Alas, grad class #6 is in the books. Big shout out to everyone for the insightful blog posts/comments as well as the presentations throughout the semester.
For our summary of learning, Adam and I created a podcast. Take care, everyone!!
Alas, grad class #6 is in the books. Big shout out to everyone for the insightful blog posts/comments as well as the presentations throughout the semester.
For our summary of learning, Adam and I created a podcast. Take care, everyone!!
While I happen to be in my 12th year of teaching, the world of assistive technologies is one that is largely foreign to me. As a high school humanities teacher, the only piece of assistive technology that I really use is Google Read/Write. At the start of each semester, our school’s LRT comes into my class and does a quick lesson for my students on how to use it. From there, I do what I can to encourage its use when necessary. As an English Language Arts teacher, it is a helpful tool because I can scan entire novels into Read/Write and then students will be able to use it to read the novel back to them in a variety of different voices or speeds. With the novel scanned, students can also highlight any word and use the dictionary feature to discover its meaning (extremely helpful for students that don’t speak English as their first language).
From a Social Studies standpoint, Read/Write has tremendous value when it comes to research thanks to the highlight tool. Students have the ability to highlight any section of text in one of four colours. Once they reach the end of the document that they’re highlighting they can click on the “collect highlights” button and Read/Write will open up a new document complete with all the highlighted material. I’ve even used it for my own personal research and that’s something that I try to stress to students as well in order to encourage its use. Besides highlighting, there are a few additional features that I also like. As stated above, Read/Write has the ability to read text back to students. In addition, students can also read out loud and the program will type out what was said. This is potentially beneficial for those students that struggle with getting their thoughts down on paper. The simplify text feature can also be also quite handy because it can “simplify” websites down to the point where just the basics are present – helpful for students that struggle with reading comprehension.
While Read/Write is an effective tool, it does have some limitations – the biggest one being that it can be a bit buggy. There have been several instances where the Read/Write tab simply doesn’t show up. Also, I’ve found that the “simplify text” feature works approximately half of the time. The highlighting feature also suffers from inconsistent reliability (though not nearly to the extent of the simplify text feature). Sage also highlighted a few limitations of on her blog, mentioning that in order to benefit from Read/Write, you actually require a computer (which aren’t always easy to book especially in schools where there’s limited technology) and that both students and teachers need to know how to use the tool.
Despite its bugs, Read/Write is an effective tool. Something that really struck a chord with me from this week’s presentation was from the first video where it was mentioned that “the great thing about supportive and assistive technology is that they level the playing field for students – they’re critical for some students but they can be used to help all students learn”. I feel like that Read/Write is a textbook example of this. Some students absolutely need to use the various features but all students can benefit from some aspect of it.
Beyond Read/Write, there’s not a lot of assistive technology that I’m particularly familiar with. A few years ago I had a SmartBoard in my room but I rarely used it and haven’t missed it. Perhaps though, the SmartBoard represents a missed opportunity? It’s entirely possible that my students could have benefitted from its use, I just didn’t know how to use it effectively. This brings us to a limitation of all assistive technology and a great quote from Dr. Sider/Dr. March:
While there is compelling long-term evidence that student achievement can be improved through the appropriate use of technology, it is important to note that the multitude of rapidly evolving assistive technology devices and programs can leave teachers feeling unprepared for supporting their use in the inclusive classroom. To address this issue, school systems need to put in place supports to enhance teachers’ ability to effectively use assistive technology tools.
As I continued to struggle with my lack of familiarity surrounding assistive technologies, I sought guidance from the LRTs at my school fearing that I was missing out on something. However, both of them mentioned that Read/Write is really the only piece of assistive technology that they use on a regular basis. One of the LRTs did mention that she has a bit of experience working with FM systems in order to help students with auditory processing disorders but beyond that, Read/Write tends to be the go-to. If we’re looking at “low-tech” assistive technologies, I, like most other humanities teachers make use of graphic organizers on a regular basis to help students organize their thoughts. I also have standing desks and exercise balls available in my classroom for students that don’t like the thought of sitting in a “traditional desk” for 5+hours/day.
