Category Archives: social justice

Questions and Reflections about Learning in the Digital Environment

Alec Couros and Katia Hildebrandt are facilitating a Digital Citizenship Massive Open Online Course(#DCMOOC). The community within this course is discussing the digital environment and the implications for educators and students. The week two presentation looked at learner participation in the digital environment and the implications for critical thinking and ethical behavior. We explored the questions around age restrictions and filtering for learner environments. The following questions followed the presentation for continued discussion.

How do we ensure that learners are critical, ethical, and knowledgeable creators, consumers, and participants of digitally mediated environments? How can we develop students’ abilities to become self-regulatory in the appropriate use of digital media, rather than relying on external filters and restrictions?

Learners need guided opportunities for purposeful use of digital environments. We teach critical and ethical activity through our modeling during instruction and by setting tasks which require thoughtful creation of artifacts and products. When we plan for these tasks, we need to establish the guidelines which support students’ understanding of copyright and privacy. Along the way, we can give feedback on their sources and their citation of their sources. Learners’ develop their abilities to self-regulate when they are given real opportunities to choose. In the digital context that means choosing their sources of information and critiquing them. In the early years, we can do these tasks together as a class and model the citizenship they will need to develop. As they grow, we can give opportunities to develop their skills by providing examples and non-examples of sources and materials as well as guidance for what to do when they ‘arrive’ at online places they know are not appropriate. I think the following analogy is appropriate: we teach children to swim by taking them to the pool. If we stayed in the bathtub, they would not learn what they needed in order to swim. Just as children need to be in the pool to learn to swim, we need to go into digital spaces to learn to participate in the digital environment.

How do we model modern approaches to copyright and creativity, where the rights of both creators and consumers are balanced and respected?

I believe learners and teachers need to know the limits and freedoms we have as citizens. Under Canadian copyright legislation, it is recognized that citizens can make mash-ups of material without breaking copyright. Mash-ups are digital artifacts made by mixing a number of sources (photo-shopping a photograph, mixing two music tracks, adding music to a series of video clips). These mash-ups must not interfere with the ability for the owner or creator of the original to make a profit from their creation or product. As a consumer, I also have a right to use portions of material for research, for private study, for review or criticism, and news reporting. I also have a right to use materials for education, for parody, and for satire. My uses must be fair to the owner or creator of the work. To use work fairly, I need to give credit for the work, not sell the work, and not interfere with the selling of the work.

Learners need to be aware of their rights and the rights of others when it comes to making and sharing work digitally. We need to teach them simple ways to give credit. With younger children we can call it a ‘thank you’ for the work of others which is supporting their work. We can model these things in our own presentations and artifacts which we produce for school. We can develop age appropriate ways to say ‘thank you’.
How do we help students develop positive digital identities? What activities/assignments/projects can we integrate into our teaching to help our learners build their digital footprints?

How do we help our students to become kind and caring citizens who act with integrity in all spaces, including digital ones?

As a parent, I help my children develop their digital identities by having them use their own name when they work online. We started with their email addresses and have slowly added tools and artifacts to their online spaces. They check with me before adding friends and talk about how what they ‘like’ sends a message about who they are and what is important to them. We have talked about how what appears private can be copied and shared in public. We have started to develop portfolios of videos and projects which will form the oldest section of their digital footprints.

At school, I work with young children. Not all their parents are ready to have their children identified online by name. I think we can help to mitigate this concern by using first name, last initial, and avatars for identifiers with younger children. I hope to counsel the students’ parents to consider how creating a ‘fake’ identity could harm their child’s ability to navigate the online world honestly and carefully. Our children need opportunities to develop their online presence with the support and advice of trusted adults. Teaching them to be themselves online is an important first step in developing a positive digital citizen.

What is the role of schools in terms of developing student activism? How might we encourage and support students to use online spaces and social media to contribute positively to our world?

I believe in being an active, engaged citizen of the world. I struggle with the term ‘student activism’. Why? I should love it. I believe in learners being active, engaged citizens of the world and I believe in being in online spaces using social media. Activism needs to be the outgrowth of student engagement. I think we need to be cautious about doing social action because it’s well-marketed. This is peer pressure activism, which I sometimes get a whiff of with the “Be the Change” T-shirts or mandatory Pink T-shirt day. I think we need to get our learners into the real world and making a contribution in the ways which “fire them up” and make the world a better place.

So how do we encourage it? We do things that matter. We teach about the real world, real people, in real places, with real struggles. We cry, we laugh, and we think carefully about what we are doing and when we have kids ask the question, “but what can we do?” We do something, anything, which we can think of together to help make a difference.


