Filling the World Around You with Empathy – The Course 2 Final Project

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Here is our COETAIL Cohort#12 Course#2 Final Project! “Our” and not mine as we were able to apply what we have been reading, learning, writing, and reflecting about these past six weeks: becoming contributors and collaborators. We gathered to work together and bring our own insight to a common project, encouraged by our extra- supportive COETAIL coach Joel!
The members of our team are SimonaJulija, Mooney,  Luis Carlos, and myself, Christel. We have different nationalities and live in different parts of the world, two of us in their own country, while others moved far away. We came together with a common goal that we had to define: create a collection of helpful resources on #kindness and #empathy for other teachers around the world to use. As our team consists of 5 participants, we came up with the title Hi 5! Resources.
Empathy, the ability to understand and share other people’s feelings is so important and even more needed during these troubled times of the coronavirus pandemic and its aftermath, but also one important component of the COETAIL program.

The project relates to the following ISTE standard for Educators: 
3.a. Create experiences for learners to make positive, socially responsible contributions and exhibit empathetic behavior online that builds relationships and community.

How did you find your group for this project?

I wasn’t sure how to approach other participants; I only knew a little about them through their short introduction and read some of their blog posts… As I was running late in the program, I didn’t feel confident to contact them ; at some point, Joel suggested I could contact Luis. After exchanging some emails, getting to know each other, and sharing our work experiences, we felt we could come up with a common project. Some other people then contacted us as they were also looking to collaborate, and we moved on to another type of project.

How did the collaboration aspect of this project go?

I think it needed some adjustments at the start because of structural challenges, but everyone was willing to make it work and we developed a real sense of community, helping, supporting, and encouraging each other! I loved it!

What challenges did you face? How did you overcome them?

The main challenge was to identify something we could all contribute to equally: our profiles and areas of expertise are indeed quite different. Once we found an “umbrella” project (we each could create a specific piece, that will be part of common theme and goal), things fell in place easily. Secondly, we were at a different stage of the course, some of us needed to catch up with the last blog posts, while others were on track.
We also needed to find the best way to communicate: first, it was via email, however, we had our final group composition, it was clear that Twitter Chat would be more efficient and easier to follow. I regret we couldn’t set a video call but we live in different zone times with the following countries: Lithuania, Panama, Russia, South Korea, and Belgium…
What I have truly enjoyed is getting to know my team members! Of course, I only know them from our online written interactions, and a small picture, but we were together on the same boat, working towards the same goal, helping and encouraging each other. That was such a great feeling that I am looking forward to continue working on the COETAIL program next school year, getting to know my four new colleagues better, and meeting the others too!

How was this collaborative planning experience different from or similar to other planning experiences?

This was quite different as I usually collaborate with my library team (our Head Librarian, the library-assistant, and myself), or with classroom teachers to develop collaboration projects. It was the first time I collaborated remotely with people I never met and it was really interesting and enriching.

Why did you choose this option? These standards?

I wanted to work on something I will be able to use next school year, and as we developed this project, I immediately saw the potential for me creating a unit on Empathy for my current grade 7 Personal Learning group students that I co-teach with a colleague.

How does this experience relate to what you learned in Course 2?

This final project of COETAIL Course#2 relates to basically all the units we worked on: it gave me the feeling to be taken by the hand (interesting course content provided in such an organized way), encouraged (our coach), inspired to do our first steps with the hand nearby (writing our blog posts), to finally walk the first toddler steps (the final project). I am not ready to run yet, but I now enjoy the world around me from a standing position. I feel I am becoming a COETAIL-er <3

If you facilitated this experience, how did the learners respond to it? What feedback did you collect to inform future experiences?

It hasn’t been the case yet, but I am planning to use it at the beginning of next school year with the group of Middle Schoolers that I co-teach for Personal Learning; they are now in grade 7, and will be in grade 8 exactly like the students who created the video below! After being on Distance Learning for a few months, working together on being empathic to each other, caring, and supportive will be a great asset I think.

Empathy Can Change the World: spread it!

This video was dreamed up, scripted, and acted out by some amazing 8th-grade students from Kalispell Middle School. The vision was to create a thought-provoking short film that instills a challenge to the viewer to look at their own life, their own relationships, and their own sphere of influence, and see where a little empathy could help change the world around them.

Empowering Students!

Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels

As explained in my previous post Think! Media Literacy and the quest for truth, “[…] nowadays students need to also become media educated with the guidance of their classroom teachers and librarians” adding that “Perseverance and commitment are needed, as media literacy is an essential skill in the digital age.”

Media literacy is concerned with developing an informed and critical understanding of the nature of the mass media, the techniques used by them, and the impact of those techniques. […] Media literacy also aims to provide students with the ability to create media products.” 

Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture (Henry Jenkins – MacArthur Foundation)

And because there is not much point in creating media products without having an audience, we should guide our students to become contributors: they are not attending school to pass time and absorb course content waiting to get old enough to play a role in the society. This traditional model is gone! Everyone, regardless of its age, has the ability to make a positive impact on local and global communities, and creating connections, as Scott McLeod reminds us with examples of amazing children and teenagers whose contributions, often through social media, had a positive impact on other people’s lives and/or showed their ability to be engaged citizens!

Extracurricular empowerment: Scott McLeod at TEDxDesMoines – September 2013

I am lucky enough to be working at the International School of Brussels, a school with a great reputation and vision, constantly seeking improvement, placing the student empowerment at the core of its mission. Willing to adapt to a fast-changing world, our school provides regular Professional Development days on campus, inviting some leading experts in the field of education, combined with mini-session offered by colleagues sharing their expertise. I thought I would mention a few from the past recent years, as Scott McLeod is one of the experts brought to us: it will help to understand where we stand as a school in terms of student empowerment and participatory culture.

