Author Archives: andresaranedablog

A summary of my learning this semester

Introduction

Hello!
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As we finish off our directed reading course, I have a lot to think about in terms of the effectiveness of bringing tech into a language class.

To reiterate what I said the other day in class, I felt as though it was very difficult to actually focus-in on research that specifically catered to my topic. I also started to gain the feeling that as we were answering some of the questions in our blogs, I was coming up with many of the same conclusions I had come up with in previous tech classes I had taken in the past.

First of all, tech is great. It brings SO much to the table as far as providing our classrooms with infinite amounts of resources that can be used and applied in infinite amounts of ways. As long as there’s a reliable connection to the internet available to use, students and teachers can access materials, resources, lessons and content from any hidden corner of the world.

Think about it…the “I left my homework at home” excuse is literally invalid now!

Wahoooo!
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You’re in a rush and need a quick idea for a lesson? No worries, a quick Google search will actually bring up thousands of ideas that you can use in your classroom.

If you’re using an LMS platform in your classroom, you can keep track of your students’ performance and grades with minimal effort.

Sounds great right? It is, BUT (and there’s a big BUT), you as a teacher, NEED to know how to apply tech in useful and innovative ways that go beyond simply replacing the pen and paper. With every advantage technology may have, there are countless drawbacks that continue to scare teachers away.

In our last class, my classmate Kyle, who’s directed reading topic focused on the B.Y.O.D. approach to tech, came to a big realization. For the upcoming school year, Kyle was hoping to have been able to completely transition into a paper-less classroom. As we continued our research over the past six weeks, he realized that going completely paper-less is not 100% feasible. With all the drawbacks and potential unavoidable issues that come with bringing technology into the classroom (also relying on it 100%), going totally paper-less would be very difficult, and in many cases, wouldn’t be as practical as you’d hope.

Although it would be more realistic to aim for an 80% paper-less classroom, some subject areas such as math, rely heavily on working with paper. Having a pen and paper to write out your work is not only practical, but it’s much easier and functional in a math class for instance. Throughout the study, Kyle’s attitude towards B.Y.O.D. definitely changed. He no longer seems sold on the idea of going completely paper-less, something he wouldn’t have realized had he not taken the time to look into all aspects of this teaching style.

As Kyle was sharing his thoughts last week in class, I felt as though we came to similar conclusions and share a lot of the same sentiments towards technology. Although tech is wonderful and can make all sorts of things possible in the classroom, we still haven’t quite figured out everything about it…yet.

So why did I chose to focus on language?

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I chose language as my main focus because I realize how many people have used technology in the past to learn all sorts of things relating to language. Languages are very systemic and scientific; there are rules to learn and memorize; there are exceptions and distinctions that you must learn to identify and understand; and you must practice over and over until you finally get it right.

A lot of software that’s being offered to consumers these days provide students with the opportunities to learn and practice all of these things in the privacy of their own homes. A lot of the software out there provides learners with video lessons, sound clips and audio books/texts, and even voice recognition technology. Furthermore, these programs often use some sort of LMS platform that can keep track of your progress and performance in real-time (including grades). Not only that, but most of these programs provide learners with real-time, online video and chat support with REAL PEOPLE (Teachers or trained instructors) in case they have questions or need further guidance/assistance.

With these services, not only are students able to listen and practice speaking the language, they are able to ask questions and gain insight on their progress as they are learning. It’s not perfect, but people use these programs, and they definitely work well enough that many people continue using them. I actually know a lot of people who have used language learning software and apps to either learn a new language, or to brush up on the skills that they already have.

In case you were wondering what type of software I’m talking about, here’s a list of some of the best language learning software in the market right now: Link

Summary of Learning

Let’s see here…
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So what did I learn this semester?

For my final blog, I decided to give you a recap of my findings. I will then provide you with some reflections on my experience, as well as some final thoughts and some of the conclusions I came to from my research.

Blog 1: The cons of bringing technology into the classroom

Bring on the bad!
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What did I learn?

Technology availability and funding are giant obstacles that will most likely continue to create problems for teachers, students, and schools alike. Equity amongst different schools and demographics is always going to be an issue and not all students are going to be provided with the same opportunities, tools and resources as students in more privileged communities.

Technology availability, such as reliable internet and WI-FI connections, are always going to be a gamble and will never be a guaranteed thing (…yet). When you’re simply trying to get a video to work or your students must log into whatever LMS platform you may be using in the classroom, if we don’t have an internet connection, you can kiss your lesson goodbye.

Then comes the question of convincing teachers and administrators to actually embrace technology. As my classmate Jen mentioned in her Cons blog, there are a lot of teachers out there that are avoiding technology for various reasons. Whether they are unwilling to adapt or change their old ways, or they don’t have the adequate training or direction; unless administrators and school boards are providing support, training, guidance, and ideas; then we can’t really expect teachers to be interested in, or take the initiative to implement blended learning in their classrooms.

And then there’s the age old question of distraction. My classmates Kyle and Liz both talked about student distraction in their blogs, and how devices, social media, and mobile apps/games have proven to be a giant obstacle for all modern-day teachers. Heck, even WE are addicted and distracted by our own devices, how can we expect our students NOT to be?

Blog 2: Preventative measures to avoid the cons

You gotta get creative with those solutions
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What did I learn?

In this blog entry, I addressed the question about funding. For schools that are lacking in funding and equipment, I found a lot of information relating to grants and external funding options. In relation to having limited resources and equipment, I read about how to share equipment and allotting time for students to work on computers using a rotation system. These are excellent suggestions, especially if you’re hoping to slowly transition into a blended learning classroom. For classrooms and teachers who want to go completely paper-less however, sharing computers may solve some of the minor issues, but it won’t replace the pen and paper. I think the biggest thing I learned here is that sometimes we simply have to work within our means. As much as we may want to implement certain teaching styles, if we don’t have the tools readily available for everyone, then we must adapt and settle with what we have available to us.

Another interesting point that I came across was that as teachers, we should be advocators for technology. If we don’t want our students to be distracted by their devices, it’s our job to learn about these tools, and teach them how and when to use them in an educational environment. According to a lot of my findings, technology isn’t failsafe. There’s very little evidence that these tools are helping students flourish academically, so in order to use these things to their full advantage, teachers NEED to know how to use them.

In my study that week, I also learned the importance of training and providing as much support as possible to our teachers. If we can’t convince teachers and administrators about how beneficial these tools can be in the classroom, then we’re never going to move ahead and catch up with the times. If we’re providing teachers with the opportunities to bring these tools into their classrooms, we also have to be willing to show them the ropes and support them whenever they require assistance.

There was also the question of planning and how putting together online courses and creating your own content for your classes is not only time-consuming, but can be extremely frustrating as well. Through my own experiences and my readings however, I’ve found that through trial and error, a lot can be learned. Something that might’ve taken you hours to do initially, can quickly become a simple task after some practice. Teachers need to put in some serious work at the beginning, but once you start to get the hang of it, things get much easier from there.

As for addressing tech availability for students, it’s important not to assume what students have or don’t have access to at home. One of the articles I read suggested surveying your students to find out what type of tools they have available to them outside of school. If the majority of your students don’t have access to the internet, let alone a device, then you can’t expect your blended learning classroom to take off.

Blog 3: Interesting finds

interesting…
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What did I learn?

This was an interesting week for me because I realized a couple things that kind of shattered some of my previous work to pieces. During one of our discussions in class, Kyle mentioned how many school districts, including the Regina Public School Board, often have restrictions or simply don’t allow teachers to use grants to purchase laptops for their classrooms. The reasons for this is because unless we’re purchasing board-approved devices and software, having devices that aren’t supported by the board will not receive any maintenance or tech support. For school boards, having classroom teachers purchase devices that they aren’t trained to repair only results in further costs and staff training. Furthermore, purchasing unapproved devices can result in software compatibility issues, potentially rendering the devices obsolete or useless. It’s important to figure these things out BEFORE you go ahead with any type of technology grant application.

I realize that regardless of how new and current your devices may be, they will only continue to work properly and efficiently unless we’re able to maintain them. If that’s not the case however, devices don’t exactly age too well and can become pretty much useless after a couple of years.

Stager’s blog post was particularly interesting because he argues that unless we’re providing our students with quality products, why bother bringing them into the classroom in the first place. I definitely agree with Stager. If we aren’t providing our students with quality materials and quality experiences, how on earth are we to expect them to produce quality products? How can we expect students to unleash their creativity if the machines they are using are incapable of performing such tasks? Unless you’re figuring out innovative ways to use these tools, it’s almost as though you shouldn’t use them at all. Definitely something to keep in mind.

Blog 4: The pros

Not bad!
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What did I learn?

