Is Networked Learning Doomed in Virginia K-12?

classblogsThe Fall semester wrapped up mid-December with my departure for two weeks to visit family in New England, so I never really had the opportunity to reflect on my first use of blogging as a mode for instruction and class communication.  Three grandkids have a way of prioritizing your time!  Now that I have returned to Richmond…and before Spring semester starts, I wanted to think about my Fall class again.

Those who follow me will remember that this fall I had 13 bright Masters students in my ADMS 647 Educational Technology for School Leaders class.  Back in August, I noted that I would have my student blogging into the new academic year, something none of them had done before.  Over the 14 weeks of the class, I had the opportunity to watch each of them evolve and mature as bloggers.  We aggregated their blog posts on our class Google Sites page to facilitate viewing and commenting.  Their first posts were tentative and more like paper essays than real reflections.  Through commenting, they learned from each other and began to add links and then multimedia.  A tipping point occurred when several recorded  personal videos using Jing or YouTube and uploaded them as their blog posts.

I remember that almost all of my students self-reported themselves as technophobes back in August.  That did change.  By December, they reported that they felt confident with using blogs, and more importantly, they were experimenting with new approaches to both blogging and the use of educational technology in their classrooms.  It appeared that they were no longer scared of technology, and in fact felt empowered.  As one of my students said quoting Vicki Davis:

“…I will not be waiting on the fence where technology is concerned. As Vicki Davis had said in the video that I had outlined earlier “we need to stop waiting on SUPERMAN and be SUPERCAN“. I will definitely be looking on what I can do…”

Similar sentiments were expressed by quite a few of my students.  I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed participating in this evolution and growth.  I made a point of commenting on each blog each week, and over time, several students began to reciprocate and comment on my blog.  They easily took to commenting on each others posts, primarily since they were already an established community from the summer face-to-face classes.  By the end of the semester, I felt a part of this community, one filled with excitement!

Part of the intent of this class was to expose these future school administrators to the open and public web, with both the opportunities and the threats associated with being a public intellectual.  I was therefore disappointed that with one exception, no one outside the class ever commented on any of my students’ posts.  Over the 14 weeks, these students generated 210 blog posts covering a variety of topics.  Yet, 209 of these posts could have just as easily remained within the walled garden of Blackboard.  Of course, I do not know who outside the class might have read these posts but not commented.  If my blog is any indication, that certainly happened.

I definitely will continue to use blogs as a means of networked learning in future classes I teach.

So if I appeared to develop a class of Web 2.0 explorers, why the grim title to this blog post?  It started with a tweet from my friend Jon Becker last Friday:


That link led to a Daily Press editorial “Texting While Teaching“, which reported that Virginia is developing guidelines that require teachers to only communicate with students through official/professional/school-based channels.  In other words, as I read this – not through social media or open Web 2.0 applications.

There was an associated article Saturday in the Washington Post: “Virginia school officials consider state guidelines to prevent sexual misconduct.”  This article notes that these guidelines are a response to a horrific case of child sexual depredation by former Manassas teacher Kevin Ricks.  The article reported:

“Ricks, 50, a former Osbourn High School teacher, was arrested in February and convicted of sexually abusing a 16-year-old boy who had been a student at the school. A Washington Post investigation, whose findings were published in July, revealed that Ricks had abused boys over three decades and had infiltrated their lives by plying them with gifts, taking them on trips, staying in touch with them via Internet social networking and throwing alcohol-soaked parties.”

Definitely unforgivable.  However, the reaction by the Virginia Board of Education is that all teachers must forgo the use of social media with their students due to the actions by one.  It would be as if after a male drunk driver killed a nun in Virginia back in August, guidelines were established to ban driving by all males in the state.  I am being cynical, but the knee jerk reaction is similar.

Interestingly, the Washington Post website reporting this proposed ban gives you the ability to share this article through Facebook, Twitter, and a host of other social media.

facebook_banIt is also interesting that at the same time these guidelines are being developed, Facebook passed its 500 millionth user.  I watched Lester Holt‘s documentary “The Facebook Obsession” last night on CNBC.  There was an interesting comment towards the end of the show.  Facebook was viewed more as a utility than an application.  One person stated that Facebook is becoming a global infrastructure for communication.

