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BRINGing it OUT a notch

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Hello, and welcome to the keynote presentation of the "Kicking it up a notch" strand, of the K-12 Online 2009 Conference. My name is Diego Leal, and I have been honored with the invitation to deliver the first Spanish keynote for K-12 Online. It's an honor, because this conference have included and includes a lot of fascinating people, whose inspiring work I have known on the web, and because for the first time ever, there have been included presentations in a language other than English, thanks to the efforts of people like Jose Rodriguez, who deserves special recognition for making this possible. Seeing the fantastic work that has been developed in the last years, and the diversity of approaches and presentations available this year, it is hard to imagine how to contribute to a conference as solid as this one. This year, we are starting to think about how to build bridges that help us to close some of the divides that still exist in our world. But in order to do that, we need to identify them first. So my contribution will be to try and give an additional perspective, from my own environment, to this discussion of how technology, in our educational spaces, can help to bridge those divides. What I want to propose this year, then, is that, besides "kicking it up a notch" we need to start "BRINGing it OUT a notch". I want to tell you where I come from. I'm from Colombia, in the top corner of South America, and I was born in Bogotá, but currently I'm living in Rio de Janeiro. In the next few minutes I want to share with you some personal stories, which have generated in me doubts about the real impact that we're achieving with the use of technology. Also, I want to share some ideas that could help to bridge the divides. So, the first story. It's a story about notebooks and the Middle Ages. These are some of my first school notebooks, 25 years ago. At the time, Mickey Mouse, Woody Woodpecker and Star Wars were quite popular, but it was also usual to have notebooks without any advertising, which were also cheaper. Obviously, every child wanted to have the other ones. But what matters is not how the notebooks looked, but what they contained. Here's one from 1984. It says it's a happy day, it's eight o'clock in the morning and I'm going to school, with an inventory of the supplies I carried in my back pack, and an approval from my teacher. In this notebook, you can also see a representation of the school. A closed space, where it seems that the most important thing are the classrooms. The drawing clearly shows my artistic limitations... Note the margin drawn around the sheet, used to clearly define the space in which I was "allowed" to write. This is a curious note I found in another notebook, from fifth grade. My teacher at the time pointed out that my notebook was very tidy, and suggested to keep it like that. Right now, I can't help to think about the subtle message behind a note like this, written by someone with the authority of my fifth grade teacher: The importance of order. This is a clear message of what mattered in the assessment, in this case. Reviewing the book and making sure it was tidy, was an important value. The funny thing is that in this context order means being linear... Another one: A math notebook. Note, once again, the defined margins and the sieve of Eratosthenes used to identify prime numbers from 1 to 100. Of course, I can't remember how long it took me to do this, but I'm afraid the purpose of the task was unclear to me at the time. And I wonder if there are children who are still doing this exercise having the same doubt. Another one, graphs of linear equations, which apparently were confusing to me. Something tells there wasn't any teacher reviewing this notebook, or else she would have said something about the big question marks seen in the top left corner of the sheet. And finally this one, of Geography. What surprised me about this notebook, which is from seventh grade, was not only how tidy it was, but its thickness. And its content, full of transcripts from different books. And not only text, but images... Among the tasks I recorded here, for example, you can find a map of the peopling of America by Paul Rivet. Copied from a textbook and properly colored like the text that accompanied it. My notebook was filled with many other maps like this, showing scenes from all over the world. I made those maps because that was the assigned homework, but I'm afraid I couldn't really figure out the purpose of doing it, at the time. Now, it's fair to say that I still have some knowledge of geography, but I'm not sure that doing these maps have much to do with it. As I watched my geography notebook an unexpected image came to my mind. The image of children sitting by, copying information from a book to their notebook, to complete the assigned task. And I discovered that this picture looks like another one I have in my mind, but that corresponds to the Middle Ages: that of the scribes who created these illuminated manuscripts. And then I discovered that, for most of my K-12 education, I spent my time training for a job that stopped being popular around 500 years ago. And even though this technology ended the burgeoning industry of scribes, just 25 years ago I was 'learning' geography in this way. Behind