Developing that critical ability

In an increasingly complex, fragmented and interconnected world, how do we know what is “true”? Can we believe what we find online at all, or should we rather take up a severely critical attitude to sources until their trustworthiness has been proven? Furthermore, how do we teach our students to exert the necessary caution when evaluating sources?

Being able to take a critical stance to what appears to be credible is a matter of both maturity as well as being able to question what we see. Thus, it is pivotal that teachers discuss credibility of sources with students on a continuous basis. For example, is it OK to use Wikipedia as a source of information? Research has shown that teachers and students display varying attitudes to the use of Wikipedia; teachers being more sceptical, whereas students find this source to be both easy to use and informative (Blikstad-Balas & Høgenes, 2014). Clearly, students are more pragmatic in their attitudes, while teachers question the quality and credibility of Wikipedia, and many teachers omit to draw attention to and explicitly discuss this source of information.

In a similar vein, Frønes and Narvhus (2012) discuss reading literacy and students’ ability to critically assess the adequacy and credibility of online resources, emphasizing the importance of work aimed at increasing this ability in the classroom. Young learners lack the background experience of adults, and tend to be more naïve to what they perceive to constitute reliable sources (number of “likes”, clicks, etc.). It is thus essential that teachers encourage students to always ask questions and compare sources. It may be OK to use Wikipedia as an easy-to-use starting point for locating information, but what do other independent sources say? And which sources can we trust? For instance, can sources be affected by special interests – do they aim to influence us out of particular commercial or social interests? How many sources do we need to check before we can confirm the reliability of data with reasonable certainty?

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I never cease asking those important questions!

Developing young learners’ ability to critically assess credibility is a process; it requires that teachers revisit the topic at regular intervals and always encourage students to be above all inquisitive. Information posted on the internet may be manipulated – pictures can lie – and authors and sites may provide information out of self-interest. Also trustworthy sites can be hacked and manipulated, and this poses even more stringent demands on students’ ability to compare and contrast sources.

Developing a critical stance towards sources takes time; it is not something which is achieved by addressing such issues once or twice in class. But why not utilize such matters as an excellent opportunity for facilitating authentic conversations in the target language in the ESL classroom? Sociocultural theories of learning promote conversation as the medium for all learning (Thornbury & Slade, 2006, p. 2), for examining values, attitudes and beliefs. In short – let’s keep talking about it.

References
Blikstad-Balas, M., & Høgenes, T. (2014). Wikipedias inntog på kildelista – holdninger blant lærere og elever til Wikipedia i en skolekontekst. Acta Didactica Norge, 8(1), 1-17.

Frønes, T. S., & Narvhus, E. K. (2012). Egnet og troverdig? Elevers kildevurdering på nett. In T. E. Hauge & A. Lund (Eds.), Små skritt eller store sprang. Om digitale tilstander i skolen (pp. 58-84). Oslo: Cappelen Damm Akademisk.

Missie. Hello, I’m Dusty and you should be petting me. Downloaded 9 May 2016. Online image. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/missie-graham/4596407942/

Thornbury, S., & Slade, D. (2006). Conversation: From Description to Pedagogy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Delayed gratification pays off

This article by Håvard Tjora discusses inter alia the negative effects of children’s lacking abilities to delay gratification and how this can impact behaviour in the digital classroom – definitely interesting reading! Tjora describes how the presence of apps, games and social media in the classroom tend to interrupt teaching and learning – simply by being infinitely more attractive than “English vocabulary, the feudal system and algebra”.

Furthermore, research has shown that lacking ability (or willingness?) to delay gratification adversely impacts both academic results, job opportunities and health, emphasizing the need for learning self-regulation.

9563908_c1ccd68c21_zSelf-regulation, willpower and resisting temptation? Wow, that’s kinda hard, if you ask me!

In light of the fact that many adults seem to lack this skill altogether, spending much time on e.g. FaceBook during an ordinary workday, it might not be an altogether easy task to teach pupils the benefits of postponing rewards until the task at hand has been done. How teachers are to manage temptations and distractions in the classroom and teach pupils to stay focused definitely requires reflection and insight into the human psyche. New technologies and opportunities ought to make us more efficient, but in many cases the opposite seems to be the case.

