Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Real "Digital Divide"

After an exciting afternoon at the dentist, hair cuts, and an attempt at a civilized meal out, the kids and I still had to get groceries before our hour long journey home. This is the reality of living in the middle of Nowhere. When you get to the city -- you have a lot to get done while you are there. Needless to say by the time the grocery shopping portion of our evening rolled around my kids were at the end of their rapidly fraying rope (and their mothers rope had deteriorated into a pile of strings long before then).

In an attempt to make the chore go a little bit better I pulled out all the stops both my iPhone and ipod touch. We now keep track of our shopping lists on a great little app called Shopper, so I handed the iPhone to my 6 year old son so he could read the shopping list. He valiantly sounded out the items, eager to flex his new reading muscles. The four year old quickly took over the ipod touch. She was engrossed in an app from the International Children's Digital Library called Storykit. She was drawing pictures to chronicle our day in a "virtual" book. Everyone was happy -- well except maybe my 9 year old who didn't have a device -- but it was pretty much as good as it gets given the circumstances.

Then it happened. I was happily going up and down the aisles and we met another family trudging down the aisle. I gave the big smile and nod to the other mom (as is customary here) but her eyes never really left the devices in my children's hands. She did manage a half a smile but then after she passed she gave the "tsk tsk" head shake. The head shake that says "what in the world has happened to parenting today -- she can't even take her kids out shopping without plugging them into a square box."

You'll be happy to know that I resisted the urge to chase her down and explain that my kids were engaged in worthwhile activities. I know that if my son had been carrying a paper shopping list and my daughter had been equipped with a notebook and paper I would have been met with an entirely different reaction. I can't help but wonder when this digital prejudice will end? When will activities be judged on their merit instead of the medium in which they are taking place? Is this difference in attitude towards technology the real "digital divide"?

I'm still struggling for balance in my own home. I still find myself giving unlimited time for colouring at the kitchen table and cutting short the time they spend creating pictures on the computer, allowing more time to read books than given to create them in gdocs, but I'm trying. My grocery store experience has shown me how far I have come, but also made me mindful of the prejudices I still hold. So as my children open their shiny new netbook on Christmas morning (SHHH don't tell) I will continue to challenge my own prejudices. Honouring how they choose to create, communicate and learn (without discrimination) won't be easy .. but is far more valuable than any device I'll ever place in their hands.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Wired Wednesdays

When I was in first grade I loved marbles. All the kids in my class loved marbles. We traded them, played games and even knew all the names. Aggies, cat's eyes, spirals, and more were compared, counted and coveted at recess and afterschool. Marbles were a currency, a connection and quite honestly just plain fun. Then (without even consulting me) our family moved.

I arrived at my new school in September ready to make friends and get back to my marble playing and trading ways but alas this new town was virtually marbleless. As I rattled off the names of my precious marbles I was met by blank stares. Not only did they not know the names of these little beauties, they didn't have a clue how to play with them. I suppose I could have taught them, but it would have taken a significant investment in infrastructure (ie marbles), before we could even get started! Suffice it to say that my marbles just got put away. It's not much fun to play unless you have friends to play with.

Well I'm way past those marble playing days but I've found myself in that situation once again. I have this great bag of Web 2.0 toys tools that I'd love to play work with, but I've been met with those same blank stares. However this time it's going to be different. This time I've decided not to put my marbles away. Instead I'm investing some time into sharing my obsession knowledge with my friends and fellow parents.

Every Wednesday morning for the past 6 weeks or so a brave group of women have been joining me at our local library for Wired Wednesdays. I entered into this endeavour with three goals in mind. First to get them set up with a bag of marbles great group of tools and second to explore how we can use those tools to connect, organize, create, and communicate. What's the third goal? To have friends to play with of course -- c'mon you didn't think my motives were completely altruistic did you?

Over the next few posts I'll share what marbles we've been busy putting in our bags. Which ones are being coveted, which are super shiny and which turned out to be duller than I would have thought. Who knows.. maybe we'll even invite you to come and play!

