Freaks and Geeks are still Popular

Video Source: Canuck21 May 29th, 2009

This post has been inspired by an authentic ‘YPCT’ moment that I experienced during my school holidays, and it stemmed from my family’s interaction with selecting TV entertainment. With 2 teenager daughters in the house, several of our conversations during chill-out time are about ‘what should we watch on TV?’. Firstly though, on quick reflection about TV, can I say that although I am not a huge TV watcher, I am a fan of its ability to adapt. It is quite an amazing old technology which has been transforming itself for more than 85 years, now allowing us to carry it around in our pockets if we really want. Its adaptability has been heavily aided by digital technologies, as the concept of watching TV is no longer looking at a specific device to catch up on a TV series or film, but is considered more the act of viewing content on whatever device you wish to use. Within this statement lies the process in which my family discovered the iconic 90’s TV series ‘Freaks and Geeks’.

A showcase of digital literacies soon began when my eldest digital native found a GIF image posted on the social media site Tumblr, by someone who she follows. It sparked her curiosity, so then headed to Google for more information. Up popped a Youtube library with the complete series for season one ready to view. As a cautionary step, she perused the comments left by other Youtube viewers to assess the general vibe of the shows content and then watched the pilot episode on her Apple laptop. Once shared with the rest of the family, we began the 18 episode journey with ‘Freaks and Geeks’, while using Air Play to watch it on the family TV screen. The writers had cleverly layered the show’s themes to cover points of view from a 14 year old brother, 16 year old sister and their very stereotypical 80’s parents.To get a feel for the theme and targeted audience, here is a quote from a google search:

Growing up circa 1980, a misfit high-school student and his pals are probably destined to become new media millionaires, but right now they’re stuck in school, where all the girls are a foot taller and bullies terrorize the gym class. Meanwhile, his older sister is flirting with the dope-smoking bad boys, cutting classes and questioning the point of getting good grades.

While devouring the one and only season over a week of holiday rest, we began adding ‘remember when’ scenarios into our conversations and inserting character’s punchlines. We would discuss the situations that certain characters put themselves into and tried to predict what was going to happen to them in the next episode. By the time we finished the season we had joined the fandom and could not believe that there was only one season ever made. In true digital native form, my youngest daughter jumped into action and searched online for more information about the series. She managed to uncover a huge cult following provided via blog articles, websites, and even an interactive game which was featured on Youtube. What’s great about this interactive game published by the Fine Brothers, is the option to choose your own adventure, where you take control of Lindsay Weir as she tries to find herself in high school. Play the game, and try to win!

Video Source: Fine Brothers October, 2013

I suppose that the main point of this very informal post is, that without today’s technological advancements made available to the masses, this interactive and ongoing conversation with digital connectivity would not be happening. Of course, we would have found some other form of entertainment to fill in our spare holiday hours, but the immersion of the digital literacies needed in our lives often goes unnoticed. Once upon a time, if you missed watching a TV show, you had to wait for the re-runs, but now it can begin with a simple GIF image to spark the adventure …. go figure?

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Changes in the Library ……. people and spaces

As the new kid on the block in the world of libraries and working my way through professional studies as a teacher-librarian, I have discovered that I sit in a very exciting phase of transition. Not only are library spaces and their purpose changing, but so too are the roles of the teacher-librarian. When you enter a room filled with said library nerds such as myself, you will soon find that our job descriptions have as many similarities as they do differences. Not only has technology became a huge part of our job in the maintaining of a library space, but the way that the library community sees its role. Within a report conducted by Zickhur et al (2012) a common theme appeared from the library patrons, as they considered it like a community centre and meeting space, as much as a place to do research and borrow books. There was also increased interest when it come to craft classes and children’s storytime activities made available in the library spaces. So, in saying that, it is obvious that the space should accommodate and reflect the needs of its community while providing flexible areas for technology based learning, as well as reading, researching, storytime, Makerspace, and book clubs activities to name a few.

Before venturing any further and to help set the scene for you, I would like to share a short video created by myself, which reflects the library space that I work in 3 days a week. An area that hasn’t been featured is the computer lab, which I will be discussing more later on.

