Go Deep! Ask Questions Before Implementing Tech Resources

kevin dooley / Free Photos

As I skim educational resources and discussions on the web, I like that many of the conversations are changing towards thinking about purpose and ownership when planning tech integration. It helps us avoid implementing “novelty tech”, which I akin to clowns jumping around in the front of the classroom grabbing students’ attention. A checklist by Sue Lyon-Jones helps get teachers started.

But, after reading the chart, I still think we need to go further in our questioning when thinking about the purpose of technology in the classroom. We need to ask a whole other list of questions. I presented these at ECCO last year in my presentation about Google Docs. When thinking about integrating any tech, ask yourself:
How will the technology support…
media literacy?
digital citizenship?
social learning and communication?
critical thinking?
collaboration?
differentiation for learners who learn best textually, auditorily, kinesthetically?
assessment and marking (teacher, self, and peer)?
organization/management?

We also need to think about some of the inherent changes online tech brings to the classroom. Anything posted in a learning environment with 24/7 access helps students have access to reviewing and continuing work; it also ramps up transparency, which most certainly increases accountability for both student and teacher (think time stamping and the permanency of text in public spaces).

There are some subtler differences to pedagogy that are all wrapped up in the choice and use of a particular tech. Some of these may be hard to spot until you’ve actually tried out the technology or poured through someone else’s action research. These may include significant shifts in pedagogical teaching/learning methods. I really noticed this while using Google Docs. After asking permission from the 18 years olds in my classes, here are some of my findings.

In praise of Volunteers

CC woldgangfoto

Walking into the Grand River Hospital this morning, I was struck by the large number of volunteers working. While waiting for my husband, one high-school aged volunteer noticed I was shivering from the air conditioning and brought me a warm blanket. I was so appreciative of this gesture of kindness. It brought me back to my days of volunteering at a downtown school in Woodstock. That story is actually tied into how I got my self-esteem back and how I got into teaching.

I was just 23 and had left a bad work experience in Toronto where I worked in radio. A station in Woodstock had an early-morning opening and I decided to take it, leaving behind my poisoned work environment amidst warnings that it would be career suicide. Shortly after moving, I noticed a small school at the end of the street where I lived. Intuitively, I went in and asked the principal if I could volunteer in the afternoons a few times a week. Each day, students and staff were pleased to see me, genuinely valuing my assistance and I quickly fell in love with the school environment. I believe that I got more out of volunteering than those I was helping ever got from me. They saved my self-worth and pointed me in the direction of my next career. After a few months I was encouraged to apply for the position of Educational Assistant and while in that position I applied to Teacher’s college. Teaching had never been on my career list. My father, although well liked by students, had been my high school principal and so I was determined to chart my own path in media. Years later, it would be my mother who pointed out that as a child I had regularly lined up my stuffed teddy bears and gave them my dad’s old ditto sheets from when he taught History. Yet I am so glad that it took volunteering to show me my true path.

My daughter starts her first volunteering job tomorrow and I am so excited for her. She will be working for the Niagara Conservation Authority in the summer camp program at Ball’s Falls. The program co-ordinator is a wonderful lady who welcomes Kaitlyn back as a volunteer after many years as a camper. It’s Kaitlyn’s turn to give back, but I’m willing to bet the experience is going to benefit her the most.

Relinquishing Control: Constructivism During Summative-Time

Stéfan / Free Photos

In looking for ways to help students improve their ownership for learning, I made a 360 at assessment time and tried something very unique with my grade 12 Communications Technology students. I allowed them to design their own summative projects based on their own interests and what they felt were their best strengths. By grade 12, I’ve had them for 3 to 5 years, and those areas of strength really become apparent to me. But, I wanted students to recognize both their strengths and weaknesses in themselves in order to recognize what areas they need to work on if they decide to move forward in a media production career, as well as those areas they could capitalize on with their talents. I also wanted them to recognize strengths of others in the classroom, so they could draw on each other for help and support. Before, you think I’ve gone over the edge, consider that my University Masters thesis/project followed many of these very same guidelines. For the production part of my Masters of Media Production program at Ryerson I produced my own documentary, learning just as much about production techniques as I learned about my own skill strengths, weaknesses, and who and how to ask for support and help.

Students were asked to create their own project sheets, summarizing what they hoped to accomplish with their production. Many chose projects with unique authentic audiences, from a school Athletic Banquet video to an Alternative Christian song for a local church. Then they were asked to create their own marking schemes using rating scales and rubrics with very specific criteria. They were able to weight these categories based on their strengths and weaknesses. All forms of assessment were required to contain a project management component (designing own schedule in Google calendar), and a project planning stage (selecting and using various forms of pre-production paperwork). One student complained at first, not fully understanding the benefits to her, saying, “That’s so easy for you as the teacher. We do all the work creating the assessment for you”. She changed her tune when she realized it would have been so much easier for me to just hand them my own assessment sheet, requiring them all to complete the same project. Instead, I dug through several assessment sheets they could draw on for examples and reviewed each individual assessment to ensure that it fit each student by both allowing them to shine in their skill strengths and talents, but also not neglecting the necessaries of the project as well. During this process, students were able to review where the “holes” were in their learning and request additional tutorial help and assistance from others in the classroom. It was fascinating to see them work like this. Initially, some were very flustered and had difficulty calling on others for help with their individual project, while others forged teams and created different sub-projects around the same project. Three students in particular came together as a team and designed a video with one student doing the planning and shooting, another focusing on the editing and graphics, and still another in charge of a photo shoot, DVD design and promotional posters. What they have learned in teamwork is something they will take with them into the working world.

