Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Alan November @ NECC

Alan November gave a thought-provoking talk at a NECC2008 special session on Tuesday July 1, 2008. The session titled, "Designing Rigorous & Globally Connected Assignments" (among other NECC sessions) can be accessed in full at http://www.kzowebcasting.com/necc/

While entertaining and thought-provoking, attendees didn't come away with specific assignments or a step-by-step how-to procedure. I left the session with a somewhat random list of ideas and tools to consider when designing a globally connected assignment. These ideas and tools were woven into stories and opinions about the current state of education. November's opening story was about how his son received detention because he went to China for a week because going to China wasn't on the list approved absences for seniors. What was more disturbing for November was that not one teacher took advantage of creating an assignment that would enable his son to bring something back from the experience.

Here are other thoughts gathered from my notes...
1. Surveying your audience is very effective tool to bring them into your conversation, lecture, or lesson. November used a clicker-type device that allowed him to survey the audience, giving him a jumping-off point for his talk. I've also used these devices in this manner in the classroom and it is a beautiful hook for most students.
2. Knowing your audience is very important and students should understand audience when communicating. November shared a story about American students being hired by foreign companies that use Instant Messenger tools to communicate in the business world. November claimed that American employees were being fired because they used IM in non-professional ways because they lost site of their audience. I immediately thought of emails I received from some of my students that illustrates they have lost site of the fact that they are emailing an adult who is an authority figure. Our students definitely need to learn to match proper communication to audience.
3. Gathering a global perspective using Google search strategies was very insightful. This media literacy lesson demonstrated the western bias of a Google news search and demonstrated ways to avoid this bias. November cited an assignment where students needed to gather news about Pope Benedict's speech in September 2006 that linked Islam with violence. The caveat was to gather the perspective of Turkey, where the Pope was to speak after giving the speech. The first search attempt using key words in the Google news search brought up sources that indicated mostly a Western point of view. Using "site:tr" prior to key words (no quotes, tr=Turkey) brought up articles from the Turkish Daily News. These articles were not anywhere near the top of the previous search.
4. The most recent information on a topic is very important, especially in the area of medicine or technology. Using Google's "view:timeline" (again, not quotes) in the search box will provide information (web search or news) in a timeline format. This will allow you to see the most recent advances. For example typing "view:timeline cml treatment" in Google will yield this.
5. Create a custom search engine can be a very useful for teachers. I wasn't aware that Google allows users to build a custom search that will limit the search to specific websites. Whether it is one site or a collection of sites, Google allows you to host a search box on your own website that will allow students to do specific searches. Better yet, have students build their own custom search engine for your specific course. As you can see, I have added a custom search for this blog in the upper left corner.
6. Learner job descriptions can be one way to organize classroom tasks. November suggested the following roles: a) Classroom Web Research-builds classroom search engine, b) Videographer to teach course content, and c) Curriculum tutorial design team. One suggested tool to for developing tutorial tasks is Jing. Once Jing is installed screen captures (photos & videos) are made and shared easily.
7. Student created content was emphasized by November. November believes that learners need to contribute to the learning community either by producing or organizing content. Suggested ideas included collaborative note-taking, powerpoints, and contributions to a wikipedia entry (ex. Pitot House, view the history tab). Read more on students as contributors in this article on The Digital Farm.
8. Global connections are easier than ever and kiva.org allows students (or anyone) donate to entrepreneurs in developing countries and get money back on their loan. November suggested some students should make up a "Global Communications Team" that works to set up contacts around the world.


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