In September 2015, our PD training’s focus was technology with In The Zone – Learning Innovation in Practice at ISB: “We all – students, faculty & staff – live, teach, learn, and work in a world packed with technological innovation. So much of it untapped in its potential to transform what we wish to achieve. Scott MacLeod is a leading expert who works with schools, in the US and globally, inviting us to think about how technology can transform the teaching and learning landscape. He also brings a focus to the idea of building a personal digital footprint that reflects positively on who we are. Scott will work with students – 10th grade – and faculty on both these areas of his expertise.  Scott is joining us for a few days to work with a number of stakeholders, faculty, students, and parents. He is a core part of the “In the Zone” day organized in the Middle School“.
In March 2017, ISB hosted the Learning by Design conference: A call to re-imagine the way schools facilitate learning. The conference included workshops, seminars, Learning Labs and opportunities for networking, and involved some of our students. Founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute for educators, Gary Stager was one of the learning facilitators.
The second Brussels LbD conference took place in February 2019, looking at the following: “Re-imagining school requires a commitment to changing culture, courageously challenging old assumptions and a willingness to play with and test new ideas – even if they fail.” One of the many learning facilitators was Ewan McIntosh, founder of NoTosh, which makes accessible the creative process required to innovate.

As an example, here is one of the initiatives that the Middle School implemented a few years ago a program for grade 7 to 9 students: it offers choice modules built in their regular schedules. Its objectives are to give students a chance to explore and develop new or pre-existing skills and create the conditions for them to develop and/or deepen a passion for a particular topic or skill. Whenever possible, faculty and staff leading these workshops are encouraged to involve the students in the planning process and trajectory of the module over the 9 sessions to make it more student-centered.  

Examples of past Personal Learning Modules: Collaging with Friends / Jewelry Design Makerspace / Blogging Like a Pro / Booklovers Club / Italian & Cooking / The Art of Gaming / Dance Workshops / Crocheting with Calmness / Let’s Chat! / Engineering – Design Creativity / Entrepreneurship / C’est bon, c’est belge / Gardening, the Life-Cycle / Life Through a Lens / Psych Experiments Through the Ages / Electric Guitar and Bass Rockers / Take Action / Captivating your Audience / Middle School Madness / Sports in Popular Culture / The Great Outdoors / Yoga / Share Your Ideas: Podcasting and Vlogging / Let’s Go to the Caribbean! / African Hand Drumming.

The modules are run by faculty and staff who are willing to share their skills and passions, usually outside their regular role in the school: for example, a math teacher running a Djembe drums initiation, a library assistant, a silversmith by training, leading the Jewelry Design module… Meeting twice a week for periods of 9 weeks, students hold a showcase of a Celebration of Learning at the end.

An acceptable use policy (AUP), is a set of rules applied by the owner, creator or administrator of a network, website, or service, that restrict the ways in which the network, website or system may be used and sets guidelines as to how it should be used.

In Rethinking AUPs, McLeod is asking if “in all of our efforts to teach students safe, appropriate, and responsible technology use, are we forgetting the more important job of teaching our students empowered use?” In a rather long list of blog posts and other resources, he supports that rather being a document stipulating constraints and practices the purpose of such policies should be enabling optimal empowerment of individuals within a school, to meet personal, organizational, educational, and societal goals.

At my school, the Acceptable Use Policy is part of the Student Handbook in the Middle School; in the 2019-20 copy, it is referred to as the Technology Handbook, and rather than rules, it refers to “agreement” and “principles”.

Student Technology Agreement
All technology decisions at ISB are guided by the following principles:

  • Appropriate technology use is an essential component of optimal learning environments.
  • Technology creates new teaching and learning opportunities that improve student understanding.  It contributes to an environment in which teaching and learning are learner-centered, collaborative, engaging.
  • Technology provides the means for equitable learning opportunities. Technology allows teachers to meet the diverse learning needs of students by adapting to individual goals and learning styles.

It is very interesting too, I think, to notice the Resources For Parents listed at the end of the document: they are first-hand partners in the implementation of a participatory culture and they also need to support the empowerment of students at home.

Elizabeth Gilbert, “The Kids Are All Right.

Yalda T. Uhls, “Parents, Chill. Technology Isn’t Destroying Teens’ Brains.”UCLA Newsroom, December 2, 2015.

Yalda T. Uhls, Media Moms and Digital Dads: A Fact Not Fear Approach to Parenting in the Digital Age.

Amanda Third, Damien Spry, Kathryn Locke, Enhancing Parent’s Knowledge and Practice of Online Safety.

Elizabeth Perle, 5 Myths about Teens and Technology Every Parent Should Know.

Gwenn Schurgin O’Keeffe, Kathleen Clarke-Pearson. The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents and Families.

Danah Boyd, It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens.

Common Sense Media, Social Media, Social Life: How Kids View Their Digital Lives.

American Academy of Pediatrics, Talking to Kids and Teens About Social Media.

American Academy of Pediatrics, Talking to Kids and Teens About Social Media and Sexting.

Scott McLeod, “Extracurricular Empowerment”, TED Talk.

Think! Media Literacy and the quest for truth

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Literacy refers to the “ability to read and write” and is mainly associated with the first years of school: reading starts with learning to recognize the letters; next to identify words, and finally to grasp what those words mean. As they become able to understand a text, readers then become writers. Along the way, with lots of practice, readers and writers will develop strong literacy skills.

In the last part of the 20th century, the increasing spread of computers and other digital technologies in communication required additional skills and by extension, these necessary skill-sets became known as computer literacyinformation literacy, and technological literacy.

Photo by Agnieszka Boeske on Unsplash

They are all interconnected and, a couple of decades ago, it became obvious that it should include media literacy.
Media literacy is the ability to identify different types of media and understand the messages they are sending. According to Media Smarts, Media Literacy means “being able to access media on a basic level, to analyze it in a critical way based on certain key concepts, to evaluate it based on that analysis and, finally, to produce media oneself.” This is crucial as nowadays it is not anymore only adults, but children and teenagers as well, that are exposed to a huge amount of information from a wide collection of sources, far beyond the traditional media such as TV, radio, newspapers, and magazines of previous generations.
The scope is large and diverse: text messages, social media, memes, viral videos, video games, advertising, etc. Media literacy is not limited to only digital media, but rather all messages we consume in a variety of media platforms. It is very important to realize that all media share one thing: someone created it, and it was created for a reason. Understanding that reason is the basis of media literacy, and as educators, we need to fully understand it to implement it in our curriculums.

