What about Forgiveness?

Cross Posted at TechLearning


A recent post by Vicki Davis has me thinking. Vicki warns about Facebook’s challenging privacy options and suggest educators will run into problems if students view our pages and see our friends posting profanity on our walls. This post isn’t really about Vicki’s post as much as it simply triggers some thoughts about the way we handle what we view to be inappropriate content and interactions. It made me think about forgiveness.

I’m not opposed to anything Vicki writes. I think we need to be empowered as much as possible to control and manage our content and identity. Understanding the nuances of a space like Facebook is an important skill in 2011. Schools and teachers need to be talking and showing students how to manage their online lives.

But if we address the specifics of Vicki’s issue there are a couple of things that concern me. Here’s an excerpt about what triggered Vicki’s post.

Someone in our community – an adult- posted HORRIBLE things on his page.(School Fan Page) Because the adults were friends and the students were friends with the teachers and adults, they were exposed to it. Some people blamed the school because of the link the school caused. The school’s facebook IMMEDIATELY unfriended everyone and we went ONLY to a FanPage.

Even without knowing the details of the “horrible things” I can only imagine the uproar. Again, I don’t know the details and am not specifcally addressing this incident but it does make me wonder about how we typically handle this situations.  I’m trying to figure out is how long we’ll allow irate and in this case ignorant parents to continue to be uneducated and make us run for cover. Anyone who’s spent time online understands that you’re only ever two clicks away from nasty, vile material. If I post a youtube video, even the most seemingly tame description or tag might link to something offensive because of a double entendre. This is a fact of being online that we need to learn to live with.  Sure, as Vicki points out we need to take care but how far does it go? If we have to take responsibility for every link, every colleague and their links, every twitter follower and their comments, every friend and everything they say, we’ll all need to quit our jobs and dedicate ourselves full time to curating all our content and associations. Either that or get offline.  At some point, guilty by association needs to end. Particularly in this day of every growing networks.

This is, as well,  a good argument for eliminating high levels of filtering in schools. It’s our job as teachers to help students learn to live in this world. The ubiquitous nature of information is here to stay and not allowing teachers to deal with this reality is bordering on educational malpractice. We also need to educate parents about this reality. Good teachers handle students finding inappropriate material by turning it into teachable moments. They don’t go into a panic, they don’t call the police, they don’t send the student off to the Principal’s office. They recognize that this happens. Even when it’s intentional, a good teacher deals with the situation with a degree of mercy and I dare say forgiveness. Everyone makes mistakes. Let’s learn and move on and help one another do better.

Just recently my province was looking for someone to be the Saskatchewanderer. It was a contest patterned after the Best Job in the World.

The Saskatchewanderer is a marketing pilot project that the Ministry of Tourism, Parks, Culture and Sport has launched — we like to call it the best summer job ever.

First, we solicited video entries from post-secondary summer students.  Then, the Ministry shortlisted the candidates, and let the public vote for their favorite Saskatchewanderer.

One of the finalists was disqualified after a video of him cheering and swearing at a football game a few years back was found on youtube. When I first read the story it made me think the lesson was how important it is to manage our identity and be sure we don’t expose the skeletons in our closets. After a few exchanges about the story on twitter, I was challenged to perhaps consider there was a different lesson. The lesson of forgiveness. Should this young man be penalized for such an indiscretion? Many would argue that his behaviour isn’t really that shameful and even if you think it wasn’t in good taste, does the young man get a second chance? I’m guessing that the discussion by the powers that be included the possibility of forgiveness but political correctness got in the way. It seems to me the in an age where business and organizations are attempting to connect better with their constituents and become more social, this would be a great opportunity to demonstrate what it means to be a kind and caring society; a society where we give 19 year-olds second chances.

