An Ode to Trumpet Winsock

 

trump04b
Good ol’ Trumpet Winsock.  The starting point for many an internet connection in the early ’90s.

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.

no-internet-connection

“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.

 

580387-take-control-of-your-google-privacy
Valarie Findlay provides an interesting overview of the privacy concerns of Web 3.0

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.   

 

Advertisements

A journey through online learning

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”.

dad-juggling-alamy
“Flexibility of online learning is clearly of great value to many mature adults trying to balance work, family, and study requirements”  (Appana, 2008)

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 post took longer to write than it should have.

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. 

 

google drive
The use of Google Drive (or G Suite) is on the rise with 54 percent of organizations using G Suite, while 29 percent reported using Google Docs/Gmail”.

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.

netflix
Fun Fact! Movies no longer take two hours to watch! Thanks to all of my devices, I’m constantly looking up info about actors/actresses, previous movies, upcoming movies, etc.  which forces me to constantly pause/rewind.

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.

 

 

A Quest for Utopian Status

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?

200px-Count_von_Count_kneeling
Count von Count.  Children’s entertainer/number enthusiast.

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”.

05bd20e9dbe7046225bdd3b657b6b558
Ong (as cited in Klein & Gale, 1996) described the technologizing of the textualized word (i.e. the re-mediation of traditional literacy in electronic media) as secondary literacy (as cited by Pitts, 2015) – Image and quote are taken from Michael/Joe/Sam/Kyla’s presentation.

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.  

  • Some schools have data projectors in every room.  Many don’t.
  • Some schools have Smart Boards in every room.  Many don’t
  • Some schools have a wide variety of computers (powerful desktops, Chromebooks, etc.).  Many don’t.
  • Some schools have iPads.  Many don’t.
  • Some schools have a high quantity of technology.  Many don’t.

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.

Testing, Testing, 1…2…3

For this week’s blog, I opted to focus on a handful of extensions that I could see myself using the second that I return to work on Tuesday – UBlock, DF Youtube, and Grammarly.

Before I dive into the benefits (and potential drawbacks) of the aforementioned apps, I figured it would be worth adding a little bit of context.  I am currently in my 4th year of teaching at Martin Collegiate teaching English Language Arts and Social Studies to grades 9/10 as well as Core French to grades 9-12.  Also, aside from one, I had never heard of any of the extensions that were listed as options (which is part of the reason why I’m excited to be taking this class, it’s always nice when I can actually take something from a grad class and use it in my own classroom).  

The first two extensions that I looked at – UBlock and DF Youtube appeal to me because of their potential to reduce minor headaches.  I, like many other teachers, use a data-projector fairly religiously. Since I teach Social Studies, I’m constantly using the data projector to project whatever current event or website that I’m discussing for all to see. While most of the news websites that I frequent tend to be free of annoying pop-ups, I do stray from those websites from time to time.  It is quite frustrating to be engaging in a serious class discussion about the current events of the day only to have a popup advertising an obscure product rear its ugly head. It certainly doesn’t destroy my lesson but it can potentially disrupt the flow and distract some of the students. That said, pop-ups are far from the only disruptive form of advertising on the web.  The Nielsen/Norman Group did research in 2017 on the most hated online advertisements and each form is disruptive in its own way.  Personally, I find the Prevideo no skip (When you play a video on a website, an advertisement plays first) and Retargeting (when you play a video on a website, an advertisement plays first) to be the most frustrating from a teacher’s point of view. Any video where you are forced to view an advertisement first is disruptive – especially when the content of the video that you’re attempting to watch is serious in nature. Retargeting is frustrating because a) it distracts students and b) they’re intrusive! It’s not so bad when I’m at home but I don’t need my students knowing my shopping history.  It just goes to show you that teachers need to be careful when using a work computer or signed into a Google account associated with work.

All of this brings us to uBlock, an app that claims to be “an efficient blocker: easy on memory and CPU footprint, and yet can load and enforce thousands of more filters than other popular blockers out there”.  It is hard for me to properly judge the effectiveness of uBlock since I’ve only been using it for a few hours (I previously used “AdBlocker” and found it to be merely adequate) but if it can deliver on its promises then I’ll appreciate having one less headache to deal with when I’m in front of the class.  uBlock can also be beneficial to students when they’re researching for a paper. It’s hard enough to remain focused when there’s 30 other students in the class so any tool that can help minimize distractions on a computer is potentially helpful.