Photo Credits
Bag o Marbles by Nancy in AZ via flickr
Marble by Hidden Side via Flickr

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Relevance of Facebook

This tweet came across my tweetdeck the other day

Facebook continues to grow less relevant for me...

and it really got me thinking about the relevance of Facebook in my own life. I have had a like/ambivalence relationship with Facebook (love/hate implies a far greater emotional investment than I'm willing to lay claim) ever since I joined to "check it out" at the request of a friend concerned about her daughter. I've lived through the poking, super-poking, sheep-throwing insanity at the beginning. I've tolerated the endless quiz, forward to 10 friends and cause requests that followed. Yes, there was a time when Facebook seemed entirely irrelevant.

However that tide, for me at least, is seeming to turn. The parents in my community are beginning to harness the power of FB as a community building and communication tool. Status updates are a mix of personal quips and community information broadcast. The ambient awareness that status updates provide has afforded me the opportunity to reach out and help friends that I might not of otherwise known needed help. Sharing links has moved past the "cutest thing on youtube" and now includes interesting articles, relevant information and even recipes for supper. Groups are springing up to address everything from swapping/trading your no longer needed kid stuff to farm wives supporting each other through the harvest season. Facebook fanpages such as this one have the potential to connect parents to school, sports or clubs in a whole new way. Yes a lot has changed since I was first super poked.

I would have never guessed in those early days of FB that it would become an indispensable tool in my trusty parent toolbelt.

The irrelevant is turning relevant at an extremely fast pace.

Unless of course someone starts hurling sheep at me again ..

I'd love to know.. where do you stand on the FB continuum? Is it growing less or more relevant in your day to day life?

Eye Poking via flickr
Flying Sheep via flickr

Thursday, September 17, 2009

An E-reader Please

I have been in love with the "idea" of e-readers since the first time I ever laid eyes on them. I've had them in my checkout cart more times than I care to recount but I have never been able to take that final step and press purchase. Why? I am one those "I want what I want" type of people and I get a little annoyed when I can't get it. However I also realize you can't get something if you don't ask. So here I am, asking for my minimum e-reader/book requirements.

First lower the price.
I just can't seem to bring myself to pay 400 bucks for a device that only allows me to read a book. Honestly an ipod Touch is less than that and contains a lot more functionality (though not quite as easy on the eyes for extended reading). If you expect me to buy a dedicated reading device you better find a way to get that price into the $99 range.

Make my books mobile. Shortcovers is on the right track in this regard. They recently added e-reader capability to their services. Now I could download a book to my e-reader but if I'm out and about I could also access the book from my ipod touch, blackberry, iphone, or a host of other mobile devices. Now that's a step up from a book! Anywhere access on any of my devices ... a book can't do that!

Photo: Gunthert , IMG_1503.CR2 , via Flickr, September 18, 2009 under a CC License

Let me own my books. When I buy a physical book, there is no question of ownership. That physical entity is mine, I can give it to friend, leave on a park bench, donate it to the library, hoard it on my bookshelf.. the possibilities are endless. If I buy a digital book (for marginally less than a physical book), I want to own it.

Photo: Dori, Dori4050, via Flickr, September19, 2009 under a CC license

Let me NOT own my books. There are some books I like to have around and read over and over again (well not really but maybe some people do) but the majority of my reading is consumable. I read, I'm entertained, I throw (or give) it away. I know I can check books out of the library (even digital books in a lot of cases) but sometimes I just don't want to wait in the queue for the latest best-seller. Would I be willing to pay for immediate access to a book that deletes itself when I'm done? You bet I would! The question will be .. how much?

Don't fence me in. I will not buy a device that limits me to one supplier (Hear that Kindle .. not that you are allowed up here anyway). I want the control (and openness) to access whatever content I want from whatever supplier. Buying books, checking them out from the library, magazine and newspaper subscriptions, favourite blogs, I want them all!

