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Unplugged

Finally. After a semester of watching others present on various issues regarding education technology, Janelle, Kyle, and I would get the opportunity to enter into the “Great Ed Tech Debate”. But what an act to follow. The bar had been set extremely high in the preceding weeks, with many creative presentation methods having been utilized by other groups. Fortunately for us, past debaters were forthcoming with advice, and shared a number of strategies they found helpful as they presented to the class. In the end, we decided to open with an Animoto Video in which we argued, “We have become too dependent on technology and what we really need to do is unplug”. Or so we tried. Technical glitches, some spotty wifi connections, and bandwidth issues had us stopped in our tracks before we could even get going. I found myself wishing I was unplugged! But, with some tech wizardry from Alec and Katia, and the patience of our classmates, we were back on track and into the discussion.

We faced quite the formidable task: convince a class full of tech-savvy teachers why they should have their students unplug from technology. Sure, maybe this may have been easier at the start of the semester, but our audience had spent Six Weeks learning from the best Ed. Tech minds around! What we did have on our side was the promise of summer, and all of the fun reasons to get outdoors and away from our devices. So this is how we began:

Video Script:
Imagine yourself out for a dinner party with friends. You’re in the middle of a great story, building up for the killer finish when you look out at your friends and realize no one is paying attention. Your great story ends with a whimper, as they occasionally look up, laugh at the wrong parts and totally act like they were paying attention the entire time. You’re at a restaurant with all your friends and yet you feel so Lonely.
What is the reason your engaging dinner party has ended in distraction? The phone buzzing and whirring in their right hand has become more important than anything you have to say. Technology has advanced and simplified our world in countless ways, however it has led to us being more Lonely than ever before. Margie Warrell goes on to state that scientists have found that humans are wired to crave intimacy, but true intimacy requires vulnerability and that requires courage. Social media removes that vulnerability by allowing us to control what we share, pick and choose exactly what to say and what pictures to post, allowing us to create “friendships” a with a number of people doing the same as us. However, this friendship is only an illusion as these relationships are often superficial and shallow, unable to meet the demands genuine friendship entails. Despite boasting hundreds of Facebook friends and Instagram likes, deep down we just feel Lonely.
What types of feelings are conjured up by the thought of having your computer crash? Or how about your cell phone? Does the thought of forgetting it at home make you shudder? You might even be one of the many who would return to get it rather spend a whole day without access to Facebook or Twitter. As a society, we are becoming too reliant on our digital devices. It is time to take a step back and ask ourselves, have I become too dependent?
Many of us have heard the stories of high data charges incurred while travelling. With these warnings in mind, most of us switch our data off as we cross the border. If you have done this, I am certain you quickly became aware of all of the things you could no longer do. Using the internet to look-up a phone number? Nope. Finding an address using Google maps? No way. Checking your weather app for an updated forecast? Not a chance. Figuring out a tip? Translating a phrase? Would some of us even have the skills or knowledge to perform these tasks without a digital device? We have become too dependent.
About a month ago I attended my daughter’s final band concert. As she prepared herself to play, I noticed the many camcorders and cell phones around the auditorium being raised to capture the moment. People were fiddling with batteries, searching for SD cards, and adjusting tripods well into the opening measures of the song. It was during this time that I noticed these parents scrambling to capture the moment through the viewfinder of their device rather than enjoying the moment live and in the present. We have become too dependent
Examples of this dependency pop-up in the news all of the time. In May, a woman from Kitchener ended up in Lake Ontario after unquestioningly following the directions of her vehicle’s GPS.   She was not the first driver, nor will she be the last, to blindly follow her GPS into disaster.  An article by Crain’s New York Business warns us that our growing dependence on technology raises risks of malfunction and threatens the “Internet of things” – the billions of electronic devices and household appliances around the world which have become linked. The authors argue, without robust security measures, as a society we are becoming increasingly vulnerable to massive breakdowns through inadvertent glitches or malicious attacks. In our current state of technology dependency, breakdowns of a large-scale would be chaotic. We have become too dependent.
Technology has become an addiction. As strong as coffee or smoking or drugs. And it’s just as harmful to your health as it is to your mind. It holds us prisoner when we believe that we are connecting with hundreds of friends, when really we are only connecting our fingers to the keys. Gary Turk explains that “We open up our computers but it’s the doors we shut”.
Technology is ruining our relationships. We are lonely, anxious, depressed and isolated from our friends and family more so than we have ever been. 1 in 4 women reported their partner texting someone else during face to face conversations daily. 70-74% reported technology ruins relationships, and 62% reported technology interfering with their couple free time every day.
Margie Warrel explains that “While social networking is a great tool, there’s a profound difference between an online social network and a real one.” “When it comes to friends, quantity doesn’t equal quality.” – Warrell
Gary Turk explains that we have become “a generation of idiots, smartphones and dumb people” .So unplug. Pay attention to your children. “It’s not likely you’ll make world’s greatest Dad, if you can’t entertain a child without using an IPad” as Turk said. Go offline and go outside. Disconnect from the world and let your smile be your status update. Look Up… and share in the biggest moments of your life.   Who knows what you will experience when you unplug.

While looking for some research to back our group’s claim I came across a number of powerful resources I would like to share. One of my favourites was a YouTube video in which the speaker tries to convince the audience why we need to unplug.


The speaker argues that in a world of iMacs, iPhones, and selfies, as humans it is no wonder we have become more selfish and separate. He argues that social media should be reclassified for what it really is: an “anti social network” and he welcomes “a world where we smile when we have low batteries, ‘cuz that will mean we are one bar closer to humanity”.

A longer, but equally powerful video I came across was one titled, “The Anti-Social Network”.

This entertaining, fifteen minute video chronicles the dating experience of tech addicted individual, and it is interesting to watch the transformation as he learns to unplug.

I also found the Sherry Turkle TedTalk, Connected But Alone, to be especially insightful regarding societies increasing dependence on technology.  In the video Turkle suggests we are getting accustomed to being “alone together” and in the process end up “hiding from each other”.   She further argues, we expect more from technology and less from each other because technology appeals to us most where we are most vulnerable. She also states, technology gives us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. Eventually, being alone feels like a problem that needs to be solved, and as a result, we feel connected but alone.

