Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Beginning to use QR Codes - some quick ideas

I'll admit QR codes were a bit of a mystery to me until recently.  I've seen the funny little codes in magazines and advertisements, and I understood that if you had an app on your phone you could scan them and get...somewhere.  Beyond that I didn't give them much thought. However, it seems I've been reading about them everywhere recently and they really can have some practical uses - even in the classroom.

The first thing I did was get a free QR reader app for my iPhone - I got one called Qrafter.

This app is pretty basic - touch it, hold your phone over a code and it automatically scans and takes you to the site.  Handy. I read an article that talked about how easy it was to generate your own QR codes for a website - another free app called QR Code Maker (for iPad on iTunes).  It's a little glitchy, but when you put in a URL it will generate a nice code every single time.  You don't need an app or a mobile device to generate codes - you can make them for free online at many sites. I made a code for my class blog page, which is my central site for all of my courses.  I printed it out on a big page and hung it on my classroom door.

Then I decided that since those apps were free (and easy), I'd put them on my middle school students' iPads - also easy.  The kids had seen the codes before.  The first thing they did was use the reader on my code I'd put by the door. That was the extent of that learning curve.

A few weeks ago the kids had done some art projects - in the process they documented their work with pictures and video, and later narrated their process and edited these to make personal art documentaries.  They had posted these short films on their blogs.  The finished artwork is hanging up in my classroom.  The students went to the blog posts they'd made of their documentaries and used the URL's to make QR codes on their new iPad app, QR Code Maker.  They printed out small codes, and tacked them to the side of their artwork.  Now the students with their iPads, and visitors with phone scanners, can scan the code next to their artwork and connect immediately to a video the students created which documents the process they went through in creating that piece of art.

WHY SHOULD YOU TRY THIS? This can be a great way to "go deeper" into student work - especially when they are working on projects that may involve skills, performance and various creations.  QR codes are a simple link that can help a student put physical and virtual elements together.  They can bring the depth of a project to a virtual and a physical audience.

My middle school students are currently working on a research project in which they are using some old photos displayed in the school and creating web pages about those photos that expand the information with their research.  They will create QR's for those pages that we can attach to the photos in the hall.  Visitors to our school will then have a way of learning more about the old photographs and our local history.

In the meantime, the kids are really getting into generating codes for their blogs - maybe a little overboard...

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Disrupt their thinking - teaching students about propaganda

Digital media may be the single largest divider that defines the gap in generations today.  Kids grow up now consuming far more digital media in the forms of online videos, games, and even television, than my generation ever did.  A reading skill I developed as I matured was the ability to be able to be a discriminating consumer of what I read - but it was so much easier back then!  We could neatly categorize advertisements, opinion pieces, political rhetoric, etc. The techniques weren't that tricky to spot.  One only need to read the back cover of a book and a little "about the author" to be able to figure out what might be the underlying point of view or message of a novel.  What kids "consume" today looks radically different, and can no longer be neatly categorized.  YouTube brings them videos for entertainment and information, but the "about the author", if it even exists, is not as helpful, and often they know nothing about the messenger.  Videos go viral - if everyone is watching them that means they're good, right?  The messages are many, and mixed.

In my middle school technology course, I spend a lot of time teaching kids how to create impactful messages using video.  There is a lot of noise out there, and if they want their message to be heard, there are techniques they need to be able to use skillfully to give it a chance.  In much the same way it is also equally important that they are able to be good, discerning, and critical consumers of what they see.

A new UK website, Digital Disruption, is beginning to be a great resource for helping to teach this important way of thinking and awareness to kids.

Digital Disruption is a website aimed specifically at teens, and focuses on 7 commonly used propaganda techniques in video.  Students are then given a series of simple but thought provoking polling questions - asking them things like if they would share the video they just saw.  The site accepts contributions of actual YouTube videos to use in its lessons, which is very useful for teaching this at a realistic level.

The lessons first introduce students to common propaganda techniques, then move on to a series of thoughtful lessons using actual videos.  Discussion suggestions, activities, and polls are given - all of which help to create an awareness and a savviness among the students.  It may not make them experts on propaganda, but the Digital Disruption headline question, "Who Owns Truth", surely gets them thinking more critically about what they view.

It's important that we teach kids that they need to learn how to use the internet, and not let the internet use them.  Tools like Digital Disruption are going to become a necessity for teachers and parents to have in their toolbox. Kids need our guidance - and this particular skill, or awareness, is something we have to mindfully teach -we simply cannot expect our students to figure this one out on their own.  When it comes to the digital media our kids consume on a regular basis, it's crucial that they understand "No One Owns Truth".