Archive for September, 2009

Non-Formal Education Connection

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

As educators we need to support all forms of knowledge acquisition in all learning environments. There is little difference surrounding the physicality of these learning environments but rather the motivating factors that differ between formal, non-formal and informal learning. Non-formal learning allows for the student to be in charge of their learning and the motivating factors that inspired them to pursue knowledge. A lot of teacher dialogue surrounds how to motivate students in the classroom. The attempt is to take dry material and make it exciting. Unfortunately student excitement is more often a result of extrinsic motivating factors (candy, time outside of the classroom setting) which is in contrast to non-formal learning in which self-defined learning outcomes guides the student. Educators in American public schools, at least here in North Carolina, are stuck between lame textbook content and the push of the No Child Left Behind initiative. If students do not achieve then the school does not get proper funding. It is very easy to see how the downward spiral of educational funding then acts as an external motivation and reduces teacher based initiatives as pacing guides and end of grade tests take over as indicators of success. If students don’t perform well on the test they must not be learning. Such an antiquated notion of learning permeates this failing system and it is not a healthy environment for learners. It is then up to educators to utilize other forms of context and pattern generating experiences in order to ensure not only the content has been attained but also base skills of intellectual interaction have been fostered for long term success.
One way to support non-formal learning would be through the use of technology like wiki’s or class blogs. Instead of students leaving the class with homework that only caters to the repetition of in class work, which is most often not completed, we can provide an online environment where student engagement is generated by their desire to be a part of the classroom community as extended online. Students can post questions, problems they have created, or thoughts and solutions about difficult questions. This would allow students to interact in a non-formal environment they created based on their learning needs. Some traditional views may see this as a form of cheating of sorts but it is no different from a student helping their neighbor solve a problem in the classroom. They don’t just give answers but are encouraged to discuss how they processed the information and generated the solution (pattern attainment). I believe once students participate in this virtual world they will bring back these skills to the classroom and be even more successful in their day-to-day problem solving.

Social Media and Classroom Dynamics

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

During the presentation this past June by Clay Shirky He discussed the transformed media landscape and how the delivery of the message has changed. He begins by illustrating how in the past it was one message pushed through multiple media i.e.) TV, radio, etc…He continues by sharing stories about how the transformation of social media has given power to the people and how we are no longer passive in our everyday interactions and are active participants. Clay provides a couple of examples of how people use social media to bring about social change. I found the example of the earthquake in China quite interesting. People within the experience were faster at getting the information out than the government agencies that are responsible to monitor geological events. It all happened so fast the government was unable to filter the outpouring of information and as a result twitter had to be shut down. We saw the same government reaction after the elections in Iran as outraged people took to twitter to let their voice be heard. News stations like CNN were somewhat lost without the direct feed resulting in a slow down in the news and the shut down of the social media sites actually became more of the news piece. People capturing events like these and the subsequent discussions about freedom of speech and expression helped to, if even a little add to the global social voice emerging along with this new media delivery style. Even the mainstream media has caught onto the change in perception as evident in the latest cell phone ad where a lost dog is found, seemingly within minutes, and returned before the owner can get home from hanging up their “old school” lost dog signs. Embedded within the cell phone screen shots are the social media sites that are taking away from traditional media delivery styles. I believe this commercial is aimed at subtly influencing the next generation 2.0ers identity and creating a perceived need for the technologies being sold.

How does this apply to education? I recall a teaching assignment where my assignment was set up on A/B days where I would see three classes on an A day and the other three classes on the B day. All classes were 7th grade science and I had to repeat the lesson six times over. At the time it seemed like a good deal as all I had to do was prep for one lesson and present it six times. The same message delivered to everyone. One aspect of this scenario that stood out was how the dynamics of each class changed the dialogue. I even tried to lead some classes in similar discussions based on questions the other classes responded to. This never worked. No matter how many times I tried it was never the same conversation even thought the information was presented exactly the same way. After several failed attempts I just let go and let the natural progression of the class dynamics guide the discussions. What a cathartic moment. I was able to let go of a preconceived notion that educational knowledge needed to be presented in a consistent and routine manner and allowed for the open dialogue and pursuit of knowledge as guided by the students level of interest. (TED Talk)

Beyond Discipline – Article reflection

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

Tuesday I was a part of another synchronous session for our eci 831 open education and social media class and a term new to me emerged that peaked my interest. Backchannel dialogue. In a few words backchannel dialogue consists of secondary conversations, which take place during presentations, lectures and other forms of public sharing. I began to reflect about an experience I had with a principal, whom I did not share any educational philosophy with, especially classroom discipline. His beliefs were based on conformity and control and any other conversation in the room was an affront to the teacher’s authority. He went so far as to tell me it was inappropriate for a student to look out the window as that was off task behavior and reflected poorly on my teaching ability. Not the most positive work environment for teachers or students. He refused to acknowledge that there might be an alternate educational approach of equal value to His. It was quite evident that anybody approaching teaching other than the way He prescribed was not worthy to teach at His school. Basically He wanted me to establish “… a collection of bribes and threats whose purpose is to enforce rules that the teacher alone devises and imposes. The point is to get the trains to run on time in the classroom, never mind whom they run over. Everything, including the feelings of students, must be sacrificed to the imperative of obedience” (Kohn, 1996).