Most people have access to technology and are active online: while beforehand you had to be a journalist or a writer to publish information, today it is easy for everyone to create media. Anyone can publish online (nearly) anything they want and, as a consequence, we don’t always know who created something, why they made it, and whether it is reliable. This makes media literacy tricky to learn and teach. Perseverance and commitment are needed, as media literacy is an essential skill in the digital age.

Common Sense Education provides educators and students with the resources they need to apprehend the power of technology for learning and life. On the topic of Media Literacy, they insist that everyone need to:

  • Learn to think critically
  • Become a smart consumer of products and information
  • Recognize the point of view displayed
  • Create media responsibly
  • Identify the role of media in our culture
  • Understand the author’s goal. 
From Pixabay

At our school, as I already mentioned in a previous post, we were lucky enough to have in situ training from Common Sense Media expert Merve Lapus who met with some admin and teachers and modeled lessons for Librarians and Technology Integrators.
Their Digital Citizenship Curriculum program is great for its ready-to-use lessons, adapted to each grade, and knowing that you can even tailor them to your own specific needs and curriculum (by shortening them, adding activities, slides, etc)
As an example, here is a lesson planned for grade 6, titled: “Finding Credible News, How do we find credible information on the internet?

Media Smarts, along with their partner Companies Committed to Kids (who shut down in 2017) also created lesson plans on the topic, including videos. Their goal with the project Media Literacy 101 was to help Elementary School teachers delivering lessons on Media Literacy concepts.
The first one of the series is: What is media anyway? and provides both a lesson plan and a video for the older elementary school students, but could easily apply for teenagers up to grade 8 at least.

Being able to decrypt the different media content you are exposed to is extremely important, but sometimes people won’t be so critical when it comes to their own online contributions, especially if they re-post or re-Tweet. You should always THINK Before You Post, at the Butler University reminds its faculty and students (and us)! The graphic below is worth memorizing…

At the beginning of our school closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, on March 10, I joined on Facebook an international support group for educators going through the same unique experience. In this group called “Global Educator Collective”, I was amazed to read a teacher’s plea to her fellow colleagues and members of the online community, asking them to check their information before posting them!
If educators are not setting the example, how can today’s young people navigate critically and safely through the traps of the 21st-century information world?

Screenshot from the Global Educator Collective Facebook banner and from a message posted on March 20, 2020, by Carol G. D.

There is still a lot of work needed to be done to raise awareness to counter misinformation, especially when the Pew Research Center tells us in its Social Media Fact Sheet that today about 7 in 10 Americans use social media to connect with one another, engage with new content online, share information and entertain themselves. Social media usage by adults raised from 5% in 2005 to approximately 72% today!

Fake news websites deliberately publish hoaxes, propaganda, and disinformation — using social media to drive web traffic and amplify their effect. These sites and their creators seek to mislead, rather than entertain readers, for financial, political, or other gains.
Misinformation and the five types of fake news be described as a modern plague of the digital world.

In conclusion, as young children were taught by pre-Kindergarten teachers the beginnings of reading and writing, becoming more literate year after year, nowadays students need to also become media educated with the guidance of their classroom teachers and librarians.

Finding the Balance

Photo by Yannic Läderach on Unsplash

Back in March, returning from one week break, we heard some talks about a possible school closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It seemed unreal that such a thing would really happen. However, more meetings and trainings were planned, as new online tools were added to our existing edtech pool, being a 1:1 school. As the dreaded virus started to spread through Europe, on March 9th at 4 pm, our entire community found out that the school was now closed for at least a couple of weeks. As a Middle and High School Teacher-Librarian, I still haven’t gone back on campus. And for this school year that ends on June 24th, I won’t, not in a significant way.
Of course, the school is closed but the learning continues and never stopped. It required plenty of adjustments and a lot (too much) time in front of the laptop. Finding the right balance between work, personal life, fitness, and mental health while dealing with the news hasn’t been easy for a lot of people. Our school director recently quoted this and I have been thinking about its obvious, but hidden, truth.

“You are not working from home; you are at your home
during a crisis trying to work.”

Posted in a Tweet by Mark Richardson

This applies to teachers and students. These past couple of months, and the ones ahead, are very unique and demand that each and everyone find its own equilibrium.

Now, finding a balance also applies to specific areas, and, in the digital environment, we must balance contributing authentically and maintaining privacy.
The term privacy is defined in the Educator Toolkit for Teacher and Student Privacy as “the ability to protect one’s own personal information and control with whom and how the information is shared”.
Not everyone realizes that huge amounts of personal information about teachers and their students are collected on a daily basis. This is the downside to the growth of education technology in classrooms. The information obtained is usually sent to vendors and other third parties, who often appear to have unclear motives.
It is up to the school, its administration, and its teachers, to make sure that a given technology tool or application is safe and secure for students to use.

Common Sense Media initiated a 3 years survey to evaluate the privacy policy of approximately a hundred of the most popular edtech applications and services, looking at two aspects: its transparency and its quality, analyzing how student information is collected, used and disclosed. Published in 2018, the State of Edtech Privacy Report was alarming: inconsistent privacy and security practices, lack of transparency with unclear, or missing or contradictory explanations. Only 10% of the apps or services met their minimum criteria for transparency and quality in their policies!

Educators need to choose companies that have responsible practices, and/or put pressure on the ones who are not transparent, and advocate for student privacy legislation and enforcement.

Photo by Dan Nelson on Unsplash

In Europe, things finally moved in the right direction a few years ago with the implementation of GDPR , which stands for General Data Protection Regulation. It is a data privacy law set out by the European Union, and finally enforced from May 25th, 2018. The passing of GDPR has directly impacted data privacy and security standards while also indirectly encouraging organizations to develop and improve their cybersecurity measures, limiting the risks of any potential data breach.
Our school started to review its practices, from how the families’ files were kept and for how long, to the library online subscriptions… and many more domains not always questioned before. All staff members and teachers attended training sessions, and several of them served on specific committees. A Data Protection Officer (DPO) was hired, and communications sent to parents. A Privacy Notice was written and published on our website. Conversations with companies took place, and sometimes these discussions were difficult, especially with some non-European businesses who were not willing to clarify or modify their policies and be transparent. We had to cancel some online tools used in class for this reason.

