Digital Divide revisited

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This week I am revisiting the very complex and important issue of digital divide. I recall an early assignment in EdTech 501 in which we played the role of a pseudo-task force to determine how to use $50million to reduce statewide digital inequality. I realized through researching that assignment the distinct differences between digital divide (the have’s and the have-not’s of computer access) and digital inequality (the level to which a user can implement and utilize available tools). Both are critically important.

This week’s article “Bridging the Digital Divide” addresses mostly the digital divide and the importance of schools providing sufficient technologies to “close or at least narrow the digital divide.” It states that schools must “provide full access for special student populations – especially those with disabilities – to the Internet, distance learning, and multimedia materials.” I loved that it points out a need to have a technology specialist on staff to “stay informed and up-to-date on technologies” and help train teachers and facilitate student learning. That’s my current role and I feel like it critical to our school accomplishing our technology vision.

While I don’t question the importance of universal access, I do have a slightly different perspective since I currently live in a developing country. Few have computers at home. The Internet is costly and sporadic. Everyone fends for themselves in this regard by going to their local “cyber” to use the Internet when needed. It may not be easy nor convenient, but they make it work. They find a way. Sometimes I wonder in the U.S. if we mistakenly call it a digital divide if a student doesn’t have all the bells and whistles on all the latest gadgets at home with a high-speed Internet connection, when there are many other ways to get online (school being just one of them.)

The digital divide is certainly a complex problem and one that schools need to address – but schools are only one piece of a very large puzzle. Individuals (regardless of their circumstances), communities, and Internet Service Providers are key players as well.

An article called “Can E-learning Break the Digital Divide?” looks at whether the convenience and availability of global e-Learning narrows the digital divide with students from developing countries. The author, who is a virtual education professor from the University of Liverpool, believes that the Divide is only widening. The reasons for this are complicated, but they resonate with me because I live in a developing country and work with students similar to the ones he describes. I see these problems and know they are real.

He claims that while the potential is there, e-Learning doesn’t provide equal education to everyone because of four main reasons: 1) the language barrier, which includes cultural specifics; 2) the lack of prerequisites which leads many students to struggle; 3) technology hurdles such as slow Internet or old equipment; and 4) lack of course translation. E-Learning courses also require a certain level of maturity and self-motivation for students to contribute to discussion boards and assignments, and many students are not familiar with this type of intense learning. He cites statistics about how many students are studying from outside their developing home country due to lack of opportunity and sufficient Internet access.

Ultimately, the author makes a strong claim that “crossing the Digital Divide is equal to crossing an economic barrier.”

An Evaluation of Evaluation

appleIn the spirit of reflection and at the completion of yet another intense course experience, I find that I learned far more than I ever intended. While I can’t say I was giddy at the thought of taking EdTech 505 Evaluation for Educational Technologists, I did recognize that my learning curve would be huge. It was. I entered with not even a working definition of program evaluation and now have the skills to conduct one.

I began the course by creating a Gretel-at-a-glance word cloud explaining who I am and what I hope to gain from the course. My formal experience with program evaluation was nonexistent. My objectives for this course were to learn evaluation techniques that could help me evaluate some of the big picture programs in a school. I feel like I at least have the tools and background I need to begin.

Many of the course assignments were exercises found in the course textbook so I didn’t find the need post them on this learning log. One of the downsides of this course is that it is not really designed to increase my digital footprint.

Program evaluation “enables accountability” (Boulmetis & Dutwin, 2011, p. 38). I enjoyed reading about the various vantage points and considerations that make evaluations meaningful. Everyone, especially in today’s economy, wants to know “what did we get for our money [or time, or effort]? Did it work? Did it do what we hoped it would?” Those are fair and important questions. I appreciate the detailed explanations, both in the module and in the text, of programs, inputs, process, outputs, and outcomes.

