Mirror Mirror on the Wall: What’s your Digital Reflection?

How do you define yourself?  Digital identity can be described as the digital representation of a physical entity.  This could be a person, an organization or even a school district for example.  In today’s world of new and emerging technologies, managing one’s identity online has become a crucial and necessary skill to have.  Some have argued that digital duality does not exist in the strict sense and that there is no true demarcation line between a digital self and a real-world self.  Others agree that digital identities are simply a reflection of what we choose to show in the mirror.  In other words, we can choose to reflect our true nature or, for some, the choice exists to portray a totally new persona online.  It has often been described as a footprint, a tattoo or a reflection but no matter the metaphor, it has become apparent that having an online presence is the way the world has moved.  As Dr. Alec Couros describes below, having control over our identity online is not always easy when we consider the apps, websites, and companies that house much of our data.  In essence, how do we allow students to experiment with their digital identities in a responsible way that fosters connection and collaboration?

One of the more profound ways to help students in this manner is through leading by example.  When I think back to when I first started building my digital identity, it probably was nothing more than a Facebook page and maybe a few images on a google search.  Now, however, there is a whole host of apps and websites that own my data.  Although this may not be troubling for some, the fact of the matter is that in examination of the terms of use of many of these apps we find that any data uploaded to these websites ceases to be our own property and can be reused without permission.  For most in today’s society, this makes little difference in their day to day lives.  However, in my opinion, it will become evident in the coming years that prudence with what is posted online will be a valuable skill.  In reading Jaque’s blog post on this topic it became clear that I am not the only one who has become more rigid in deciding what to share online.  It seems as though increasingly there is little to no filtering being done before photos are shared or live streams started.  In France there are even new regulations to discourage parents from sharing photos of their children without discretion.

As I have built my digital identity, I have moved away from the constant uploading of personal data and have started to manage who has access to my personal photos and information.  Certain platforms are used strictly for professional posts such as this blog, Twitter, and Youtube for example.  I have tried to curate a profile and identity that would reflect positively at all times on myself, my family, and my profession.  This is what is at the crux of the argument for more inclusion of digital citizenship lessons in schools.  The importance for the future of our students and our society con not be understated.

In examining digital identity, it is imperative that we understand that it is not simply about safeguarding kids against possible dangers online.  It has to be about more than that.  It’s important that students also realize that managing your digital identity is based in positive interactions online.  As Kristin Hicks states in her post,

“Teaching digital citizenship means embracing the reality that we’re all interconnected through the Internet, and that we therefore need to understand the responsibilities and risks that come with life online”

Many teachers in Saskatchewan are incorporating a classroom Twitter account into their everyday routines with students in order to reiterate the importance of and the knowledge to foster positive interactions online.  As Dani mentioned in her post, education is truly the key to ensuring students have the tools necessary to not only stay safe and protected online but to THRIVE online!  This means creating positive meaningful relationships with others.   Below is a great example of a 7/8 classroom here in Regina which uses Twitter to share learning and connect with other learners across the globe.

In reflecting on my own family, I hope to engage in meaningful and valuable conversations around digital identity with my own kids as they grow up.  I hope to continue using scrutiny when posting any pictures or video of my kids, knowing that this data is no longer my property or theirs.   I hope they grow up with teachers that teach and model appropriate use of technology to create positive connections with others.  As is stated in this article from the Atlantic, youth should have a moral responsibility to control their own digital footprint and sharenting has done much to circumvent this.  I hope my digital identity makes my kids proud and not embarrassed.  Finally, I hope that my kids rise to the challenge of creating and curating positive identities for themselves online.   The internet has the ability to bring out the best in people and also the worst in people and I hope for my kids it brings out the best.  Here are some tips for parents to help promote a positive digital identity with their kids via edmentum .  

  1. Only share personal information when necessary.
  2. Take advantage of Internet privacy settings.
  3. Remind your child to always think before typing.
  4. Manage online accounts and passwords closely

In the above video, kids share with their parents what they are really doing online.  As is stated in the video, this is the world our kids are growing up in.  Let’s be involved and learn together what it means to be a positive contributor to this online world.  Ultimately kids are always watching what we do so it is truly on our shoulders to model what this looks like for future generations.

Question to consider: In what ways do you already model positive digital behaviour for students or children?  Is it effective?

