Continuing the Conversation on Ethics

Stephen Downes, an information philosopher (my characterization) and blogger, whom I respect greatly, has seen fit to criticize my recent entry, where I featured an Information Code of Ethics for teachers and students. I want to thank this Canadian academic for all of his criticisms and enormous contributions. Questioning blogs and even disagreeing helps to make blogging what it is best at — conversation. So thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about this a little more.

Among his statements, Downes said,

I personally think that a code of ethics is not useful, because if one believes in the ethics, the coded is not needed, and if one doesn’t, the code will not be followed.

On the outset, I agree with this statement. But as my friend, Terry Freedman, says in a comment,

You’re right about the code of ethics (cf Shankara, which I will blog about on, but I don’t see how your position actually helps anyone working in schools.

I’m sure I’ve told this story before, but I think that it is also in the nature of a blog that we can repeat things. Several years ago, during a shuttle ride from an airport to some conference facility, I found myself sitting beside of Donna Miller, a project editor for Linworth Publishing. Out of the conversation that we had, I found myself in a book writing agreement to produce a manuscript about technology in schools.

As I worked on the project, I increasingly came to believe that what I was writing about was not technology, but literacy, the basic skills requires to accomplish goals using information. I was learning, through my research and planning that it was the dramatic changes in the nature of information that is impacting us, more than the dramatic changes in technology. So the project evolved into a literacy book called, “Redefining Literacy for the 21st Century.”

It became obvious to me, as the manuscript grew, that the power of information and the enormous personal power that information skills afford their users, demand considerations that were not so important in a published print information environment, and that these ethical considerations were not being taught as part of standard curriculum in most schools.

I began to write a code of ethics, but quickly realized that I’m not smart enough to do what I wanted to do. So I tried to think of a community of people who were already practicing contemporary literacy. It didn’t take long to realize that one professional community is already Exposing Truth, Employing Information, and Expressing Ideas Compellingly — journalists. Their job is not merely to be able to read, but to find appropriate information, decode it, evaluate its value, organize it, process it, and plan for the most effective format that the message should take.

I suspect that most would agree that journalists should follow a code of ethics, and upon investigation, I found that the Society of Professional Journalists had established a Code of Ethics on their web site that followed, amazingly, the structure that I was presenting to general contemporary literacy. After some correspondence, the association’s executive editor gave me permission to adapt their code of ethics for a document that I could make available to schools.

The first three elements are almost identical. I added a forth element to address spamming, malicious hacking, and viruses.

Again, I agree with Downes conclusion that we don’t really need a code of ethics. However, in school, our job is to teach and to help students to learn. And I suspect, as much as I might not like it, that in this time of rapid change, somethings do need to be shown and explicitly taught, as well has helping students to discover.

2¢ Worth!

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Hargadon Podcast on Wikis in Education

Open source guru, Steve Hargadon, hosted a podcast interview yesterday with Vicky Davis, from Westwood Schools in Georgia and Adam Frey, of Wikispaces. The topic was wikis in education, and a case was made that although blogs are currently more popular, wikis also have a place as a transformative educational experience.

In his blog post, Steve says:

Adam does a great job in explaining wikis in simple terms, and Vicki continues to amaze me with her ability to be both prolific and insightful. She is also an extraordinary organizer, as evidenced by her ability to understand, categorize, and then teach new technologies to her students. Vicki divided the use of wikis in education into two broad categories: organizational and educational. From the organization standpoint, she sees wikis as a high-tech “toolbelt” that lets you organize and present other material or media.

The blog post is called Exploring Wikis in Education with Vicki Davis and Adam Frey and you can listen to the audio of the interview here:

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How to Drive in NYC

I started, yesterday, in Toronto, with a five minute shuttle ride to the airport. Working my way through customs reminded me of a story that Robert Williams, one of my English teachers at Gaston College told, about when he was in the army and stationed in Berlin. He said that the Soviet soldiers who guarded the border were all specially selected. they were all at least 6’4″ and they all looked mean. It was that same distinction between the very young and smiling Canadian customs people and the U.S. officials I encountered coming back into my country. I am not complaining! I just think that it is very sad that we seem unable to solve the problems that are forcing us to act the way that we do. We have some pretty smart people. We should be able to creatively solve this thing.