Our final project was to conduct a small-scale but real program evaluation. The Explore Nepal program is an extensive school-wide program designed to help students reach out to the Nepali community and gain a deeper connection to their host country. I chose go evaluate the Grade 6 Explore Nepal week-long trip to a local Tibetan monastery to see whether the program objectives laid out for the trip were accomplished. The five objectives include: learning about Nepali culture through community interaction, environmental awareness, service learning, challenging physical activities, and team building. It was a major effort and here is a link to a generic copy of my final report:

Summative Evaluation: Grade 6 Explore Nepal Program

Summative Evaluation: Grade 6 Explore Nepal Program on Google Docs
Summative Evaluation Flipbook

One fun aspect of this course was the option on nearly every assignment to turn in an alternate submission format using some sort of tech tool. Some people created slideshows, videos, infographics, collaborative corkboards, flip magazines, and mind maps. It was fun to see the creativity and it sure was nice to have this option to shake things up. I wish every teacher would do that and allow students to complete an assignment while building their online presence, developing creativity, and taking ownership of their learning.

While I didn’t love everything about this course and would have liked more focus on education and technology, I certainly learned a lot that will serve me well, even if I don’t become a professional evaluator. What a ride it has been!

Other coursework:
Evaluation Design Format
Gap Analysis
Program Cycle
Goal-Based Method, Design, and Type
Top 3 Sites on Data Analysis
Review of Chapters 1-9 in course text
Request for Proposal (fictional)

References:
Boulmetis, J., & Dutwin, P. (2011). The ABCs of evaluation: Timeless techniques for     program and project Managers (3rd ed.). Jossey-Bass.

Social Media Policy

A Teacher’s Guide to Social Media
From: OnlineColleges.net

Our school, like many, has an Acceptable Use Policy that students and parents must sign if they are to use any computer at school. It helps to ensure that students use school resources (both hardware and bandwidth) in appropriate ways. It keeps them safe and holds them accountable.

Part of my assignment this week in EdTech543 is to craft a social media policy or establish a plan to create one. In looking around for various examples of what other K-12 schools have done, it’s clear that each school does what works for them.

I’m disappointed, though not surprised, to see how many districts and schools ban external social media sites completely. Sure, it may protect and cushion students, but it also creates a long-term problem of not helping students learn to navigate a world they are already using daily. Schools do students a huge disservice and only compound the problem by feeding school-life-home disconnect. Students will still use social media outside of school but are given virtually no practice to use it wisely and well – and certainly not for learning.

It’s a complex issue, and one that is not easily solved. But rather than shut social media out completely, schools should use social media sites to teach and empower students. Use them to create a safe environment that lets students practice social media etiquette and appropriate online behavior. Let them discover these sites’ potential for learning and engage them in collaborative learning environments.

I have drafted a social media policy for our school and will present it to the Technology Committee for preliminary review and hopefully adoption. I believe it’s important to have this in place in addition to an Acceptable Use Policy, because 1) it states our belief that social media has a valuable place in our school; 2) it educates students, parents, and teachers on appropriate online behavior within social media sites; and 3) it helps ensure that everyone is accountable and safe.

Positive Examples:
Do you need help convincing others of the power of using social media in schools? Maybe you feel like it’s a lost cause. Perhaps in your area or school it is. There are, however, some trailblazing schools who are paving the way for more socially connected classrooms. I created this Diigo list of Social Network Educational Projects that showcases examples of how K-12 schools use social networks as a powerful learning and teaching strategy.

Further Resources:

Integration Strategies
60 Ways To Use Twitter In The Classroom By Category
50 Ways Schools Can Use Google+ Hangouts
100 Ways To Use Facebook In Your Classroom
The Teacher’s Guide to Facebook
Twitter in the K-8 Classroom
Teaching with Google+

Policy
How to Create Social Media Guidelines for your School
Connected Learning Community Essentials
Making the Case for Social Media in Education
Every Educator Has a Story…Just Tell It

Curation Ponderings

Do you ever have an aha moment, one that makes you stop and ask, “Where have I been?” “Does everyone know this but me?” “How have I missed this?” I feel like a patient who has just been given a specific name and treatment for her condition and can now move forward with the prognosis. I have found the cure–or rather, curation.

Perhaps you are laughing, as you’ve been familiar with this term for a long time. So have I really: I just haven’t known it’s name. It’s me, it’s what I do, it’s who I am. I am a curator of information, however informally and imperfectly.

CURATION: the process of sorting through the vast amounts of content on the web and presenting it in a meaningful and organized way around a specific theme. The work involves sifting, sorting, arranging, and publishing information (Kanter, 2011).

