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!

Learning to navigate: being an active researcher

In 2020, we are surrounded by information. It is everywhere, at our fingertips, and we even carry, in our pockets, phones that give us access to a wealth of information that no one could have imagined only a decades ago. Tom Stevenson tells us that We Are Living In The Age of Information Overload and urges us to be selective: less is more, right?
But what exactly is information? Merriam-Webster’s specifies three different meanings: “(1) Knowledge obtained from investigation, study or instruction (2) News (3) Facts / Data”, while knowledge is “the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association”. Comparing both terms show us that a process is needed to access knowledge.
This is what research is. And to have a safe journey through it involves learning to navigate through that sea of information.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

As educators, our role is not anymore to feed students with pre-defined content: slowly but surely the ex-cathedra teaching model has become outdated. Nowadays learning to learn holds more validity than being able to recite facts. In 2016, Erika Andersen explained in a Harvard Business Review article that the concept of “Learning to Learn” is probably the new challenge for businesses wanting to remain competitive.

“Curiosity is what makes us try something until we can do it, or think about something until we understand it. ” (Andersen)

I enjoyed watching Diana Laufenberg TEDx Talk: How to learn? From mistakes. I could indeed relate to her personal experience as a younger student who, unlike her parents and grandparents, had access to printed encyclopedias at home: for the first time information, and therefore knowledge, was not only delivered at school by teachers who were the main keepers of knowledge. In my bedroom, I would often flick through a volume and read a couple of articles (and over the years I must have read most of them, if not all, in those thirty-something volumes!), and when I reached High School, I would look up for some background information before writing essays -my Belgian school didn’t have a library (!).
For Laufenberg, it is clear that as kids don’t have to come to school anymore to get information, the teacher’s new role – more of a mentor’s I would say – is to ask students what they can do with it, and accompany them through the process.

For teenagers, being “connected” is very natural as it has become part of their life. Parents and teachers often think that “hanging out’ with friends, and using new media is a waste of time, as the findings of the Digital Youth Project shows (Living with New Media, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation), but to teens, it is an essential part of everyday communication and part of their identity construction. Being engaged in new media practices in such a way is expanding their technology literacy.
This happens when they are “messing around’, which in this context means experimentation and exploration by looking around, searching for information online, play with gaming and/or digital media production. It requires interest-driven orientation, and usually take place within a social context that will allow sharing. At this stage, it is interesting to note that one of the goals of this three-year-long ethnographic study was to find out how practices are changing “the dynamics of youth-adult negotiations over literacy, learning and authoritative knowledge”. How should educators, in the broader meaning (parents, caregivers, teachers) adapt their teaching of the young?

Image by cev_91 from Pixabay

Digital technology, and social media, are part of our lives now, for better and, sometimes, for worse. These unlimited opportunities for communication, although asynchronous – allowing to think twice about what you are texting or posting, can sometimes slip: some children or teenagers can be confronted to harmful loss of privacy, bullying, child sexual abuse as the UNICEF report “Children in a Digital World” points out. Young people between 15 and 24 years-old represent the most connected age group with 71% worldwide being online vs. only 48% total population if all ages are included. One in three under 18 years-old are internet users, and children access the internet at an increasingly younger age.

This is the reason why teachers need to help students take ownership of their digital lives. Last year, Merve Lapus from Common Sense Media spent a few days at our school, The International School of Brussel meeting its administration, its students, parents, and faculty, and working closely with key actors, like librarians and technology integrators, to model Digital Citizenship lessons. ISB then started to pilot the Common Sense Media DC Curriculum during the 2019-20 School Year and will continue to integrate such lessons in order to help students to make smart choices online.
Another recent “hot” topic in the new media is Fake News, and we can, right now, observe an increase of false information during the COVID-19 pandemic, which “is putting [more] lives at risk” claims UN News. Internet users need to learn how to distinguish such fabricated news from legitimate ones. To help our Middle School students understand the many ways this term can be used and how to search for truth in an era of too many Fake News, last January, our school invited the Belgian journalist Tim Verheyden for a lecture on the topic followed by an interesting discussion with students.

7 Steps to IB Level Research @ The International School of Brussels

Leading students to develop a critical mind when it comes to research is indeed a crucial mission for all educators, including teacher-librarians of course! While it is very easy to do a Google search, finding reliable and academic-level information and use it ethically needs guidance and practice.

To lurk or not to lurk?

Image from Pixabay

Week 1 readings gave substance to the reason why I joined the COETAIL program. First of all, a lurker is not a word I was familiar with, so I checked its definition: ” In Internet culture, a lurker is typically a member of an online community or PLN who observes, but does not participate.”
Clearly, without knowing the word for it, I am a lurker (shame on me!). Can I be exempt or even forgiven: part of my job as a librarian is to look up for facts and teach students how to effectively research reliable information, and today it means scouting the online subscriptions and the World World Web.
Well, “part of my job” should give you a hint: nowadays the role of school libraries is constantly evolving and moving away, or at least expanding, from its traditional missions in order to meet students needs and to help them become fully equipped citizens in a rapidly changing digital environment. Libraries are becoming vibrant places where collaboration is natural, and the use of technology such as green screen filming equipment, sound recording… is encouraged if not required. Makerspaces are often part of libraries.
This is why it was enlighting to read about the different types of social media users in Online Personas: Who We Become When We Learn with Others Online (Lloyd, Skyring and Fraser), the main ones being mavens, connectors, and challengers. Interestingly, one individual can adopt different personas on social media depending on the context.

In 2020 students are immersed in technology use, both recreational and educational. As one can read in the first part of the Living with New Media (John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation) project, the immediacy and breadth of information they have, allow self-directed learning. The new media allow for some freedom and autonomy and can nurture motivation as efforts are self-directed. The outcome will emerge from exploration. It sounds clear that to be successful educators need to be able to provide these possibilities within the classroom.

So, To Lurk or not to Lurk?
Everyone has been a lurker at some point, if only as a newbie. The importance is to rapidly expand our role within the online media and becoming a connector.
As outlined by Cofino in her First Steps Toward Becoming a 21st Century Educator, the powers of web 2.0 technologies are fascinating and revealing as they will help teachers -who must remain learners- communicate, collaborate and connect with other educators, creating a network based on interest, skills and experience.

And when Utecht asks: What does it mean to disconnect?, he redirects the conversation to this essential aspect of the use of technology: are we consuming, using or creating?
So, in reality, he is not, as we might first think, referring to disconnecting from all “screens” but asking how we are interacting with technology. And stating that creating means an active mind at work, and the world need creators, innovators and problem-solvers.
And if our students need to be, so do we. So do I.

“Spending time with technology is not a bad thing… it is how you spend that time that counts” (Utecht)

Photo by Mael BALLAND on Unsplash

The image above shows how I feel at the beginning of this journey: I started the trip, climbed some steep steps, the most challenging part is still ahead, but I am looking up to the destination: the sky and trees waiting for me. And then at some point, somehow, you realize that the endpoint is not important: what is, is what you gain along the way, and how you continue to grow.