References
Lai, Ryanne. Temptation. Downloaded 2 May 2016. Online image. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/laihiu/9563908/

Tjora, H. (2 May 2016) Konsentrasjonsøvelse. In Dagbladet Magasinet

Capturing the essence of it

How can teachers succeed in providing sufficient, precise and motivating feedback to students – adapted to the needs of every individual? LK06 emphasizes assessment for learning (AfL) as important in helping learners achieve their goals by offering more precise guidance on how to improve (Krumsvik, 2009, pp. 244-245). Adapted education entails giving students opportunities to work with a subject at the right level, enabling them to experience feelings of mastering (Swensen, 2014, p. 120). In lieu of possessing superhuman capabilities, and faced with the task of providing high-quality feedback to 25 – 30 students on a continuous basis, one might ask whether this is achievable at all?

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There are no easy answers to this question. However, research on the use of screen capture technology in assessment, including such solutions as Screencast-O-Matic and JING, presents some interesting findings. Mathisen (2012) discusses how video feedback may increase the efficiency of assessment while at the same time simplifying the process, resulting in high-quality and precise feedback to university students’ written work. Several studies confirm that both teachers and students “express that the quality and precision of feedback sessions increases, and the feedback content is regarded as being meaningful and providing a distinct starting point for change and improvement” (op. cit., p. 107).

How can video feedback contribute to improve the quality of assessment in the EFL classroom? Screen capture technology refers to programmes that allow users to record movements on the screen while also recording via microphone at the same time, and files are compressed and thus easy to distribute to others (Mathisen, 2012, p. 101). In other words, the English teacher may use screen dumps as the basis for providing both written as well as simultaneous oral feedback to individual students. This is nothing if not flexible: Students may view the feedback at home, they may stop and rewind the file, and they can play if over and over again, if so required. Such detailed and to-the-point feedback would be particularly relevant for assessing and commenting upon grammar and vocabulary, as the teacher can highlight text units and use a cursor and her/his voice to explain the specific points addressed. The same method can also be used to point out and discuss the structure of the text (on both the global as well as the local level), and to comment upon the contents of written works. In many respects video feedback resembles face-to-face meetings; one might even be tempted to refer to this method as “download your own personal tutor, at your own convenience”.

What, if any, possible drawbacks are there? Mathisen (2012, p. 109) raises the question of whether this form of response is equally suited to all learning styles, and that “no feedback systems works for everyone” (op. cit., p. 111). Familiarizing oneself with screen capture technology and learning to use this might also be experienced as time-consuming (albeit overall rewarding), as discussed inter alia in this blog post by aclassroomblog.

However, the benefits of utilizing screen capture technology in the ESL classroom far outweigh any inconveniences. There are especially two factors that contribute to my positive attitude and willingness to try out video feedback, if the opportunity should arise. The first is that students, according to Mathisen, report a closer relationship with their teacher through the use of this technology; that they have a sense of being ”seen” (Mathisen, 2012, p. 109). This will contribute to the overall motivation of students. The second factor is that I can customize and adapt every assessment session to the individual learning needs of every student, without being rushed off my feet.

According to a recent doctoral thesis, students are reported to ”not follow up written feedback because they perceive it to be too negative and vague” (Burner, 2015, p. 61). Whether it’s about language, contents, or structure – the use of screen capture technology enables students to benefit from precise, in-depth and comprehensive assessment addressing individual learning requirements. Me, I’d be more than willing to be downloaded to a screen near you.

References

Burner, T. (2015). Formative assessment of writing in English as a foreign language. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 1-23. doi:10.1080/00313831.2015.1066430

Krimmel, Micki. Creative Commons Man. Downloaded 12 April 2016. Online image. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/redcarpet/266592978/

Krumsvik, R. J. (2009). Ein ny digital didaktikk. In H. Otnes (Ed.), Å være digital i alle fag (pp. 227-254). Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.

Mathisen, P. (2012). Video Feedback in Higher Education – A Contribution to Improving the Quality of Written Feedback. Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy, Vol 7, 2012, nr. 02, 97-116. Retrieved from https://www.idunn.no/eBook?marketplaceId=2000&languageId=1&method=getIssuePDFVersionFromProduct&productLogicalTitle=dk/2012/02/pdf

Swensen, H. (2014). Omvendt undervisning og tilpasset opplæring. In T. H. Giæver, M. Johannesen, & L. Øgrim (Eds.), Digital praksis i skolen (pp. 120-134). Oslo Gyldendal Akademisk.

