Category Archives: Equity

A Legacy of Education

My dad died two months ago. Since then, I have been reflecting about transition and my own life purpose. When considering my father’s influence on my life, I came to realize what an impact he had on my life as an educator.

My dad encouraged independence in deed and in thought. He  exposed me to radical thinkers and authors. He demanded that I question “facts” that the news presented and he encouraged me to see alternate views and sources, not to simply accept prevailing thought or opinion.

My dad was a dedicated peace activist and fought for equity and justice. He taught me that the powerful were just people– and that it was okay to question them.

My dad’s work on civil rights and his housing refugees exposed me to cultures and conditions that many of my peers never saw. Simply living life with people who were outwardly different than me, made me realize that they too were people as well, having the same wants and desires as all of us.

My dad and I both received our Master’s from the Curry School of Education, even sharing a professor. While we didn’t often sit down to formally discuss pedagogy or educational philosophy, his opinions and actions left a firm imprint in me and how I view education. I learned to question the mores of the educational system and to reject the assumptions that it might make about learners.

My dad educated me by questioning and challenging me. It wasn’t always comfortable to defend my assumptions, but it taught me to stand by decisions and opinions that I felt were right, and to yield when shown to be wrong. I too have a reputation for direct talk and questioning. I now see it as a sign of respect to treat an individual as a person worthy of serious debate, no matter their age or status.

Bob Covert, the professor who Dad and I shared, hammered into his students the importance of acknowledging their own biases and histories as they taught and researched. What are your stories? Who influenced you to teach? What are the underpinnings to your own educational philosophy?

An introductory Tom Joseph reading list:

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Skills, not Content at the DML Badges Competition

Earlier this month we were lucky to get to share portions of the Computers4Kids curriculum at the Digital Media and Learning Badges competition. As I’ve mentioned, C4K didn’t win the money prize, but we were thrilled to be included. C4K offers training, one-on-one mentoring and college and career transition guidance to low-income youth in 7th-12th grades. With the exception of training, which has a clearly defined set of objectives, the C4K curriculum provides an intensely individualized program which accommodates the needs and interests of both our students, and our volunteer mentors. The challenge has been to provide a meaningful measure of what our students are achieving.

The DML Badges Competition asked organizations to create badge systems that validate out of school learning. We chose to present the college and career transition aspect of our program, Teen Tech. When students come to Teen Tech they focus on academic, job readiness, technology and/or service projects. As they attend over their high school years, their interests and needs change depending on school or family obligations, their age or other extra-curricular activities. Teen Tech’s curriculum needs to be flexible to accommodate our students’ changing priorities, however, our metrics need to capture what the students are learning so we can monitor their progress, uncover their challenges, and review the data to inform how we evolve the curriculum.

In this situation we can’t focus our measures on what content is being learned. On any given day, 10 students may be in the lab, working on such diverse tasks as Trig homework, mixing a new song, writing an English essay, practicing Photoshop in preparation to teaching a workshop.

All of this is why we do focus on broader, recognizable and valued skills. We work with students to fit their work into one of 5 learning domains and then map them onto ISTE-NETS for students. The table below demonstrates that alignment for some sample activities.

Badge Tasks Selected Skills (ISTE-NETS)
Plan -Identify tasks and final goal
-Create timeline
-Adjust  plan to reflect feedback from critique
Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making
(Use critical thinking skills to plan and conduct research, manage projects, solve problems and make informed decisions using appropriate digital tools and resources.)
Learn & Apply -Identify and Perform 15 new technology skills in Adobe Dreamweaver Technology Operations and Concepts (Demonstrate a sound understanding of technology concepts, systems and operations.)
Create -Create, assemble and organize all components of your website, including images Creativity and Innovation (Demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology
Reflect & Revise -Perform self-evaluation before formal critique
-Participate in formal critique
-Revise products according to feedback received
-Write final summary of the project
Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making 
Present -Upload website
-Advertise it via social media
Communication and Collaboration

