Mar 312012
 

You may remember a little while ago, I wrote a post called Whoa Nellie – Are we getting ahead of ourselves?“, where I took a brief look at three problems I have encountered recently in my efforts to move toward a Twenty First Century Learning environment. Following that post I tossed up a second called Whoa Nellie… Now what?Where I discussed how creating personal digital learning spaces could be a solution to some of the hurdles we are encountering as we move toward a Twenty First Century Learning model. Now that I am done with my Union Rabble Rousing for this year, I have some time to do a follow-up post and expand my thoughts on Personal Digital Spaces or PDS’s.

A PDS is simply a place where you can store “stuff” in a digital environment. It could be a piece of writing, video, drawing, presentation… Anything that you can record digitally can be put in this space. The most common of these types of spaces are Blogs but there are all sorts of different platforms you can use to create a PDS. My personal favourite is a blog, simply because you can do so many things with it. Once you create one, the only limitation as to what you can create is your imagination and your willingness to learn.

This very blog is an example of a PDS. I write and share what I have learned over my career and what I am learning on a day-to-day basis. I am proud of it and I go to great lengths to ensure that what I put up is a genuine reflection of who I am as a person and a professional. Sure, somethings I put up are complete nonsensical drivel but for the most part, I feel that I share some pretty decent stuff. Stuff that I want people to see, which leads to an other important point about Digital Spaces.

This blog is a part of my digital footprint. It is the first thing that comes up when people Google my name. It is my digital persona and therefore it is critical that I take great care in ensuring that I am putting my best foot forward when creating this digital footprint. This space is mine, it represents me and I want it to be as close to perfect as possible.

So why is this important?

If you are creating a digital space that is a quality representation of yourself, it takes effort, it takes thought and you cannot cheat the system. The act of creating this space and creating content for it, goes beyond the simple memorization of meaningless facts, theories or ideas. It forces the individual to be engaged with the topic or material they are sharing AND they have to learn to use the technology they are presenting it with.

How does this translate when we are discussing the three “problems” mentioned in the first of this series of posts? Well lets take a look.

Problem 1: Students who just wanted to know “what to study for?”

If we use PDS as a place to showcase what we have learned or perhaps share some opinions about what we have learned OR god forbid, come up with an original thought about the topic du jour.  The simple act of  creating the content for our digital space and sharing it with the world, in and of itself…  Is studying. Assuming the content is original, well presented and shows an understanding of the curriculum, perhaps a test is not necessary.

What is more, when a parent wants to see where their child is at or what they have done. The PDS will speak for itself. There is no more hiding behind artificial test results, garnered from the efforts of an all night study session. Theoretically the PDS is an accurate representation of how the student is doing is school and considering it is a public representation of what the student knows or is capable of, you would hope it is an individuals best work.

Finally, a PDS is a GREAT way to present yourself to the world beyond the hallowed halls of high school. In today’s world, grades are becoming less and less significant. Sure good grades are important, but the attitude of “just tell me what is going to be on the test” no longer cuts it. A student NEEDS to create an online presence that they can market to prospective post secondary schools and employers. Raw numbers from test results no longer make the grade.

Problem 2: A general resistance toward accepting digital devices as legitimate learning tools.

When it came time to start making plans for next years iPad integration cohort, I was shocked that we were having difficulties recruiting individuals to participate. I figured that we would have at least one additional group of kids in a school of 1500, who wanted to participate. I was at a loss for words but really it isn’t all that surprising.

It became crystal clear why this is the case when I gave my Work Experience & Graduation Transitions students the task of creating a digital space of their own to represent what they have accomplished in their first 12 years in the education system. Only 1 student out of 26, had a web site & understood what it was I wanted. Of the remaining 25, only 3 managed to put together a site that had any kind of evidence that they were  involved or interested in anything. The problem is that I know that this is not the case for these students. They are all amazing in their own right but they have never been directed to collect or create something which represents what they are all about in a digital format.

By incorporating the use of PDS’s into the learning environment as a part of the learning experience, we create a situation where the use of digital tools as a way to demonstrate learning is part and parcel of the school experience. There would be no question as to whether a student should be carrying a digital device, they would be as common as a binder or pencil crayons. Recruitment would no longer be an issue because carrying a Digital Device would be common place.

Problem 3: Use of digital spaces are restricted to the geeky minority.

When I was given the privilege of doing 3 guest lectures at my old Alma matter about iPads in the classroom, I went in assuming that the new and up and coming teachers would be on par if not beyond what I had to share with them. I was genuinely nervous because I figured they would be part of the digital elite and might expose me for the fraud I am but it wasn’t the case.

I was, in every way, more versed with digital technology in the classroom than they were. I quickly realized that a 45-year-old dinosaur such as myself, knew more about digital spaces then new teachers just entering the profession were. Once I completed my three lectures,  I immediately went to do some research on some of these students and none of them had a significant Digital Footprint. I was astonished! People who we assume are “digital natives” have no significant presence in the digital world, yet we are expecting them to teach our children to be good digital citizens. This is not to say Universities are not trying. The professor who asked me to speak to her classes is trying desperately to get new teachers up to speed, but the use of digital spaces is simply not seen as something “we” do as teachers.

As for my colleagues, who are actively teaching in the system today. I work with amazing people, one of which just got accepted at Oxford to do a PhD, but using Digital Spaces is not part of what she does. If we want teachers to use digital spaces and digital tools, we need to make them available and provide the  TIME to do it. Personally I LOVE the stuff and getting the likes of me to bring digital spaces into their teaching is easy but not everyone has bought into the digital frenzy.

If you want teachers to use digital tools to create digital spaces, you have to make it accessible for them. You need to encourage & FUND the use of digital spaces by the professionals you employ. Once teachers are using them for themselves, they are far more able to include them in their curriculum AND advise their students on how to create them for themselves.

Personally I am out-of-pocket in the neighborhood of $2000.00 a year hosting my own blogs and blogs of other teachers FOR FREE in an effort to help teachers create their PDS’s. In a sense I subsidize our school system so that we (as a profession) can move toward the “ideal” 21Century Learning Model. Unfortunately for my pocketbook, I think it is important enough so I take the financial hit but it shouldn’t be that way. If the school system want teachers to use digital spaces as a learning tool, they need to facilitate its use.

To conclude

PDS’s are the learning space of the future. They can be so much more than they currently are AND they are woefully under utilized as a legitimate learning tool. It is obvious that I LOVE the medium for many reasons but from a practical and professional perspective, Personal Digital Spaces are so important for our students. The medium is so powerful, that I believe it is short-sighted of us to not teach our children how to create their own Personal Digital Space and use these spaces as evidence of learning.

Life is no longer simply about grades or the reputation you have, it is also about the rock solid, concrete digital space you create.