this, there is a problem that people like Michael Wesch have referred to in detail. During my school life, I'm afraid that my understanding of the curriculum, of its meaning, was equal to zero. Now, of course I knew two things about this curriculum: first, that its difficulty seemed to increase with time, which got me participating in an ever worrying obstacle race. And second, that what I had to study was composed of blocks rather abstract, a little cold and very static, which were very well demarcated from each other. So I saw Algebra for an hour a day, then History, and then Spanish, and later Science, and so on. One area had nothing to do with the other, unless it was accumulating on a previous topic. And so, I ended up feeling the curriculum as something that "happened" to me as a student, but about which I had no choice. I had to "like" everything equally, otherwise I would have to spend another year listening to the same thing over again, copying the same maps and the same information once more. So, basically, what I could never understand was what I was being educated for. Despite being happy at school, while I was there I could never understand its purpose. And you could imagine that this technology would help trigger creativity, to go beyond copying. However, it seems that for many of us plagiarism remains a critical issue, as well as its detection. The question I am left with is if this is the real lingering problem. In recent months, I've told this story in two different scenarios. First to teachers of Basic Education in Mexico and then to IT student teachers in Colombia. In both cases, I was surprised to find that many participants seemed to identify with the story, and seemed to recognize that the process of copying information is still common in their environment. This is distressing because when it comes to teachers, either they lived such a situation at some point, which is very likely, or they know colleagues who keep doing this practice, or they are doing it themselves, which is even more worrisome. On the side of students, it is distressing because many of them were about 20 years old, which means that very recently they were experiencing this situation. This suggests, then, that 25 years later, we have changed much less than we think. So here's a first divide: The meaning of what we do, because all around us, perhaps in our own institutions, there are many teachers training fabulous scribes for the 21st century. My second story is about a morning at the museum. In September I had the opportunity to visit the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City which has a fantastic collection that includes originals and replicas of countless pieces that account for the complex history of the human groups that have inhabited this country. My visit was on Sunday, in which admission is free. And during this visit, I found two unexpected things that caught my attention. I found the first one at the very beginning of the exhibition. This is one of many young people who, on Sunday, with a notebook in their hand, were at the museum copying the inscriptions on the displays that accompany the exhibition. But she wasn't the only one. Here are some other teenage boys copying the entries for evolution, available in the museum's wall. For his part, he seems to have an interest in the skulls of several hominids... But it is important to say that this is not a lonely task, and actually creates opportunities for "collaborative work". For example, here this kid is leaning against the back of another, so he can copy in a more comfortable way. But the ingenuity goes even further, as we also see a "division of labor". Those who are in the front are dictating to those who are behind, so they can complete the task faster. And, as you can expect in a world full of technology there are other interesting options. For example, she decided not to copy this board which tells a world creation myth, but to read it in her cell phone to transcribe it later, at ease. And she decided to make a video of the video that was showing on screen at the moment. So we can not say that the process is not "multimedia". What is distressing to me is that, even though you get to see cell phones in some cases, this is no different to what I did with my notebooks when I was in seventh grade, and is not unlike what the scribes were doing in the Middle Ages. The subtle difference is that, in this case, we are not talking about a process of preserving an ancient text, but about the product of the imagination of a teacher, because it's unlikely that a teen will go by her own choice to a museum, on a Sunday morning, to copy inscriptions in a notebook. The second thing that caught my attention was a teacher who was at the exhibition telling his students facts about Teotihuacan the complex of ruins that is located near the city. What I found odd was that some of the data that the teacher mentioned contradicted those in the slabs that are at Teotihuacan and the stories that some of the guides were telling there. Beyond a discussion about who is right, what I wonder is whether these kids leave the museum with a broad understanding of the multiple and changing interpretations that go with the thing we call "history", or if they are convinced that there is only one truth which corresponds to what we call "history", which was what I learned 25 years ago. So here's a second