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Reflection on the National Education Technology Plan’s second section: Teaching with Technology

Tonight I will be thinking about and discussing the implications that the National Education Technology Plan’s chapter on teaching with technology will have in my own classroom. For those of you who may be interested, the entire document can be viewed online at the U.S. Government’s Educational Technology site.

Let me begin by saying that the big theme of this section seems to be the idea that technology integration in the classroom means more than digital literacy outside of the classroom. In other words, the technology that educators use with their students ought to be tailored to their educational goals and supplement content area curriculum rather than simply being an add-on to what teachers would otherwise be doing. The recommendations that the NETP document suggest at the end of the chapter for improving this sort of integration primarily concentrate on Professional Development for pre-service and in-service educators on programs and technological assets available to them.

One place I think the NETP plan missed the ball in this section is in reference to the difference between technology integration, and blended learning. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the distinction between the two, I urge you to watch this video that provides good examples of ways that technology can be used as more than a supplement to learning, and actually use it as a tool that helps our students to become more prepared for twenty-first century skills in a technology rich, global community–another theme of this section of the NETP document. The basic idea presented in the video can be summed up by saying that blended learning takes a traditional “sage on the stage” kind of classroom, and puts the students themselves on the stage. From here they can engage in student-led dialogic conversations within their classroom and the greater online community, access online information that would otherwise be unavailable, and pursue ways to connect their in-class activities to their own interests, otherwise known as inquiry-based learning.

While the NETP plan hints at these ideas, I think they missed a valuable opportunity to improve clarity by naming this distinction. Instead of having students type a paper instead of handwriting (technology integration), teachers can have students write blog posts where other students and the teacher can comment and broaden the learning that students are participating in on their own. This sort of dialogue is a twenty-first century skill that students aren’t able to access simply through technology integration.

So what does this look like in my future classroom?

The video provides a good example when it discusses students writing in an online forum that allows dialogue between students while also letting them self-assess the clarity of their writing and the depth of their ideas on a concept or topic. A key to this that is missing in current classrooms, even at the University level, is how to incentivize students to actually go back and read the comments that others make on their posts and thus grow their thinking. In my own experience, most students rarely go back to read and reply to comments, a key place where learning can occur.

Another way to integrate technology and blended learning into my classroom is through the use of a learning management system. There is a wide variety of these systems available, but some examples include Canvas, Schoology, and Moodle. These systems provide a platform for seamlessly blending the classroom experience with student’s online experiences. They also allow for educators to provide students with additional resources and rabbit-holes to explore and increase the depth of their engagement. However, the best way to utilize these systems is to use them school, or even district-wide. If they aren’t utilized universally in a student’s education, these systems can be cumbersome, and actually inhibit student learning. One of the downfalls of technology integration in the classroom is the nature of distraction. While the internet provides students and teachers alike with boundless opportunities to increase the scope of their learning (both depth and breadth), it also allows for boundless opportunities for learning to be derailed. In the case of learning management systems, the use of two or more systems for in a student’s different classes means that they have to go to different places to find the information necessary for their success as learners. This means they have to increase their multitasking abilities (arguably another valuable twenty-first century skill: more on that later) and increase their focus. As soon as they have to go to two different places for their learning, they have already created a disjunction that opens up another opportunity for distraction.

While improving the above-named skills is valuable, it does not benefit instructors or their students to create a roadblock by using a different LMS (learning management system) than the one students are already using. The reason for this uncanny roadblock’s presence for instructors and their students, is that we are all good procrastinators. If you have time, check out this TEDtalk on procrastination. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be able to understand what I say when I say that the internet is the perfect habitat for the “instant gratification monkey” and often covers a large area of “the dark playground.”

Because of the human desire for things that are “easy and fun,” it is of the utmost important for teachers to do two things: 1. They need to teach their students that hard is good. For my students in an English class, this is essential. Reading and writing are hard! But they are essential to participating in the twenty-first century and American democracy. However, teachers must also 2. Create environments, particularly online, where students have a clear path to their destination. This doesn’t mean that instructors need to limit the paths their students take to reach a learning target, but simply that they have deadlines and steps to help them keep track of their progress and to hold themselves accountable. These scaffolds can provide an infrastructure that helps students avoid the multitasking demon that so often leads people to procrastinate and get distracted.

