The Fear of “Who Is Really Out There” In A Virtual World

I was drawn to Schwier’s post on Shaping the Metaphor of Community in Online Learning Environments because I believe that major learning opportunities are being missed when we deny students access to communicating with the online world. Schwier remarks,

Virtual learning environments happen when the process of learning takes place outside the boundaries of face-to-face contact, typically online. But environments are not necessarily communities. For a community to emerge, a learning environment must allow learners to engage each other intentionally and collectively in the transaction or transformation of knowledge.

I agree with his statement that environments are not the same as communities with regards to the levels of engagements and interactions with others. But their is still this underlying fear that their are more people on the internet with more intentions to do harm over good. I, however, feel that it is much the opposite.

Here is an example of how a simple Tweet changed a complete day of learning…

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“Twitter” by Andreas Eldh is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Grade 2 came to visit me in the library and we read a new and exciting book called “Those Magnificent Sheet in Their Flying Machine” by Peter Bently. In the book, some daring sheep borrowed an airplane and visited the world. They pondered visiting places such as Timbuktu, Kalamazoo and Saskatchewan. Well, the students were over the moon that Mr. Bently would include Saskatchewan in his book. After our reading, I decided to tweet Mr. Bently about how amazing his books were,

Well, he responded…

And his question…

Led to this “small” assignment from the class…

Even though the teacher did most of the tweeting, the students played an integral part in communicating with the author. How amazing to share their story with someone who is already established in the writing community. This could be an example of a “ringer” as described by Schwier.

When teachers choose to keep social media out of the classroom, what important learning opportunities are we missing out on?

Back to Schwier, our learners need to be able to interact with others outside of their everyday lives in order to be able to grow themselves. We need to be able to teach them how to be safe and smart online, but also how to access people that can help us online as well. But how to do we do this with such young minds?

Our module project is geared for Grade 3 students. We certainly are not going to set them up with individual twitter accounts and begin their digital identity for them. But I think it is important that they understand that there are safe places for them to discuss ideas, provide opinions and share with a much wider audience.

laptop-819285_1280One of the forums we discussed to allow students to share their ideas and thoughts is using Bookopolis.com to share about books they are reading. Last semester, I did a vlog about Bookopolis and how it can be integrated into the classroom. Because our module is based on the new OTC documents, and we plan to use literature as a resource to provide more information, students can use Bookopolis to share their ideas and opinions on the books they have read with a much wider audience then their peers in the classroom.

We are using the LMS Google Classroom to create our module. Within Google Classroom, we can create a questions that students can respond to and reply back to fellow classmates. This may seem more enticing to some teachers as it is a more closed circuit and can be monitored more closely than open platforms such as Twitter or Instagram.

However, if we want the class to reach a more open environment, Twitter would be my go-to platform. In this particular case, I would create a hashtag in reference to our module (maybe something like #SKFNpastpresent or #SKtreatiesprepost – obviously something to play around with). By using a hashtag, we can keep track of responses we get from the Twitterverse. I would invite a couple of students to ask an open ended question about what they learned from the module that day to ask out to my followers (or the class followers) using the hashtag. As the teacher, I would vet answers for appropriateness and share them with the class using Storify.

It is great when students get an opportunity to discuss with their peers about what they are learning, but I believe that by introducing them to a much wider environment (such as the world) their are plenty of opportunities to grow their community and their learning environments. If we begin to teach them at a young age about how to use the Internet for good, then that will last them their lifetime. But, if we shy away from it, then what are they missing out on?

My Dad, Web 0.1…

 

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CC image via Flickr by Graham Stanley

What a crazy week. Husband working shifts, meetings at work, kids soccer and University class. Thank goodness I have my parents available to help me out. Now, I’m not sure about you guys, but when you ask your dad to pick up a kid at 7:30 and get them to soccer/hockey/curling they always show up at 6:45. My dad did that just this week. And of course, I was already on Zoom ready for the amazing presentation to come. Dad hung around for a while, listened in and even made a cameo experience (much to his horror). However, he was quite intrigued at how technology has come so far as to allow students to learn from home.

I asked my dad what his first experience with computers was. And I was quite surprised by his response:

Now, for those of you who don’t speak “Twitter”, basically, I had a conversation (convo) with (w/) my 58 year old (58yo) dad who would do a type of coding on the computers (comps) at High School (HS) that would print paper with holes in it. Then, they would get to go to the University of Regina where their computers would read the holes in the paper and create to program they originally made.

Hmmm… This seems a bit Web 2.0-3.0, doesn’t it? Using the computers to create something? Now, maybe it wasn’t connected to the internet because it wasn’t really around, but did my dad’s ts… I mean “teachers”, realize the potential computers had already even before the Internet was available to general population? Had the Internet been around, think of how my dad’s creations could have been shared! So what changed? Why are we so intimidated to shift from Web 1.0 and 2.0 to 3.0?

