Category Archives: technology

Election confusion

My mum was English, a royalist and a Tory through and through. My dad was a socialist. I never questioned who they voted for, it was obvious. They voted for a philosophical position, not for policies. I don’t recall them ever arguing about policy. I don’t think they were interested in policy. They expected their party to govern according to a pretty well-known set of priorities, and they expected the elected government to just get on with it. What political information they did get was from the newspaper.  This was at a time when the role of a newspaper was to provide factual information, a time when opinion was clearly marked “Editorial”.  They believed that polite people didn’t discuss sex, religion or politics.

What’s changed? Everything.

We are drowning in a swirling tide of information and opinion. Most of the time we can’t distinguish one from the other. Is this what he thinks? Or is it what he knows? Who knows?

Television, radio, social media, newspapers, billboards, bumper stickers – they are all pelting us with information. For the first time in the history of the world, we get to interact with it all in public. We can engage in heated debates with strangers on Facebook, we can phone in to talk back programs on the radio, we can see out tweets across the bottom of the TV screen. Our opinions and observations have never been so important, so ‘out there’. We are all experts, we all have our say. But it’s all so superficial, and there is so much of it.

We are drowning in a swirling tide of confusion because none of this ‘information’ stays still long enough for us to stop and think. Were they going to bring in a “death tax”? Is there a massive caravan of rapists and murderers at our southern border? Are immigrants from Eastern Europe taking all our jobs? Is our economy booming? Or is it going down the gurgler?

Someone said of the loser in our recent Australian Federal election, “It isn’t you Bill. It’s the country.” Thomas Jefferson said that “a well-informed electorate is a prerequisite to democracy”. We think we are well informed because there is this unending supply of commentary being thrown at us and we are being given opportunities to voice our own opinions.

The trouble is we are not bothering to discriminate between what is information and what is opinion. We get caught up in a helter-skelter cycle, where everything moves fast, one voice, one meme, one slogan following another, never giving us time to think.

We are not taking the time or making the effort to interrogate the truth of the things we are told.  People are sharing posts on social media without having a clue about their origin or their basis in fact. We are confronted by billboards defaming politicians from every side. We see slogans everywhere and we take them for truth.

There are plenty of fact-checking web sites, but people rarely use them. Instead, they decide they like the look of something, it fits with their preconceptions and they hit the “share” button.

This is how we are manipulated. This is how we are misled. And this is how democracy will be further damaged. If we don’t learn how to manage the digital, information world we are creating, it will manage us.

 

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Filed under digital learning, internet, parents, politics, social media, technology, Thinking

It’s Just Chat and SMS

 

 

Last night I saw a magnificent production of Tosca by the Australian Opera. If you had asked me in a text message what I thought of it, I would probably have responded with “great” and I might have added a thumbs up emoji.  what you would not have seen was the way my hand punctuated the air as I wrote “great”, you would not have heard the awe in my tone, the gasp that preceded my word and nor would have seen the look of admiration and delight that flooded my face as I recalled the evening.

Research suggests that when we are communicating attitudes or emotions, approximately 7% is communicated by the words and 93% by the nonverbal aspects of communication – facial expression, tone of voice, gestures and the like.

In my text response to your question about the opera, you missed 93% of the message.

It seems our youngsters are giving up on telephone conversations. They much prefer to text. They have lightning thumbs, and the messages fly back and forth at an amazing speed. These text conversations can be short or sometimes very, very long. And the longer the conversation, the more likely it is that misunderstandings, misinterpretations and false impressions will be built and expanded upon.

Why? Because every time a message is sent, 93% of it is missing! Imagine trying to read a novel or a letter with 93% of the letters missing.

In an attempt to overcome this paucity of information we insert emojis and giphs. They help a little, but not much. You send me a text letting me know you passed a very hard exam, one you had worried yourself sick about. I send back a message that says “Well done” and includes a thumbs up emoji and a heart.

But if you were here with me you would have seen the expression on my face that showed I understood your relief, one that expressed the pride I felt. And you would have known the confidence I felt in you as I gave you a bear hug of appreciation. Instead? Just a couple of words and two small symbols.

