Sunday, January 25, 2009

YouTube and Blogs: Where are they in the classroom?

On our drive home together after hearing Alan November speak at a conference in Williamsburg, Virginia, my colleague said, "Those English teachers need to start using their digital projectors. I'm going in to their next department meeting and tell them that they have to use PowerPoints. That's a start!" It's not a start. If I sit in on one more teacher observation watching students' eyes glaze over as the teacher clicks from one slide to the next, I'm going to cry. That's a whole problem in and of itself. No, it's not about what the teacher uses in the classroom; it's about students and how they're using technology tools to help them question, understand, research, and create meaning of the content that's on the Internet.

I hope Alan November, an international leader in education technology, and Sara Kajder, a professor of English Education at Virginia Tech, both keep talking until their faces turn blue. They moved me to act. I can only hope that they impacted others in the same way. When I left those conference sessions, I knew that I was going back to my school and infuse our curriculum with technology. Easier said than done.

I got up very early this Sunday morning to write, well, because I couldn't sleep; I was thinking about technology. Since, ironically, I've been unable to connect to Virginia's Department of Education to look more closely at their technology standards, I'm flying by the seat of my pants. I think that Virginia's technology standards focus more on students simply learning how to use the computer and to search the Internet. I know that by 5th grade Virginia students are supposed to know how to turn the computer on, computer jargon, and how to search the Internet. The standards don't change much by the 8th and 12th grades. Further, these standards are separate from the other disciplines. In other words, the technology standards aren't embedded within the standards for science, math, English, or social studies. This is left up to the school districts or the teachers themselves. Big mistake.

Couple this with the fact that almost all of our school districts refuse students access to much of the Internet. Oh, and this includes teachers, too. I'm not sure about you, but here's the message I get from all of this. The teaching and learning of the use of technology is an afterthought, and we're better off just not allowing students and teachers to have access to YouTube and Facebook ... you know, it's just better that way. (If you could see my face right now, you'd see a 'Rachel Maddow expression' going on.)

I discovered last week that my 10-year-old son and his friend from next door have been making "videos." I've yet to have the opportunity to really look at these "videos," but I'm imagining that they are similar to the cool "Learn how to be Ninja" movies on YouTube that they both watch together almost on a daily basis. They're making these "videos" to upload to YouTube. This was their intention from the beginning. I asked my son when did he and his friend think it was time to get their parents involved in this process. He hadn't really thought about it. Well, I involved the other mother last night when she called for me to send her son home. I said, "Hey, did you know that our sons have been working diligently on movies to upload to YouTube?" She practically screamed into the phone, "What? YouTube? They absolutely are not uploading anything to YouTube!" I said, "Well, wait a minute. Let's take a look at the movies together and talk about it. Maybe we can show them how to do it and make sure it's safe and all." I was surprised at her response. "Well, ok, ... I guess so. I guess we should talk about it a little more."

I know my son was probably the instigator in all this because I've worked to empower him when it comes to the Internet; no one else will. Just a week ago or so we sat down in front of my laptop and learned how to use Movie Maker together. He proceeded to make a cool movie of his little plastic transformer creatures beating the hell out of each other (boy stuff), and I loved it. We tried to upload it to YouTube, but we couldn't get it to work. We're still working out the kinks. Now it's my job to work on the mother next door.

This is what it takes. An open mind to what's available out there in cyberspace. Access to it. And teachers who know how to use it in relation to their curriculum. Then it takes time for students to "play" with the tools at their fingertips. To ask the right questions. To understand what they are seeing and hearing. To research productively. And to then create meaning from all that text and content out there floating around. If we educators fail to make sure that this happens, Alan November reminds us, we have failed our children miserably. We are living in a globalized society now, and it doesn't help that we don't even know the jobs that our children will be engaged in because the jobs haven't been created yet. But I can tell you that learning to create meaning from all the global content out there has to be key to the success of our children's future. If nothing I said makes sense, then this video from YouTube will, "A Vision of Students Today."

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