The ISTE Educators Standard 3d states that “Educators model and promote management of personal data and digital identity and protect student data privacy.” This should be everyone’s concern.

Allô? Allô ? **

** Interjection in French at the beginning of a regular phone call. Not systematically used anymore by young people

The world around us keeps changing. With the constant evolution of technology, this is not only our environment that looks different: social interactions are nowhere close to what they looked like only fifteen years ago.
We don’t connect with others the same way we used to, and adults are usually the ones that need catching up. In 2020, teenagers’ lives are intertwined with technology tools and apps. They learn quickly how to use these, they easily share the “how-to” among peers and friends, they spend the time needed to grasp its particularities. That applies to social media: where adults often make a distinction between a social interaction “in person” and exchanges through technology, for young people, social media is simply real life, and it carries its own rules and etiquette.

As these are often mysterious to adults, Mary H.K. Choi, author, editor, and journalist, conducted a series of interviews with teenagers across the United States, meeting and corresponding more extensively with five high schoolers. In her article, Like. Flirt. Ghost: A Journey Into The Social Media Lives of Teens (Wired), she gives us a detailed report on her findings, chronicling their digital experiences, and I personally learned a lot (not only about English expressions I didn’t know! -Thanks Google Translate and Urban Dictionary-). There are specific unwritten rules such as the obligation to like a friend’s post on Instagram, and the need to comment it for a close friend; there are boundaries: oversharing is taboo, lurking and going for a “deep-like” (liking an old picture) is considered awkward. Some teens might have second accounts with a fake name for sharing more private pictures taken at parties for example. Some might use Facebook as a more public and impersonal account used for extra-curricular updates for example, or to communicate with adults including college admission offices.
Social media for teenagers is also the place where flirting occurs as it replaces, to some extent, the hanging around in groups at the shopping mall; here again, the process is quite codified.
Snapchat is another very popular social media platform, that appeared in 2011 and is still to-date mainly in the hands of teenagers, unlike Facebook years ago, who has been taken over by adults and therefore abandoned by younger teenagers, and Instagram who is widely used by small and big businesses alike to promote their products. Users snap pictures or videos of themselves or friends to update their “story”; the specificity is the fact that posts disappear after 24 hours, reducing the pressure for everyone. It can also be used to send private messages.
Interesting how the current smartphone generation is redefining communication.

But are they?
How is the way our students communicate with their friends similar -or not- to the way we connected with our friends when we were a teenager?

Photo by Alexander Andrews on Unsplash

Attending a small local and quite rural elementary school, friends lived in the neighborhood, and we were mainly seeing each other outside school hours during the nice season, for bike rides and unplanned playdates. At 12 years old, and the start of middle school, socializing started on the way to school, during the 20 minutes tram rides. It sometimes continued in the classroom (ah these handwritten notes that circulated from desk to desk… oops!), with a different group than the morning one, and during lunchtime. There were the people you knew a little, and occasionally talked to, always at school; the smaller circle of good friends, that you would meet on occasional dates, activities or parties, and of course, THE best friend, the one you wanted to spend as much time possible with, including weekends and holidays, the one you would talk to for over an hour on the phone, after school, to your parent’s bewilderment.

One hour was already a lot at the time: first of all, the FAMILY phone was ATTACHED to a wire and usually placed in the living room, at the eavesdrop of the entire family. No privacy there. Secondly, it was quite expansive and parents would remind you to keep it short.
Recently we were explaining this reality to our 19-years old son, and his girlfriend. I am not sure they understood our reality regarding telecommunication in the ’80s. How giving your parents’ phone number to a friend -or possible boy/girl-friend wasn’t anecdotal. How missing the train back home was a disaster when your father expected you back home on time (remember! No cellphone to contact him).

After reading Choi’s article, I got curious and wondered what was the reality of students closer to me: how do they connect with their friends, why those communication methods are so important to them, what are the challenges they face and how do they deal with them?
The lasting school closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t allow me to have informal conversations with students on the topic. Therefore I decided to create a Google Form that students could fill in anonymously after I explained the questions and my motivation to find out how they communicate via social media, and what is their main purpose: Social Media and Young People

This school year I have been co-teacher to a Personal Learning group of grade 7 students: we used to meet 4 times a week for half an hour; in Distance Learning, we met every day for 15 minutes on Zoom with short check-in on Wellness Wednesdays: here was my first obvious “study” group, and I enjoyed writing the subject line of the email I sent them: “Helping Mme Toilier with her homework!” They liked it too, as 90% of them replied, and did it seriously despite the anonymity.
My second easy-to-reach target group was current Seniors and recent alumni. In the end, it gave me an interesting gap, allowing comparison between 12/13 years old to 18/20 years old.

For the 12/13 years old group, the top 3 Social Media apps they use most are, in order: YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram. Other ones mentioned: Whatsapp, Google Hangout, LINE, and Discord that I had never heard of.
Note: two students answered not being on social media, only listing YouTube (sic) and (video)calls via Zoom or Google Hangout.
Most of them don’t communicate with parents via apps, and if some did before the lockdown, it was a quick check-in via a text message (the “pick-me-up at 6 pm” type).
For the 18/20 years old group, the top 3 for “most used” is actually a top 2: Instagram for one third and Facebook / Messenger for two thirds. They mainly stay in contact with friends through Insta and Whatsapp, or Messenger; one feature they like best is to leave vocal messages, rather than actual calls. During the pandemic, though, they had long group chats with friends, sometimes with video on. Their main communication tools with parents are Messenger and phone text messages.
One big difference between the two groups is the age they got their first smartphone: the younger students all have one, some already for 2 years, while the older ones received their first phone around 13-14 years old, with one at 15 and one at 16. This brings us to the first conclusion: teenagers are definitely ‘online” and are active on social media at an earlier age than ever, and don’t have to wait to be home to use it: the tools are at their fingertips, smartphone always on them.
Common grounds were the distinction they all made between “close friends” and “friends”: the level of interactions changed (public only vs. public and private ones): and as a 13 years-old student quoted: “I do more jokes/use irony with my closest friends”.
A few of them, in each age group, recognized at least one problematic relationship through social media. The communication just stopped afterward. It is difficult to know through an online questionnaire if these were big issues and if some encountered bullying distress.