divide: In a world full of opportunities for innovation, such as those presented at this conference, we still see a large divide in the practices of most of our teachers. At all levels, those who are experimenting with other ways to do things remain a minority. The third story is about people, and getting perspective. Many of us have seen how these two technologies have changed our environment. And in fact, sometimes we live awaiting the next invitation to test the next tool that "will change the world." The problem is that this fascination sometimes can make us forget that the picture is much bigger. On this planet, at this moment, there are about 6,767,805,208 people. Is this high tech world, a percentage of them almost equivalent to 22% have no access to electricity, according to figures from the United Nations Development Programme. And about 38% of them among which are probably the ones without power, live on less than two dollars a day. Some 2,600 million people live an entire year with less than most of our laptops cost. And on this same planet, about 25% of the population is connected to the Internet. In practical terms, this means that all conversations that occur through all of these tools, can include, at the best, 1,733,993,741 people. However when we see, for example, the number of people who are users of Facebook, one of the great recent successes in social networks, it reaches only 300 million people, 4.4 percent of the world's population, and less than a quarter of Internet users. So, after all, not "everyone" is on Facebook. And when we look more closely at the web, we see things just as interesting. Here are some of the most popular languages in Wikipedia. As with most of the content on the Internet, the most prevalent is English. In this case, is the largest. Something interesting happens when we compare this with the number of native speakers of those languages. It is important to note that these figures do not correspond to the population of the countries where those languages are spoken, and that it's worth taking these figures with a grain of salt, even for illustrative purposes. In any case, if these sources are correct, this is the equivalent proportion of native speakers. And, given that I'm from Colombia, it's interesting to me the low level of contribution to the Spanish Wikipedia, which is in fact a reflection of what happens on the web, in general. When I look at the case of Colombia, I find two things: First, the percentage of people with Internet access at home, which has increased a lot in recent years, reaches just 17 per cent. Now, other figures speak of nearly 50 percent of the population with access, but it always depends on how you count, which reminds us how uncertain this data can be. Second, of the 44 million people in the country, it is estimated that only 2% have good English communication skills. This last figure suggests, then, that at least in the case of Colombia, the discussions concerning these tools, so popular for many of us, are even more limited, as well as our ability to provide our own ideas to the wider environment. Which brings us to a third composite divide perhaps more difficult to address than the previous ones: We have an access divide, added to a language divide and another participation divide. We have found that having access is not enough to participate actively in the many conversations happening in different places, or to bring them to our local environment. There is a barrier that we still don't see very well, and that greatly limits our participation in these environments. With these three stories, I want to suggest that we need to dare and take a jump. We may not fix those divides, but what we can do is to find ways so the conversation that happens here, starts to get to other places that it hasn't reached yet, and gets enriched with the perspectives of those who haven't been so connected or aren't so visible until now. So I want to share with you three ideas, that maybe can help us go where we haven't gone before. For the first one, I invite you to come with me to Medellín, Colombia, where Gabriel García Márquez public school is located. This institution is in one of the areas most impacted by the effects of the violence that existed during the first part of the 90's. The protagonist of this story is Olga Agudelo, who has been a teacher here for eleven years, and until two years ago was the coordinator of the entire area of Information Technology. This story begins in the computer room of the institution. Eight years ago, they had five machines and opened only in the mornings, because it was the only time that the coordinator was present to oversee the work of the students. At this point, Olga started a project called "Online Monitors", in which the keys of the computer room were progressively given to students. Along with the keys, they also got the responsibility to help other teachers in selecting materials to support their courses, to teach younger children to use computers and keep them in good condition. The two rooms which the institution currently have, are used for teacher training in the use of technology, and have also come to impact the community, getting together community mothers and elderly people to learn to use computers with the help of the kids. With time, new possibilities have come to the institution. Laptops have been delivered by the mayor's office, and