The pros were a lot easier to identify this week. Technology obviously has a lot going for it and it definitely offers teachers and students new opportunities that wouldn’t be possible without it. For instance, tech allows people who live in remote areas to access education; it allows us to connect with other learners from all parts of the world; and it allows students to take control of their learning and progress at their own pace. Students and teachers can access documents, lessons, resources and content from virtually anywhere. Sharing homework and assignments is as easy as a simple push of a button. Heck, even the fact that we don’t even have to leave our homes to attend school is an outstanding pro!

A lot of the articles I read pointed out how blended learning classrooms can help students develop better research skills, become better independent learners, improve their decision-making skills, and help them become computer literate. Technology can save time and money for teachers and schools, it can allow very personalized learning opportunities for students and it can help us gain better insight to the way our students learn (when using programs or LMS platforms that keep track of grades and performance).

Tech allows us to stay up-to-date, providing our students with the most current content. Technology is constantly evolving, improving and becoming more and more innovative. Apps and programs are constantly being developed to better suit the specific needs of our students. As far as versatility and problem-solving go, tech obviously reigns supreme.

What I learned the most however was its effectiveness in language classes, particularly with ESL classrooms dealing with second language acquisition.

Using language software for example allows students to practice outside of the classroom setting. This is particularly useful with reading and writing. Teachers can provide students with additional online content, lessons, resources, drills and enriching material that can allow learners to explore their learning at their own pace. If students aren’t feeling confident in one domain, they may go back and revisit specific units or modules.

Many programs that teachers use in language classes also allow students to practice their oral language skills with voice recognition programs. Allowing students to practice oral language outside of the classroom can allow students to become more confident and comfortable speaking out loud. The biggest argument for these tools is that you can go home after a lesson, and continue learning, which is essentially the key to learning a new language. Furthermore, the use of video, including tutorials, instructions, or even having students produce their own videos for assignments, allows the learner to interact with the material in innovative and interactive ways

Reflections

hmmm….
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So what does this all mean to me now? Well, the initial purpose of this directed reading course was to find ways to implement technology in a language class. Whether we’re dealing with ELA, French, or we’re teaching an ESL class to newly arrived immigrant students, I’ve learned some very important things that will come useful to me as I start to experiment a little more with tech in my classroom.

As for all the negative aspects about technology, I think it’s important to always expect the unexpected. There are things that are simply going to be out of your control; relying 100% on tech may not be the best course of action to take.

I think the bigger things teachers need to focus on is to finding innovative ways to use technology in their classrooms. In order to reach this, there really aren’t any magical solutions. For one, you need to allow yourself enough time to prepare and put together your courses. Blended learning environments take some serious initial startup times to put together, so you can’t expect these things to run smoothly, nor can you expect them to start up immediately. These things take time to develop and require a lot of thought and planning to bring these things to life.

If you aren’t the one putting everything together from scratch, then you’re going to need to connect with people that either know how to do these things, or are willing to share their resources and ideas with you. Building a network, whether it’s for support, for ideas, for sharing lessons, or even linking and connecting with each other’s classes; it’s important to know people who are doing the same things you are. You never know when you’re going to need a hand!

I’ve come to realize that revolutionizing the way we use tech in our classrooms is a very difficult feat to accomplish. One of the reasons I say this is because I really didn’t find too many resources telling me how to use tech in really groundbreaking ways. Sure we can set up stations, students can work at their own pace, and they can access their information from any place at any time; but I didn’t really find anything that really stood out to me as truly “breath-taking”. Throw in the fact that devices are not only distracting, but also facilitate malicious behaviors such as online bullying; it becomes quite easy to allow the negatives to outweigh the positives.

Truthfully speaking, I can see why so many people dismiss tech when sometimes it’s actually a lot easier to simply stick to the basics and teach the “old school” way.

Negatives aside, I did learn a lot about how useful tech can be for ESL and students learning another language. A lot of the ideas that were suggested in my readings will be things I will be seriously taking into consideration for my future classes. Being able to flip through past lessons and modules, and even having the ability to work at your own speed would all be very beneficial to learners.

Languages require a lot of practice, meaning class time and conversation labs don’t provide anywhere near enough time to practice. Anyone who’s ever learned a second language will tell you that the lesson should never end in the classroom; it should continue outside of school hours, ideally as often, and in as many different ways as possible.
Teaching French immersion, I need to find ways where I can encourage and motivate my students to continue learning outside of school. The other day, Liz mentioned how a lot of her math students are going home at night and watching YouTube videos to learn concepts that they are having trouble with in class. Although we did joke about how some people would argue that video tutorials on YouTube could potentially “render our jobs obsolete”, there’s a lot that we can embrace from this notion. We briefly talked about how this could easily become part of our lessons. For example, we could assign videos for students to watch before class, that way they are coming to class prepared and with valuable background knowledge. In a language class, this could mean assigning students to listen to a French song for example, or having them decode, translate or transcribe the dialogue in a video. As of right now, I’m definitely going to be focusing a lot more time on trying to find new ways to provide my students with opportunities to continue learning outside of the classroom.

Conclusion

well…looks like I’m done here…
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In closing, I would like to thank everyone for all the insight and helpful tips they’ve shared throughout the past six weeks. I feel as though these tech classes I have taken with Dr. Couros have greatly helped me build a network of reliable and truly committed individuals that share the same visions, passions and interests towards technology in education.

I have a lot to think about as I start to plan ahead for the coming school year. Thanks to my research and my peers, I probably won’t dive head first into any of these things, without taking some precautions. This also means I won’t be as hesitant as I used to be towards tech either. I’ve started to figure out some of my own cool ways that I can bring tech into the classroom; I’m definitely going to do my best to use them.

Lastly, what works for some people, might not really work for you. What’s important is capitalizing on your strengths and taking advantage of what works best for you and your students. If you’re not much of a Smart Board kind of teacher, then why invest the time and effort to bring in something that you might not even end up using to its full potential. Whatever you end up using, commit to it full-heartedly. I’m finally feeling as though I’m starting to figure out what works best for my style of teaching, and what type of classroom I’m trying to create for my students.

Thanks for stopping by everyone, and I wish you all the best in your journeys. Good luck!

Thank you, thank you!
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Dre


Checking out the pros

Officially in the “future”
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“The era where computers rule the world is here. Just as technology plays a major key role in business relations, entertainment, music, movies, and almost every aspect of our everyday lives, it plays an equally important role in education. Studies have shown that 90% of students have access to some type of computer or mobile device – whether at school, at work, or at home. So, it’s not surprising to see the evolution of classrooms and teaching methods gravitating in the direction of technology.”

Article can be found here.

This week I’ll be focusing on the pros of bringing technology into a language class.

Unlike my past posts, I feel as though this week will be a little easier for me as the media tends to lean in favor of tech use in the classroom.

“AYE!”
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Whether technology is allowing people in remote areas to attend online university classes, or the fact that we don’t really have to rely exclusively on libraries to conduct our research for assignments (like many of us used to); having access to online and digital tools is definitely a “game-changer” when it comes to diversifying our teaching, our learning and our resources. For many students, tech is fun and engaging; it captures peoples’ attention and kids want to use it. Furthermore, not only do digital and online pedagogical tools allow students and teachers to have access to resources from anywhere and at any time, but they also make collaborating with others a lot easier thanks to cloud-based software (link).

Having access to the internet definitely has the ability to make every-day tasks much easier for teachers. Teachers can quickly share documents, ideas and lessons with colleagues with the simple click of a button. Contacting and keeping parents up-to-date is easier than ever with email, classroom blogs and online grading systems such as PowerTeacher’s Parent Portal.

Blended learning classrooms help students develop better research skills, learning independence, self-engagement, improved decision-making skills, responsibility and overall computer literacy. Others would argue that blended learning environments can also improve efficiency, save money and time, personalize learning and gain better insight of how your students learn and what type of support they may need from you.

“Basically, a blended approach ensures that not only is the learner engaged more and driving his/her individual learning experience to some degree, but also since different learners have different learning styles, a blended approach is more likely to cater to those varying needs. Of course there are also numerous benefits for the instructor – instant feedback, and the ability to quickly assess learner performance and needs based on reporting, testing or quizzing via the LMS. “

Link to article

With tech and blended learning environments, students have instant access to knowledge, teachers can personalize learning to better suit students’ needs, and with every passing day, teachers and students are gaining more and more access to newer and more innovating apps, software and tools. As this article mentions, technology can actually make our lives a little easier too:

“Educators should understand that if they employ technology in their classroom that is similar to the technology students use at home, their teaching job will be easier”

Unlike the old, stale textbooks many classrooms are still using to this day (sometimes from the 80’s and 90’s), online tools and resources can constantly be updated and can provide students with the most relevant and current content. (link)

Where the party at?
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“This study investigated the potential benefits of a blended learning approach on the reading skills of low socioeconomic status students in Grades 1 and 2. Treatment students received English language arts instruction that was both teacher-led and technology-based. Comparisons were made with control students who received the same English language arts instruction without the blended learning component. Results showed significantly greater pretest/posttest gains on a standardized reading assessment for the treatment students compared to the control students. The greatest discrepancy occurred in reading comprehension. A sub-analysis of low-performing English language learner students in the treatment group revealed the largest reading gains. At posttest, these students performed at the level of non-English language learner students in the control group. Results indicated a blended learning approach can be effective in enhancing the reading skills of low socioeconomic students.”