The benefits of DF YouTube are fairly similar to uBlock.  I make frequent use of YouTube in my class and the ability to have greater control over that experience is quite appealing to me.  The ads before the videos are frustrating but they’re not the only distraction. DF Youtube’s ability to clean up the main page and hide recommended videos, the trending tab and the toxic comments is greatly appreciated.  Like uBlock, I haven’t spent enough time with DF Youtube to adequately judge its effectiveness but I did notice that the “hide related videos (end of video)” feature wasn’t working during my initial test run. Overall, this appears to be a tool that I’ll appreciate but that my students won’t really notice (still a handy tool to have though!).

While useful, both uBlock and DF YouTube aren’t going to greatly enhance my teaching experience.  The next extension that I’m going to look at, Grammarly, has the potential to be more of a “game changer”.  As both an English teacher and an old man, I’m constantly ranting about the state of grammar in our schools.  

297
“The kids these days, they just don’t know how to spell or write properly – not like back in my day at least!” – S. Gardiner, 2018.

Prior to this class, I had heard of Grammarly (thanks to several of those annoying YouTube ads that I just finished complaining about) but I never thought about using it, choosing instead to rely on the standard spell check feature, Google Read/Write and my own teaching skills/lessons.  After installing Grammarly, the first thing that I noticed is that it is currently not fully compatible with Google Drive – a problem because my class is quite Google-centric. On the bright side, I was able to easily upload an existing document into Grammarly. The document that I chose to upload was an assignment from a previous Masters class that I did quite well on.  Overall, I was fairly pleased with what I saw. I was provided with a handful of suggestions for ways to improve my writing and the overall experience seemed user-friendly. The downside is that in order to correct the apparent 19 wordy sentences, 17 word choice issues, and 6 “intricate text” problems, I need to upgrade to the premium edition for the low-low cost of $140/year.  This leads me into my question of the day, does the free version of Grammarly do enough to warrant having every one of my students download it? Does it actually provide an experience that students aren’t already getting through a standard spell-checker or good old fashion teaching? I ask because I genuinely don’t know and am hoping that one of my friendly classmates can shine a light on its benefits? In theory, any tool that will help students with their writing is a tool worth having but I’m not sure if it isn’t just more of the same?

With regards to Google+extensions+privacy, like Amy stated in her post this week I don’t get particularly hung up on privacy concerns.  I understand that it’s a major issue and I should probably be more concerned than I am but at the moment, it’s not something that I spend a lot of time thinking about (maybe I will change my tune by the end of this class).

In conclusion, the extensions that I looked at appear to be helpful tools but they don’t appear to be “game changers”.  But that’s okay! A tool doesn’t have to redefine a student’s/teacher’s experience in order to be effective.

Note:  As already mentioned, my relationship with these extensions has lasted mere hours.  It would be interesting to come back to this blog post at the end of the semester to see if my thoughts/opinions have changed.

 

Mixing it up

Greetings once again, fellow ECI&I 833ers.

Today, I’m going to attempt to articulate how theories of knowledge and learning have underpinned my own teaching philosophy and classroom practice.

For starters, I’m going to admit, I haven’t spent much time putting a lot of “deep thought” into my teaching philosophy and its origins.  When people ask me to describe my teaching style, I usually say something along the lines of “I’m serious when the situation warrants it but overall I’m quite laid back, sarcastic, and self-deprecating”.  Even when I’ve been in situations where teaching philosophies have been discussed (internship seminars, for example), my contributions to the discussion have been as straightforward as the one I just mentioned.  That said, maybe it’s time to take another trip down memory lane and look at how I became this self-described laid-back sarcastic/self-deprecating teacher.

I was in the process of my internship 13 years ago and even though the memories have become increasingly distant, I’m fairly certain that my teaching philosophy consisted of something along the lines of:

“I want my students to have fun, learn as much as possible, and both like and respect me!!!!” (the excessive exclamation marks represent my youthful exuberance).

