Alas, I am going to twist this assignment a bit, this because I find many of the “Atlases” to be static and imitative rather than innovative and participatory. For me the key is precisely the Alaska DOE – “Technology Standards” in Alaska Student Content Standards web site and the call for “both and” we saw in the First Alaskans Institute – “2006 Alaska Native Student Vitality: Community Perspectives on Supporting Student Success“. The Technology Standards are brilliant – look at the verbs: “use, manage, diagnose, choose, select, solve, create, convey, evaluate, discriminate, demonstrate, examine, and integrate.” Perhaps these are pedantic in a way that a Grandmother or Grandfather’s language would not be but these are the behaviors they seek in a young person learning to subsist on the land. Alas, when I look at many of the Atlases, I am looking at just so many books – sure, books published on the web, but they remain books. Perhaps the process was incredibly valuable yet not reflected in the product and hence many of these would fail the technology standards. The assignment calls for me to evaluate various atlases from the technology standards. I choose instead to re-write the assignment. Most of the required readings miss the fun, fascination, satisfaction, and amazement that “geeking out” on technology offers the human spirit. In addition many of these I see a simple mapping of an older way of thinking onto a newer technology, for example, steel replaces slate but it is still an ulu. Culture must be transformative, adaptive, and innovative if it is to remain vibrant and yet often we react like Luddites and reject outright or as I mention above simply adapt the new technology to an old solution. In truth, I too am casting about in the dark here because I understand the corrosive effects of change for the sake of change and yet I cannot help myself “geeking out.” So none-the-less one additional criteria that I am looking for is “geek appeal.” To make sense of this let me offer a technology curriculum from my own experience.
I will first introduce the work of Chris Dede using augmented reality with middle school students in Boston throught his EcoMuve and EcoMOBILE curriculum modules. For me the EcoMOBILE program touches on and offers solutions for so many of the concerns we have encountered in our readings throughout this course. These two units address A: 1-4 explicitly we can see the learners doing this throughout the videos. A:5 is more difficult to see, but, it is no stretch of imagination to see how it would play out, computers always need to be restarted, or reconnected to Wi-Fi, mobile devices too, or they lose track of satellites and need time to reconnect. In the later part of the EcoMUVE video we see learners creating posters or concept maps and we get a sense that the work of B is being done. Certainly, we see C addressed in the EcoMOBILE video where students use a variety of data gathering tools, not just the phones, to observe, analyze, interpret, and draw conclusions. Likewise, we see the learners doing D: 2-3 and we can imagine them engaging in 1as well. We see nothing of E occurring in the videos but most of this is a matter of being self-conscious of the technology and the learning and talking about that self-consciousness. Although cultural bias that is overly accepting or overly critical of technology could either, preclude this self-reflection or bog the entire curriculum down with extreme self-reflection.
Nevertheless, all of this misses just how much geek appeal augmented reality has. It is easy to imagine another layer in both these experiences where cultural knowledge is part of the augmentation. Recall the man in the video “Passing On” talking about how visiting a place reminded an elder of stories and knowledge connected to that place. The elder was the mobile device and his memories the augmented reality, the hotspot the particular place. Dede’s two curriculums lack the ability to be re-written or enhanced as they learners use them but such a technology does not seem too far-fetched. Actually, the software offered by Wikitude shows one way to do a portion of this work. Said differently, the student actually contributes to the knowledge base adding richness and complexity to the data set. Therefore, a second criterion that is emerging is that educational technology be plastic enough to be informed by the user. Dede’s two resources offer high geek appeal and high interactivity.
Returning to the required reading several “atlases” catch my attention as meeting the state criteria, having geek appeal, and being participative and innovative: MapTEACH, Aboriginal Mapping Network, Project Jukebox, and the Virtual museum.
