Sunday, February 20, 2011

District Technology Day: Questions of Access

The annual District Technology Day began with a plenary of District and student "experts" on teaching and learning supported by technology and was enhanced by a fantastic brunch and many different workshops on blogging, wikis, social media, Wolfram Alpha, video use, digital storytelling, Prezi, and more. 

Epic Wins and Reading ... Teen Features in a Digital World 

Stealing the opening plenary show were Digital Immersion students Ben and Laks.  Ben, a self-admitted internet addict, was a confident speaker who both charmed and worried an auditorium full of teachers; up to 15 hours a day on the internet "absorbing" its truths, he told us confidentially, assuaged his thirst for knowledge; while emerging from a learning experience deep in the net often gave him the feeling of "the epic win," Ben conceded that the social aspects of schooling were important.

Hmm!  I wondered about Googling for The Truth.  I couldn't help comparing this young man's deep fascination with the "epic win" with Csíkszentmihályi's notion of "the flow," the state that takes over during the search for and production of knowledge or creative expression, a journey that takes the seeker into "the zone" or "the groove."   He was ready for inquiry-based learning.

But it was young Laks who shared her view of the important aspects of digital schooling, whose love of books and reading was clearly paramount -- "We should visit libraries more often," she said -- after all, she told us, you can't do anything if you can't read!  I think I know which two Vancouver TLs can take credit for stoking some of her enthusiasm.  Here's one young woman already launched into Inquiry in both the reading and learning contexts.

Mmmm-hmmm!  The mouths of babes were a compelling first dimension to the morning plenary. 

Access: Not Such a Simple Concept

Dr Jordan Tinney spoke about the significance of access in educational contexts being transformed by technology, making the second dimensional connection to what Michele and I were going to talk about; we were going to be "on" today, on the same page, the button, the mark!  

Access -- not such a simple concept, in fact.  I was prepared with the slides and Michele with the activity to share the complexities of access with the group of more than 40 who attended our workshop.  Access begins simply enough as the notion of providing tools and resources to find and work with information in an age where that is expanding exponentially.  The Information Age is characterized by
  • rapidly changing tools,
  • increasing numbers of resources created by the digitization of text, image, and artefact,
  • more demands for users to be critical, creative, communicative, and collaborative consumers of the information,
  • evidence of the needs for skills for lifelong learning where citizens are able to apply what they learn to do in the workplace, post-secondary institutions, and life.
Access becomes a far more complex and essential consideration as more technology is delivered into our system.  Resources are no longer simply the textbook; they come in multiple formats, print, digital, and human/expert.   Tools, no longer simply the pen or word-processing packages, are complex, having multiple iterations, purposes, and applications.  Students and their teachers are learners who need support -- in classrooms and in professional development -- for both physical and intellectual access to these; they need support and time to learn to transform information into knowledge, to share and store (or curate, as Stephen Lamb, quoting Maryann Kempthorne, told us) the resources that increasingly they will create as well as consume.   Teachers need support in effectively integrating technology with teaching and learning.

In classrooms that strive to move beyond the textbook, in school libraries, in the hours during and beyond the school day, educators will be seeking to have access even as they work to redress the imbalances that enable some students to have more access than others. The resources, tools, and information found "in the communities" of functionality -- educational, local, global -- are at once universal, national, social, and personal; they need to be equitably distributed, current, accurate, age-appropriate; they need to reflect the wide range of interests, skills, and abilities of our students.  There needs to be freedom to make personal and pedagogical choices amongst resources and tools, to read and learn widely and deeply, to participate in a culture of reading both for pleasure and for information. 

Finally, to optimize the value of tools and resources, the system needs to be able to provide flexible access:
  • to a school library as the "hub" of learning, re-designed as the Learning Commons in schools, 
  • to the expertise and services of teacher-librarians as learning specialists whose work is to support access in this broadest sense,
  • to production facilities that enable new possibilities for products and learning,
  • to technology in differentiated instructional and learning configurations,
  • to tools, including software and adaptive hardware for special needs students, 
  • to real and virtual resources and services, 24/7. 
These were important links to the workshop Michele and I would be doing on the Inquiry-based approach to reading and learning, the Points of Inquiry model which supports teaching and learning for deep understanding and which is enabled by access to the services of TLs as learning specialists as well as to technology tools and all kinds of resources.

But, while the District Technology Day plenary had provided some lovely connections for our workshop around access, the need to be perfectly ready and to begin seamlessly can so easily be disjarred WHEN YOU CAN'T GET ACCESS TO THE WIRELESS INTERNET!  I had spent two hours the day before getting set up.  I have never developed a smooth recovery from the initial disappointment and stress of the bad start you get when things don't work as they should!   Thanks, Michele, for your unflappable enthusiasm and capacity for flexible delivery. 

Off my game, I failed to utter a single tweet!  For those of you interested in the site-based Twitter discourse, check it out:  #39edtech.  I have tweeted THANKS ("sent a tweet-out") today to the many TLs who attended Tech Day and who gave workshops:  Michele, Frances, Denise, Fred, and Aaron were presenting.  Thanks also to tech-keen others, like Sylvia, who presented at or attended the Livingstone SmartBoard Academy.  And thanks, Patsy and Audrey at the helm as key organizers of the event which was all very good. 
Here's the link to the TL Special Wiki and our Presentation, with the sources and tools: 
C21L & Inquiry-based Learning: Start with the Teaching & Learning

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