Book Review: Educating Gen Wi-Fi by Greg Whitby

Educating Gen WiFi Book Cover To many in Catholic Education, Greg Whitby is better known as the Executive Director of the Parramatta, however his passion for 21st century learning, and for changing schools to meet the needs of today’s students is known to any who read his blog, Bluyonder, or follow him on Twitter (@gregwhitby). He has crystallised his thoughts on this in his recent publication, Educating Gen Wi-Fi, which extensively describes the challenges for schools who still operate in the ‘factory model’ of the 19th century, and some ways in which some schools have answered this challenge. With extensive case studies and chapters addressing who today’s learners are, learning spaces, assessment and parents as partners in learning, it is an easy to read book for anyone interested in education, but specifically for those who are keen to make a change to their ways of operating in the school arena.

The book begins with  a whirlwind tour of the development of education from Ancient Greece to present day. Whitby challenges readers with the fact that ‘we cannot continue to deliver an ‘analogue’ 20th century curriculum when the world is ‘digital’, exploding with information that can be accessed by increasingly smaller and more powerful mobile devices’ (p.50).

Heppell quote

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by _Fidelio_: http://flickr.com/photos/photogaby/4418959970/ edited using Instaquote

Whitby speaks about the use of digital tools to share learning to a real and worldwide audience, and the ability to harness this sharing of learning through the development of Personal Learning Networks via platforms such as Twitter. He explores how students today need to be critical thinkers and be able to analyse, evaluate and remix information in order to solve problems. As technology has flattened our world, there is an increasing the need for global literacy, as we work and play with others across the world.
The increased use of technology brings about challenges for schools, one of which is the need to develop a sense of digital citizenship within students and staff. The common solution for many schools faced with issues of cyberbullying and distraction by social media is to ban access to sites and tools such as mobile phones. Whitby argues that this is forcing an old model onto new learners – and that the connected learners of today should be encouraged and indeed able to use the tools that are most natural to them in their learning. He argues it is up to teachers to develop their skills and comfort levels with technology, and to harness these powerful tools that students use so naturally in their everyday lives.

The diversity of learners in schools today is one issue that is handled very well with technology. It allows teachers to collaboratively construct curricula that meets the needs of learners at a variety of levels, and indeed Whitby even suggests that the learners themselves should have input into what and how they learn – something leading educators such as Ewan McIntosh, and his work with Design Thinking echo.

It’s not just a room full of computers and tablets that makes for 21st century learning. Whitby makes it clear that it is the relationships between teacher and student, and the strength of the pedagogy that truly makes the difference. He bases these claims on the work of John Hattie, as well as his personal experience of over 30 years in education. Teachers should embrace new technologies as just another resource in their arsenal – and let student learning drive the focus rather than technology.

Learners

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by zoonabar: http://flickr.com/photos/zoonabar/3371660691/ edited with Instaquote

When it comes to assessment, Whitby is a great proponent of learning portfolios, and questions the place of external exams such as Naplan. Rather than focusing on teaching to the test, he believes that students who are encouraged to develop their critical thinking and creative skills through broad and engaging pedagogy will enable students to achieve in all manner of assessment. He is also quite critical of how the media and public relations generally focus purely on academic results, ignoring the many other terrific achievements that occur in schools, as well as the achievements and contributions made by those students who do not follow the academic path, but choose a vocational route. Emphasis on traditional areas of education such as numeracy and literacy narrows the focus and denies the outside world a true view of the many areas schools support.

Another area addressed by Whitby and one that is mentioned frequently in the research around contemporary learning is the influence of open and flexible learning spaces, which allow teachers and students to work collaboratively and in many different ways. A number of case studies illustrate how schools can be redesigned physically to allow students and teachers to escape the four walls of the traditional classroom. He writes also about the positive impact of close collaboration with parents, and how new tools including social media can be used to communicate and inform parents.

Whitby closes the book by reviewing the commonly held myths about the type of change in educational landscape he is suggesting. Responses commonly heard in the media and in carpark gossip including ‘it’s been done before’ and ‘the curriculum won’t allow it’ are addressed comprehensively. He suggests that hard questions need to be asked, and that for schooling to change, we must once and for all move beyond the information transmission model, a model that is clearly outdated in the age of Google.

