In the recent week I have had the pleasure of taking part  in a social network for Norwegian teachers and educators called del&bruk. Formed by Ingunn and other entrepeneurs it has seen a mushrooming of new members by the day. One of the main issues predominant in discussions are the fear of sharing. The idea is to share your ideas on implementing ICT in your lessons and hopefully find useful ideas that others have posted. I have to admit that I haven’t been good at sharing specific lesson plans yet, but I am however engaged in discussions regarding past or ongoing projects in my own work. This network has given me an ample opportunity to share concerns and enthusiasm about my efforts to implement ICT in my lessons.
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An interesting article at Betchablog addresses the issue with The New Digital Divide and points out the sad fact that the ones who usually find themselves in networks like del&bruk are already into the whole Web 2.0 community and are active in an array of networks from Flickr to Twitter and bookmark using del.icou.us and attend courses in Second Life. There is a distinction between the “will’s” and “will-nots”, and the latter have many excuses why they don’t want to take the plunge. Where does the responsibility lie?

The sole responsibility relies on the individual teacher and his/her willingness to try out new digital applications and technologies in the classroom. This is the case in most schools in Norway and beyond I dare say. Personally I do feel overwhelmed myself with all the possibilities and having actually taken the plunge myself with a trusted colleague we’ve now started blogging, making digital stories and films, producing music and taking advantage of Quizlet in language classes, Tutpup in Maths and Dipity in Social Studies. It does create a lot of extra work, but the experiences we make are valuable lessons to us as teachers and it is very rewarding discussing them with others attempting to do the same in communities like del&bruk.

Life itself is in fact lived in beta, and the most important thing is to take the plunge and try new things. Teachers are often being accused of being conservative, but del&bruk is yet another example of how we do take responsibility and try to change the status of the classroom and bring us into the 21st century. It will be interesting to see how things develop and I hope I will continue to share and participate fervently.

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My avatar Pip hanging outside of Diginalet.

My avatar Pip hanging outside of Diginalet.

Me outside Diginalet.

Me outside Diginalet.

Last night I signed up for an avatar in Second Life again. I recall having previous experience with it, but after the novelty of virtual flying wore off I did not quite see the value of it. After a tip from Arne Krokan I joined delogbruk this week, a great initiative by Ingunn, where teachers in Norway with interest and competence within ICT aim to share and use their experiences with digital literacy and tools in the classroom.

One of the users on the forum invited all interested to join SL for a dryrun and explore the opportunities within a virtual environment. I signed up and teleported myself to Diginaletdet digitale pennalet – on a pretty island. I, well more accurately, my avatar, found himself in a office environment, inside a building with desks and conference facilities. I met Rammen, another person from delogbruk, and then later Kita – who first invited teachers to come here. I had a nice chat with both of them about the the history of the place and, possibilities and the ideas they had for this place. I also got to know them a bit better.

Emotionally it was fascinating as I experienced many of the similar feelings I would have when meeting new people (albeit it would take some decades before I’ll get to meet them midair flying). I was a bit apprehensive and nervous as well as skeptical – not unlike a conference situation where you do not know anybody. I started the conversation in English – the universal language of the net, and trying to figure out the social code of the place. E.g. Should one fly down to the ground to talk or is it okay to hang up among the clouds and talk standing hanging with ones’ back to each other? What social code exists in a virtual environment like SL?

I have tried to read up a bit on Second Life and in this article – Second Life Improves Real-Life Skills – in Science Daily, I find it particularly interesting how one still needs the social skills to interact with others. But social disabilities such as fear and shyness might stop the person to interact with others in real life. It’s a fine balance here of course, but as the interviews resarcher Ms Grant points out:

“There are not many places we go in the world where we are guaranteed social contact, in real life it is harder and less likely that you will go up to a stranger and start a conversation,” said Ms Grant.

Since the SL experience I have been thinking about how it would be feasable and useful to use SL with students. Topics like identity, culture and communication comes to mind. First though I look forward to participate in discussions in SL with other people in Diginalet – learn and share – and then see where it will lead us.

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, but I hope to come back stronger as the weeks progress. Summer has been fantastic with friends and family, home and abroad.

