ZOOMing into Online Learning

Here, you find Fat Larry and his band singing the praises of Zoom.  What foresight he had to predict the technological capabilities that we would have today, way back in 1994.  Amazing.  Please listen to the whole song, as I believe the lyrics truly describe how @courosa feels about Zoom.

Not to take Zoom off of its well-deserved place on the pedestal, but, I found the first evening of class way back in September – with everyone in the room, catching up with former colleagues and classmates – to be quite enjoyable.  Maybe it was just the fact that I was ducking out of putting three little girls to bed…  but, I’m pretty sure it had at least something to do with the academic energy that filled the Teacher Preparation Centre.  And so, each Tuesday night, I return to that fateful spot…  trying, all alone, and occasionally in the dark (the lights are on timers after 8:00 pm), to recreate that moment (and, yes, in large part, to duck out of putting three little girls to bed).  It hasn’t quite ever been the same.

I DO really enjoy Zoom … it is, by far, the best online meeting space of which I’ve been a part.  The breakout room option is a definite plus, as everyone seems to “reengage” in those smaller spaces.  The chat room is a source of entertainment and information.  Google+ is a fantastic complement, as it allows us to stay connected while we’re not “in class”.  I hadn’t ever used either of these ed tech tools before EC&I 833.

Prior to taking this class, my online learning experience was limited to one class in 2008.  Technology has certainly changed with respect to the delivery of “distance education”!  I don’t recall what tool I used to connect with the professor and classmates, but it was something much less user-friendly than Zoom.  I’ve also Skyped with traveling friends and family members over the years … but I’ve never seen such tools as valuable educational opportunities.

Adam Krammer’s video of children all over the world using Skype to connect with the Aquarius submarine (underwater lab) was amazing.  It was so much more than simply showing children a video of an underwater lab (one-way street)… it was very interactive.  The children were able to ask questions and hear answers on the spot.  I will have to explore opportunities to use this type of “online learning” in my own face-to-face classes.

In my IP 10 class, my students recently completed a unit on Microsoft Word (I can hear the groans now!).  It was actually quite fun (not biased at ALL, as the creator of all of the mini-assignments involved!) … but it required them to work independently, at their own pace, for about 2 weeks…similar to the old “box of lessons delivered to your door” approach to distance learning.  We were all in the same room, but the students had virtually no interaction with anyone during those ten hours of class time.

By the end of the unit, I was going a little crazy.  I had to change things up and have some large group activities with lots of discussion and movement.  I was craving interaction, as were my students.  This experience reminded me why I could never function in the asynchronous educational setting that Jade Ballek described during our last class.  Those quick visits, smiles, and nods of approval are what give many students the boost they need to carry on.

Similarly, as Liz mentioned in her blog, some of her students would struggle with an online course because they need things explained in a different way – or even in several ways – before they understand.  Many of my students are in the same boat.  The ones who would speak up in a face-to-face environment to ask questions are also the ones who would speak up in a chat room or in an online space.  It is the quiet students who can fly under the radar, whether in the classroom or online.

In the article “Shy Students Get a Voice Through Ed Tech”, and as we discussed earlier on in the course, it’s been found that “social media or online chat forums provide a medium for shy students to voice their questions, opinions or knowledge—all without the fear of speaking in front of other classmates”.  I’m certain that many students in EC&I 833 enjoy being heard through their blog posts or through the chat room, as opposed to having to speak up in front of others.

Another benefit that education technology can provide, either to online learners or even in face-to-face settings, is the opportunity for teachers to complete quick, online assessments to gauge student understanding.  This is, again, particularly useful for students who, following the introduction of a new concept, simply nod (with fingers crossed) when they are asked “Does this make sense?” I look forward to hearing from Nicole and her group mates when they talk about using education technology for assessment!

I realize that both of these tactics – using ed tech tools to give shy students and voice and to assess their understanding – could be done (and should be done!) in a face-to-face setting, but they are INHERENT in an online setting.  For this reason, I see online educational environments as being the perfect answer for some students.

