The project reflected upon in this Ning Post provided a multidisciplinary learning opportunity for my students to collaborate with students in another country via short videos that each student produced and edited in my classroom. Our hopes are that the children in Darién, Panamá will be able to learn about the students in Connecticut and create a dialogue between the two Dariens using web 2.0 technologies.
Driving Theory and Framework:
The Changing Learning Process and the New "-ism"
Looking into the future, it is clear that one of the greatest impacts of technology on public education is that it will shift the “locus of control” of learning. To date, control has been in the hands of the institution and teacher. Because knowledge is growing exponentially, we can no longer live in a world of lecturer and student. Informal learning is becoming an increasingly significant aspect of our learning experience and technology is altering the way we think and the way our society functions. In order to stay relevant it is imperative for schools to adopt new methods of literacy in the classroom so we can enable access for student learning opportunities outside the classroom walls. The late American philosopher John Dewey said children are not "empty vessels" waiting to be filled with information from their teacher; it is important for teachers to facilitate, guide, and provide opportunities for children to construct their own knowledge from their environment for learning.
Tim Berners-Lee’s vision in 1989 was to develop a world wide web with an original idea to “make a collaborative medium, a place where we could all meet and read and write” (Carvin, 2005). Today, this collaborative medium has far exceeded sharing only text. Personal experiences, narratives, and talents are being published in multimodal formats to a platform where new technologies, new media, and new literacies are changing the way our students are engaging in school. The significance of all this is still just starting to be realized in education. “We are no longer limited to independent babbling in a vacuum” (Goble 2009 TTP3) and isolated consumption of media; we need to rethink our ideas of teaching and learning when we must prepare our students to be not only readers and writers, but editors and collaborators, critical thinkers, problem solvers, and communicators in a world of great complexity where multiple factors interact and we do not know what the outcome will be in advance.
Digital-age learning theorist, George Siemens, coined the term "Connectivism" stating that the act of learning is the formation of a connection and learning how to navigate the networks we create. Learning is not about acquiring knowledge so much as it is about building networks. (Siemens 2004) These connections will open the doors to other connections, creating networks that sustain ongoing learning. We are currently experiencing this with the NING platform. As educators how do we embrace such an abstract theory in our classroom practice? The main pedagogical shift for a teacher in a connectivist learning environment will be adopting a participatory outlook in the design of lessons and engaging with the students as they are engaging in the process: in effect, co-creating the curriculum. As the students engage, the teacher’s role is to guide the students to navigate networks effectively, determining what is worth our students time connecting with and what is not. Also, we want our students to create a level of diversity within their networks; too often we end up preaching to the choir and our learning can become limited. Lastly, what do we want our students to connect with so it continues to feed them and sustain their learning?
My 2.0 Students
A typical student from the demographic of Darien, Connecticut is not a child of the printed word; he or she is more likely a child of television, video, music, and the internet, where an amalgam of words, sounds and images combine to communicate ideas. These students are employing multiple forms of literacy every day in order to decode the information with which they are being bombarded.
These new forms of literacy and media are the social constructs of web 2.0, which fulfills the dream of a read/write world wide web in practice. Based on open source software, open standards, and new creations, content now comes from the users. In 2006, Time magazine made “You” the person of the year. Flickr, YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia, Digg, and Delicious, are only a few of the platforms that have been designed with the “You” in mind to author the content. These technologies are engaging students to become not only consumers, but recipients, contributors, and editors of this new media. We are collaborating in a non-linear fashion, and the understanding and practice of this type of communication is imperative. (Kist 2007) Instead of fighting this in the classroom we should be providing learning opportunities where students are not expected to check their literacies at the door and go into a culture of linear text, lecture, expert knowledge, and oral tradition. Learning is a personal exploration where solving problems, answering questions, presenting ideas, communicating, negotiating, and collaborating in networks to a global audience are the “new literacies” our students are comfortable with. The field of education has been slow to recognize both the impact of new learning tools and the environmental changes in the paradigm of learning.
Introduction the Sea of Literacies and the Evolution of a Framework
Alan Teasley talked about “sea of literacies” which constitutes Critical, ICT, Media, and Visual. These four are the guiding literacies that I practice in my classroom daily. The first theory of literacy I explored was critical literacy, which holds that when children create documentation about the important issues in their lives, they begin to explore the world around them, which leads them to create distances from the familiar and critical lenses through which to explore the world. According to Goodman, critical literacy means “...the ability to analyze, evaluate, and produce print, aural, and visual forms of communication... Through critical literacy, students can understand how media convey certain messages and how they can make their voices heard and possibly implement change about important issues in their lives through electronic and print technologies.”(Goodman, 2003)
The second literacy, Information & Communications Technology ("ICT") literacy, is the ability to use technology to develop 21st century content, knowledge and skills in the context of learning core subjects. Students must be able to use technology to help them learn content and skills, so that they know how to learn, think critically, solve problems, use information, communicate, innovate and collaborate. (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2006)
The third literacy I explored throughout my project is media literacy, which is comprised of eight concepts:
All Media are constructions.
The Media constructs reality.
Audiences negotiate meaning in media.
Media have commercial implications.
