Copyright Struggles

As Brad mentions in his blogpost, I must admit I’m one of the many teachers that constantly struggles with copyright laws.  Now that we as teachers are entering a new adventure that encompasses the world of remote teaching, the lack of preparation and the lack of expertise will without a doubt lead to liberties being taken when it comes to respecting copyright laws.  As much as I want to be lawful and follow all the guidelines such as those presented in the Fair Dealing Decision Tool, I find the world of copyright law to be a minefield of gray zones and difficult to interpret laws.

As we have seen with the lawsuits filed in Manitoba and many other parts of the world on behalf of publishers and authors, things can get very serious very quickly.  One would think that with the breadth of the internet, avoiding copyright infringement would be easy.  Unfortunately, this cannot be further from the truth.  In my situation, as a French language science teacher, I have at my disposal a very restricted set of resources to teach my courses.  Although there are many resources available on the internet, most are not very well developed for the context in which I teach. Consequently, as a minority language teacher, you’re in a constant mode of resource creation, modification and translation.  The biggest issue is time, energy and expertise.  Creating resource requires moderate amounts of time, moderate amounts of energy and large amounts of expertise.  Modifying resources requires moderate amounts of time, moderate amounts of energy and moderate amounts of expertise.  Translating resources takes, large amounts of time, large amounts of energy and large amounts of expertise.  As one can attest, when having a full teaching load, students with special needs and having a panoply of external demands placed on me as regular classroom teacher, these three big issues of time, energy and expertise become a big factor.  As a result, sticking to a textbook is a way for a teacher to survive.

With the cost of textbooks and the difficult financial situation of the world of education in the past few years, teachers are often dissuaded in acquiring class sets of books.  What do we do when we have a few books and a classroom with 30+ students and no time for preparation and resource creation?  Photocopies to the rescue!  Many teachers know better, unfortunately, in many cases, there just doesn’t seem to be other options.  It’s a risk that many seem willing to take for their own health and mental wellbeing. 

In an ideal world all educational resources would be open-source, digital and free for all.  There are many Open Educational Resources (OER) available out there that are making this dream a reality.  One excellent example is the BC Opentext initiative that has amassed an impressive portfolio of open resources for use in many educational subject areas.  Unfortunately, this movement is in its infancy and only meets the needs of specific slices of the educational world.  After numerous hours of searching, I have yet to find anything of the same type in French, specifically for help teach science.  The large book publishers seem to have cornered this very small segment of the market.  Although I would love to start an open textbook initiative to French language science teachers, there are so few of us (less than dozen) and our needs are so different (each science curriculum is different in each province and in each French speaking country in the world) that there is almost no hope this type of project will ever come to fruition given my time, my energy and my expertise. 

I’m once again confronted by the copyright wall out of pure necessity.  Today, as I elaborate this post in my corner of the house where I’m tasked to develop and teach Health Science 20, Physics 30 and Biology 30, I’m struggling to find ways to get the content I need to transmit to my students without scanning and sending them pages from the textbooks I have.  I guess the struggle will forever continue, but it would be so easy to take a few pictures of those resources and send them to my students.

UPDATE: I have found that one of the big French resource publishers, Chenelière, has provided temporary free online access to many of their textbooks in a wide variety of subjects in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  This will help in the short term, but long term, I hope things change for the better.

Feeling Down, But Not Out

Although the literal definition of literacy is the ability read and write, the idea of literacy has, over time, evolved greatly in conjunction with the evolution of the medium by which information transmitted.  Today, the concept of literacy is much more nuanced if we consider the context that in a modern society nearly all adults can at least read and write on a basic level.  Consequently, the conveyance of information in today’s world is a delicate dance involving the medium and the message.  In many cases, as Marshall McLuhan stated: “The Medium is the Message”.

Confronting the challenge of deciphering the information and its true intent though the complex interplay of the medium and the message is what I think is to be literate today.

