave us a lot of time to interact with James Gee throughout the event, which was great because he really is an awesome character—and what I mean by that, you can only understand by meeting him. One of the things that James Gee said that I felt like I could most relate to was that we learn through failure. I definitely think it is very true—failing is a great way to learn. Especially in games, where there are really no consequences to failing and you simply play again and learn from the game itself and eventually create this formula that you use to get through the game if you choose to ever restart playing it.
The Youth Team from Global Kids, BAVC and MOUSE with James Paul Gee
One of the presenters that really stuck out to me was Mimi Ito because she talked about how young people took their interests in digital media and completely expanded their knowledge and skills off of it. She talked about someone who was interested in Anime Music Videos, who became inspired by a video created by a fellow fan and decided to then go onto creating his own. After that he really got into the editing, and encouraged his friends to do the same—and I guess this stood out to me because I felt I could most relate to it. I do love AMV's and some of them are really wonderfully made. Plus, they are a great way to promote different animations that capture your own interest. In addition, I really like filmmaking and editing, which is why I was a part of the Virtual Video Project with Global Kids. I thought this was probably one of the best presentations as far as finding the correlation between the interests of youth with different forms of digital media. Another presentation I found interesting was by Connie Yowell from the MacArthur Foundation, when she made a comparison between a classroom "back in the day" to a modern day classroom. It was hilariously and unfortunately true. Even though technology has progressed so much, the classroom still just has a board and a bunch of chairs and tables. Maybe with the exception that we now have some dry-eraser boards instead of chalk boards. It seems that we are so busy spending and dedicating most of our national budget to the military that we forgot that the school system should eventually change (you know, perhaps improve). But I thought this was a very provoking comparison to present to the attendees.
Shonette and I playing in the SmallLab
As a true Global Kid's alum, my favorite technology presented at the Tech Playground was the game from SmallLab, which was being demoed by David Birchfield (although Dana and I were the ones playing it for the longest duration of time), on water conservation. The idea of the game was to spin this robot until it released water from the reserves, which we would then have to lead to the houses. The houses would then release waste water, which we would have to lead back to the machine for recycling. Sounds simple, but it gets harder around level 6, trust me. I really liked that it was an interactive game, and it appealed to really all ages. Plus, it promoted the idea of water conservation, which is a really important thing for children to understand because water is not as much of an unlimited resource as we would like to think and there are many people out there today that do not get access to clean water. My only suggestion was that a factor be added to the game where there are houses or people that actually "steal" the clean water away—only to reflect the idea that there are many people in America that have obnoxiously huge lawns that are overly watered, especially in areas where water is limited. So I thought it would be a funny (but realistic) concept to add to it. Also, if the platform where the game is played could be made bigger, it would be great because kids are growing bigger and bigger (some of them are taller than me by 5th grade, if not 3rd) so the larger the platform is, the more it promotes exercise—and the less likely it is that your shadow will interfere as much in the game. Technologies presented at the Forum. Plus, it's wonderful to fight for water conservation and against child obesity all at the same time!
Overall, I thought attending this event was a great experience and I can't thank Global Kids enough for taking me. The only sad part of the entire thing was that we got Lava Lamps that we couldn't bring back to New York City due to airport restrictions on carry-on luggage. But hey, physical things can't compensate for experience and knowledge—but experience and knowledge can definitely compensate for any physical item. The experiences we came back with definitely outweigh the "stuff" we came back with, since stuff will eventually get thrown out or lost, but the experiences contribute to who we are and have/will become. I did meet a lot of inspirational people, and I really hope that everyone continues to work hard to incorporate technology into the educational system because it is very necessary in order for future generations to have access to better education. All parents hope that their children will accomplish more than they could, and have a better life in general—so it is only ideal that we all work hard to ensure that the educational system improves, not just for "our children" but for all children. Maybe we can all take a moment actually care for the children and not just declare that something must be done to improve their lives, and the children to come. Maybe if a political figure paid a dollar for every time they mentioned "the children" and didn't care to act upon his or her words, we could have a better educational system. Fact of the matter is, if you haven't done anything yet, and a classroom back in the day still looks the same as a modern day classroom, it is a very good time to start doing something—and that's what the entire forum was based upon.