Link to article.

The reasons are there you guys. Factor in the fact that the kids we’re teaching at school basically were born with devices in their hands; it becomes more and more clear as to why we should just welcome tech with open arms instead of dodging and demonizing it.

Technology’s the devil
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I won’t bother going into everything that can go wrong either, because as teachers, we KNOW what can go wrong. But is that enough to make us want to quit while we’re still ahead?

As I read through my articles this week, I noticed a really interesting “pocket” that I’d like to explore in this post: using technology and blended learning while learning a second language.

oh snap!
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There’s been a lot of research done in this field that’s worth taking a lot this week. According to my readings, there’s a lot to gain from tech for ESL students (or any students learning any language for that fact).
This article for example discusses how word processors can help students improve their writing abilities until their work becomes legible and comprehensible to others.

“We go through a process of creating and re-creating text until it is fully comprehensible to others and is accurate. We can create a draft, show it to others and, based on feedback, can make changes to improve the text. The tools can also help us by showing that our spelling or grammar needs work, too. Technology makes this much easier, and makes it more likely that learners will engage with the editing process to produce the highest-quality text that they can. This writing can then be displayed for others to look at and comment on.”

When I was learning French for example, this particular statement holds a lot of truth (for me at least). Having gone through the BAC program (French Education Program at the U of R), you are required to gain a masterful understanding of French. Students in this program must attend school at Laval University in Quebec for an entire year in order to gain the necessary skills to not only read, write and speak French, but also teach it. Writing for me was a big factor, as word processing tools, online grammar editors, dictionaries and writing tools all helped improve and develop my writing skills.

yeah, this is the 2014 model, it’s pretty cool.
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Furthermore, although immersion is a major component to language acquisition, any additional methods that can either improve or augment the amount of social interactions and exchanges we have is going to benefit the learner:

“Trying to find ways for people to do meaningful spoken language practice in a class can be very challenging, particularly if, as a teacher, you lack confidence in your own spoken language skills. Linking your class to other classes around the world, using tools such as video conferencing, can give a reason for a learner to ask a question and then try to understand the response. It might also provide support for the teacher, too. The technology mediates the process, getting language out there and giving feedback that shows whether someone has or hasn’t understood what you have said.”

In the following article, the author makes a very interesting point in relation to social media:

“Using tech means that students can now turn to Twitter to use the language, without having to pack the class off on a school trip. Goria says: “Use of technology has moved towards the internet and social networks, rather than concentrating on pieces of purposely-designed technology that you would have in language labs. They increase exposure to the target language and allow you to join groups that share interests in the language.”

Although social media has a bad rap, if teachers start playing their cards right, rather than fearing and banning platforms such as Twitter and Facebook from the classroom, we could be using these tools to establish valuable social networks. If used correctly, these new connections can allow learners to connect with people around the world, potentially helping them grasp the language in more engaging and interesting ways. At the end of the day, we need to make learning a fun and engaging experience, so why not open up the experience to include as many people as possible?

oh I like that idea!
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Another interesting point that was made in this post relates to confidence levels. When learning a language, one of the hardest things to do is actually speaking the language. Many students, including my very own French immersion kids, don’t always feel comfortable sharing in class because they don’t feel as though their language skills are adequate enough:

“Computers can also help oral interaction by creating some sort of safety for the speaker. You hide behind the monitor and it lowers your inhibition level.”

The article also points out the beneficial uses of video:

“Another major development in language tech has been the use of video, according to Stannard. “The potential of video is incredible,” he says. “It could be instructions, presenting learning materials or students producing videos themselves. They could pretend they’re telling the news in the foreign language, they could act out a job interview situation, or put videos online for students in Europe about their local town. We could even prepare for oral exams by working in groups, filming it and then watching it back.”

For some students, the traditional classroom setting isn’t always enough. Although the following article relates to ESL students, the same can be said with basically any subject taught at school:

“Learning English as a second language (ESL) in a conventional classroom means all students must crawl along at the same pace in class. However, if you are ahead of everyone then you might become bored. Computer programs and resources allow students to progress at a comfortable speed – quickly or slowly, depending on their level of proficiency. This allows the ESL learner to spend extra time on the sections where they require additional help. This important group of learners now has the opportunity to learn English more efficiently through the use of computers!”

This article touches on the subject as well:

“Further, some technology tools enable teachers to differentiate instruction and adapt classroom activities and homework assignments, thus enhancing the language learning experience. Distance learning programs can enable language educators to expand language-learning opportunities to all students, regardless of where they live, the human and material resources available to them, or their language background and needs. In sum, technology continues to grow in importance as a tool to assist teachers of foreign languages in facilitating and mediating language learning for their students. “

The following blog talks about how technology makes learning much more interactive and engaging, which helps solidify learning and understanding:

“Experts have studied and debated that language learning through input only is not only ineffective but is also not successful at achieving learner language development. The best way to learn something is through an interactivelearning environment created by technological tools and resources. For students learning a language, it‘s key to ‘do’ things with language rather than just learning about language from your teacher. Technology makes it possible for students to interact with their language courses and gather a more complete understanding of all of the language components. Some students feel more comfortable, less embarrassed to make mistakes and learn from them in this interactive, intuitive model.”

My final article once again addressed the question of writing:

“Web-based writing instruction has proved to be an important factor in enhancing the writing quality of low-ability English as a foreign language (EFL) students. In a study designed to examine the effectiveness of Web-based instruction in the writing of freshman EFL students, Al-Jarf (2004) found that the use of Web-based lessons as a supplement to traditional in-class writing instruction was significantly more effective than teaching which depended on the textbook alone. “

The article also discusses the possibility for collaboration and networking with other students from other places around the world:

“In another study, Hertel (2003) describes an intercultural e-mail exchange at the college level where U.S. students in a beginning Spanish class and Mexican students in an intermediate English as a Second Language class corresponded weekly for one semester. Survey results revealed this student-centered endeavor had the potential to change cultural attitudes, increase knowledge and awareness of other cultures, foster language acquisition, as well as boost student interest and motivation in language and cultural studies.”

At the end of the day, I’ve learned that some of the biggest benefits of tech in language classes is that not only can students work at their own speed, but they have more opportunities to challenge themselves when they are provided with the ability to connect with others outside of the classroom. Online and digital tools allow students to continue learning once the class is over. Students can build legitimate connections with native-speakers, who can provide the learner with different knowledge the teacher or class resources could provide.

This week was refreshing, as the past few weeks have definitely focused on the more negative aspects of tech, it’s nice to see the good that can come out of all of this. Although I am still on the fence on whether or not I’d be completely transforming my classroom into a digital and online learning space, it’s good to weigh both sides of the argument.

Thanks for reading everyone, I hope you all have a great week!

Dre


Finding some interesting things along the way…

Over the past year, I’ve been analyzing and learning about tech in the classroom from different angles and perspectives. Today’s post however, will take on a somewhat different and more flexible approach, as I’ll be spending my time discussing some of the interesting finds I’ve come across over the past few weeks in my directed reading course.

Oh hey, check what I found!
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Tuesday night’s class was very helpful to me because the discussions that came up during the meeting brought to my attention some aspects of tech I failed to even think about or address in my blog a few weeks back. The discussions we had in class definitely allowed me to connect more of the dots to some of the questions I had asked myself in my previous posts (take this one for example).

Dr. Alec Couros joined us this week and mentioned a few interesting facts relating to tech availability.

Dr. Couros shared an article with us that ended up bringing some interesting things to my attention.

Big Settlement For Los Angeles School District Over iPad Controversy

“The L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD) bought approximately 40,000 iPads at $768 each, and pre-loaded with software from Pearson, a major textbook publisher and online educational tool creator. But while all iPads and mobile Apple devices use its iOS software, the problem wasn’t with Apple but Pearson’s product that teachers complained was scarce on content, riddles with bugs, and difficult to use.”