From Pixabay

What is striking are the similarities between the ’80s and today: the urge to communicate and share with peers, the friendship hierarchy, the failure of some relationships… The differences, and yes, they are quite big, lies in the medium these communications take place, the kind of messages teenagers can instantly share through text, emojis, pictures, videos, voice messages…, the selected or large audience they can reach at once, and the extended geographical zone: friends don’t need to be in the same tram or in the same courtyard to exchange.

What is very clear is how social media has become a key form of communication for teenagers nowadays: it is an integral part of their environment, helping them to bond and create friendships. They are familiar and at ease with social media: as educators, we should not only promote and support a culture of participation, we should use it within our classrooms.

This means that we, adults, also need to learn about the social media culture, and that would include finding out what emojis are, and learning how you can express yourself through this internet-based self-recognition phenomenon where pictures and gifs are used to represent feelings, reactions and internal states when you publish online: Are You Literally What You Post? will tell you all about it. Why not include some of them in your lesson plans or communications with your students?

In Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture, we learn that we should aim to encourage young people to “develop the skills, knowledge, ethical frameworks, and self-confidence needed to be full participants in contemporary culture.” Many of our students are already part fo this process, and usually we are not aware of it. We need to be. And we also need to be (or learn to become) participants too. Today and tomorrow’s education need to include Participatory Culture in the Classroom.

“Participatory culture shifts the focus of literacy from one of individual expression to community involvement”.
(from “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture)

Respect and Remix, hand in hand!

When it comes to copyright, our role as educators is very clear to me: we need to teach students, from an early age, to respect other people’s work. I could not say otherwise anyway: this is one of the numerous core missions of my job as a teacher-librarian in a middle and high school. And I take it at heart!
Obviously, we also need to be role-model for young people: giving a few classes on the importance of providing citations in their projects and essays but failing to apply it ourselves in school would be detrimental to the message.
On a personal level, being new to blogging, I have been wondering if linking the text or video in my post, when I am referring to it, is “good enough”?

This exactly is what Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano says in her Copyright Flowchart: educators need to model good digital citizenship and that includes watching out for copyright, plagiarism, and intellectual property. In specific circumstances, these regulations can be amended: this is the concept of Fair use, that allows limited use of copyrighted material without having to first acquire permission. And education is one of the areas where fair use easily applies. Nonetheless, as Rosenthal Tolisano points out: let’s make sure teachers understand the concepts and implications. And don’t abuse it!

  • Copyright: the materials are protected by law when it is created
  • Creative Commons: creators choose which rights they reserve or waive
  • Public Domain: no more copyright
  • Fair Use: a doctrine in the law that allow some use of copyrighted material, based on four factors: nature – amount – purpose – effect

That project that Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano, as a school technology integrator, developed with her colleague Meryl Zeidenber, a library coordinator, is very interesting and helpful, even if there could have some nuances added. It explains to students what to pay attention to, and its flowchart can be used as a step-by-step guide when they create digital projects.

Obviously plagiarism should be avoided: as I tell my middle schoolers: if you use someone’s work without citing it, you are stealing the author ideas, products, and time. I don’t want to scare them: I want to educate and make them aware of the potential risks: nowadays, incidental copy/paste can be “easily” done, when saving some facts that end up in the essay. Or students don’t think it is important, or their previous schools never taught them these concepts. Or it is not perceived as an issue in their culture. Or they are not aware of the existing tools that can be used freely, without paying and without being illegal. During this course, I personally learned about Unsplash, and Pixabay for artistic free photographs. But you can also find free material such as images, music, logo, drawings, etc in Google if you set the right parameters: see below.

Google Search – 5/5/20

When it comes to teaching high schoolers, they need to learn not only to create a neat bibliography, but also to cite properly all the information, pictures, graph, and data they consulted during their research, and then used in their final work. Most of our students take the full International Baccalaureate Diploma, whose academic honesty criteria are strictly set. As mentioned in a previous post, we developed a 7-steps to IB research guide and we walk our students through its content at different levels through the years, to reach the whole experience by the end of grade 11, to make sure these students are fully equipped to navigate through their IB Extended Essay and Internal Assessments. These library sessions are sometimes delivered within a course but also fit in an EE half-day workshops program. Librarians have created different presentations, and with the Distance Learning due to COVID-19 pandemic, narrated versions have been added! As we always gear to improve the students learning experience, earlier in the year we offered voluntary specific mini-sessions during their breaks and lunchtimes. As I say to them: “I prefer you ask me (a lot of) questions now than to have to tell you in a few months that you need to go back to your EE and fix your citations and bibliography”.
I tell them too that using information ethically doesn’t only apply to students: adults are also bond to it and they will make use of these skills in their future professional lives. Otherwise there will be consequences, and I illustrate this with one story among quite a few others. In September 2014, the rector of the main French-speaking University of Brussels, gave a speech, on the opening day of the academic year, which turned out to have been heavily plagiarized from a number of sources, among them former French president Jacques Chirac! In his defense, he claimed that a young collaborator wrote the text -and that part was nearly as shocking to me!-, and that he now got fired. But of course, this wasn’t sufficient and he finally had to resign himself. Role-modeling in education, whether at home or at school, is imperative.

“The principle of academic honesty should be viewed positively by the entire school community and become a natural part of academic study, remaining with the IB student throughout his or her education and beyond.”

Academic honesty in the IB educational context (International Baccalaureate Organization, 2014)

Our school uses Turnitin, which will identify unoriginal content, and we are encouraging our older students to scan their essays before submitting them to teachers as we believe it shouldn’t only be used as a repression tool. IB papers are systematically checked for possible similarities before being sent away for assessment.

These constraints should not restrain the creation process. Actually, being respectful of the intellectual property of others does not mean that art and innovation are not allowed, or won’t emerge. Either the original work is cited, either the new creation falls under Fair Use. A remix is not derivative of the original work, but instead builds on it to create something new and original, and should be encouraged in all forms of creation

“Many commentators today are talking about the “age of the remix”, a practice enabled by widespread access to sophisticated computer technology whereby existing works are rearranged, combined, or remixed to create a new work. They make it sound as if remixing were a novel phenomenon, but a brief glance at human history reveals that it is in fact nothing new”.