Where the online environment may fall short is in that “personal connection” that many students (and teachers) need.  The article, “Identifying and Addressing the Mental Health Needs of Online Students in Higher Education” addresses this concern dead-on.  Author, Bonny Barr, explains that, without the “direct sensory contact with students”, many suggestions of poor mental health can go unnoticed.  Barr goes on to explain that online and distance educators be tuned in for other signs of depression, such as online learners missing from group sessions, not handing in homework, or not replying to emails, etc.  This becomes a critical part of the educator’s role in an online environment – but without the visual clues that a classroom teacher would have.

Many of my classmates mentioned the progress that has been made in the area of distance learning in the last few decades.  Audrey Watters describes receiving a box of videotaped lectures, a textbook, and worksheets when she first dove into the online educational world.  There was no opportunity for interaction, for diagnostic assessment or for formative assessment.  There was no collaboration with other students in the class … there really WAS no class… just concepts to be learned and worksheets to be completed.  The student was the vessel into which the professor’s knowledge would be poured…. a very archaic view of education that we discussed many weeks ago in class and that author, Vanessa Rodriguez, attempts to squash in her article, “The Teaching Brain and the End of the Empty Vessel”.

It is becoming increasingly accepted that we learn from other learners just as much as we learn from the teacher.  This new view of learning – a connectivist approach – is described by George Siemens in “Connectivist:  A Learning Theory for the Digital Age”.  There, Siemens talks about the importance of “nurturing and maintaining connections” and about relishing in “diversity of opinions”.  This, in my opinion – and, as the title of the article suggests – is most feasible in an online learning environment.

So – as I conclude this post – I am still not sure where I stand when it comes to online education!  As a learner, I enjoy it.  I’m starting to get a handle on the expectation for multi-tasking (chat room, Zoom, Google+, looking up relevant info, etc. all while information is being shared), and I definitely enjoy the convenience of being able to meet up with my prof and classmates from my chosen location.  On the other hand, I don’t think I could successfully TEACH an online course.  I wouldn’t feel as though I could adequately assess student understanding without “making rounds” in the classroom each day.  I also know that I would miss the smiles and laughter that sporadically (occasionally?) occur in my high school classroom.   Perhaps, as I become a better online learner, I will further explore the possibility of someday becoming an online teacher… if, by then, a robot hasn’t already taken my place.

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Photo courtesy of CompFight http://compfight.com”>Compfight</a> <a href=

Baking, barbering, barbecuing, bulldozing, banking AAAAAAAAAAAND blogging!

Busy Woman

My chronic multitasking comes to me very honestly. My mother and her five sisters are all big multitaskers! It is nothing for each of them to have 6 or 7 projects on the go at a time. Unfortunately, it is rare for any of them to finish ANY of these in a timely manner! I seem to have the same genetic composition when it comes to prioritizing and getting things done.

3119506697_d8ee81c9dcPhoto courtesy of CompFight

I pride myself in maximizing every second of the day… no rest for the weary! Unfortunately, trying to fit too many things into each second of the day can come with a price. I am often pressed for time to get where I need to be because, rather than leaving two minutes early, I will get something done in that two-minute time frame and then have zero extra minutes to drive to an activity, to work, etc. The Internet is just one more way for me to multitask.

Very recently, when working on our group project, I started an email to my group members. I opened up my fabulous Google drive to find the link that I wanted to share.  I noticed a file that I needed for my students the next day, and started working on it.  Four hours later, my group members were still waiting for my email and link. I had accomplished a million things in those four hours, but sending that email was not one of them.

Naomi, I am so inspired by you and the other classmates who tried to have a tabless Thursday. I started my morning (last Thursday) using only one tab or window at a time, but it lasted about 15 minutes. After leaving my computer to walk around my classroom, I returned to my desk and, without even realizing, I soon had multiple tabs open. By the time my prep rolled around, I had screens open for this class, for my own marking, for Christmas shopping, you name it! Tab overload! Clearly I need to enter a multitasking support group. Can anyone recommend a 12-step program for people like me?