In this example, we see how even purchasing state-of-the-art tools can result in some major issues. The L.A. school district bought these devices with the intention of having them perform one simple task. Although Pearson is partly to blame here, this example shows us that we can’t always rely on tech for the answers and solutions were looking for. In this case, the school district dumped A LOT of money into this investment only to encounter these major issues of functionality and reliability.

One of the other interesting points that came out of our meeting on Tuesday related to attaining tech and other digital tools for the classroom. For my blog post last week, I brought up how we could apply for technology grants or seek outside funding to purchase class computers, laptops or tablets.

My classmate Kyle however, mentioned how some districts actually have rules and restrictions relating to these types of classroom purchases. I learned that the reason for which teachers are sometimes restricted or flat-out denied permission to make these types of purchases is in part because school boards are often unable to repair or provide support to devices as they may sometimes differ from the “universal” brand or model that they are trained to repair and support. What this means is that for school boards, having teachers bring new types of personal devices (primarily laptops and tablets) can lead to more problems than anything else.

Denied!
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Let’s take the RBE tech support for example. For them, bringing in devices that they haven’t worked on could potentially require additional training and additional costs (warrantees, software issues, machines that are more vulnerable to viruses, etc.). For a school board, this isn’t necessarily solving any problems, but causing new ones instead. This could potentially lead to you not being able to do much with that grant you were just given by Best Buy. Bummer.

Dang!
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This actually reminded me a lot about the L.A. school district article, as it addresses some of the same issues regarding support and functionality.

This also led me to think about how obsolete our tech becomes in a matter of years. The following article got me thinking a lot about the quality of the tech we are providing our students:

BYOD – Worst Idea of the 21st Century?

If we’re going to provide students with tech, it should be of best quality, otherwise why bother? Furthermore, if we aren’t going to provide students with tech, and we’re taking the BYOD approach, shouldn’t we be asking ourselves what type of tech our students are bringing into the classroom?

Failing to realize that not everyone is bringing top-of-the-line devices to school could result in issues with compatibility and functionality. Students from higher income families bringing in brand-new state-of-the-art tech can be problematic for families that don’t have the means to afford these types of tools.

This might not cut it….
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I’ve actually experienced these issues myself, as some students will often bring the latest Apple phone and products, while others will still be using older IPhone 4 models. At first this might not seem too serious of an issue until we start running newer software and apps on these devices that simply don’t work or are not supported by older Apple products/models. This often results in students not being able to use their personal tools and devices the same way a student with a “better” device could. This brings up all sorts of questions, whether it’s about student equity or the fact that simply bringing a device to class doesn’t always cut it.

This article definitely got me thinking about the whole “quality” argument. I mean… what is quality?

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You may have bought the most powerful laptops in the market, but how long will this tech put up until it becomes completely obsolete? In connection to my previous point about tech support for devices that may differ from those your school board may use, this could further lead to these devices breaking down and becoming utterly useless due to lack of support.

Please stay on hold while one of our highly trained representatives gets back to you
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Whether the tech isn’t being maintained or updated, these devices have a short lifespan and become difficult to use the older they get, especially if we aren’t actively taking care of them.

Another interesting point that came from our discussions brought up the quality and functionality of our products. We brought up netbooks, and whether or not they are that useful at all, or if they’re simply glorified web-surfing devices. Although these devices are excellent tools for simple word processing projects and research, they are unable to run legitimate PC or APPLE software. If you are wanting to do some photo or video editing, or you’re wanting to try your hand at some 3-D animation or coding, you’re not really going to get too far with these things. The computing power is nowhere near as adequate as it should be to be running those types of programs.

Feelings of inadequacy
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This led to another interesting point: if these devices are unable to provide its users with an adequately powerful and up-to-date creative tool, what’s the point of really using these things?

I’ve actually experienced a few issues relating to these very same problems in my class.

This fall, I had my class create video artifacts for their health projects. Students were given the opportunity to use digital tools on the Chromebooks we have at our school. A lot like some of the video artifacts I’ve done for my previous tech classes, I showed the students how to use a couple of the tools I’ve used to create my own videos.

Although my students ended up creating some cool videos, the process was actually very tedious and frustrating for them and myself.

First of all, the tech is not strong enough to process the large volumes of data that usually go into video editing. Files were taking fifteen minutes to transfer from their phones to the computers. Kids were unable to use certain files, and converting them was taking so long, that many of them ended up having to do these things at home on their own computers. To make matters worse, since so many students were connected to the internet, and there was such a high volume of data taking up the bandwidth, even the WIFI was cutting out.

What this actually ended up leading my class to do was use their own devices to create their videos. Most of them have IPhones, which means most of them were able to do their assignments on apps such as iMovie. Luckily for me, everyone had a device (and ones that were capable of performing these tasks with relative ease).

Watch your step!
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So how useful were the netbooks in this case? Not really to be honest, which is a little frustrating considering these tools have replaced the laptops we had a few years ago. I understand why school boards often make these types of purchases, but it is a little frustrating to realize they can’t do some of the things you’d hope they’d be able to do.

I really appreciate the discussions we’ve been having in class, it’s definitely opened me up to new angles to some common issues we experience when working with tech in a classroom. In the coming weeks, I am hoping to make more connections to my area of focus and draw more conclusions from some of the observations I’ve been making.
Thanks for reading everyone, have a great week!

Dre


How to prevent the Cons PART II

Hey everyone, after reading through some of my work, I wanted to continue my reading. I decided to include a couple of extra links to some resources I read this week. This is a continuation of my blog post from yesterday. You’re more than welcome to check it out if you haven’t done so yet.

Pros And Cons Of Using Education Technology
This was a good read because it brought up some common pros and cons of bringing tech into the classroom. As I was addressing the cons of tech a few weeks ago, I found that this article mentioned a few things worth reiterating. For example, this blog talks about social disconnect:

With too much exposure to technology, the student’s ability to verbally communicate can be affected. If you give students assignments that use technological tools and online collaboration, their method in learning and interacting with others will become limited.

The article also touches base on one aspect I skimmed through a few ago relating to work preparation:

For some academic professionals, lesson planning can be overwhelming when adapting technology in education. It requires time to learn how to utilize the tools.

One of the biggest challenges I found about planning for blended learning IS the fact that preparing your lessons and laying down the ground work necessary for putting an online-heavy course together requires tons and tons of time. You need to also keep in mind that things don’t always run smoothly and you need to allow yourself enough time to factor in any trial and error that may occur. Some of my first experiences creating my own digital content, blogs and online courses were quite frustrating. I must have spent half my time trying to figure things out. Creating your videos for example can be really fun and rewarding, BUT it does require you to set aside enough time to get these things rolling. I remember having to convert video files for hours JUST to make them work in whatever program I was using to splice them all together.

There’s truly no easy answer to this solution other than you planning ahead and taking into consideration that you may end up spending a lot of time figuring things out. If you’re going to plan an entire course, perhaps the easiest and best time to do it is during the summer holidays. This is a dilemma in itself, because not all teachers are going to be willing to put the time and work during their personal holidays to put together a course or online unit. I think the easiest way to plan ahead is to always be one or two steps ahead of the game. Having at least one unit on the go, and one in development can help you manage your time. Realistically, once you’ve created a few courses, creating new ones should theoretically become a lot easier and less time-consuming since you already know your way around the platform and the tools you chose to work with.

Blended learning also doesn’t have to be super complex. Blended learning can actually eliminate a lot of the tedious tasks teachers often dread in class.

The second additional resource I read can be found here:
4 Ways That Cash-Strapped Schools Can Address the Homework Gap

This article addresses some of the availability questions I asked myself a few blogs ago. It discusses student equity and how we can level the playing field for everyone. These are definitely solutions and preventative measures that are worth knowing about, as they can definitely help address some of those issues.

“But when we dig in and ask more detailed questions, only 52 percent of our students say they have regular, stable internet access that’s uninterrupted and they can use for homework if needed every night,” explains CIO Sarah Trimble-Oliver.

The district has since provided 1,000 blended learning students with hotspots and laptops.

The article suggests surveying our students about what type of tools and internet availability they have at home. You can’t expect to implement blended learning into the classroom if students are unable to access or do their work outside of school. The article also gives suggestions on where to find access to the internet, which is definitely a useful tip:

Whether it’s a library that loans out hotspots or a local church that acts as a safe Wi-Fi hotspot, schools are finding ways to partner with community organizations and businesses to offer affordable, or even free, reliable high-speed internet access to students after school.

The article also addresses the question about funding and how teachers can seek out funds through third party organizations and grants:

After applying to the state to approve internet hotspots as a device the district can purchase with Title I funds, LCISD provided 200 high-school AP students with hotspots and laptops. Over the summer hotspots and laptops also help pre–K and kindergarten students prepare for the new school year.