Considering the profile of modern literacy, one cannot ignore the current international crisis that is the COVID-19 pandemic.  As Shelby mentions in her blogpost, this week has been exhausting!  As a science teacher, I’ve had to field so many questions related to public health and microbiology that I have become almost numb to the situation!  As a result, I’ve come to the conclusion that rather than answering their questions, I should be investing in their literacy skills by helping them develop sound information gathering and research skills.  In addition, I should be helping them decipher the value and the validity of this information based on sound critical and analytical principles.

toilet paper panic
Illustration by Jason Kirby – https://www.macleans.ca/economy/economicanalysis/the-toilet-paper-panic-and-why-more-stockpiling-is-inevitable/

The mass hysteria being observed with the hoarding of toilet paper in recent days highlights the power that social media can have over rational thought.  How do I go about helping my students gain these attributes to allow them to become informed proactive citizens rather lemmings?lemmings

From our readings, many resources were highlighted.  Most of these resources are based on sets of questions aimed at guiding students in assessing the qualities of online media.  From the IMVAIN resource to the questions proposed by Hobbs and the CRAAP detection method, all of these tools are a good starting point in establishing a basis for modern literacy.  Unfortunately, I don’t think these tools are sufficient to address the deeper need to comprehend the wider context of media in our world.  With so many slanted perspectives being shared on the internet and the increasingly challenging presence of deep fakes, a more comprehensive view of the digital information economy is essential.

The knowledge that data is precious and how the gathering of personal information is quickly becoming an important commodity in the internet age.  As teachers, we must help our students achieve this level of understanding by teaching good online information management.  Here are but a few subjects that come to my mind:

  • Data security and encryption
  • Passwords and password management
  • Internet tracking targeted advertising
  • Social media use personal wellbeing

An excellent resource I have found that addresses many of these subjects is ConnectSafely.org  By encompassing this type of knowledge in addition to the basic literacy skills that can be built with questioning the previous questioning tools, we can have students that can better understand not only the information itself, but the context in which it lives.  To me, this represents the types of skills needed to be literate in the 21st century.

As I said in the beginning, this week really kicked me down and I’m exhausted.  Here’s to good information and proper literacy!

Conclusion: I Must Do Better!

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With the revelations coming to light related to the circumstances of the passing of 13 year old Kaleab Schmidt who committed suicide on April 30, 2018, it has reinforced my view that more has to be done to assist students in fostering good digital citizenship skills.  Before I go further, I must acknowledge that this situation is very complex, and many factors contributed to the ultimate consequence of his tragic death.  I cannot begin to comprehend the dynamics involved in the situation; therefore, I will stick to the context of EC&I 832.  The latest information circulating in the media underlines that Kaleab was, a victim of online bullying though the Snapchat media platform.  Apparently, a group was formed with the sole intent of making his life miserable.  Having been on the receiving end of a small amount of online bullying in the early days of the internet, I can empathize with the feelings he must have been feeling at the time.  I cannot imagine the deep pain and the deep effects this type of harassment must have had on him and his wellbeing.

Given the nature of the ongoing development of the investigation, one can only speculate, as of now, how much impact online bullying contributed to Kaleab’s untimely death.  We can, however, acknowledge that given the nature of online bullying and social media, many people were involved, if not directly, as witnesses to the situation.  This leads to many questions.  How many people were aware of this Snapchat group?  Did the people involved know the harm they were doing?  Did anybody notify anyone of what was happening?  Could anything have been done to do intervene?  Was this done during school hours?

As a teacher, I look at a situation like this one and can’t help but think that perhaps some of my own students are subject to similar situations.  How would I feel if I had a student take their own life as the result online bullying?  Given the large amounts of time I spend with my students and the relationships that I have built with them, would they tell me about this type of behavior?  How would I react?  Is there anything I can do today to prevent this type of situation from occurring?

Educators can’t solve the problem of online bullying all by themselves, however, we can be part of the solution.  The idea of teaching digital citizenship is not a new concept, but trying to find the best way to go about inculcating good digital citizenship practices in our students will always be a source of debate.  Looking at the current digital citizenship offering in my school, I must admit there isn’t much being done in a proactive way.  As a school, we mainly seem to be intervening in teaching digital citizenship when the need arrives.  We don’t have a comprehensive school strategy that specifically addresses digital citizenship.  That being said, we have done a few good things this year.  Our Regina Police Service resource officer provided an excellent presentation on online safety and the use of social media.  We have implemented a new course that introduces computers and the internet to our grade 7 to 9 students.  Within this course, basic digital citizenship is taught.  On a personal basis, I refer to digital citizenship subjects on a frequent basis within my science course offerings but never took the time to give it the attention if perhaps needs.  (This changed this year with my Major Project that is based on teaching media literacy skills within my Health Science 20 class.)  On the occasion that our staff sees a specific need related to digital citizenship, we address it in a timely manner.  I’m not aware of what is being undertaken within the language courses but I’m sure digital media literacy skills are being developed.

