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Teaching With Technology Philosophy Statement

I believe that any tool is only as good as the person who wields it. While anyone could go out and purchase the best oil paints and brushes in the world, it takes an artist to turn a canvas and paints into a Van Gogh. It takes a craftsman to have a pile of wood and a few tools and to come out on the other side with a dining set. And it takes a talented teacher to take a group of students and a classroom with access to computers and the internet to make learning happen.

With that as the foundation of my philosophy about teaching, the question is what does that translate to in my future classroom.

First of all, I know that my students will have technology with them. They will have computers or smartphones or whatever gadgets appear in our increasingly digitized world, and I want to use that. I’ve seen first hand the struggle that teachers have when they try to enforce hard and fast rules on technology use, and have been an offending party myself at times. Rather than fight my students the whole way, I want them to have the opportunities to use their technology for their good, and I want to leverage that technology for their learning. Whether that means having students access a program like Kahoot on their phones, or having them post final drafts of writing assignments on blogs, or simply having leniency when students have a cell phone out during class, I intend to be flexible with technology.

As we utilize technology together, I hope that my example will prove a good model for my students. My personal use revolves mostly around educating myself in various areas including education and English. I see the internet, and technological devices that allow us to access the internet, as one of the most democratic things that has ever happened to mankind. In its most bare-bones form, it allows everyone with access to a device and internet connection endless opportunities to further their education, promote their ideas, and dialogue with others. This attitude towards technology is one that I desire to instill in my students, and I hope it is evident through my teaching practice. I hope that my students learn to use this tool to their advantage, and not their deficit. Like a knife that is less likely to cut them when it is sharp, I hope that they learn to sharpen their internet usage and technology usage across the board. And, I believe that their view of the internet and the tools that technology provides is more important to their future than any of the programs that they may ever use in my classroom.

I will hold this philosophy in one hand, and the technology integration matrix in the other as I use technology in my classroom. Technology in the classroom should be used to make processes more efficient, and it should allow me and my students to achieve things that we wouldn’t be able to do with a pen and paper. With those ideas in mind, I do not intend to use technologies simply to have a fancy gimmick, but to promote and enhance student experiences and learning in my classroom. If the technology takes away from the content, standards, or focus of my students, then I will not use it. It is as simple as that. If I try to implement a tool and it fails, then I will not implement it again, unless I find a way to solve the problems that caused it to fail the first time around. I will not use technological failure as an excuse for my students not to learn, and they shouldn’t use it either. This becomes an equity issue if my students don’t have access to devices or internet connection at home, as many inner-city or rural families experience. If this is the case, then I will structure lessons in such a way that those technologies are not essential to complete class assignments, but keep in mind that the option to use them may be there. If this is the case, then students will not be docked points for the lack of access to technology.

In terms of ways that technology will work to help me achieve these ends, my primary goals in integrating technology will be in terms of providing better access for all students, and providing more efficient means for students to accomplish various tasks. Word processors like Microsoft Word, Pages, and Google Docs, have greatly improved the rate at which students can produce written content. Google docs in particular, when combined with other programs in the Google suite like Classroom and Drive, are great ways to improve the efficiency of student-teacher communication. I can give students live feedback, they can share ideas, and we can all do it from anywhere we have access to a device and internet. Additionally, there are a wide variety of Learning Management Systems through which students and teachers alike can streamline their workflow. I hope to take advantage of these tools, like Canvas, Schoology, or Google Classroom, in ways that have as small a learning curve as possible for my students. For example, if they are already using a Learning Management System (LMS) in another class, why not take advantage of that and have all of their work in one, standardized and unified hub? Through one of these systems, I can provide my students with links to research tools that they may find useful such as Google Scholar.

While I will certainly have my own ideas on how to utilize these tools, I also expect to learn from my students. Often times it is students who are on the cutting edge of tools and how they can be used. As a digital native myself, I have seen first hand what happens when instructors are resistant to the quick changes that technology enables. I will have to remain flexible as my students teach me ways to accomplish things with greater efficiency or to gather more knowledge.

Ultimately, I think that is the point of academia as a whole. It is to learn from one another so that we, as a scholastic community, can learn more, learn faster, and come to better, more accurate conclusions. This requires us to be a community both in our classroom, and also beyond. I will learn from my students as well as other education professionals how to grow my practice of education. Whether this is reading an article that one of my peers posted on Twitter, or listening to a student when they ask, “what if we did it this way?” I mean to have an open mind as I continue to learn new and better ways to implement technology in ways that align with my philosophy. And I also desire to be willing to adapt my philosophy should that improve my learning and my students learning.

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Special Education and Assistive Technology

With the most recent revision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a.k.a. “IDEA” in 2004, students, teachers, and families are expected to work together to insure that a student with a disability has every opportunity to be included and integrated into the classroom. This doesn’t simply mean that they sit in the back of the class, working on their own assignments and separate, but still “in” the classroom. No. This means that students with disabilities should be given the resources and tools to be able to participate in class to the maximum extent that their disability allows. In other words, Special Ed. students are to be part of your class, just like every other student, but may need accommodations according to their disability. This may range from having a computer program read a text so that they can access it via audio, as well as visual, or it may mean that they are provided with a desk that accommodates their wheelchair.