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Gazing into the Future of Education

How do you prepare someone for something you can’t understand? Is it even possible?  The recent discussion in educational technology circles has centered on the fact that we do not know what the world will be like in even 5-10 years.  With the exponential increase in technological advancement, it is doubtful that the students graduating from our high schools or universities in 10 years will have any of the necessary skills to find employment or succeed if we continue to educate them for the 20th century.  It has been argued that instead of teaching a specific set of facts or knowledge, it will be increasingly important to focus on skills.  In his paper,  Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century, Henry Jenkins argues that there are new skills that will be of utmost importance for the next generation.  These are what he claims are the building blocks for successful education in for the future.

Play — the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving
Performance — the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery
Simulation — the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes
Appropriation — the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content
Multitasking — the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details.
Distributed Cognition — the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities
Collective Intelligence — the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal
Judgment — the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources
Transmedia Navigation — the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities
Networking — the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information
Negotiation — the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms.

Looking through this list it is perhaps glaringly obvious but, few if any of the outcomes of our current Saskatchewan Curriculum look even remotely like this.  It is interesting to consider the changes that have already occurred in our educational system over the last 50 years.  It’s true that we have seen the emergence of educational technologies that could not have been imagined 50 years ago.  From the internet to handheld devices, educational apps and realtime feedback, there is now a myriad of tools at the disposal of the 21st century educator.  However, there exists in our classrooms a resistance to the change in structure that has existed since the industrial revolution.  Other than a few forward thinkers, we still, for the most part, educate children in desks placed in rows with the teacher at the front of the classroom.  But what could education look like?

Robyn Shulman in her article on digital citizenship, discuses the fact that our students have a vast knowledge of the use and navigation of tools and online spaces but very little idea about how to “leverage technology for best outcomes.”  I tend to agree that the students of today’s generation have enormous potential at their fingertips but perhaps have not been given the tools to promote their digital wellness.  It will be ever more crucial in the coming years to expand our understanding of health and wellness to include digital hygiene as well.  As Alisa Sklar states,

Digital hygiene teaches so much more than just safe, responsible use of digital tools. A parent who sits down together with their child to Google how to configure Instagram privacy settings is also modelling critical thinking, research techniques, discussing context, and involving their child.

Parents and teachers alike must be confident in addressing digital concerns with students and youth if we are to give them a firm hold in a digital future.  Brittany raised a good point about the parallel between the current idea of citizenship in a real world context in comparison with the digital world.  Allowing students to learn and exhibit the same rights and responsibilities in both realms will be key in assuring that these youth become engaged, critical thinkers in online spaces.  Not only as passive consumers but as active participants who defend and advocate for the rights of others.

In addition, it has been suggested that the need for formal educational institutions may one day be no longer.  As Danielle pointed out in her recent post, this idea tends to make educators slightly uncomfortable.  Not only because it could mean the end of our jobs but also because as teachers, we have seen the value of critical thinking and face to face interaction that happens when students/teachers are engaged in the learning process.  On the other hand, as Jocelyn pointed out in her post,  the potential of tools like Google Classroom to help students move beyond a physical set of classroom walls is astounding.  In remote areas this is happening already with school divisions such as SunWest  right here in Saskatchewan.  In many ways the disintegration of physical classrooms spaces is already happening.  As teachers and students look ahead to the further convergence of education and technology, we must be prepared to look at what future students will appreciate in their learning environments.  It’s hard for me to believe that teachers will ever be taken completely out of the equation, however, educational landscapes are changing and will continue to do so.  So, here are some tips for teachers from actual students.

1. Make it about ME 🙇

2. Let’s DO things 👩‍🔬

3. Don’t ditch me in an online course 💻

4. Be my coach 👩‍🏫

5. Teach me relevant skills 🙇‍

6. Foster a growth mindset 📈

 

Techno Wars: A New Hope

I have always felt somewhat torn by discussions of the role of technology in society.  I think in large part this is due to my upbringing.  I lived in Mali, West Africa from the age of 3 to 16.  A country that was, and still is, one of the poorest in the world.  Many of the villages we lived in had no phone lines at all.  We would write letters, drive 2 hours on dirt donkey trails into the nearest town with a post office.  The letters would take about 2-3 months to reach Canada at which point the response would take 2-3 months to get back to us.  This disconnect meant that we were in many ways cut off from the world due to lack of infrastructure.

