Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Cheating by Example

I've yet to meet a teacher who isn't concerned about plagiarism and cheating, especially these days. Kids can so easily copy & paste content that our concerns about legitimate authorship have increased exponentially. So, schools have invested quite a bit of $ in services like turnitin.com to help kids analyze their documentation of sources. What has really struck me as I've been forced to become more knowledgeable about copyright law (though) is that we, as teachers, do not necessarily provide a stellar example of the respect for intellectual property. Ouch.

I've made many Powerpoints using images I've gotten online. As of late, I've tried to be better about actually citing the origin, but have I attempted to get permission to actually use and cite that source? And that's just one example of my misguided understanding of "fair use." How many of us have been short on textbooks & have made copies of sections or chapters for the kids to take home & use? Have we used music for slideshow presentations that have exceeded 30 seconds per composition? Have we shown DVDs in the classroom with copyright laws in mind? Have we used the quotations of others (either peers or "famous" folk) without acknowledgment? Even worse, have we encouraged our students to do similar things within the guidelines of a presentation assignment?

If we, in the classroom, are not modeling that fundamental respect for the work that someone else has created or published, how can we honestly get upset when kids use someone else's work and turn it in as their own?

The advent of the Creative Commons license has at least given all of us the opportunity to use what has freely been shared. Will it have everything that we want to use in the classroom? No. But if we demonstrate to our own students that we are paying attention to "the rules" and respecting the wishes of those creators, perhaps the plagiarism conversation will have a more realistic context.

I would encourage everyone to start searching for "shared" content or create from scratch when preparing something for use, either personally or professionally. The Creative Commons website is a great starting point. Let's start with ourselves as leaders in the classroom and encourage our students to think about what they create as well.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Spelling Words

My son is not stoked to study for spelling tests, so we tried something new tonight. We recorded his words into Garageband, and then I put it onto his MP3 player. Because it took a couple of takes for a few words, he was studying the ones with which he had trouble without even knowing it.

It's about a minute & a half long, and it probably took us 15 minutes to do. He was VERY excited to put his words onto the computer.

Will he listen to his words to study? Probably. But is that the power of approaching his homework this way? Nope. The act of practicing those words by using Garageband gave him automatic engagement for something he dislikes. He already was talking about what music loop we should choose for next week's words. Wait. . . So he's looking forward to studying his spelling words?!?

We'll see how he does on Friday's test, but the fact that he enjoyed practicing his spelling words is enough for me at the moment. What else could we be doing to help kids enjoy learning?

Here's the words of the week: spelling_04-14.mp.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Digital natives? Nah, I don’t think so . . .

If you have been anywhere near educational technology in recent years, chances are you've heard the term "Digital Natives." If you look up that term in Wikipedia (and really, what other source of information would contain such a term?), you'll see references to Marc Prensky. According to this idea, if you were born before a certain time, you are a "digital immigrant," being a foreigner to the digital age. If you were born after a certain time, you are a "digital native" or native to the digital age.

Semantically, the term "immigrant" is politically charged, but aside from that, I have some problems with this theory.

I have been working with kids & computers for several years now, and I think people sometimes confuse competence for comfort. While most kids have a comfort level working on the computer, it is amazing to see how much they don't know about using either hardware or software. This has led me to think that perhaps they aren't "native" thinkers when it comes to the technology. Kids have also been traveling in cars since birth, but does that make them automatic drivers just because they've grown up with them?

What about their "presentation" preferences? Do they like more visuals and more interactive activities? Sure, but is this new? I remember the days of the manually advanced filmstrip, then the days of the reel to reel, and then (WOO-HOO!) the VCR. I hated the manual filmstrip! It's probably akin to the way kids now view an old school overhead projector compared to a computer projector. This preference for motion and graphics has little to do with when a person was born (in my opinion) and more to do with the fact that our brain (regardless of year of birth) is designed as a very efficient image processor.
Perhaps the biggest indictment of the "digital" native theory has to do with the aptly-termed digital divide. A student with little exposure to technology is not going to be born digital, regardless of his/her birth year. I recently watched a student who had never handled an iPod try to figure out the click wheel. He did not look any different in his handling of the device than an adult who has never handled an iPod. Do kids born in third world countries have some sort of inherent understanding of digital devices simply based upon when they were born? Absolutely not.

Some recent posts from people like David Thornburg, Jamie McKenzie, & Matt Croslin flesh out some solid arguments for why the "digital native" term is both misleading and a misnomer.  If we must label generations, we should perhaps advocate terminology like "millennials" which is more indicative of era than ability and eschew terms that are deceptive and fallacious.  End rant.