In the article, Text or Talk: Is Technology Making You Lonely? Margie Warrell argues that there is a very distinct difference between an online social network and a real one. Warrell asserts that people are feeling more alone than ever before, despite the connectedness offered through social media and urges that we must understand the limitations of our social networks and not expect it to do things it simply cannot do. It simply cannot fulfill our deep an innate need for intimacy, genuine connection, and real friendship.

Our opposition, Tayler, Nicole, and Angela provided a number of key arguments for the “Disagree” side of the debate. Full details of their opening argument are listed below:

The article, The Pointlessness of Unplugging by Casey N. Cep claimed it is impossible to completely unplug, because the world in which we live is digital. Cep argues, “For most of us, the modern world is full of gadgets and electronics, and we’d do better to reflect on how we can live there than to pretend we can live elsewhere.” While recognizing the potential negative impact the overuse of technology can have on our mental and physical health, the group offered the resource, Apps that Help Relieve Stress and Anxiety as an example of positive ways remaining plugged in can actually help us achieve balance.

The discussion brought up some very relevant points. A number of members of the class live (or travel) at a distance from family. For them social media is a very personal and intimate way to remain connected with the ones they love. Many pointed out the fact that judgment regarding the quality of digital vs “real-life” should not be made by others. These relationships have very personal value and meaning to individuals, and what works well for one person may not be good for another.

As was the case in most of the debates this term, the final statements of both groups called for moderation in the use of technology. Technology is not inherently bad – we just need to tweak the way we use it and build in times to unplug so that we can achieve balance between our digital and real self.

In the end, as I compose the final thoughts for my final assignment for my final Masters class I am grateful for the opportunity I have had to further my education. It has required many long hours of reading, and researching, and writing, and I have found myself in an almost continuous state of digital engagement these past four years. So, as we enter into holiday mode, I am happy to close this chapter of my life and to enjoy the promise of being unplugged for the next two months.  Thanks for listening.

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Name Your Price

The year was 2006. A colleague of mine had a connection to a member of senior management with the Mosaic Potash Company. Seeing as students were engaged in a study of natural resources and mining, it seemed fitting to have him visit our classes. I knew very little about this company and found his presentation to the students very engaging. The speaker spent a full hour outlining the economic importance of potash to our province while providing great details surrounding the operations of a potash mine. He ended his presentation with a vague and cryptic statement: “watch for a big announcement from our company to be made public soon”.   True to his words, a few weeks later the following announcement was to be made: The Mosaic company had purchased the naming-rights to the beloved home of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Effective June 23, 2006 the facility would become known as “Mosaic Stadium at Taylor Field”.
I remember the initial shock, and in some cases, outrage many in the community expressed regarding the proposed name change. The Leader Post interviewed a number of longtime fans who were adamant that Roughrider fans would not embrace this name change, and that it would forever be “Taylor Field” for the true fans. The fact that Mosaic had paid 4 million dollars for the naming rights of the stadium (and not the actual playing surface) did little to console irate fans. Many were upset that management had “sold-out” a nationally beloved sports franchise. But, as they say, time heals old wounds. Ten years later, Regina is on the brink of opening a new stadium. Once again, the Mosaic Company has inked the rights to a 20 year naming rights deal, and this new stadium is slated to open as Mosaic Stadium. Period. No awkward, “Taylor Field at Mosaic Stadium”. And surprisingly , very little (if any) backlash from the community over the proposed name of the new facility. It appears that after a decade, the residents of Saskatchewan have become accustomed to the idea of corporate sponsorship for their team.

Source:http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/mosaic-stadium-regina-damages-1.3630100
Source:http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/mosaic-stadium-regina-damages-1.3630100

But the idea of corporate sponsorship in sports isn’t just taking place in CFL football. Over the past few decades, advertising in hockey has slowly crept from scoreboards to the rink boards, from the rink boards to the ice surface, and from the ice surface to players jerseys. There is a feeling that ads on NHL uniforms are just a matter of time. They have been part of European hockey for years already. And this spring, the NBA announced they will begin allowing advertising on their uniforms beginning with the 2017-2018 season.   It appears that even the multi-billion dollar sports industry is looking for ways to generate additional funding.

photo credit: Rasmus Ristolainen while playing for Finnish team TPS [photo: Teemu Saarinen, HC TPS]
photo credit: Rasmus Ristolainen while playing for Finnish team TPS [photo: Teemu Saarinen, HC TPS]
Week six our EC&I 830 class tackled the topic, Public education has sold its soul to corporate interests in what amounts to a Faustian bargain.
Justine and Tyler argued the agree side, and provided many negative examples of incentive programs and sponsorships school divisions have entered into with large corporations. The video, The Big Business Behind Public School Testing-Glenn Beck Program offered a perspective on standardized testing I had never considered. The guest being interviewed spoke of Pearson Learning, and the money the company generates through involvement in standardized testing. Essentially it was suggested that Pearson lobbies the government arguing that more testing is required. As a result, they are paid to create more tests. It was argued that often the testing is punitive and addresses all students, with failure rates for these tests often hovering around 40%. Pearson gets paid every time a student takes the test, and if a test needs to be retaken, Pearson makes money on these retakes as well. In designing these test for students to fail, Pearson is positioned for large profits. In her blog post, Kelsie Lenihan posted a very cleaver image, in which she strategically placed an “X” across a portion of the Pearson logo, effectively transforming the slogan from “Learning Solutions” to “earning solutions”. She ended her blog by suggesting that as long as teachers are around to demand transparency in education, public schools have not yet sold their souls.