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When we returned to Canada in 2001, I had a lot of catching up to do.  I had missed roughly 10 years of my generations’ pop music (maybe that was a good thing), I didn’t get any of the pop culture references, and people that quoted Ace Ventura to me would be met with blank stares.  In the world of technology I was awkward at best.  I was able to type to some degree but as my peers explored MySpace and MSN Messenger it never quite took hold for me.  I often felt I was an alien visiting earth for the first time and I wasn’t sure where to start.  I slowly started making inroads into my lack of knowledge in these areas.  I watched the movies such as Star Wars that had been touted as classics by my friends and began exploring the online world.

When Facebook came on to the scene in 2004, I was drawn to it through nostalgia more than anything.  I discovered that I could reconnect with friends from half-way across the world.  I could view pictures from back in Mali and even carry on conversations with old friends.  From this point on, I truly began to feel much more engaged in Canadian culture because I was able to at once be in step with popular cultural acceptance of Social Media but at the same time keep connection to a part of me that I thought had been left on the other side of the ocean.  I would say this was definitely the beginning of my entrance into the realm of being a digital visitor.  Although Prensky’s notion of Immigrants vs Natives perhaps holds more initial connection to my situation from a geographical standpoint, I find it difficult to reconcile the notion that generational gaps alone account for feelings of technological competency.  For example, there are children between the ages of 5 and 15 growing up in third world countries right now who have limited or no access to the internet or social media.  Nor does it follow necessarily that 1st world teens born after a certain year will automatically possess an understanding of digital spaces as part of nativity.   As David White suggests,

   ‘the cultural effects of the social hyperconnectivity brought about by social media and mobile devices are often masked by shallow assessments of technological functionality and the apparent capability of specific groups in consuming ‘new’ technology.’- Citation

When I first began using Facebook, I felt as though I was and perhaps still am a visitor;  using online tools when necessary and then turning those tools off when they are no longer needed.  Even when it came to cell phones I held back for a relatively long time compared to others in my peer groups.  My first smart phone was the iphone 4 which was released in 2010.  Once again, it became a tool to use when I needed it.  A few years later, I began to research the world of #edtech and realized quickly that this would be the way education might evolve.  I started trying to incorporate technology into my teaching and learned as I made mistakes.  However, I was still a visitor.  My personal relationship with technology with regards to  the technological engagement continuum remains ambiguous.

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I use the tech tools that I find useful in my work and in my personal life and if I look at my phone or laptop and notice apps that I have not used in the last month, they are often deleted.  I am a fan of functionality and I love using technology when it engages students, enhances learning in some way or allows students to deepen their understanding.  However, it disheartens me to see technology enhance preexisting human conditions such as disunity, discord, jealousy, hatred, and disparity.  I wholeheartedly agree that technology, when it is used properly, has enormous potential to create social change, improve life for people on earth, and foster connection.  On the other hand it also has the potential to be used to devastating effect to inflict pain, divide instead of unite, and give voice to hatred.  Technology cannot be saviour nor can it be our doom, it must therefore be approached in a more realistic fashion.  Technology must not be analyzed in a vacuum.  It is born of man, born out of human social constructs.  Since I could not identify myself as a proponent of  techno-utopian ideas nor techno-dystopian ideas, I began exploring middle ground.

In reading Stephen Bernard’s Blog Post on Techno-Realism, I have found myself drawn to the idea that we must not simply blindly adopt Techno-Utopian or Techno-Dystopian theories without truly engaging in critical examination of the ways in which technology and social fabrics are intertwined.  Conversely we must realize that although technology has been the driving force behind human advancement, it does not leave us without options and does not exist separate from human interaction.  There must be a balance, in effect, between positive and negative in the techno-theory debate.  It allows for the ability of technology to affect positive change in the world while accepting that there are certain aspects of technology that have and will continue to affect humankind in a negative way.

“What can technorealism do for sociological inquiry?  Besides offering a healthy dose of reality, it can guide us beyond mere polemics and onto a plane of thought grounded in both logic and evidence”-Stephen Bernard

Here are some of the key principals of technorealism as espoused by technorealism.org

PRINCIPLES OF TECHNOREALISM

1. Technologies are not neutral.
2. The Internet is revolutionary, but not Utopian.
3. Government has an important role to play on the electronic frontier.
4. Information is not knowledge.
5. Wiring the schools will not save them.
6. Information wants to be protected.
7. The public owns the airwaves; the public should benefit from their use.
8. Understanding technology should be an essential component of global citizenship.

