See What I Mean

Nowadays, more than ever, information is everywhere.
And so much of it! 

In 2009 already, in the Harvard Business Review, Paul Kemp was talking about Death by Information Overload while Oksana Tunikova, nearly a decade later,  asks Are We Consuming Too Much Information? and is defining this new reality…

“Information overload is the state of feeling overwhelmed by the volume of information to the point at which one feels more confused than knowledgeable about a particular topic. Information overload can manifest itself as brain fog and difficulty making decisions.”

By Langwitches on flick

From healthy relationships to understanding the world we live in, we know for sure that clear communication is the key to success. Of course, it is no different when it comes to education.

Therefore educators have a crucial role to play when teaching: not only do they have to deliver content and teach students how to learn, but they have to do so in an effective way, adapted to today’s reality. Avoiding long written pieces in favor of visual communication is one excellent method of sharing ideas and data.
And most importantly, teachers need to encourage students to also express themselves clearly and creatively: using infographics and data visualization can achieve that. 

For Column Five, infographic is “where data meets design“. Playing with different attributes like color, size, orientation, and even flicker, in order to produce creative work that informs, engages, and inspires. Communicating complex information through design can take place in all the different subjects taught in school, for all ages and can be applied to all sorts of information including processes, hierarchy, anatomy, chronology…

Furthermore, David McCandless, founder of information is beautiful claims his goal is to help people make clearer, more informed decisions about the world. He turns complex data sets into beautiful, simple diagrams that bring to light unseen patterns and connections. Good design, he suggests, is the best way to navigate information excess,  and it may just change the way we see the world.


As I had to adapt a presentation for our first-ever 2021 graduating class going through The International Baccalaureate® (IB) Career-related Programme (CP), it was an opportunity to apply my new understanding of infographics and its purpose.
We already have a Google Slides presentation geared toward the Extended Essay of the IB Diploma Programme, but I felt that this class needs its own.
I wanted to discover Piktochart,  which claims to “quickly turn any text- or data-heavy content into a stunning report, presentation, infographic, social media graphic, or printable and I used one of their free template.”
I used one of the templates available with the free account (below, right) and adapted it (below, left), and enjoyed playing around with it. One can see that is not perfect (yet): lack of alignment – questionable background color… Works in progress!





Learning Together

 “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”

This African proverb can perfectly applies to the learning process, as shown on the learning pyramid developed by the National Training Laboratory, whose studies suggest that most students remember 10% of what they read from textbooks, but retain nearly 90% of what they learn through teaching others!

In Collaborative Learning, from Cornell University, we have the confirmation that students working in pairs or small groups to discuss concepts or find solutions to problems will lead to deeper learning, and to higher-level thinking, better oral communication, self-management, and leadership skills.
Promoting this kind of learning in the classroom, and encouraging the active interaction, and not only between students, but also between students and the teacher, who then becomes facilitator, collaborator and co-learner, is absolutely necessary. The old-fashioned ex-cathedra professor model needs to fly through the window. And fast.

<span>Photo by <a href="">John Schnobrich</a> on <a href=""
Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

Project Zero from Harvard University is a research center founded in 1967 that explores topics in education such as deep thinking, understanding, intelligence, creativity, and ethics. They designed Thinking Routines that have the great advantage to be practical and easy to remember. These routines will also support collaborative thinking.

Facilitating a structured learning activity

I decided to work with a grade 7 class, the youngest of our Middle Schoolers, as these students are either new to the school or to this building, as a nice way for me to start working with this group. Their science’s current unit is about the Scientific Method, and I was able to work with one of the teachers to develop an activity linked to their course content.

SCIENCE Grade 7 – How to reinforce the thought process and vocabulary of the experimental design 

As students had already been exposed to the concepts of Independent Variables (IV), Dependent Variables (DV), and Constants, the objective was for them to think on how the experiment presented to them on paper would develop, and after identifying the IV, DV, and Constants, how to write precisely the hypothesis and the experiment title.
Working in groups, the goal was to brainstorm and test solutions together, in order to obtain the most precise result, using specific vocabulary.

After being introduced to the activity, and its topic, students were divided into four groups, spreading outside the classroom to be able to work together while social distancing.


In each group, one student was identified as the recorder **. The science teacher and I went from group to group, listening to the conversations, asking a question to help them be more specific, if needed.

** Looking at the picture, something strikes me now: on the 3rd picture, the recorder should have turned his desk. It is so obvious, but it didn’t click then. A lesson to be learned for me, for sure.

The last step of this activity was to look together at the four different results, and discuss them; for example, one group had a unique and creative answer for the constants (pesticides). When everyone agreed, the final document was completed.
The students will be exposed to a few more similar scenarios during the next ten days, in preparation for a unit test. Being able to process together the thinking sequence and helping each other to find the most appropriate words definitely help them.