Make it better than a book (for bonus points). So far all that is being done is taking the "traditional book" and put it on a screen. While that's okay, I'm looking for something more. Anywhere, any device access is a start, certainly something a book can't do, but it is hardly a showstopper. I want enhanced content ... I want to be wowed!

Well that's it. The bare bone minimum of what I need from an e-book/reader experience in order to finally hit the check out button. I hope some of this functionality comes soon ... because I really want to hit that button in time for Christmas!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The I'm Back Post

It seems inevitable in every blog that there is a huge hiatus followed by the "I'm back" post. Seems the excitement of blogging slowly gives way to this feeling of -- Who am I to be blogging about things -- do I really have anything unique or useful to add to the conversation? To be truthful, in my own case, the answer is probably - no, not much useful or unique happening here.

Then after months and months of not feeding my blog -- a new comment arrives on the eve of embarking on a new project. Both the project and the comment have reminded me of two things. First, even though I may doubt the value of the things that I put in my blog, amazingly it does connect with some people. Second, I am realizing that blogging, for me, is becoming more about personal reflection than it is about serving the needs of an audience.

So I'm happy to be back and am looking forward to using this space to reflect on the new projects in the works. If anyone is still out there .. well .. that's just a bonus!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Class Blogs are Great!

I absolutely love my children's class blogs. They are more current than newsletters, and give me bitesized views into the world my kids occupy every day. I'd like to share with you all what the ambient awareness blogs provide facilitated this week on our spring break.

We went skiing in Fernie (southern BC) for 3 days and on the drive in I noticed a sign for Lost Lemon Campground on the way through Blairmore. Now because my son's teacher maintains a blog I knew that they had just had a Science Alberta Kit that centered around the legend of the Lost Lemon Mine. While we didn't find the mine (it's not called lost for no reason) -- we stopped and took a picture by the campground sign -- knowing we were near where that Lost Mine was thought to be. I was able to show my son what he does in school is important to me. Without the information from the Blog -- we may have drove right on by.

Our stop at Frank Slide was inevitable but because of the information my daughter's Grade 3 teacher provides us (via her blog) we understood how important it was for her to explore exactly what kind of rock was implicated in the slide (Rocks and minerals is a major unit in Grade 3 science.) As we passed over various bridges she provided an explanation of the type of bridge and the reasons it was constructed that way. Without an idea of what was happening in the classroom those moments would have passed without comment.

As parents we can have a huge impact on how our children view school simply by showing that what they do within those walls is important to us. Having access to class blogs allows us to find ways to show we are interested in things beyond the grades on their report cards. We can explore their thoughts, ideas, and interpretations of the material they are covering in a million little everyday ways. Web 2.0 tools such as blogs make this easier than ever. If your child's class has a blog I encourage you to read it regularly and if they don't have one yet -- advocate for it. They are worth their weight in gold!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

Every day through the paper, TV, magazines and internet we are inundated with the latest statistics on just about everything. From the impact of computer time to childhood obesity numbers are thrown at us at an overwhelming pace. How do we sort through it all? With a few simple principles and questions we can make a start of it at least. Let's give it a go by trying to dissect this statement:

"Local farmer experiences a 50% reduction
in his cattle herd."