You may have differing opinions here about how you would handle both of the examples I share. Certainly there are many complexities about each situation and circumstances that I’ve maybe missed. I may not have the whole story or all the facts but using this as examples of online indiscretions and mistakes that occur every day I wonder if our default responses might need tweaking. I’m concerned that there’s very little modeling of forgiveness when it comes to what we post and share online. Shouldn’t our students and children see us extending a little mercy and forgiveness? The argument often is, “you might be able to forgive but their perspective employer won’t”. Maybe, but why can’t we teach students both? Why can’t we mix information and reputation management with a healthy dose of human kindness and forgiveness? I’d like us to aim for that. 

Source : http://www.flickr.com/photos/alyssafilmmaker/3645537050/in/photostream/

License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en_CA



Student and Teacher Blogging that Succeeds

Originally posted at Tech Learning.

There is a new teacher or student blog created every 2.2 seconds. Okay so I just made that up, but the point is we are seeing blogs created at blistering pace with the hopes of connecting with the world and providing an authentic audience for writers. Sadly, many of these well-meaning blogs die a slow death after a smattering of posts. Well-intended teachers and students often lack perspectives need for success.

Blogs are easy to create. But just because something’s easy doesn’t mean it will stick. As someone who supports teachers in understanding and using digital learning tools, this is a pattern I’ve seen all too often.

So how does a teacher or her students find blogging success? Here are a few things I’ve discovered in both my own blog as well as with my work with students and teachers.

Blogging is mostly about reading
Blogging is way more about reading than it is writing. Many teachers don’t see this at first. Most classrooms provide a good balance of traditional reading and writing opportunities. Teachers recognize that in order to be a good writer you have to read good writing. Yet when it comes to blogging, most want to write immediately and sit back and wait for the world to pay attention. It won’t happen. Provide as much time for your students to read blogs as write. If you decide you want to blog or have your students blog, don’t feel badly about spending a few weeks or even months reading blogs. Look for exemplary work. Look for blogs that you relate to. Find blogs that have a different perspective on things you’re interested in Talk with your students about the blogs they enjoy. Before you write a post, be sure you are responding to something you’ve seen, read or heard.

To make a friend you have to be a friend
When I talk with students and teachers about blogging, I liken it to the playground. How do they go about making friends on the playground and looking at the playground line markings? By waiting on the sidelines? Dominating the equipment? Students quickly recognize the need to interact and talk with others. Blogging is no different. If you want to have others read and comment on your work, you’ll need to begin reading and commenting on others.

On my own blog I posted a couple of times about something I’ve called an Updated CommPost Rating. It involves taking the number of comments you’ve left and dividing it by the number of blog posts you’ve created. You should have more comments than posts. Comments generally are clarifications, encouragements or challenges that usually involve less time than original posts. What’s the saying? You have 2 ears and 1 mouth. This should apply with blogging as well. Since I wrote this and began to walk the walk, my readership has steadily increased and, more importantly, so has my learning.

It’s personal
So once you establish a pattern of reading, thinking and then writing, you need to write about what you know. Teachers, who structure their blogging too much, lose the concept of conversation. It must flow from personal meaning. That’s why having your students find others who share their interests is so vital. The best bloggers are able to provide personal perspectives but also connect those personal experiences with others. Good conversations don’t simply involve stories about yourself but stories to which others can easily relate and contribute.

In this effort to connect, hyperlinking is also essential. Hyperlinking is what makes the web work. It is the connecting vehicle. I can’t believe how many students and many teacher blogs neglect to hyperlink to other sources. Most see this as an advanced blogging tool. It isn’t. It needs to be utilized immediately; even with young students. Generally when I read a blog post that has no hyperlinking, I wonder about its validity. How many of us can write without crediting or referencing others? This is when blogs turn into online journals. Unless you are an outstanding writer with highly original ideas, a blog of this nature is not likely to last or at least not likely to gain readership.

Get Graphical
Finally, we have a wonderfully graphical web and are beginning to recognize that writing is only one way we express ideas and communicate. The use of embedded video, audio and images provides a rich communication that goes well beyond words. Text still has importance but allowing embedding pertinent, interesting media can express ideas like never before. Understanding the power of Creative Commons would be a great place to start.

