Author Archives: Bret McMann

Educational Technology – Week 3

The group that I was a part of during last week’s class discussing educational technology discussed what TECHNOLOGY really entails.  We discussed that many people (me included) jump right to the electronic component being the sole determinant that something falls under the technological umbrella.  This idea was quickly countered by Kirsten who made a great point.  She said that technology does not need to be solely electronics based, and brought up that when the settlers began using the wagon, that wagon was considered state of the art technology for that time, a practical improvement for a job of that era.

home office, computer, desk
Photo by Pexels on Pixabay
typewriter, vintage, old
Photo by ha11ok on Pixabay

Technology & Educational Technology

This brief breakout room discussion has made me challenge my own thoughts of what technology is and what falls underneath the umbrella.  So, I did what any normal person does when they are challenging their own beliefs or needs clarification on a subject….. I headed over to Google. A simple search of “technology definition” helped provide some clarity in my thinking.  Google gave me a few definitions:

  • the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry
  • machinery and equipment developed from the application of scientific knowledge
  • The branch of knowledge dealing with engineering or applied sciences.

I wanted to get some confirmation on my newly discovered understanding of technology, so I went to the next place that any normal person would go to in search of information…..YouTube! Here I found a super simple video that validated my new definition of technology.  This video goes on to further explain that technology is anything that is created by humans in search of a solution to a problem or to make our lives easier!  

This quick Google search exposed my own definition of technology was flawed and needed to be revamped. This new information has also made me rethink my definition of Educational Technology.  Originally, I thought of this concept simply as anything electronic that was used in the educational setting.  After the breakout room discussion and Google and YouTube search epiphanies, I think a contemporary definition of Educational Technology can be as simple as any new technology that has practical educational purposes or improves (makes it easier) the educational practices. 

Like Bart, I also wanted to have a discussion with my Grade 7/8 students about their thoughts on technology and further what they thought a definition of Educational Technology was.  I was also pleasantly surprised with the level of engagement and what they were able to come up with throughout these discussions surrounding technology.  After these discussions, I started going through the assigned articles for this week and was taken back when I got to the Postman’s article.  

balloons, thoughtless blow, comic
Photo by Pixaline on Pixabay

My students, albeit not word for word, touched on 3/5 of his ideas of EdTech outlined by Postman..  They hit idea #1 & 2 together.  They were quick to mention that they feel there is always a tradeoff with technological change.  One student said that whenever I get a new gadget (Play Station in this case) that their interaction in person suffers.  They tend to focus solely on the new piece of tech that their friendships and social interactions become stagnant.  They also understood that these new advancements affect everyone differently, specifically some see advantages and are hit with the disadvantages.  That same student outlined that not everyone can afford the latest advancement which could be seen as a disadvantage.  

They were also able to touch on Postman’s idea #5 surrounding the idea that technology is rhythmic.  Postman outlines that this idea is centered on the notion that technology is in fact part of the natural order of life and cannot be changed.  One student outlined this idea when they brought up the fact that they didn’t know a life without technology (it has always just been there for them) and as such that life would not or could not function without technology.  I was not sure what to expect from the discussions with my class, but was thoroughly impressed and proud of each of them!

Personal EdTech Practices

When I think about my personal experiences and practices with EdTech, one theme or feeling comes crashing to the forefront of my mind…. That of being completely and utterly OVERWHELMED!  Tony Bates, outlines that what makes the digital age stand apart from previous ages is the pace that new technologies come to fruition and are established as an integral aspect in our everyday lives.  This is an accurate rendition of my experiences with EdTech.  I often find it so overwhelming trying to keep up with the newest app or the latest craze that my EdTech path is extremely broken up, choppy and full of potholes.

Some days I feel excited to try a new app only to learn 5 minutes after that there is something different that does just a little bit more…. SIGH!  Not only is it difficult to keep up with the releases of new technology, but it also becomes difficult to keep straight what is approved by the division for use in our classrooms – I just don’t have the brain capacity at times to keep it all straight! With that being said, I feel that I do not have many well established EdTech practices in my classroom outside of the use of EDSBY, Google Classroom and my smart projector.

Cheers,

 

Bret

 

Down Go the Debates – Rounds 7 & 8!

Educators and schools have a responsibility to help their students develop a digital footprint.

Who’s Responsible?

Again, another loaded debate topic! Initially I began to think that well maybe it is our responsibility to help students develop their digital footprint….then I thought to myself would I place that responsibility on my son’s teacher? ….I would not. That made me rethink my initial thought to it is our jobs as educators to EDUCATE students on digital footprints and developing their own.  My viewpoint on this topic was quickly confirmed within the first couple minutes of the disagree opening statement when they said “students arrive at school with a digital footprint.”  To me this is a pretty powerful sentiment to who should bear the “responsibility” of helping students develop their digital footprints…. parents.

Where do Parents Fit In?