School-of-Rock-2
Jack Black from School of Rock.  If only I could be as “cool” as him.  Photo retrieved from: https://www.slashfilm.com/school-of-rock-tv-series-nickelodeon/

Beyond that, there aren’t many specifics that I can recall from my internship so let’s move on to my first year of “real” teaching. After a year on the sub list I managed to get my first contract teaching elementary core-French (a far cry from my university major of secondary social studies).  Since I was on a temporary contract, I knew that I had to do well in order to earn that all-mighty continuing contract.  Earning that contract was going to be a difficult task given my total lack of experience teaching both French and elementary students but I was determined to give it my best shot.  In my first year, my classroom management strategy was to try to play the nice/fun guy. Surely by being likeable (no lectures here, lectures are boring and I want to be well liked!) the students will appreciate me, fall in line, and we’ll have a grand old time! Swing and a miss.  As you can probably predict, I was largely walked all over (by a bunch of students that weren’t even half my size!)

kindergarten-cop-650x365
An accurate representation of my first year of teaching.  Image retrieved from: https://www.agonybooth.com/arnold-schwarzenegger-to-kindergarten-cop-ill-be-baaaaaack-sort-of-42797

Somehow, I managed to earn a continuing contract at the end of the year and was kept in that same teaching position.  I vowed not to repeat the same mistakes of the previous year. It was at this point where one could make the argument that behaviourism became my dominant “teaching ethos”.  I figured that the best way for students to learn (and for me to keep my sanity) would be in a strict, “I say and you do” environment. Lectures, note taking, handouts, and voice raising became commonplace as I fought for my students’ respect.  Ertmer and Newby (2013) characterized the learner in a behaviourist environment as being “reactive to conditions in the environment as opposed to taking an active role in discovering the environment” (p. 48) – and I believe that this accurately depicts my classroom during this particular stage of my career.

collection-of-solutions-arnold-schwarzenegger-shut-up-hd-youtube-in-kindergarten-cop-questions-of-kindergarten-cop-questions
An accurate representation of my second year of teaching.  Image retrieved from: http://elmifermetures.com/kindergarten-cop-questions/collection-of-solutions-arnold-schwarzenegger-shut-up-hd-youtube-in-kindergarten-cop-questions/

I felt that my second year of teaching was more successful than the first simply because I wasn’t walked over (thus ensuring that I’d actually be able to sleep at night).  That said, did I actually become a better teacher? Were my students actually learning anything in my classroom? Maybe. But just because a classroom is silent, doesn’t automatically mean it’s an effective learning environment.

Let’s jump ahead 10 years to the present.  I’m currently in my 12th year of teaching (having experienced a wide variety of teaching placements but now in a secondary social studies/ELA classroom) so what theories of knowledge and learning have underpinned my own teaching philosophy and classroom practice? They probably all have, to an extent.  I’ve already mentioned my behaviourist leanings (which still occasionally play a role) but cognitivism certainly exists in my classroom through scaffolding. “Designers (in a cognitive setting) use techniques such as advance organizers, analogies, hierarchical relationships, and matrices to help learners relate new information to prior knowledge” (p. 52).  

Meanwhile, constructivism plays a vital role in a social studies classroom through the multiple perspectives gained in class debates/discussions.  “Learners (in a constructivist setting) are encouraged to construct their own understandings and then to validate, through social negotiation, these new perspectives” (p. 57).

The relatively recent theory of connectivism has a part to play as well with its focus on the “ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts” (Siemens, 2004).  Making text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world connections is not only vital reading strategy but it’s also a tremendous way to demonstrate understanding of a particular topic in a humanities classroom.

Each theory of knowledge/learning has a part to play.  By staying in one particular box, you neglect the strengths of the others which is why we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the content of the learning pyramid.  Yes, assigning arbitrary numbers to knowledge retention rates is a silly exercise but each component of the pyramid has value in the classroom. Therefore, rather than assigning a specific theory to my “sarcastic/laid back/self-deprecating” teaching style, I’m more likely to borrow a line of thinking from Candice Benjes-Small and Alyssa Archer:

“Think multimodal.  People’s attention spans are short, but they do tend to retain more when the instructor mixes it up: interspersing short lectures with peer collaboration, or after reading a passage, interacting with an online tutorial.”

I like the use of “mixing it up”.  Like Joe mentioned in his blog this week, “there are merits, and drawbacks, to all of the prevailing learning theories we have discussed. On top of this, the elements of what makes one theory especially meaningful for the situation of one student I support might make that theory ridiculously inappropriate for the situation of another”.

By “mixing it up” I know that I’m doing my best to ensure that every student has an opportunity to both succeed while also improving in areas where they need the practice.