So, to summarize, here’s a generalized list of benefits students got out of designing their own summative and assessment. They were able to prove an understanding of audiences, work together as a team, negotiate, research people and resources to help fill in their own missing links of skill and knowledge, thoroughly understand and utilize project management, and demonstrate a true understanding of the assessment criteria and where they fit into it. Lastly, they were to turn a critical eye on themselves as learners and take ownership and action.

Who’s Accountable?

Have you seen that comic that compares a parent teacher interview in 1960 to one in the year 2010? It’s the one that shows the 1960’s parents screaming at the kid over a failing mark while in recent times, both the parents and the kid are screaming at the teacher. Regardless of what message the comic sends, it raises the issue of the imbalance in accountability that seems to have always existed in education. How do we deal with that imbalance? What should the responsibility/accountability framework look like?

In a recent discussion with a fellow colleague and friend, we, like all teachers, envision for the future, a balanced triangle with student, teacher, and parent clustered around the goal of accountability/responsibility. Carlo Fusco and I are part of a team of educators who come together to discuss issues in podcast form on our site Educast.me. Since integrating various web 2.0 tools in the classroom, we are noticing a recurring theme of potential for accountability in the future of education through transparency. The idealist in me says “keep things open” so that all parties may be placed in a perpetual ring of open communication. I say “idealist” because I know this concept does not come without its own issues, but I think it’s best to focus on the benefits first.

Social media tools, class websites and wikis can all be used to share information and course content with all interested parties. A parent can check a Twitter feed or a Google calendar to help support a student schedule for completion of a project or test preparation. In addition to posting marks and course content, Carlo posts attendance on his password-protected class site for parents to view.
Parents of my students can also monitor their child’s progress through a parent account in Edmodo. They can track assignment marks, completion, and even a news-feed generated separately for parents. A student has to log in to show the assignments to a parent, but this separation between public and private allows some control over transparency, which is not a bad thing when we are trying to teach youth some autonomy.

A student who is sick from school can check online and get caught up or even participate from home, taking ownership for learning. I recently had a student show up in a Google Doc to collaborate with her group while she recovered from an injury at home. Students were able to use the comment stream to chat while co-creating a script. At the beginning of the year, I had a student and his parent come visit me at parent-teacher night. This student used the excuse of being sick as a reason why an assignment was not complete. I was able to show the parent multiple date-stamped postings that appeared over a week and a half in my news-feed on the educational social media site, Edmodo. The news feed was very clear in setting timelines, expectations, and instructions for the assignment.

Open communication through online environments makes teachers accountable too. Because of the date-stamping of assignments, I find that I keep up with my marking. I’m not worried about being held accountable to what I say on-line as I am always professional. Although the textual evidence could work against me if a parent were to take issue with anything I post, it is much more likely to work as supportive evidence for assisting me in my job as a teacher and for helping me meet the demands for a shared accountability.

Now, the heavy. I can speak from both a teacher’s and a parent’s perspective. In this busy fast-paced society, I’ve found that parents just don’t have the time to be engaged in their children’s lives as much as they would like to be. Canadians are still chasing the North American dream, working long hours and putting their kids in countless organized activities. We are spending less time at home and less quality time with our children. This most definitely has an impact on the balance of accountability. Parents are a necessary party in making it work. How do we increase parental engagement? There’s been a fascinating discussion led by Sheila Stewart on this topic.

(cross-posted with VoiceEd.ca)

My Christmas Gift to My Family

I’m always trying to find ways to teach my kids how to set up their own boundaries when it comes to using technology, but sometimes they need a bit of a push in the right direction. As an early Christmas present to my family, I decided to buy a family mobile device charging station with some “family terms of use” attached.

We’ve always had a rule that cell phones and ipods are to be turned off in the night, but I’ve found my kids sneaking my charger, their phones, and ipods away into their rooms on occasion. It can be tough helping them buy into the notion that there’s a time to “un-tether” themselves from their devices. To help them detach, I’ve thrown away our yellow basket of jumbled up cords and chargers and replaced it with the family charging station, located in one central location-our kitchen. I’m teaching my kids that undisturbed sleep is important to stay healthy in both mind and body. My husband and I are modelling this behaviour by using the station ourselves and turning off our devices at night as well.

It turns out that setting up a family charging station isn’t as pricey as you would think. This particular charging station cost 40 dollars. And did I mention that it’s also eco-friendly? Instead of continuing to suck power like most other chargers, this one shuts off entirely when finished charging. Not a bad price for all the benefits it has to offer.

For more information on teens and texting, check out my research findings on the teens and texting page.