With that said, I believe it’s time for me to bring this all back to where we started. The NETP guidelines for technological integration in the classroom are valuable. However, I think we will be doing our students a disservice if we stop at simply integrating tech, without being mindful of how those activities and resources accent and enrich student learning, rather than simply supplementing that learning.classroom-technology-2

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Reflection on Education Technology

Well, let me apologize before I begin this post. Let me tell you, it probably isn’t going to be as “upity” as many of my posts are… but so it goes. This is to be a reflection on a class I am currently taking that is focused on incorporating technology into the classroom.

May I begin by saying that I have a history of excellent attendance. As a student, and even more so as a future educator, I would advocate for the idea that learning can’t happen unless a student shows up. This can take many forms, including being in the classroom but also by doing one’s assigned work, and being engaged in the learning, whatever form that takes. That said, I find it very difficult to show up in any way for this class.

Maybe it is the cynic in me.

First, simply the format of the class is outrageous to me. All of the research that I have been exposed to in my education courses so far has suggested that students are more likely to learn when classes are broken into bite size chunks, as students start to lose focus after about twenty to thirty minutes of intense instruction. Most research seems to suggest that instruction should be limited to about ten to twelve minutes if possible. Furthermore, classroom design is important. It is poor practice to have one’s students in front of a computer while instruction is taking place because of the ample distractions available. Content wise, instruction should be relevant to students.

At this point you might see where I’m going.

In this class, instruction time can last up to three hours. All of that is spent in front of a computer. And, you may also have guessed on the relevance to the students: nil. I can say with certainty that everyone in the class, generally Juniors in college, has experience creating blogs, following folks on twitter, and even using “Smart” boards. In other words, the content that we have covered so far is abundantly redundant. It’s boring. It seems pointless.

I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. I’ve addressed it with my other students and am looking forward to discussing it further with my professor. I’m incredibly disappointed with this class. I can honestly say that it feels like a waste of time and money, the two most valuable resources that I have.


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Tools, Tips, and Methods to bring Connected Learning to the Classroom

As I’ve learned about what it means to have a connected learning classroom, one of the mainstays of the conversation is that teachers work to break down the teacher/student binary where teachers are the authority in their student’s learning. This breakdown doesn’t mean that the teacher disappears as an authority, but rather that they become co-contributers to the process. A metaphor that I’ve come to understand, by way of Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroomis that of a producer for a rap-artist. A producer helps mix the music that will serve as the backdrop for the lyrics, and thus plays an integral in changing a rap’s lyrics from what is essentially a spoken-word poem, to something that is recognizable as a rap.

One of the requirements of this process is the opportunity  to “Newb it up” as Janelle Bence describes in one experience she had with creating video-games in her classroom. This comes from the willingness of the teacher to step out of their comfort zone, and experience an unfamiliar genre as I experienced in my Unfamiliar Genre Project. When teachers step out of their comfort zone, they get to learn with their students, leveling the teacher/student binary and inviting students to actively participate in the creation of content and the learning experience as described in the tenets of connected learning.

Once students are actively involved in the process of learning and creating, it is important to “blow up the classroom” as Nicole Mirra said in our interview. Ultimately this means getting involved in a community that is broader than the classroom involves, meaning that any dialogue is more that just teacher to student, but student-learner to other community members. An example of this can be viewed in Jennifer Woolven’s description of a classroom experience here.

Technology and digital literacies enters into the picture, not as the focus of connected learning, but as a tool that can help teachers and students connect to broader audiences more quickly than ever before. Examples of this kind of learning are as varied as the posts you see on Facebook, Instagram, or your favorite blogs. A few examples can be found in Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroomand at the sites here, here, here, and here.

Ultimately, connected learning is about finding ways to engage student interest and get them involved in the community. I hope that you have seen this as I’ve progressed through this badge and in the resources provided here.

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Design Challenge Assignment

So, in an effort to fully immerse myself in connected learning, I worked on creating a Design Challenge assignment and had a couple of my classmates in CO301d try it out. The assignment can be found here.

Honestly, we had a lot of fun with this assignment. It was great seeing how they took it in directions that I never expected. And, I hear that the shoes that my classmates made were actually pretty comfortable. However, the assignment was much harder to make a “connected” learning experience than I had expected, especially considering we only had one group working on the project. I think the two biggest advantages I would have had if I had been working in a real class would be having more students and more time. We could have fully fleshed out our ideas, done some mini-lessons that related the project more closely to the text we were reading, and had more time to interact with other people, both in class and online, to build stronger connections.