Friday, October 23, 2009
By Esther Wojcicki
Chair of the Board, Creative Commons, Journalism/English Teacher, Palo Alto High School
Here is a pretty shocking statistic.
More than 40% of teachers today are disheartened and disappointed in their jobs according to a study just released by Learning Points Associates. It is hard to be an inspirational, caring teacher if you don't want to be there.
The study showed that seven in 10 teachers cited testing as major drawback and 61 percent also cited lack of support from administrators and nearly 75% cited "discipline and behavior issues" in the classroom.
This is a very challenging situation for policy makers because the solution to the education crisis in our country is the teacher. Last week Michelle Obama wrote an article in US News and World Report that was entitled "Teachers are Key to a Successful Economy." I couldn't agree more.
The Gates Foundation also came to the same conclusion after spending years focusing on small schools. They are now focusing on teacher effectiveness.
As a long time teacher at Palo Alto High in Palo Alto, CA and someone who has seen multiple education fads come and go, I think thought leaders have finally come to the right focus -- the teacher is the key. No matter what books are provided, no matter what curriculum is required ... the key is how the teacher feels about what she is teaching and how she treats her students.
I am sure everyone can remember a teacher they liked, but they can also remember a teacher they disliked because the teacher seemed to dislike students. Students know when a teacher doesn't want to be there; they know it just by being in the classroom. It's not fun. At one point these teachers probably liked students and teaching, but they now somehow feel trapped in a job that no longer provides the same pleasures it once did. These teachers actually don't dislike students; they dislike what they are required to do-- teach to a test, like NCLB tests, year after year and work with ineffective administrators.
Over the past eight years teachers nationwide have been teaching to the NCLB test which is why many of them are disheartened and burned out.
No matter what policy makers dictate, when a teacher closes the door and is the classroom alone with the students, he/she is in charge. If the teacher is well-trained, then the students will learn more. If the teacher is happy to be there, then the students will be more content in the classroom. The teacher sets the tone; the teacher provides the activities; the teacher plans the day. Happy students work harder. Happy teachers teach more effectively and that is what we need---effective teachers.
It sounds like an old adage, but what we need to do as a nation is to support teachers in the classroom and modify the NCLB Act which is now up for Congressional renewal. Supporting teachers is key to our success as a nation. Support means supporting increases in teachers salaries, respecting the role of teachers in society, donating money to foundations that support teachers, volunteering to work in the classroom, and modifying the NCLB Act to so that teachers are not motivated to teach to the test.
This post is the first of a series by Ms. Wojcicki published in the Huffington Post.
Online Leadership Director
Global Kids, Inc.
Tashawna is a high school senior in Brooklyn, NY. In the morning she leaves home for school listening to her MP3s, texting her friends about meeting up after school at Global Kids, where she participates in a theater program, or FIERCE, the community center for LGBT youth. On the weekend she'll go to church and, on any given day, visit MySpace and Facebook as often as she can. While she misses television and movies, she says she just can't find the time.
This describes what we can call Tashawna's distributed learning network, the most important places in her life where learning occurs. Not just at home, school and church but also through digital media, like MP3s, SMS and social networks, and at youth-serving institutions, like Global Kids and FIERCE. Some are places that require her presence, like school, while others are opt-in, like MySpace. But the learning she gathers across the nodes in her network are preparing her to succeed in the classrooms, workplaces, and civic arenas of the 21st Century.
And Tashawna is not alone. In part due to the changes in education, in part due to the affects of digital media, youth have a wide array of options for learning knowledge and developing skills. But how many youth feel in charge of their networks, or are even aware they exist as an interconnected whole? How do they learn to synthesize what they learn and communicate it to future employers and college admission staff who won't learn of their strengths on most school transcripts?