This idea seeks to be a neutral territory between positive and negative views of the role of technology although it lacks a certain element: HOPE!  What is human society without hope.  It is what drives to create, share, uplift and uphold one another.  It is hope that led to the great technological advancements of the 20th century and it is hope that inspires people all over the world to wake up and create change for the better.  For these reasons I find myself slowly moving from digital visitor to digital resident and from techno-realism to techno-progressivism.  Yes we must be critical of the ways in which technology is being used, however, if we are constantly looking over our shoulders for possible problems we will potentially miss out on greater opportunities for the good of mankind.  In a recent Globe and Mail Article, Jennifer Anikst explored the idea that millennials are pragmatic idealists.  Supposedly two very opposing theories are taken up simultaneously to allow this generation to solve social problems through the use of technology for social justice.  To me that spells hope for the future.

And That’s the Way It Is…

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The famous Walter Cronkite would always sign off with the catch phrase, “and that’s the way it is.”  News anchors through the years have delivered summaries of important world events.  From Cronkite to Rather and of course Peter Mansbridge, trusted reporters deliver the facts.  So Krista, Liz and I thought it might be fun to try a  news cast for our summary of learning.  They are both colleagues, part of my core team and an incredible support for me in my teaching.  We had never worked with green screens before and it was a great opportunity to learn some new tech and have some fun. This semester has been an incredible journey and a great learning opportunity.  Gaining a deeper understanding of the theories behind tech implementation in the classroom was a big part of my learning during this class.   I had some previous knowledge of theory behind education but my practice has changed now to the point where I analyze each activity using tech to ensure the usage of tech for the right reasons.  Theory has also played a role in the ways that I examine my current practice and the ways that I teach.  In addition, The course created a great community of teachers and learners interested and engaged in pushing each other further along the edtech path.  Also, It offered a great opportunity to learn some new tricks, tips and tech tools to help us in our professional lives.  I especially enjoyed learning about the new technologies that may one day be the norm for teaching and learning such as virtual and augmented reality.  It seems as though the more we learn about edtech, the more there is to know.  I resolved as I was reviewing the course to keep 4 things in mind in the coming year.

  1. Evaluate tech tools based on theory
  2. Design the task and accompanying tech with authenticity
  3. Master tech tools that are useful in your practice
  4. Don’t over extend, take your time

There is no rush to the finish line in learning about edtech.  We are each learning at our own pace and doing what works in our own contexts.  The constant shifting in technology will always mean that we are trying to catch up.  Never forget where tech started.  Pencils and chalkboards were once considered cutting edge.  So I’ll simply end by saying, that’s the way it is…”

Please enjoy…

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Assistive Technology: Putting A Stop To ‘Other’ing in Society

I have not had many experiences with assistive technology over the years but I will attempt to share my thoughts regarding the role of technology in levelling the playing field for students with disabilities or to enhance learning.  I have taught 2 students with hearing impairments over the years and they each required a microphone in order to hear what was going on in the classroom.  The 2 students approached this difficulty in differing ways however.  One student needed a sound system used in the classroom and thus students and teachers would talk into the microphone in order for her to hear.  The other student had a system that transmitted directly to his hearing aids and was therefore able to hear without the need for an amplifier.assistive-technology-1  It was interesting to see the other students’ reactions to the different systems.  In the first case, many of the students loved using the microphone for presentations and class discussions.  The microphone became similar to a talking stone that indicated when others should listen.  It became a bit more cumbersome at times but overall, it was a very positive experience.  I have also taught a student who had a personal laptop with Kursweil in order to help him take notes and complete assignments.  Students in all cases were very supportive and understanding.  I think one aspect that is often forgotten is the teaching around equity and what it means for student success.  I often hear the argument about fidgets from students that they believe it’s unfair if certain students receive special tools to use in class.  This is due to the fact that before any teaching is done on metacognition, students tend to see fidgets or even assistive technology as something that they should all have access to. When I first begin these conversations with Middle Years students I often give students a learning styles type of personal evaluation to start the conversation.  Then we talk about how each of us learns best.  Finally I have the kids do some writing about how they like to learn.  Photo Credit