this has made necessary to think about ways to demystify its use, and make them a natural and integral part of life in the institution. Many of the simple ideas that this school has implemented are, at times, counter-intuitive. When they got their first two laptops, for example, they decided to place them in a public place so that they could be used by any student who wanted to. With very good results. And the success of the project started, gradually, to impact other aspects of institutional life. With the support of institution's principal, similar projects in other areas started to be implemented. In addition to "Online Monitors", new projects appeared in areas as the Environment Use of free time, Library, Inventory, Sex education, School newspaper, Democracy, School radio and Music group. All these sub-projects are now part of a larger initiative, called "We hand over the keys." As in the original project, in all cases the students have a high degree of autonomy in their decisions, and are responsible to spread their activities in the institution, and to convene new children interested in being part of these processes. Thus, a project that began as a solution to managing a computer room began to slowly radiate other academic areas, and eventually many other aspects of institutional life, creating new spaces for interaction between students and teachers. The project has also impacted the local community, and has allowed the institution to become an important point of reference at the national level, through its participation in collaborative projects promoted by the country's educational portal. And beyond this, it has allowed teachers and students to take active part in collaborative projects with institutions from other places of the world, as Chile, Peru, United States, Canada and even African countries like Burkina Faso. The computer, to that extent, has become a window to the world for this community in the city of Medellin. So this is the first jump that I want to propose: Handing over the keys as a symbol of giving more autonomy and involve more people in the projects we are already doing in our classrooms. Second idea: In 2007, I had the unique opportunity to launch an experiment for the Ministry of Education of Colombia, which has already been conducted in several cities, and even in one Mexican city. This experiment, which we call EduCamp, is a one-day experience in which participants are invited to visualize their Personal Learning Environment, identifying the physical spaces, people, resources and tools with which they are currently learning, so they can improve it with new tools, both technological and of other kinds, that are suggested on a sheet that serves as a roadmap for the session. Interestingly, in an EduCamp it is not expected for anyone to learn the same things that someone else will. The workshop takes place in an unstructured space, in which every person can be both an apprentice and an expert throughout the day. Unknown people sit together and show to each other the use of technology, share their knowledge about tools and ideas about their use in educational settings The idea of un-structure is at stake even in the physical space. Participants find furniture rather strange for a workshop, and an environment that makes possible even sitting on the floor to learn from others and with others, and which proposes new ways of understanding concepts such as tagging, as a way to make explicit to themselves and others those things in which they have expertise. Throughout the day, participants begin to discover a new way of understanding learning, and explore how technology can help us learn, create and relate differently with the world. The interesting thing is that even when the physical space is much more structured the proposed activities help people to understand that the possibilities offered by technology can lead us to rethink the way we build understandings through conversation. This allows that, at the end of the workshop, each person has built a personal network that enriches both her life and her practice. The EduCamp foster a connected environment, in every way, which gives a lot of autonomy to each learner, leveraging the diversity of experience and knowledge of participants, allowing all perspectives to be heard. At the same time, it shows that learning spaces can be chaotic and unstructured, and that this does not limit but enhance the learning experience. The second jump I want to suggest is the importance of modeling new practices, that allow us to bring the potential of technology to the "real world" to expand and strengthen the networks that we are part of and reinvent what we do every day. Third idea. The dominance of English around the planet has given rise to a wide network of conversations and a well-established community in several places. This conference is an example of what such a well-established community can accomplish. What I want to propose is for us to explore ways to bring these conversations to places where the language divide becomes an obstacle. To imagine ways that allows us to create two-way connections so we can all be enriched by new perspectives from all over the world. This isn't necessarily an original idea. Global Voices started a volunteer translation project in 2006, and organizations such as Translations for Progress try and get together volunteer translators with NGOs that