Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What Educators Should Learn from the Harlem Shake

Kroc Preschool Harlem Shake Video
The Harlem Shake meme removes any last shred of doubt.  Many people, including young people, want to create, not just consume, video.  The Harlem Shake videos, each approximately thirty seconds long, feature an excerpt from the song of the same name.  A typical Harlem Shake video starts with one person, usually helmeted or masked, dancing alone in the middle of other people who are not focused on the dancer. Suddenly, the video cuts to the whole group doing a wild dance for the last half of the video.
High School Harlem Shake Video
Knowing that people love to consume YouTube videos, it is no surprise that there were 175 million views of the videos within weeks of the videos going viral. (Source: Wikipedia)
YouTube, however, is about creation, not just consumption. Recently, unique Harlem Shake videos were being uploaded at a rate of 4,000 per day!  Approximately 40,000 Harlem Shake videos were uploaded in the first two weeks of February.
Three- and four-year old children at Kroc preschool uploaded a Harlem Shake videoLawton-Bronson High School filmed one at an assembly. Young at heart seniors at Golden West Senior Living created a version as well. Steve Dembo (@Teach42), one of the most well-known proponents of digital storytelling in education, posted a version featuring workshop participants at the recent IntegratED 2013 conference in Portland.
Senior Citizens Harlem Shake Video
What led these four groups and 40,000 other groups of people to create a Harlem Shake video?
1.      Connectivity and widespread access to simple digital tools: It is incredibly easy for people to use their smart phone, iPad, laptop or other digital device to film, edit, and upload a video. The technical expertise involved with the Harlem Shake videos is minimal. As Wikipedia observes, “The Harlem Shake is technically very easy for fans to reproduce, as it consists of a single locked camera shot and one jump cut.”
2.      Opportunity for Creative Expression: Although the Harlem Shake videos have core elements, creators of the videos thrived on making unique versions.
3.      Opportunity to publish for a global audience: Harlem Shake videos have been uploaded and viewed around the world, including Western Europe, Eastern Europe, China, India, the Middle East and elsewhere. The Kroc preschool video, the Lawton-Bronson High School video, and the Golden West Senior Living video have received approximately 2000 hits, 33,000 hits, and 12,000 hits, respectively!
As reported by the New York Times, the viral popularity of Harlem Shake led Billboard magazine to change its ways. The last two years Billboard has considered including the number of YouTube plays as one of three factors that determine the ranking of the 100 hottest songs. The viral popularity of Harlem Shake ended this two-year discussion, with the 55-year old list now reflecting YouTube plays. Under the old system, the Harlem Shake song would have debuted in the top 15 of the list. With the new system, Harlem Shake debuted at the top spot.
What is the implication for educators?
IntegratED Harlem Shake Video
Let’s co-opt the power of creating digital stories for a global audience. As educators, let’s give students opportunities to create, not just consume, digital stories. Their engagement with digital storytelling will yield to deeper, longer-lasting learning.
Clearly the creation of a Harlem Shake video does not constitute a substantive intellectual exercise. But when students, turn their digital storytelling inclinations to other content, the learning potential is significant. For example, depending on the nature of digital storytelling, students will
·         write, revise, edit scripts;
·         research and analyze content related to the theme;
·         construct a persuasive argument; and
·         develop a unique voice based on a perspective that emerges after evaluation of content.

Some cynics may underestimate students in asserting that the enthusiasm they show for creating Harlem Shake videos will never be matched in more serious endeavors. These cynics are dead wrong. In the York County School Division in Virginia, we are partnering with Discovery Education to test a beta version of a platform that supports students as creators of digital content. To learn more, check out this post.