The flight was uneventful and short, between Toronto and La Guardia. Then things got interesting. I rented a Suzuki station wagon and then commenced to drive to my next gig in Delaware, which took me right through the middle of Manhattan. I learned three things during this experience that I shall not forget for many miles.

GPS doesn’t work in Manhattan. The buildings are too tall.
Things finally settle down when you realize that you should forget everything, and concentrate on just getting through the next five feet.
Double-parked cars are your friend — when you have to change lanes.h

Oh yes! One more thing. At all costs — ignore the horns…

In reality, it was not so bad. But I understand now, why my brother sold his car, right after moving to Manhattan.

$9 worth — about the cost of three gallons of fuel…

Pluto? How do you Know?

SolorsystemIt’s 6:06 AM on August 25, 2006, and today, we only have eight planets orbiting the Solar System. How do we know. We go to Wikipedia, and look up Solar System. There it says:
Major features of the solar system (not to scale). Featuring the Sun, eight planets, asteroid belt, a trans-Neptunian object and a comet.

Now I’m not saying that Wikipedia is THE place to go to do your research. I am say, thought, that this is what the Wikipedia is good at — having more up-to-date information than more traditional sources of information.

This development also indicates once again why we should be spending more effort teaching our children to find the facts, and less effort teaching them to memorize the facts.

2¢ Worth!

Image Citation:
“Solar System.” Wikipedia. 25 Aug 2006. WikiMedia. 25 Aug 2006 <>.

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Blogging Best Practices from the Front Porch

Miguel Guhlin hosted a podcast last night about best practices in classroom blogging. The participants were:

  • Heather Burleson, 7th-8th grade in East Texas
  • John Blake, North Carolina, blogging since Blogmeister beta!
  • Kathy Cassidy, Canada
  • Vicki Davis, CoolCat Teacher
  • Miguel Guhlin, San Antonio, TX
  • Sharon Peters, Montréal, Canada
  • Kyle Stevens, Dallas, TX
  • Jennifer Wagner

You can read to blog, Sharing Blogging Best Practices and listen to the audio here.

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Responses from Yesterday’s Comments

I’m sitting in the Toronto Airport, on my way to La Guardia, where I’ll rent a car and drive down to Deleware. I can’t believe I’m going to be driving in New York City. Scared to death.

I thought I would take a few minutes and explore some of the comments that were posted on yesterday’s article, which included the students blogs I borrowed from Will Richardson.

I find it disappointing that the second student feels that s/he has no option but to accept the passive type of learning that is offered in the classroom. We ask ‘what can we change in our instructional practices that will encourage the student to challenge his or her thinking?’
The first student is excited about writing and communicating with others. They have more ownership over their learning.

I think that we need to better define what it is that we are trying to do. The second student, in my opinion, has become good at being a student. She/he knows how to, as Marc Prenski puts it, “play school.” I think that we need to realize that too much of our efforts are aimed at making children good students, rather than good learners. It’s not our fault. The system tells us what to do. Yet, it is our responsibility.

The student finds the medium engaging and hence is motivated to read and write and learn to a greater extent. Many special education students simply benefit from the use of a keyboard and are able to participate with improved quality and quantity of writing.

I had a conversation yesterday with one of the administrators, who observed that special education students seem to perform much better when using a keyboard to communicate than they do when using a pencil. It seems to me that keyboarding (either computer or phone) has become a teen skill, whereas writing with pen or pencil is a school skill. Look at it from the student’s point of view.

The problem with surfing the internet is the lack of ’structure’. Its like walking throiugh an enormous open marketplace. Incredibly interesting items to see and explore but impossible to quickly find what you started out looking for. And as with any complex new structure a real time dump to master. Never mind blogging.