Global Kids, an afterschool program in New York City that supports youth like Tashawna to be global citizens and community leaders, has begun to explore just these questions. More specifically, we are increasingly asking the following: What do youth need to understand and strategically navigate their distributed learning networks? And how can youth-serving institutions support youth to document the associated learning that address 21st Century Skills that so often go unrecorded?
We are far from alone, however, in raising these concerns. For example, a number of recent initiatives supported by the MacArthur Foundation (from whom we too receive funds) are concerned with the distributed nature of learning experienced by today's young people and the challenge for both youth and learning institutions to integrate and assess it. While digital media has been a disruptive force supporting the fragmentation of learning environments it yet remains a potential source for coordinating and synthesizing the experience.
One approach to empowering youth to be more in charge of their learning and make more sense of their distributed learning network is to focus on youth's existing assets through both digital tools and offline activities to help them see the contours of their networks, understand their role as they traverse their learning nodes, and enhance their abilities to make connections amongst them. The following describes artifacts from three approaches Global Kids has undertaken to further explore these important issues.
Distributed Learning Maps
I was able above to describe Tashawna's distributed learning network because she showed it to me, on paper. It looked like this:
Actually, this was her second drawing. She didn't like her first because she was concerned it wasn't original. The first one looked like this:
When I first viewed these I paid attention to how she chose to group certain nodes. I noticed the distinctions between informal learning institutions and the formal, between portable digital media and online.
Of course, Tashawna doesn't walk around with a drawing of her learning network. I don't think she'd even thought about all the places she learns before I'd asked her to draw these pictures. But when I did it was easy for her to list on a sheet of paper places like home and school. I had to push her, however, to list all of her portable media devices, web sites and after school programs. She wasn't used to thinking about them all as sites of learning. After each one I asked her what she learned from that node:
Tashawna: How to spell bad! (laughs)
Me: What else?
Tashawna: How to use technology more effectively to communicate.
At the end of the process, as a representative of one of her learning nodes, I was left with a broader understanding of Tashawna's network, of the resources she brings into our program, and where her learning with us might affect other sites of learning. From Tashawna's perspective, I hope she began to think, perhaps for the first time, about herself as a participant within her network, as the final source creating meaning by synthesizing the collected learning, and as the one ultimately responsible for learning how to best design and navigate her network, now and in the future.
Digital Literacy Transcript
Even if Tashawna could fully articulate the learning she receives outside of the standard school curriculum, how can she communicate it to others, in a capacity more formal than a college essay? Last year, we worked with Henry Jenkins' Project New Media Literacies to create something which might do just that: a Digital Literacy Transcript.
Henry Jenkins has identified and described the core literacies afforded by new media tools that are essential for full participation in our new digital age, such as Simulation, Negotiation, and Multitasking. Last year, Global Kids developed and implemented a curriculum that used social media to sharpen their literacies while assisting youth to understand how to think about them.
The Transcript turns each literacy into a triangle-shaped badge. Each corner represents a different relationship with the literacy: I can recognize it, I can talk about it, and I can do it. At the beginning of our program each youth's Transcript was blank. Over the course of the program youth watched their Transcript grow as badges were earned through completing social media projects in the program while also submitting existing work (fan fiction, podcasts, etc.) that demonstrated evidence of their existing competencies. For example, you might note that Tashawna completed her "negotiation" badge, was working on her "networking" badge, and never began "performance."
The Transcript served as both a feedback mechanism to motivate and guide learning and an alternative transcript to show colleges or prospective employers about abilities which would otherwise go unrecognized.
Digital Literacy Portfolio
How could a college or potential employer viewing Tashawna's Digital Literacy Transcript know that she actually learned the referenced skills? And for those new to the terms - which, to be frank, are most of us - what could she do to make these concepts clear and concrete? Enter the Digital Media Portfolio.
