Information is one of the main currencies of a 21st century education.
Who has control over it, where does it come from, who decides on using it and accessing it are some of the main questions that we need to think about as educators. Moving from a closed, government and teacher controlled loop to an international based, self controlled open source system is a vital movement that classrooms and schools need to go through. I believe that classrooms need to have control over the information ecosystem that they live within.
This is a process that we are working through in my classroom right now. At the beginning of the school year, as I teach the students in my grade seven and eight classroom about RSS, I give them an igoogle page populated with several feeds that I feel are important for them to read. I call this our textbook and have often called it required reading. I expect the students in my classroom to spend time throughout each week reading this page, writing blog posts that grow out of the content that is posted on it and hosting discussions in the classroom about what they have learned from this reading. This year’s igoogle page started out with text news feeds from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, New Scientist.com, Afrigadget and World Changing. As well, I also included podcast feeds from CBC ‘s Dispatches and BBC’s Documentaries. In considering what feeds to choose for my students, I look for information sources that I think my students will find interesting, that are constantly updated, global, environmentally sound and future focussed.
While later than usual simply because of the class I have this year, it is time that the students in my class take more control over the information sources they are working with using RSS. To do that, we have over the last several weeks worked through a multi step process.
1.) We first examined the the feeds that we have been working with this year to uncover some of the themes of these information sources. For example, we talked in class about such things as them being updated regularly, about them being global, environmentally focussed, etc. From this discussion emerged a set of criteria for evaluating sources.
2.) Following this, we then brainstormed a list of topics that they would be interested in getting more information about. Current events, environmental news, jobs, emerging technologies, science and engineering, and global issues were the topics they decided upon as a class.
3.) The next step was simply to surf. To spend a lot of time online over a few days looking for places that we can access information on these issues. Each student in the class chose one of these topics that they were interested in and we made huge lists on the classroom whiteboard of possible sites. This also led to a great extended discussion in class about choosing sites to list for the class. What makes something good? What makes a site a possibility? We came up with a list that included criteria such as current information, includes multimedia elements, that the information is truthful and that the site publishes an RSS feed.
4.) From the massive lists that emerged over several days, each student had to examine the list of possible sites for the topic they were interested in. For example, if a student was working in the topic category of environmental news, they had to examine and evaluate each of the sites that was listed as a possible information source. Each site had to be evaluated against the criteria that we had been talking about over the previous days. From this process, each student had to be ready to head into small group discussions with several sites they had chosen off the class generated lists as being worthwhile to subscribe to.
5.) Next was the small group discussions. The group of students focussed on each topic met (most of them contained 5 – 6 students) and talked about the sites they thought were the most valuable that had been found. They had to defend their personal choices and come to a consensus. At the end of this discussion, each group posted on the whiteboard one or two sites which they felt were valuable and worthwhile for everyone in the class to subscribe to and read. They had to defend and explain their choice to the class. As a side note, one group came out of their discussion with the choice that no site in their category should be added as they felt they were unable to find one that was valuable. I thought this was legitimate and had no problem with this decision.
6.) Finally, everyone in the class added the feeds that we chosen by each group to their igoogle page.
A different process then me simply giving kids information or telling them to open to page X in a textbook; but one that I feel is far more valuable.
Photo Credit: Search the Light: http://www.flickr.com/photos/doolittle1989/2062571275/sizes/m/