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Filed under classroom, copyright, identity, learning, social justice

Bank Failure?

As we watch the markets and bemoan our losses, I always wonder if I should feel badly or positively about the changes.  I always have this unfortunate feeling that the little guy loses and the big business wins regardless of the corrections to the market place.  I have started to read the Guardian as a feed.  It helps me see the global picture when my CBC feed doesn’t cover it.  This article by Alfred Gusenbauer gives a little hope.  Perhaps if we, citizens of capatalist democracies, can see the truth in the need to protect the weakest from ourselves, we can make a change to our structures.  Failures are learning opportunites, right?

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Filed under responsibility, social justice

Canadian Copyright Law

The Canadian Government has tabled a law which addresses the new environment for information sharing.  It is unfortunately not a very good one according to many accounts, M. Geist, Digital Copyright Canada, James Bow.

So although I am simply a citizen.  I have written my MP and the PM and Mr. Prentice to state my views.

Dear Mr. Harper,
I feel it is necessary to let you know how I feel about the new Copyright Law.  I fear your government has not hit the right balance between  the freedom of the individual and the rights of the producer.  I am particularly concerned about the restriction which this law imposes on the ability of educators to help students learn to use and work with multimedia.  In the school setting, it is important to be able to have students quote from materials which are meaningful to them.  In a sense, copying from a small piece of a video or music cd which is already owned by the student, is allowing them to quote from that source.  I would expect my students to give references and to make sure the works of authors, musicians, actors etc are appropriately given credit but also that they should be able to make these quotes without breaking the law.  I have worked hard in the past years to use materials following the guidelines of Access Copyright, to make use of copyleft and Creative Commons materials and to teach students about their responsibilities to give credit, to pay for and to adhere to the law of the land.  This law will make that job much more difficult and the work we wish to do to prepare students to be prosumers (producer/consumers) in the online world is inhibited.  I must admit my understanding of the details of this new law are limited but according to Prof. M. Geist and other respected persons within the online community, I must make my opinion known.  Canada needs a new Copyright Law but our new law needs to reflect the need for the common good of Canadians and Canadian artists and producers of media.  Please make known the wishes of Canadians to the Cabinet and ask for revisions in the new law.  We need a Canadian Copyright not a Multicorp Copyright.
Thank you.
Susan Funk

I encourage you to do likewise.  I am ever hopeful that the Canadian governing system works and each voice counts.  I often don’t get my way but I still let them know what I’m thinking.  It gives me complaining rights at the very least.


Filed under free speech, social justice

100 Miles

Since I finished my Master’s work, I have had the chance to read for fun!  What a novelty!  I love a good read and it seems that I’m not that discerning as to quality.  I like a page turner such as One for the Money and a Giller winner such as Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures.  This weekend I had the opportunity to read The 100 Mile Diet.  I am challenged.  Can someone do this in Saskatchewan?  Clearly the First Nations people lived off the land here and survived, so it is possible.  Besides I would have flour which was more than a little challenge for the 100 Mile Diet authors.  I’m looking in my pantry and I know my goods have traveled a fair distance to arrive and many of them are untraceable.  In 100 Mile Diet the couple eats for an entire year from products produced within a 100 Mile radius of their home.  (Ok, they live in the Fraser Valley, makes it a little easier perhaps but still our current food system is skewed against it.)

This isn’t a new idea to me.  My husband and I buy almost all are meat from a local producer and we have a small garden.  We have done a little canning – beet pickles and strawberry jam.  How far down this road are we willing to go?  I think so far I would be look at transforming breakfast.  It would be no real loss to not eat pre-fab cereal for breakfast and I’m fairly certain that finding locally traceable grains in Saskatchewan will not be an impossible task.  Could we eat entirely locally produced food?  What would it cost?  Do we have the time to do the canning, freezing, preparing of foods in summer for the following approximately 7 months?  Would we find company on the road?

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Filed under personal, reading, social justice

Children’s Culture – bias and sterotyping

Each text has a point of view and angle.  Non-fiction will take a particular stance on a subject.  Children’s literature tends to portray the world as a simple place, a happy place, a homogeneous place, a stereotypically diverse place, a place of constant obvious values and hope.  What does it mean if this is the reality that we share with children?  If all families come from clean and spacious homes, if all teenagers look like Barbie, if boys are strong and dangerous and girls are pretty and decorative?