That pretty much wraps up my experiences with assistive technology. I’m looking forward to reading other blogs and discovering if other’s have similar experiences or if I’m somewhat unique in my lack of familiarity regarding assistive tech.
I really wish that this week’s blog prompt would have been done earlier in the semester. My intern is in the midst of his 3-week block which means that I won’t be teaching for the next little while (I’m not exactly heartbroken). That said, I do have some experience with some of the assessment technologies that were outlined in this week’s presentation. Also, I’ve recently discovered an assessment technology that I plan on utilizing next semester.
For starters, I can’t talk about assessment technology without bringing up Kahoot. I first discovered Kahoot a couple of years ago thanks to a substitute teacher that took over my class for a week while I was at a conference. When I returned to work, my students greeted me with:
“Awww, you’re back?”
“We miss the sub, he let us play Kahoot!”
“Can we play Kahoot today? Can we, can we?”
I can’t say that I was thrilled with the reception but I was intrigued by this magical “Kahoot” and immediately gave it a look. Since then, it has become a staple in each of my classes. One of the reasons why Kahoot is great is that it’s easy to use. Quizzes are extremely easy to create and if you’re in a rush or just looking for a quick/easy way to end a class, there are plenty of pre-made Kahoots available (though many of them are poorly created and littered with spelling mistakes and irrelevant questions). On the student’s end, connecting to a Kahoot is as simple as going to kahoot.it, typing in the code, coming up with a school-appropriate username (admittedly, a challenge for some), and then answering the multiple choice questions using their device.
So, why do a Kahoot? Well, it’s an easy way to check for understanding (hello, formative assessment!). One of this week’s readings, Measuring for Learning, stated that “both teachers and students can use the results from formative assessments to determine what actions to take to help promote further learning”.If your students do really well on a Kahoot, there’s a good chance they’re grasping the concept. If not, it might be time to re-evaluate your next move. Same thing for students. If they struggle on a Kahoot, it might serve as a bit of a wake-up call that they’re not quite grasping the concept(s).
Kahoots also serve as excellent reviews prior to exams (especially final exams). I often have my classes create their own Kahoots prior to finals that incorporate questions from throughout the semester. We then play a few of them during the classes leading up to finals. The fact that students actually like playing them (and creating them) is also a benefit. They love the competition and that has led to some pretty intense battles, especially if there are multiple students within 100 points of each other towards the end of a quiz.
Is Kahoot perfect? Of course not. While most students (once they hit high school) have access to smartphones, they don’t all of them. To combat this, I usually have a couple of spare laptops in my room in order to ensure that everyone can play. Unreliable internet connections also pose a challenge. Many Kahoots have been lost as a result of connection issues. Keeping every student engaged throughout the entire quiz can be tricky if it’s a long quiz (more than 10 questions). Students will often check out if they’re far off the lead after 6 or 7 questions.
Overall though, the benefits of a Kahoot far outweigh the drawbacks. When used in moderation, it can be a great formative assessment tool.
Something I plan on using in the future is “Duolingo”. I teach one section of core-French per year and while I enjoy teaching it, it is definitely a challenge. The French language not being a huge strong suit of mine (I describe myself as “fluent-ish”, my Francophone wife occasionally disagrees) combined with having to teach multiple sections of it in one class (9/10/20/30) makes teaching it more difficult for me than my usual ELA/Social Studies classes. As a result, I’m constantly on the lookout for something that can benefit both myself and my students. I learned about “Duolingo” at a community of practice last month and it looks like it could be a great addition to my French class. What Duolingo attempts to do (according to its own website) is provide students with “fun, game-like lessons in order to keep them motivated and excited about language”. The self-guided nature of it is especially appealing to me because I have multiple sections in one class. For example, I could set the 10s and 20s up on Duolingo while I teach the 9s (or vice-versa).
Also, there appears to be a variety of lessons for a wide variety of levels. Core-French can be a tough subject to teach because there is often a large knowledge gap amongst the students. Some students come into high school core French having taken French immersion throughout elementary school while others have only taken core-French throughout their schooling and, depending on their teacher, might have only learned basic vocabulary (days/months/colours). In theory, Duolingo meets one of the key suggestions for assessment outlined by Barber and Hill – accommodating the full range of student abilities.