Let’s look at Web 1.0:

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CC image via Flickr by Alex Ambrose

I remember the first time I saw a web address on a TV commercial. I can’t remember exactly what was being sold, but I remember seeing the telephone number to call for more information, and, instead of an address to write a letter to, there was this weird www. “thingy”. I knew that the Internet was around, but it hadn’t really made its way to quiet, small city Regina just yet. My first thought “It’ll never last.” But alas, I was quite wrong. However, back then, the web address was simply a substitute for the mailing address. For those “who had” internet, they could simply type in the web address and pull information about the product. No different from making the phone call or sending a letter. The only big difference was (okay – huge difference) was the information was then immediate.

Gerstein likens Education 1.0 to Web 1.0. She says:

… {it} is a one-way dissemination of knowledge from teacher to student. (pg. 85)

In my case, it was from producer to consumer. We didn’t have internet back then, so if I required more information, I would have had to make a phone call, and because we only had 1 landline and 1 phone number and no call-waiting, my mom didn’t like if I was on the phone for longer than 5 minutes.

In such a case, and back in the day, the Web was simply a disseminator of information. However, has much of that changed today in education? Is the internet used for more than a google search? Or as a replacement for pen and paper? The non-fiction section in my library would agree. Very rarely do I see students in the library looking for books to do research projects and why would they- everything they need is at their fingertips.

But kids seemed to have moved on from simply “wanting” information. When the Web evolved from 1.0 to 2.0, so to did the new generation of digital citizens. Web 2.0, according to Gerstein:

…permits interactivity between the content and the user, and between users themselves. (p.86)

This was also the evolution of Education 2.0. Bill Gates wrote in his blog:

I was fortunate to have teachers who encouraged their students to explore areas of learning they were curious about. Having the freedom to try things out allowed me to develop a passion for computing…

Today, teachers are are using more inquiry based approaches in their learning, making students seek out their answers and question what they are learning. Education 2.0, is much like Web 2.0 – we are loosening the reins on our children. We are giving them more freedom to explore, analyze, critique, make mistakes and yet still learn. Web 2.0 supports the communicate and collaborate of the inquiry method by making the world a much smaller space.

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CC image via Flickr by Paul Downey

But this can terrify educators who are not comfortable with using Web 2.0 tools. Sometimes, the thought of allowing students freedoms online to create, share, collaborate and communicate is a path fraught with the unknown. So, while teachers are trying to navigate new curriculum and new ways of teaching, they are also expected to include technology into their lessons.

It isn’t a surprise that when you talk to most teachers about technology they seem to groan and complain about not enough broadband, not enough devices so all students can type an assignment or how they have to take phones away because of Snapchat or texting in class.

But when you look at some statistics from Statistics Canada in 2011, most teachers in our schools would never have had grown up with computers in their home, let alone the internet.

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So, when the massive majority of teachers in Canada were born in a time pre-internet, and are not comfortable with Web 2.0 yet, how can we consider getting our students, our teachers and our schools Web 3.0 ready?

The Sofa Student

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CC Image via Pixabay by alphalight1

In 2012 I decided it was time for me to go back to school to pursue my Masters of Education degree. At this point in my life, my kids were 9 and 7 years old and my husband worked shift work. Classes being 1 night a week at the University was sometimes difficult with a young family and a husband who wasn’t always home in the evenings. I had to rely a lot on my parents and in-laws to watch the kids while I went off to school. The guilt was real.

When I discovered that I could take classes online, I was hesitant because I had never taken such a class but equally thrilled because now I wouldn’t have to rely on Grandpas and Grandmas while I took classes. I’ve had two types of experiences with online classes: Alec’s version and “the other kind”.

Audrey Watters wrote:

the original aspirations, even — of ed-tech: the idea that some sort of mechanism could be developed to not only deliver content — that’s what Edison imagines — but to handle both instruction and assessment.

In Alec’s courses, I feel that even though we are learning from the comforts of our own homes or classrooms, we still get the engagement piece through the use of Zoom. One aspect I do like about Zoom is we get to “see” the person who is talking and hear them. The content is delivered through screen sharing, slides and conferencing.  We also have the opportunities to use the breakout rooms and chat using the chat features. The use of Twitter, Google Community, Blogs and Google Docs allows for the assessment pieces. Plus, I get to sit on my couch, with a hot tea and my learning partner next to me!

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In my other class, we simply used MOODLE/UR Courses. There was no interaction, no set time and date to meet up and our only communication with our professors was through email. If you weren’t a self-motivated learner, this class had no appeal. The delivery of content was through readings, there was no instruction (other than the syllabus) and assessment happened with us turning in papers to faceless names.  It was not an ideal experience in my opinion.

So how about distance and online learning in the elementary classroom. Teachers nowadays feel as though they need to create a high level of engagement among students in order to feel they are reaching and teaching their target audiences. So can online learning or distance learning keep elementary students engaged?

When I taught Grade 7/8, I tried using the flipped classroom as a sort of distance/online learning tool. I would create a PowerPoint presentation (pre-Google slides era) of my lesson, record myself going through the slides, put in questions to ponder and discuss for next class and give the students the questions they would be working on in class. For my students who were heavily involved in extra-curricular activities, they enjoyed the fact that their only homework was to listen to a presentation and prepare to discuss certain questions in class the next time we met.