It’s a frequently used exercise in drama classes to say the word “yes” in as many ways as possible, implying as many different meanings as possible. The range is amazing. But in an SMS there is only the word. You work out the meaning for yourself, and with no nonverbal cues to help you, there is every chance you will get it wrong.

Why is this so important?

Make sure you understand the weaknesses that exist in text conversations. Save the text chat for the factual, the trivial, for what it was designed – short messages and chat. These messaging services are named as they are for good reason.

If you want to talk about something that involves the exchange of attitudes and the expression of feelings, subjects that have some depth and nuance, pick up the telephone or better still, meet for coffee.

Most importantly, make sure your children and your students understand the dangers of “Chat” and the “Short Message Service”. They will avoid so many hurt feelings, misinterpretations the misunderstandings.

If the conversation is worth having, it deserves 100% of the communication process, not just 7%.

 

 

 

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Filed under Behavior management, Classroom practice, digital learning, internet, parents, Teacher education, technology, Thinking

Such bad manners

You’ve heard it. The friend who complains about the behavior of other people’s children. I was with one of those yesterday. “Those kids spent all the time texting. We may as well have not been there.”

I asked the obvious, “What did their parents do?”

“They didn’t seem to be able to do anything much about it. I don’t think they were happy.”

Really?

I think I would understand if the kids were teenagers. Changing adolescent behaviour is for the bold and the brave. But it should never have got to this. They weren’t always teenagers. They were once small children, open to our suggestions, amenable to our standards. Small children are waiting to be shown and told what is right, what is acceptable and how to behave.

That’s why we need to be aware of the impact digital technologies and devices can have on our lives. That’s when parents must learn and understand about these technologies, so that they can set behavioural expectations.

I learned when I was a child that I could not read at the dinner table, that the television would be turned off at meal times, that I could not just leave the table when I felt like it if  Aunty Dot was visiting. My parents insisted that I say hello to visitors and politely answer questions before going off to play. I knew I couldn’t go into someone else’s house and just turn on the TV. I learned all this and more because my parents taught me. I became civilised. I knew how to behave.

If we don’t teach our children “netiquette” where will they learn it?

If children sit at the table texting instead of interacting with people, don’t blame the technology. Blame the lack of behavioural expectations. Look back in time to when the child was five, six or seven and Mum and Dad failed to take the phone or the tablet away at appropriate times, when rules were never made about devices at bed time. That’s why the teenager sits in the room glued to a small screen, or won’t get up in the morning.

Grown ups must wake up! We have been caught out by the speed of the arrival of these devices. But we have no excuses any more. We can see around us what happens when we give our children a free reign to access technology whenever they feel like. It’s like giving them a lolly shop with no rules. Don’t be surprised if all they want to eat is candy bars, and don’t be surprised if they spend all their free time on their devices.

 

 

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“School-wide Ban on Mobile Phones Gets Kids Learning and Talking”

 

Oh yes. I do understand. The kids are sitting around in the playground texting to each other instead of talking. The sports equipment is still sitting in the tub in the corner of the classroom because the kids aren’t playing at recess, they are on their phones. A stroll around the classroom during work time invariably reveals at least one kid taking a sneaky look at social media under the table.

Ban them at school! It’s a quick and easy solution. And it will work – while they are at school. But once they leave school and have their devices in their pockets again, what will they have learned?

It’s similar to achieving good behaviour in school by instilling fear of the strap. The strap didn’t teach kids about fairness, justice, honesty, respect, concentration or focus. It just taught kids to behave while the strap was around. If the reason for a child’s correct behaviour is fear of the back of dad’s hand, he’ll wait until dad’s not around and then do as he chooses. We know this. That’s why we banned corporal punishment in schools. Because it doesn’t work.

We need to teach our kids how to control their own behaviour, themselves, regardless of straps, wooden spoons and the backs of dads’ hands.

We need to teach our kids how to control their devices rather than letting their devices control them. Simply removing them from their grasp for a few hours each day doesn’t teach them anything about how to thrive in a digital world.

