Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Digital Photo Project: A Tech Mentoring Story

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In my Technology Mentoring work, I have the great pleasure to work with ABE/ESL teachers around the state who are committed to making technology a part of their classrooms.  One of my current projects is working with Jan Olsen Stone's beginning ESL class at the MORE school in St. Paul.  Her class has been working on basic computer literacy (learning how to turn on the laptop computers, learning basic vocabulary like "double click" and "press Ctrl-Alt-Del," and using Google to search for websites and photos).  This week I worked with Jan to plan the next big step for the students - taking their own photos using digital cameras.

The first 90 minutes of the class was spent on learning vocabulary for the camera (lens, shutter button, focus, etc.) and how to use the cameras.  Students learned to make simple sentences like "The camera has a lens," and "Press the button to take a picture."  (A lesson which was periodically interrupted by tornado sirens.  Yikes!  Luckily, no tornadoes.  Whew!)  The second hour was spent on a field trip to the local Sears department store.  Each of the four small groups of students had one camera (all provided by teachers & class volunteers).  The students' task: take pictures of each other with items in the store they would like to know the names of.  You can see some of the results above and the full sets can be seen on the Jan's Class1 Flickr page.

After class, the teacher, class volunteer, and I downloaded all the pictures the students had taken and uploaded them to the Flickr site.  Now that the pictures are accessible, Jan has a wealth of content to mine for language lessons.  Here are some ideas we have for what she and the students will do with the photos:
  • write a Language Experience Story about the field trip and illustrate it with a selection of photos
  • use the photos to teach new vocabulary (the original purpose!) and grammar such as prepositions
  • categorize items in the photos (clothing department - women's - shirts)
  • students can copy and paste photos from the Flickr site into Word documents and write sentences to describe them.
Jan plans to continue to use digital photo projects throughout her summer school session.  Other photography assignment ideas for her students include:
  • taking pictures of things that are a certain color
  • taking pictures of things that surprised them or were new to them when they came to the U.S.
  • taking pictures of places in the community (walking around the neighborhood)
  • taking pictures of signs in the community (also a walking project)
Working with this class really reminded me that cameras provide a unique and powerful tool for prompting engagement with one's surroundings.  In our students' hands, they can give us such rich content for language learning.  I hope you'll think about trying something like this with your students too!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

United Nations: Disconnecting People From the Internet Is a Violation of Human Rights

United Nations: Disconnecting People From the Internet Is a Violation of Human Rights

Well, there you have it: Internet access is officially a human right. It's an interesting position for the U.N. to take. In our cushy American setting, that might seem a little silly. Internet access is a human right? Really? When most people just use it for entertainment? But there has been quite a lot of controversy at the international level over whether individuals can claim that their rights have been violated when their governments cut off their Internet access in order to, for example, prevent them from organizing protests against said government. Seen in that context, this decision makes a lot more sense. It also makes me wonder if there have ever been similar discussions about other technologies. If Internet access is a right (based on the idea that people have a right to freedom of expression and opinion) is access to other information/communication technology, like cell phones, also a right? Would forcing cell phone providers to take their carrier signals down (like Egypt did during their recent revolution) also qualify as a violation of the populace's human rights? Very interesting stuff.

The world is changing, and fast! It's difficult for governments and educational institutions to keep pace.  Policies that govern technology use that were developed even 5 years ago often seem anachronistic.  In many ABE programs, we struggle just to get access to basic online resources like Gmail and streaming video.  5 or 10 years ago, these things may have been seen as an "extra" or something that schools shouldn't be providing because they were too entertainment-focused.  Now they are basic necessities for online learning and for full participation in adult life.  We need more flexible policies that allow instructors and learners to access the full range of opportunities provided by the Internet.  It's a human right.  Just ask the U.N.