The Promise and Potential of Technology – Challenges for Educators

2009 Apple Workstation (Top) by flyzor, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  flyzor 

Educational leaders must be cognizant of the role of education in meeting the demands of society, equipping students with the necessary skills to function as successful citizens in their world. Antiquated, one way communication and direct instruction, the drill and practice behaviorist approach used by teachers and enhanced by such early technological innovations as television, film, and microcomputers (Whelan, 2004; Aslan & Reigeluth, 2011)were designed to accommodate the industrial age and assembly line worker, not the 21st century learner. Reading and writing are no longer the most demanded skills by employers; problem solving, team work and critical thinking skills are, expanding the definition of “literacy.” As Oblinger (2003) points out, the millennial learner believes “computers aren’t technology – it is an assumed part of life” (p. 39). Web 2.0/3.0 characterized by the ability of learners to not only consume information but to create, publish, and share information with a community of learners behooves educators to reconsider technological use and embrace constructivist pedagogical approaches to meet the needs of today’s learner. Thus, the challenge for educational leaders will be two-fold. First, to facilitate the necessary paradigm shift of 20th century- educated practitioners required for second order change – professional development and technical support, teacher retention and recruitment. Second, to consider and balance the cost effectiveness of technology plans – many web 2.0/3.0 applications are free but may lack appropriate technical support; open source resources can reduce costs but raise questions regarding authenticity; ubiquitous access will be a must, but the three w’s – wherever, whenever, and whatever, may pose risks to the safety and security of students and staff; environmental considerations – cost to recycle and destroy computers (Jensen, Taylor & Fisher, 2010).


Time to Stop and Reflect

Harbor way by (davide), on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  (davide) 

For EC&I 831, my challenge was to create a digital project which would allow me to understand the potential uses of social media and Web 2.0 tools in the classroom while at the same time, be a useful product that could serve my school. As I am not a classroom teacher, but a school-based administrator, I wanted to create something that could benefit staff who were looking for information about these open source technologies. My decision was to create a Blog, Caught Up in the Web!  that  houses information on why the implementation of social media and web-based resources were useful, how and why to set up a bloghow to effectively comment on Blogs, the use of Twitter and Facebook in the classroom.

Originally I began building a website with the use of the free web building and hosting tool,  Weebly. This is a fantastic resource that is very user friendly and has a slick and professional look. However, like most websites it didn’t afford me the opportunity to provide regular posts and comments and I found it difficulty to embed certain sources without paying for an upgrade. I ultimately, abandoned the web in favour of a Word Press Blog which allowed my teachers to provide feedback regarding the usefulness or difficulties in accessing the suggested resources, as well as the success and challenges of using social media in the classroom.  I had also considered a Wiki, but I will admit I find the visual appearance of the free Wiki sites rather dated. In addition to creating my teacher Blog “Caught Up in the Web!” I also created a student/teacher Blog for use in my school called “Royal Subjects”, playing on the nickname of our athletic teams, the Royals.  This was as a result of a teacher inviting me into her ELA class to discuss Blogging. My plan is to continue to use this Blog in my work with classes on cyber bullying, school safety, drug and alcohol awareness and numerous other topics I address with small group discussions and class presentations. On this Blog I have created pages for students providing them information on digital citizenship and netiquette, tips for Blogging and commenting, similar to the pages on the teacher Blog but geared towards student use.

I have spent the last year attempting to broaden my understanding of Web 2.0 something I blogged about earlier and discussed in the following Xtranormal video:

A few short months ago I was still pondering on the impact of social media in the classroom, not totally convinced that the risks to privacy and the potential misuse of the medium outweighed the benefits. However, as a result of my experimentation with it and feedback I’m receiving from staff regarding its use, I think the potential rewards far outweight the risks. As I stated in an early post “Oh Wow, Oh Wow, oh Wow” – it is an exciting time to be an educator and I am anxiously looking forward to the future and my continuing journey with technology. If you missed last week’s post  “One journey ends, another begins” featuring a prezi chronicling my experiences in #eci831 – go back and take a look!