Nodelman and Reimer suggest that in presenting children’s literature we can both use the familiar texts and biases to help to trouble these waters.  Do these characters look like you?  Do they live in a similar way?  How does that compare to what you know of the rest of society?  How true are these stories? Who is powerful and who is weak in these stories?  Are these stories good stories?  We will always have bias in text, we need to teach students and children ways of asking questions which challenge the texts they read and the media they consume.

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Filed under children's lit, curriculum, education, learning, library, responsibility, social justice

Childhood – appropriateness and censorship

What do we let children read? When do we let them read it? I am a regular censor of the materials I let my own child read and particularly watch on T.V. I have done this censoring deliberately to frame the world for my child in the ways I believe will make the world a better place. We don’t watch violent movies and that word ‘violent’ is fairly broadly drawn. On the other hand, I gladly read “Heather has Two Mommies” to my son and “Tango makes Three“. Within my own family, I make my own choices and develop the reading repertoire of my son, my own way. How do I take that to school?

At school, I choose books to read aloud to my students, would I choose “Heather has Two Mommies” or Tango makes Three” or for that matter later “Stitches“? I would include them in my collection if I was choosing, but would I use them in the classroom? I don’t know. I would talk to my principal first and I would analyze my reasons. I do think the same values that I hold up for my son as important are ones which would benefit my students but do I want to open that can of worms? I feel weak in my convictions and I wonder what my division would do if push came to shove. Would I be required to make an apology if I offended parents or community members? I have no idea. I have never made that kind of controversial decision.

Can kids handle it? I believe that they can. In fact, I think my son has a more open understanding now than perhaps he will as a pre-teen. In my unscientific observations, children in Kindergarten and Grade One are more open than students in Grades Three to Eight and then it seems to start to reverse again. Generalizations I know. Right now my son is willing to say that families can have a mom and a dad, a mom, a dad, two moms, two dads, or any other variation on ‘normal’. I don’t know whether that will stick or not.

There are taboos in public education and it certainly affects the literature that we use in school. Spirituality and religion are a big no-no these days. I know I tread carefully around the idea of God and different religions. Students will ask if I go to church. I will say yes. I try to deliberately expand the religious calendar to include less dominant events (in this part of Canada) such as Diwali, Ramadan, Hannukah… I am not very good at it yet. I am not sure how far down the road I can go before it offends someone.

In our neighbouring school division the taboos are different. It is a Catholic division. They have to tow the line on homosexuality, birth control, family structures… I don’t know if I would trade them. We each have to walk around our own eggshells.

Each of the school divisions have had to face some of the challenges brought on by Harry Potter. Can the children handle the books? Do we need to protect them from books with unusual content? At what point do we let the children decide and then simply discuss the content with them. These are certainly questions I will face as a parent and as a teacher. It is easier with my own kids. I am allowed my own bias with my own kids. When my son starts to want to see the films that everyone else is seeing, we will need to make that choice. I remember wanting to see Grease in 1978. I was eight, my sister was ten. The answer was NO. I saw the movie later at about 16. I confirmed their choice. It had not been appropriate for me at eight, I thought. Now I wonder. Would it have harmed me to see the values which would not and still don’t match my own?

How do you choose?  What do we prevent kids from seeing?  Do we need to?

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Filed under children's lit, curriculum, education, free speech, library, literacy, responsibility, social justice

A colonial brain trying to be post-colonial

I have been attending Congress 2007 and am trying to process some of what I have taken in there. I have attended quite a number of workshops but most of them have carried a similar thread about the importance of telling stories, hearing stories, writing stories and talking about stories, particularly our own stories through autobiography.

Laara Fitznor – a Cree woman and professor – told her family’s story and wove it together with the history of the First Nation’s people of Canada. She is a strong and intelligent woman. What she told rang in my memory for the next few days and I am trying to break through my cognitive dissonance and find a resting place. She talked a bit about where we are in the story that has been written between First Nation’s and Metis people of Canada and the rest of us. She talked about our being in a place where we can re-story to work as allies and open up spaces within society for the growth of Indigenous peoples and their contributions to society in Canada.

I want to be a part of the retelling, the re-storying. I am not sure what my role is but it has made me wonder about my reaction to the story of “Snow Tunnel Sisters“. Is my reaction to the story grown out of an inability to appreciate the nature of Metis storytelling? Is my ability to critique literature inhibited by my own identity as a colonially-educated white middle-class female? There are times when I am deeply aware of myelf as a person living on the land of a disposed people. This is one of those times. I definitely to take more time to think on this and find my story, particularly as it relates to my being a treaty person, that is, a party to the treaty which resulted in my being able to own land, become educated, have family, etc. here in Canada.


Filed under children's lit, education, identity, learning, social justice, teacher training