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The key here is to remember that the same solutions do not apply to all cases.  That is why pre-teaching around metacognition and student success is crucial.  The meaning of what success looks like for each student must be considered by both parents, students and teachers alike.  It may also mean that it is not simply those with physical or mental disabilities that have need of assistance.  These assistive technologies may mean something as simple as a pair of glasses for someone with poor vision or as complex as speech to text software for those who cannot speak.  Students often want to try some of the technologies to see if they fit with their needs.  However, I always make it clear that a person doesn’t wear glasses or hearing aids if they weren’t needed.  In the same way, evaluation of needs for learning supports is critical.  As we seek to help evaluate which students are in need of which specific aids, it is paramount that we keep in mind that not only should we as teachers seek to find tools but also to break down unjust barriers to enhance student success.    equity

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For example, it is not possible to remove someone’s inability to walk, however, we can remove barriers that keep that student from achieving.  Whereas equality provides the same supports for everyone, equity is much more fluid.  It encompasses anyone and everyone who may need a little help.  As Naomi states, the biggest barriers to successful AT integration are access and training.  Natalie also points out the need for PD on this subject as many teachers have little or no training and LRT’s are stretched thin.  In the video below, Sam is able to attend college classes and even take his own notes using his Ipad and computer.  Were Sam to have been born in another century, he would certainly not have access to these sorts of opportunities.  The world has been opened in an unprecedented way and the future will surely only continue to give freedom to those in need of some sort of assistance.  Sam can now feel like he can contribute and manage his own learning.

Those with extreme disabilities are in no way different from others.  As is mentioned by Henry Evans in the video below, if we both want to go 60 kph, we will both need a piece of assistive technology called a car.  Therefore it is also important to remember that assistive technology is not a sign of weakness or a problem.  Those who struggle to complete certain tasks have been ‘othered’ by society for long enough and by constantly keeping them down, we reassign power to those in the centre.  Unfortunately, it is often because of assistive technologies that students are viewed as different, strange or weird.  Because they are often very visible, it is crucial to have meaningful conversations with students at the outset about how we each learn in different ways and what equity looks like in the classroom.  I usually begin each year with these types of discussions for that very reason.  Not only does it help each student to take part in some self-reflection about their own learning style, it also allows us to discuss the ways in which we support one another as a learning community.

It will be an exciting time for students in the coming years.  Technology will allow those who have been previously marginalized to not only participate but also to thrive in our classrooms and in society.  I often have to repeatedly reevaluate my practice keeping in mind the various needs that exist in my classroom.  I still struggle with this and I wonder what tech tools or practices exist that allow teachers to plan with student success in mind?  What is the best way to implement these strategies?  Should we still be considering learning styles when we talk about AT?  Let me know in the comments section below.

Virtual Reality: Step into the Future

The intention of this week’s blog was to discuss a piece of educational software or media  and do an in-depth analysis of its potential and drawbacks in a classroom setting.  Since we presented this week, I had already done quite a bit of research into Kahn Academy and its ability to aid teachers in flipping their classrooms.  Since most of my limited readership has already been forced to listen to me for a full hour, I will look into a piece of tech/software that I think is very cool.  The idea of virtual reality is not something new but it is becoming more accessible.  In fact the New York Times just released a new film that can be viewed using a smartphone and Googles cardboard VR headsets.  Using a pre folded piece of cardboard, a smartphone, and Google VR Apps/Software, virtual reality can be brought into the classroom for little to no cost.  This is especially true for schools with higher socio-economic status due to the fact that most students will have their own devices to use with the viewers.  The possibilities are really endless when it comes to these virtual field trips.  However, are students simply consumers or can they interact in these virtual worlds?

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Many of the Google expeditions are based on the core sciences/social sciences and provide a different perspective to traditional textbook and lecture teaching.  Not only that, students can also capture and create their own VR experiences to share with their classmates and with the rest of the world.  Take Unity 3D as an example.  In this platform students can not only use an avatar to explore Egyptian or Mayan ruins, they can also build and create their own virtual representations to be explored by others.  In WiloStar 3D, students can take virtual secondary and post secondary courses in virtual environment using an avatar to interact with other students and professors.   Using the IOS or Android Apps from Google, sound and images are recorded in sync for others to enjoy in 3D.  Here are some other virtual worlds with an educational theme or focus:

It seems as if the rise in VR technology has pushed it into the mainstream.  Even in the 600th episode of The Simpsons, VR will make an appearance in the couch gag to open the show.  During the gag, a URL will appear on the screen which will direct viewers to the Google app in which they will be able to use their VR Cardboard viewers to enter the world of the Simpsons.

