Last Tuesday afternoon (January 12), a massive earthquake hit the country of Haiti. I began to closely follow the story on the internet beginning on Wednesday, January 13. I mainly used a free online program called Twitter to follow the story. At first #Haiti, Port au Prince, and YELE (Wyclef’s organization for helping Haiti) were trending topics on Twitter. I just searched through the tweets including those words. I decided to compile a Twitter list of anyone who was sharing information about Haiti. This list can be accessed at http://twitter.com/#/list/RIElliott/haiti. (I have 281 Twitter people on this list at the moment. )The interesting thing is that these tweets can be read by people who are not on Twitter themselves. The tweets show up on a web page. However if someone wants to interact (reply or retweet anything), they need to have a Twitter account.
As I selected my Haiti Twitter list and read through the tweets, I noticed that some people were already on the ground in Haiti. These people tweeted about the earthquake a few minutes after it happened. They talked about the devastation they saw. They mentioned missing family members. They rejoiced when the family members were found. All of this occurred within the public forum of Twitter. (For those who don’t know much about Twitter—you can protect your tweets so that only your friends can see them [similar to the way your privacy can be set on Facebook]. However, most people allow complete access for anyone in the world.) As I thought about those people tweeting from Haiti (rather than about Haiti), I decided to create a second Twitter list of those who I believed were tweeting from Haiti. This list can be accessed at http://twitter.com/#/list/RIElliott/in-haiti. At the moment I have 112 people on this list. I try to keep this list current and move people off it if they mention that they have left Haiti. There are some people who are tweeting such great information (such as a doctor stationed in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba where they are flying some patients) that I put them on the “in Haiti” list. I invite all of you to click on this list (again, you do not need a Twitter account to read the tweets) and read for a minute.
This morning I am furious because I read of 10,000 tons of water and relief flights coming in juxtaposed with word of people in desperate need with no relief in sight. One person who was already in Haiti serving the people before the quake asked this morning on Twitter how he could get more supplies for distribution. He has already given out all he has.
Early on, I read a blog post about the need for water in Haiti. This got me thinking about the logistics of getting aid to Haiti. So I created a third Twitter list which I called “Haiti logistics”. When people tweeted about maps or locations, I put them on this list. This list can be accessed at http://twitter.com/RIElliott/haiti-logistics. There are 53 people or organizations on this list.
I set up these three Twitter lists which helped to bring knowledge my way (for those teachers out there, this would be the first rung in Bloom’s Taxonomy of thinking skills). Since few people were following my Twitter lists (there are now 9 following my In Haiti list), I wasn’t really using what I was learning. Sometimes I would retweet a message that I thought was important. However, if all the people reading your tweets are in North America, this does not help Haiti. Then I read a tweet about Tweaking the Tweet. Project Epic designers suggested the use of #hashtags to help computers compile information from Haiti. (http://epic.cs.colorado.edu/helping_haiti_tweak_the_twe.html) This brings the power of Web 2.0 (people using the internet to collaborate and communicate with each other) together with the power of Web 3.0 (people doing what they do best and computers doing what they do best working in harmony). Therefore people use their intellect to meta-tag a tweet like this:
RT @rqskye: 50+peopl w/kidsNeedFood,H2O,Supplies. HautDuCanapeV, EntrncSeminary,ImpassAubry,MaisonAubry. SoleHouseStandng.AllSurvivrsTher
Using the Project Epic suggested meta-tags, I could tweet this as
Now a computer can find this tweet and pass the information on to whoever is monitoring this information. Over the past few days, I have seen an orphanage receiving water and supplies because people tweaked the tweet. I have seen people rescued from buildings because people tweaked the tweet in this way.
People are also using Facebook to share information. There are Facebook groups set up for those waiting on word of people missing at the Montana Hotel (apparently the favourite destination for tourists in Haiti) which collapsed in the earthquake. One man is also setting up Skype conferences to give people with information the opportunity to share it. I attended one of the conferences briefly (it started as an Elluminate session and then changed to Skype). Reporters are creating podcasts and videos. Many individuals are writing blog posts about their experiences in Haiti.
During this crisis in Haiti, CNN has been on the ground with many reporters. However, CNN has also recognized that they cannot collect all of the information themselves. They have opened a site where people can stop by, sign in, and share their stories, photographs, and information. (CNN I Report http://www.ireport.com/ir-topic-stories.jspa?topicId=381090&hpt=T1) However, when I stopped by and left a message asking them to follow my “In Haiti” Twitter list, they responded by saying they are following all of the people tweeting about Haiti. They are getting a lot of chaff mixed in with their wheat if this is the case. They are listening to everyone talking and losing the voices of those who are there on the ground in Haiti.
Now I need to switch gears. This week, along with trying to be a Twitter volunteer for Haiti, I have also been a student in an Information Technologies for Learning class from the University of Alberta. My experience of using the Web to communicate and help others, along with seeing how others have used technology to help Haiti, have made me think about the responsibility of teachers and teacher-librarians to prepare students for the world of today and tomorrow.