Source: https://kelsielenihanblog.wordpress.com/2016/06/16/ranty-mcranterson/
Source: https://kelsielenihanblog.wordpress.com/2016/06/16/ranty-mcranterson/

Our guest, Audrey Watters of Hack Education, further suggested that testing has been big business for 100 years. Unfortunately, “Schools have always been seen as failing.” This is not a new phenomenon just with education technology. In her blog, Nicole Putz ponders, if education systems are perceived in this way, how are we ever supposed to move away from the idea that we need to be saved by funding from outside of government?”
Dean Shareski of Discovery Education offered a number of strong statements for the disagree side. One point he argued is that “Schools aren’t businesses. We can learn some things from all kinds of places but not blindly apply the principles.” Government actions such as the LEAN Initiative may work in organizations dealing with “products”, but in people industries such as education and health care, many of these principles simply don’t work. Another statement he made was that there is a key difference in the way people (and governments) view education.   Do you see it as an investment, or an expenditure? He further urged that all school divisions need outside support. However, he feels the conversation needs to be about the relationships between big-business and education, and the way the relationships are forged and understood. His advice for corporations looking to be involved in the the education sector was this: “We do good, by doing good”. The financials will follow when the main goal is to help students with learning.
In her blog, Janelle Henderson states, “Education is a public commodity. We are not directly charging students to come to our schools (unless you are private or charter), and we are offering the best education possible in tumultuous times.” She also states, “The argument shouldn’t be about selling our educational souls to corporations, but why we believe that standardized testing is actually telling us how we are doing.” Additionally, Shannon Fedorus notes that in Saskatchewan we are in the midst of a funding crisis due to a lack of commitment to education from our current government. As a result, she observes that “Educators tend to be resourceful by nature, and so when they can receive materials and equipment that fundamentally benefit kids, they are apt to take advantage of such, even if this means entering into unsavoury agreements with the corporations that are providing the much needed resources.”
In his closing statements, Dean reminded us that education is a highly relational thing. He argued, “the best things about schools are the people and the relationships with these people.” This is simply something corporations cannot buy.

Summary of Learning Project

January 2013 I began the pursuit of a Masters of Education Administration degree. Ten classes later, I find myself reaching the completion of this goal. Many things have changed for me professionally and personally during these past number of years. I have learned a lot, gained a great deal of experience, and met numerous fellow educators and friends. I have spent countless hours lugging my computer and textbooks to hockey rinks, basketball courts, and baseball diamonds – in fact, I am composing this blog post in “Dog River” as my son plays the Rouleau Ramblers.

As this chapter of my life draws to a close I have allowed my mind to wander to the activities I have been missing and hope to once again enjoy now that my Masters is complete. When Alex told us we would be asked to complete a Summary of Learning which identifies the major take-aways we have gained through EC&I 830, I had mountain biking on my mind. As I began to look at the class syllabus, I started to see relationships between the course content and a mountain bike ride at Wascana Trails. This assignment proved to be the perfect opportunity to try out my newly acquired GoPro while fitting in some scarce riding time – what great homework!

At times tongue-in-cheek (with some really cheesy acting), the following 10 minute video summarizes my experience in EC&I 830. I apologizes for the slightly longer than suggested length, but I needed to include an introduction component to “set the stage” and identify some of the parallels between this class and a bike ride. The video also includes a thank you section to my family, for the support they have shown me in helping me achieve my goal.

Thanks to Katia and Alec for being excellent instructors and for moderating some great debates. To my classmates, thanks for all of the comments and feedback. It has been a great learning experience.

Helping Students Find Their Way With a Moral Compass

Social Media is Ruining Childhood: Agree or Disagree? That is a pretty bold, black-and-white statement, and the topic of discussion for Week 5 of EC&I 830. Presenting their arguments first, the “Agree” team of Logan, Amy, and Carter declared that social media is forcing kids to mature too quickly, and that the negative problems associated with social media are amplified in kids because they have grown up in a culture where social media is ever-present. As a result, they are not capable of recognizing some of the warning signs because it is the reality they have always known. The group cited the suicide of Amanda Todd, and the Star Wars Kid as two high-profile examples of children negatively affected by social media. The group also highlighted the fact that communication between humans is based almost entirely on non-verbal cues (93%). Yet, social media is primarily text based. Because of this, the true meaning of what a person is trying to communicate is often lost in translation.

Ellen and Elizabeth, team “Disagree”, recognized that cyberbullying does take place in our virtual world, but the team argued that bullying is a societal problem and not a technology problem. They suggested that bullying behaviors account for only a fraction of the use (or misuse) and that people often focus on the negative aspects of social media. A number of resources provided by the group suggest children experience a number of benefits as a result of social media use. The 5 Reasons You Don’t Need to Worry About Kids and Social Media article lists the benefits as including: it strengthens friendships; it offers a sense of belonging; it provides genuine support; it helps kids express themselves; and it lets them do good. A similar article, 5 Reasons Why Social Media Might Actually be Good for Your Child, adds: it allows them to collaborate with schoolmates; enables them to discover new interests; prepares them for the future; and provides them with the opportunity to get creative. The author also passes along the following advice for parents looking to moderate and model the use of social media with their children: limit screen time; know what they are doing and why they want to do it; learn who they are friending; set limits for use to occur after schoolwork and chores, and be sure to spend quality time with them that does not include digital devices.

As noble as these reasons may be, I found myself stuck thinking about the negative effects social media has had on some children. In her compelling blog post, classmate Janelle Henderson recounts her experience growing up with cyberbullies. Janelle declares that despite parent’s wishes for children to experience the same type of childhood they had growing up, technology and the internet have the potential to ruin childhood. “A childhood from thirty years ago can look similar to today, however, our children are constantly bombarded by marketing, social media, internet apps, sites, etc. and are being exposed to more information and images than ever before.” However, as Janelle contends, the choice is whether the child chooses to engage in all of this exposure. Erin Benjamin contends that the anonymity of the internet allows people to post hurtful things about others without any foreseeable consequences, and that these negative comments are often reinforced by people choosing to piggyback on the negativity of others. I found a couple of the “Agree” side resources to be especially compelling. The article, Social Media Affects Child Mental Health references a study by YoungMinds which says that because children have become so used to the pressures of social media they don’t recognize the anxiety it is causing them. Because they are living their lives in such a public way, there is a constant need for reassurance from their online communities that what they are doing is valuable and worthwhile. The resource, Is social media sabotaging real communication? extends this notion by suggesting, with social media a person can hide their true self and project only what they want others to see. Without the benefit of nonverbal cues, their audience will believe them. The author also argues that social media amplifies relationships based on superficiality rather than more personable ones grounded in authenticity. The award winning short film, A Social Life, really drove these points home for me. If you have eight minutes, I highly recommend giving it a view.