As the next few weeks unfold, I’ll continue to revisit some of my previous posts in hopes to boost content and bulk up my research. I’m really looking forward to seeing what else I’ll stumble upon my quest. Thanks for reading everyone and have a great week!

Dre


How to prevent some of those dreaded Tech “Cons”

The focus for this week’s blog is to find/identity preventative measures, strategies, and/or professional tips that can help us deal with some of the difficulties of bringing technology into a classroom. We decided to focus on finding solutions for the cons we identified last week in our blogs.

Watch yourself
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I was actually just reading through some of my classmates’ blogs and stumbled upon Liz’s entry about how to address distractions in the classroom due to electronic devices and tech. I highly suggest reading her blog and checking out the following page she posted that presents some insightful tips on how to deal with these issues. Although I didn’t even touch on the whole “distraction” debate last week, I thought it would be worth mentioning now, considering how much of an obstacle it really is at school.

Distractions are everywhere I tell ya!
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Last week I spent a lot of time discussing issues relating to funding and technology availability. Whether that implies computer to student ratios, Wi-Fi and bandwidth availability, or having enough support and training available to teachers, these are issues that most teachers encounter on a day-to-day basis.

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Since I spent so much time talking about funding last week, how about I just go straight into it right off the bat? I never really put too much serious thought into this question, but I always forget about the option of applying for grants or other forms of educational sponsorships. Plenty of the resources I read (like this one and this one)
pointed me towards this option, and although it’s not a guaranteed way to gain those extra computers or IPads that you were hoping to get for your classroom, it’s definitely something to consider when your school administrators or community are unable to provide these things for your students.

This site for example lists off a few places where we can seek extra funding from outside sources and donors. It also talks about fundraising and other routes we can take. Although most of these resources and contacts are American, they are definitely available in Canada as well.

Money, Money, Monaaaaaay! Whooooo!
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Over the past couple of years, I’ve had several of my coworkers apply for numerous types of grants, including tech grants. One of my coworkers applied for an IPod Touch grant about 7 years ago and used the IPods with his grade 1 class a couple of times every day. His classroom was definitely a strong attempt at implementing blended learning into the classroom, and considering the fact that he was working with grade 1 French immersion students, I would definitely say he did a great job of getting all those kids comfortable with a device. Students used the IPads for all sorts of vocabulary building activities. They’d listen to ebooks, play educational math games, and even use their devices to look up words in the dictionary on a daily basis.

Kids say the darnest things
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As far as getting good use of the devices, I’d definitely say his classroom was a good example of blended learning in action; but as for attaining the grant, it wasn’t too easy. The process is definitely time-consuming, and it differs from organization to organization. It goes without saying that a lot of time and work must go into these types of processes, but if the teacher or school is willing to put in the work, the results can be extremely rewarding. Most of my coworkers that ended up getting their technology grants did it because they wanted to try new things out in their classrooms. Even the most privileged schools won’t always have 1:1 computer to student ratios, so sometimes applying for grants is your only shot at getting what you want.

I was hoping this would work…
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The following resource presents a few tips and solutions on how to improve the way we use tech in a language class with limited resources. I found this pretty useful because it gave useful suggestions on how to make bring blended learning elements to any classroom. As the blog suggests, sharing and allotting times and schedules for your classroom resources is a good way to take what you have available to you, and stretching it out as far as you can. We can’t always avoid availability issues, sometimes our best solutions are simply to get smarter on how we’re using and sharing them amongst everyone.

This article discusses how technology is absolutely necessary in the classroom if we want to address all students’ needs. I found it interesting that the author mentions how regardless of what we have available to us, it is our job as teachers, to find ways to make these tools easy and helpful to use. I also liked how she mentions that we must play advocators to technology. If we don’t sell it to the kids, then why are they going to want to use it? You must show students the value in using and having these tools available to them, otherwise, they become distractions and burdens in our classrooms.

This article actually conducts a survey to see whether or not students are using tech to their advantage:

While numerous surveys suggest that the pervasive use of tablets, smartphones, laptops and digital education content in the classroom is expanding and changing the role of teachers, the AdvancED study found little evidence of technology being used by students to strengthen learning in classrooms today.

I highly suggest reading the conclusive observations of this study, because they mention a lot of the factors that often plague tech use in the classroom. As mentioned earlier, sometimes the root of the issues comes down to the teachers:

We need to ensure that teachers are provided support and training so that they know how to integrate students’ use of technology into their classrooms and create a student-centric learning environment. Until teachers and administrators are convinced that technology can be a help not a hindrance to learning, the shift will not happen. The teacher is the key to students successfully using technology as a learning and problem-solving tool. Students thrive when the teacher requires students to use technology not only for researching and writing but also to solve problems, work collaboratively and develop creativity (Rasmussen 2015).

From the readings I did this week, I’ve realized that a lot of the preventative measures we should be taking to avoid issues of funding and availability often lay in the hands of the teachers or the schools. If a teacher is unable to persuade their administrators for additional tech in the class (or any type of support of this type), funding is often only available through grant applications. I also learned how to make the best use of what you do have already, as sometimes grants aren’t an option for all schools or communities.

Furthermore, teachers must be driven, well-trained and have a focus and plan of action ready to go before putting any of these things in place in their classrooms. We can have all the tools in the world, but if you’re unable to prove that these things are benefitting your students, then why bother bringing them in in the first place?


The cons of bringing tech into the classroom

Disclaimer: Most of the articles I will be linking to my blog today must be accessed through the Doctor John Archer U of R library database. You will need to sign-in to your account in order to access them.

time to dissect
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So for this week’s blog entry, we decided to focus on the CONS of our topic. That means I’ll be investigating and identifying some of the negative or difficult aspects of bringing technology into a language class. Since we’re dealing with a pretty wide scope, I realize that many of the issues I’ll be discussing today are shared in just about every or any topic relating to the integration of technology in a classroom setting. Whether it’s math, science or team teaching; there’s a lot of common ground when we’re talking about obstacles.

obstacles everywhere!
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For my blog this week, I decided to identify some questions and concerns that came to mind when reading some of the articles I picked out this week. Many of the articles I ended up finding spoke of the successes of bringing technology into the classroom. Of course, with every success, there must be at least a couple slip-ups and hiccups that we fail to mention. The following observations will serve as a “devil’s advocate” perspective. I truly believe wholeheartedly that tech is the way of the future, but without at least identifying some of it’s major flaws, we can’t be expected to bring technology into the classroom without any issues.

playing devil’s advocate
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The first article that I read, coming from the District Administration, focused on presenting some successful examples of blended learning integration in classrooms around the States.

The article itself was compelling and gave me hope for the future. Many of the examples focused on math and language/literacy classes (awesome for me!) and showed how well students are doing by bringing blended learning into the classroom.

hmm… not bad!
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But as we often have these conversations, the same type of questions come to mind. The first questions that came to my mind were those of technology availability and funding. One example in particular really brought things into perspective to me. It explained how most of the students in this particular school have access to computers at all times (all students from grade 4 to 12 have an assigned computer! That’s NUTS!). I can’t ignore this, especially when we’re talking about how successful this school is. As we all know, assigning all students a personal computer will never happen in Saskatchewan anytime soon (especially with the budget cuts. Oh, who am I kidding…regardless of budget cuts or not, this ain’t happening either way!), so the question of tech availability and funding NEEDS to be on the list of cons.

awe shucks…I guess I can’t pay the bill!
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A lot of examples presented in the article talk about implementing blended learning at a school-wide level. In just about all the examples, the schools are using the same resources, software and online platforms to conduct their business. In other words, everyone is working in unison, using the same tools and basically working TOGETHER to do to the same thing. It’s a matter of consistency, and in these cases, things were VERY consistent.

I like this. Actually, scratch that…I LOVE THIS. I mean, if you truly want to implement blended learning in the classroom effectively, it should definitely be at a “global” scale, not just in ONE classroom. There should definitely be some level of continuity, and if we want these things to truly work, we should be implementing these systems in ALL classrooms.

BUT, I am going to be realistic here… in order for this to happen, not only do you need an administration to push their school in this direction, the teachers would need to be on board with this move and have the skills to go along with it as well. Unless you’re starting from scratch and have nothing but “new” teachers working at your school, there’s no question that admin would run into some heavy resistance from teachers who either don’t feel comfortable teaching this way, or are not willing to change everything they know about their profession just to meet these modern-day demands.

ahhh, this seems fairly appropriate
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This then leads to the question of training and support…not only do you have to get everyone on the same page, everyone needs to be able to use this tech at a proficient level. Then we need resources (in this case, either purchasing access to online resources or paying subscription fees for specific online platforms and software) and digital tools that are readily-available to students at all (or most) times. Ultimately, it always becomes a question of money and funding, because unless we’re going to be depending on students bringing in their own devices, we can’t expect to have such easy access to devices.