I think this kind of thought, investigation and analysis is what sets Computers4Kids apart and why the DML Badges Competition judges selected us out of a pool of 500 teams submitting content and frameworks. Multiple people have asked, how could they award such large institutions like Disney-Pixar, Microsoft and Intel in a competition intended for small non-profits? I’ve come to realize that the competition had nothing to do with awarding the most needy, or the smallest, or most efficient. We were competing toe-to-toe to demonstrate that we could reach the widest audience with international companies that have huge resources, instant name-recognition, and deep pockets of personnel. Our six employee organization got into the room with them and showed that we’ve got the goods as well.

Prepping for the DML Badges competition…

In 2 days I’ll be flying out to California in compete in the Digital Media + Learning Badges Competition. There I’ll be presenting Computers4Kids’ Teen Tech program. I’m super proud to be heading out to this pretty elite competition; the MacArthur Foundation funds and Mozilla sponsors. Computers4Kids is definitely one of the smaller organizations that will be competing, but I’m feeling pretty confident about my ability to make a winning argument.

We’ve been working hard for the past few years at C4K to align what the kids are doing to national standards. I think this sets apart from a lot of other non-profits. And while it’s personally and professionally gratifying, what keeps me grounded and directed is that everything we’re doing leads to further student success. It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that all this leads to agency success: recognition=more money=greater sustainability, but it’s hard for me to maintain excitement about that.

The realization I had the other day is that by aligning what students learn and practice to recognizable and recognized educational outcomes, we can better communicate to them, schools and employers how valuable their skills are. For under-served students in particular, having that self-esteem and self-worth is crucial. I want to arm myself with the knowledge that C4K is making a real difference in youth’s lives and that curricular alignment and larger efforts like badging systems contributes in a significant way.

Microsoft’s Digital Literacy Curriculum Sucks. Surprised?

I originally posted this in May of 2009. 

I work as a program director for a non-profit devoted to mentoring and tech literacy in low income 7-12 graders. As such, I am often looking for useful curriculum related to a wide variety of programs, tasks and skills. I am often in debate with myself and others if it is better to provide the students with practical skills related to secretarial-type work or to explore the outer boundaries with projects in graphics, animation and web design. Our approach is to focus on allowing students to explore and produce with the more creative software while providing auxiliary work with students who see the value of learning the more practical Office suite.

Not wishing to reinvent the wheel, I regularly look for clear, self-directed lessons suited for my students. Oh, and free or cheap, because we’re a non-profit. I’ve looked at Microsoft’s Digital Literacy Curriculum several times to see if we can use it to demonstrate proficiency. Now I can hear some of my techie friends slapping themselves in the head, about to eviscerate me because I even mention the Evil Empire. Let me introduce you to the real world outside of your basement and Silicon Valley. Most people out here in the light, don’t care or know about Open Source. They are just grateful that they can reliably turn on their computer and spit out some information. Their focus is on their work, not arguing about the benefits of Ubuntu versus Morphix.

Back to the Digital Literacy Curriculum, it sucks. No surprise there, it is a Microsoft product. Now I know I am late to the bandwagon, but I’ve still got to pile on. Everything about Microsoft sucks. I am a native proud Mac user, but practicality has required me to have a fairly good working knowledge of the Windows world. I work with Microsoft as a recipient of donated software and OSs as part of our non-profit work. Each month when I need to report our usage I curse in my head. It’s almost as though they take pride in having an interface that is clunky and unusable. For a company that’s flush with capital they sure are stingy with any ease of use or follow through to their systems.  The Digital Literacy Curriculum reflects this attitude. It’s almost as though Microsoft is full of idea-men with no one to come back to ensure quality control. hmmmm….