During the class discussion, the topic of a Moral Compass was raised. The compass listed below by Mike Ribble helps to make decisions we may be faced with as digital citizens.

Source: Digital Citizenship Moral Compass Image Reference: 21st century compass from Mike Ribble http://www.digitalcitizenship.net)
Source: Digital Citizenship Moral Compass Image Reference: 21st century compass from Mike Ribble http://www.digitalcitizenship.net

Our Moral Compass is divided into 8 different levels: Right; I don’t know; Wring; What’s the big deal?; As long as I don’t get caught; It’s an individual choice; Depends of the situation. A number of years ago Leanne Forrest and I created the lesson “Moral Compass – You Make the Call” with the intention of helping students identify ethical dilemmas they may face as part of social media use. This resource has since been updated by the Educational Technology team and is part of the digital citizenship resources databank for Regina Catholic Schools. I have included a link to the student handout which identifies a number of potential scenarios faced by the digital citizens of today. Feel free to take a look. In doing so, I think you will find, as I did with the debate topic this week, that not everything is black-and-white. As Mike Ribble identifies, there are six other levels which fit between right and wrong.

 

Technology = Equality? Not Automatically

The opening debate June 7th saw Katherine and Bob faceoff against Ian and Ainsley on the topic, “Technology Creates Equity in Society”. Taking the stance of “Agree”, Katherine and Bob referenced a recent development in the delivery of health care in Saskatchewan: Robots! At first mention, this sounds rather shocking, but as I read the article,   5 ways robots are delivering health care in Saskatchewan, I began to develop an appreciation for how this technology has the potential to create “equity” in the delivery of health services. Currently there are 11 medical robots in Saskatchewan – more than anywhere else in Canada, and the “Doctor in a Box” devices allow for a different way for doctors to deliver health care.

Source:  https://pigflaps.wordpress.com/tag/robot/
Source: https://pigflaps.wordpress.com/tag/robot/

Why is this needed, and how does this create equity? Well, many patients live in remote northern areas with limited access to specialized health care. These devices allow doctors to connect diagnostic equipment for rapid assessment during emergency transport, or to prevent the need for costly ambulance or airlift of patients to larger centers by allowing doctors to diagnose medical concerns remotely. Robotic house calls allow for interviews to take place in a patient’s home, cutting down on doctor travel time, and greatly increasing the number of patients which can be served each day.   Extended globally in humanitarian efforts, these devices promise opportunities for people in remote communities to connect with medical specialist they would not normally be able to access. Though arguably not “equal” to a face-to-face doctor visit, these devices aim to create equity by providing access to services which would not otherwise be available.

From an education perspective, the group discussed their thoughts on open education classes and suggested that the traditional university model is not providing people with sufficient value. In her TedTalk, What We’re Learning From Online Education,   Daphne Koller argues that education, and specifically quality education, is not accessible in all parts of the world. Even in North America where quality, higher education programs do exist, it may not be within reach of the vast majority of people. Regardless, she feels courses having the best content, learning from the best instructors, receiving personalized lectures, peer grading, timely feedback, and individual practice should be offerings for all people. Open education platforms such as Kahn Academy, Coursera, and MOOCs stretch the “one size fits all” model of education and are one way to address the equity issue in education. (Additional information regarding MOOCs can be found in Alec Couros’ post, Developing a Framework for Teaching Open Courses).

In their opening video, Ian and Ainsley urged the audience that technology does not provide for equity in society. They defined equity as everyone getting what they need in order to be successful. This is not something that naturally occurs in society. It does not promote fairness in education for all members of society. In the blog post, Ed Tech’s Inequalities by Audrey Watters, Audrey contends that new technologies actually extend the advantages of the already advantaged (The Digital Matthew Effect). Audrey cites critic Evgeny Morozov term “techno-solutionism” as the simplification of complex societal problems into apps and algorithms. She argues that MOOCs cannot solve the opportunity gap because those without a college or high school degree are less likely to have adequate internet access. She declares, we cannot confuse access with equity, because access does not look the same for different socioeconomic groups. It is not good enough to ask, “does a students have access to technology?” We must ask ourselves, “what does that access look like?” Is it a cellphone with limited data, or an expensive laptop connected to a high-speed network? Audrey proposes that education technology does not confront systemic inequalities within the education system. The team’s closing video highlighted the ways in which technology fails to level the playing field for students. It seems much more will need to be done if the spirit of the popular equity vs equality meme is to be realized.

Photo Credit: Craig Froehle
Photo Credit: Craig Froehle

This certainly appears to be the experience of several of my classmates.   Nicole Putz recognizes that “many of our students are coming to school without having their basic human needs met at home which undermines them as learners and puts them at disadvantages when accessing any sort of education, with or without technology”.   Kelsie makes an interesting comparison of technology and a hammer. She states, “Technology is a tool. It does not solve problems by itself. It’s like expecting a hammer to build a house by itself and being dumbfounded when it does not”. Teachers require support and training if these tools are too be used effectively. As was discussed earlier in the semester, the TPACK Model and the SAMR Model are two good starting points. But that is not enough. As Kyle Dumont states, “The parents have a role within this as well. They will need to be involved in their child’s learning, they need to take a proactive approach, especially when the tech tool is a specific one designed for assistance with a diagnosis, or specialized learning plan put in place for the individual. The parents then need to also be educated on how the tool works, and what its capacities/limitations are.”