As much as the Harlem Shake videos have entertained millions, I know that our students’ videos will inform, persuade, inspire, and entertain us!
Related post:

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Moving from Students as Consumers to Creators of Digital Content

Storytellers can transform the world. They inform, persuade, entertain, and inspire us to take action. Digital storytellers use technology to improve the quality of their work and amplify its impact.
Digital storytellers include youth, although often they create digital stories independent of school. In school, most youth only consume digital stories and resources. We need to transition from consumption to creation of digital content, from students as consumers to students as creators of digital content. When students create digital content that they value, they are much more likely to be engaged. With greater engagement, they commit themselves more fully to learning so their learning is deeper and more enduring.
Over a year ago, my colleagues and I in the York County School Division in Virginia began looking for tools and platforms to help support students as creators of digital content.  Although our teachers and students extensively use Discovery Education resources, when we started our search we did not know that Discovery Education already planned additional steps to support students as creators of digital content.
Our participation in the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools led to a partnership between our school division and Discovery Education focused on students as creators of digital content. The League of Innovative Schools is a national coalition of 32 school districts committed to collaborating with top researchers, providers of breakthrough technologies (including Discovery Education), and one another in demonstrating, evaluating, and scaling up innovations that deliver better results for students.
After exchanging ideas with Discovery Education Vice President Andy Schaeffer (@AndySchaefferDE) at a Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools event, we submitted a request for collaboration to Discovery Education. Here is an excerpt from the request for collaboration:
We invite Discovery Education to collaborate with the York County School Division in the transformation of learning.  By supporting students as they create new content using the vast digital resources of Discovery Education, we can engage our students in rigorous work that allows them to transform the world.
We want to emphasize student use of digital resources, rather than teacher use.  We will move from students being consumers of digital resources to students being creators of digital resources.   
By relying on our bring-your-own technology initiative, our private cloud infrastructure, and our virtual learning opportunities, our students will take the use of DE resources to a whole new level.  Students will use their own smart phones, tablets, netbooks, and other devices at school and outside of school to create digital resources . . .  Students will access the resources of our private cloud anytime, anywhere, and from any device with internet connectivity in order to create and use videos.  Whether they are working in traditional brick-and-mortar settings, virtual courses, or blended environments, students will use digital resources to transform the world. 
 Our dream is that DE will be a digital hangout for our young people—a place where they play, learn, create, problem-solve, and inspire.  We wonder about the possibilities.
·                     Would it be possible for students to create video mashups and post them within DE?  The mashups could combine editable videos from the DE digital library as well as student-created videos.  The mashups could incorporate green screen technology. 
·                     Would it be possible to create channels within DE?  Perhaps students, schools, and school divisions could create their own DE channels through which they could publish videos for the global DE community.  The videos posted on a channel could address a variety of topics or they could be special-interest channels.  For example, our students might create a channel that features videos regarding local historical sites such as the Yorktown battlefields, the Jamestown settlement, or Colonial Williamsburg.
·                     Would it be possible to further attract students to DE as a digital hangout by allowing students to earn recognition from their peers in the DE community based on the quality of their postings?  For example, users could “like” postings by students and the number of likes could be prominently displayed next to the video link.  Students might also earn social media points within the community based on the number of their postings, the number of views of their work, and the number of times their work is liked.

Within weeks of receiving our request for collaboration, a team from Discovery Education, including Vice-President Alex Morrison (@AlexMorrisonDE), visited York County to discuss potential collaboration. We learned that Discovery Education developers had already outlined the conceptual parameters of a space within Discovery Education for students to post original digital content mashed up with editable Discovery Education resources.

Last June, our division won a grant from the Department of Defense Education Agency to support leveraging technology for student achievement. Using grant funds, we entered into a three-year contract with Discovery Education. Discovery Education committed to providing professional development relating to students as creators of digital content while also enhancing opportunities for students to post original content, including editable content, within the Discovery Education community. We committed to provide feedback to Discovery Education on its new platform while it was in Beta phase.

The Discovery Education development team moved quickly. Within months they created the core of the Beta version of the emerging platform. They assigned a temporary name (Board Builder) for the Beta version, noting that the official name would be announced later. Last month, they conducted a focus group with our teachers regarding the Beta version.