Here are three resources that will provide you some additional tips:

If you’ve had struggles with sustaining blogging, try these tips and if you’ve had successes using other methods, what are they? After all blogs are conversations—so converse!

The Real Magic of K12 Online

The K12 Online Conference is truly unbelievable opportunity for teacher learning and indeed student learning. This week many of the virtual aspects of this conference became a reality. Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach already wrote eloquently about our planning meeting and Wes Fryer and Sheryl offer a full recap of our presentation at NECC.

The more I think about the value of this conference, recall the stories shared during our presentation, I can’t believe what a powerful learning opportunity this is for all educators. While I’m sure others will find fault and criticize some of our efforts and decisions, I will, without hesitation, state that this is by far the best value for a professional learning conference you’ll ever find. I’d say that even if we charged $500 for the event. But it’s less than $500. It’s free.

The real magic of this conference is not only in the presentations. While these continue to provoke thinking and support for learners, here are what I think make the conference as good as it is:

  1. Connections. The story of Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay meeting via the conference and continuing to do the work they’ve done is one example. There are countless other examples of people who met during the conference and have continued a relationship well beyond the initial release dates of the presentations.
  2. Re-purposing. I’m excited about the way leaders have used the content to create unique learning festivals in their local contexts. Jeff Utecht’s LAN Party is one example. Listen to the video to hear him explain it more fully. I’m looking forward to more creative ways of using the content locally.
  3. Unlimited access. This is more than simply unlimited access to the content but unlimited access to the presenters. Again, there are many stories here but I’ve been able to make connections with Liz Kolb and her work with cellphones and been able to use her to support my work locally.
  4. Authentic Collaboration. The organization of this conference is done entirely online as well (except for the one evening that 3 of us were together). I’ve been overwhelmed with the response in the past 2 weeks of volunteers. Many have never done anything of this kind in working together to organize a virtual event. Being part of building and creating something real is a great experience and one that certainly transfers to our work with students.

There are likely oodles more stories out there of what this conference means. If you have a story, go ahead and leave a comment. We’ll likely take them and post them to the conference blog but we can start here.
K12 Online conveners

I’ve also added a Skype video recording of our convener meeting. It’s unedited, 23 minutes long and mostly of Darren Kuropatwa‘s unshaven face. But here it is if you’re interested.

K12 Online Keynotes

Sheryl, Darren, Wes and I are pleased to announce the keynotes for this fall’s K12 Online Conference.

Stephen Heppell, Alice Barr, Cheryl Oakes, Bob Sprankle, Gardner Campbell, Chris Lehmann, Vicki Davis, and Julie Lindsay will all be keynoting this year. What a fantastic lineup of presenters! If you’re not familar with these folks, you’ll be in for quite a treat. Each one has a unique perspective and voice that will challenge and inspire you.

For more information on these speakers and the conference in general please visit the K12 Online site.

You’ve got about 2 weeks until proposals are due. Also, do us a favour, if you’ve been a presenter, participator or volunteer in the past 2 years, how about posting a little plug for the conference on your website?  If you like, add this little badge to your sidebar as well.

Here’s the page with html code you’ll need.

My ECMP 355 Comprehensive Assessment

I had the great privilege this winter to teach a group of pre-service teachers at the University of Regina an introductory technology course. I was also blessed with the flexibility to design much of the course. Having done it once before, I was able to tweak a few things and try some new stuff as well. With the university semester wrapping up I thought it best to take time and reflect on my class and my role in supporter my students.

We met 12 times, 8 online and 4 in person. You can see the course outline here if you login as guest you’ll have full access.