As a future educator, I am excited to have these students in my classroom. Every student brings something to the table, but sometimes we, as people, need supports. For myself, that often means the support of friends and family–financially, emotionally, spiritually. Likewise, those students in my classroom that qualify as Special Ed., need these same supports, and often a physical or technological support as well.

Ideally, I imagine that most schools that I will find myself working in will have a department dedicated to Special Ed. that I will have access to, in order to find the resources and tools that are most helpful to my students. Additionally, via IDEA, any Special Ed. students in my class will have documentation, either an IEP, or 405, that is a collaborative document between the student, me, their parents, and their previous educators that has all of the information concerning the tools that have helped them to work in a classroom.

However, from my perspective as a preservice teacher, I imagine that the implementation of assistive technology in my classroom will follow a similar ethos as I imagine other technology following. That is, use it when it is helpful, and don’t use it when it isn’t. And be willing to try new things.

I will say that I imagine that the assistive technology that my Special Ed. students bring to my classroom will be easier to implement than many other technologies. Often times, the student will have already been using the tools before coming into my classroom. Therefore, the biggest challenge will probably be to confront when a tool is not working for a student. This will require bucking the status quo, which could lead to challenges between myself, the student, and their parents. The most important thing for me to do at that point, will be to be certain of the case that I have built for the implementation of an alternative tool.

The ultimate necessity, for lack of a better word, regarding assistive technology and technology in my classroom generally, is to remain flexible. My classroom needs to be a place of learning for both me and my students. If I don’t make myself available to learning new technology, then I am no better off than a stubbornly off-task student. Furthermore, I do my students a disservice if I am not familiar with the tools that are going to be most conducive to their learning. So I guess that that is the final takeaway: put student needs first, and be flexible. If I believe in education, then I also believe that those students need to be enabled and empowered to learn in my classroom, and I mean to make my classroom the best possible environment for that to happen in.

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Personal Devices in the Classroom?

“What is your opinion on the use of personal devices in the classroom?”

“Yes.”

Let me begin by saying, I’ve seen cell phones, aka “personal devices,” that caused problems in classrooms since about 6th grade. Back then, school policies were almost always: NOT ALLOWED! But a lot has changed since I was in 6th grade and I think most teachers would agree with me in saying that these changes have been positive in a lot of ways.

In the 6th grade classroom that I am currently in as a teacher-helper, almost all of the students have cell phones. I know this because I see them on their tables. I’ve also seen them be a distraction much less frequently. Why? I’d like to think that it’s because the teacher doesn’t stop the entire class to tell a single student to get off of their “device.”

But it doesn’t stop there.

“Do we want to take technology away from them and punish them for using it, or should we motivate them to use it in good ways?” asks one mother. And I think she’s got a good handle on best policy. Students have devices. Many schools and districts have adopted a 1:1 model of lap top computers to students, allowing all students access to digital technologies at home and in the classroom. While not all students have access to the internet at home, schools with a 1:1 model have wifi available for students and staff. As with any privilege, it is up to parents and teachers to encourage the responsible use of technology.

As such, teachers have come up with creative ways to encourage this responsibility. One strategy I particularly like is a stop light in the front of the classroom. Devices may be in use when an indicator is placed on the green light, put to the side when the indicator is on the yellow, and off and/or stored when red is indicated. Additionally, working collaboratively as students and teachers to create an “acceptable use policy” or AUP on when and how devices can and should be used, encourages student agency in deciding what responsible use looks like.

With these strategies in mind, I am optimistic about the use of technology in my classroom. If a principal were to interview me in the future and ask, “what does technology and device use look like in your ideal classroom,” I think I’d have an answer. Technology use will encourage learning. Students should be enabled and prepared to follow lines of inquiry (one of those education buzzwords, and one that I actually like) during class, expanding their learning by following threads that interest them. They should be comfortable letting their parents know about their after-school plans with a quick text message. But they should also know that respectful behavior means focusing on the people that are right in front of you by putting your device away when you’re in a discussion, and using technology for the task at hand, rather than browsing social media or playing games during class.

Special thanks to Common Sense Education and The Tech Edvocate for their ideas on how to integrate technology into the classroom.

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Finger on the Pulse

Hip-Hop has had a finger on the pulse of our culture from a long way back. The discussions we are having today are echoes of earlier discussions.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

“The fascists are some heavy dudes
They don’t really give a damn about life
They just don’t want a woman to control her body
Or have the right to choose
But baby that ain’t nothin’
They just want a male finger on the button
Because if you say war, they will send them to die by the score
Aborting mission should be your volition
But if Souter and Thomas have their way
You’ll be standing in line unable to get Welfare while they’ll be out
Hunting and fishing
It has always been around, it will always have a niche
But they’ll make it a privilege, not a right
Accessible only to the rich
Hey, Pro-lifers should dig themselves
Because life doesn’t stop after birth
And to a child born to the unprepared
It might even just get worse
The situation would surely change if they were to find themselves in it
Supporters of the H-Bomb, and fire-bombing clinics
What type of shit is that? Orwellian, in fact
If Roe v. Wade was overturned, would not the desire remain intact
Leaving young girls to risk their healths
And doctors to botch, and watch as they kill themselves
I don’t want to sound macabre
But hey, isn’t it my job
To lay it on the masses and get them off their asses
To fight against these fascists
So, whatever you decide, make that move with pride
Sid will be there and so will I
An insect ’til I die”

–Digable Planets (1993)

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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.