Three years ago I took over from a very traditional teacher-librarian, who for 22 years had concentrated on literature and author studies, as well as how to find books in the library. During her career, there was no technology learning or support incorporated into the library services, even though the library space housed a computer lab from 2004. A classroom teacher, who had an interest in technology was assigned the role of ICT co-ordinator, to run lessons for every class in the primary school. I would like to point out at this stage that back then this school employed two teachers to do specialist lessons as they were viewed as separate job roles, as technology wasn’t so heavily integrated into our lives as it is today. It was looked upon as an independent subject just as Geography and French lessons might have been viewed. Nowadays technology is integrated into our lives and actions as part of our morning routine during a cup of tea or a bowl of cereal, as we check our emails, messages, social media feeds and study the daily weather forecast.

Talking about changes, currently my role not only has me discussing literature, authors, technology tools, skills and problems, but everything else in between. This is what I love about the job. The role has so many hats to wear and the one that is getting worn the most is ‘technology support‘. On a weekly basis I receive emails and drop-in visits from parents and students about their hardware needs and managing software issues. Zickhur at al. (2012) also discovered a similar result in their research report as their community struggled to keep up with technological advancements. Furthermore, it was uncovered that librarians felt a new set of demands on them to learn about the operations of new devices, mastering new web tools and applications, and sorting out glitches on digital devices.  It was nice to learn in this report that many librarians were self-taught techies, who were taking on new skills as their community members requested assistance. So, I am not alone in being asked impossible questions and then going to the computer to ‘google’ the answer.

In 2014, as part of my technology learning curve and the introduction of technology during library lessons, I started students using iMovie on a set of 12 mini iPads. Years 2 – 6 had different projects to create in pairs, but for Year 5’s I asked them to promote the new book titles included in our up and coming Book Fair. I was amazed at how quickly some of the groups worked through the project, but then discovered that not all students had used iMovie. As a result, the quicker groups coached the other groups to complete the project in time for the Fair. Although the inexperienced students took longer, it was a quick lesson for me that digital natives are fast learners to things involving technology. Below is an example of one of the Year 5 book trailers.

My hope in the future is that the technology mindset in the library continues to shift, so that it is seen as part of the many things available in this communal space. The current computer lab, which is set up in rows with an aisle down the middle, could be changed into a flexible media room. By running the desktop computers around the perimeter of the room, the centre of the room could be made free for casual seating and bean bags, for mobile device users and small group work. Alongside this change, a plethora of digitally based activities could stem from this new space. The adoption of a ‘child-driven’ mindset, would see students and teacher interchange their roles as each group learn new digital literacy skills side by side, and introduce new opportunities for online tasks that foster participatory cultures. This space could also provide drop-in sessions for parents to learn and share their technology issues and knowledge. With this school progressively changing into an Apple BYOD format over the next 2 years, I can see the library space and people playing a significant role in the transitioning of the school community during the journey, as we collectively take the ride.

 

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Coming to a School Near You .…… ‘out of school’ digital practices

Just as mentioned in my previous post, the primary school environment has changed as a direct result of the digital age, and so too has the learning environments made available to primary school students. In the future we will start to see more opportunities to learn through virtual classrooms, which is considered a great educational innovation in this digital age. This approach can help lessen educational limitations as it provides freedom and opportunity for the learners to choose classes they are interested in depending on their readiness, time, location and intellectual abilities (Trirat et al., 2014). If this is what our children will be experiencing in the near future, the digital literacies that they are developing now will be very valuable tools for their success in the future.

 

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Image Source: Free Stock Illustration

 

Such virtual classrooms will promote lifelong learning as they can be organized for formal and informal education, and it is within this informal realm that we could consider online game playing as teachable opportunities. It is no secret that youth like to play online games, and what better way to engage them in the learning process then through interactive technologies. However, Jenkins (2009) would warn that the focus should be more on the fostering of participatory cultures, which are emerging as the culture absorbs and responds to the explosion of new media technologies. These online learning environments have made it possible for average consumers to archive, annotate, appropriate, and recirculate media content in powerful new ways. Derby (2011) also discusses benefits of technology in education as improving students’ engagement and performance in the classroom, but believes that the most critical element of successful integration of technology is that it does not impinge on the central activity of learning. Online interactive games could bridge a gap in the way that some students interact with their learning if the participatory culture is nurtured, but at the same time we must consider the essence of the core learning task, while building a digital skill-set required by the student in future successes.