The practices I see in my school are certainly not the most effective nor do they allow us to address potential issues like those that Kaleab Schmidt had to confront.  From the New York Times article: These Students Are Learning About Fake News and How to Spot It, Howard Schneider states: “Increasingly, students are arriving at college with bad digital citizenship habits,” he said. “They are outsourcing their judgment to their peers and to technology.”  I have seen this myself.  Students seem to have difficulty taking positions and defending their values.  The idea of the herd mentalityseems to be prevailing in the overly connected social media dominated world our students live in.

Of course, we have to recognize that our students will make mistakes, this is in the nature of being a young person.  From my readings, I tend to believe that we must give opportunities for our students to make mistakes within the relative safe confines of the school context.  To provide these opportunities, we must not reduce the use of the internet and social media in schools, we must promote its use and guide our students in using these tools to better prepare them for the world in which they are going to be active participants.  The more I think of it, the more I realize that I’m missing the mark on this aspect.

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With tools like the IMVAIN accronym from the Digital Resource Center, can guide our student in having better judgment related to the content they are reading online.  Moreover, with a focus on teaching digital citizenship competencies like those presented by Hobbs, we will perhaps have enough influence on our students to guide them towards healthier online practices.

I’m hopeful that schools will be able to draw the lines of experience that connects the vast knowledge that our students have.  By making these connections in schools, perhaps we can contribute in preventing tragic situations like the one lived by Kelaeb Schmidt.  Kelaeb’s story is sadly not unique, we have seen many others.  I only hope that with a bit of initiative, we can help those that we don’t know who could potentially be in similar situations.

knoledge vs experience

Source of the image

Keeping A Low Profile

I worry about my digital identity on a daily basis.  Having been present at the beginnings of the Internet age, many things have changed since my initiation to the electronic world.  In the latter part of the 1990’s as a young teenager, my digital trail was already being established.  I setup my first Hotmail e-mail account as well as a Yahoo Mail! Account.  The Hotmail account is now long gone, but I still use my Yahoo Mail account to this day!  Looking at my account information, I’ve used that email account since 1999, it’s been my main email account for over 21 years!   Initially, I wasn’t concerned about the data I left on the internet as, those days, things had a tendency to disappear from the internet.  Anyone remember Geocities?  In addition, the data economy had yet to be invented.  Google was in its infancy and the internet advertising industry was just beginning.  Large companies building digital profiles of users just didn’t exist.

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Through my high school days, I was the victim of some bullying in person and online.  Having had such a bad experience in the years before I was to leave home and enter the world of university, I was resolved not to invest too much energy in my online identity.  It was at that point that I developed my internet lurking tendencies and have been hesitant to leave any information online that could be used to judge my character and make my life miserable.  Although I know my perception is old fashioned considering that today, digital identities are much more liked to real identities, I actively try to keep both separate as I prefer not to have to deal with the stress involved in integrating both identities.  I use my online identity for my personal interests and try not to blend my real and professional world with my personal digital world.

This personal preference of separation between my real professional world and my personal digital world has led me to be in continuous conflict when I started work on my Masters Certificate in Ed Tech.  Given the social framework of the EC&I 830 to 834 courses, the need to invest in my online professional profile continues to make me uncomfortable.  That separation is deep in my character and it’s a cause of great anxiety.  Adding personal opinions and personal thoughts online for everyone to see worries me when I see how severe the consequences can be when something is badly interpreted online or even exploited to destroy a reputation.

When considering the world of Facebook, of which I have been a member since the early 2000’s, many things have changed in the recent years.  As social media platforms have become more pervasive and intrusive, my use of Facebook has been limited to saying nice things and keeping my opinion to myself.  I have seen too many toxic discussions on Facebook and for my mental wellbeing, I refuse to partake in such discussions.  Today, my Facebook activities are limited to simple greetings, birthday wishes and positive comments.

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Given the dynamic nature of social media and the age of my children, 6, 4 and 1, I have yet to consider the online identities of my children.  Other than the occasional picture shared to only family members, my wife and I have consciously limited the digital footprint of our children.  We are very stringent on making sure nothing embarrassing or revealing is ever posted.  Even then, I wonder if this practice will have any unintended consequences on their future.

On a professional level, social media is taking much more of my time as a teacher.  As platforms like Instagram, Snapchat and TikToc take a larger place in the lives of my students, I find larger portions of my time as a teacher is devoted to dealing with issues that involve the online identities of my students.  I’m still hesitant to involve myself in their online worlds but have taken initial steps though my YouTube channel and though the Google suite of products to encourage online collaboration and sharing.  I’m far from taking the full plunge in using products like TikToc and Snapchat within the classroom.  As a teacher, it can sometimes be difficult to keep a good balance between my work life and my personal life.  I find the use of social media platforms to interact with students too easily invades my personal life and I have yet to justify elimination of that separation.  I cannot justify taking time away from my family life interacting with my students on social media in the hours before and after school.  Once again, I’m aware this is not the wave of the future, but I can’t seem to shake it off.