That said, the group really did connect over this project. They used one student’s shoes as a model to craft their own around, they came up with way more effective ideas than one person would have come up with on their own, and their final product was better than I imagined. I would’ve walked a mile in those shoes. Yes, my feet would have been sweaty, and the soles would have been falling off, but that’s a lesson learned. Next time we could tweak our design to be more effective.

Finally, I had a group of six people. I would have liked to have had two groups of three so that we could compare final products, bounce ideas off of groups, and have everyone more involved. Even in this small assignment with college students, there was a student who didn’t participate, but kind of just sat by and did their own thing. This seems to be one of the biggest challenges with connected learning:

How do we get everyone connected?

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Interview With Nicole Mirra

Nicole Mirra is one of the authors of Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom, and was willing to do an interview with me for my Connected Learning badge. The following is a summation of what we talked about:

“Connected learning should be part of the pedagogy, no matter what technology you have,” she said and went on to describe that it is really just a “new language” to talk about teaching and learning. The emphasis, as I have described is not necessarily on trying to make technology the focus of the classroom, but to use technology to increase the opportunities for all of our students to connect their learning to things that they care about. In Nicole’s words, “it’s about applying purpose and collaboration” to issues that matter to our student and relate to the classroom objectives.

However, technology allows us to provide more equitable access to the resources of the twentieth century. Again, using Nicole’s words, it can “explode” the classroom by allowing students to access people and resources that wouldn’t normally be available. A prime example was my interview with Nicole. She lives in California and I live in Colorado, and I was able to have a “face to face” conversation with her over FaceTime. Thus, an undergraduate English Education student can open a dialogue with a professional teacher with years of experience in the field of connected learning. The example that Nicole used was that of creating a multi-modal (meaning to use more than just text, incorporating video, audio, and even interactive forum posts) research project for a topic that students are interested in. This requires them to setup interviews, do detailed research, find resources that do a better job of explaining a topic than they believe they could do on their own, and get their classmates involved in the discussion in a way that allows safety that a classroom might not. Everyone can share their opinions and have their voices heard on an online forum, even if they aren’t the kind of student that would normally speak in class.

To finish, Nicole’s concluding point was that connected learning is about “creating relationships, building community, and accounting for everyone’s interests and background.” A teacher in a connected learning classroom develops their curriculum around their students as people first.

To learn more about Nicole Mirra, follow her on twitter @Nicole_Mirra and consider reading Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom here (and, if you can spare the change, pay the 99 cents for the pdf).

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On Tech, Teaching, and Keeping Students Safe.

As teachers introduce technology into the classroom, it’s critically important to introduce protective practices into their online discourse. The internet is one of the most democratic institutions of all time, allowing anyone and everyone to publish, to discuss, to learn, and to be a part of the global community. However, it is naïve to believe that everyone on the internet is going to be a good person. Maybe there’s a life lesson there? Me, in my cynicism would love to tell children that people are terrible, and that that should be the baseline. When they surprise you with being mediocre or even pretty decent you can be pleasantly surprised. But I don’t think that would go over well.

Luckily, there are resources that teachers can take advantage of in order to work around this most democratic of institutions. Read Write Think, and the NCTE has compiled a list of resources specifically for this purpose. One resource that I’ve come across emphasizes techniques that we used effectively in our CO301d course. The gist is that the teacher institutes a dialogue among their students, that they will come up with ways of interacting online that are able to be controlled by the teacher, but are constituted by student ideas. This involves designing an acceptable use policy, and defining norms of online interaction. For example, a teacher can prompt students to describe the type of feedback they would like to receive, and “class norms” that are universal rules for interacting within the classroom spaces of the internet. Students decide what is appropriate in terms of comments, how to approach disagreements, and how to provide criticism.

This allows teachers to go beyond the run-of-the-mill instruction on creating safe passwords and keeping personal information off of social media. It allows students agency in deciding what makes a good global citizen, and what makes a good internet user. By emphasizing the connection between students’ online profiles and their day-to-day lives, teachers have the opportunity to show how people craft their own stories.