David Futch (@futchd), a Discovery Education professional development coach, rolled out the emerging Beta version earlier this month to forty of our teachers engaged in year-long professional learning with Discovery Education. David explained a three-step process.
1.      Students create and download video. They collect original video using flipcams, smart phones, tablets and other devices, including devices they bring to school through our BYOT initiative. Students select editable video or audio clips from the Discovery Education library. They download their content and the editable Discovery Education content.
2.      Students use software to construct a video mashup.
3.      Students create a board within Discovery Education and upload digital resources, including the video mashup, to the Board. Teachers then approve the board for viewing by a broader audience.

The Discovery Education-York County School Division partnership is yielding valuable information to Discovery Education during the beta phase of Board Builder. Shelley Santora-Jones, the manager of the Board Builder development team, explained, “We want to know whether the teachers are running into any challenges. We also want to know what features they find particularly valuable and what additional features they would find useful.”  For example, we told Discovery Education staff that because of our BYOT initiative, we particularly valued Board Builder’s ability to accept files in different video formats, such as .mov, .avi, .swf and .mp4.

The questions our teachers asked also provided insight to Santora-Jones regarding the perspective of users. For example, teachers asked “Can you embed a link to one Board to another Board?” and “Can you import a photo as a background for a Board?”

Teachers can engage students in creating and sharing original digital content without Discovery Education. However, by using Board Builder within Discovery Education, students will have access to thousands of editable video and audio clips within DE while creating video mashups. Students will also have access to a global audience of more than two million subscribers in the DE learning community.

In the proactive spirit of the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools, we are proud to play a small part in Discovery Education’s ongoing work to support the concept of students as creators of digital content. As we collaborate with Discovery Education, we continue to create our story of the power of collaboration afforded by the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools. Given students’ passion for creating digital content, the story is likely to have a happy ending involving students’ deep, enduring mastery of the content and skills of our curriculum.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Choice is a waypoint on one route to engagement

Could a classroom be transformed into a place where "on task" and "off task no longer had any meaning, where all student activity that led to learning was honored and promoted?

@GeraldAungst poses this disruptive question in his recent post entitled On-Task is not a waypoint on the route to engagement. He describes a four-quadrant grid with On-Task as the horizontal axis and Engaged as the vertical axis.

He correctly observes that "While we'd like to have all students in the upper-left quadrant (on task and engaged), we seem to think that the lower-left quadrant is the next-best place to be." And he asks, "What if instead of forcing kids to the left, we looked for ways to raise them up into the quadrant of off task but engaged? What kinds of teacher action would encourage a student to engage on his terms without necessarily participating in our activity?"

The distinction that @GeraldAungst articulates between on-task and engaged relates to Phil Schlechty's distinction between ritualistic engagement and authentic engagement. With ritualistic engagement, students go through the motions of a task, complying with the instructions of teachers, but not fully committing themselves to a task because they do not intrinsically value it.

I commented on Gerald Aungst's blog about practical considerations relating to his proposal for a classroom where ALL student activity that leads to learning is honored and promoted. Gerald appropriately responded, "If practical things are getting in the way of learning, maybe we have to change what we consider practical . . .Change the system, and what is practical may change."

Honoring ALL student activity that leads to learning is an incredibly high standard. Accepting Aungst's challenge to "change the system" with this high standard in mind leads to many disruptive questions. How should the student day be organized? What type of classes, if any, would be held? To what extent, if at all, should we rely on direct instruction? How should we assess and recognize student progress in learning? Is there still a role for course credits/Carnegie units?

And this brings me to the key role of student choice. Even within the confines of the current system (standardized tests, bell schedules, Carnegie units, etc), educators can increase the likelihood of student engagement by providing more student choice. This leads to greater variety of student activity within a classroom, even if it does not achieve the proposal of honoring and promoting ALL student activity that leads to learning.

Imagine a continuum that runs from teacher control to honoring ALL student activity that leads to learning. Providing students more choices moves us along the continuum.

We can provide students different types of choices. Broad or narrow. Relating to means or outcomes. In any case, as we provide students more choices, we will open our minds to the possibilities and avenues towards honoring ALL student activity that leads to learning.

To use the language of @GeraldAungst, choice is a waypoint on one of the routes to student engagement

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