Questions

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo by alexanderdrachmann: http://flickr.com/photos/drachmann/327122302/ edited with Instaquote.

This book is an excellent overview and introduction to the challenges facing schools today. While some educators who remain informed about changing technology and who are actively implementing new ways of teaching and learning in their schools will find nothing new, for those who are just beginning the journey, or who want to find the words to express the impact of these changes to others, it is certainly a worthwhile read. The evidence he provides through the many case studies demonstrates the amazing things that can be achieved with creativity and vision, and hopefully schools will continue to take on this challenge and provide engaging, relevant and rigorous learning for this connected generation of students.

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Wikipedia – one encyclopedia to rule them all…or just a great place to start?

The debate about Wikipedia and its role in education continues to rage.Just last month, Brian Proffitt, a  Lecturer at the University of Notre Dame wrote a well reasoned piece on why he believes Wikipedia has no place in the tertiary classroom. This was followed up with another, equally convincing article a week later by another practising academic, Jonathan Obar, explaining why he believes strongly that Wikipedia plays an essential part of education in the 21st Century.

Both articles raise valid points. Proffitt focuses upon the fact that by crowdsourcing information, there is no guarantee that the information is quality, and that Wikipedia is a major source of plagiarism, as students find it easier to copy text directly from a site that almost always appears in the first ten hits of any Google Search. Obar counters by arguing that the fact that the knowledge is crowdsourced provides an excellent opportunity to teach students not only critical literacy, but also a study in how knowledge is (and always has been) created – through debate, opinion and argument.

Currently, it is the decision of individual educators as to whether or not they encourage the use of Wikipedia in their classroom. It remains an immense resource of information – with William Cronon, the President of the American Historical Association stating that ‘Wikipedia is the largest, most comprehensive, copiously detailed, stunningly useful encyclopedia in all of human history‘.

One way that teachers commonly suggest students use Wikipedia is as a place to begin their research. While it may not be the source of information that students actually cite, it is often a useful starting point, for students to get an overall introductory understanding of a topic, and to use some of the articles cited in the Wikipedia article as a jumping off point into more scholarly literature.

An excellent tool to assist at this stage of research is the WikiMindMap.

Wikimindmap takes a search term, and creates a mind map of related topics, which are either directly linked to Wikipedia pages, or which open up into further refinement.

An example, based on the search term ‘Sustainability’ is below:

The best search results currently appear to be derived from en.wikipedia.org. When sustainability is entered into the search box, the following results appear:

Hovering over the term Sustainability in the centre brings up a useful definition, and direct link to the Wikipedia page.

When you click on the topics with the green arrows, a further search using these key words occurs – the topics in rectangles with the plus symbol indicates a further tree, with a narrowing of the topics focused around that general area. A blue arrow out symbol points to an external website.

This tool is terrific for students who are facing research on a broad topic, and need to narrow down their focus, or for students who simply don’t know where to begin their research. Since the Google Wonderwheel was discontinued, WikiMindMap might prove to be a useful research tool for any student’s kit.

For those using mobile devices, the app Wikinodes provides a similar search tool, but with the added functionality of note-taking and the ability to share articles via email, Twitter or Dropbox. The note-taking feature is particularly interesting, with students able to add text, visual or audio notes. These notes are then able to be added to a ‘presentation’, so that they may be shared with others.

These tools are useful no matter what your opinion is on the quality of the content in Wikipedia – even if only to teach the concept of drilling down from a general topic to more specific keywords that will shape searches more effectively.

Don’t write off Wikipedia – using it creatively could be the key to more effective research by all students of every level.

Cronon, W. (2012, February). Scholarly Authority in a Wikified World. American Historical Association. Retrieved October 8, 2012, from http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2012/1202/Scholarly-Authority-in-a-Wikified-World.cfm
Obar, J. (2012, September 20). Why Wikipedia Does Belong in the Classroom. ReadWriteWeb. Retrieved October 9, 2012, from http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/why-wikipedia-does-belong-in-the-classroom.php
Proffitt, B. (2012, September 12). Why Wikipedia Doesn’t Belong In The Classroom. ReadWriteWeb. Retrieved October 9, 2012, from http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/why-wikipedia-doesnt-belong-in-the-classroom.php

12 Reasons Teachers should use Diigo

What is Diigo?

