Friday, March 11, 2011

Social justice, information literacy, and online education.

So, I recently started networking with some people in my area involved in social justice education, as well as some people working at online academies. I have a very strong passion for information literacy- that is the ability to find, evaluate, and utilize internet sources for educational purposes, believing that by creating an info-literate society, we can have a better educated populace. The standards focus that exists in so many schools often robs teachers of the ability to make the subject matter relevant due to a need to simply cover the gross amount of material stated in the standards so students will pass their tests, but often times that coverage lacks meaning and relevance to their lives.

That's where information literacy comes in. By finding ways to incorporate webquests that have students doing research online and utilizing the various resources the internet provides to construct their own learning, I feel they are better prepared for our wired world.

Anyway, I hooked up with some social justice people, who introduced me to a media specialist at a high school. His job is to incorporate webquests into curricula that teachers bring him. We talked for a while, and he said that with my passion, I should be getting a degree in library sciences, so I can do a job similar to his. It was amazing what he had done to the school library- it went from being a typical school library, empty most of the time, to a place that was full of students, with his office at the center of it- he described himself as the hub of information, and he was. He was often being interrupted by students asking for help with flash drives or trying to access websites that were being blocked by the school firewall. Most of the computers students were on were being used to research papers. It was amazing to see, and we both geeked out at how cool the setup was.

I want to do that, perhaps not on the same scale as him, (not yet) but with my own classes. I've got this crazy passion for teaching students how to become autodidacts using the internet, and while I realize that most students aren't going to become information addicts, I want them to at least understand how to do research online, and take their education into their own hands. I really feel that many schools fail kids- they do not teach them the skills they really need to succeed in any specialized field, or even the prerequisites, and so the responsibility falls on them. Many rich kids do well simply because their parents can afford to make sure they obtain the skills they need, but for the rest of the kids, they have to make their own opportunities, and the internet is probably the best resource they have for that.

I'm not saying kids need to stop going to school and start using the internet to learn everything*, quite the opposite. School is still important, and the role of the teacher is a very major one in terms of being a mentor, educator, and guide, but one of the skills I feel kids need the most these days is the ability to use the internet as a resource, and many teachers do not know how to make this happen, which is why media specialists like the one I met today are so handy.

One area where I feel this information literacy can fit in perfectly is online education. Another group of people I've been networking with are teachers at an online school in the district I'm student teaching in. We talked a bit about information literacy, and they were in agreement that it is something that needs to happen more, and a possible area that they could really enhance their curriculum. I'm beginning to think that, if I learn to really get good at teaching online literacy, I could make a portfolio based around online education and hopefully land a job, as ever since I started talking with the online school people, I've felt that's the direction I want to go. The idea of being able to work one on one with students, without being distracted by the entire class and the other problems that occur in a crowded building, you can get down to the nitty gritty concepts and address misconceptions more directly. That's not to say there aren't a ton of problems with online academies as well, I just have this huge passion for educational technology that makes me feel like this might be a really good place for me in the future.

On an unrelated note, I love how open source teaching is. Teachers, very often, love to share their stuff. Whenever I go up to a teacher and inform them of my status as a newbie teacher, they ask me if I have a flash drive, then proceed to fill it with every lesson plan they have. It's a great boon for fresh teachers, especially when they have great worksheets and activities. Saves a ton of time, as I don't see why I should reinvent the wheel if something great is already out there for free. I wish there were some central internet hub for teachers where they could exchange standardized lesson plans, as the teacher websites I've seen that feature lesson plans tend to have them in no formal order, and the plans are either minimal and incoherent, or overly complicated and detailed. That's why I like getting them on flash drives, the teacher can usually explain their methods, and it becomes a lot easier to understand what's going on.

Anyway, I think that's about it. I'm sorry if this post seems a bit disjointed, my computer crashed halfway through, but thankfully blogger autosaves drafts, so nothing much was lost.

*See next paragraph, where I endorse online academies, where kids stop going to school and use the internet to learn everything.

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