The downfall to my flipped classroom was it was a ton of more work for me. The presentations took twice as long as a regular class would be and we ended up discussing just as much in class when we next met. However, the one real big positive was that the students commented that they enjoyed being able to go back to my presentations for preparing for tests or doing projects. Even though they may not have understood the presentations at the beginning, they enjoyed being able to reference back to them later on.

I guess that is no different then what we are doing here in ECI 833. Just like my flipped classroom, when I need to refer back to class, I have the opportunity to replay it and retrieve the information I need.

I truly believe that, in a sense, with Google Classroom, we are beginning to see an amalgamation on Online/Distance learning with traditional school based learning. Students who may be absent for illness or vacations can always access Google Classrooms to retrieve content they may have missed (so long as they have internet access) and teachers can post from anywhere at anytime (say for instance – Hawaii…).

However, the use of technology for online/distance learning brings up another issue and one that is maybe for another blog post – what are the benchmarks students need to achieve in educational technology to be successful at learning online? For example “By the end of Grade 3 all students will be able to share a Google Doc with their teacher.” Amy Singh and I are currently on a committee with Regina Public Schools addressing such questions and working on Digital Essential Learnings that will be integrated into classrooms through a framework or continuum. As we discuss the use of technology in classrooms and outside of the classrooms, it is important that we remember that students are not born knowing how to use technology so at some point, we need to teach them how to use it.

If My Brain Was The Internet…

When The Atlantic put out the video “Single-Tasking Is The New Multi-Tasking” they referred to the #TablessThursday movement where, on Thursdays, only work in the Internet with 1 tab open. While watching this video on a Saturday morning at 8 am, I quickly grabbed a screen shot of the tabs I had open- this is my pre-blog pic:

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Three tabs- that’s actually pretty good for me… However, an hour before starting this, I had already scrolled through Facebook, The Leader-Post App, Huffington Post and Instagram on my phone. Do those apps count as tabs?

The one sentence that really stuck out there for me in this is “Tabs are a metaphor for life”. Now, my post is going to get a bit more personal, but I promise to come back… If my brain was the Internet, there would be a thousand tabs open all time. I’m constantly multi-tasking in my head about all the events, work, kids, husband, dog- the things in life that consume my life. At the beginning of this week, I was stricken with 3 nights of insomnia where I couldn’t get my brain to turn off about all the things I needed to do. My husband suggested, on the third night, “Make a list of everything going on in your head”. After giving him a scowl, I tried it. Now, maybe it was because I hadn’t slept in three nights, or maybe, just maybe, it was because I made a list, I finally slept. (Please don’t tell my husband he may have been right… 😉

But that one sentence from the video stuck with me. Our brains are wired like the Internet. It is our central hub of all the information we have acquired over our lives and we pull out and search that information as it becomes necessary (and, I must say, much quicker than our actual Internet providers in this province…). But all those “tabs” that we use in our brains to keep ourselves going, to plan in advance, to make sure we are where we need to be, are always open. Managing those tabs is how we make it through each day.

Now, at the beginning of this week, I wasn’t managing them well enough and my body and mind suffered. I wasn’t sleeping because I was too busy thinking. So, if the brain is like the Internet, then is the Internet like the brain when we are trying to be productive? Here’s an example:

It’s 3:00pm. School is almost over for the day and you are on prep. Your email icon pops up, and it’s an email from your principal saying “Long Range Plans due”. You know you are close to getting them done, but you are stuck on a couple of outcomes that you likely won’t be covering until June… Well, let’s not respond right away to that email. Let’s start searching for that outcome online and see what’s out there. As you scroll over to your Internet icon, you see that you were searching up questions for a novel you want to study with the class. Well, that is important so let’s leave that up, next you remember that you needed to print off that news article for tomorrow’s social lesson. So you find it in a new tab. You still have your online textbooks open, but you still need that to plan tomorrow’s Math lessons. Speaking of math, Sadie asked for extra help with algebraic equations. What is that site again??? The search goes on and on. Three more emails pop up and by 3:20 you now have 10 tabs open in your browser and 6 unread emails. There’s the bell! Home time. Close the lid on your laptop and all those tabs just got put to sleep.

I will be honest – I just spent that last 5 minutes scrolling through Facebook looking for a post I read this morning about how teachers make more last minute decisions than surgeons. Couldn’t find it. But I did chat with another teacher about something different. Am I feeling productive? Is the Internet more of a distraction right now? Absolutely! It’s Saturday at 8:46 am. I consider myself a multitasker who takes appropriate brain breaks when necessary. We do the same thing in our classrooms. We see our students getting squirmy after long periods of inactivity so we get them up, focused on something more energizing for a couple of minutes and once they are ready, they can get back to work.

As adults, we have the self-regulation tools needed to help us re-focus when we find we are getting too overwhelmed with what we are doing. For me (and again, please don’t tell my hubby he was right…), I needed to make that list to quiet my brain. When at work, we need to check on something other than work to step aside and quiet our thoughts. When I re-open the lid to my laptop and see all those tabs open, at least there is a visual reminder of all the things I still need to work on (much like my list…). The difference between the Internet and the brain is that one can be turned off when needed. The other will eventually quiet in time.

Here is my post-blog pic:

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