Oh, by the way, if you are like me and are interested in the whole B.Y-O.D. argument, my classmate Kyle will be focusing his entire directed reading study on all issues concerning the topic.

Furthermore, the following article I read for my readings also discusses B.Y.O.D. in much greater detail.

Anyway, back to the article…

Although having an entire school adopt blended learning into its’ classrooms is incredibly ambitious, it also requires a great deal of planning and preparation (not only on the teachers part, but admin as well). Admin would have to have a vision and a plan set in place in order to make this happen. They would also have to “sell” this idea to their staff. Although this shouldn’t be something that stops anyone, it’s definitely something that any administrator would need to take into consideration.

Dude! You gotta sell it to them!
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As mentioned before, not only would you have to get everyone on the same page, you would also have to train them. Although this shouldn’t be so difficult, realistically, when and how would you do this? School boards only assign an “x” amount of PD time for teachers, and teachers are only given a small amount of prep time per day (if at all) to plan out their lessons. I’m just wondering how you would train an entire staff to bring these things into their classrooms when there’s literally no time to even do this. Are teachers coming in on their free time to train? Are administrators providing their staff with training sessions or are they expected to learn these things on their own? Are teachers only given a half-day tutorial on how to use these tools, or is there legitimate support being provided at all times within the school?

I really don’t know…
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I don’t know…unless the school is literally made up of newly-graduated millennials, I can’t see how an entire staff could learn how to use all of these resources through a quick tutorial. The only reason I’m “good” at tech is because I’ve spent my entire life fooling around on a computer. Unless you’ve had a similar upbringing, you won’t be able to just “pick these things up” and go. I guess my biggest thing here is…what about the “older” teachers who aren’t comfortable using tech?

I mean, sometimes you CAN teach an old dog some new tricks
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Also, just to be the devil’s advocate that I promised you I’d be…what about money? Who’s paying for this? How are we paying for all this training? Do we have funding for all the extra support we might need to put these things into place?

Another part of this article that set off some alarms was how one teacher mentions how they love how EVERYTHING is just online. No books, no paper…just online “everything”. Okay, so yes, that IS pretty incredible, but…. what if wifi is down? What if the bandwidth doesn’t allow for an entire class to log in? What if the online resources are temporarily unavailable or the website is down? I mean, these things happen constantly, and I couldn’t rely JUST on tech if I knew that it could blow up in my face. I guess what I’m trying to say is, there are already so many unexpected things that can happen in a classroom (which don’t even include tech issues), so why place all your bets on something that can so easily fail you at any moment?

I know I just said anything can go wrong, but I had no idea THIS could happen!
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Okay, so I realize I only focused on one article, but I’d end up writing a book if I keep going. I also didn’t intend to pick on one article, but to be honest, the article did a good job of bringing up many of the very same arguments I saw in the other articles I read. I think what we need to remember is that bringing technology into the classroom will no doubt benefit students, but it will undoubtedly bring a whole lot of other issues with it as well. Funding is ALWAYS an issue, we see it in articles such as this one where schools are so underfunded that the only way to gain any form of funding is by lucking out and winning it through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

I would have loved to have talked more about my other articles, but I honestly think I’m reaching critical mass on blog length here. If you are interested in reading some of my other resources however, please click on the following links:

Article 3: Exploring optimal pronunciation teaching: Integrating instructional software into intermediate-level EFL classes in China

Article 4: Reading Achievement and Reading Efficacy Changes for Middle School Students With Disabilities Through Blended Learning Instruction

Thanks for reading my blog this week, and if you have any questions or concerns, please hit me up on the comments section. Have a great week everyone!

Dre


Starting something new

Get it?
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Hello everyone and welcome to my blog!

As we begin our directed reading course this spring, our first task on our list of duties is to create an introductory blog that breaks down our topic of interest, and what we want to gain out of this experience.

I’ve never done a directed reading course before, so I’m definitely anticipating some sort of learning curb throughout this process. I’m quite excited to be working with some familiar faces however, which will most definitely make the experience a whole lot easier in many ways.

I’ve got no idea what I got myself into!
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I have the pleasure to be working alongside past EC&I 834 classmates Jen, Jaymee, Liz and Kyle. From past experiences, I have learned a great deal from these specific pupils, and I couldn’t be more excited to be working with them once again! Furthermore, Dr. Alec Couros will be joining the team by supervising and evaluating us throughout the next few weeks.

For my directed reading course, I chose to focus my attention and research on ways that we can integrate technology into a middle years ELA classroom setting.

I couldn’t find a cool ELA teacher doing “ELA” things, so I found a science teacher doing “Science” things instead…
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The reason why I chose this area was because last semester in my EC&I834 class, my classmates Jaymee (yes, the same one!), Roxanne and I created a course prototype for a blended learning ELA class (Click the link to check out a blog entry I wrote, breaking down all the specifics of our course prototype). This project got me thinking of how I could eventually integrate these very same blended learning elements into my own classroom the way we designed them in our prototype.

Although we put a lot of work into this project and made many portions of it fully functional and actually ready-to-use in a classroom, I still don’t feel quite ready to bring these things into my room for various reasons.

Yeah…I’m not ready for this just yet…
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For one, working in a school with limited computers, it’s very difficult to actualize these theoretical visions. Wifi isn’t always cooperative, and sometimes kids aren’t able to log onto their accounts for whatever reason. This is definitely a poor attempt to justify why someone should NOT try these things in their classroom, BUT they are nonetheless nuisances that are frustrating when you simply want to get work done with your class.

Ugh…SO annoying!
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Sure, these are typical issues we would typically face in a typical everyday scenario; but shouldn’t we have some answers to these “typical” issues?

As a goal for this course, I intend to find/put together strategies that can work around some of these kinks I often run into when trying to bring tech into the classroom.

I’m also going to be looking into some of the pros and cons of bringing technology into an ELA class (or any language class for that matter).

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I see this course as an opportunity to further explore some of the questions I left unanswered last semester, with the hopes of learning plenty of new and insightful things along the way.

Having a little more freedom with the direction I take my research in this time, will allow me to answer specific questions I’ve had in relation to teaching with technology in my own language classes. Although I don’t teach ELA this year, I have taught it several times in the past. Furthermore, as a middle years French Immersion teacher, I’ve found that many of the issues, strategies, approaches and techniques used in any type of language class, are applicable and quite similar to those seen in a typical ELA class.

Throughout the semester, I hope to gain more knowledge on content creation and putting together my own materials and courses for my classroom. Seeing that I teach French, I’ve found that it’s next to impossible to find good, updated, and easy-to-understand content, appropriate for french immersion students. If I ever find anything, it’s the same stuff my teachers taught me with over 25 years ago. That’s kind of crazy if you think about it…

Furthermore, when it comes to French resources, they rarely ever cater to French immersion students. If I happen to stumble upon grade 6 level French resources, they’re often far too difficult or advanced for French immersion students, as these resources are often intended for native-french speaking students (not students who are learning French as a second language).

This is why I’ve often resorted to creating my own material for my classes.

Seeing that I’ve learned so many new things in relation to creating my own educational videos and digital resources through the EC&I830 and 834 (with Dr. Couros) classes I took over the past year, I’d like to further explore content creation in relation to language classes.

I’m looking forward to working with a much smaller team this time around as well. Not only will we have more opportunities to voice and share our ideas, we’ll also be able to get a deeper look at what our other classmates are learning about as well.

Wish me luck, and I hope you’ll be able to take away something new over the next few weeks from my blog. Take care everyone!

Dre


It’s the final countdown everyone! But let’s look back on my course prototype first…

Hello everyone!

Oh hey, what’s up?
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Good to see that everyone is alive and well after this crazy semester. I’m not going to lie, there were more times than not that I had to really push myself to get going on things, I think my brain knows the end is near.

Sometimes my brain’s got a mind of its own
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Anyway, today I’m here to talk to you about Jaymee, Roxanne and I’s course prototype!

We had a lot of fun creating this thing and I would be lying if I said that I didn’t learn a few new things during the whole process.

We were asked to include our course prototype, as well as our course profiles. I’ve included everything in the document links below, so please go check them out if you have a chance.