Our children deserve a safe learning environment in school.  At the same time, a role of education is to prepare children for the world they will inhabit…and increasingly, social media is a part of that world.  Guidelines are needed, but flat out bans are the wrong approach.  Rather, a tiered approach is needed to introduce elementary aged children to safe networks, with graduated access as students age, so that high school students understand and are capable of operating in a socially networked world as they reach their teen years.

We have not even reached Facebook’s sixth birthday yet.  Social media and networked learning are still in their infancy.  Yet amazing teachers like Kim Cofino, Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay have shown the potential networked learning affords.  It will take some time to sort through the issues and the rewards.  I find total bans on texting and social networks counterproductive at the very time we are attempting to engage our students in learning with the tools they are already using for informal learning.  We do not ban teen males from driving…we provide driver’s education.  Should we not do the same for social media?

As always, I would be interested in your thoughts.

{Facebook Graphic: Michael Garrett}

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Our Class Technology Journey

journey2Over the past five weeks, the graduate students in my Educational Technology and School Leaders class embarked on a journey into cyberspace  – a first for many of them and one for many of them as mystical as the illustration here.  Five weeks ago, my students were self-described technophobes.  They were worried not only about taking an online class, but particularly worried about the requirement in this class to blog and, in the first four weeks, to post online a web tutorial that they individually developed to explain to their classmates how to use a Web 2.0 tool in their classrooms.

It frankly was overwhelming to most of them.

tutorialsFive weeks later, all students have begun to blog.  Last week, all students successfully posted in their blogs their multimedia presentations on their web tool.  Their tutorials covered a variety of web tools that could be used instructionally, as shown on the list to the left.  You can see their tutorials aggregated in our class Google Site page.

I was pleased with the results.  As would be expected, the quality range varied, but each student showed considerable growth in their own learning.  The students primarily used Jing for their presentations, but we had a couple of Camtasia screencasts, one Youtube video and one Screenr.

This past weekend, they each reflected on their journey in their blogs.

I had to smile at one observation.  She noted that she goes to Quote Garden whenever she is stressed and needs inspiration due to feeling overwhelmed…and my course had driven her to this site more than she cared to admit!  Many of my students talked about their initial fears, anxieties, stress, and even tears, but then remarked on the joy they felt as they achieved success.  As one noted:

“…At first, I was sceptical and was of the opinion that this [class] should have been a face to face class where we are actually taken into a lab and shown how to use {these} tools.  But I will retract on that; one of my most satisfying moments was actually when I did the first recording and playback after many failed trials…”

What was most interesting was the shift in tone in their posts.  The tone had shifted from concern to elation and confidence.  As one noted, “Who knew web 2.0 tools could be so cool?”  This Wordle below is a compilation of their 13 blog posts, and I cannot find any negative words listed.  What I see are positive action words.


“Use” and “Using” are two words that stand out, as does the word “students”.  Several members of the class discussed how they were already incorporating some of these tools into their teaching practice.  I loved the fact that one first-grade teacher was having her 6 year olds develop Jing videos!  Others had begun to experiment with wikis, photostories, and Glogster.

Several noted that their exploration of blogs in this class had opened their eyes to the use of educational technology by other teachers.  They also had been surprised when they approached their local school technology people and found that these “experts” had never heard of Jing, Slideshare, or other web tools we were exploring.  What I liked was that they felt empowered to share their learning with these people and their fellow teachers.  More than one noted that they had approached their principal about sharing and found their principal supportive.

We had mixed reviews when it came to the question of openness on the web.  One noted that she had become “more open minded about technology and that using the web to communicate and share information doesn’t have to be a scary experience.”  Another said that she was “a little more open minded about the use of technology not only for my own personal growth but in the classroom and in sharing with my students.”  But another candidly noted that her “reluctancy is not in the use of technology but in making my page public.”

Several commented about how I had organized this online class and introduced the topic of Web 2.0.  One said that she was looking for more scaffolding of her learning from me but learned that I wanted her to explore…and she learned that she could explore and learn.  Another remarked that she had put down YouTube in the past, but never realized what a wealth of knowledge could be found there.

This course ultimately explores how schools plan for and fund technology for their schools.  It could easily be a fairly dry course about boxes and wires.  By introducing Web 2.0 as the first module, I believe that my students are in a more knowledgeable position to wrestle with the ethical, legal and political issues associated with the use of the web instructionally, and therefore better able to articulate a vision for educational technology in their schools.  To borrow from Michael Wesch, these future administrators have moved from knowledgeable about educational technology to knowledge-able.

{Photo Credit: Rig329}

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