I am going to attempt to have a tablet Thursday again this week. Perhaps the key to success is to gradually ween myself from my standard “10 tabs open” protocol. Or, perhaps my multitasking/multi-tabbing can be done in a productive way if I try a little bit of mindfulness on the side!  In her post, Nicole linked to an article about multitasking and mindfulness. The author, Elisha Goldstein, suggests that we “practice becoming more present, focused, flexible…” in order to be able to better handle the intensity of something as powerful (and distracting) as the Internet. I certainly need to try to be more aware of each moment; look at the clock on my desktop, look at my list of things to do, and consider how I’m spending my time.

Although I don’t have a Facebook account, and I only use Twitter for EC&I 833, there are so many other ways to get distracted on the Internet.  Most recently, shopping for identical Santa pajamas for my three girls and my three little nephews (anyone who thinks THAT was a waste of time can expect coal in their stocking), emailing family to plan an upcoming get-together, looking up the name of the artist for a favourite new song, jumping over to a podcast about the perils of canola oil…and the list goes on.  StayFocused, as mentioned by Allison Gritzfeld, is an extension of Google Chrome; this very cool productivity tool is geared for those who tend to go off on long, winding Internet tangents.  As much as I hate to admit it, even I, a bit of a work-a-holic, could really benefit from this!  Basically, you set StayFocused to limit your time on certain websites, whether those be shopping sites, social media sites, concert listings, etc.  It can temporarily block you from any site on the web that takes you away from the work that you’re supposed to be doing.  I love this idea and will definitely be signing up!

Along a similar train of thought is the idea of “eating a frog” for breakfast…. in other words, dealing with your most dreaded task of the day FIRST.  One of my esteemed classmates blogged or tweeted or Google+’d about this (I can’t seem to find it – I’m sorry for not giving you credit, but you know who you are!) and I found an article in NYMag that recommended the same practice. By getting rid of an undesirable chore right off the bat, we are setting ourselves up for a much more enjoyable “rest of the day”.

At present, I am zero for three when it comes to being mindful while multi-tabbing online, remembering to “StayFocused”, and eating frogs for breakfast.  For this reason, I have to accept that the Internet, for me, can detract greatly from my productivity.  That being said, however, my personal goal this week is to give each (all?!?) of these strategies a true “college try”.  Stay tuned for my progress!

 

Being an Educator is Better with Edmodo!

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Edmodo is a free, web-based software program that teachers can access and use with their students.  All you (and they) need is an email address (or Google account) and a password.  Very much like Google Classroom, Edmodo allows teachers to communicate with students – and with other teachers – through posts, by attaching documents or files, by creating assignment folders, polls, etc.

I have been using Edmodo for several years now and I truly believe that it has made me a more productive teacher.  Prior to discovering Edmodo, I used to have students email me all of their assignments (as attachments) to my teacher email account. I was bogged down with so many emails each day, with every single email having an assignment attached to it.

I had to download each assignment and save it to a folder before I could read it. I was so grateful when my colleague and current classmate, Ashley, let me know about Edmodo. She told me that it would make assignment collection so much easier, and she was right!  With just a few clicks, I can upload an assignment for my students to read at home or in class.  They can complete the work and submit it to the appropriate folder.  I can set a “due date” and either accept or deny submissions that come in past this due date.  I can view my students’ work “on screen”, provide feedback on their work and give them a final grade.  If corrections or revisions are needed, students can even resubmit work for re-grading.

Another nice feature of Edmodo is that I can have the app on my phone, as can my students.  This enables me to check things while I am away from my computer, should I so desire!  I can set Edmodo to notify me of any activity, such as a student submitting assignment, or I can turn that feature off (yes, please).  Unfortunately, I am not able to open and mark student assignments on the app – perhaps that’s just MY phone!  (I checked with an Apple-loving colleague, and she was also unable to open students’ assignments on her phone.)  Students can likely see their scores on their app, but you can’t enter grades.   Here’s the view from my app:

edmodo-screenshot

(See!  I told you all in my first blog that I teach the boring, old basics of Word, Excel, etc. … here’s proof.)