Each Portfolio is personally curated by youth like Tashawna to offer an audio and visual tour of their social media productions that highlights the literacies developed through each social media project. This stands in contrast to the Digital Transcript, which is official and controlled by Global Kids.
Below is Tashawna's:
Global Kids is new to these three approaches - Distributed Learning Maps, Digital Literacy Transcripts and Digital Literacy Portfolios - but this year will expand them in a variety of contexts. The new MacArthur Foundation-funded Edge Project will allow us, as part of a broader initiative, to bring the Learning Maps into civic and cultural institutions that use digital media for learning. Meanwhile, the Transcripts and Portofolios will be rolled out in Winter 2010 within the New York City Public Library. Over the course of the next two years we will be documenting this work and sharing our findings with the broader community.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Victor V. Vuchic
Program Officer, Open Educational Resources
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
Often when we think about innovation, we focus on lots of low cost rapid prototypes and bottoms up design driven approaches. You don’t often hear much about how policy could stoke innovation. Usually, people think of policy as stifling innovation. I actually think there are opportunities to shift policies that could significantly promote innovation. Here are a few areas of opportunity on the near term horizon:
Textbook Adoption to Resource Adoption
Most states have incredibly archaic and restrictive textbook adoption policies. The sad irony is that these adoption cycles are being lengthened from seven to nine years in many states, when the rate of change and innovation in the world is dramatically increasing (imagine what an 8 year old textbook on science and technology looks like today). Shifting these processes to include digital resources is critical. This not only allows us to begin to move from paper based textbooks to new digital environments, but it can also serve as a distribution channel. Much of the feedback we get from teachers is that searching for educational materials online leads to a mediocre mixed bag of results. The state can play a role similar to what they do with textbooks in evaluating digital resources, aligning them to standards and providing at least a baseline for rich media materials for all teachers for all state standards. With the support of the CK-12 Foundation, Virginia and California adopted open-source digital textbooks over the last year.
One enormous problem that is stifling innovation and doesn’t get much attention is the internet filters that schools use. While there is a clear need to have some control over where kids go on the internet, the current filters are blocking a huge amount of the Internet and create a significant barrier for teachers to do anything innovative with the web. I recently did a classroom observation at a low income public school in the Bay Area, and the teacher complained that he couldn’t even get to UC Berkeley’s site to get his materials from his Masters degree program. Also, when I used to work with students and told them that they are doing a video project that would be on YouTube, their enthusiasm and engagement jumped 10 fold. On the other hand, when I later explained that YouTube was blocked and we’d use a different lesser known site, they lost interest. Brand is very important to kids and can be a huge motivator. We need to invest in better filtering tools and figure out how we can leverage the digital spaces kids love inside the classroom. The evidence is clear that using the Internet can act as a powerful tool for engaging students, especially the ones that are most at risk of dropping out. We need better school policies on internet filtering that don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Common Core Standards
States adopting a common core of higher level standards will help provide some coherence to the education system across the country. This will stoke innovation in two ways: first, it will immediately and dramatically increase the market size for entrepreneurs in the field of K-12 education and in turn help them attract more investment. Today, someone starting a company in education has to develop and worry about 50 different states, each with their own standards. This fragmentation puts a significant cost and burden for small innovative startups. Second, unifying under some common standards will make it more likely that innovations in one state will transfer more easily to other states. This should also stoke more collaboration between states, which again will increase the transfer of innovations.
Seat time to Learning time
Today most states focus funding on time spent in school (average daily attendance). Shifting the focus from seat time to learning time could open up an entire new space for innovative, and perhaps more effective, learning environments. The state of California recently decreased its minimum annual school days requirement by five days to help accommodate the recent budget cuts. (In practice, most school districts are choosing to make other cuts rather than cutting school days, but they are now allowed to cut days.) This is a particularly troubling policy change given the strong evidence that time in school is directly correlated with academic success. But, by shifting the focus from seat time to learning time, districts in California could choose to have five self-learn days spaced throughout the year where students would spend the days learning outside the school or in a lab on online courses or digital media learning environments that have proven learning outcomes. This could help deal with the budget cuts while not losing out on critical learning time. One could also imagine that teachers could leverage digital resources in new ways that help reach the kids where they are and when they want it rather than in just a specific 45 minute period in the classroom.