1. Know your Baseline
  • What if I told you this farmer only had 2 cows in his herd? Doesn't sound so horrific anymore does it? Without knowing where you are starting from it is hard to make a judgment about where you are now.
2. Statistical significance vs Practical Significance
  • A 50% reduction seems significant. It sounds like a really big number however without context it is hard to determine whether it is profound beyond the numbers. A reduction from 2 cows to one cow hardly seems noteworthy. Which leads us to ...
3. "The So What?" Factor
  • This is the question I ask to figure out whether we are even measuring the right thing. I'm sure we all think that cows are lovely -- a summer BBQ just wouldn't be the same without them -- but I think we are more concerned with the farmer's livelihood. The reason that statement sounds horrific is because we associated it with the farmer losing half of his income or assets. That may or may not be true but we need to look at....
4. Who is Being Studied
  • What if this farmer was in a Third world country and his entire wealth was two cows? What if the cow that died was the sole source of protein (via milk) for his children? or What if this was a hobby farmer who had cows just to keep the grass down on his half million dollar acreage? Conclusions that we arrive upon have to take into account who the statement originally referred to. We can't always extrapolate from one population to another.
This is by no means and exhaustive list of questions to ask when you are evaluating the validity of a statement drawn from a study but it's a place to start. I hope the next time you hear about a statistic that claims increased test scores due to a certain intervention (or any other statistic for that matter ) you will remember the farmer with a herd of 2 cows and ask yourself questions like:

  • What were the test scores to begin with?
  • Is that an increase that sounds significant only in numbers or in real life too?
  • Is test scores what we should be measuring? Should we be measuring something else like success after School?
  • Who did they measure this increase in? Is my child in that same environment? Are those results transferable?

With careful questioning, the statistics can then tell a story that is no longer a lie or a damn lie but something that is closer to the truth.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Are Fish Wet?

I often wonder why, as adults, we have make to things so hard and complicated. We struggle to define and categorize things that to children seem self-evident. Although my 8 year old daughter has never heard the phrase "personal learning network (PLN)", she certainly has one of her own, knows how to use it and even reminds me to use mine as well. To her these things are transparent and simple. As I struggled to figure out to hem a Halloween costume she walks by and tells me to call my friend who "is really good at sewing". Gardening questions about vegetables goes to one Grandma while the other Grandma is reserved for questions about flowers. If there are hammers, saws, or mechanics involved I'm advised to maybe wait for Dad's counsel. Wondering about where to put a picture on the wall -- she's got the gal for you. She knows where everyone's strengths and expertise lies and she's not afraid to use it (or tell me to do the same). She's also quick to recommend my services to others in what she considers my areas of strength.

I have to admit that I bristle every now and then when she admonishes me for not using my network to solve a problem "Mom -- just call Grandma -- she'll know what to do.." and it's hard to resist the temptation to squash this seemingly natural tendancy. It feels like cheating. I wonder when this shift happens? When do we start putting a higher value on "things we figure out ourselves" than on "things we figure out through our connections and conversations with other people"? When does knowledge become something we possess rather than something we share?

Through the ease of communications on the internet these connections and conversations are easier and more prevalent than ever before. My daughter's expectations seem to be that these connections and conversations are a natural part of life and learning. She see's no problem in "mining" her network to construct the knowledge she needs to attack any problem she comes up against. Is this another symptom of the "cut and paste" mentality that so many speak of? Is she cheating? or Is she simply perpetuating a natural form of learning that is no longer limited by the knowledge of her immediate (re: physical) network?

As educators try to come up with a definition for Personal Learning Networks kids are moving full steam ahead constructing them anyway (online and off). They don't care what words we use to describe them, they just see value in the experiences and expertise of other people. The process is as transparent to them as water is for a fish. So it leads me to wonder -- if the natural tendencies of children (and all of us) is to learn in a networked social environment is it fair to call socially constructed knowledge "cheating" or would that be like calling a fish wet?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Of Helicopters and Hovering

In a recent blogpost by Brad Ovenell-Carter he shared an interesting diagram he created (featured below) meant illustrate the evolution of a teacher's control or influence over student learning from K - 12.

The thing that struck me is that the same diagram could be used to explore the evolution of a parent's control or influence over their child's activities and relationships as they grow. Theoretically, as our children grow and gain maturity we let them venture a little further away. We allow them access to other children, first supervised and eventually unsupervised. We introduce them to experts like piano teachers, coaches or scout masters and at first these connections are made through us but eventually they find their own. We allow them to take on more responsibility and grant more freedoms as a result. It follows the old "give them roots and wings" adage.