And finally, Tayler utters as statement I am sure many teachers (and parents) can relate to: “Fair is not always equal”. It would be equal to provide each school with “x” numbers of laptops as part of a computer upgrade, but would that be fair? Should a school of 600 receive the same number of devices as a school of 200? Even if you break these numbers down into an “equal” ratio, do each of these schools require the same technology upgrades to consider the upgrade to be fair? Physical constraints within the building (multiple floors, thick brick walls, etc.) may deem necessary additional devices which change this ratio. Is this equal? No, but if it allows students the access and opportunity to use technology as provided in other schools, it is fair.

Footprints in the Concrete

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Photo Credit: artolog via Compfight cc

The topic of debate 5 was, Openness and sharing in schools is unfair to our kids. Agree or disagree?The “Agree” team of Kelsie, Danielle, and Shannon began opening arguments by suggesting that digital footprints are like digital tattoos – once created, they leave a permanent mark. To reinforce this point they shared a TED Talk video – How to Think about Digital Tattoos. In the video,  Juan Enriquez questions, “What if Andy Warhol had it wrong?” Maybe instead of 15 minutes of fame, in our new digital world we are all destined for only 15 minutes of anonymity. The video painted a picture of advanced technologies such as facial recognition making it increasingly difficult to “hide” from anything these days.

The article, Does sharing photos of your children put them at risk? , supported the idea that we have the right to be forgotten, but that this is becoming ever more difficult in our “always on” society. The situation shared in the article provide a clear example of how smartphones have enabled people to quickly and easily post about anything. Unfortunately, because of this ease, people often post things without giving enough thought to what they are sharing. As teachers and parents, we must be careful about the type and the amount of information we are sharing, and we must be certain that the content we share about kids would be something they would want shared at a later date. The article also recognizes that short of posting nothing at all, there is no perfect protection. The group also shared a resource from the Peel Region School Board regarding Staff Guidelines for Social Media. Though most of the guidelines are (or at least should be) common sense, I think it is a very positive thing for school boards to be considering the potential advantages for social media use in the classroom, and for providing guidelines for integrating these tools into the classroom.

The “Disagree” team of Lisa, Haiming, and Stephanie, argued that we live in a sharing age, and that as teachers it is our responsibility to provide students with the opportunity to develop skills for positive online interactions. In their closing statement, the team compared sharing in schools to a house, and that we as teachers need to set a strong foundation for students to build upon.

The resource, Teacher, Take Care of your Digital Footprint reminds us, if you aren’t controlling who you are online, someone else will. Using Social Media in the Classroom stresses the importance of using digital tools to teach students. One potential benefit of tools such as blogs and digital portfolios is that it remains over time, and is something that students can use to track personal

In doing some of my own research I found a couple of other resources, including: 11 Tips for Students to Manage Their Digital Footprints; and Building and Keeping a Positive Digital Identity. Though I found these resources to be quite good, I question, are these tips enough? As teachers are we really allowing students enough control and ownership over their digital identity? In many cases, social media sites used in classes by teachers are accounts created by the teacher and ultimately controlled by them – with very little carry over into future years. A post from Audrey Watters (who will be a class guest for EC&I 830 June 14). titled, “The Web We Need to Give Students” suggests that while student privacy is very important, it is equally important to give students voice over deciding what to share online. Audrey contends, in most digital learning environments student work exists only inside of a Learning Management System (or blog) and cannot be accessed by the student after the course has concluded. She argues that students should be given the opportunity to develop a “personal cyberinfrastructure” which would enable them the agency and control over their learning, as well as their online identity. I am looking forward to hearing more on these thoughts later this month.

What are some of the thoughts of my classmates regarding this topic? Tyler Fehrenbach suggests that  if we want students to understand the concepts, we must allow them to experience them. This relates directly to Alec’s reference to driver training – we have students practice in real cars on real roads when learning to drive. Shouldn’t digital citizenship be taught in a similar way? Teachers uncomfortable unleashing students to the World Wide Web without any “practice” might consider Media Smart’s Passport to the Internet. This simulation tool provides students with the opportunity to practice critical thinking skills regarding online use in a safe and controlled environment. I have used it with students in Grades 4-8 successfully, and the conversations generated by some of the scenarios are very good learning opportunities for students.

Tyler also refers to a number of digital citizenship resources my colleague Leanne Forrest and I collaborated on for Regina Catholic Schools a few years back. One of the lessons we created as part of the resource package specifically concentrated on Our Digital Footprints. In the lesson we referenced a great video entitled “Digital Dossier” which brings into question a number of issues students face in regards to building their online identity.

Haiming Li reminds us that the divide between internet access exists for those in urban centers versus rural, which I agree is an issues and definitely creates inequity. I would argue that this divide of internet access exists within urban centers as well. My understanding is that with CommunityNet, not all schools receive the same connection service, in part due to the type of service entering the building. These differences in connection speeds definitely influence what teachers can do with technology in their schools, and in turn, how they can integrate digital learning into their teaching.

Erin Therrien recognizes that online activity leaves a footprint (good or bad), and that with tools like the Wayback Machine, these activities can have an impact on the digital footprint we leave online. This has me question, is it fair for teachers to “force” the development of a student’s online identity? In most circumstances, I feel it is a good thing, and a real benefit for the student. However, what about the student who, for any variety of reasons, does not produce online work of which they are particularly proud? Though I have been unable to find any examples during a quick internet search, I recall hearing of instances where students have been asked to create digital portfolios or blogs as a requirement for a class. These sites are sometimes managed and/or maintained by the classroom teacher. Does the student have the right to ask the teacher to remove this content at the completion of the class if that student does not feel it accurately portrays their desired online identity? Is it too late by that point anyways?

I feel that helping students understand and develop their online identity is a positive thing and is something which should be taking place in schools.  I will end where I began, with the title “Footprints in the Concrete”. As has been discussed at length this week, the online identities we are helping our students create are very much like footprints. However, unlike footprints left in sand (or snow) which eventually fade away, our digital footprint is much like those left in concrete: permanent.  We must keep this in mind when helping students forge their digital identity.