MapTEACH, has real geek appeal potential hence my initial interest and resonance. I immediately searched the site for examples of student work, and, was disappointed. The maps presented are not interactive in anyway, simply static images. This was quite disappointing since I wanted to “unpack” the learners’ process in my own process of discovery. I turned next to the Curriculum tab. Here we learn of the two central goals: “(1) understand the physical and cultural features of their environment, and (2) use mapping technologies to enhance and portray that new understanding.” This is accomplished through five sections: Place Names and Landmarks, Remote Sensing and Geology, Global Positioning Systems, Geographic Information Systems, and Google Earth. The sections on GPS and GIS are most obviously relevant to the state technology standards. Moreover, when I view the individual lesson plans the authors include the correlation to Alaska standards. So much of this work is done for the teacher and given the time, pressures teachers operate under I think this is very valuable. Similarly, the website provides data sets to use with the software. The instructions for download and installation are quite good and even a technophobe should be able to execute them. Most schools have access to Mac or PC desktop machines and so the site provides software for both systems. In addition, the curriculum authors realize that not all schools will have access to GPS and so they indicate that the curriculum can be modified for individual circumstances. However, they do detail a make and model of GPS that they recommend for use with the curriculum. This resource has good “geek appeal” and good potential for interactivity.
Turning to the Aboriginal Mapping Network this is a Canadian focused resource. This is not so much a curriculum as clearinghouse of materials focused on this method of knowledge creation and transmission and cultural preservation. It also offers a forum to registered users, however, activity seems limited. The most recent post on the general forum was more than six months ago. Following the link to “The Living Atlas” we find six sets of data for groups across Canada. Review of a couple of these was mixed. One map had navigation that worked to refine ones search and the interactive links on the maps worked popping up embedded YouTube videos with interesting content. A second was simply a mess and nothing meaningful could be gotten from the interface. In truth this is a web resource in decline back in 2006 the content was fresh in 2014 it is looking neglected. Perhaps a teacher looking to augment their work could find resources to use here but, unlike the MapTEACH this site is aimed at a different audience and so would require a lot of work to be translated to the classroom and even more to show how it connects to the technology standards. Too, from the eyes of my consulting role at CIA I am forced to be critical of this resource as well. This site in its heyday could well have been useful to a tribal government both for cultural programming and educational programming as this resource is aimed more broadly at communities and adult learners. This resource had low “geek appeal” and low interactivity.
Project Jukebox is an archive really. And that has great value, but, it too is focused on the product the web presentation, not on the process or the interaction of learners and technology. However, it seems to be maintained and with new and ongoing projects. It shares the values of linking places and people through songs, and stories. I think as a teacher I would see the value and strength of this as informing some of the MapTEACH curriculem and inspiring and role modeling what some of the assignments are about. Seeing the interviewing techniques in action and what is possible from using such facilitated conversation approaches is one value of this resource. On its own it touches on some of the technology standards: B: 1, 2, 3, and many aspects of E, a thoughtful teacher might be able to create additional links to other facets of the standards. Similarly in the Tribal Government context their could be a lot of value in this initiative first as a resource but second as a way to build community through developing a project in conjunction with the Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program. Possibly, for a deeply conflicted and divided community, Haines for example, a project might create or identify elements of common ground and open up dialogue. This resource has moderate “geek appeal” particularly where they talk about using the old Macintosh Hyper-card database to manage the oldest resources, it has moderate to high interactivity but, that is only on the consumer side since there is no way to create or modify real time content.
Turning to the Virtual Museum site, we see a site with two clear purposes: first, a resource for the two Kalskag villages to share information about the area, traditions and culture. Second: a resource for educators on Place Based projects in the curriculem. I think these two purposes sit well together. It seems like the teacher did her work on oneside of the site while the students did theirs on the other and the two work as kind of a conversation but also as way for each to be accountable. So, in a very real sense we see the process and it is better than the product if I judge the product alone I am at once critical of the spelling, of the sloppy camara work, lack of intepretive guides, basically of the rough edges. But, when once I explored the teachers side I found myself more generous in evaluating the entire project. In particular in the Teachers log, May 5th “Returning to Kalskag from presenting this masters project at the University in Fairbanks; I found an afterschool program had sprouted making web pages.” Students were motivated to perpetuate the creation of content and presentation on their own outside the classroom. It is not an easy archealogy to find the technology standards throughout this project, however, this quote tells us volumes about the competencies the teacher was able to achieve. Once I stumbled upon the teachers podcast section it was easier to see the details of the technology standards in action. In the end this site is really valuable, but, most web research will pass it over on first look since on the surface it is quite… homemade. This resource intially has low “geek appeal” but after viewing the podcasts and realizing what this teacher accomplished with such limited resources a more generous rating is appropriate. Interactivity and customizability of the website is low, but, other evidence points to the students own process with these aspects of technology.