It doesn't always work that way, sometimes as parents we never make it past that first "elementary" stage, thus the term "helicopter-parenting" was coined. A couple of years ago I was fortunate enough to attend a series of parenting workshops by David Irvine and he touched on the concept of helicopter parenting (which in my understanding would be the opposite of the model above). His contention was that when we "helicopter parent" our children we are sending them the message "You are not capable". Every bump we smooth out tells them we thought they couldn't negotiate the ride. Every problem we solve for them says "you couldn't have solved it on your own". Each mistake we shield them from indicates they aren't capable of handling the consequences of mistakes. A fairly sobering concept to say the least.

I wonder sometimes if we can apply the same model to education. If children can be helicopter parented does it stand to reason that they can be helicopter educated as well? What does helicopter educating look like? Are we unintentionally giving children the message that they are not capable? How can technology assist in turning Brad's vision into a reality?

My hope is that by the time my child graduates they know they are capable of recovering from mistakes, of problem solving, of negotiating around, through or over any bump in the road and that they can learn anything they set their mind on. I hope they have been rooted in good practices and have the wings to continue their own learning for a lifetime. That's the vision I see in Brad's diagram and I like what I see.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

7 Things Meme

Well I have been tagged by Cindy Seibel in the " 7 Things you did not know about me" meme. I started to look back over my blog posts, and any other digital footprints I have left lying around to see what you all may have been able to find out on your own. I was trying to make this a "7 things Google doesn't know about me" list but there are a few things Google knows that are too important to leave out.

1. I am completely enjoying my new PLN that has been built through blogging, webcasting, Twitter and any other number of SN tools, however there are times that I feel like a bit of an intruder in this Ed Tech world. My background is not in anything Tech or Ed related. I am actually a pharmacist in my day job. My interest in Ed Tech is a hobby that started while searching for a way to be authentically engaged in my child's school. Little did I know how this "hobby" was going to take over..

2. I wasn't always going to be a pharmacist. In fact I changed my registration on the first day of classes and transferred from the Recreation Administration program into Pre-Pharmacy. Now those are two worlds that don't often collide.

3. Unlike most people I really enjoy public speaking (one of many great skills learned from years of 4-H). I am much more at ease in front of group of people than I am speaking one on one in an enclosed space.

4. When I left for University I declared that I would never move back to a small town and certainly wouldn't go back to living on a farm. Now I find myself living on a farm in a community that is 1/4 the size of the town I grew up in. Come to think of it I wasn't getting married or having kids either but here I am with a husband and three kids. I have learned to never say never. There is no place else in the world I would rather be.

5. I don't like it when people call me smart. When I was in middle/high school (in a small town) being smart was(is?) a kind of social "kiss of death". You are always the "smart" kid. It wasn't until I went away to summer camp (where no-one knew I was smart) that I learned that I was funny, sarcastic, witty and a pretty good dancer! It is no wonder one of my favourite quotes is this:

“What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do - especially in other people’s minds. When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.” - William Least Heat Moon

and why I still enjoy traveling in order to see who I am right now through the eyes of others who have no yesterday's to reference.

(does that count as two things you didn't know???)

6. My Eighth grade teacher really wanted me to become a writer. I didn't really have faith in her assessment, after all she was my father's Grade 4 teacher, so I figured that there may be some senile dementia creeping in. I think of her often as I experience the joy of writing again through blogging.

7. My first child was delivered by C-section, the second naturally in hospital with a mid-wife and third a home birth with that same mid-wife. That sequence of events (and the trials and tribulations that went along with them) was one of the most profound learning experiences I have ever had both professionally and personally.

Wow, like Alec, that got a little deeper than I had originally intended. Thanks to Cindy for tagging in me in this and for reminding me of the power of summer camp through her own 7 things meme!! I don't know if I can tag 7 people but here is a start..

Joanne McMahon

L Winebrenner
Keisa Williams
and a few more to be added later....