I’ve looked at it before at work, but I wanted to give it a more detailed fish eye if I was going to record my impressions. Here on my mac computer I cannot even log into their curriculum because I don’t have Internet Explorer. Really, I mean, really? Can Microsoft not see the writing on the wall. Nevermind that I’m on a Mac. What about all those people out there who are using Firefox or Chrome? (Too bad I can’t round out that list with Netscape… I like 3s.) Why is it that they are so dead set on protecting their product that they cannot break their walls of paranoia and protectionism to become more welcoming and user friendly?

24 hours later…I had to reinstall IE, or maybe I didn’t. It had been set to “work offline” which took a while to find. They have two tools pulldown menus that do not have the same functionality. It would be cooler to pretend like I don’t have “user error” issues.  Everyone has user error issues; those of us with healthy self-image can own it. Anyway, accessed the curriculum at long last.

I was disappointed. After all my sturm und drang getting it set up, it wasn’t horrible, it was just typically boring. A metallic voice read some prose to me; the sound screeched through my veins like fingernails on chalkboard. There was a lot of tasteful blue and gray on white. It was just dull. And basic. Now, I do have to consider the fact that this is designed for neophytes, people who still need basic computer skills. Just because people are ignorant shouldn’t mean that they should get bad training; that’s perhaps one reason that they are ignorant in the first place.

This material is clearly not current, and likely I shouldn’t even be wasting breath on it. The last update was October 2007 which is so last century in Internet terms. Except it’s not. I get emails regularly from Microsoft touting this curriculum. They just sent me another disk encouraging me to use it with my clients. More of the same didactic lecture and demonstration that is already failing learners all over.

–Dolly

Suck Quotient– 2

usability 1 the actual content was fine, getting to it was an exercise in perseverance and patience.
aesthetics 2 non offensive
innovation 1 no
accuracy 4 the content was correct, just dull
fun 0 none

**Note
I was going to look at version 2 to be all fair and balanced, but while it worked when I first accessed it, once I installed the add ons that Microsoft recommended, I ended up with a black screen, no content. You win, Microsoft!

Serving your Learner

My natural inclination is to design for the imagination. I’ve long believed that if you give students the best tools to create with, that they then can transfer that knowledge to other applications. By the end of my time at the k-8 school, where I taught the same students for 3 consecutive years, I had 3rd grade students creating Flash animations and writing action-scripting. To me this was a major accomplishment, indicative of incredible potential for these students to become producers of multimedia, interactive projects. Every year, however, the complaint was that the students weren’t learning how to format papers in Word. The parents saw computer class as a support to the other academic classes, not as a curriculum in its own right.

Now that I am working with students who have been traditionally under-served, I wonder about my own obligations to provide opportunities for academic success. Should this curriculum emphasize more immediate academic skills, formatting papers, learning powerpoint? Or should I emphasize their personal expression and storytelling through exposure to professional graphics, audio and video software applications.

I already know where I stand on this. I am still in touch with the majority of my inspirational art teachers. I learned more about how to present myself professionally from them than any of my drudgerous academic classes. I don’t know if I can inspire disaffected students with any software app, but I feel that it’s more likely in Alice, than it is with Excel.

Some People Don’t Have Computers

Originally posted in July 2009 on The Total Learner Experience

I am convinced that technology knowledge and fluency is integral to having the fullest range of options in the 21st century. I mean, who’s not?

My concern is how to facilitate the access that all of us techies take for granted. I don’t have any answers, but I do have plenty of questions:

  • Do I design instruction and programs so that my students express themselves and have fun and buy-in to this tech world? or
  • Do I design so that they can get entry level jobs as receptionists and admins?
  • Do I try to sell some Puritan work ethic model (high school, college, 40+ hours a week) that I really don’t believe in, to some people who aren’t likely to buy it?
  • What are the upper middle class kids who do have access to computers since birth doing with them? How will they leverage their innate computer fluency as they grow into adulthood and jobs? How do I facilitate my kids having those casual, but oh so very important, experiences?
  • How can I sell my path to impressionable youth as one to emulate when I owe more money in student loans than I make in a year, drive a used car and work ridiculously long hours?

Suggestions?