To me, I feel that the majority of the responsibility of creating students’ digital footprint should fall with the parents.  I am not saying that educators do not play a role in their development, however, I think we need to see teachers as another resource for students to utilize.  Parents are the ones who decide who, what, when and where their child begins to create a digital trail online, and as a result, they must be responsible to ensure their child is indeed ready to be online.  Like teachers, many parents are likely not very comfortable or lacking training and knowledge to effectively teach their kids so they may just choose not to and pass the buck to us educators.  

Helpling their children create a positive digital footprint does not just include teaching them how to behave online or modeling what it looks like to be a good digital citizen, it also has to encompass keeping tabs on what their little ones are up to while online.  In today’s day and age, there are a lot of apps that parents can utilize to help supervise their child from afar, giving them the trust to be online as long as they are behaving properly.  I often find myself wondering who would be held responsible if the behavior online was one that needed to include the authorities in any manner? I would have to think it would be the parent or whoever owns the phone that the youth may be using to engage in the sketchy online behavior. 

Where do Educators Fit in?

This is a valid question… where do educators fit in? How far or how much do they talk to kids about digital footprints? How comfortable do they feel teaching youth on this subject?  Leona outlines a good starting point to ensure that educators feel more comfortable with this subject matter…. Training or PD!  Most teachers are aware of media literacy, digital literacy, or digital citizenship, but do not feel properly trained to effectively teach their students. Leona outlines that if teachers are indeed going to be given yet another responsibility, then they should at least be trained accordingly and know what and how to model proper online engagement.   She also shared a study that outlines a few more ideas surrounding focuses when and/or if we decide to utilize in our digital citizenship lessons:

  • Going online is a normal activity done by many youth, however parental involvement and supervision with online activity is varied
  • Online communication is often exchanged on social media apps between people they already now in their face to face relations
  • Some student are aware of online identity, many have no clue
  • Students are concerned with their cyber safety and it shapes their digital identities
  • More management strategies need to be implemented that reflect the age of the student

Personally, I don’t want to be the one creating digital footprints for my 30ish students.  They deserve the right to be educated on how to create a strong, positive and safe identity on their own.  They need to experience the ups and downs, challenges and triumphs of being a positive contributing member of their digital community.  I feel that if we as educators are held RESPONSIBLE to create these footprints for the kids, we are creating 30 robotic identities and essentially taking away an opportunity to show their unique individuality.

Online education is detrimental to the social and academic development of children.

This debate topic is one that I still don’t know which side of the fence I fall on.  I seem to think of online learning as what we were forced to head into during the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.  I think that before I can answer this or find a side of the fence to reside on, I need to separate supplemental/emergency learning vs true online learning.  So to get a better idea of what online learning is I did what any person in the 21st century would do, I asked Google for a definition… here is was I was given.  

Online learning is education that takes place over the Internet. It is often referred to as “e- learning” among other terms.

The online learning that we saw at the beginning of the pandemic is a type of learning that can be detrimental to the students overall well-being and development.  It was optional and there was no pressure to be there, just trying to survive a situation where many of us have never been before.  Teachers were not required to hold video meetings with their class or instruct online.  Fast forward, we are back in the classroom and COVID is getting out of hand again, and we are back online.  This time with some more guidelines.  Teachers were required to have daily meetings, office hours and do some online instruction, which started to make it feel more like a classroom, albeit at a distance.

I recall heading back to the classroom after the first long bout of online/supplemental learning and thinking to myself what happened to some of the skills these kids used to have, specifically more of their social skills.  They seemed to have forgotten how to have a conversation and how to behave in a social setting.  They also seemed to have lost significantly more skills over the time away than we would normally see over a normal summer regression; we are still trying to close some of these social and academic gaps these students have from COVID learning.  

7 Important Social Skills for Kids and How to Teach Them

To me, online learning is very age dependent.  I found it difficult to engage many of my grade 5 students during the online learning of last year.  They were not able to work a computer properly on their own nor were they mature enough to let the novelty of something new ware off quickly and get back down to business.  Online learning is geared more towards the highschool and university students were they can reap the rewards of the flexibility that online learning can provide.

Online learning doesn’t have to be a complete failure.  I think that if it is implemented and set up properly, many students can and will continue to develop socially and academically.  There needs to be guidelines and expectations that are followed to a T, if that is not present, then it may turn into a waste of time.

Rounds 5 & 6

Debate #5 – Social media is ruining childhood

Again this week, I find this topic very difficult to answer.  Both sides of this debate did a great job outlining their stances which made it difficult to pick a side.  I believe that social media can impact childhood, but to say it is ruining it is hard for me.  I think that if children are not taught the proper way to engage with these platforms or the skills to be critical consumers, it can be detrimental.  If the time is put in to ensure kids have these tools in their toolboxes, I think it can positively impact childhood.