Guilda Rostama, “Dilemma,” WIPO

Larry Lessing is a legal activist, advocating for reduced legal restrictions in technology applications, and is best known for being the co-founder of Creative Commons (CC), which provides free licenses for creators when making their work available to the public. Without CC, when a magazine article is written or a photograph taken, that work is automatically protected by copyright, which prevents others from using it freely. Creative Commons allows the creator to choose the way they want others to (re)use the work. When a creator releases their work under a CC license, members of the public know what they can and can’t do with the work. And even better: all CC licenses allow works to be used for educational purposes. This means that teachers and students can freely copy, share, and sometimes modify and remix a CC work without needing the permission of the creator. This open wide doors to creation!

“Re-examining the Remix,” video, 18:39, TED, posted by Lawrence Lessig, April 2010, accessed May 3, 2020, ttps://

In TED Talk above, Lessig speaks about what American Democrats could learn about copyright from their opposite party, the Republican, considered more conservative, but maybe not on this topic, and give an interesting perspective on Remix. The remix culture is a society that allows and encourages, by combining or editing existing materials, to produce new creative work or product. This is a desirable practice, that differs from piracy. Although happening on a much larger scale since the spread of technology and the internet, as Rotstama reminds us, there is nothing new under the sky! Along the same lines, Lessig also gives us some examples, including how Walt Disney based his first creation on existing work (Brothers Grimm…). It is appalling how the Disney Company now keeps lobbying so strongly to harden copyright laws to avoid losing its rights to the first cartoons. They did forget about their own history.

In the 2005 study Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture (John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation), it already appeared that half the American teenagers had created media content while a third of them had shared content they produced. We can easily imagine that these percentages would even be higher 15 years later. Teens are definitely involved in participatory cultures, in which they don’t act as consumers only (meaning general public), but also as contributors or producers. The study highlighted some different aspects:

  1. Affiliations: memberships in online communities centered around media such as Facebook
  2. Expressions: producing new creation forms, for example, fan videomaking
  3. Collaborative problem-solving: working in teams to develop new knowledge as the now-famous wikis
  4. Circulations: shaping the flow of media with podcasting, blogging…

Participatory culture carries benefits for young people: peer-to-peer learning, progressive view on intellectual property, diversification of cultural expression, development of skills valued in the workplace, empowered conception of citizenship. These are great! Still, let’s not forget some concerns that arise: these young people need pedagogical guidance in the process.
The report’s main goal is to shift the conversation about the digital divide from questions of technological access to:
– opportunities to participate
– development of cultural competencies
– development of social skills needed for a full involvement
In other words, moving from the tool(s) to the skills.

Therefore, schools should focus on developing new media literacy to help young people becoming MEDIA CREATORS.


Academic honesty in the IB educational context. International Baccalaureate Organization, 2014. Accessed May 6, 2020.

Jenkins, Henry. Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. Edited by MacArthur Foundation. Accessed May 4, 2020.

LeClair, Tanya. Sourcing Images. Accessed May 4, 2020.

Mathewson, Adrienne. “Copyright and Fair Use for Students.” Accessed May 5, 2020.

“Re-examining the Remix.” Video, 18:39. TED. Posted by Lawrence Lessig, April 2010. Accessed May 3, 2020. ttps://

Rosenthal Tolisano, Silvia. “Copyright Flowchart: Can I Use It? Yes? No? If This… Then….” Langwitches. Last modified June 10, 2014. Accessed May 3, 2020.

Rossel. “Discours plagié: Alain Delchambre démissionne de la présidence de l’ULB.” Le Soir. Last modified October 6, 2014. Accessed May 5, 2020.

Rostama, Guilda. “Dilemma.” WIPO. Last modified March 2015. Accessed May 7, 2020.

Schlackman, Steve. “How Mickey Mouse Keeps Changing Copyright Law.” Artrepreneur. Last modified February 15, 2014. Accessed May 5, 2020.

U.S. Copyright Office. “More Information on Fair Use.” Accessed May 5, 2020.

Weber-Wulff, Debora. “Belgian Rector resigns over plagiarized speech.” Copy, Shake, and Paste, A blog about plagiarism and scientific misconduct. Entry posted October 6, 2014. Accessed May 5, 2020.

“What We Do.” Creative Commons. Accessed May 5, 2020.

Wikimedia. “Copyright.” Wikipedia. Accessed May 5, 2020.

———. “Public Domain.” Wikipedia. Accessed May 5, 2020.

———. “Remix Culture.” Wikipedia. Accessed May 7, 2020.

Course 1 Final Project: “Expand your Research Skills”

Here is the Unit Plan developed as a Library lesson for Middle School Grade 9 Social Studies – Project on Ancient Civilizations (Rome)

Photo by Christopher Czermak on Unsplash

Why did you choose this topic? These standards?

The Ancient Civilizations is one of the main project that grade 9 social studies students work on during the first semester.
These standards are the obvious ones as I will be collaborating as a Teacher-Librarian with the classroom teachers.

If you revamped a previously created learning experience, what have you changed and why? What’s been added and/or removed? Why?

The entire Social Studies Curriculum for the Middle School went through some remodeling the past couple of years and Librarians need to revisit the collaboration with this department, in the light of the 7-steps to IB level Research that we have been developed in parallel for the whole school. The goal is to expand students’ expertise as information seekers, in incremental steps, and therefore to equip the grade 9 students with all the research skills they will need before entering High School.

How was this learning experience (unit plan) different from or similar to other learning experiences (unit plans) you have designed?

First of all, I rarely designed lesson plans from scratch, but get involved in delivering the lessons, and even amending one on my own has been a new experience. If I chose this specific topic, it is because I have always valued (and enjoyed) past collaboration with the MS Social Studies department. The idea is to reinstall a closer collaboration with these colleagues, while at the same time enriching the library component within that unit, and making it more meaningful to students, more authentic while adding digital tools.

How does this learning experience (unit plan) relate to what you learned in Course 1?