Since I haven’t actually used it with a class, it’s tough to say exactly how effective Duolingo will prove to be but it appears to have some potential and I’m looking forward to trying it out.
I was 9 when I got the internet for Christmas. Words can’t describe how giddy I was when I first heard those weird sounding audio signals from a modem in my own home! It’s actually pretty crazy to think that I actually survived without the internet for over 9 years when today if the internet “goes down” for an extended period of time either at home or at work, I’m lost.
“Hey Access/SaskTel, what am I paying you for? How on Earth could my internet be down yet again?!”
“Oh look, the wifi is down at the school yet again. I guess my students are actually going to have to use…”books” for their research?”
It goes without saying that the web and its evolution from 1.0 to 2.0 has had a profound impact on all aspects of our lives, with education being no exception. As mentioned by Enonbun (2010) “Web 1.0 is synonymous with the Objectivist theory of learning because the Internet provided users with information over which they had no control. Also, the content made available could not be modified in any way; it was basically “read only”. Thus, users were limited to only reading the content without an avenue for them to make any input to the content” (p. 21). In addition, Yager (1991) points out that “Objectivism is synonymous to the traditional model of teaching in which the instructor as the information giver uses a predetermined curriculum to aid the transference of knowledge to the learners with minimal input from the learner” (p.19).
Given its limitations, it shouldn’t be particularly surprising that I had very little interaction with the web during grade school (from an education perspective). I seem to recall using it for research purposes a little bit later on into high school but computers were generally used for typing class and mastering spreadsheets/basic word documents using Microsoft Works (side note: each year there was always a teacher that came up with some sort of impossibly difficult spreadsheet based assignment).
The days of the internet being “read-only” are now long gone. As was mentioned in this week’s presentation, Web 2.0 replaced the objectivist leanings from Web 1.0 with a more constructivist and connectivist approach. Social tools such as wikis, blogs, podcasts, and more engaging presentation software can now be found in classrooms around the world. Teachers are under pressure to incorporate these technologies into their classrooms in order to not only engage students but also to adequately prepare them for a workforce that has become increasingly reliant on technology. Needless to say, the classroom has experienced a dramatic shift from when I was a student when “All the Right Type” and “Microsoft Excel” were the primary focus. This, however, has caused a bit of a problem – actually keeping up with technology. I agree with Adam when he stated in his blog that “the technological advancements have been so drastic in this lifetime that it has become a bit difficult to keep up with all of the tools that are at our disposal”. We’ve discussed this ad nauseam throughout the semester but teachers are constantly being encouraged to incorporate new tools into their teaching without receiving the requisite training.
Looking to the future, it’ll be interesting to see what changes Web 3.0 will bring to the constantly evolving classroom. One could make the argument that the increased use of tech in the classroom will contribute to an even greater digital divide between privileged and disadvantaged students. That, however, might be a tad simplistic. Given that most schools actually have a limited amount of technology, BYOD programs have been encouraged. While most would assume that would automatically benefit the privileged, a surprising number of people have access to smartphones with The PEW Research Center estimating in 2018 that 95% of teenagers have access to smartphones. That said, owning a smartphone does not mean equal access to the internet. As mentioned by Kelsey in her blog, isolated/remote communities (and the schools in those communities) will continue to be at a disadvantage due to unreliable (and expensive) internet connections.
Something that I have admitted to not paying as much attention to as I should is privacy. I did some preliminary research into what Web 3.0 is going to entail and most websites that I encountered said something along the lines of “Web 3.0 is going to be like having a personal assistant who knows practically everything about you and can access all the information on the Internet to answer any question”. While that seems efficient, I’m not sure how comfortable I am with a virtual assistant knowing everything about me. Or maybe I’m just being completely naive to the fact that Google already knows everything about me. Regardless, I could see privacy coming to the forefront. From an education standpoint, it’ll be interesting to see how this affects acts such as LAFOIP in the future.