Above I’ve evaluated five different resources, one that I brought to the table, the other four from the required reading. I have introduced two additional criteria to evaluate projects with and used them with each curriculem/resource. The work remaining in this paper is “illustrate how you would be able to use technology in a similar fashion to enhance learning in a culturally responsive way.” Again it is extremely unlikely that I will be in the classroom in a traditional “teacher” role. So, again I am having to twist the assignment to my own ends and experience.
I see several key points of contact for Tribal government and small school in the above examples, first, is the organic outgrowth of an after-school program as a result of the virtual museum project, second, is the need for GPS equipment in the MapTEACH curriculum, and in the EcoMUVE/EcoMOBILE curriculum the software and mobile devices. I am getting at cooperation in funding and circumstance. Certainly an easy solution is for the Tribal government to purchase the needed equipment for the school. But, that looses sight of the pervasiveness of life-long learning and of culture, curriculum, and community. So, instead what if the Tribe purchases the handheld GPS devices for the library. The library can check these out just like computers, calculators, headphones or mobile devices. The entire community can benefit and yet the school can still access the devices as well, since many libraries have borrowing agreements with schools and teachers. Likewise the library or community center becomes a possible location for enrichment programs or extension of school programs. For example the EcoMUVE/EcoMOBILE curriculum is too much for a single teacher in a small school, but, with partnership between Tribe, library/community center, and potential for greater human resource eases the burden. Running it as an after-school, or summer enrichment program builds community cohesion in part because the young people see what is possible right at home. Certainly I am thinking of avoiding brain drain but I am also thinking about the young people telling their stories in earlier readings about going to church to sing, or the gym to play basketball and that being the scope of after-school activities, a bleak and repetitive future. Another possibility of running a program like this is negotiating with Chris Dede to modify the software so that it is region specific and so that it might offer some sort of cultural overlay. This has even more clout and potential if partnerships with several villages can be created. This in turn re-introduces the Axe Handle Academy, in particular the matter of bio-regionalism. A partnership of some sort with the Harvard graduate school of Education brings to bear some fantastic resources. Moreover with an emphasis on bio-regionalism it casts small schools in a leadership position for a nation that seems to have forgotten its connection to the land.
Bio-regionalism is for me a conflicted school of thought. Obviously it has impacted my thinking and can be seen implicit in the three sample curriculum I wrote for an earlier assignment: First Aid, Orienteering and Navigation, and Images of Exploration. The conflict, for me, arises when bio regionalism is partnered with conservative or Luddite tendencies. “Conservative” for me speaks more to a posture that one assumes towards inquiry, I call it facing the past, then to a political affiliation. Obviously this is vexed point in this essay since we know how important the role of Elders is to cultural survival and continuity. I see facing the past as maladaptive when it reifies the roles of teacher, or sets a particular narrative outside the critical discourse, for examples. If instead we have an Elder who faces the past in-order to back into the future – I wonder if that keeps curiosity, life-long learning, and the give and take between younger and older persons as a central values. Similarly I have little patience for Luddite ranting and yet I well understand the absurdity of “change for the sake of change.” So, I think we need to go in the direction of appropriate technology. This is a hard task since it swims against the current of consumerism and yet still participates in consumption. In saying this I hear echos of “both and” as well as of the Amish, “in the world but not of the world.” Appropriate technology is an inquiry classed as a kind of ethics – and so is about right living. One element of that is diversity and variability. And so the questions remain to be answered time and again really a good fit for this issue of small schools, curriculum and community.