We should be embracing the digital. Our kids need to learn when to use these devices appropriately and how to use them effectively. They won’t learn those things of we simply take them away from them. You don’t teach a kid how to be safe on the road by not letting him drive.

Mobile phones and tablets can be powerful assets in the classroom, but both teachers and students need to learn how to use them. We provide powerful insights into the influence the digital world is having on how our kids think and how they learn in our book ‘Thinking In A Digital World”. We then describe practical strategies to help parents and teachers integrate these technologies into living and learning in ways that promote learning and thinking both within and outside the classroom.

 

 

 

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Filed under Behavior management, Classroom practice, digital learning, internet, Teacher education, technology, Thinking

Understanding social media – safety

In our most recent book, “Thinking In A Digital World”, we explore the changes in our world as a result of digital media. The digital world is pervasive and here to stay. So is social media. It’s up to the grown-ups to understand it and help our kids navigate it safely and use it productively, creatively and enjoyably.

Let’s look at safety first.

Over two billion people actively use Facebook each month. If your privacy settings are set to “public”, you are giving them all access to your thoughts and images. Is this what you want for yourself? More importantly, is this what you want for your children?

The internet has virtually unlimited memory. The photos you posted two years ago? They are still there. The photo you posted and then deleted? It’s still there too. Nothing disappears and clever people can find it all. Their motives are not always benign.

Take a look at the blue band across the top of your Facebook page. You will see a tiny down arrow on the far right. Click on that and then select ‘settings’. This will take you to the General Settings page. On the left-hand side, there is a panel – select ‘privacy’ .

Now you can decide just how widely you want your posts to circulate. My Facebook privacy is set to ‘friends’ for everything. I’m not interested in ‘friends of friends’ seeing my posts, because if I use that setting I may as well make everything ‘public’ and accessible to the entire two billion users. The moment I allow ‘friends of friends’ to see my posts, I have lost control.

I don’t include my phone number when invited to by Facebook. If a friend wants my phone number I have the opportunity to send it to them via private message. I don’t want the world, or even all the people on my Facebook friends list, to have my phone number.

I also have the opportunity on this page to check and change the audience for posts that in the past I may have set as accessible to public or friends of friends. That will limit any future access to those posts of mine, but it will have no impact at all on the people who have already seen them.

I have set the visibility of my friends list to ‘friends’. I thought about setting it to ‘only me’ because that gives me the tightest control, but this is a social medium after all, and I don’t mind my friends knowing who I have as a friend.

I don’t want to find myself showing up on a variety of search engines and so I have selected ‘no’ when asked if I want search engines other than Facebook to see me.

As an adult, I have the right to make my Facebook life as open or as closed as I choose. I made a decision a long time ago to restrict my friends to people I had actually met face to face. This changed when I discovered a very small number of people on forums with whom I had been exchanging ideas over an extended period.

I have allowed ‘friends of friends’ to send friend requests and sometimes I regretfully reject requests from people I have never met. These requests can arise because I have commented on a friend’s post and one of their friends is interested in my comment and would like to interact more with me. But I don’t want hundreds of friends on my personal Facebook page. I want the concept of ‘friend’ to bear some similarity in the digital world to its meaning in the physical world. On the other hand I know there may be a few exceptions.

Finally, if you look again at the panel on the left you will see the ‘blocking’ link. Select that and see how you can remove people who are becoming tiresome, offensive or threatening. This is perhaps the control we need to point out more than any other to our children. I read with dismay the stories of people being bullied online. It’s hard to be bullied by someone if you no longer listen to them. If I find myself being insulted, abused or bullied online I have options.

If I started the thread, I can delete it.

If there is a particular person being objectionable, I can block them.

Grown-ups and kids

As an adult, I can choose for myself how private I want to be. I like my privacy, but I also like to share thoughts and experiences with others. My privacy settings reflect that.

Our children need to be kept safe until they are old enough and wise enough to judge people and their own safety. Until that time I advise setting privacy to ‘friends’ only, and to emphasize the ability to delete and block.