It’s more than collecting, as this chart depicts well. It’s certainly more than aggregating, tweeting, and organizing information. Anyone with thumbs can do that.

Curation involves making sense of information and then sharing that information in a way that is meaningful to the audience (Jarche, 2012). I love the idea of contributing in a positive, meaningful, valuable way to the knowledge base.

For this week’s EdTech 543 assignment I co-created with group members James Russell and Debi Banks the following curation checklist:

Though located in separate corners of the world, we each came up with five research-based criteria to ask when curating content. These questions are irrespective of the topic being curated and can be applied generally. We’ll be applying this checklist as we curate next week’s assignment. While I don’t normally enjoy group work, I love the flexibility online collaboration affords.

Additional Resources:
Content Curation for Personal Learning and Sharing: A great write-up and presentation used for the PLE Conference 2012
Content Curation Primer: fCurate.Us: Share visually appealing screen clips and quotes
Spread Your Knowledge: 15+ tools to bookmark, aggregate, and curate
Keep Your Content Fresh with Scoop.It: A great resource on using Scoop.It as a curation tool
Content Curation for Online Education: A curation of curation
Pearltrees: Curation tool to “collect, organize, share everything you like on the web”
Langwitches blog: Students Becoming Curators of Information
Paper.li: Create an online newspaper
Innovations in Education: Understanding Content Curation

Here’s a worthwhile video explanation:

References:
Jarche, H. (2012). The PKM value-add. Life in Perpetual Beta. Retrieved from http://www.jarche.com/2012/03/the-pkm-value-add/
Kanter, B. (2011). Content curation primer. Beth’s Blog. Retrieved from http://www.bethkanter.org/content-curation-101/
[Click on the images for direct link to their respective websites]

Brain Fitness Grant Proposal

Here is my completed grant proposal for EdTech 551: Grant Writing as it currently stands. Now I just need to get it funded!

This grant seeks funding for a 5th grade class to obtain activity monitors to use in brain conditioning exercises prior to reading and math. The idea builds upon compelling research indicating a direct correlation between increased heart rate (and therefore more oxygen and blood pumping to the brain) and cognitive performance (the brain’s ability to function and learn). This effort strives to improve standardized test scores in English Language Arts and mathematics through increased cardiovascular activity. This grant would adopting similar fitness practices used by schools across the nation who have seen great success through their innovation and creativity.

As part of the course I also designed a simple Weebly website for my mom so that she has a place where parents, administrators, and potential funders can get more information on the grant. It is also a place where progress will also be recorded. While I am confident I could design my own site using my EdTech 502 skills, I chose to keep things easy for her sake.

Many AECT standards were met during this course. I have summarized these as follows:

2.1 Print Technologies: ways to produce or deliver materials, such as books and static visual materials, primarily through mechanical or photographic printing processes.
We used a variety of print technologies in this course, mostly through MS Word and Google docs. The aesthetic appeal of a document is important to me and I think a well written grant also needs to look good on a page.

2.2 Audiovisual Technologies: ways to produce or deliver materials by using mechanical devices or electronic machines to present auditory and visual messages.
A/V technologies are used for professional production the grant proposal and query letter. Copy machines and printers are used for this task. We also had to read and evaluate the writing and design of many external websites and critique specifics of what made them great or terrible.

2.3 Computer-Based Technologies Computer-based technologies are ways to produce or deliver materials using microprocessor-based resources.
This standard was met by devising a website to portray our grant proposal visually. The intent is not to publish our entire proposal but to glean the most important aspects that would be of interest to parents, administrators, and potential funders.

3.1 Media Utilization: the systematic use of resources for learning.
This standard was met throughout the course as I oversaw the development of my grant proposal. I began by assessing the need and determining a potential solution. I did online readings and research, collected supporting data, identified appropriate technologies and associated costs, and thought through specific plans to implement the project.

3.4 Policies and Regulations: the rules and actions of society (or its surrogates) that affect the diffusion and use of Instructional Technology.
In my writing and website creation, I adhered to copyright and fair use laws.I examined my writing language to make sure it was fair and unbiased and would appeal to a broad spectrum.