 

Finding the Zone

The second debate of May 24th saw Aubrey, Jayme-Lee, and Jennifer faceoff against Andres, Roxanne, and Heather on the topic, Technology is making our kids unhealthy. Of the debate topics listed in the class syllabus, I must admit that this one was of special interest to me, as I am passionate about both technology and physical activity. I honestly went into the debate not knowing which argument I would side with, and I find myself still formulating my feelings. Both groups presented excellent arguments and provided us with a number of resources which sparked some interest and reflection I would like to share.

Aubrey, Jayme-Lee, and Jennifer opened their argument with a Prezi highlighting a long-list of physical and mental issues associated with high levels of technology use.

It was stated that kids spend roughly 7 hours of screen time per day, and that high usage of technology can be linked to numerous physical and mental issues. Some of the physical ailments include eye strain, lower back and neck tension, skin blemishes and higher incidents of obesity. Mental issues include sleep deprivation, anxiety, hyperactivity and depression. In fact, it has been found that technology dependency can be compared chemical addictions and has implications on an individual’s social well-being. The group concluded their argument with their prescription to the problem: NatureRx
.


Video Entry from the Banff Mountain Film Festival

Two of the resources provided by the group, Sneaky ways technology is messing with your body and mind, and Five crazy ways social media is changing your brain right now, further supported the potential physical and mental pitfalls linked to heavy technology use. This prompted plenty of discussion in the class blogs.   Elizabeth Therrien observed, “The notions of not using technology properly or being on social media too often or being confronted with too much cyberbullying online are problems because kids are not being taught how to use technology and social media properly or in the correct amounts, not because those outlets exist in our world.” This echoes the stance taken by Andrew Foreman who offers, “This debate topic made me see a connection between something I tell students about science. Science is not inherently good or bad. It is knowledge. The use of that knowledge can be put towards good or ill, but that is not the fault of the science.” I agree with both of these sentiments. Technology has the potential to offer many health benefits if it is utilized correctly. As Tyler Fehrenbach claims, technology use can be good in moderation but as teachers and parents we must model appropriate use. That is the tricky part. As a teacher, I am fully aware that my influence can only reach so, far. The reality is that a major portion of a child’s day is spent outside the walls of the classroom. As a parent, I try to model a healthy lifestyle, but there are times in my parenting when technology becomes an easy go-to. It is my hope over the long-term that moderate technology use by my kids and students is realized.

After reading about some of the drawbacks of technology Justine Stephanson shared, “I have never really thought about how many germs could possibly be on my cell phone and other devices that I use.” This statement reminded me of an episode of Shark Tank in which a couple of entrepreneurs pitched a product they called “PhoneSoap“. Utilizing the power of UV rays, the inventors claim this device cleans your electronic devices while they charge. An interesting concept for schools is the company’s TabletSoap Locker, designed for the storage of up to 8 electronic devices. Though I haven’t personally tried any device cleaning products, I can see the benefits in using them as a method of limiting the transfer of harmful bacteria.

Andres, Roxanne, and Heather kicked-off their argument with a video listing the top four ways technology aids our health and wellness. First off, the group suggests that websites, apps, and devices such as Fitbit encourage movement and promote physical health. Secondly, emotional health exists due to connectivity and support, teen activism, and the peace of mind afforded by surveillance tools such as baby monitors. Social health, a third wellness benefit, allows people to stay connected through tools such as Skype, Facetime, and Facebook. Finally, intellectual health occurs through the ability to access knowledge as needed; by using blogs for communicating and ideas; and through open education and collaboration which allows for developing Personal Learning Networks.

Kelsie Lenihan recognized some of the positive benefits which may be realized by wearable tech. However, she cautions, “Wearable technology, while it does provide some instant feedback, is about long-term goals. Self-motivation is a learned skill that can be honed through the use of these tools, though there is a fine line between a tool and a toy.” As a user of a personal fitness tracker (Basis Peak), I couldn’t agree more with this statement. Though the immediate feedback provided by these devices is useful, simply reaching the 10,000 steps a day goal will not guarantee improved fitness. This can only be achieved through goal-setting and long term commitment to a a range of factors which contribute to physical and emotional fitness. But could this be applied effectively to P.E. classes, and if so how?

As a PE teacher, I do think there is the potential for these devices to provide motivation for students. I have my physical education classes complete fitness appraisals four times a year, and students utilize the data from these appraisals to set personal fitness goals and to design individual fitness plans.   It is not uncommon to hear some students cheer when I announce we are doing the BEEP test or pushup appraisal: weird, I know, but I feel this occurs because students understand that these are appraisals based on their personal results, and not assessments. Data is gathered to help students understand their current level of fitness in a variety of areas, and to use this data to set goals for improvement. Invariably, through hard work (and the fact that students grow and mature over the course of a few months) many students realize improvements in these appraisals, which becomes further incentive for continued improvement. But how could wearable technology further enhance student motivation?

Adidas thinks it has the answer with the Adidas Zone, a fitness tracker designed specifically for use in schools.   According to a review of the device by Mashable, the trackers do not subscribe to a one-size-fits all model. Instead, the focus is on bringing self-management and personalization to P.E. class. For example, instead of asking kids to run 6 minutes per Kilometer, the goal will be to keep their heart-rate in a zone that’s best suited for their health abilities. Though I imagine the novelty of such devices may eventually wear off, I do feel that devices used in this way could provide students with useful data and encourage improvements in their levels of physical fitness. SparkFamily.org appears to agree as well. The official Spark blog recommends 3 Reasons Wearable Tech Belongs In Physical Education Classes. They predict wearable devices will become a major player in PE classes over the next few years and will transform physical education because of the following reasons. First, students already have a “digital native mindset” wearable devices help students make the connection between their fitness and technology they are already comfortable interacting with. Second, wearable devices allow for more accurate and precise measurement for athletes of all levels, enabling students to set more targeted goals for improvement. Finally, wearable technology can provide students with a snapshot of holistic healthy living. They are not simply limited to counting steps. However, it will be the responsibility of the teacher to help students understand this data, and to put effective plans into action.