Other Features of Edmodo

Although I love Edmodo and use it regularly in both technology classes and other subject areas, there are many features of Edmodo that I have not ever used.  For the purpose of this blog (and to help me achieve my PD goal for this year – incorporating more technology into my classroom), I’ve done some investigating into these uncharted territories.

Gradebook

Apparently, if your division uses Gradebook for assessment tracking, you can set Edmodo to automatically add assignments and students’ grades to the program.  This would be VERY convenient! Unfortunately (?), we don’t use Gradebook, so I wasn’t able to check out that option.

Quiz

This is a tab that I honestly didn’t even notice on Edmodo until today.  I did some quick research and discovered that you can create TESTS using this software.   You can set the test to be T/F, multiple choice, short answer, fill in the blank, or matching.  Edmodo will GRADE your students’ tests, but they have to type EXACTLY what you put in as the answer.  I’m not sure if it’s case-sensitive, but the answers would have to be spelled correctly :0  !

Here’s a screen shot of one that I’ve started to create:

edmodo-test-practice

I would not likely invest the time in creating something like this unless I planned to use it over and over again, with different classes of the same subject or in different semesters.  It was easy, but time consuming.  (Perhaps the time saved not having to mark these tests – and the novelty for the students in taking these tests – would justify investing a few hours in creating a variety of quizzes.)

Polls

Polls are quick and easy ways for teachers to check on their students’ understanding.  Basically, the teacher inputs a question and offers a number of possible answers.  The question could even be based on an embedded picture or video.  The students log into their Edmodo account and respond to the question, selecting the answer that they feel is correct.  The teacher cannot see what individual student responses are, but they can gage the class’s overall understanding.

Here’s a short video to demonstrate how a teacher might use a poll as a formative assessment tool.  (Skip to 10:25)

Posts

Not totally unlike Facebook or Twitter, you can read posts from teachers from all around the world.  If you want, you can filter the posts that you see, either by only following specific areas of interest.  Here’s a screen snapshot of the list that was “recommended” for me … but there are many, many other areas of interest, including cooking, reading, EAL, etc.

edmodo-groups-to-follow

Although the “Posts” area is the first thing you see when you log into Edmodo, I had really never read anything that anyone wrote on there.  It’s usually questions or suggestions about specific lessons – it would take too much time to sort through!  For the first time, however, I decided to try posting a question to the “Posts” area.  I had the opportunity to “tag” my question (which happened to be about the best free software for screen casting) to reach teachers who might best have an answer for me.  I received a reply within 5 minutes!  Amazing.

edmodo-question-reply

I will definitely have to take time to read more of the posts and to add my own questions, when they arise.

If you would like more information on Edmodo, you can sign up for an account and click “Support” near the bottom of the left-hand margin.  I found the FAQ section to be particularly helpful.

I hope that you find Edmodo to be a helpful tool for your teaching needs!

P.S.   Not only did I receive one quick reply to my “screen cast” question … I received SEVERAL.  I also received a personal “Connection Request” from one Mr. Robert Tiffey of Rockville, MD, USA.  Next blog question… Is EdModo the new “POF”?   J

 

 

 

 

Not the “Nashville” version of “Undermine”!

Neil Postman had a critical eye when it came to educational technology.  I agreed with many the concerns that he noted in his article, “Five Things We Need to Know about Technological Change.”  When, however, he suggests that “Sesame Street undermines what the traditional idea of schooling represents”, I have to speak up.

According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, the simple definition of “undermine” is: to make (someone or something) weaker or less effective usually in a secret or gradual way.  The more complex definition includes the statement: to subvert or weaken insidiously or secretly.  The expectation here is that the “thing” (person, idea, strategy, etc.) that is being “undermined” is, in all ways, good, fair, just and worthy of living an unquestioned existence.