4.2 Resource Management: involves planning, monitoring, and controlling resource support systems and services.
The grant writing process is complex and requires a significant amount of time. Such an exercise requires a thorough examination of the project from beginning to end, with all of it’s costs, rationale, support, arguments, and practicalities addressed.

4.4 Information Management: involves planning, monitoring, and controlling the storage, transfer, or processing of information in order to provide resources for learning.
Serious organizational skills are needed in order to seek and obtain a grant. Such values as  planning, monitoring, and controlling are essential. The grant is based on the careful assumption the once the grant is funded, the educator will be responsible for careful accounting of the program. This is something that has forced careful consideration to details throughout the semester.

5.3 Formative and Summative Evaluation: involves gathering information on adequacy and using this information as a basis for further development. Summative evaluation involves gathering information on adequacy and using this information to make decisions about utilization.
For the grant I have chosen to pursue, there was a significant amount of background research and evaluation necessary to see where the students are at, what can help them, what other schools with similar schools are doing, and so forth. I’ve also had to research the various technologies available, their pros and cons, in meeting the goals outlined.

Copyright Scavenger Hunt

Well, lists may be the end of me!

This week in EdTech 502, I created a new website addressing copyright issues. I chose to make it kind of an overview to copyright, fair use, creative commons, and practical application of these ideas in the classroom. These issues are very legal and complex, and I learned a great deal in my research. I also realized how little I know.

In addition to tackling a large topic and organizing it into a presentable format, I created two websites to portray all of this information (a test and the answer key) and a downloadable worksheet. I used lists, with icons I created myself in Adobe Fireworks (aren’t they cute?). Lists seem so easy, and in theory they should be, but with all the <ul> tags I had 26 errors to correct in my XHTML code. I also mistakenly created a new CSS rather used the same one for both web pages, and it was harder that it should have been to remove the one and get my CSS page to validate.

After several agonizing hours, here is my completed project:

Don’t even THINK about criticizing it…

Digital Inequality

Here is our finished VoiceThread presentation: http://voicethread.com/share/2220807/

The collaboration required for this week’s EdTech 501 assignment on digital inequality pushed us all to a new level. We were a pseudo-Task Force, assigned to help our state’s superintendent make decisions on how to use $50M to reduce statewide digital inequality.

I learned a great deal through online research about the differences between digital divide (the have’s and the have-not’s of computer access) and digital inequality (the level to which a user can implement and utilize available tools). It was a complex issue, one I initially knew very little about, and I have realized that support and resources must help provide education as well as access.

Our assignment was to create a VoiceThread, an online slide sharing program that enables various users to insert and comment. This presentation took a great deal of distance collaboration among our five team members. We shared Google docs that allowed each of use to edit and note our research.

I am proud of our finished product and feel it represents a three-fold success: 1) acquired knowledge of a complex issue; 2) exposure to a new technology; and 3) strengthened collaborative skills for team building.

Three AECT standards on this project were also applied. Standard 3.2 (Diffusion of Innovations) was met through strategic planning for the purpose of forming a consensus and presenting information. Standard 3.4 (Policies and Regulations) was met through learning the rules of society and how technology is (or isn’t) effectively utilized. Standard 4.2 (Resource Management) was met by our Task Force planning strategies to use state resources.

Good work, team!

Elements of Educational Technology

EDUCATIONAL TECHNOLOGY: The study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources.

(10) Appropriate

The Association for Educational Communication and Technology (AECT)  adds the word appropriate in their 2008 definition of educational technology. This is a key element, especially in a global environment, and in the paragraphs below I will explore why appropriate technology is so critical in the overall definition and practice of educational technology.

At first, I took its meaning to refer to appropriateness of content, avoiding things such as offending language and images. However, as the AECT’s definition article points out, “the term appropriate is meant to apply to both processes and resources, denoting suitability for and compatibility with their intended purposes.”

Further exploration of the meaning, as also noted in the article, demonstrates that appropriate technologies are those that are:
  1. connected with the local users and cultures
  2. sustainable within the local economic circumstances

The AECT’s article explains, “Sustainability is particularly critical in settings like developing countries, to ensure that the solution uses resources carefully, minimizes damage to the environment, and will be available to future generations.”

This statement really resonated with me because of my current experiences. I live in Kathmandu, Nepal, which by all standards is a developing country. There is tremendous poverty and need here.