Course prototype login info:
course prototype login info

We were also asked to provide you all with an overview of the whole process that went behind creating our prototype. For a more detailed look at how we decided on an LMS platform and what sort of work went into this assignment, please go check out my previous posts:

Blog about our general idea and direction for the prototype
https://andresaranedablog.wordpress.com/2017/01/23/lets-get-this-started/

Blog about experimenting with Google Classroom
https://andresaranedablog.wordpress.com/2017/01/30/interview-with-the-google-classroom-guru/

Blog about creating your own artifacts and content
https://andresaranedablog.wordpress.com/2017/02/22/why-you-should-start-creating-your-own-curricular-and-pedagogical-content-for-your-class/

Blog entry describing course profile and details about the creation process
https://andresaranedablog.wordpress.com/2017/03/02/so-whats-going-on-with-my-prototype/

Blog entry revolving around my group putting the finishing touches on our prototype and my review of what I liked and didn’t like about Google Classroom
https://andresaranedablog.wordpress.com/2017/03/25/the-quirks-of-using-google-classroom-finishing-up-our-prototype/

Go easy on us will ya?
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As for the peer evaluations, I am really happy we got so much feedback from our classmates about our project. I was a little worried prior to handing in our prototype because I wasn’t too sure how it would measure up against other courses. I always experience a little self-doubt, but overall, I’m really happy with what we came up with.
The feedback we received was SO useful and it really made me think critically of the elements that we ended up forgetting to include, or omitted altogether.

One of the biggest take-aways from this assignment is whether or not I’ll ever use Google Classroom for myself. After reviewing my classmates’ projects, I got to take a closer look at Moodle, which I’ve only had a few chances to actually work with. Right off the bat, I’ll tell you right now, Moodle seems like a better choice if you are looking for more features, customization and an overall, more organized and polished-looking product. Obviously there are some drawbacks to this LMS, but from what I gathered, it appears that it has a lot more to offer in terms of aesthetics and organization (compared to Google Classroom).

So many choices!
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When we decided on our LMS platform, Google Classroom seemed like the most logical choice for us. Being that we all work for the same school division, and we all use Google EVERYTHING for the most part, we decided to go with the Google LMS platform. We didn’t shop around, we didn’t experiment with other platforms, and we didn’t really look into what sort of features other platforms had to offer. I don’t really regret or resent our choices, but I do wish we could have looked around first.

Needless to say, I have some beef with Google Classroom. The platform is lacking in some crazy departments I never thought it would be lacking in. For one, there is almost next to no way to customize the look, organization or feel of your course. You can’t add pictures wherever you want, you can’t change fonts or font sizes, or anything to that extent.

yeah, that’s right Google Classroom, I got BEEF with you!
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The inclusion of an “assignment feed” is great when you are working within the LMS in a live setting and a live classroom; but when you are working ahead, building your course from scratch and adding assignments, the feed jumbles everything and posts it as you add. The result: a giant, confusing and ridiculous mess. This would be less of a troubling factor if the feed didn’t take up the main portion of the entire site. As soon as you log into our course, the feed is the main focus point. The assignments are all posted in no logical order, which is definitely confusing. I had this issue and chose to ignore it (mostly because we had already put SO much work into the whole thing, and we didn’t want to restart and do everything in another LMS platform). The feed should be something I choose to enable, because quite honestly, I feel like it impacted the overall feel of our project in a negative way.

Google Classroom doesn’t allow you to move things around or actually manipulate elements so that they look the way YOU want them to look. Instead, it just posts everything and throws it into an unorganized, digital pile of assignments (so to speak). Not that great if you’re like me and you like things to look SLICK, ORGANIZED and EASY TO READ!

What’s that? Oh, you wanna change font size and color? Ha ha, too bad suckaaa
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I’ve taken all the feedback we received from our reviewers to heart, and appreciate all of the constructive criticism. For any further changes we’d make as a group to our prototype, please check out the attached file for a more detailed look at our plan:

Dre, Jaymee and Roxanne’s course prototype changes document
Changes to our prototype

Creating digital artifacts has become a thing I’m quite fond of now. Artifacts allow me to present information in much more entertaining, and (hopefully) much more engaging ways. If I don’t end up setting up a blended learning course in my class next year, I’ll at least be implementing the use of artifacts.

Indy knows all about artifacts
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I actually experimented with artifacts this year, and I even had students create their own artifacts for some of their projects. My students LOVED this, and are constantly asking me if we can do more of these type of assignments. This was one of the main reasons why I wanted to create a unit/course that taught students how to use all these tools to create their own artifacts. With a little direction and instruction, even students in grade 6 can pull off these types of assignments quite well. The key is to scaffold as much as possible and build up on what they already know.

This is actually why we also chose to include a summary of learning in our course prototype. At the end of the unit, students put everything they learned to use. Rather than doing a typical writing assignment, students can present their pieces in fun and dynamic ways.

Here is my artifact I created for my module of our course prototype:

This thing was so much fun to make. I got to joke around, draw and “act a fool” all while passing information down to my students. I could see this working out so well for math and any type of literacy class. Furthermore, as I continue making artifacts for my university classes, I am building my own library of resources and exemplars that can be used for any of my own classes when I’m teaching kids how to do these things themselves.

As we finish off the semester, I am quite happy with the things I learned in this class. As far as blended learning (or online classes) go, this class is a great example of what can be done with this type of setup. These classes have managed to create a really real and supportive online/digital community. I’m lucky to have had the opportunity to participate in, and see all of these things play out right in front of me. Although I wouldn’t be doing the exact same thing with my future classes, I’ll be sure to borrow many of the elements that made this class so much fun to be a part of.

I’m just gonna….borrow this….
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Thank you to everyone who has ever read, commented, or engaged with my blog, my tweets or my Google+ questions. Hopefully I was able to provide the same sort of help in return to some of you.
In closing, I’d like to share my summary of learning with you guys. Give it a spin and let me know what you guys think.

Good luck in the last little stretch and I hope you all enjoy your time off!
Sincerely,

Dre


The quirks of using Google Classroom: Finishing up our prototype

What’s up!
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Hello everyone and welcome back!

So this week we were asked to talk about our prototypes before we hand them in. Taking a step back from our project, I can safely say that we’re done. I’m happy with the content and I’m really excited about some of the ideas we brought into the project.

Soooo excited!
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Today, I will be focusing on the LMS we chose to work with: Google Classroom. I’ll be filling you in on some of my thoughts and criticisms about this platform; hopefully giving you some insight on whether or not you should use it in your own classroom or not.

After reading a couple of my classmates’ posts this week, I found it really interesting to see what types of obstacles they went through during their own process. Bill for example talks a lot about the trial and error process that goes into figuring out what types of tools he wanted to use and implement for his prototype. I think it’s a great idea to look over your options and figure out exactly what you want to gain out of your experience working with these types of tools; after all, once you start, there’s not much room to go back and restart.

Why you should always try it before you buy it
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Jaymee, Roxanne and I all settled with Google Classroom without actually shopping around for another type of LMS platform. Our reasoning behind this decision was that we already use a wide range of Google apps, tools and products; using Classroom was sort of a natural and logical choice for us.

Would I use Google Classroom again in the future? Maybe… but I guess this is where Bill’s experience got me thinking about shopping around FIRST and getting to know how other platforms work BEFORE settling on a final choice.

Is that your final answer?
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In reality however, this is easier said than done. Reading a few past blog posts, I noticed that Katherine has been using several different LMS’s in her actual classes. In a matter of fact, for her ELA and Psychology classes, she’s been using MOODLE and GOOGLE CLASSROOM. That’s extremely impressive, and she had a few reasons for these choices:

However, I had to think of how to set up information in an organized and fluid way, since students need to retain a lot of information. Moodle offers an online ‘binder’, where I can organize content, embed YouTube videos, and provide a place to ask questions. I also wanted an easy way to collect and give immediate feedback on assignments, so I decided to create a Google Classroom and students hand in assignments on that platform rather than Moodle.

Just from reading Kathrine’s blog post, I gained a lot of important knowledge on the pros and cons for Moodle and Classroom. If you’re wondering about these things yourself, I highly suggest reading her post, because not only is it just AWESOME, it gave me some ideas on when to use certain LMS’s.

So many ideas!
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Although I am happy with our prototype, I would have liked a more visually and aesthetically pleasing LMS. I found that Google Classroom was a little boring in the way it presents information and modules. There’s little room for customization and it doesn’t really allow you to get “Wild” with anything. I feel like you should be able to just drag things around and place them wherever you want…Google Classroom definitely doesn’t allow for any of that type of maneuverability, which in my opinion is a major flaw.

Why can’t I customize!?
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I’d like to attest the customizability of other LMS’s, but I simply don’t have the knowledge to back up my claims.

At one point, I must have spent about an hour copying, pasting and formatting text in my course profile to make it look as organized as possible. I aligned everything, added bold text wherever it was needed, and organized everything so that it would be easy to read and navigate through. When I hit “save” in the editing box, everything went back to this awful messy clump of text. What a waste of time.