A trip down ed tech memory lane

Greetings, fellow EC&I 833ers.

Before I dive into my first blog post, I must admit that I am really looking forward to taking part in this blogging venture.  To date my grad classes have primarily focused on relatively “dry” writing so I’m very much looking forward to a change of pace!

Upon reading this week’s articles, I found myself taking a rather nostalgic look at my own experiences with educational technology.  My very first memory of technology in the classroom was when I was in the first grade. There was a game on the Commodore 64s in my school’s computer lab that required the user to type a word that appeared on the screen.  This had to be done in a timely manner because an alien spaceship was slowly descending as you typed. If the spaceship landed before you completed the word? Game over. Truly a thrill a minute.

From there the Apple craze took over our elementary school with Mac-Classics replacing the Commodore 64s.  At this point, two games stand out to me. The first one being the infamous “Number Munchers” where basic math skills were reinforced and success was rewarded in the form of a cheesy cartoon.

munchers.jpeg
Image retrieved from: https://www.macintoshrepository.org/5786-number-munchers

The second game was “Lemonade Stand” where I first learned the concepts of supply/demand and capitalism (as an 8-year old, I took great pride in charging construction workers $5 for a glass of lemonade on a hot summer day).

lemonade
Image retrieved from: https://www.pcworld.com/article/2972721/software-games/the-17-best-educational-games-of-the-70s-80s-and-90s.html

December 25th, 1993 proved to be a major technological turning point as it was on this morning where I got the internet (on a side note, I can’t recall a Christmas gift that I’ve gotten as much use out of as this one!).  The internet opened up a world of endless possibilities with search engines such as Yahoo, Alta Vista, and Lycos providing me with a gateway to all kinds of information (both good and truly awful).

altavista
Image retrieved from: https://digital.com/about/altavista/

From an educational perspective, computers continued to provide me with many valuable skills as I progressed as a student.  Typing skills were enhanced thanks to “All the Right Type” while my creativity (or lack thereof) could be on full display thanks to “Print Shop Deluxe” and “Microsoft Works” as well as website builders such as “Angelfire” and “Geocities”.  

So what’s the point of this meandering trip down memory lane? Well, for starters my experiences with technology have helped shape both the person and the educator that I am today.  One of the quotes from this week’s readings that struck a chord with me was right at the beginning of Postman’s “Five Things We Need to Know About Technology” article:

“Technology giveth and technology taketh away”.

I took this quote and applied it to my own personal context.  As stated earlier, technology has helped provide me with many valuable skills.  Do I owe my self-proclaimed “elite spelling skills” entirely to the aforementioned spelling game on C64? Probably not.  However, what that game did was provide me with an engaging way of honing my spelling. The threat of aliens landing on earth was much more engaging than daily spelling tests with either my teacher or my parents.  Same thing with other educational games such Number Munchers, Lemonade Stand, and another old favourite of mine – Sim City. All of these managed to engage me in ways that textbooks and direct instruction could not.

So if technology has “giveth” where has it “taketh away”? From a personal standpoint, the first thing that comes to mind is that time spent playing non-educational video games (something that I still do to this day) probably could have been better spent learning practical skills such as anything to do with home ownership (something that I’m very much paying for in the present, both literally and figuratively).

All of this brings us to the point of this post – providing a contemporary definition of educational technology.  For me, educational technology is about taking the technology at our disposal and using it in meaningful ways to enhance student learning.  Simply giving a student a computer in order to type up an assignment is not meaningful engagement.  Giving that same student a computer with tools such as Google Read/Write that both the student AND the educator are well versed in is meaningful engagement.  Teaching lessons on media literacy or the importance of evaluating sources when conducting research that incorporate computers/smartphone usage is meaningful engagement.  A geography lesson using Google’s “streetview” or “maps” feature? Meaningful engagement.

Technology is going to continue to play a vital role in the classroom.  Therefore, educators must find ways of meaningfully engaging students using the very tools that are relevant to them.  By doing so, we’re not only doing our jobs but we’re helping to provide them with the necessary skills to succeed in either post-secondary education or in the workforce – something that’s backed up in Channing’s Blog this week where she points out that “65% of grade school children will have jobs that do not even exist yet” something that places an emphasis “21st Century Skills” rather than  on content.

That’s all for today, time to go enjoy some mid-September tobogganing.