Educating and Parenting the Net and Next Generation

Yesterday, I attended the annual parent orientation at Xavier School. Unlike past years, there was something different about this year, I realized. I would be attending activities in this school for only one boy (my other boy already graduated high school and is facing a new life as a college freshie).

Ever since Fr. Johnny Go, S.J. took over the helm as School Director, I have seen vast improvements in terms of facilities, quality of faculty, curriculum, use of technology in academe and so many other aspects.  In a previous post, I described how the school turned virtual during Typhoon Ondoy when school was suspended for 10 days. While many schools lost school days, Xavier students continued to study and do assigned homework via the net.

At the orientation, I eagerly awaited Fr. Johnny’s presentation to the parents. His part is always something I look forward to. After all, when the School Director blogs, uses multimedia in his presentations, has a Facebook account and maintains his own YouTube channel, you can be sure his talk would be a very interesting one. I was not disappointed.

Fr. Johnny talked about how important it is for schools (and parents) to learn how to educate and parent this generation of tech-savvy kids.

He described the TV Generation I belong to (the age when baby boomers first encountered a television set and whose free time was spent in front of the boob tube watching episodes of popular shows). He also described the next younger set called Generation X (that age group between mid 30s to mid 40s that were schooled in classrooms where passive learning was the norm: teacher lectures and student “vomits back” what he absorbed during exams).

He next described the 2 generations that students belong to now: The Net Generation (kids from 13 yrs old and up) and the Next Generation (those below 12 years old). These two generations have absolutely no fear for technology; in fact they embrace it wholeheartedly. But with such wide access to information at the tips of their fingertips, schools face a new challenge in teaching them, something that Xavier is moving briskly into. Unlike the generations of parents where  a student WAITS for content before ASSIMILATING it, learning for 21st century kids must entail what Fr. Johnny calls the 5 “-ate’s”:

* LOCATE content (e.g., how to use search engines to find information)

* INTERROGATE the results (learning not to just accept search results as truth but to interrogate which is true, half-true, or false)

* CREATE and COMMUNICATE content

* COLLABORATE with others

At the same time, kids must learn 3 things that go along with ease of technology access and information:

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Xavier School Turns Virtual

Just five days after I blogged about how technology could be used by schools in the wake of the A(H1N1) virus, Xavier School suspended classes for 10 days after one student tested positive for the virus.

Was this a setback for the school? If you’re thinking in traditional mode, yes. Teachers & students could not come together in class for interactive learning. But did that stop Xavier? Absolutely not. The school turned the forced vacation into an opportunity to launch what we now call “virtual Xavier”.

From the time Fr. Johnny Go, S.J. became its School Director several years back, Xavier School slowly began transforming the school, the faculty, the curriculum, and the students into technology enablers. This move served the school well this week.

The day classes were suspended, the school’s official website crashed (probably due to the unexpected traffic on the server as parents and students alike went online to check the next steps.)

It was not long before an alternate site went up, Virtual Xavier (www.virtualxavier.ning.com)

Ning alternate site

Virtual Xavier as it looked the first time it was put up

Next thing we knew, Multiply sites PER LEVEL were created. By this coming Monday, June 29, parents and students alike can go to the Multiply site of their son’s level and download online lessons uploaded by their teachers. In fact, some of these sites already have some content in them like this:

Gr1 Multiply homepage

I believe we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg as far as what Xavier School (or any other technology-enabled institution) can do. What is important at this stage is the fact they are proving that learning does not stop just because teachers & students cannot come to school. Education can continue for as long as technology enables them to. There are many other things I can see evolving in terms of virtual schooling (podcasting, livestreaming, videoconferencing, online chatrooms, online collaborative projects, Skype-ing, and so on) and I predict Xavier School can be at the forefront of this.  At the moment, it already has some of the infrastructure: computer literate faculty & staff, excellent IT labs, students who are almost all techie savvy, and parents who are getting there (some probably forced to learn out of necessity).

Here is a screencap from an article posted just yesterday in their school website. It shows the forward-looking state of the school.

Effective online education

I am hoping that other schools in the Philippines seriously consider putting more money into technology-based learning. Not just because of the spread of A(H1N1). This, to me, was just the catalyst for Xavier School. But I believe that if we can equip the current and future generations of citizens for a tech world, we can bring this country that much closer to elevating the state of education.