Although I am not satisfied yet the result I came up with (I will review it before next September!!), I have been thinking a lot of some of the readings and conclusions of the past courses:
new brain research stating how a positive and supportive learning environment can enrich the learning, to the point of reversing the negative effects of stress some students might encounter in their lives (Edutopia)
Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy, and moving from LOTS to HOTS
– making the learning relevant to the student (Cofino)
– the idea of connectivism and the need to adapt accordingly our teaching strategies

What has influenced you the most in Course one and how is that reflected in your learning experience/unit plan?

As stated above, I know I will go back to the lesson plan to amend it before sharing it with teachers, and will definitely prepare and test some online activities to make sure to engage students in a meaningful way.

What outcomes do you hope to see when students complete this learning experience/unit?

By the end of this unit, I am hoping for students to be more effective, critical and ethical researchers and information users.

From Theory into Practice

Sometimes it is laborious to visualize what some theoretical theory really means and how it can be applied. And sometimes, it goes the other way round: you come across some theory that suddenly make sense and help you to magnify practices already in place.
This week’s readings were quite rich and, I thought, the perfect balance between theory and practice. Or theory leading to practice. Or How to Use Learning Theories to Support Students’ Learning.

As educators, we indeed have a responsibility to stay up-to-date with research in order to apply innovative learning theories to our teaching.

Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

First of all, if we look at the conclusions -and implications!- of Living with New Media (John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation), it is clear that being immersed in the digital age means much more than “just” being able to access serious online information and culture. Being able to participate in social and recreational activities online is essential too. Adults need to realize that a cultural shift happened and they should remain open to experimentation as this would benefit the education program, by taking advantage of moments when young people are motivated to move from friendship-driven to more interest-driven forms of new media use.

“In our work, contrary to the fear that social norms are eroding online, we did not find many youth who were engaging in behaviors that were riskier than what they did in offline contexts.”

Institutions like schools and libraries should also play an active role in granting young people access the internet when it is not feasible to do so at home, to allow their participation in common culture and sociability.
Besides other points that have been noted by researchers, this final one is significant for educators: youth are developing new forms of media literacy that are keyed to new media and youth-centered social and cultural worlds.
Peer-based learning can be very powerful, and should be perceived as such by institutions and educators (and by parents too!); formal instruction needs to evolve and adapt to today’s young people’s practices.

Introduced in 2005 by two publications**, connectivism “is a theoretical framework for understanding learning in a digital age”. It gave, and still gives, a new insight into what it means to facilitate learning nowadays.
In What Does Connectivism Mean for Education?, written in 2012, Justin Marquis explains how the education process needs to be remodeled. And that includes the teacher’s role, but also the student’s one, and technology.
The way teaching is delivered should indeed meet the learner expectations and the physical changes that technology has done to the brains (!).

** Siemens’ Connectivism: Learning as Network Creation and Downes’ An Introduction to Connective Knowledge

Connectivism is driven by the understanding that decisions are based on rapidly altering foundations. New information is continually being acquired. The ability to draw distinctions between important and unimportant information is vital. The ability to recognize when new information alters the landscape based on decisions made yesterday is also critical.” (Siemens, 2005)

With Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy (Churches), we can start looking more precisely at a practical plan of action as it is a hierarchical model classifying educational learning objectives into levels of complexity and specificity.
Thinking skills and objectives are categorized and put in an ascending order, moving from the Lower Order Thinking Skills (LOTS) to the Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS)

Evaluation = Higher Order thinking Skills
Knowledge = Lower Order Thinking Skills

In 2001, Anderson and Krathwohl revised it and considered that creativity was higher within the cognitive domain than evaluation.

Through a Google search, I came across Obiageli Sneed‘s post on Integrating Technology with Bloom’s Taxonomy, and the very helpful graphic below: suddenly, you can link toolkits to the different learning stages.
Depending on the project, the ultimate learning goal you want students to achieve, and the competency already acquired, you can start at one level as they don’t all need to be followed in a sequence.

Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy is a great help for educators as it allows them to select purposefully through all the digital tools available, and make choices based on the kinds of learning experiences they want students to engage in.

Infographic Credit: Ron Carranza

Finally, Bringing the Science of Learning Into Classrooms (Edutopia) is so motivating when it explains how recent research shows that the brain is malleable and, contrary to previous belief, it continues to evolve until young adulthood.
The main consequence being that, despite toxic stress and abusive relationships, both inhibiting the learning, it is still possible to reverse the process, thanks to a trusting relationship with an adult (e.g. a teacher, a counselor…).
Isn’t that wonderful to have science confirming that with proper care and approach to learning, a student can still meet his/her full potential?
There is no such thing as an expiring date on the brain’s capacity to overcome barriers to learning. And educators can have such an impact if they are able to combine social, emotional, affective, and cognitive aspects within their teaching: the student’s brain will make more connections, and it will accelerate student learning and development.

One motto: Authenticity and Efficiency

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The essential question being: “How can we effectively, practically and authentically embed technology within our curricular areas?”, my first take from recent reading is about Geeking Out. Here is why.
Continuing going through Living with New Media from John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, I could clearly see the value of Geeking Out, being “the ability to engage with media and technology in an intense, autonomous and interest-driven way”. Fortunately it is losing its negative connotation(s) as one realizes that young people are actually pursuing their passion when geeking out, with great learning benefits along the way. And far from isolating them, it requires engagement but also practice and participation in specialized communities. Specialized knowledge networks will derive from these practices and will require from young people, besides accessing the information, to produce knowledge in order to contribute; at this level, lurking is not an option anymore, at least not for very long.
There is no doubt that some of our students are already committed to such networks. Sometimes we find out as they are able to make connections to academic content or are given the opportunity to share their high-level hobbies, through clubs, optional specialized classes or community meetings, or during a conversation.

This wealth of knowledge could be valued within the school, for example to help other students through mentoring programs, or to show how interest-driven learning can be gratifying.
On a personal level, as I am moving away from being mostly a lurker, on my way to becoming more involved and knowledgable in educational technology and digital literacy, reaching out to resource people within my own professional environment make sense, and in the process of looking out for people with a specific knowledge at one moment, it could be a colleague OR a middle or high school student. This is a huge shift in the way knowledge is transmitted: it went from linear with the ex-cathedra model (and no conversation allowed) to multi-directional.