So. It turns out this internet thing is here to stay. We’ve come a long way from the days of dialling-up to the internet via Trumpet Winsock. While watching the continued evolution of the internet will be fascinating there will be increased pressure on schools to provide classrooms with the latest technology (specifically, reliable internet access) and on teachers to learn said technology all while balancing the privacy needs of students.
I had no idea when I started taking my master’s back in 2016 that my courses were going to be predominantly online. My assumption, based on conversations that I had with colleagues that had taken their masters was that most classes would be in-person+seminar style with a heavy class-discussion component. Yet, of the 6 graduate studies courses that I’ve taken, 5 have been predominantly online and that has made me one happy student.
There are numerous factors that have influenced my opinion on online courses. For starters, I’m a fairly busy guy. Like we all know, juggling classes, a job and family is tough. The flexibility that online courses provide is the #1 gamechanger for me. I love the freedom of being able to work at my own pace while not necessarily having to be in class for an entire evening. As a new dad, this has proven to be especially beneficial because who knows what a 6-month old baby is going to do next. One minute they’re sleeping quietly in their crib, the next? Screaming bloody murder at the top of their lungs. Online courses allow me to work around my baby’s “schedule”.
Another reason why I’ve enjoyed online courses is that they’re better suited to my learning style. Going all the way back to elementary school, I’ve never been much of a vocal participant in class discussions. I can remember several instances in grade school where I bumbled and stumbled my way through a discussion prompt. Fortunately, aside from one, all of my master’s courses have been of the blended variety with an emphasis on either weekly forum postings via URCourses or the blogging/twitter component of EC&I833. Being able to actually sit and think about what I want to say rather than having to provide an immediate and thought-provoking response is something that is better suited to my strengths. Going forward, I could see myself incorporating tools such as WordPress and Twitter into my classes for that very reason – not everyone wants to be a vocal contributor to class discussions.
That’s not to say that online learning is perfect – there are certainly some limitations present. The most obvious is one that we’ve already encountered a couple of times in this class – technology doesn’t always work! Aside from YouTube videos not working properly, simply having to rely on the stability of an internet connection is worrisome. During this class’s first two synchronous sessions, I kept on getting a “your connection is unstable” message from Zoom so I missed a bit of the content during those classes. Fortunately, I have since opted for the hardwired ethernet connection vs wifi and that has solved the problem. This, however, speaks to another limitation – access to appropriate technology. If I didn’t have my work laptop, the hardwired route wouldn’t work because my home computer is a Chromebook that doesn’t have a port for an ethernet cable. Also, not many people have a spare 50-foot ethernet cable lying around.
The lack of relationships is also a limitation of the online learning experience. As stated by Appana (2008), online learning “appears to be an impersonal exercise, which leads students to feel “eSolated” from instructional staff and classmates” (p. 15). This might not be as big an issue in a master’s class (it certainly doesn’t bother me – I’ve felt adequately supported in every class that I’ve taken) but I would echo Brooke’s sentiment that “for young children the face-to-face learning and connection with their teacher is invaluable”. There is also a high level of independence required which is why online courses might be better suited to a university-aged student’s needs.
Overall, while online learning has its limitations, the pros for me easily outweigh the cons. Being able to work at my own pace, around my child’s schedule, from the comfort of my own home is a tremendous perk and has made my graduate studies experience a good one. If my courses were of the “traditional” variety, I would cope but I would have to take a step back from some of my extracurricular commitments at work because I would be losing yet another evening in order to attend class.