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The headsets can be ordered from Google or you can try your hand at making your own following the directions in the video below.  Here is the link to the template needed to make your very own headset.  With such an affordable tool, the possible benefits for students are many.  With the teacher as a guide, students can now visit world heritage sites, ancient ruins, archeological digs and much more.  Students can explore, analyze, discuss and get a true experience of what it’s like to be in these amazing places.  This software seems like it fits very well in the constructivist/connectivist school of thought in that it offers choice and freedom for students, allows them to build on preconceived knowledge, allows discussion and social interaction, and engages students in a meaningful way.  In addition, students will be able to interact with vivid objects in a sequential pattern that will mimic real world experience.  This will invariably lead to deep and meaningful learning experiences for students because they will see the effects of their chains of decisions within the VR app.

There are numerous advantages of using VR in the classroom and this technology may hold the key to the reason why our current system still sees many students falling through the cracks.  As William Win stated, “Since a great many students fail in school because they do not master the symbol systems of the disciplines they study, although they are perfectly capable of mastering the concepts that lie at the heart of the disciplines, it can be concluded that VR provides a route to success for children who might otherwise fail in our education system as it is currently construed.”  A second advantage of VR in the classroom addresses the all too familiar problem that arises when some students have mastered concepts being taught while others need remedial support.  VR allows students to literally become participants in their own learning which inevitably boosts motivation.  According to Dr. Veronica Pantelidis, “virtual reality allows students to progress at their own pace without being held back at a class schedule while also motivating them to learn.”

As an example, here is a tour of the amazing and historical Buckingham Palace.  On the screen you can click to move your view around the room as the tour is happening.  Using a VR headset, you can tilt your head to look around the room and advance to explore things you see or hear in the tour. Active rather than passive experience is a key benefit to VR in the classroom which is just one of many possible benefits including;

  • Immersive experience means no distractions
  • Immediate engagement: useful in today’s world of limited attention spans
  • Exploration and hands on approach aids with learning and retention
  • Helps with understanding complex subjects/theories/concepts
  • Suited to all types of learning styles, e.g. visual

So, why aren’t we all rushing out to spend money on this new technological trend?  Simply put, the recent rethinking of Ipads in the classroom has school divisions reevaluating what educational technology should look like.  Cost is a huge deterrent as well, even considering Google cardboard.  Finally, it is also clear that the technology may not lend itself as easily to teaching in some subject areas and depends on BYOD policies that can be problematic for some schools and impossible to implement in others.  Despite all of this, I do think that we will begin to see more VR in classrooms as costs come down and VR software specific to curricula is built.

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What do you think?  Is virtual reality the next trend in educational technology?  Let me know in the comments section below.

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Who Killed Educational Television?

When I was born in 1985 this song was already 6 years old.  When I first heard it in the mid 90’s I found the lyrics intriguing.  It’s a classic example of the rate at which technology changes.  In the end as we all know, radio has never succumbed to the power of video and it could be argued that radio and video have both been given an incredible boost by their younger brother; the internet.  It may not be in the same format but online/streaming radio content and podcasts are are available at the click of a button on any device.  Video has seen a similar boost as more and more people cut their cable and move to online streaming video content providers.  Netflix, Hulu, Crave, the list goes on and on.  Even traditional TV service providers are migrating their content online.  So what about educational content on television/radio?  Is it still an effective means of delivering supplemental educational content?  Who are the major players and what is their end game?

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It’s clear that from it’s inception, the idea of delivering educational content via radio and television waves was novel and exciting.  This was true for a number of reasons.  Firstly, the ability to reach a wide audience.  Educational content could be seamlessly beamed into homes and schools across the world through radios and TV’s.  Programs created by different companies and broadcasters looked at ways to engage kids and deliver some additional educational content.  It can’t be argued that educational television and radio was ever meant to replace traditional public schooling.  However, it became very apparent with the emergence of television in the 40’s and 50’s that the potential to reach a wide audience of children would mean a uniform message could be transmitted to the general public.  If you think about it, even PSA’s followed this same pattern.  When it was decided by research firms or government agencies that a message needed to be delivered, a PSA was recorded and broadcast.  The same went for televised educational content such as Sesame Street, Reading Rainbow, or SchoolHouse Rock.  The wide array of possibilities that lay before broadcasters was unprecedented.     reading-rainbow

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Secondly, the access to popular music and culture lent itself to the incorporation of these pop culture elements into the content being broadcast.  This was the story behind SchoolHouse Rock.  It’s creator David McCall noticed his son having trouble with multiplication tables but he seemed to be able to remember popular rock songs.  He began writing and producing animated shorts covering topics like science, math, social studies, etc.  Personally I still remember some of these classic songs such as “Conjunction Junction” and “Electricity”.  They were short, catchy, and I would often find myself humming them as I went about my day.