Somewhat to his credit he was partially right about how I needed to treat the students more by his methods as when the students came to my room the freedom they were allowed was abused in the beginning. The students didn’t know how to monitor their actions’ as they had never been required to do so in the past. “They have been led to concentrate on the consequences of their actions to themselves, and someone with this frame of reference bears little resemblance to the kind of person we dream of seeing each of our students become” (Kohn, 1996). I believe we need to teach students to reflect on their actions and start an inner dialogue by which they can monitor their own behaviors. “To help students become ethical people, as opposed to people who merely do what they are told, we cannot merely tell them what to do. We have to help them figure out–for themselves and with each other–how one ought to act. That’s why dropping the tools of traditional discipline, like rewards and consequences, is only the beginning. It’s even more crucial that we overcome a preoccupation with getting compliance and instead involve students in devising and justifying ethical principles” (Kohn, 1996). We need to adapt our framework for discipline to foster a more inclusive learning community rather than creating a compliant in the box thinkers and product pumping classroom machines. We have more than the ability to conform, let us create, share and talk openly about all aspect of engagement of student’s minds rather than the controlled manipulation of rewards and consequences.

In the end I left the school after one year and was fortunate to witness at the end of the school year several students telling the principal what they thought of his discipline approach and subsequent loss of their favorite teacher. Needless to say it was awesome and powerful to know I had a hand in their civic disobedience.

Kohn, A (1996). Beyond Discipline. Education Week, Retrieved from

The Machine is Changing Us – Reflection

Monday, September 14th, 2009

I just finished watching the lecture from Michael Wesch on the influence and the cultural changes brought on by new forms of media. As a child I was very into watching television as I can recall the transformation from knob turning television through wired remotes to the HD tivo delivered delivery system of today. I can recall being heavily influenced by sitcoms especially American television series. I didn’t realize at the time how much of what I watched, listened to and wore was so dependent on social ques from the media. Immaturity played a role as I was searching for my identity in an overwhelmingly full world. Or so I thought until the internet emerged.

For the most part the internet has been a place where I checked emails and kept current on my hobbies with little to no social interaction via myspace, facebook or any other social media site. I honestly was a bit scared to put myself out on the web. To be traceable, trackable, and for others to know what I was doing at any given time was an invasion of my privacy and allowed too much of my identity to be known. I have a huge privacy issue with social sites. Needless to say the majority of my worries have been proven through the media coverage of teachers posts on social sites being called out of line on personal behaviors and some even losing their jobs. This is not to say I am into illicit behavior which I need to hide from society but I was naive to the dualistic nature that these site could be used for promotional benefit. Although I am not talking about the shallow self promoting manner which so many people choose to use this media for.

When applied in an educational context social media can be utilized to generate communities of learners, as is currently taking place around the world. I find myself pushing to expand my vocabulary and striving to speak clearly and professionally, especially when I know it is going to be posted for anyone to view. Whether I accomplish this is for the bloggers of the world to chime in on. One of the topics Micheal discussed during his lecture was the use of social media and how making connections with others can generate communities but with those connections comes constraints. The more we publish aspects of our lives the more pressure we feel to compromise to social values or perceived norms. Also this type of interaction breeds a level of reflected self awareness that makes us question the validity of our ideas. A complex social interaction based on time delayed responses has had a profound effect on my personal and professional identity and an effect of reflection which I think has served me well as I believe we are ever changing social creatures trying to make our mark on the world. However, I am still working on furthering my philosophy in this area so more to come…

Article review

Monday, September 14th, 2009

Minds on Fire: Open Education, the Long Tail, and learning 2.0

by: John Seely Brown and Richard P. Adler

The concept of social learning has shifted the focus of online learning communities to allow students to participate in the process of collecting, reviewing and vetting information rather than being passive recipients of content. Students in social learning communities are encouraged to give consideration to the content placed there by said experts and do some fact checking of their own. I believe this is a powerful change in the teacher student dynamic as so often students are not encouraged to challenge authority in some classrooms.