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Not to be that guy,

But I’m going to be that guy. I’m going to talk about something that I’m already on board with. It’s the idea that playing is learning. At its simplest, the theory is that people become what they pretend to be.

Cas Holman, in her Personal Story on the CLA website writes, “We don’t know what future jobs are going to be. Students are going to graduate into a world that contains roles we haven’t seen before.” Because of this ever-evolving job marketplace, it becomes more and more important to teach students how to think, rather than specific skills. If students have the ability to be creative, to see new ways to use the tools that are given to them, then they are able to develop as learners as career fields change. A key for this, one of the key takeaways that Cas notes, is not giving your students directions on how to use the tools that they’re given.

Many times students will figure out the tool’s intended uses, but sometimes they’ll surprise you with the ways that they adapt them for new purposes. As a lifelong fan of Lego, I can attest to this. Anytime I had the instruction book in front of me it was just too tempting to build what was on the front of the box. But take the instructions away and mix the boxes together, and whole new worlds were ready to be created at my fingertips.

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You call this Education?

Okay, so this post is related to my teacher as connected learner badge, but it is “extra-curricular,” in that I’m writing it because it must be said. A caveat before I begin: I  believe in an education that teaches some subjects broadly, things like mathematics, the sciences, arts, literature, reading, but I don’t think that teaching to a standardized test is helping us get there.

Over the course of this past academic year, the business I work for had the opportunity to take on a student intern from a local public high-school. We’ll call him Sean. Sean was chosen for this internship program because he was not succeeding in the classroom. I could see why on my first day working with him. He was completely calloused towards, well, a lot of things. I couldn’t help thinking that the education system hadn’t done him many favors.

But, two days ago my manager got to go with him to his school where Sean had the opportunity to award our business the school’s “Employer of the Year” award. I was in class, so didn’t have the opportunity to join in this endeavor, but seeing the picture of this young man, dressed in the clothes of a punk, skater-kid, smiling next to my manager, award in hand, could not have made me more proud of both Sean, and our opportunity to be part of his education.

See, my manager told me that Sean’s teacher had noticed a change in him. He had begun to take responsibility for himself, saying things like, “My jeans have holes in them! I can’t go to work like this.” Sure, it’s a small thing. But it shows growth in Sean. Over the course of the past year he was able to put his love for people to work in a customer service environment, he developed people skills (I put him through the ringer, role-playing customer service interactions from people who are super kind and know what their looking for in our retail shop, to characters who are probably on drugs, and aren’t exactly pleasant for anyone to show kindness towards), he did the dirty-work of keeping the shop tidy, and his desire for cleanliness shined (ha! see what I did there?), and that’s before I mention his utter inability to work unsupervised nine months ago, to his relative  aptitude now.

It wasn’t our business that did this for him.

It was the opportunity to be a human being, in a real work environment, working with real people. We were able to capitalize on some of Sean’s interests and skills and channel his energy into places where it mattered–to Sean.

These are lessons that he will take with him whether he works in retail, becomes an astronaut, works for a non-profit, or writes a best-selling novel. Let me know how calculus, or for sake of equality, the proper placement of a comma, will have that wide of an application. If you can think of a way, let me know. I can’t.

This is why I think connected learning matters. The emphasis of this badge is on how technology can help us to achieve this sort of broad application across subject areas. How do we develop students as human beings while also developing their ability to solve a quadratic function? With the new technologies, we have new tools to accomplish this, but it doesn’t count for anything unless we rethink the multiple ways in which students can grow in a classroom. Yes, knowing how to do math and construct a good scientific hypothesis and develop an argument about The Outsiders is important, but to restrict our view of education to those things is to do a great disservice to our children and our future. I’m worried that this sounds preachy, but then I look at Sean’s growth this year and I can’t help but say something. Because of his school district’s alternative approach he grew from a punk kid into a young man that stays true to his punk roots (lol). Even if he had been successful academically, he very well could’ve turned into a punk kid that knows how to graph a sin wave. But the skills he learned in his internship will help him (hopefully) have the work ethic to learn trig functions, and be a better person.

#sorrynotsorry if that got preachy. Don’t let children be crippled as human beings but good at history. Give them the tools to be good humans and good students.