I was back at work three weeks ago and I feel it’s good to be back in the swing of things, and I’m excited to continue building up a school as we are in our third year now. I will continue experimenting and exploring the opportunities of using digital media in my lessons. An increasing number of the students have laptops, digital cameras, smartphones and what not. We need to take advantage of this. Kids use these tools on a daily basis, and school has to become competitive using its first and foremost advantage – knowledge.

I am also happy to report that I’ve finally got my hands on an iPhone 3G, and I must admit I’ll never go back to old school mobiles ever again. It’s a different world altogether. Bless my Sony Ericsson K810i – it was a fantastic phone. Thing is, iPhone is just part phone, part everything else. Of course, it’s not flawless, and some flaws are frustrating. I hope to write a post with a personal review after some more weeks of testing and working with it.

Now to sharpening pencils.

In these times of grading fixation in education it is interesting to come across the outspoken critic and author Alfie Kohn. Mr. Kohn has written a number of books on the negative effects of rewards and punishments of grading. He is also skeptical of the traditional system of homework. In his book The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing (2006) he questions the need and positive effects of homework. He believes that the school and its environment is the main focal point for learning and work.

Winterlong

The debate is timely in Norway too as I encounter parents who feel overwhelmed by their kids’ homework, especially as they advance to higher levels. Every week they are given a homework plan with assignments in the main subjects. The assignments vary from reading, task solving, math calculus or research for a project or paper. Most parents feel that their kids should have homework as they did when they attended school. The problem for many families are time. The nuclear family is a minority in the Norwegian society (and other societies in the West) and a lot of time and organizational evolves around transport and logistics. How to make the proper priorities, and how to make homework meaningful?

I try to evaluate the way I give homework to my students, I try to reinvent, evolve and be original. It’s not always easy, but I think Mr. Kohn has an interesting point when he questions the benefits of homework. It does not necessarily take up much time of the kids’ sparetime, but could we try to break out of this and try to think in new ways about homework?

Double bill

At an end note I’d like to recommend a riveting comment from a Norwegian girl who’s a high school student. She criticizes all the bad karma around the Norwegian school debates these days in the aftermath and hangover of the PISA-tests. She says Norwegians hate not to be on top in international rankings and that our politicians tend to panic. These tests are important, but they only measure a fraction of what schools teach their students. What about social and moral behavior, ethical values like respect, debating skills and skills to question – in essence – how to become decent people. Ms. Tømte writes:

Den norske skolen har altså utviklet seg fra å være en autoritær institusjon til å bli et lærested der voksne og barn snakker samme språk og har det samme fokus: Å gjøre folk av oss.

Thus has the Norwegian school developed from being an authoritarian institution to become a place of learning where adults and children speak the same language and have the same focus: To make us into decent people. (My translation).

And this relationship requires mutual respect – and authoritarian teachers don’t easily acquire this in Norwegian schools, but teacher who do earn their students’ respect have moral authority based upon a wide and substantial knowledge base.

Net safety, netiquette, online safety, websmartness etc. It has many names, but they all attempt to describe one thing: rules to go by when navigating the information highway (an ancient pre-2000 description of the internet..?). As I work in a school and work with kids a striking reality hits me when asked questions from the kids like: “Did you have a radio when you were young?” or “Is it true that you didn’t have a mobile phone when you were at school?”

This generation grew up with the web around them, most of their parents didn’t. Most of their parents use the web to check the tabloids, real estate prices and perhaps book a plane ticket, while a selected few use the web in a more extensive way, either through work or by personal interest.

This week we invited all parents to come to a information meeting on net safety run by Redd Barna, a Norwegian interest group working for children’s rights. The meeting would address the concerns regarding children and net use as well as help the parents to gain a larger understanding of what their kids do online.

Out of 400 parents 8 showed up.