need their services. A project in this line in which I have participated is the TED Open Translation Project, launched in February 2009, which already has nearly 2000 volunteers around the world. When this initiative began, many of us were doing the process on our own, until Pedro Villarrubia, through a group in Google Groups, began to convene a group of people around the globe, which have make possible Spanish to be the language with more translations in TED. To translate a video or document is a process that actually serves to build bridges of all kinds. And among the tools we have to build those bridges there are platforms are as dotSub or Google Docs, and applications like Jubler, which facilitate the process of transcription and subtitling of videos. What is important for our case is that this transcription process may be an excuse to engage our students in building these bridges. We may be many more if we encourage our students to work to generate products that help innovative ideas to reach remote corners of the planet. But having a video with subtitles in its original language is to have half the bridge built. And other people can help build the other half. Again, many of us have experienced the process of translating such material, and people like Gabriela Sellart have tried to involve their students in it, inviting them to generate products that can have an unimagined impact. The construction of these bridges, at least in my experience, requires the translator to learn a lot about the subject area involved in the translation. It's one of the most challenging learning experiences I have faced. So I want to echo an idea that Jose Rodriguez and others are starting in the K-12 Online Conference this year. We have about 42 presentations from 2006, 41 from 2007 and 40 from 2008, some of which are already in the process of transcription. The same is happening with some of this year's presentations, especially those that will be delivered in Spanish. So the invitation is to use the conference to organize ourselves and start joint work that allows us to have the presentations from this conference in other languages. But we don't have to stop there. There are many video sites on the web, containing valuable educational material in many languages, waiting to be translated to reach many places around the planet. So this is about each one of us building a piece of the bridge, so that we can put together those pieces later to generate new connections and stimulate further discussions. The third jump that I want to propose, then, is to take our ideas further, using translation as a possible way to build bridges where none exist yet. In this presentation, I've tried to point out a number of divides which we still need to learn more about. The first one has to do with finding and convey a broader meaning in our educational work. The second one speaks about the need to communicate to a wider audience the practices we are developing, because the innovation we do is starting to get trapped in a limited space. The third one has to do with three elements a bit more complicated, but also present: the limitations of access and language of a large proportion of the population, and barriers to participation in online spaces that we are beginning to see. Then I wanted to share some jumps that, from my perspective, can help to bridge these divides: First, daring to "hand over the keys" to our students and others. Building autonomy to take what we do to a wider audience. The second jump has to do with modeling new practices in our face to face environments. To transfer the possibilities of technology to the "real world" in order to generate new types of conversations with colleagues and students. The third step seeks to bring our ideas further, using opportunities such as translation of part of the existing content on the net. These are ideas in construction, and in fact they are just some of all that we can imagine together. That's why it's important to leverage the opportunities for discussion in K-12 Online to meet each other, imagine possibilities and agree on strategies for building bridges, allowing us to go beyond this sphere, to enrich our perspective with new worldviews and generate new conversations about the major issues of our time. That will let us not only kick it up a notch, but bring it out a notch. Everyone is invited to help with that! This presentation does not end here. For detailed information on the resources used, or to add yourself to a list of people interested in developing collaborative translation projects, you can visit this wiki: Also, given that this is a one-hour talk, I invite you to use the remaining 25 minutes thinking about what are the divides you can see in your own environment, and to imagine some possible jumps that we can take to bridge them. Then use the conference online spaces to share your reflections. We want to hear your ideas! :-) Translation: Diego Leal & Jose Rodriguez

Video Details

Duration: 24 minutes and 38 seconds
Country: Colombia
Language: Spanish (Spain)
Genre: None
Producer: Diego Leal
Director: Diego Leal
Views: 1,112
Posted by: k12online on Dec 3, 2009

The amazing innovation we are seeing in many classrooms around the world still has a small impact, when compared to the size of our educational system. How do we bridge the divides to go bigger?

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