You can find our book on Amazon and Book Depository

https://www.amazon.com/Thinking-Digital-World-Taking-Kids/dp/1475834942/ref=redir_mobile_desktop/141-8227627-3796363?_encoding=UTF8&dpID=51JpLMMv5AL&dpPl=1&keywords=Buoncristiani&pi=AC_SX236_SY340_FMwebp_QL65&qid=1514614626&ref=plSrch&ref_=mp_s_a_1_5&sr=8-5

https://www.bookdepository.com/Thinking-in-Digital-World-Martin-Buoncristiani-Patricia-Calton-Buoncristiani/9781475834949?ref=grid-view&qid=1517801728077&sr=1-2

 

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Handwriting – the beauty of variation

Keyboards are everywhere. I marvel at the speed with which my own kids manage to pump out text on a full sized keyboard or with their thumbs on a smart phone. In the USA there is a growing debate about whether or not children need to be formally taught cursive writing. The new Common Core State Standards do not mandate its teaching. In Australia we have seen frequent discussions about the problems faced by final year high school students being required to write extended passages long hand in exams, when they are unused to the practice during their school year. They feel they lack fluency and their hands ache!

For some years now I have been troubles by the weird and wonderful ways in which I see young adults holding pens and pencils. They look awkward and they revert to keyboards as soon as practicable.

When I taught grade one and two children  a major part of my curriculum was teaching them how to hold their pencils efficiently and how to form letters that would lead to fluent, legible, effortless handwriting. The refrigerators in the homes of my students were festooned with examples of their early attempts.

There are those who regard this particular learning process as a waste of time,  as clinging to an old, outmoded technology.

I disagree!

How often do we set things that are essentially different up against each other for comparison and competition?

Which is better, the movie or the book?

Which side of the brain is most important, the left or the right?

Who is smarter, men or women?

Which do you prefer, oysters or chocolate cake?

Which is better, a photographic or a painted portrait?

These comparisons don’t work.

Neither does the question, ‘which should we teach, keyboarding or handwriting?’

There will always be a place for the handwritten, just as there will always be a place for the painted.

Just because a child can easily take a photograph of a tree doesn’t mean that we should not give him the opportunity to draw or paint a tree. There is something about the artist that is revealed in a painting, a personal response to the subject matter and a reinterpretation of the literal truth that comes about when a subject is painted or drawn.

So it is with handwriting.

We know that every person’s handwriting is unique. Why? Because the movements of the pen on paper are influenced by the character and experiences of the writer. They keyboard gives us the vocabulary and the syntax. The pen gives us something of the person. Another manifestation of the marvelous variations between people can be seen in the formal, controlled and perfectly formed handwriting of one person, the tight, tiny, cramped writing of another and the expansive, impetuous scrawl of yet another.

Our handwriting is one of the things that proclaims our individuality.

How many of us hold dear the early attempts of our children to write us notes, the love letters of an early sweetheart or even the handwritten name of a long dead loved one in a favorite book of poems?

We seem to be very good at throwing out our babies with the bath water in education.

Let’s not do it again.

Let’s continue to teach our children the intimate, expressive art of handwriting as well as the efficient, expedient skill of keyboarding.

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Babies and Bath Water

I am reading a fascinating book: ‘The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains’ by Nicholas Carr. I strongly recommend it. I was particularly drawn to his analysis of the differences between ‘deep reading’ and the kind of interconnected, hyperlink driven reading that we engage with when we read on the internet.

Deep reading is the thoughtful, internalized reading we engage on when we read a book from cover to cover, when we engage with it at a deep level and contemplate the characters or the ideas contained within it. It is essentially linear – we start at the beginning and go on to the end.

Internet based reading is a different animal. It is filled with distractions and opportunities to be sidetracked that take up working memory as we decide whether to ignore them or follow their seductive paths. Carr is afraid that this kind of reading – and it is fast becoming the predominate form of reading – will lead to superficial thinking.

In a recent conversation with a university professor friend I heard her bemoaning the kind of ‘gist thinking’ that she felt was becoming far too commonplace among her students. “They think they understand, but they are satisfied with just the gist of the idea”. This, I think, is exactly what Carr is writing about.