I found myself drawn to the photo-essay in the virtual museum, about transportation in the village, pictured were four-wheelers, motorcycles, and snow-machines. Notably lacking were boats, and yet in other essays pictures of fishing from boats were present. Also strikingly absent were any human powered conveyances, so shoes and backpacks, skis, and snowshoes, or canoes, for examples. Also missing were domesticated animals, obviously dog teams and sleds, but also reindeer which have a presence in that region. In fairness to the essayist we do not know the challenge that he/she posed to him/herself. Why did the teacher accept just this limited story? Perhaps she did not, perhaps she challenged the student, as we know sometimes learners are not open to such pressures. But one possible interpretation is that the young person put these conveyances in a privileged place and chose to celebrate these devices over others. And to my mind this is the work in section E of the State technology standards. Here is a perfect opportunity to have a rich conversation with the entire group of learners (young, mid-life, and old) about these technologies too. All to often we imagine that “technology” refers only to the most cutting edge devices and we lose track of knives, for example, as technology.
As a brief aside I would like to link back to the role of community center/library as a site for usafruct employment of cutting edge technology. In particular it is easy to imagine a 3d printer in the library, and an enterprising young person downloading the plans for using the device to print a snow machine part. And this in turn brings to the conversation the notion of “MakerSpace.” This, to my mind is nothing but a recycled notion from the days of quilting bees or shared shop space but none-the-less here it is and it is completely appropriate for us to wrangle with this as part of our culture, community, curriculum conversation. I believe that Tribal governments partnered with public libraries and small schools can through judicious grant writing and program creation create reasons for folks to stay in villages with a greatly enhanced sense of self-sufficiency.
Finally, I would like to twist the conversation once more to introduce the debate between curriculum’s: STEAM not STEM. The heart of STEAM’s logic are these four statements:
- Arts education is a key to creativity, and
- Creativity is an essential component of, and spurs innovation, and
- Innovation is, agreed to be necessary to create new industries in the future, and
- New industries, with their jobs, are the basis of our future economic well-being.
So what do we mean by “art”? In, this case I do think it refers to the classic disciplines, painting, sculpture, music, theater and dance. But, for our purposes I think we can twist it to mean more broadly traditional life-ways of Alaska Natives. I believe that we have a very interesting opportunity to accomplish “both-and” when we situate bio-regionalism, STEM, and Alaska Native cultural literacy in adjacency. Certainly, the future will not look like the past, but, we may well be able to sustain cultural identity in new and innovative ways. The STEM to STEAM website offers a number of case studies, I offer for our purposes the Institute of Play + Mission Lab case study. The video on that page is in many ways as heartening as the EcoMUVE/EcoMOBILE videos and in part I think this is because they share the “gamification” of content. “Part of what we do is identify pieces of content that students have trouble learning, and when those areas come up, we work as a team to brainstorm ways to design a game that will help kids really learn and remember those content areas.” However, more than just this is the collaboration between game designers, curriculum designers and classroom teachers. Here we see very different ways of thinking about problems and solutions coming together focused on solving particular sticking points in learning. Behind all of this is the resources of the Institute of Play partnered with the likes of MIT, and funded by MacArthur money. Their website offers many free resources. Again, Alaska runs on grants and very probably Tribal governments could take a leadership role in funding collaboration between these incredibly innovative resources and the traditional values of bio-region and cultural knowledge. I believe with such collaborations between small schools and large and or distant resources like Institute of Play are very realistic and possible.
I think that the EcoMUVE/EcoMOBILE curriculums and the innovative work of the Institute of Play are deeply interesting. The implications for rural Alaska are potentially quite significant as communities could reverse some of the brain drain. They could, as well, deepen and enrich the local culture particularly if these… interventions occurred in sites of life-long learning. In addition, in many communities these sites already exist community centers, libraries, shared shop spaces, churches even. Moreover, I think that taking advantage of “geek appeal” in some of these amazing technologies could well inspire local economies as young people find ways to both be their ethnicity and to participate in the global economy.