This week’s blog prompt came at an opportune time and I’ll explain why using a recent personal story. My wife and I have a 6-month old daughter and she is fantastic! Unfortunately, now that summer is long gone, I’m back to the hectic world of teaching which, as we all know, is a job that takes up a lot of time and energy. September, in particular, is always a rough month because I am responsible for planning our yearly “Outdoor School” trip for all of the grade 9s and I also coach soccer while having an intern (which tends to take up whatever spare time I have at the start of a school). That, combined with taking Master’s classes means that the time I have to spend with my daughter is minimal. On a good day, I’m not home until 5 while my daughter tends to go to bed between 6 and 6:30. So, what’s the point of this not-at-all-unique amongst teachers story? Well, a couple of weeks ago I was “spending time” with my daughter and I noticed something. While she was bouncing around in her Jolly Jumper I was sending some texts and snaps while reading various articles online and checking out my fantasy football team out all with the TV on in the background. I have precious little time with my daughter during the week and there I was, somewhat focused on her but also focused on a million other things. On the bright side, I actually noticed this, put my phone somewhere out of reach and turned off the TV. To steal a question from this week’s video on multitasking – have I developed an inability to focus because I never focus on things?
We were asked this week to address whether or not the internet is a productivity tool or an endless series of distractions. I would argue that it’s both. As a productivity tool, there is so much that the internet is capable of. For starters, I’m an avid user of Google Drive for both personal and educational use. Without the internet, Google Drive doesn’t exist because of its cloud-based interface.
As it pertains to the classroom, the internet has also proven to be beneficial. Something as simple as being able to immediately look up the answer to a student’s question is great. In addition, as was pointed out in this week’s presentation, gone are the days where group members have to physically be in the same room in order to complete an assignment. If students have access to the proper technology at home (which we can’t assume – students and even schools themselves aren’t operating on an equal playing field when it comes to technology) – they are now able to edit each other’s work from any computer anywhere. In class presentations are also greatly enhanced thanks to the internet. Whether it’s a teacher or a student, the ability to embed a variety of videos/images/content into a presentation for all to see is great (assuming that YouTube doesn’t fail when you’re trying to present!). Images, graphs, charts, and up-to-date statistics are all easily accessible thanks to the internet.
On the flip side, it’s easy to get distracted given the sheer volume of content that we have at our fingertips. Tabs are an excellent example of this. It’s rare for me to have one tab open when I’m browsing the internet. Not only that, but most of my tabs don’t even relate to one another. At any given moment, I’ll likely have various tabs open on current events, sports, research, music, recipes, how to raise a child, how to deal with my wife’s annoying cat, YouTube videos, etc. Doing any sort of productive work (marking, prepping for classes, researching for graduate classes, blogging) takes longer now because it’s harder for me to remain focused on one thing. I’d be shocked if I’m able to go beyond 30 minutes without doing something that’s completely unrelated to the task at hand.
We also can’t have a conversation about endless multitasking without looking at cell phones. There are so many different apps each with a different purpose. Chances are today, I’ll check Facebook a few times, I’ll be on Snapchat, I’ll check Twitter fairly regularly, I’ll do some browsing, check out some of my sports apps for the latest news, check out my fantasy football team, and maybe listen to some music. In all likelihood, I’m doing all of these things multiple times per day while also doing other things such as eating supper, “spending time” with my family or watching a movie.
So yes, the internet is absolutely a productivity tool. The tools and information that it can provide us with are nothing short of extraordinary. However, all of this information has come at a cost because the internet has also helped foster a generation of individuals (myself obviously included) that cannot focus on one thing. On top of that, there are concerns regarding the damage that multitasking can potentially do to your brain. A few years ago, I was teaching Psychology 30 and I remember coming across a study from Stanford University that found that “high multitaskers had less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region responsible for empathy as well as cognitive and emotional control” (Gorlick, 2009). Empathy is something that our students need more of, not less.
Given everything that we know, both good and bad about the internet, one thing is for certain – digital citizenship is more important now than ever and needs to be taught (by parents and teachers) starting at an early age.
I didn’t like Sesame Street as a child and seldom watched it. There, I’ve admitted it. Aside from the Count, Cookie Monster (one of my favourite stuffed animals as a child), and those weird aliens that said “yup yup yup uh huh uh huh” there’s not a whole heck of a lot that I can recall from Sesame Street. My fond memories of educational TV are largely comprised of Fred Penner’s guitar (my first concert!) and Mr. Dressup’s tickle trunk.