I have come along way, but most certainly is not the end destination, just a momentary stop. I plan on continuing this journey!

road to success... by paojus, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  paojus 

One journey ends… another begins!

Wow, hard to believe we have journeyed through the Cloud from different cities, provinces, countries, and time zones for the past four months to arrive to a point where EC&I 831 Fall 2011 is a wrap! Have I reached my  final destination? Absolutely not! For me much of the journey has been to explore new forms of social media, new Web 2.0 tools for the specific purpose of breaking down many of the biases and misconceptions surrounding these tools in the world of education. These biases held by parents, teachers, school administrations and the general public are ones that I have shared when the weekend fight plays out in the classrooms and hallways of the school in the form of bullying, harassment, breech of privacy, and plagiarism. How could I as an administrator endorse and promote the lifting of restrictions on Facebook and Twitter, and the relaxing of rules and procedures pertaining to personal electronic devices?  Would chaos ensure? Would my veteran teachers revolt? Would the IT”s refuse to take my calls? Would my parent community have confidence in my abilities to protect their children form cyber predators?

My goal was to find practical ways to harness the potential of open sources and social media in the educational setting while still respecting the boundaries between public and private, professional and student. Was it possible? Happily, the answer is yes! The key, as it is for any successful lesson, was preparation. Step one was to prepare myself by experimenting more with Word Press Blogs and Twitter. The second step was to prepare the students. To that end, I created several resources on netiquette and digital citizenship. The third step was to invite teachers along for the ride.  I was fortunate in that many of my younger staff members were eager, simply waiting my stamp of approval. They in turn served as mentors for other teachers in their departments who were interested in coming along for the ride. I created a Blog resource – Caught Up in the Web! that provided even more resources, tutorials, lessons, and suggestions for implementation. This lead to my being invited into the classrooms, lunch hour in services, and a concerted effort by many of our subject areas to further develop technology goals around social media. So far so good. I even received a thumb’s up from my Community School Council. Are there still issues regarding social media and its misuse by our students? Yes, but I am happy to say that it is not in the context of its use for learning. My hope is as they become more familiar with the protocols and responsibilities of digital citizens I will in fact see an improvement!

So, my final summary of learning is a Prezi. For those of you who love this jazzed up version of a PowerPoint, but are disappointed by the fact that it does not allow an audio component, might I suggest using a video screen cast program as well? I used Techsmith’s Jing. It is a free program that allows you to capture screen shots and add comments and embed them as well as video up to five minutes in length. For an extra $15/year you can upgrade to a Pro account which allows you to link directly to Facebook, Twitter, and with one click, upload to Youtube. Check out my video below:

If you have any other great ways of creating and uploading videos let me know! In particular I’m looking for a free resource with editing capabilities.

Weighing the Risks and Rewards of Social Networking

balance by hans s, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  hans s 

This week I had yet another colleague ask me if I truly thought letting kids use smart phones to text and tweet was really useful in learning, or just the newest fad in education – “much ado about nothing.” I remember well from where this colleague is coming. It wasn’t that long ago that I had the same reservations about the benefits of social networking tools in the classroom. Do the benefits really outweigh the costs and potential risks? Or, is this as my friend was intimating, another example of technology for technology’s sake and change for the sake of change without actually being constructive and productive innovation.

My response was to discuss my own metamorphosis from doubter, to believer and to tell him that as always, education requires us to balance new technologies for instruction with traditional instructional methods.  I directed him to a couple of great online resources that not only justify the use of social networking as sound constructivist pedagogy, but emphasize the need for a teacher’s purposeful planning,  creating the conditions in which a student can learn. The first was M.Madan’s post “Social Networking in the Classroom”  which effectively explores what social networking has to offer to learning: instant connection to promote sharing and collaboration in an constructivist pedagogy; and what social networking does not offer to learning: it does not ensure the development of a community of learning. To combat that he suggests a couple of important instructional considerations:
1. Maintain a constant presence.
2. Use a variety of supporting tools to process information.
3. Actively synthesize broadly scoped ideas into workable areas.
4. Continue to engage students.
The other great resource I found was an EmergingEdTech  post “7 Reasons to Leverage Social Networking in the Classroom”  which include engagement, social learning, better utilization of homework time and consequently class time, opportunities for writing, increased student dialogue, building of real-life communication skills, and connections.
However, as I suggested to another colleague a few weeks ago who said she really needed to get into Twitter, the best way to understand networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter, is to use them yourself first. The best way I can think of to understand how you can use Twitter in your classroom is to let it be your classroom for a while. Start by using it to create a personal learning network for your own professional development. Sonja Cole suggests “25 Ways to Teach with Twitter”  with simple things like asking for recommended lessons and books, asking for professional advice, starting to tweet about resources that have been useful for you, inviting  followers and looking for people to follow.