The idea of digital identity in my life is a difficult subject for me to consider and the expansion of my digital identity is the source of a high degree of anxiety.  At this point, considering the risks and the return on such an investment, I prefer to keep a low profile.  I sure hope my EC&I 832 colleagues won’t roast me because of it.

roast me

Major Project Update: The Challenge of Jumping Between Languages

This update won’t be long as I don’t have much tangible progress to report.  I used this past reading week for its intended purpose.  Reading.  My challenge these days is jumping from the world of French Ed. Tech to the world of English Ed. Tech.  The tangible progress seems to be slow due to having to learn a whole new specialized vocabulary.  Although I’m quite well versed in general French educational terminology, the language involved in the specific topic of digital citizenship (citoyenneté numérique) and media literacy (littératie numérique) in French are quite different than what I expected.  Direct translations of terms are not as obvious as I was expecting and different parts of the world (France, Quebec, Belgium, Swizerland) use different terminology for the same subjects.

These difficulties have led me to dedicate countless hours to reading and trying to organize and frame out the basis of my major project using terminology and a framework that will be achievable and understandable not only for my students, but also for any potential teacher that might use my resource in the future.  My resource must be practical and well-integrated within the context of the Health Studies 20 curriculum, otherwise, teachers will only see this resource as an additional thing to do in class and not be of any practical use to them.

tenor

Consequently, the progress is slower than I intended even though the sheer quantity of things I’m learning is enormous.  I continued work on the teacher-aimed document that includes explications and the philosophy behind the resource.  I’m also in the initial planning stages on a screencast tutorial on an introduction to web research and evaluation the credibility of resources.

Teaching Digital Health in Health Studies 20

With the beginning of the semester over the past week, my major project is starting to take shape.  As I mentioned in my last major project update, Ribble’s nine elements of digital citizenship are the foundation of my resource.  This first thing I needed was a French translation of these principles as well as a resource that will allow me to get acquainted with the French terminology related to the subject.  I was able to find a website which provides an excellent base that explains Ribble’s elements as well as provides suggested themes to explore in the classroom.

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With this resource, I started work on a public read-only Google Doc where my resource is being built.  This will be where teachers will go to get access to information on the reason the resource is being created.  It will outline the themes that will be explored in the activities that I will create.  Included in the document will be the activities themselves, evaluations rubrics, links to supporting materials and any other thing I find pertinent and useful.  This is certainly a work in progress! Feel free to explore it!

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I’m currently in the initial stages of planning my activities.  Many hours have been spent scouring the internet for French resources on which I will base my activities.  Although it’s more difficult to find, there are still excellent resources being produced in Quebec as well as in France that can prove valuable.  The diversity and quality of resources in French is nowhere near those available in English and I reserve the right to adapt/translate certain resources that seem to fit really well in the overall product I’m trying to build.

This past week, as part of my Health Studies 20 class, I introduced a small research project where the students were to explore and share their findings related to alternative approaches to healthcare.  Each student was to choose an alternative approach to healthcare and research it based on a list of questions I provided to them in advance.  This project will require students to use the internet to search for their information.  I purposely, did not give any guidance to my students concerning the quality or the legitimacy of the information they found.  The idea is to observe their habits and create a baseline to better understand their needs related to media literacy.  I should be receiving their assignments next week, I’m curious to see what comes of it.

The digital divide, as mentioned in my last post on the major project, is a reality that I’m still trying to find creative ways to address.  When planning for my class, I had reserved 14 laptops for all 14 of my students.  To my astonishment, seven of my students produced their own personal computers.  Having half of the students with ready access to computers reduces my worries and might change the approach I will take when planning my activities.  Next week, I’ll be taking a survey of my students to gauge their accessibility to technology.  I have a feeling that I have not been properly assessing the situation in my particular case.

As my students proceeded to work on their assignment during their work period, discussions related to the validity of sources of information on the internet organically arose.  I was so proud of them!  The intuition my students displayed during this conversation seemed to be solid.  Once again, I tried not to influence them and let them generate their own conclusions.

As my first unit will have as a theme the idea of holistic health, the digital health and wellness element of Ribble’s nine elements will be the primary focus.  That’s as much as I have at the moment.  Stay tuned for more as I develop my first activities over the coming weeks.

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