This comment reminded me of a technology market I visited in Hong Kong a few years ago. The setup was so foreign to me that I stayed confused the whole time, constantly distracted and always lost. However, when I watched the natives, they all knew exactly what they were looking for and how to get it. I maintain that it’s time that teachers stop acting like immigrants.

Also, blogging isn’t for everyone. You blog to solve a problem or accomplish a goal. Without a problem or goal, it’s just academic, and we’re tool old for academics.
Another participant went on to say…

It’s really a slow process until we really get going. I’d be reluctant to blog because I’m not sure who wants to listen to what I have to say. At a local level, we might connect blogging to our own First class internet.

This is an interesting statement, and probably a common source of reluctance. But I’ll repeat. I’m not blogging to entertain or even to inform. I’m blogging because I have a goal, a mission. I think that we need to change what and how we teach, and I blog with that in mind. I try to take steps to encourage readership, because that helps me accomplish my goal.

Well, I could go on, but let’s look at the next comment…

I can see the value in respecting the learning styles for both learners. Unfortunately, we are most likely only meeting the needs of the old school learner. It would be interesting to observe the change in classroom dynamics if both styles were addressed.

Very well said. There are certainly appropriate times and situations where the best thing is for the teacher to lecture and the students to take notes and memorize. The second part of his comment is very important, I believe. This is our task and what I was trying to help the administrators in Bluewater to do, to imagine what the dynamics of that classroom might be, turn that into a story, and tell it.

It all comes down to how we use differentiated learning in our classes. We need a number of approaches to learning, since students have their particular strengths and needs. Some students will benefit from being left alone to experiment with the blogs, while others will require more direction and supervision. Just like any other learning tool, teachers need to make decisions about how to best serve their students and their academic growth by best utilizing the tool in the manner that they would utilize any other classroom resource.

“Right on!” The idea that one size fits all is as outdated as the stone tablet. I believe, also, that we should respect and have confidence in our teachers’ abilities to observe and apply teaching strategies and learning experiences based on the class and on the individual student. This requires, more than staff development, the resources and time to observe, reflect, research, invent, and experiment. I requires investment in our classrooms.

Blogging is an excellent way to discuss opinions and ideas with those beyond the borders of your country. It is an online living textbook, current and up to date debating and sharing of ideas. The opportunity for sharing and exploring new ideas as your own ideas are being responded to makes the format open-ended and allows immediate exploration/feedback/sharing.

Once again, spot on! I really like the idea of blogging as an online living textbook. Of course, this isn’t entirely true, but it says a lot about what blogging is. Beyond all other things, it’s about conversation – and it’s inside of conversations that we learn.

We need to adapt our teaching to the lives of the students. They are living and working in a different environment than we have in the traditional, industrial model classroom. In order to address the needs of our students, we as educators need to find ways to enter into that new environment. The second student probably is more successful in our traditional classrooms, the first is moving in a totally different environment.

Coincidentally, the Bluewater District (Ontario, Canada) has invited me to return next month, and among my activities will be to meet with students in their district and try to learn from them about how they learn and how they think classrooms should operate. It something that I haven’t done very often, and a tricky sort of activity, but I am certainly looking forward to it.

That’s enough for now. Getting close to time for boarding.

Blogging For Learning

Will Richardson included on one of yesterday’s blog postings, quotes from two students, who were blogging in a summer class being taught by beginning edublogger, Pat Aroune. I thought that both quotes were especially telling about education and the potential impact that blogging can have as a learning technology. It’s giving voice to learners.

Here is the first quote:

I’ve learned in a way that tailors to my interests, what with using the internet to its fullest extent and writing about things that I am interested in. I would write about things like snowboarding, soccer, filmaking, eating, sleeping… whatever I wished, as long as I related it to economics. After doing this for a while, I started to realize that I was learning much faster than I would have normally by reading a boring (sorry, they almost always are) textbook. Not only could I write about things that I like and post them, but others could view those posts, as could I theirs, and consequently learn from their experiences and interests as well.

Now, what does this say to you?

This second quote is a bit less enthusiastic about blogging. However, I think that there is an important message here as well. What do you think it is?

