Monday, May 12, 2014

Addressing the "Closeness" of Information for Student Research

From 1945-1957, my father went to grades 1-12 in rural Alabama. He was born to parents with a high school education who had amazing work ethics, a desire to be the best they could be, loads of common sense but limited "book smarts." For my father, to gain knowledge beyond his parents, he had to go to school. The youngest child of 5, he was the only one that went on to college and then graduate school because he saw the benefit of "more information."

From 1975-1987, I went to K-12 grades in both Alabama and Tennessee. I was born the daughter of the above father with a masters degree in Education and a mother who didn't quite finish her undergraduate degree in education. It was instilled in me that anything other than a college degree was not an option. I went to school to learn, I received some "book knowledge" from my parents as well as at school. In 1978 my "information world" was expanded. A man knocked on our door to sell us a burgundy set (with gold leaf) of Worldbook Encyclopedias. My parents bought them and they were placed in a prominent spot in our den. I would often pull one out and flip through the pages (while laying on our shag carpet in my bell bottom jeans). All of a sudden, as an elementary student, I no longer had to go to school or watch a National Geographic special to learn something about the big world I lived in. "Information" had come to my home. Mom and dad no longer had to take me to Northgate library for research. I had a source always at my fingertips.

From 2000-2014, my daughter went to PreK-12 grades in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She was born the daughter of a mother with an undergraduate degree in Accounting and a father with an undergraduate degree in Business Administration. Her mother went back to school when this daughter was in first grade to earn a licensure to teach Business Education and then almost immediately worked to earn a Master's degree in Instructional Technology. This girl saw constantly that education was deemed important to her family. In her lifetime, the worldwide web has exploded. She has no remembrance of a time when there was not a computer in her home. She only remembers cell phones being a part of everyday life. For her, information has always been readily available to be known. At age 18, she has an iphone 5c in her pocket at all times, her own iPad, and access to laptops at home whenever she needs them. She is a digital native. When she wants to learn something hands-on, she searches youTube for a video (for example: when she replaced her iPhone's cracked screen by herself, or when she taught herself to knit). When she has a research paper, she googles for sources. Information is always at the end of her fingertips ready to be had. She is a digital native but right on the cusp of knowing it's there but not really knowing how best to utilize it for her advantage.

I struggle with the fact that we, as educators, have not equipped her as well as we should have to prepare her to be a lifelong learner with the tools at her fingertips. Students 3 years younger than her will have a better understanding of the power of the Internet and how to navigate, but for Jessica, she is in a limbo group. As an instructional technologist, I will share with her some tools and tips to help her in college. I will set up an Evernote account for her even though she prefers and learns better by "writing" her notes. I will teach her the benefits of how to take photos of her notes and upload them to Evernote to help her become a more organized student. I will tell her about apps to help her make flashcards, graphic organizers to help her gather her thoughts before writing a paper, citation devices that will help take the angst of incorrect MLA citing away. She struggles with math, therefore she will have a Khan academy account to help her when she struggles. I will put tools in her toolbox that will aid her for her future. She will pick and choose which of these tools truly help her and she will use the ones that do.

We, as educators, have a responsibility to equip all our students for success. Technology often alleviates so much of the burdens and angst in the education process. We have to teach good digital citizenship skills. We have to show students how to look for good resources, where to look for good resources, and beyond that, how to cite them easily without issues. The ease of closeness to information has opened the door quickly to us, but we must respond in kind. We cannot drag our feet as educators. We must prepare our students to see this as a tool and not just an overwhelming struggle.

I love the following quote from a TED talk attributed to Diane Laufenberg in the book "Getting Smart" by Tom Vander Ark, "Our new closeness to information forces schools to think of themselves not simply as places to get information but as places where children will be challenged and guided in new ways to use information. As more skill-building and content-sharing activities are offered automatically, schools and teachers can increasingly focus on the important stuff: critical thinking (what does this mean?), coherence (where does this fit?), and application (what could I do with this knowledge?)”