Overall, there is a lot of innovation going on in education, but unfortunately very little of it is making its way into the public education system. I believe with a handful of tweaks and shifts in policy, we can open up and create pockets of space to allow the system to begin to absorb and integrate these innovations. At a recent meeting of the National Association of State Boards of Education I was pleasantly surprised with how forward thinking the group was and to see that policies are starting to shift in states to become more digital friendly. Let’s hope that this continues and begins to open up the system and allow a lot of the great work happening outside to have impact on the inside.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Monday, October 19, 2009
We’re excited to participate in the
The opportunity to draw upon the nation’s brightest minds in education and technology to further these goals is one that can’t be missed. For us, it’s about exploring the rapid advancements possible to drive literacy-building activities into the hands and minds of children and families with lightening speed.
In the past, literacy was about reading and comprehending the written word. Reading a book and talking about it. Access to information in linear ways: libraries, newspapers and the like. Today literacy encompasses much more and children are exposed to information very quickly. We must find and deploy new advances quickly if we are to retain our competitive edge. And we must ensure parents are aligned to support these advancements in the home and with supervision to maximize the opportunity and provide a safe environment with technology.
A recent MIT study concluded that technology closes the gap between students’ individual skills and background differences. NCFL has capitalized on this potential by furthering approaches that capture the motivation of at-risk families to use technology to drive learning. If we can harness their interest in technology to achieve educational progress, amazing things can happen.
Working with the
Thursday, October 15, 2009
By David L. Cohen
Executive Vice President, Comcast Corporation
We are strong believers in investing in stronger communities, and we’re in the midst of one of our most exciting community investment initiatives ever. Building on our partnership with One Economy, we recently launched the Comcast Digital Connectors program, an innovative initiative that teaches young people digital literacy skills and how to use broadband technologies to benefit their communities.
As America evolves into a truly digital nation, we think we have a responsibility to help ensure that all citizens of all backgrounds can use broadband to achieve their full potential. Helping more Americans learn the benefits of broadband (“digital literacy”) and getting more Americans to use it (“broadband adoption”) will make our communities and our nation stronger.
The Comcast Digital Connectors program integrates all of our core community investment priorities in one great opportunity. It promotes community service, expands digital literacy, and builds tomorrow’s leaders in many of the diverse communities we serve.
By the end of 2010, the Comcast Digital Connectors program will operate in at least 22 cities across America. In communities like Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Morgantown, WV, Dearborn, MI and Hanford, CA, groups of young people – aged 14 to 21 – from diverse, low-income backgrounds will be trained in digital literacy in both after-school and summertime training programs. Participants will team up with other Digital Connectors two to three times per week at their local school, community center or affordable housing development to work on what they have learned. Additionally, Comcast Digital Connectors will volunteer their time at a variety of locations (schools, churches, senior centers, etc.) to help promote digital literacy more broadly in their communities. Comcast employees across the country will have the opportunity to interact with Comcast Digital Connectors by serving as mentors and lending their leadership and expertise to local programs. And Digital Connectors across the nation will become part of an online social network where they will share their experiences and learn from each other.
This new program will take One Economy’s original Digital Connectors program to the next level. To date, nearly 3,000 young people have participated in Digital Connectors programs and have contributed more than 56,000 hours of community service. The One Economy-Comcast partnership aims to double the number of young people engaged in the program and the hours of service they provide their communities.
Expanding digital literacy and promoting broadband adoption are two critical national goals. As President Obama has said, “Here in the country that invented the Internet, every child should have the chance to get online.” In partnership with One Economy, we hope to bring many thousands more Americans into the digital age.