But when something new comes along we are naive to think it will simply replace what has gone on before. Every new medium does not mark the previous media for obsolescence. People feared that TV would bankrupt cinemas. It has done no such thing and multiplexes thrive and continue to grow. We thought TV might destroy live theatre, but it has not. Certainly the CD led to the demise of the cassette tape, but that was because the CD did exactly the same thing as the cassette tape – only better.

Internet reading, with its interconnected, networked nature involves a very different kind of thinking from the deep, linear thinking that a good book offers. They both have us thinking in different ways, and both ways are powerful.

Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. We need to teach our kids how to navigate the rich, interconnected world of the internet. We need to encourage them to make connections, to link old knowledge with new discoveries, to create networks in their understandings than are essentially horizontal, broad and integrating. But we also need to make sure they see the value of deep reading, of mining at depth a rich seam of knowledge. There is a place for ‘gist’ thinking, but it doesn’t replace deep thinking.

 

 

 

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On Books, Ipads and Kids

l was sitting recently in a doctor’s waiting room. Next to me was a young boy of eight or nine completely absorbed in a shoot-em-up game on his Ipad. His back was bent over and his eyes were glued to the screen in total, absorbed focus. People came and went, the ladies behind the reception desk asked questions, offered advice and gave people forms to fill in. The doctors came out from time to time to usher their patients into their consulting rooms.

The boy saw none of this. He was totally occupied killing aliens.

How do we learn about the world and how it operates? We learn much by observing – by watching and listening to the people around us and by trying to make sense of what we see and hear. But what is this lad seeing and hearing? What world is he striving to make sense of? A world full of aliens, where his job is to shoot them.

Would I have minded so much if he had sat there absorbed in a book? Might I not have been pleased to see him engaged in such a traditional and respected activity? Perhaps, but there is a significant difference between the involvement we achieve when reading a book and when we are shooting aliens on an Ipad,

When I read, I set the pace.

When I play a shoot-em-up on my Ipad, the game sets the pace.

I know that if I lift my eyes from the page of my novel, when I look down it will still be exactly as I left it, I can re-enter its world exactly where I was before I looked up. Not so with my Ipad game. A momentary lapse of concentration might see me dead or missing magic charms, extra powers can popup out of nowhere or I could be suddenly, unknowingly ambushed by a whole new set of aliens.

l am the player, but l am not in control. The level of engagement in these games is of a very different order from the level of engagement in the most engrossing book. To stay in the game the player needs to remain totally disengaged from the environment and everything going on around.

We see children involved like this with tablet games in restaurants, on public transport, in cars, anywhere that adults want a bit of peace and quiet. It is so easy to keep a child occupied with a tablet. But what are they missing out on? The world is going on around them and they are not a part of it and so they are not learning about it.

We have a lot of work to do. Our children are living in a different world and we adults need to understand that world so that we can help our children make sense of it. If we don’t, they will make their own sense, but their decisions will lack the wisdom, experience and advice that parents have always handed their children as their road maps. To fail to do this is to abdicate our responsibility for helping our children grow up.

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July 10, 2013 · 1:42 pm

Through the Rear View Mirror

Every new medium that comes along takes time to find its feet. At first we just see it as a better way of doing ‘business as usual’.

When the movies took off, at first they looked an awful lot like stage plays on celluloid, or they made our novels visual. It took time for film makers to work out what they could do that live theatre and the printed word could never achieve.

Television began as a way of bringing the movies and plays into the living room. Newsreaders sat in front of the camera in sharp suits and did the equivalent of reading the newspapers to us. Today TV news is instantaneous, right in the middle of the action and all over the world in an instant – something only TV could manage. 

Electronic communication began as a wave of emails – old fashioned letters in a new format. Today we text, send instant messages, videos, instagrams, we tweet, we blog and we facebook. We are beginning to use electronic communication for its own sake, making the most of the new things it can do that older media never could.