Recently, I have been given the opportunity teach an ongoing course about technology to Nepali teenagers. These youth, who are aged 14-16 and half male, half female, come from very underprivileged backgrounds. Through a partnership of the U.S. Embassy and the Nepal English Language Teachers Association (NELTA), these students learn English and gain insight and exposure into American culture. They are the recipients of the English Access Microscholarship Program, which provides for them this tremendous opportunity they would not otherwise have. Through donations of it’s members, NELTA now has a computer lab with five computers for the 40 students who meet here in Kathmandu. These computers are older PC models, yet perfectly appropriate, and will give these students access to the Internet. I have volunteered to come in every few weeks and teach them anything I can about technology, how it fits into American culture, and how it can help them in their lives.

This is a wonderful opportunity for me, especially in light of my current studies in the EDTECH program. I have given a lot of thought as to what I will teach them and what will give them the best education possible.

In short, I need to choose both appropriate processes and resources.

Where do I start? How do I begin to expose them to what’s out there? How can I help them see, feel, and experience technology for themselves, in a way that they can go forward and create opportunity?

I will also travel to three remote areas of Nepal, where students participate in the same program. In such places, the need is even greater, as these students have extremely limited computer access and very little exposure to technology at all. As the AECT’s definition article suggests, I need to use tools and practices that are the “simplest and most benign solution to a problem”. I am still trying to sort out what that entails for these children.

Sure, I can bring in my iPad (with all its bangs and whistles) and show some great projections onto the wall. This is important, since I want them to see, feel, and experience the joy and energy of technology. But if, using my iPad and other devices, I can open their eyes to what’s out there, show them tools that will empower them with skills and confidence, and help them access a wealth of resources online, then I have really made a difference. On the flip side, if I can’t teach them skills that will be applicable for them, in their particular circumstances, then my best attempts will not be deemed appropriate.

For example, let’s look at Google docs. What a fabulous tool this is for these students! They will most likely never own a computer, especially one with Microsoft Office and other creative software. Through Google docs, however, they can create beautiful documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. They can search through numerous templates to create a resume or report. They can share with their classmates, and have a safe and secure means of storing their schoolwork. They can do this all from any Internet cafe, anywhere. If they later need to use Microsoft Office in the workplace, they will be familiar with its interface, because of its similarity to Google docs. All in all, Google docs is a practical, appropriate, tool to teach them.


As the AECT’s definition article points out, appropriateness also has an ethical dimension.  One aspect of this emphasizes that since we are a multicultural community, we need to provide “opportunities for culturally and intellectually diverse points of view.”  On the surface, this sounds ideal. But what if, through our exposing these youth to other countries and cultures, we also encourage them to speak up in ways their families or governments aren’t ready for? What are the cultural ramifications of their becoming more technologically literate? These are big questions with complex answers.

Finally, as stated in the AECT’s definition article, educational technologists have a responsibility to be informed, to stay up-to-date on current trends and tools, and to use that knowledge in ways to find the best, most appropriate, solutions for others.

The challenges are real, but I feel it is an exciting time to be involved in technology. I look forward to empowering others through educational technology, and I hope it will help them open new doors of opportunity in their lives.

References:

Association for Educational Communications and Technology. (1977). The definition of educational technology. Washington, DC: AECT.

Commission on Instructional Technology. (1970). To improve learning: A report to the President and the Congress of the United States. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Ely, D. P. (1963). The changing role of the audio-visual process: A definition and glossary of related terms. Audiovisual Communication Review, 11(1), Supplement 6.

Januszewski, A., & Molenda, M. (2008). Chapter 1: Definition. In Educational technology: A definition with commentary (pp. 1 – 14). NY: Lawrence Erlbaum, Inc.

Reiser, R. A. (2001). A history of instructional design and technology: Part I: A history of instructional media. Educational Technology Research and Development, 49(1), 53-64. doi: 10.1007/BF02504506

Seels, B. & Richey, R. (1994). Instructional technology: The definition and domains of the field. Washington DC: Association for Educational Communications and Technology.

http://www.nelta.org.np/projects/english-access-program.html
Nepal English Language Teachers Association

http://exchanges.state.gov/englishteaching/eam.html                                                  English Access Microscholarship Program