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Art? LOL

This morning’s Morning Pages prompt comes from Kendra, Ronnie, Savannah, and Alice:

“..Something strikes you when you move to America and travel around the world: Every education system on Earth has the same hierarchy of subjects. Every one. Doesn’t matter where you go. You’d think it would be otherwise, but it isn’t. At the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities, and at the bottom are the arts.” – Ken Robinson  

Do you feel like creativity is still advocated for in schools? Is education sacrificing creativity by having a rubric culture and an emphasis on tests? Are STEM schools taking priority over theater, music, and art classes? In your own school experience did you feel like your arts education was lacking? If so, how?

Art is impractical. From an economic standpoint, both the creation and enjoyment of art is something that takes away from production. Think of all the valuable, practical things that could be making life more efficient, solving world hunger, or cleaning garbage out of the oceans in the time that is spent on writing, painting, reading literature, or crafting sculptures. Likewise, think about the cultures of days gone by whose art we still have access to. Art is almost always a sign of a privileged society. There has to be an audience for it, and there has to be time for it.

Maths, Sciences, even Writing to a degree, all help a society to be more… well, productive. They are things that help you live life.

Art is something that makes life worth living.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think art is the thing that makes life worth living, but in the words of C.S. Lewis, it is something that adds value to living. From this, I understand why the STEM subjects are prioritized.

There also needs to be mention of the nature of art as “creative” and STEM as… I don’t know… less creative? But think where we would be if people like Isaac Newton or Renee Descartes weren’t as creative as they were interested in “fact” and science. We might be able to have food and shelter and the other necessities of human life without creativity, but what value would there be without the sharing of experience that comes from artistry?

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So… connected learning?

I’ll be honest. As soon as I saw the logo for this badge, I knew I was going to avoid it. Yeah, I like technology (but not more than you, you see… name that reference!) but I’ve never been one for incorporating something into the classroom just because it’s new and fancy. I say this, not having ever been a teacher, but having been a student. Sure, Smart boards were cool, but did they help us learn? It sure didn’t when I was in eighth grade. But, they’ve come a long way.

I digress…

My point is, I saw the logo for this badge and it looked like a wifi signal and I didn’t have any clue what to think, except that I wasn’t on board.

Don’t judge a book by its cover, or a badge by its icon?

Then, when the Teacher as Reader badge kicked the bucket (Requiescat en pace) I knew I had to explore other options. That’s when I stumbled upon connected learning.

The Connected Learning Alliance says:

The “connected” in connected learning is about human connection as well as tapping the power of connected technologies. Rather than see technology as a means toward more efficient and automated forms of education, connected learning puts progressive, experiential, and learner-centered approaches at the center of technology-enhanced learning.

Now this, this is something I can get on board with. Learning that is focused on connecting students with their interests and desires, and rather than it being “about” technology, using technology to make it about the student. Man, what I would have given for this sort of approach in my own schooling.

A slogan I want to hang in my classroom is, “Don’t let school get in the way of your education.” This became a motto of mine when I first heard it on a hunting trip I took in tenth grade. I’d taken a week off from school to sleep in the woods and wander around with a rifle slung over my shoulder. There was so much more to learn about living than what I was studying in my Algebraic Functions class.

I wonder what I would have become if I had been able to pursue my interests in the classroom from day one. For those of you who have been reading along with me this semester, you may remember that I have always loved reading, and often spent way too much time on writing assignments in Elementary school. What if I had been able to leverage and channel that energy into learning how to be a storyteller instead of the focus being on just getting a certain number of words out in the short breadth of time we had for free writes? Or, what if someone noticed the capacity for creative planning and problem solving that Legos allowed me to cultivate, as I spent countless hours designing and refining models of starships and medieval landscapes. Maybe I wasn’t thrilled about learning trigonometry, but if someone had related it to modeling and engineering then maybe I’d be pursuing a career that pays a lot more than teaching or writing…

My point is, from my first look into connected learning it seems to be all about the student’s interests, and leveraging the technologies that are available in the twenty-first century classroom to support that learning. This allows educators to support student interests, and match curriculum standards to practical applications. Most of us have had classroom experiences where we wondered how we were ever going to apply the lesson to anything practical in life. Connected learning is about bridging that gap in ways that interest the student, making the learning theirs, so that they can pursue their goals, interests, and desires, rather than forcing them to fit the mold of a student, without preparing them for the vast number of individualized, tailored, and multi-faceted careers that they will encounter upon graduation.