An example of “undermining” would be the impact that stereotypes have on the stereotyped groups.  In a 2014 Smithsonian article, author, Rose Eveleth, describes how a stereotype, such as, “Girls are bad at math” can truly undermine the performance, effort and achievement of females in that subject area.  Is it good and fair to impede the progress and passion of female students who are studying math?  Most would agree that it is NOT fair.  The notion of allowing girls to succeed in math or to work to the best of their ability would likely be viewed as “worthy of living an unquestioned existence”.

I must ask myself, in response to Postman’s blog, if “the traditional idea of schooling” is, in all ways, good, fair, just, and worthy of living an unquestioned existence.  Two decades ago, my answer would have been a resounding ‘yes’.  I like(d) school.  I liked the rote drills and practice.  I believe that they served their purpose (for me).  Even one short decade ago, when I entered into the wonderful profession, I would have supported the notion of “traditional school” and you would have witnessed that approach (instructivism as a learning paradigm) in my classroom.

As I described in my last post, however, in the past two years, I have started to move toward more of a contructivist view of learning; a student-centered approach to teaching.  I give students the freedom to explore ideas; this often results in fantastic learning on my part!  They collaborate (in class and online) and – I hope – submit to long-term memory some pretty relevant concepts.  I digress…

The point is, that very loaded word – “undermine” – does not quite fit in this situation because, as I’ve suggested in the previous paragraph, “the traditional idea of schooling” should not be considered immune from criticism or exempt from change.  Traditional schooling does not meet the needs of all learners, nor is it fair to keep students from experiencing some of the amazing opportunities that exist with the help of technology in the classroom.  Teachers can engage students and create meaningful learning experiences using, for example, SMARTBoards.  Here just a couple of links that show the creativity and connections that can exist for children of all ages:  “Ten Ways to Get Smart with SMART Boards” and “11 Things you Never Knew You Could Do With Your SMART Board”  I have only created one SMART Board lesson thus far in my teaching career (I desperately need more time to experiment with this product!); I likely learned more than the students in that situation, but they were definitely engaged!  So, after one successful SMART Board lesson, does this mean that I will use technology in every lesson, in each course that I teach?  Not likely.  I believe in the old saying, “everything in moderation” … even when it comes to including technology in my classroom.

Some teachers are each to invite students to bring devices to school (no need to wait for a laptop cart to be available or to require students to do “at home research”).  My fear of BYOD – something which I’ve very, very recently allowed in my classroom, for a specific purpose, on one occasion – is that it shines a spotlight on the socio-economic disparity within the group.  At my school, some students come from some of the wealthiest households in the city, while many others come from some of the poorest homes.  Our school uniforms cannot camouflage this inequality when BYOD is a part of our classrooms.

Economic disproportion aside, BYOD can certainly give students the opportunity to become engaged, explore, and take control of their own learning.  My grade three daughter just had her first BYOD day at school.  She had to speak “lots and lots of French” (so she tells me!) to earn the privilege of using a personal electronic device at school for 45 minutes.  It was with great trepidation that I placed our family iPad in her backpack!  It came back safely, and she was thrilled to have had the opportunity to play games for ¾ of an hour.  Her teacher’s use of BYOD as a reward is an example of a Token Economy approach (one of B.F. Skinner’s various behaviour shaping practices).

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I know that the criticisms of this kind of behaviour modification are plentiful … but, I’m hoping that speaking “lots and lots of French” becomes commonplace for my daughter and her peers – to the point where the reward can gradually be eliminated, but the positive behaviour ensues.

With gaming, apps and screen time being such a “huge draw” for children nowadays, where does this leave us as educators?  I know that I, personally, can’t compete with the exciting noises, colourful graphics and fast-paced characters that come with ed tech programs but, at the same time, they can’t compete with my ability to listen to a student’s concerns, understand a problem, offer guidance or simply a genuine smile.  It’s the human connection that is most important to students (whether they know that or not!); and no machine can truly replicate this.  As John Rakestraw recommends in his article, “Teaching Thoughtfully with (and without) Technology”, I will “continue the exploration and use of these new technologies, being careful to consider how and to what extent they facilitate good teaching and learning.”