Diigo stands for “Digest of Internet Information, Groups and Other stuff.” It is a social bookmarking program that allows you to save your ‘favourites’ online, so that they can be accessible from any computer with an internet connection. However, Diigo does much more than this.

As you read on the web, as well as bookmarking websites, you can also highlight parts of web pages that are of particular interest to you. Or, you can attach sticky notes to specific parts of web pages. These highlights and sticky notes are persistent – whenever you return to the original web page, you will see your highlights and sticky notes superimposed on the original page, just what you would expect if you highlighted or wrote on a book!

The ‘social’ part of the bookmarking program is also very useful. With every Diigo user tagging and annotating pages online, the Diigo community has collectively created a wonderful repository of quality content, filtered and annotated by the community, on almost any subject you may be interested in.

For example, if you would like to find popular resources on e-learning, searching Diigo can probably get what you want in less time than using search engines, and you may also gain insights from other users.

For more information, go to http://www.diigo.com/about , or dive right in and sign up. After reading the reasons here today, you will definitely be convinced of the productivity and time-saving power of this great online tool.

So…onto the 12 reasons every teacher should use Diigo.

  1. Diigo provides a free, efficient, effective and reliable way to save and organise your favourite websites, online articles, blog posts, images and other media found online.
    How do I bookmark? Go to here for a short tutorial. The first thing you need to do to begin bookmarking is either download the Diigo toolbar, or if you don’t want a full toolbar, download the Diigolet.
  2. Diigo provides an outliners feature that allows you to share carefully selected bookmarked websites with your students.
    Adding bookmarks to outliners is easy. Check out this tutorial for a guide.
  3. Diigo has tools that encourage students to collaborate with others to analyse, critique and evaluate websites.
    Take advantage of the Teacher Console to manage student accounts – with no student email addresses needed. Create groups for your students to work within, and have them share and review resources as a part of their research.http://help.diigo.com/teacher-account/faq
  4. Diigo provides opportunities for students to apply higher level thinking skills while researching and gathering information.The table below is taken from Choosing Web2.0 Tools for Learning and Teaching in a Digital World by Pam Berger and Sally Trexler.
  5. Diigo allows you to gain access to the ‘collective intelligence’ of the internet.By joining groups of like minded users, you are automatically able to access all of the bookmarks that other members of the group have chosen to save. The many, many users of Diigo all saving to their accounts adds up to a lot of great websites identified, tagged and reviewed – much more than one single person could ever identify in a reasonable timeframe!
  6. Diigo allows you to develop your own professional learning network (PLN).
  7. Diigo provides a forum for teachers and students to discuss areas of share interest, or a particular online website or resource using the ‘topics’ function within groups.
  8. Use Diigo to provide visual access to websites you have collected using the built in program ‘webslides’.http://slides.diigo.com/widget/slides?sid=36866
  9. Use Diigo’s advanced tools to link its power to blogs and RSS. Lists of similar websites that you have created can easily be posted onto a blog by using the ‘post to blog’ button.

  10. Use Diigo tools to enhance professional reading and save time creating summaries of online posts.
  11. Access your information from any computer, or even your iPhone or iPad!
    The free Diigo app can be downloaded from the iTunes store and you can be saving as you go!
  12. Enjoy the spare time you save through your increased organisation of online resources and the power of Diigo!Image with thanks to: http://www.dianechamberlain.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/sleeping-dog.jpg

Want to learn more? The following links may help…

Getting started with a Teacher Account:

http://help.diigo.com/teacher-account/getting-started

Introduction to Diigo:

http://21ctools.wikispaces.com/Diigo

From TeleGatherer to TelePlanter with Diigo:

http://www.edsupport.cc/mguhlin/share/index.php?n=Anthology.Diigoway