The participation and interpersonal connections we make as learners within the open education forum allow us to generate contextual frameworks for which we can then apply the new knowledge. Context and application are more important than memorization as seen through the sharing of ideas via an open source site such as Wikipedia. Even in elementary school we ask our teachers “when am I ever going to use this”, most often the reality of the task is never. It is always critical thinking and the process of finding the solution that is the learning experience.

An unfortunate aspect in times of a recession is education being hit hard resulting in the loss of classroom resources. Teachers who rely on textbooks and other standard paper pencil forms of curricular delivery can find themselves struggling to find activities to use in their classroom. Technology savvy teachers having access to highly advanced technologies via the web can not only enrich classroom experience but can also act as a resource for students involved in projects and research. Learning is not a solitary experience and it is essential that we strive to add community to the content. While visiting the Morehead Planetarium in Chapel Hill, NC I signed up for weekly updates of photos taken by several NASA satellites. Every Monday my sixth grade class and I would take just a few minutes to view the satellite photos and discuss aspects of nebula formation in deep space and possible outcomes from theses gases mixing. Several students then utilized this resource while preparing for the Great Space Debate we participate in at the end of the unit. A couple of students even set up accounts to receive their own updates from the satellites and continue to track new discoveries from NASA. Access to published articles and findings from experts is good but to have students engaged in the discovery process and critical analysis of content furthers student’s engagement. Something I am now going to add to my Space unit is a class blog or wiki, which would allow students to engage in discussions outside of the classroom and post their own links for further exploration.

We always knew as educators that real world experience and conversations with experts through field trips was an essential part of the learning process. We are now afforded an opportunity to expand our real world connections on a daily basis through blogs, wikis, discussion forums and a host of other Internet based open source sites. As educators we must work to facilitate the attainment of knowledge and push students to think critically about the information they are presented as these are the long term skills which prove valuable throughout life.

EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 43, no. 1 (January/February 2008): 16–32

First Session Reflection

Friday, September 11th, 2009

Elluminate is a really cool interactive long distance classroom format. This is the second online class I have had the opportunity to participate in discussions using Elluminate. I find the layout and ease of navigation throughout the window is fairly straight forward. One of the most useful tools is the live view option that allows the moderator to show step by step actions and as well as manipulate the screen and provide an interactive presentation. This form of long distance classroom interaction allows all parties to be involved in the discussion through various forums within the site itself. At no point did I feel disconnected or removed from the discussions due to the use of this technology. Unfortunately during the first synchronous session I was unable to fully interact (video and audio) with the learning community due to technical problems but I am very excited for this Tuesdays session as the bugs have been worked out.

The assessments for the course lend themselves to the personal interaction and comfort level of individual students. There are of course varying levels of comfort with new technologies particularly when the technology is going to be used in the classroom where, fingers crossed, it does not fail.  The challenge with all technologies is to finding what really works for the individual educator. A lot of teachers have lesson plan books and curricular units they have been polishing and revamping to make sure they stay current. Unless teachers see a benefit in taking on the enormous task of digitizing all the paper pencil work they have put in the resistence of new technologies can be tough to over come. I am interested in exploring further how we can bridge the gap between paper pencil lesson plans and how to best transfer information to digital media. Ease of use of a program that allows teachers to transfer their information is crucial. There has to be a benefit of ease or teachers will be reluctant to take the journey.

ECI 831 Intoduction

Friday, September 11th, 2009

Hello all I am writing you from Raleigh, North Carolina. I moved from Swift Current, Saskatchewan to Raleigh, NC 5 years ago through a teacher recruitment program called Visiting International Faculity (VIF). I have had the opportunity to teach Science in 3 different middle schools and for two different counties. It has definitely been a very eye opening experience. To date I have had many wonderful experiences teaching in NC and have come to understand the benefits and downfalls of the US Education machine. One thing has held constant throughout all my experiences though, middle school students are exactly the same no matter where you teach. On a personal note I am currently in the middle of my immigration to become a dual citizen as the love bug stuck me while here. My wonderful fiance Sarah has been the best thing to happen to me while here as she not only motivates me but keeps me focused. There are huge implications in being a participant of the immigration system as I am not allowed to work and the length of the wait time is between 60 and 120 days. Needless to say I have had to take on other projects to stave off my boredom. If you get a chance check out my work at . My obsession outside of education is wakeskating (like skateboarding but behind a boat) and have been afforded a chance to be a part of the scene here in NC.

ECI 831

Friday, September 11th, 2009

Welcome to Cameron Shumay’s educational blog. Please share your thoughts, findings, readings and all educational insights. Look forward to sharing and learning with all of you.