This is part of the problem. Generally parents tend to think they have control over what their kids do online. Kids and their parents have rules they say. Truth is that rules made by children and grown-ups together might not apply when peer pressure and friends’ loyalty becomes more important. A great responsibility lies with both the school and with the parents. We have to acknowledge that children grow up with an unparalleled parallel world, sort of speak, to the physical one, namely the digital world. And as one parent put it:

“When I send my kids out to play I worry. I worry about wether they’ll fall on the ice, wether they get run over by a car, get kidnapped, raped or if they get in a fight with friends or if they have had enough to eat. But I cannot worry about all these things, I have to pick my worries and prioritize them. Accordingly I feel good about sending them out because they get fresh air, they socialize and learn new things about the world.”

The same thing could be said about children online. They play online games, they chat, they post pictures and videos and they do schoolwork. All of these activities have positive effects for the child’s upbringing. Nevertheless, there are many dangers, as there are in the physical world. What we as parents and teachers need to do is to acknowledge our responsibility and dare to be advisors to our kids. We have to get engaged in our children’s activities. It should become innate to ask our children over dinner how things went online today in the same way as we ask about their school day and their training.


We have to get engaged in order to see the dangers, but also the immense possibilities. We have to teach them that all actions have consequences, as they do in the physical world. Furthermore, we have to walk the walk and not only talk the talk. If we post pictures of friends and foes on Facebook without permission then we cannot expect our children to not do the same.

Lately I have found myself moving my workflow increasingly from my desktop to the web. I find Google Docs very handy. I work in two places, one of them has wireless internet access while the other one does not. At the latter I find it hard to do word processing like creating weekly plans, homework assignments and other necessary digital related work. Earlier I would make the weekly plans at home and then print it out. This year I am challenged with acquiring information from several subject teachers, usually Tuesday night. This does not always happen, and it needs to get done at school on Wednesday when plans have to go out.

Enter Google Docs: I have a weekly plan template online which I use a copy of for every week. This way I create an accessible library of weekly plans for future reference and an instant access to my work wherever I am. Coming to school on Wednesday I get the info I need from colleagues and put it into the document I prepared the night before at home online in the computer lab (without the wireless access). This makes the hassle of handwritten jumble on neat weekly plans unnecessary and my workflow easier.

When a colleague in the administration saw this he asked if this would be possible for the whole staff to create a pool of templates, forms, plans and other useful documents for everyone to edit, copy, paste and access. Now that would help everyone’s workflow if people were keen on participating and sharing. I wonder.

Google Apps Team Edition aims to facilitate this. Questions do remain though, and a returning one from co-workers in particular, boils down to this: Is it safe? And how much do I want to be on Google’s servers..?

Last semester I experimented with digital learning tools in my Norwegian lessons and made some interesting discoveries. I set out to spur a greater initiative in the students’ writing abilities and I sought out Blogger for this purpose. As of 2007 Kunnskapsløftet, a recent school reform (one of many in recent decades I might add…), five basic skills are embodied within all subjects. Writing, reading, listening, speaking are all obvious ones, but two new skills for the 21st century have been added: mathematical skills (in all subjects) and digital.

Being able to use digital tools in the Norwegian subject curriculum is necessary to master new text forms and ways of expressing oneself. This opens up new learning arenas and allows new possibilities in teaching reading and writing, as well as the production, composition and editing of texts. In this context it is vital to develop the ability to critically assess and use sources. Using digital tools may support and develop the pupils’ communication and presentation skills.

Kunnskapsløftet, Norwegian curriculum

Most of the students thrived in the blogging environment, or web-publishing. Within a secured and closed network we opened for creative writing in a totally new and interactive way. And it gave me, as a teacher, a genuine access to their writing process and development of their writing skills. And not to forget, the students acquired new digital skills in simple html and blog editing through links and photo publishing.

Enter January and I embarked upon yet a digital challenge. By the means of digital cameras, multi-purpose mobile phones, Macs and PCs alike, iMovie and Movie Maker, Bluetooth and a small amount of paper and scissors the students made their own commercials. What the students ended up making was quite impressive. Through the process they had to learn one of the many unused programs on their shiny Macs like simple iMovie in the iLife suite and also use the curricular knowledge of denotations and connotations in order to explain their train of thought when planning an advertisement campaign.

With the kind permission from two of the students I have posted one of the commercials for Coca Cola Zero.

For Norwegian readers, or any possible readers at all, I’d like to recommend the eminent blog tenketing.net on interaction, peer-powered content, design and technology.