Being Designers

Most schools started again a few weeks ago, still remotely for some, or on-campus like mine.
Still, everything remains so incredibly different from what we had before the pandemic hit us. 2020 will be like no other year in our lifetime and it is a challenge to adjust.
We are also back for the second stretch of the COETAIL program, and although adding to the challenge of balancing professional and personal time, it feels great to catch up with fellow Coetail-ers from Cohort 12, all teaching around the world, and to start reading their recent posts. Although this time I should say “looking at” their blogs: for Course 3, we are indeed developing our V✶I✶S✶U✶A✶L  Literacy to improve effective collaboration and communication.

Visual literacy is the “ability to recognize and understand ideas conveyed through visible actions or images”. In today’s increasingly digital world, we are communicating with images and icons more than ever, which makes it crucial to understand design principles and how it influences the way we perceive media. We are not only referring to an aesthetic enhancement — although we will see how a clear appearance is important — but to a language of its own, inducing communication and interaction. Over 50 billion photos (!!) have been shared on Instagram since it was launched in 2010 (Source: Omnicore).

The design of online tools is a virtual language and a powerful way of communication, and, as educators, we need to take it into account when we plan lesson plans and activities for our students.

My first reading on the topic, Explore visual hierarchy, taught me, or reminded me, a few things that totally make sense and are obvious. But… if you don’t specifically pay attention to this, chances are that you will overlook most of them and end up with a product that is not as efficient as it could be.
The visual hierarchy is indeed “the principle of arranging elements to show their order of importance”.  This means that you need to place all elements not only in a logical order, but also strategically to facilitate your users’ understanding and guide them to the wanted action.

The page on visual hierarchy from the Interaction Design Foundation tells us which components should be taken into account:
Regarding size: larger elements will be better noticed. Bright colors and richer textures will attract more attention. Contrast and Whitespace are eye-catching. Using out-of-alignment elements will make them stand out. Style repetition and Proximity will suggest a relation between content.

And they also explain why clear visual hierarchy is crucial:

With this knowledge in mind, I now need to revisit my own blog and question the choices I made last March when I was new to WordPress blogging. Clearly, some of them were not deliberate choices at all: I didn’t master the tool, and my main goal was to manage to publish some content.
I do remember choosing the theme, convinced I was making an informed selection: I picked up Twenty Seventeen who has a black background because I thought, that words and images would stand out better. All my quotes were published in color with a different font and/or size. I even tried to have them matched the illustrations I was adding.
There was frustration tough for not always being able to produce the layout I imagined.

When I went back to my blog after a couple of months, and having  read through some additional reading materials like the Guide to visual hierarchy (Infographic source) and the 6 principles of visual hierarchy for designers (99designs) it became clear that my objectives should be to convey simplicity and clarity by adding:

  • softer colors on a white background
  • lighter text with better visual
  • headings
  •  a table of content (a must-have for a librarian!) 
  • a name that reflects its purposes (still thinking about that one)

Before starting to implement some of the changes, let’s look again into some   principles that guide designers and called CARP  for:

Contrast – Alignment –  Repetition – Proximity

But also called CRAP .. maybe for a better mnemotechnic acronym? 

Bryan Jones helps us understand the impact of these graphic design principles when applied to a specific project to then be able to make our courses and presentation look attractive and therefore efficient.

UPDATING  my blog 
I played a lot with the different free WordPress Themes, changed the background colors when possible, and found out that not all features were available on all themes. I learned new vocabulary on the way, and WordPress how-to’s, got excited, and then deceived as I wasn’t able yet to get the right aesthetics I wanted while implementing the functions I wanted for a better performance of my blog.

So I finally went back to my original theme “Twenty Seventeen” for now, with the following updates:
name change for a wider audience: not my first name anymore, but “Mme Toilier”, as students call me
after looking at the result, I tried again to add a logo (my portrait) on this theme (see 3d version below) for enhanced site identification
menu added right under the header
a search button (my librarian self was lacking the last two items a lot!)

swapping the dark background for a white one — ideally, I would like a pale color one but I still need to figure out how to add it in within this theme


I was surprised how the pictures actually stand out better now while I chose the dark one originally on purpose


And finally  (for now!), I made sure to choose the parameters I wanted for the widgets (e.g. numbers of displayed comments or previous posts, etc)


“We are All Designers” … or at least we need to be(come) one to communicate our digital messages across in an efficient way! I feel that this unit taught me a lot, or reactivated previous knowledge. I found myself looking at websites or other online content in a different way, and will definitely think twice next time I create a presentation for a class.


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.