Media contain ideological and value messages.
Media have social and political implications.
Form and content are closely related in the media.
Each medium has a unique aesthetic form. (Ontario Ministry of Education, 1989)
The last literacy from NCTE standards is visual literacy. Being literate in contemporary society means being active, critical, and creative users not only of print and spoken language but also of the visual language of film and television, commercial and political advertising, photography, and more. (NCTE Standards, 1996).
Filled with nuance and redundancy, each literacy seemed to plug in somewhere as I designed my project. The sea of literacies all spoke one message to me: literacy is a tool of intellect that you engage with in society and we all need it; otherwise, our human need to communicate goes unfulfilled and the doors to learning close.
Creating Video Narrative to Bridge to Schools in Different Continents
The bell rings at 2:27 PM! Students rush through the crowded hallways to their lockers, pack up their books, catch up on the daily gossip, and head to the bus to go home for the night. Ask any student about this process and you will be exasperated if you want a more elaborate description of what happens when their school day is over. Half of our student’s day is not spent at school, so why is it that when we ask out students what they do from 2:27 PM until we see them again the next day, we are continually given the same short reply that constitute four words: “I just go home!” Is it possible for 13-year-old students to become reflective thinkers and extract from the world around them? What is the best medium to engage our students to do this? And ultimately, how can they create meaning throughout the learning process? These are some of the questions that led to the idea for the project “My Journey Home.”
An Interdisciplinary Approach
The Bridge to Darién Panamá was being built at my school and the blog “Un Solo Mundo” (http://www.darienps.org/unsolomundo/) was starting to come alive with text and still images. In time, our adopted school in Darién Panamá would be communicating with the students of Middlesex Middle School in Darien, CT. While working with the world language teachers I stared to see how this blog was generating its content. I noticed that blog posting were homework assignments, with a high priority placed on using proper grammar. The natural, casual, and entertaining spirit that the blog had once promised our students was being stripped away, and in many ways the blog has become just another thing to do on the homework checklist. I noticed the conversation was being limited to the students' knowledge of language and the chapter of the textbook they had just studied, and I found that the students wanted something more sustainable and independent of the teacher’s daily lessons.
Knowing that today's students are visual learners who are highly engaged with all types of moving images, I decided to use the creative process of filmmaking to reengage our communication across the "Bridge" between the two Dariens. By using filmmaking as the "hook" into this project, my student would be developing their higher-order thinking skills, such as vision, research, problem solving, logic, planning, and analytical skills which can all bring a student's original idea to the first presentation and beyond. When we take away the limit of using only written language and text, we will start to see new ideas cultivate higher student involvement and interest.
The Grammar of Video Composition influenced by Catherine Gouley
Filmmaking is about turning the intangible into the tangible, and to do this, we need to communicate in a visual language which requires visual grammar and visual vocabulary. The student’s job as a videographer is to tell a story using video composition grammar that makes his/ or her story understandable to the audience (in this case, the children in Darién Panamá). Moving images are framed, sequenced, paced, and combined with sound, music, and sound effects to create cinematic language. It is expected by 8th grade that students come into this project with a working knowledge of literary elements learned in English class for characterization (e.g., a character's physical appearance, behavior, speech and thought). One of the greatest challenges is transcoding these literary elements into cinematic techniques (e.g., when to use costume and make up, lighting, camera angles, acting, dialogue, etc). It is this highly constructed nature of the moving image and multiple layers of thought and decision making that make working with this medium complex as well as compelling for students.
A Modern Day "Pen-Pal" Exchange is Born
The project objective was designed intentionally to be very simple and open-ended. As a class, we brainstormed what we spend our time doing after school. Keeping our audience in mind we generated some topics that would be fitting for a narrative about our lives after school in Darien, Connecticut. Each student’s objective was to create a short video about his or her “journey home" from school once the bell rings at 2:27 PM. Each digital narrative synthesized video, music, text, still images, sound and visual effects to create intimate and personal connections that could not have been achieved through written text. Our adopted school in Darién Panamá will now see into the lives of 13-year-old students in Connecticut and experience first hand what they see, feel, do, enjoy, and what they spend time doing. Each student created their own authentic video, and no two projects were the same.
just recently went “live” and we are all anxious to see what kind of feedback we receive from our viewers in Darién, Panamá. In addition to an international bridge that is being built, a domestic connection also has been forming. Interestingly, this project provided an opportunity for the students of Darien to learn more about their own town in Connecticut and see into the lives of people who they would not normally get a chance to know.
Here are some example of my student's journey home video:
Kist, W. (2005) New York. New Literacies in Action: Teaching and Learning in Multiple Media: Teachers College Press
Goodman, S. (2003) Teaching Youth Media: A Critical Guide to Literacy, Video Production, and Social Change. New York: Teachers College Press, 2003.
Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2006) http://www.21stcenturyskills.org/index.php
Ontario Ministry of Education and Training. (1998). The Ontario curriculum 1-8: Arts. Toronto, ON: Province of Ontario.
National Council of Teachers of English/International Reading Association List of Standards for the English Language Arts, 1996.
Greene, M. (1995). Releasing the Imagination: Essay; on Education, the Arts, and Social Change San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.