To be quiet honest, I’ve become so accustomed to the “old skool” way of learning through the textbook and lectures, taking tests, and writing essays, that it’s just how I learn the easiest. It’s all I’ve known. How is this blogging thing gonna really help me? How am I even gonna know what to do? What does my teacher expect from me and how will I be able to meet those expectations? That was the main question right there. I’ve found that I learn in a way that requires a lot of structure. Someone tells me what to do and how they want it done, and like the mindless little nerd-monkey that I am, I do it.

Please post a comment with your insights about either or both of these student quotes.

This is a blog assignment for administrators I am working with in Ontario. However, anyone can participate in this discussion.

Getting Right Down To It

This was originally posted on the Technology & Learning blog page earlier this week.

School starts soon. For some, classrooms are already filled with curious, eager to learn, and savvy millennials, who, while they pay attention to you, are skillfully texting their friends with cell phones under their desks — typing with one hand.

I have continued to work through the summer presenting at conferences, staff development institutes, administrative retreats, and school openings. The most requested topic continues to be 21st century literacy. I prefer to call it “Contemporary Literacy.” It is a good presentation, but the topic can be provocative, as it goes against a lot of the conventions that years of schooling have instilled in us.

Expanding our notions of reading, arithmetic, and writing to reflect an increasingly networked, digital, and overwhelming information landscape requires that we let go of a lot of the rules we have based not only our curriculum on, but even our styles of teaching. I have spent much of the summer engaged in a nearly explosive debate with librarians about a number of topics related to literacy, and you can read them in my blog at (

It all comes together, though, when we rest our notions of literacy on a very simple, yet very new assumption. We must include, in our very definition of what it means to be literate, a basic code of ethics — a right and wrong for the information highway. I have written, with the help of others, A Student & Teacher Information Code of Ethics. This document, which is available as a downloadable MSWord file, points to four areas of concern, and lists proactive considerations that students and teachers should apply to every information decision that they make. I am including them here, and suggest that they might be a good way to start the school year. You are welcome to download the MSWord version and edit it for your school level and curriculum.

A Student & Teachers
Code of Ethics

Seek Truth and Express It

Teachers and students should be honest, fair, and courageous in gathering, interpreting and expressing information for the benefit of others. They should:

  • Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error.
  • Always identify sources. The consumers of your information product must be able to make their own judgment of its value.
  • Always question the sources’ motives.
  • Never distort or misrepresent the content of photos, videos, or other media without explanation of intent and permission from the information’s owner. Image enhancement for technical clarity is permissible.
  • Tell the story of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so.
  • Examine your own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.
  • Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.
  • Give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be equally valid.
  • Distinguish between opinion and fact when expressing ideas. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.

Minimize Harm

Ethical teachers and students treat information sources, subjects, colleagues, and information consumers as human beings deserving of respect.

  • Gathering and expressing information should never cause harm or threaten to be harmful to any one person or group of people.
  • Recognize that private people in their private pursuits have a greater right to control information about themselves than do others.
  • Consider all possible outcomes to the information you express, guarding against potential harm to others.
  • Never use information from another person without proper citation and permission.

Be Accountable

Teachers and students are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and to each other.

  • Clarify and explain information and invite dialogue about your conduct as a communicator.
  • Encourage the information consumer to voice grievances about your information products.
  • Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.
  • Expose unethical information practices of others.

Respect Information and its Infrastructure

Information, in the Information Age, is property. Information is the fabric that defines much of what we do from day to day, and this rich and potent fabric is fragile.

  • Never undertake any action that has the potential to damage any part of this information infrastructure. These actions include, but are not limited to illegally hacking into a computer system, launching or distributing viruses or other damaging software, physically damaging or altering hardware or software, or publishing information that you know is untrue and potentially harmful.
  • Report to proper authorities any activities that could potentially result in harm to the information infrastructure.

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What Would You Say to a Publisher

 25 94256599 A8314B18Fb MIf I were to have an opportunity to speak at some national association of book publishers in the near future, what should I say to them. What does the publishing industry need to be thinking and doing, in order to remain a vibrant part of the information industry?
What are your 2¢?

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