ABC also had a huge success in Reading Rainbow, a program that encouraged reading among young viewers through themed episodes.  The award winning and long running program has now been released as an IOS and Android app.  Sesame Street is another perfect example of the use of popular culture, songs and educational content to teach life lessons as well as core content.  From puppets to famous actors and pop stars appearing alongside beloved characters, Sesame Street captured the hearts of generations of kids and taught countless lessons.  In this example, Robin Williams discusses and demonstrates conflict with the puppets.

Mr. Dressup, and Mr Rogers Neighbourhood were also amazing examples of children’s educational programming that sought to engage, dazzle and release the creative potential of children.  So what is the state of educational Audio/Visual in the 21st century?  Are these types of shows still being created? And, what is the true educational value of such programming?

mr-dressup

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It seems as though there is less and less quality educational programming being produced these days.  Especially of the nature that was seen in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s.  Through examination of educational programming that is currently on the air, it is difficult to gauge the educational value of some of the programs now being offered to children.  I have a 2 year old and a 4 year old and there are several things we have noticed recently when it comes to educational television offerings.  The first thing we noticed when we started exploring TV shows to watch with our kids was that there are very few that offer children live action or real world characters to engage with.  The vast majority of the shows for ages 5 and under are flashy, high paced, fast cut, loud and repetitive cartoons or computer animations.  It could be argued that this is vastly more engaging to kids than listening to a live human being.  That may be true to some extent, but I still think that sometimes it’s important for kids to see interactions between real people.  I would argue that students need more and more stimuli in this day and age in order for them to stay engaged.  Why do you think kids have such a hard time listening in class?  I love pulling up old Sesame Street clips on Youtube and my kids love them too.  Secondly, the majority of children’s television shows today have very little content directly related to what I would call values teaching.  Sure some of the shows talk about colours, numbers and shapes but what about teaching things like, empathy, kindness, sharing, and hard work.  Themes that used to be staples of shows like Mr. Dressup are being replaced with limited educational content and flashy adventures that are just meant to sell action figures and video games.  Of course TV shows from my generation also marketed their characters as toys, lunch boxes etc.  However, I see a fundamental difference in the deliberate choices being made by producers of some of these new children’s shows.

Now clearly it is the parents job to be teaching their kids and no TV show could ever replace the real-world lessons that come from good parenting practices.  However, I do wish that more children’s shows incorporated positive values teaching into their programming.  One example of a show that does focus on a mixture of values education and basic skills knowledge is Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood, a spinoff of Mr. Roger’s Neighbourhood.  In the show, which features decoupage, and animation mixed with live interviews with kids and parents, the kids learn valuable problem solving and life skills.  Our kids still sing the songs to remember things like sharing, showing kindness, helping others and even when to go potty.  “If you have to go potty, stop and and go right away.  Flush and wash and be on your way!”

So is Educational Television dead?  I don’t think so but it certainly seems to be moving in a more commercialized direction.  If the goal of the producer and broadcaster is marketing and making money off of the program, it may mean that the content is suffering or lacking altogether.  If you’re not sure about the content of a show, check out Common Sense.  The site allows parents to see evaluations of popular kids shows and media broken down by age level.  It’s a good start for parents or educators who are unsure if the benefits of a certain show outweigh the costs.  In addition, we perhaps need to remember some key questions to ask when evaluating educational audio/visual.

  1. Who is producing the content and what are their underlying motivations?
  2. What messages are being transmitted?
  3. Is this lesson teachable through some other means? ie) Real World examples or hands on problem solving?
  4. Parents should set limits on the amount of TV per day.
  5. Teachers should use audio/visual as an aid, not a replacement for quality designed learning activities.

What do you think?  Is the quality of educational television lacking today?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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