Last week I attended a lecture by Michael Wesch (2010) about students of today. Mike is an anthropology professor in Kansas. He suggested that there are no digital natives as we all learn to use the new Web 2.0 technologies to communicate and create. Things like YouTube, DIGG or Delicious, RSS feeds, and Facebook are very recent applications. We are all learning them together. Mike suggested that we need to move from being receptive knowers who simply accept the voice of authority to subjective knowers who will question and possibly reject everything. From there the progression is onward to Procedural knowers who move between thinking inside the box and outside the box (separate vs. connected). In the end, Mike suggests that learners need to be constructive knowers who are integrating the separate (outsider knowledge and thinking) with the connected (insider knowledge and thinking). He wants learners to feel responsible for examining, questioning and developing the systems they will use for constructing knowledge. (I need to watch the archived video of Mike’s presentation several more times to really grasp all that he had to say. View it here http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/3929554)
This week I read an article by Asselin and Doiron (2008) that also points out the new approach to knowledge. They say that “Knowledge in the Industrial Age was viewed as fixed, authoritative, discipline-bound, obtained and owned by individuals, and regarded as ‘the truth’. In contrast, knowledge in a knowledge-based society is constantly changing, contested, interdisciplinary, and collaboratively constructed and re-constructed by ‘amateurs’ for massive audiences.” (p. 10) I can see that this new view of knowledge creation has been demonstrated by the information coming out of Haiti.
I also read Joyce Valenza’s Manifesto for School Librarians (2007) which is so relevant for today. Joyce speaks about a new digital divide between those who can find information easily in a variety of formats and those who cannot. She suggests that teacher-librarians need to become “info-technology scouts” who help to make sense of new ideas and information. Joyce speaks about “Just-in time, Just for me” learning. Teachers and students need to learn how to uncover the information that they need when they need it. I was impressed the other day that when someone asked (via Twitter) how long the air strip at Jacamel was (since they were enroute with relief supplies in a small plane), many people quickly responded. Some referred to Google Earth; others referred to information gathered from a website on the Haitian town of Jacmel; some went to statistical information from another source. All of these people were demonstrating “Just in time, Just for me” learning.
As I reflect on this past week, I think about the great use of social media to help Haiti. I think about Mike Wesch’s thoughts about students and learning today. I bring in the other articles I have read and my classmates’ posts and comments during our class discussions. I ask myself: How can I, as a teacher-librarian, prepare my students for a world such as this? Here are just a few of my answers to that question:
1) I am concerned about student access to technology. There are still homes with no computer and/or internet access. I believe that teachers need to teach students to use technology tools in classrooms and computer labs. I welcome all the free tools on the internet but these tools are useless if a student has no computer or doesn’t know how to log on.
2) Students need to learn to use technology to create and represent information and knowledge. We need to give students a safe way to share their learnings with the world. I think of Kathy Cassidy’s blog site for her grade one students. (Online at http://classblogmeister.com/blog.php?blogger_id=1337,%20http://primarypreoccupation.wordpress.com/)
Her students create blog posts in various ways. They create podcasts (using Vocarro) which their parents and others can listen to. People from around the world visit this blog site and comment on her students’ blog posts. Kathy also interacts with other classrooms around the world. She did a Skype session with another class in which both classes read a poem or book together. When a class in United States discovered a special bone (dinosaur?), they Skyped with Kathy’s class to share what they were learning. Valenza encourages us to realize that “learning can be playful” (2007). We need to encourage students to use and enjoy the benefits of technology.
If you are reading this today and you are a teacher or teacher-librarian, I have an immediate project for you. I need assistance with what I am trying to do to help Haiti. Do you have students who could help me?:
1) Tweak the tweets. If they are not on Twitter themselves, they could rewrite the tweets at http://twitter.com/#/list/RIElliott/in-hait and email them to me at email@example.com. Then I will tweet them forward. They need to use the conventions from Project Epic (http://epic.cs.colorado.edu/helping_haiti_tweak_the_twe.html) I am sure that in the future, this practice in meta-tagging information and putting it in a computer readable format will be very useful for those students. Of course, if the students (or you as their teacher) have a Twitter account, they can simply tweet out the revised information themselves. There would be no need to go through me.
2) Help me to curate my Twitter lists. I am particularly concerned about my “Tweeting from Haiti” list which needs to have more accounts added. This assignment could only happen for those who have a Twitter account themselves. I need people to follow the #hashtag #Haiti and discover people who are tweeting from Haiti but not yet on my “In Haiti” list. There are also people who are no longer in Haiti who could be removed from that Twitter list. Please send me messages as a reply on my Twitter account (@RIElliott) to help me update my information.
We need to harness the power of technology for the good of our world. We need to teach our students to use technology for good. Let’s be a model of “excitement, engagement, and enthusiasm” (Valenza, 2007) as we distribute the tools.
Asselin, Marlene & Doiron, Ray. (July 2008). Towards a Transformative Pedagogy for School Libraries 2. In School Libraries Worldwide, Vol. 14, No. 2, 1 – 18.
Valenza, Joyce. (June 27, 2007). Build a manifesto with me: You know you are a 21st century teacher-librarian if . . . On Never-ending search blog (School Library Journal). Online at http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/blog/1340000334/post/250011225.html
Wesch, Michael. (January 12, 2010). The (Digital) Writing on the Walls (and why the walls don’t matter anymore). Archived video of presentation, University of Regina, Saskatchewan. Online at http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/3929554