There is another side to consider too. The Department of Education and Culture (DECS) has to modify its guidelines to include learning outside of the classroom.  Right now, for example, we count actual school days (read that as IN SCHOOL). On occasions like this when a school is actually allowing students to accomplish schoolwork during the quarantine period, doesn’t this count (to some extent) as school days? There is a need for paradigm shifts in mindset as to what constitutes learning.  Learning is no longer just classroom-bound. If field trips are considered learning time, online work (for as long as there are guidelines established in terms of hours spent) should count as well. I have other thoughts about virtual education that can address the sore lack of brick-and-mortar classrooms but I will leave that for another day and possibly another blog post.

For now, I am just happy to see Xavier School evolving, innovating and creating. If we can think out of the box and use all the tools available to us, school can be just about anywhere we can imagine it to be — even when we are in pajamas, propped up in bed, with our laptops.

Technology: A Tool for Schools in the Wake of A(H1N1)

Many mothers like me here in the Philippines are growing more and more worried by the day as the number of people becoming sick with the A(H1N1) virus increases. Classes have just began in our part of the world and in the first week, some students were found positive resulting in classes being suspended and moved by about 10 days.

In the university where my girls go to school, there were initially 3 high school cases but another case was confirmed yesterday. So far, the school where my boys study has been virus-free but as more and more schools confirm cases of their students getting sick, I worry.

However, I have suggestions for school administrators and teachers especially in schools that are well-equipped to use technology and the internet. You can have a back-up plan to ensure that in the event you will be forced to suspend classes, your students do not lose too many days out of school. This will require a paradigm shift in the way you conduct classes but it can work.

You can shift to the web.

Of course, many of these moves may require coordination with DECS but just think of the possibilities:

1. Email addresses and mobile numbers serve as point-to-point contact – Many schools, as part of information sheets during enrollment, ask for the email addresses and mobile numbers of parents & students. Take this to the next level. Use your database of email addresses of all your students/teachers/administrators/parents and create mailing lists now. One mailing list for faculty, another for parents, another for students (by level). This will be one of your ways to disseminate information.

2. School websites are not just for information; they can be transformed into online classrooms. – A few days ago, the boys’ school held parent orientations. I did not go. I was feeling under the weather and chose to stay away from crowds. But I heard that the orientations did not last long. The class advisers went through powerpoint presentations to introduce the line-up of teachers as well as answer a few questions from the attending parents.

Now this got me thinking. If that was all it took during orientations, why could we not have put this same information up on the website of the school, giving access to parents via some form of security code?

I remember the inauguration of Pres. Barack Obama. CNN created a Facebook page linked to its website. Any Facebook users who subscribed to the page could literally jump into a chatroom as the inauguration was going on and add his/her comments to the global community. Bring that down to a school community.

Could we  create a smaller version of a chatroom so that parents could do conferencing with the school administrators/faculty as they are viewing a presentation?

Could Powerpoint presentations be simply uploaded to the website for parents to access?

Could the teachers have made podcasts/videos of what they wanted to say to parents as well?

Can lessons be broadcast via podcasts or YouTube?

3. Think ONLINE QUIZZES!!! – Yes, there will be issues like: Do we really know if it is the student answering the quiz or not since he is not visible to the teacher? But maybe with proper sanctions in place for those found cheating, or with appropriate security codes/log-in requirements, students can take quizzes online. Cheap webcams can be required so that a student would be visible via webcam to his teacher while taking an exam. Grading would be a cinch too since the correct answers can be keyed into a program that does instantaneous checking of papers.

4. Collaborative tools make team-based projects easy online.Google Docs is one example of a collaborative tool. Word documents, spreadsheets and presentations can be created and shared online. Team members can all view the same document, make changes, chat online about it and essentially, collaborate. No need for face-to-face interaction.

5. Use Mobile broadcasting for important announcements – Many schools in Metro Manila utilize this tool already. Parents/students/faculty subscribe to the service and important announcements from the school are pushed via SMS to the subscribers. While mobile broadcasting nowadays is in the form of school cancellations, event announcements and the like, this can be used also to alert parents and students to check the school website for newly posted classroom activities.

This internet mode of schooling is, of course, a temporary measure and can be utilized only in extreme cases when the school is forced to suspend classes for long stretches. But if the DECS accepts this as an alternate mode of schooling, cases like the A(H1N1) pandemic need not interrupt school days drastically.

At the moment, I also realize that it is the private schools that would have the advantage in implementing this over public schools due to their access to technology and computers but we can start from here.

Leave a comment if you have other ideas as to how classes can be conducted online to reduce the interruptions.

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