The keyboard is mightier than the sword

Stoddard (2014) raises the the question of whether the new media have in fact contributed to a less democratic society, functioning as a technological mouthpiece for the Powers That Be rather than for citizens in general. The question is relevant indeed and might be said to espouse the same train of thought addressed in one of my previous blog posts, Public involvement in social media – are we merely pawns on a capitalist chessboard?

Whereas my earlier blog post focused on capitalist interests and the necessity of analysing what or who these are and how they impact us, Goddard asks whether media education, especially in the US, is lagging behind in preparing students for a life of active citizenship. He makes several valid points relating to the empowerment of young learners, emphasizing the necessity of developing critical literacy, i.e., being able to critically analyse all media texts in context in order to understand their nature. In short, it’s about being able to take a peek behind the curtains and learn how to utilize the new media to influence and persuade others while working for equality and social justice (Stoddard, 2014, p. 5).

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A wee bit sceptical about who’s really pulling the strings? You bet I am. I favour a true demoCATcy, you know!

To achieve this, students must be taught how to communicate efficiently and how to make the best possible use of the various media. The basic skills in the subject of English (and other subjects) outlined in the Norwegian national curriculum (LK06) include digital skills. Emphasizing inter alia “being able to use a varied selection of digital tools, media and resources to assist in language learning, to communicate in English […]” (Utdanningsdirektoratet), the Norwegian curriculum might appear to be more in sync with a rapidly evolving digital world than what is the case in the US.

The right to pick up the pen (sorry – keyboard!) to influence public opinion constitutes one of the cornerstones of any democracy. Teaching our students how to utilize the implements available to them to exert their full rights as citizens – that’s what empowerment is all about.

References
Stoddard, J. (2014). The Need for Media Education in Democratic Education. Democracy and Education, 22 (1), Article 4.

Utdanningsdirektoratet. The National Curriculum for Knowledge Promotion (LK06) – English subject curriculum. Retrieved from http://www.udir.no/kl06/eng1-03/Hele/Grunnleggende_ferdigheter/?lplang=eng

Photo: Private – my beloved little black panther, Dina. Rest in peace.

Clinging onto control won’t get you nowhere

Success is not about being in control at all times; be it as the teacher in the classroom or elsewhere. Success is generally not something you achieve on your own; it depends on joint efforts and on being able to acknowledge one’s own shortcomings in certain arenas and seek assistance. This also applies to the teacher’s role in the classroom.

Beyer Log and Øgrim (2014) discuss the continuously evolving role of the teacher in light of the new digital school environment and related requirements and aims, and how teachers might feel uncertain and even threatened by students that are more digitally competent than themselves (pp. 108-109). Yielding a degree of control is a matter of trust, of being honest enough to recognize that at times others (including students) are more skilled in technical matters.

Of course, if a teacher is to implement a new solution in the classroom, she or he has to get acquainted with the basics; it never hurts to review the user manual and the FAQs in advance. But is it necessary to be an expert on all digital platforms in use in the classroom at all times? Of course not – there’s always help to be had. If you’re honest about your own skills, and there are digitally competent students in class who can contribute, one shouldn’t hesitate to employ them as assistants.

“Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t.” (Steve Maraboli, “Life, the Truth and Being Free”).

The willingness to help and support one another is basically human (and should always be supported!), and involving the “IT wizards” will allow them to demonstrate their competence and shine in the classroom. There’s nothing to feel threatened about – the worst one can do is to present oneself as always being in control, as an “oracle”, as students will expose you faster than the speed of light. Yielding control in some areas is about empowering others, it’s about complementing each other and succeeding as a team.

In the game show “Who wants to be a Millionaire?”, one of the options available for contestants is to phone a friend. If  teachers are willing to place that call, it’s likely that they will find that they have many friends in the classroom – and without losing face.

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References
Beyer Log, I., & Øgrim, L. (2014). Wiki i klasserommet – læreren uten kontroll? In T. H. Giæver, M. Johannesen, & L. Øgrim (Eds.), Digital praksis i skolen (pp. 107-119). Oslo: Gyldendal Akademisk.

Frankieleon. I’m kind of busy. Downloaded 14 March 2016. Online image. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/armydre2008/5542351756/

 

We’re together online, but we die alone

I literally choked on a piece of my Saturday pizza while reading this article in Dagbladet Magasinet. The article tells the story of 14-year-old Annie, who tragically died as a consequence of the so-called “choking game”. This is the first known death of this kind in Norway. Teachers, investigators and parents blame social media, especially YouTube, for the distribution and increasing popularity of this potentially lethal game, which is intended to produce a euphoric high. According to the article, there are hundreds of thousands of videos depicting teenagers “strangling” themselves or peers available online.