I’m not sure if my resources convinced my colleague, but what it did to was challenge me to think outside the box and reaffirmed my belif in the value of social networking in student directed learning. Although there are risks in terms of privacy and professionalism, I belive that the risks outweigh the rewards. Thoughts?

Tell Me A Story…

Tell me a story… I used to beg my older sister  to tell me one more story before lights out. Maybe it was this insatiable thirst for narrative that prompted me to go into education and become an English teacher. Every day my classroom was a new page in a story – sometimes the story was of struggle, sometimes of triumph, and most times with undisclosed endings. You see, that is the thing about teaching, we never really see the conclusions to the threads of narrative we establish in class, those story stems that continue to grow and be shaped by our students on their knowledge journey and by us on ours.

This weeks presentation by Alan Levine got me thinking about story telling. In particular, how we encourage students to make sense of their learnings through creating and producing stories.  Often, it is in the process of trying to articulate the story when the most learning occurs. Sometimes it is the messiness of this scribblings and scrawlings that establish the necessary conflict before learning reaches some sort of resolution.

Alan Levine’s 50 Ways To Tell a Story  resource provides teachers and students with the opportunities to capture the essence of the story – the struggle and the plot twists as they grapple with their learning. I thought I would experiment a bit with my own story about how I now try to way find and make sense of how I teach and why I teach. This course has helped open a new world of Web 2.0 tools and extended my personal learning network. The addition of such antagonists has taken by educational story to a new plot and series of conflicts – I can’t wait to see where it leads me! See how I depicted my story through the use of ToonDoo .

From Dinosaurs to Dolphins: Technological Evolution in Education

Dinosaur by shvmoz, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  shvmoz 
After watching a recent episode of Terra Nova  my son observed “it would be so cool if there were still dinosaurs roaming around!”  Of course, my response was, really, you would like to be spending your days in flight or fight response avoiding man eating dinosaurs? He agreed that would likely be pretty scary, maybe it’s better to leave them to the museums and science fiction shows. This got me thinking, why are we so slow to evolve and discard those dinosaurs in our classrooms, the antiquated audio visual aids which do nothing but get our blood pressure up and are far better left in museums and history books? If biologists only focused on the past, they would never discover new and exciting biological species like the Barrunda Dolphin, discovered this fall off the coast of Australia. Last week in EC&I 831, Stephen Downes  talked about the need to become networked educators and consequently discover new  roles as a teacher. Such new roles as collector, curator, alchemist, need to be considered in the search for this new species of teacher.   Of course all of this is predicated on the discovery and utilization of  new technology tools in and out of the classoom.

Last week I stumbled upon I Love Ed Tech Blog  which is the Blog for the Simple K-12 website. It has some great posts including the June 2011 post “17 Signs Your Classroom is Behind the Times”.  Below are 6 of the 17 which particularly resonated with me:

  • Your students turn in their homework on printed paper…instead of digitally.  It’s hard to believe that I still have English teaching colleagues who are collecting hardcopies and not using digital submission tools such as Turn it In  which educate students on plagiarism, proper referencing, and provide peer editing and revision tips.
  • You still have chalk.  Or a Dry Eraser. It’s exciting for me, who just happens to be allergic to both chalk and the residue from dry erase, that tools like smart boards eliminate any sort of chemical exposure and reduce consumable expenditures in the school budget!
  •  You try to pull up a web resource on your computer to show the class and you receive a “This website has been blocked” message. As an administrator, I know which of my teachers are developing PLN’s – they are the ones coming to me to ask IT to unblock Youtube videos and Blogs – heck, last week I had to phone to get them to unblock the sample Blog I created for an ELA class!
  • You don’t find at least one thing to call the IT department about every week. See previous point!
  • You spend most of your class time lecturing students… rather than getting them collaborating and learning from each other. Arriving in the staffroom for coffebreak with a bad case of laryngitis often is a symptom of nagging educational disease “Sage on the Stageitis.”
  • You create more content than your students do. I often wonder why it is that so many of us as teachers are working harder than our students? No wonder our profession has trouble with teacher retention. We have do less and create more opportunities for our students to take charge of their learning.
  • Your students aren’t teaching you something new (likely about technology) at least once a day. My most connected teachers are the ones who frequently pop by my office to share an exciting technology tidbit just taught to them by a student which invigorates them and supports the learning of their students. Good things are happening in their classrooms.

So , I think maybe I would like another role added to Stephen Downes’ list, that of scientist. I want to discover new species of teachers and learners, my own Barrunda dolphins by encouraging my staff to embrace a blended instructional approach and discover some new habitats of education! It absolutely can happen – and if you need a little inspiration from the biological world, for your viewing enjoyment check out “Cool, Rare, and New Weird Animals/Species 2011.”

“Oh Wow, Oh Wow, Oh Wow!”


Give, take ’n share by Funchye, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Funchye 

The last words uttered by Steve Jobs as revealed earlier this week by his sister, Mona Simpson, were “Oh Wow, Oh Wow, Oh Wow.” For a man who made computer technology personal and mainstream, revolutionizing how we share, process, and filter information;  it is hard to imagine he could be amazed by anything. Such is the mystery of death, but those last words from one of the most innovative thinkers of the modern era, reflect more than just the enigma of our existence. They articulate the unfathomable boundaries of possibilities, uplifting me with optimism.  I needed this optimism in a week where I found myself attending two separate funerals; a week in which people emailed and posted condolences to the families on Twitter and Facebook. It was a startling example of how technology quickly and efficiently brings people together; not in the cold, dystopian manner depicted by science fiction writers such as Bradbury and Asimov,  but in profound, authentic, and real-time connections. At one of the funerals, a close family member unable to travel home participated in the service via the web. And as he contributed to the eulogy from another continent, I thought “Wow” – how the celebration of that life was made the richer for the sharing.

This week Dean Shareski  challenged us as educators to consider sharing as a moral imperative, challenging us to ponder “is our best work accessible to everyone?”  My friend whose parent had died, told me he did not know anything about Skype or data projectors,  but that  a simply query on Facebook, a technology he does use, caused a flood of helpful tips: the donation of a data projector and the volunteer services of a “technician”, and a few instructive YouTube videos empowered him. As a result, his brother-in-law could share in the funeral of their mother.  A couple of weeks ago, two of the math teachers in my department created a smart board through the use of a Wii remote and IR pen. How were they able to accomplish this? A tutorial on YouTube. For too long, teachers have worked in isolation, sharing only with a small, trusted group of people. However, teaching has changed. It is arguably more difficult; curricula are more extensive, diversity among learners greater, and class sizes larger. If we don’t share, not only don’t we cope, we don’t accomplish our mandate as educators – nurturing learning through sharing and challenging the thoughts and practices of ourselves and others. So, this week I shared. I invited several of my staff members to look at my Blog, a far riskier venture with people you know, work with, and supposedly lead, than muttering to faceless audience on my Blog. I shared the beginnings of my Blog resource which allows them to discover various Web 2.0 tools; I offered to work with an ELA teacher and her students on Blogging; in fact, I created a new Blog for the students of my school to comment on timely issues concerning their curricula, community and world. Over the next few weeks and months, they will blog and I will invite them to tweet responses . I’m thinking of using the hash tag #Veeptweet! We’ll see how it goes. This is an exciting time to be an educator.  A world of information is literally in the palm of our hands – and I am at the point of no return! In the words of Steve Jobs, “Oh, Wow! Oh, wow! Oh, Wow!!”