At one of my school library computer labs, I have seen a glimpse of students learning via interactive technologies found in online games. A Year 3 teacher has always had a strong commitment to the online game Sumdog, and each year has involved his whole class on a collective participatory level to compete in challenges as a team, completing tasks and earning points to be at the top of the ladder. Jenkins (2009) would suggest that these students have been developing new skill and knowledge through their participation in this informal learning community as gamers. Sumdog uses educational games to motivate students in math, reading and writing, and its adaptive learning engine monitors and guides them as they work. Not only can this Year 3 teacher see learning engagement and track progress, the relationship between the students and teacher has been developed over a collective commitment to this game-based activity, and of course to earn the title of the State winners in 2014.

Online games are paving the way for new styles of learning with digital literacies, and have the potential to allow young people to develop feelings of ownership over social and cultural agenda of participatory culture, and their online communications (Williamson, 2009). As educators in the learning environments made available to primary school students, it seems logical that we ensure that our young people develop a high functioning disposition to learn and to make smart choices about what, how, where and when they learn (McWilliam & Taylor, 2012), and the promotion of educational online games through Resource Centres and Libraries, could support this concept in a current and relevant fashion.

 

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Learning Environments

Primary school landscapes have seen dramatic changes over the past 10 years, commonly offering one-to-one laptop programs and BYOD schemes as part of the everyday routine of a students’ life. This increased exposure to technology has seen the development of children’s digital literacies on a daily basis, as students are expected to navigate their devices to find online educational tools, research reliable and relevant information, as well as create and produce assessment items in multimodal forms. Based on the growing body of research in this field, it is clear that children’s text production is evolving alongside these new technologies, while accompanying the social activities they are involving themselves in (Dowdall, 2009). Within this field, concepts of literacy, text and communication are joining together so that the act of text production can be viewed as a by-product of social networking (Dowdall, 2006). It is this act of text creation that is developing a social and technological skillset while the students’ ability to be digitally literate grows.

Importantly, when being able to succeed as text producers in academic institutions and online contexts indicate, children who develop their digital literacies are learning the rules of producing texts in different contexts (Dowdall, 2009). From a schooling perspective, students need their learning environments to offer current and relevant experiences to build upon their skillset and prepare them for the future, and having technology immersed in their learning allows for this. In saying that, we also need to consider that learning environments are not just in the classroom under the watchful eye of the teacher. Library spaces are changing alongside of today’s technological changes and demands, as they provide learning spaces to extend our knowledge in a magnitude of genres. No longer is the function of a library to provide written text and reference materials with low levels of noise. Libraries are reforming and reclaiming their status as social hubs for their learning communities, as they start to focus on serving as a ‘one stop shop’ for all things text related, including both paper and digital versions. Today’s libraries definitely need to practise a “USERS ADAPT” strategy, to remain relevant and current for its learning community.

 

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Image Source: Librarian Who Doesn’t Say Shhhh!

 

In my experience, the libraries I work in are certainly reclaiming their position as the social hubs of the schooling community, and in particular with the introduction of new features such as Makerspace. After several years of hearing about how great it is, I have begun the project of setting up an area, collecting the materials and tools (Makedo), and advertising it to attract a team of students. The most exciting part of this adventure is the fact that technology can join the party, as our school has a strong base of Apple technology available to play and learn with. I am envisaging ‘how-to’ movies being created on mini iPads to share the physical process of designing, creating and producing items made from paper, card, plastic and foam. Such movies could then be shown as a loop on a TV or projector in the library, to encourage new members to join the Makerspace team. Below is a short promotional video about Makedo. What’s not to love about this part of adapting in the digital world.

 

Makedo: Ideal for collaborative creative spaces such as classrooms, libraries and maker spaces.

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Age of the digital native…….

In my job as a Teacher-librarian, I often have encounters with parents who are confused, concerned or challenged by the way their child’s life seems to be surrounded by technology. It is this digital connectivity that alarms parents, as it is so different from when they were children. Marsh (2005) coined the phrase ‘children of the digital age’ when describing such youth who, from as long as they can recall, have been surrounded by ever-evolving digital technologies and practices that impact on their daily existence (Dowdall, 2009).