Everything’s falling apart!!!
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I found that Google Classroom did a lot of this. After a little trial and (a lot of) error, I came to the conclusion that you CANNOT edit or format your text at all in this LMS. This is a HUGE bummer to me. I’m a visual guy. I like things to look GREAT. If you aren’t allowing me to format and edit things the way I want them to look, then you’re definitely going to lose me.

Bye Bye
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I know I’m focusing a lot of attention on this one factor, but as far as aesthetics go, this project could have looked WAY cooler than it does if we were to have used a different LMS. It’s a small mistake that I’m not going to focus more attention on, but it’s definitely something I would CHANGE for next time. So yeah…my verdict: If you don’t mind not having much control over how things look and you just want to get the job done, GOOGLE CLASSROOM is for you baby! But if you’re looking to get fancy (which is what I like to do), then go somewhere else.

I’m out!
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The lack of any sort of settings menus really bothered me too. I like to change things around, and this LMS simply does not offer any of this. It’s straight forward…which is obviously a pro, but also a con, depending on who you are I guess.

As for everything else, like I said, Classroom was an easy to use, user-friendly LMS that got the job done.

The biggest thing I took out of this process WAS IN FACT to SHOP AROUND. I’m happy with the content we created, but perhaps a different LMS could have really made things shine a little brighter.

Who doesn’t like shopping?
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Overall, I learned that creating modules can be tedious and time consuming work. I applaud anyone who is legitimately implementing blended learning in their classroom. I mean, to create all your units from scratch would simply be insane…you would HAVE to find already made material that you eventually replace with your own over time.

I think if that were to be my sole responsibility in my job (to plan units), I WOULD ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT. But, as we all know, adding teaching to the mix takes away a lot of your time and energy to properly execute these things.

Creating content is quickly becoming something I’m enjoying more and more, and would love to continue doing so as much as possible. I had a blast making my artifact, and am looking forward to completing my summary of learning as well.

Before leaving you all today, here is my artifact for my module that I made for our prototype. I love doing this sort of stuff and am looking forward to doing a lot more of it in my own classroom from now on.

Thanks for reading my post this week and I hope you all have a great weekend!

Dre


How my experiences in punk music forums shaped my ideas about online communities

For my blog entry this week, I thought I’d start with a story. My story will hopefully paint a better picture of some of the things that can go on in an open online message board/forum.

So I realize that not everyone knows first-hand about what it’s like to participate in an online community typically found in a forum or message board; so I figured I’d give you a glimpse of what that world is like from some of my own experiences.

For years, I was an active member of Regina’s local hardcore and punk music message boards. The boards underwent numerous moderators and name changes throughout the years, but the general idea always stayed the same. Whether it was “Punk for the People”, “Queen City Punk”, “Queen City Hardcore”, or whatever else it was called; it all served the same purpose: staying in the loop about what’s going on with our favorite music genres!

What were these boards used for?

– First and foremost, the board was meant for fun entertainment and community building. It wasn’t THAT serious.

– See what bands were coming through town

– Find out local and surrounding area shows

– Find out about all the hottest and most underground bands (the more obscure, the better)

– Get in touch with out of town venues and promoters

– Booking shows in town

– Sell your merch or music

– Learn about the community and exchange ideas.

The message board was always interesting to me because it always felt like a “digital extension” (so to speak) of the actual Regina music scene. The people posting on the message board weren’t face-less, anonymous pranksters; they were my friends, they were my bandmates, they were everyone that you would typically see at a local event.

I got to know so many new people, learned a lot about Saskatchewan’s interesting live music past (have you read anything about how crazy Regina’s music scene was back in the 80’s?), and most importantly, I got to talk about music (and everything that goes along with it). In a matter of fact, my band Failed States, which were going on to our tenth year as a band, STARTED on Queen City Punk. I remember one night someone starting a new discussion thread titled “Who wants to start a hardcore band?”. I immediately replied and next thing I knew, I was in a basement with four other dudes about to start a band that we’re still in today. This was a huge shifting moment in my life. These people I didn’t even know eventually went on to become some of my best friends. We’ve played almost 100 shows in the past ten years all throughout western Canada. I even ended up starting two bands after that! And all this… from a silly message board? Wow. I mean…it that’s not community building, I don’t know what is.

The main purpose of the board was a place for all of us to talk. With the political and social nature of this type of music, conversations often dipped into social justice discussions and political critiques and debates. As much as people liked to joke around on the message board, conversations were often fruitful and interesting to follow (and obviously participate in).

I found that being part of this type of online community did require some effort to maintain a functioning structure. For one, you need people moderating the board. Moderators keep order, they enforce rules, and they oversee everything that’s going on (at least that’s what they should be doing). So who are these moderators? Well…Moderators can be literally anyone, just as long as they are willing to take on the huge list of tasks they must do to keep things working smoothly.

In my time on QCP (Queen City Punk), I unfortunately did see a lot of harassment and bullying go down. Since the board is basically open for anyone to use, anyone is technically able to join. That means “anything” can happen. This can obviously be a good thing, but it’s more often than not, a more negative thing to worry about. Many times, people would come in and “troll” other posters or sabotage a discussion thread. I want you all to keep this in mind as we move onto this week’s prompt.

Alec and Katia asked us to talk a little about how authenticity is affected by the degree of openness in a forum? They also asked if it’s possible to support “authentic” learning in a closed forum or discussion space and if authenticity is guaranteed if we open the conversations to the online world?

Now, I want to use my story to tie some of these ideas into these questions.

In relation to “authenticity” and the degree of “openness” in discussions that take place in a forum, I’d like to use my experiences to draw some sort of parallels. I know that my experiences are going to be super different from what I would do in a classroom, but I think my experiences taught me to be vigilant and aware of certain things.

First of all, I think there is a lot to learn from an opening up a private group to the public (or allowing outsiders to come in). I certainly believe there can be authentic learning experiences and discussions in open forums (because I see them all the time), partly because we’re allowing outside input from individuals who may bring unbiased or different ideas or opinions to the table. For instance, if we were to be using a private message board in a classroom, and open it up to allow the outside world to contribute to the community, it could allow students to explore a topic in greater detail. Inviting guest “speakers”, in a sort of “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) type of format usually seen on Reddit, students would have the opportunity to interact with an expert in their field. Having that level of intimate interaction with potential learning material is amazing and completely game-changing. That’s why I like AMA’s, I mean, you can literally ask the person ANYTHING.

Okay, so yes, you may run into some big problems. Learning experiences won’t always be authentic either, as we don’t always know what is coming into the discussion when we’re opening the discussion to the world. I’m assuming if you are inviting someone to come speak to your class in your message board, you must know this person, you can probably vouch for their legitimacy; but if that connection is missing, we definitely run the risk of potential fraudulence.

When I think of “openness” however, I immediately think of all the things that can go wrong. When you’re part of an online community, I feel like the whole “Anything goes” mantra can work, but when we’re talking about a classroom environment, this sort of scares me. We don’t know what people are going to say. We have no real way of knowing if people are “legit” or not. I mean, we don’t even know if this type of exchange would even bring forth any authentic learning experiences to the students. Is it possible? YES… but absolutely NOT GUARANTEED, which is something important to consider.

To me, there’s too many “What ifs” to fully commit to this type of learning environment. I say this because I’ve seen how message boards work, regardless if there’s a moderator controlling everything that is going on. Furthermore, if you were to do this for your own class, you would most definitely have to take on the moderator role, which is something I think lots of people don’t know what exactly it entails.

The potential for community building is something I definitely can’t ignore however. Given the right instruction, guidance, moderation and interest, a forum can develop an incredible online community. Of course, this goes back to the work we put into making it something your students will want to use and engage in. I don’t know how well it would work under the context of educational content, but when people participate in online communities that relate to their personal interests, the community is going to grow regardless. I mean, people are engaged, they WANT to participate. But can the same be said if we were to do this in a classroom? Depending on the topics, perhaps… but you would definitely have to push and encourage things to get going. I find that as long as there’s legitimate interest, engagement and commitment to the topic, learning becomes authentic.

Before I start writing more than what I should, I just want to end this by saying that moderators are the key to making these online communities stay on track. Without any rules or protocol, your community won’t sustain and it will inevitably fall apart. This will lead to poor engagement and definitely no true form of authentic learning. If you want it to be as real as possible, you need to make it that way, and make sure to do everything that’s necessary to assure that all interactions are purposeful and authentic.

Please ask me questions in the comments, I feel like I left a lot of open ends in my thoughts and I welcome any form of discussion on what I wrote.

Thanks for reading my ramblings, I look forward to hearing from all of you!

Dre