That’s why many schools are having a hard time incorporating these new technologies. The media and the devices haven’t settled in yet. We haven’t fully recognized what they can do that is different, that they are not just the same things from the past in a new wrapping.

Ipads are still being used as a natty new kind of text book. Kids and teachers are using them as a substitute for pen and paper, sharing homework assignments and submitting written projects. They use them as dictionaries and as encyclopaedias, but they can be so much more. We are still looking at the new media through a rear view mirror, as Marshall McLuhan would have observed.

The trick is to ask yourself ‘what can this device and its software do that only it can do?’

Once you work that out, exploit it to enhance learning. Projecting a twitter feed on a classroom screen gives everyone immediate access to the insights of the whole class. You can’t do that with a pen and paper. Skyping a classroom half way around the world (if you can fiddle the time zones right) and watching what they are doing, can’t be done with a conventional phone. Every kid can find his own TED video to watch and then share what he has learned by building a Prezi.

It goes on and on – so many things to be done with an ipad that are not simply new ways of using books or pen and paper.

It will take time. That’s inevitable. But eventually we will find ourselves using electronic technology in ways that amaze us, because we will discover how to get the technology to do what it does best.

The big question to ask is “What can this do that nothing else can do?” rather than “How will this help me do what I have always done better?”

 

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Digital Etiquette

“It’s out of control and it’s scarey!”

That’s how many parents and even teachers feel about technology and their kids right now.

I visited a primary school recently and the kids had ipads and iphones on their desks. And yes, they were connected to the net. The teacher expected her students to make use of the resources available. “Don’t forget to use your online dictionary if you are not sure of a word. And remember the web sites we bookmarked in case you want to check up on some of the information.”

Many of the children had brought their own devices from home and others were using the ones provided by the school. A BYOD policy made best use of limited funds. The goal in this school is to embed the technology in the children’s learning to such an extent that an ipad is no more remarkable than a book or a paper and pencil.

A few nights later I attended a forum on children and cyber safety.

I could feel the fear.

A big subject was sexting – kids taking photos of their ‘girl and boy bits’ and sending them to each other. Some kids, particularly girls, had suffered excruciating embarrassment and humiliation thanks to this practice.

The technology is dangerous, right? This proves it.

No, it doesn’t prove anything. Kids have written obscene notes about one another and circulated them for generations. We haven’t blamed the paper and pencil. Rumors have been whispered and spread about sexual behavior and many an innocent kid’s reputation has been damaged thanks to the malice of a few bullies. We don’t ban whispering.

OK. But they spend hours staring at the screen and firing away with their thumbs on the keyboards. They even bring them to the dinner table, have them when we go to visit grandma and when we occasionally take them out for dinner. They never talk to us.  They are always texting their friends.

Really?

Well, I remember my parents telling me it was not OK for me to kneel on my chair at the dinner table, that I could not walk around the house eating a bowl of spaghetti, that I should finish up my phone call because dinner was ready and that I was to get my ‘head out of that book’ when I came to the dinner table.

These technologies have roared out of the woods and taken over so much of our lives so quickly that we haven’t learned how to deal with them. Our lack of good manners and decent behavior isn’t the fault of the technology.

We haven’t had the time yet to develop a digital etiquette.

So let’s get started.

Sexting isn’t the fault of the smartphone, Twitter, Facebook or the digital camera. It’s the kids who are sexting. It’s the kids we need to talk with because the problem is their behavior. Until someone explains to them clearly what the dangers are, they will continue to get themselves into trouble. And it’s bullying we really need to deal with, not sexting.

My parents taught me how to behave when I was around other people. I didn’t always get it right, but there was no way in the world I would have been listening to my transistor radio or Walkman when I was sitting at the dinner table.

There is a small restaurant I frequently go to for lunch. Orders are taken at the counter and there is a sign that explains, “Please be polite enough not to talk on your cell phone when you are giving your lunch order.” I like that sign.

I’d like to see a small basket on each table in restaurants with a notice explaining “We know how you love good conversations. Please place your phone in here until you have finished dining with your friends.”

We all need a bit of help developing our digital code of behavior, our set of good manners, our digital etiqette.

 

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