From an educational perspective, such applications of computer technologies can offer new ways of learning, allowing for significant interests that can lead to learner’s improvement and development (Thunhikorn, 2008). Unlike the television generation, the digital natives of the net generation are inquisitive and self-directed in learning, as the Internet has allowed for the production of new styles of playful learning (Tapscott, 1998). So, it’s not a matter of going back in time to when school resembled sitting silently at individual desks in rows and having your worth measured in terms of your last report card. McWilliam & Taylor (2012) argue that the way of the future needs to see schools provide high levels of appropriate learning support, and increase our expectations of students as they embark on risk-taking and innovative learning journeys while incorporating technology.

Many learning theories support the notion that learning never stops happening, and that learning can occur at any moment. McWilliam and Taylor (2012) support the notion that ‘educational wellbeing is a judicious mix of academic success and self-selected learning’, and so the development of digital literacies can have a positive outcome on the children of today. It is no wonder then that we are starting to observe a shift towards learning through different mediums such as mobile devices, digital cameras, DVD players, computers, and the Internet (Trirat, Soodsang, Phirasant & Suwannawajdr, 2014), as most youth spend their time learning through these current technologies.

In case you have forgotten just how far we have come in the world of digital technology, and are wondering what the big deal is about digital literacies, watch the past 30 years unfold on the office desktop below and then ponder what the next 30 years of innovative technology will look like.

 

Photographer: Doug Thomsen      Engineering by Anton Georgiev

Another significant element observed is that these new technologies also allow children unprecedented power and authority as publishers of multimodal text (Dowdall, 2009). They have become creators and producers of digital text, comments, reviews and videos, as they develop their own online presence through social networking sites. Just as the tools and technology embedded in these sites change, the use of the sites continue to grow (Pew Internet, 2010). It is here that we see the development of digital literacies, as youth take up the position of micro-bloggers with their status updates and online habits viewed through their application of choice. How different this learning concept must seem to parents, as they recall rote learning their timetables, and repetitively writing out their spelling words.

 

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Mind the Generational Gap

It is interesting as a parent and challenging at times, to navigate the use and exposure of technology with 2 teenage daughters. With a plethora of online sharing tools available, I am often learning as much from my daughters about the world of social media, as I am from my own informal investigation and formal study. It is quite amazing to think that many youth of today can not remember, or have never experienced, life without touchscreen devices and unlimited Wi-Fi access. It is this way of life that sets children in a different technological mindset to their parents, and an even larger difference between themselves and their grandparents. As much as technology and social media can open up opportunities to connect with people all over the world, the flip-side of this is the risk that if you don’t get on the technology train of thought, you will be left behind.

I would like to share a personal story that showcases this notion. A 70 year old woman has 4 grandchildren. When they were babies, the families lived close enough to visit on a regular basis, but now they are all teenagers and the families have spread apart. Over the past 5 years all of the grandchildren acquired mobile devices and computers that allowed them access to a magnitude of online sharing and connecting tools. They all have their favourites, creating online accounts and profiles to stay up-to-date with their friends. As a parent of 2 of these children, I have had the privilege and opportunity to ask them to teach me more about their online behaviours and likes. Their grandmother did not, and felt an increasing sense of being ‘left out’ when conversations arose within technology, devices and social media. She wanted to be up-to-date with their lives and interests, and desperately wanted to connect with them more often.

Image Source: http://www.mcrfb.com/?attachment_id=32420
Image Source: Motor City Radio Flashbacks

Then.…..along came an iPad.

This technology cautious grandmother threw herself into a digital storm, purchased an iPad and asked anyone who used one to teach her more. She soon had her contacts, emails and favourites set-up, and was able to start emailing her grandchildren. I was also lucky enough to become her tech support lifeline. This grandmother was motivated by the want and need to be closer to her family members and stay connected, and in this scenario she was able to do something about it. She may have been hesitant to get on the technology train at first, but was fortunate to have a support system around her to bridge the digital generational gap, which is very real for many people today. Buckingham & Willett (2006) also acknowledge this generational gap through Tapscott’s (1998) writings about children using technology as naturally as breathing, as they seem to possess intuitive, spontaneous relationships with digital technology. My concern is that for older generations who have never created such a relationship with new technological information, devices, and a patience support team, they may be left behind in isolation.

A possible solution to this is demonstrated in the following video, which shares how some generations struggle to keep up with the constant change in technology. New Brunswick Libraries have programs in place to help everyone keep up to speed. We need to see more libraries in our communities, both public and school based, take on this challenge also. I know I will be more mindful of this issue as I plan new adventures and services provided by our school library in the future.

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