Give a little, get a lot! (When it comes to CONTROL of learning, it’s true!)

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As a “late bloomer” when it came to the world of teaching, I definitely started with the idea that my role in the classroom was to disseminate knowledge.  This is a rather hilarious notion, given the fact that I came from a business background and, at Regina Huda School, I was teaching up to twenty different grade nine and ten subjects … many of them, completely outside of my realm of expertise!  I was teaching split subjects most periods of the day, with students ranging from some of the brightest I’ve ever met to others who had just arrived from refugee camps and had never sat in desks before. It was all I could do to just push information their way through textbooks and handouts that I made.

 

As John Locke suggested, I saw my students as blank slates; each day, I would impart my wisdom J by writing countless things on the chalkboard and by assigning ridiculous amounts of homework.  (Not my proudest teaching moments!).  Needless to say I was at my school for 16 to 18 hours a day and worked for two entire summer is just to keep my head above water. I once justified my very teacher-centered approach by saying that I was in survival mode.

 

Even when my subject variety was decreased, however, I continued to use a very didactic approach in my classroom.  With nearly a decade of teaching under my belt (or abaya, as the case was!), why was I still reluctant to switch gears and try a more student-centered approach?  Inquiry-based learning was all the rage, but it didn’t exist in my classroom.  Interdisciplinary projects and collaborative assignments were engaging students throughout my school, but not in my room.  Why not?

If the truth be told, learner-centered education, “a concept and a practice in which students and professors learn from one another”, was terrifying to me.  I was unwilling to hand over the learning to the students for fear that they would discover some flaw in my understanding – that they would expose my ignorance about a certain topic.  As I mentioned earlier, some of my students were incredibly bright and loved to challenge the knowledge of the teachers.  For example, the time that a grade ten student said, “Miss Layman, you gave us ammonia in our beakers, but the experiment handout calls for bleach.  Are you sure this is okay?”  Well, thankfully, I had functioning Internet that day and was able to do a quick search into “ammonia vs. bleach”.  There could have been grave consequences for all of us, had we used the wrong chemical.  (With a background in business and a minor in French, I had no reason to be teaching grade 10 science!!)

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By being “in charge” of every aspect of my classroom (and content), there was little opportunity for the students to embark on learning tangents that would leave me out of the loop.  Unfortunately, not only was I keeping my students from reaching their full potential … I was also limiting my own ability to teach with the passion and energy that I knew existed within me.

I’m happy to say that, within about the last two years, as I’ve narrowed down my subject focus and have become more confident in my content knowledge, I’ve slowly begun to hand the power of learning over to my students.  I’m nowhere near the “Freirean” level teaching, but I’ve surely witnessed Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development within my classroom and I am applying more of a constructivist approach within my lessons.

Most recently, when teaching a particularly advanced group of computer users, I had the revelation of letting them teach me (and other staff members) in the area of up-and-coming technologies.  My grade 10 students researched apps and websites that would be useful to teachers at all levels. They then hosted “Appy Hour” after school one day; the teachers were delighted to learn so much from these young people. The students, of course, benefited from the experience as well!  We all learned about new technologies, but, more importantly, the students learned the power of their own knowledge and I learned that I was okay to sometimes be the “learner”, rather than the teacher.

When it comes to my own learning, it was complete culture shock when I entered the Faculty of Education to complete my B.E.A.D.   Everyone was so cooperative and open with their resources and knowledge; this was incredibly different from the experience I had throughout the completion of my Business Administration degree.  Today, I thoroughly enjoy in opportunities to participate in professional learning communities.  I typically feel that I am more on the “learning end” than on the “sharing end”, especially in a class like EC&I 833, but hopefully, with time, I can take a more active mentorship role.