“[…] we’re wise to keep our focus by asking whether we’re just playing with the edtech toys in our classrooms or truly using those edtech tools to leverage and grow student thinking and learning.” (Perkins)

Drew Perkins listed 15 Questions To Ask About Tech Integration In Your Classroom, and they are worth checking! Technology should not be used for the sake of it, but embedded authentically in the curriculum. Every teacher needs to remind him/herself that technology should be used to support student learning and not be the ultimate goal.

A great reference for the use of technology in teaching and learning is the ISTE Standards for students. Published by the International Society for Technology in Education, a nonprofit membership association for educators focused on educational technology, it lists skills and attitudes expected of students.
The standard that I can relate to directly as a librarian is number 3: Knowledge Constructor (see below), although, as explained in a previous post, the evolving role of libraries within the school makes obvious others too; for example number 4: Innovative Designer, or 6 with Creative Communicator.
These should be a great starting point to re-evaluate some collaboration projects with classroom teachers, or to build new ones.

Finally, one of my favorite recent read was Cofino‘s 3 Steps to Transforming Learning in Your Classroom: it is clear and very helpful.
NB: notice step 0 that acts as an important reminder!

Step 0: Focus on the Learning

Ask Yourself: What do you want students to know and be able to do?

Step 1: Make It Relevant

Ask Yourself: How can your students relate to this content in their daily lives or experiences?

Step 2: Real World Task

Ask Yourself: What would a professional in this field do?

Step 3: Authentic Audience

Ask Yourself: Who cares about this work?

There are clear connections between Step 1 and the concept of Geeking Out explained earlier: linking the technology-rich project on course content with their personal interests or passions will bring authenticity and, therefore, efficiency.

At this point in the course, the insightful readings, the studies and other articles and recommendations are clearly making me realized what the next steps in my teaching role I need to take. Although our library has been enhancing its offer to classroom colleagues and to individual students, the initiative mainly came from other librarians and/or the technology integrator. I am now looking forward to have a more meaningful role in the process and not only in delivering a tech-rich learning.

Connected Learning and Sewing!

Cultural anthropologist Mimi Ito, a passionate expert in young people’s use of digital media, tells us in Learning in Social Media Spaces how informal learning in online communities need to be valued. This is indeed places where students can freely:
– build technology skills
– learn media literacy
– create
– share their work

The challenge for educators is to incorporate in their teaching those three types of online activities already mentioned: hanging out, messing around and geeking out, and create a framework for it, to guide students in a meaningful way. Once again, the survey Living with New Media (John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation) details its findings; looking more closely at “messing around”, which, as we know, is the start of a more serious, “media-centric” form of engagement, we see that it involves “an interest in and a focus of the workings and the content of the technology and the media themselves”.
At that stage, young people will naturally start tinkering, exploring and will, therefore, extend their understanding of their subject of interest, but also of the digital technology.

The big idea of this section of the course is: “Connections can strengthen learning and open up new learning opportunities“. As we slowly need to start moving away from theory and start practicing, our homework is: what we can learn when with connect with others?
I gave some thoughts to what I wanted to learn right now, knowing that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the quarantine in place, shopping is very limited besides the essentials.
I was a bit puzzled when my daughter suggested it could be an opportunity to (finally!) learn how to sew to mend rips in our clothes! Yeah! I agree!

For years, this was my mother’s job when she came to visit; I even have a box with the basic sewing equipment.

Nostalgia Box

Now that she isn’t coming as often, and has painful fingers due to arthritis, my dear colleague and friend Charlotte took over the job! I would take the tee-shirt with a hole, or a pair of trousers with a tear, to school, and she would very kindly repair it during her lunch break or take it home. I know, I am lucky! <3

Charlotte mending a blouse

But now might be the moment when I take responsibility and repair my own clothes! How should I proceed to learn basic hand sewing, on my own?
It seems like a daunting task.

First of all, let’s find out what Jeff Kaufman‘s theory about self-learning is, as his book title is intriguing: “The First 20 Hours: How to learn anything… Fast“.
Here is how he explains it:

I can identify when Kaufman says that the biggest obstacle is not our lack of abilities but our emotions stopping us: we are indeed often anxious at the start of a new project, because of our level of incompetency: this is normal as we are about to learn something brand new.
[and here we can have some sympathy for our students]
If we get over the fear, and follow these steps, we will be able to learn anything we want to, from a new language to playing an instrument… the list is endless!

Kaufman'steps to learn anything in 20 hours:
1 Deconstruct 
2 Learn enough to Self correct 
3 Remove distraction 
4 Practice 20 hours

Next, I read Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design and it appears to be the perfect sequence, as this research report (led by Mizuko Ito among others) showed the importance of Connected Learning:

A young person should be able to pursue a personal interest or passion with the support of friends and caring adult

On a professional level, it makes so much sense, and I am happy to see that our library is moving towards that direction as we offer a Library Club with varied activities chosen by students and not all linked to reading but also to technology and crafts, a Creativity Studio with green screen, filming and audio equipment, a board games collection, chess tournaments, the IRIS Award, a reading collaboration program between international Schools in Western Europe since 2016.
It is increasingly more explicit that I need to take the leap from the lurker I was [still is] to at least a connector, and possibly to a creator, as I am one of the caring adults that need to support our student through their Connected Learning journey, either for a classroom project or for a personal one. So far, some colleagues have filled in that role, but I definitely want to join in!

About my own current homework, I might not be a “young person” anymore (still is at heart though!) but, nonetheless, realized that I also need support to put in practice my project. Based on that awareness, here is the plan I developed.

Christel’s 10 actionable steps towards learning basic sewing:

  1. Check sewing-field vocabulary in English
  2. Identify online tutorials in English and in French + WikiHow FR
  3. Phone friend and expert sewer Charlotte with specific questions
  4. Look around for family clothes needing mending
  5. Watch the best tutorial(s) and practice directly
  6. Ask feedback to Charlotte (via video call)
  7. Practice on the other clothes to be repaired
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

As I shared my most recent learnings with my family, I was happy to be a connector as my husband decided to apply Kaufman’s theory and learn how to sing Buddhist mantra in 20 hours!