Students were evaluated in five areas:

  • 25% on weekly Tech Tasks
  • 25% on their blog
  • 25% on a final project
  • 10% on Blogging Mentorship
  • 15% on Social Learning

Tech Tasks

These were simply assignments in using the various tools we explored in class. Podcasting, setting up various accounts, watching and responding to K12 online sessions and digital storytelling were a few of the task. There were 13 in total. We spent our synchronous time considering pedagogy and for many of them the struggle was in the technology. The challenge of distance learning means you have less control over things like what software students have and their ability to download plugins and troubleshoot. One student struggled for quite sometime until a friend of hers realized she didn’t have Service Pack 2 installed. Students were basically given 20/25 for completion of the tasks and the other marks were subjective to the quality of the work.

Many students commented on the challenge of this but it also provided something very specific for them to work on. The balance between desktop and online applications is important. I may change some of the tasks but the concept works well.


As many remarked during their self evaluations, this was a big stretch. Forced blogging is never the best way, however in a distance setting, this becomes my window into their learning. I encouraged them not only to reflect on class discussions but to chronicle their learning in other areas. It was powerful to watch the growth of my students in this. I realize most will drop their blogs the minute the course ends but others have said they’ll likely continue. Obviously a big hook for them was the comments for others within the class but in particular from those outside. The really saw the power of linking as they reviewed the k12 sessions and a number of the presenters were led to their reviews and left comments. I’m also coming to accept the fact that blogging isn’t for everyone but sharing is.

I’ll likely not change much in this area. Perhaps some more deliberate mentorships outside the class as well as focusing more deeply on exemplary blogs.

Final Projects

While most are still out there, the struggle here was the open-ended nature of the assignment. I strongly encouraged students to combine this with the work in another class. This seemed to make the most sense. About half the students have choose this route.

Grading will be tough as it’s difficult to rubricize the varying projects. Everything from live presentations, videos, wikis, podcasts is challenging to assess. I need to do a better job developing the assessment up front. Perhaps I’ll steal a page out of Chris Lehmann’s approach to projects.

Blogging Mentorship

I wanted my students to gain some experience inside a classroom in a virtual way. I invited these teachers to open up their classrooms to my students:

These teachers graciously introduced themselves briefly to my students after Vicki Davis provided a context for what a globally connected classroom might look like. The success rate of this aspect of my course had the most variance. Partly due to the students efforts but more due to the set up. Many students were disappointed that these students never responded to them. My continual nattering about blogs as conversations, led them to believe everyone, including 6 year olds, think the same way. In fairness, both Kathy and Lisa have a large number of mentors and it becomes difficult for their students to respond. However, there were some outstanding successes. One of my students had a skype conference with Maria’s class. The impact for her, will be long lasting. I had two other students who stepped out of their comfort zone and had some very positive results. Although none of my students had any experience in calculus, one of my students emailed Erin and ventured into her class and provided some very insightful comments. Clay was very clear he was not interested in any type of forced mentorship. Because of the nature of his student’s work I had a difficult time helping my students understand his intentions. Yet one of my students did venture out and again, had a very powerful experience with one of his. I also know that Clay emailed her to encourage her. I want to thank all these great teachers for participating. Your willingness to share will have long term impact on these young people.

I have lots to think through on this assignment. Certainly the concept is good but the execution might require a bit more planning. I really didn’t line up these teachers until shortly before we began. I also wonder about the more focus on tutoring/mentoring one or two students rather than trying to spatter comments throughout the class.

Social Learning

If there was one area I emphasized throughout this course it was the importance of social learning. More so than any course they’d likely take, the expectation was they would learn together. Whether they were asking questions, answering them, commenting on each other’s blogs, texting each other or visiting each other in person, I asked them to document the way in which they contributed and received help from each other.

Other than the format and details of how they assessed this, this was truly a critical component of the class. Even their commenting progressed from “nice post” to challenging each other’s ideas. Certainly most classes don’t require much in this way. Perhaps the odd group work project but not as running thread.

I can’t tell you how much I enjoy working with these young people. Most of them will make outstanding teachers because they already recognize they are learners first. My main themes continue to drive my class and I hope many of theirs as well.

  • Learning is social and connected
  • Learning is personal and self-directed
  • Learning is shared and transparent
  • Learning is rich in content and diversity