Given my lack of knowledge relating to Sesame Street, this week’s blog post could be a bit of an adventure. When I first glanced at Postman’s quote (“We now know that “Sesame Street” encourages children to love school only if school is like “Sesame Street.”) I immediately thought to myself – “Postman seems like a killjoy”. I mean, come on, we’re talking about Sesame Street! While I wasn’t the biggest fan (4-year old me was clearly a television elitist), millions of other children adored the show so they must have been doing something right! I’m also aware that as a Social Studies teacher, I am constantly hammering home the importance of critical thinking but have we really gotten to the point where not even Sesame Street is being spared? A harmless kids show featuring a vampire with a knack for counting?
After a couple of days of pondering what Postman was trying to get at – he may have actually been on to something (to an extent). From what I can tell, Sesame Street can, in fact, give the impression that schools are (or at least should be) an educational utopia. Vampires teaching kids to count, an inquisitive giant yellow bird, a pessimistic grouch living in a garbage can, and an overly cheery red high-pitched monster (plus whatever the heck Snuffleupagus was)? What’s not to like? Well, one can jump to the slightly oversimplified conclusion that if a child watches Sesame Street religiously then they (as well as their parents) will expect all learning to be as engaging as Sesame Street. This can then pose problems for teachers whose students become frustrated when the traditional classroom isn’t filled with the types of engaging characters that Sesame Street is. At the end of the day, what’s more fun – drill/practice math lessons or the Count?
Fast forward to today and teachers are still under pressure to ditch the “traditional methods” in favour of a more engaging approach, this time with technology coming to the forefront. When one considers the wide range of technology/media that many kids today have access to at home (smartphones and smart televisions, streaming media, gaming consoles equipped with virtual reality, etc.), surely it’s a reasonable expectation that our teachers should follow suit and incorporate tech into the classroom especially when you consider the potential that educational technology has?
One of our required readings this week – “The Importance of Audio Visual Technology in Education” argued that
“The importance of audio visual (AV) technology in education should not be underestimated. There are two reasons for this; one, learning via AV creates a stimulating and interactive environment which is more conducive to learning; two, we live in an audio-visual age which means that having the skills to use AV equipment is integral to future employment prospects
The second point there is key – given everything that technology can do, employers are increasingly looking for AV skills when considering applicants. If part of the education system’s role is to prepare students for the workforce then one can easily make the argument that teachers need to incorporate technology into their lessons not only from an engagement standpoint but from a future employment standpoint as well.
In a similar vein, Kevin Pitts (2015) argued that
“A literate individual is no longer one who can simply read and write, but one who can place language within a broader context – a multimodal world. As information can be expressed through multiple modes, the ability to interpret and connect the multiple modes through a variety of literacies (e.g., print, digital) becomes essential.
In addition, as was pointed out in Michael/Joe/Sam/Kyla’s presentation from Monday, “digital literacy allows for a whole different side of understanding”.
If we want to both engage students AND prepare them for a life outside of the school then incorporating technology is a must. Now, that’s not to say that technology is a magical saviour that’s going to turn the classroom into an educational utopia. Challenges exist. For starters, not every student has access to the same technology at home. By the time they hit high school, most students have smartphones. The key word, however, is most. In addition, schools aren’t on a level playing field when it comes to access to technology.
Furthermore, even if a school has all this tech, it needs teachers that actually know how to use it! All the tech in the world is meaningless if you don’t have teachers that are either able to use it properly or at least willing to take the time to learn.
Tech is great. Data projectors, Smartboards, iPads, Chromebooks, YouTube, Google Read/Write – the list could go on and on. We’ve come a long way from when I was in grade school when the overhead projector was king. The modern-day classroom has so much potential to engage students in ways that we couldn’t have dreamed of even 20 years ago. Its importance is also critical when you consider that “retention rates improve 55% when images are used alongside text” (Paddick, 2016). That said, we also need to be cognizant of the fact that, while technology has limitless potential – not every school is on a level playing field. Much like Sesame Street, we can’t assume that schools have reached utopian status. Challenges exist but it is imperative that teachers/schools do what they can with what they have in order to incorporate tech into their classes. At the end of the day, that’s all a reasonable person should expect.