So as I try to formulate a personal conclusion to this topic, I find it difficult to overlook the numerous physical and mental health problems associated with heavy technology use. However, as a enthusiast of both technology and fitness, I prefer the less cynical viewpoint and believe that, in moderation, technology has the potential to help us achieve improved levels fitness. Maybe one day this goal will be achieved by many.

Googleable…. Is That Even a Real Word?

The opening debate for week three dealt with the topic, Schools should not be teaching anything that can be googled. Taking the “agree” side was Luke, Ashley, and Andrew, who opened with a statement by Albert Einstein which had been posted by Kyle earlier in the week: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.” The trio went on to reference the Constructivist Theory, and suggested that schools should consider curiosity and experiential learning as important components to a child’s education.

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Photo Credit: http://seo-sauce.com/

As the husband of a former PreK teacher, I know experiential learning is considered to be a very important component to early childhood learning. In fact, pg. 26 of the Better Beginnings, Better Futures Prekindergarten Handbook provides recommendations for experiential learning. Teachers are also encouraged to provide students with an “invitation” to learning, and to provide students with the opportunity to learn through play.

However, I believe experiential learning should be extended beyond just the early years. Many classrooms are exploring the idea of Genius Hour. This movement “allows students to explore their own passions and encourages creativity in the classroom”. The following video by A.J. Juliani provides educators with practical advice for Getting Started with Genius Hour. Within Regina Catholic Schools, a number of teachers have chosen to join the Genius Hour movement. Matt Bresciani’s Grade 7/8 Genius Hour projects, and Melissa Ratcliffe’s Grade 4/5 Passion Projects are highlighted on the RCSD Education Technology information page Genius Hour Classroom Connections. My own grade eight daughter is currently engaged in a passion project, and she looks forward to the time she gets to research and blog about her project on sport psychology.

The agree side provided the class with a number of relevant and engaging resources. The article, How Google Impacts The Way Students Think suggests that students see knowledge as always accessible and within reach, even when it is not. As a result, the author feels answers to questions become stopping points for students, with no further exploration. Once Google has given the answer, the curiosity is over. The author further suggests, “Googling is easier than thinking”. This is certainly something I have seen with students in the past. In a rush to get the answer, they fail to draw on basic knowledge they do (or should) possess.

In the video, How the Internet is Changing Your Brain, a number of interesting claims are made. First, the narrator states, “Google has become our external hard drive” and questions, if the sum of all knowledge is available in our pockets, do we really need to keep it in our heads? I really like the term “memory outsourcing” the producers of the video used for this phenomenon. The video further proposes the brain recognizes that most online info is trivial and does not require our full attention Essentially, in this new age of always accessible information we have trained and conditioned our brains to forget.

On the “disagree” side of the debate was Heidi and Amy who chose to open their arguments with a video . Ultimately crowned victorious, this group argued there is a place for basic facts and memorization in schools. This team felt the acquisition of these skills results in feelings of confidence and capability amongst students. They also stated that memorization of basic skills is required in order for students to achieve higher levels of thinking. They supported these claims with a number of great resources.


The video, Why teach facts to the level of automaticity? reaffirmed the notion that automaticity aids students in learning new materials, especially in math, because students are not slowed by having to consider basic facts. As well, automaticity improves learning and retention of higher order math skills because students are not distracted while learning more complex problems.

Of all resources shared by both teams, my favourite was the TedTalk video , Three Rules to Spark Learning, by teacher Ramsey Musallam. Ramsey passionately advocates that curiosity should be the main driver of learning and suggests three rules teachers should keep in mind to spark learning:

  • Curiosity comes first
  • Embrace the mess – learning is “ugly” and trial and error should be encouraged
  • Practice reflection, and be ready to revise your teaching approach

So, having considered all of the arguments prepared by both teams, and having reviewed all of the resources, for a second week in a row I find myself on the fence of both sides of the argument. Certainly, the acquisition of basic facts is important, but to quote Ramsey Musallam, “Student questions are the seeds of real learning”.

And finally, to answer the question posed in the title of this blog post, “googleable” is a real word. I googled it and got over 192,000 results.

Setting the Bar High!

Tuesday night marked the beginning of the online portion of our EC&I 830 class, and with that came our first class debate. With a little bit of fanfare (including a theme song) we jumped into our first contemporary issue in educational technology: Technology in the Classroom Enhances Learning. Taking the “agree” stance was Jeremy, Erin and Kyle, while Kayla, Chalyn, and Steve approached the topic from the” disagree” perspective. After much discussion (and a bit of smack-talk), the “agree” stance was declared the winner, if only by a surprisingly small margin. Truly, each team set a high standard for the upcoming debates and provided a fair deal of “food for thought”, both in the debate discussions, and in the articles the teams provided to support their arguments. Below are some of my thoughts after considering the topic from this week.

Photo Credit: Katia Hildebrandt
Photo Credit: Katia Hildebrandt

The agree side began the debate by proposing that technology (and especially assistive technology) has the potential to enhance learning for students of all levels of ability. The group supported this statement with a number of points and examples from the article,Using assistive technology in teaching children with learning disabilities in the 21st century, from the Journal of Education and Practice. Having read the article, I agree that many students could benefit from the suggested assistive technologies listed in the paper. Teachers should not feel limited to allowing only EAL students or those with learning disabilities to utilize assistive technology.

This got me thinking of some of the assistive technology recommendations I made while in my role as technology coach. Frequently teachers requested speech-to-text converters as a way to help some students quickly transcribe their thoughts to “paper”. A free website I have used for this purpose is Dictation.io (Google Chrome only). With this online dictation tool students can quickly record their thoughts and have their speech converted to text. The text can then be saved to the notepad, which can then be further copied and pasted into other applications such as word documents or blogs. Though it is not perfect, it does allow struggling writers the opportunity to get their ideas out, and the author is free to revisit the text after to perform an required edits or to add correct punctuation.

A second assistive technology tool I would highly recommend for use with students of all learning levels is Text Compactor. This free, online tool allows you to type or paste text into a box. This could include content from a website, from a textbook, or from lecture notes. The user then selects a percentage of text to keep, and the summarizing tool automatically generates a summary of the content. I have tried it with various levels of content and find it does a very good job of picking out the main points from the selected text. If you decide to try it I am certain you will find a number of useful ways to apply it to your teaching.