The term digital competence incorporates an interpretative side in addition to the development of mere technical skills, i.e. knowledge of and attitudes towards use of technology in society (Giæver, Johannesen, & Øgrim, 2014, p. 12). The disastrous case mentioned above stresses the importance of being able to critically interpret and openly discuss phenomena distributed to young people especially via social media. Teenagers are easily influenced by what they perceive as exciting and popular, including such practices as the choking game.

In Norway, several schools have warned their students about the danger inherent in this game, and with good results. In the US, a number of schools are ambivalent about discussing this, as they fear that students will then somehow be inspired to try it out themselves. But will hushing up this phenomenon prevent teenagers from experimenting?

The internet is an unrivalled source of information for young learners, in a negative as well as in a positive sense. However much one might want to – in light of such tragic stories as this one – educators and parents cannot deny teenagers access to an internet offering inter alia easy-to-understand recipes of how to make bombs or various forums discussing the least painful method of suicide. What we can do, however, is to continuously discuss and examine the various mechanisms that regulate behaviour on the internet, the social media included. Youngsters need to know that people tend to exaggerate, misrepresent and outright lie online. We tend to present a polished façade to others; to stand out as more perfect, exciting and accomplished than we really are. Many, both adults as well as teenagers, never cease to chase those all-important “likes” and build their self-concept on the basis of these. And, sadly, young people become involved in thrill-seeking behaviour like the choking game.

This game has been around for a long time, and many have experimented with it. Due to the distribution via social media, more and more teenagers are exposed to what they perceive as exciting and something that “everybody’s doing”. This highlights the importance of supporting the development of interpretative skills and a critical attitude to the way certain phenomena are presented online. Young people, who are often susceptible to peer pressure, need to be taught to be discerning and how to rely primarily on their own common sense.

According to the article in Dagbladet Magasinet, social media has contributed not only to distributing the choking game, but also to making it more dangerous. Now, children do not need to be together in the same room to show each other what they’re up to, as they are together online. They die utterly alone, however.

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References

Angela Marie Henriette. Good bye – One moment in time. Downloaded 6 March 2016. Online image. Retrieved from   https://www.flickr.com/photos/mara_earthlight/8270990477/

Fjellberg, Anders (5 March 2016). Annie ble bare 14 år. In Dagbladet Magasinet (pp. 10-19).

Giæver, T. H., Johannesen, M., & Øgrim, L. (2014). Digitale verktøy i skolen – ferdigheter, kompetanse, dannelse? In T. H. Giæver, M. Johannesen, & L. Øgrim (Eds.), Digital praksis i skolen (pp. 10-23). Oslo: Gyldendal Norsk Forlag AS.

Our shrinking world

We are living in the globalization era, and the vast diversity of digital media available to us entails that we can interact with each other regardless of what part of the world we call home. This requires more of us than simply being able to connect; we must develop what UNESCO terms intercultural competences – including the ability to “decipher other cultures in fair and meaningful ways” (UNESCO, 2013, p. 4). Developing digital competence constitutes an essential part of developing intercultural competences, which everyone needs in a continuously shrinking world.

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Schools serve as an important arena in this respect, and teaching methods can benefit greatly from all the media and online spaces available for intercultural encounters. UNESCO highlights virtual meetings as important steps in developing intercultural competences, i.e. interaction “with cultural “others” with a view to bridging differences, defusing conflicts and setting the foundations for peaceful coexistence” (op. cit., p. 6). Thus, the importance of facilitating authentic meetings with young people from other cultures cannot be underestimated in the classroom. Language skills and communicative competence are also essential, particularly English, the lingua franca on the internet.

With such a well-kitted digital toolbox available to teachers and students today, it would be interesting to learn more about what kind of intercultural projects other master’s students have implemented in their classrooms? How have you and your students connected with other parts of the world with the purpose of developing digital, intercultural and language competences? In other words, how have you contributed to internationalization of schooling?

References
Carmody, Courtney. He’s got the whole world in his hands. Downloaded 29 February 2016. Online image. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/calamity_photography/4745146362/

UNESCO. (2013). Intercultural Competences: Conceptual and Operational Framework. Retrieved from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0021/002197/219768e.pdf