A final point made by the “agree” side was that technology is engaging for students and allows them to participate in collaborative learning activities with an authentic audience. This reminded me of a statement Rushton Hurley made at the FETC Conference I attended in Orlando in 2012.   Rushton said, “If students are sharing their work with the world, they want it to be good. If they’re just sharing it with you, they want it to be good enough.” (George Couros speaks of this further in his blog, “The Principal of Change”). I strongly agree that technology provides students with the opportunity to create, collaborate, and engage in meaningful learning, and I do believe that the potential of a global audience is incentive for some students to produce high-quality work.

The “disagree” group opened their argument by stating that they do not feel that technology use in education itself is inherently bad, but rather that there are flaws in the way in which it’s use is implemented by many school divisions. This group referred to the article, The missing link in educational technology: Trained teachers by Sam Carlson. The author contends that teacher training and support regarding educational technology is terribly underfunded and lacking in depth. Though technical training regarding the utilization of tech hardware and software is important, “teachers also need professional development in the pedagogical application of those skills to improve teaching and learning” (Carlson, 2002, pg. 7). I agree that when introducing technology, professional development of teachers must be a primary consideration and receive a major portion of the funding. A few years back I was part of a project with Regina Catholic in which we introduced a new interactive whiteboard technology to the division. This technology was not forced upon all teachers, rather, those interested were invited to apply to receive a device. Within the first year more than 300 teachers applied to take part in the project. As part of the device rollout, each teacher received three sessions of professional development and training. The first session was a 1/2 day training session with a focus on technical skills. The second session was a full-day PD session held in conjunction with subject area consultants. During these sessions pedagogy was discussed and participants were given time to begin creating lessons related to their teaching area. The third PD session was an independent session in which participants completed their lesson and submitted them to the consultants to be shared throughout the division. Though the cost of PD was expensive, participants enjoyed having the opportunity to develop their personal skills and pedagogy by collaboratively working with others. To date, nearly 500 lessons have been created and shared by these participants.

My final reflective point from the session this week is regarding the SAMR model. As the website, SAMR Model Explained for Teachers, states, SAMR is a framework for assessing technology use in the classroom. It represents Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition. According to this model, Substitution and Augmentation are considered as enhancements to learning, while Modification and Redefinition represent further transformation in learning. While the use of technology at the Modification and Redefinition level is something teachers should strive for with some lessons, it is not a level which can be sustained throughout the year. I personally like the concept of the SAMR Model as a seen below as a swimming pool. There is inherent value in utilizing technology at all levels, and a balanced approach to technology integration sees one swimming laps, rather than trying to spend all of the time in one end of the pool.

 

These are my thoughts for the week. I would be interested in hearing yours.

Changing Hats

I enter into EC&I 830 having taken EC&I 831 with Alec and Katia in the Fall of 2013 (you can read all about my adventures in that class here). I can’t believe how much has changed for me personally and professionally in these past two and a half years! At the time that I was taking the Social Media and Open Education course, I was in my fifth year as Technology Coach for Regina Catholic Schools. In this role I had the privilege and pleasure of working with teachers and students across the school division to support the integration of technology in the curriculum. I had the opportunity to attend numerous Educational Technology conferences, such as FETC in Orlando, and IT Summit in Saskatoon, where I listened to esteemed keynote speakers describe the benefits of technology in education and ways to successfully implement the use of technology in the classroom. I was asked to develop various webpages, support documents, and digital citizenship resources to assist teachers as they explored ways to infuse the use of technology into their teaching practice. I frequently provided professional development presentations to teachers looking to try different tech tools with their class. I was asked to test-drive technology hardware and software, and to provide training and support in the use of these tools, and in the pedagogy surrounding the use of technology in learning. Most enjoyably, I had the opportunity to work with hundreds of students from K-12 as they explored ways technology could enhance their education. For five fantastic years my entire professional live revolved around contemporary issues in Educational Technology. But, all good things must come to an end…

A few courses into my Masters of Education Administration degree I felt it was time to apply for an administration position, and in September of 2014 I began with my first appointment as Vice Principal of St. Gabriel School. What a change. Previous to my 5 year stint as Technology Coach I had been a Middle Years homeroom teacher for 12 years. As VP, I found myself teaching a wide range of grade levels, and all in the area of Physical Education. I looked for ways to incorporate technology into my PE teaching, but found it to be a bit of a struggle. The demands of the administrative role left little extra room for creating the technology infused lessons I had become accustomed to developing. At times I felt hindered by some of the “realities” associated with teaching: Wi-Fi connection issues; broken hardware; double-booked devices; acceptable use policies; absent students; and differentiated learning. I found myself quickly feeling like a bit of an outsider in the world of educational technology.

Gradually, I began to recognize that I am now wearing a different hat. As an administrator, I find my focus has shifted to supporting the teachers within my school as they look for ways to incorporate technology, while respecting the needs and concerns of students and parents. However, having been out of the Technology Coach role for nearly two years, I feel I lack some of the most current knowledge in this area. I am looking forward to EC&I 830, and am hoping to consider the contemporary issues in educational technology from the perspective of my administrative role, and I look forward to learning from the many different roles and experiences I know will be shared by fellow classmates.

My hats continue to change in other aspects of my life as well. This year my wife, who is also a teacher, took on a new teaching assignment at a new school.  Having spent the previous five years teaching Pre-Kindergarten and EAL, she felt it was time to shift gears.  She is enjoying the challenge of teaching a Grade 1-2 split this year.  I also will be moving to St. Bernadette School as Vice Principal this September, and will need to once again establish relationships with students, parents, and staff.  And our children will experience change too, as our daughter makes the transition from elementary school to high school this Fall, leaving her brother behind as the oldest and only member of our family at his school.

It is my hope that during this course I can reflect on the various hats I have worn  (past and present), and try to consider the issues regarding educational technology from a variety of perspectives.  I never know what hat I may be required to wear next!

Hats

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