Parental Responsibility 

Stephen P opened a whole new can of worms with his question or idea that when does the responsibility fall back on the parents for allowing these platforms to consume and ruin childhoods.  I believe the exact wording he used is that perhaps “Social Media is Ruining Parenthood.”  This coincided with the analogy that was brought up surrounding how we teach our children to swim.  We simply do not just toss them in the pool and expect them to know what to do.  It is a process where our children are expected to progress through various levels of swimming lessons, learning new skills along the way to eventually be able to swim on their own.  I think this is a great way to ensure that our children understand how to use social media.  Parents need to work with their kids through a progression of what they are and are not able to do within these platforms.  Parents need to demonstrate proper etiquette online and what is acceptable and not so our children know exactly what they should and shouldn’t do.  In summary, we, as adults , should be teaching and cautiously supervising our young people while they are present on these platforms and educating them whenever they step out of line online, but also praising them for proper and acceptable etiquette online.

Digital Citizenship/Media Literacies

Teaching our children to be responsible, critical consumers is a significant step in ensuring that these platforms do not ruin their childhood.  It is our responsibility as adults to ensure that our children know how to behave online.  According to the GoGuardian article, 5 Reasons to Teach Digital Citizenship, “teaching digital citizenship equips students with the knowledge, skills, and resources to succeed as lifetime learners. This also helps them learn to engage within a digital environment with responsibility and confidence to develop as leaders who will leave meaningful impacts in the lives of others.”  Within the framework of teaching Digital Citizenship, children will learn: informational literacy, cyberbullying prevention, online safety, digital responsibility, and health & emotional well being in the digital world; each important concept, ensuring proper and safe usage of social media.

Teaching our young people media literacy fundamentals will ensure they are equipped with skills to question, evaluate, understand and appreciate their multimedia culture. It teaches them to become active, engaged media consumers and users.

Connection 

Social media provides a plethora of opportunities to connect with the world around us.  This is one of the main reasons why I believe it is not ruining childhood.  This became very evident over the last few years of the COVID-19 pandemic, when we were on lockdown.  Social media platforms provided us opportunities to remain connected to our friends and families while remaining safe within our houses.  I do not believe that these types of connections are superior to the face to face connections, but can go a long way in maintaining relationships and improving mental well being.    

These platforms can also provide opportunities for kids to connect fairly easily with anyone around the world.  I think this can be especially beneficial in the classroom.  Students today are much more equipped to be able to connect with experts in any field through following or message on social media platforms.  Although I am not a child anymore, I have an example of the power of connections through social media.  During the beginnings of the pandemic, the University of Texas Longhorns football program ran a virtual coaches clinic through the use of social media.  This provided me with the opportunities to connect to many expert coaches virtually where I would otherwise not have the opportunity to do so without traveling down to Austin, Texas!  

Debate #6 – Cell phones should be banned in the classroom

Although I was on the disagree side of this debate, I struggle to decide which side I reside on as it seems to change day to day.  Some days I feel that they are enhancing learning in the classroom and the next day I want to smash each and every one of these tiny, controlling devices.  I often circle back to the notion that they are not going to be going anywhere anytime soon, so I may as well use them as a learning tool.  I feel that teachers need to do significant planning, preparation before implementing, cell phones have the ability to improve engagement and they have the ability to improve access to technology.

Preparation, Planning & Implementation

Teachers must undertake a serious amount of planning any preparation when they are trying to implement these devices into their classrooms. The exact purpose for them must be well known and outlined and they cannot be implemented for the novelty of saying that we use technology in our classroom.  Understanding who your learners are in your classroom is a critical step in being able to effectively use cell phones in your classroom.  You would not use them if the majority of your students do not have access to one.  If they do have one, it is beneficial to know what apps your students are already accustomed to using and meet them where they are skill wise.

Another major aspect of this planning and prep work is establishing digital citizenship, media literacy skills as well as specific guidelines and expectations of your students.  This cannot be scoffed off as something that can be taught over a few days, but significant time should be implemented in establishing these skills.  Use/misuse guidelines need to be well established and enforced to ensure that students know what is acceptable use of cell phones.  Many educators have enlisted the use of a contract where all stakeholders are aware of these guidelines and expectations.

Improved Engagement 

These personal devices have the ability to improve overall participation and the flexibility to connect to information in any setting.  Cellphones provide flexible and collaborative learning environments and we should work to incorporate these devices into the everyday classrooms. Through the use of cellphones, teachers are able to connect with students both inside and outside of the classroom.  They have the ability to promote an increase in student-student as well as student-teacher communication which directly impacts the sense of belonging to a classroom community.

The theme of increased engagement also helped develop the student-teacher partnership that Friere(1970) described as essential in the classroom.  Friere also outlines that increased classroom community and stronger partnerships move students to become critical co-investigators alongside the teacher, which cellphones can help facilitate in 21st century education.

Being able to audio and video record lessons, using the camera and accessing the internet or using apps are also ways to improve the engagement of students. Utilizing student’s personal cellphones daily can act as a driver for increased student engagement and hook them into their classroom activities and become a more prominent member of their classroom community.  According to Kunnath and Jackson (2019), integrating cellphones into our classroom lessons and activities provides teachers new ways to keep learning interesting and exciting by using a method and tool not usually allowed in class.

Increased Accessibility

As Leona S outlined during our debate, wouldn’t it be fabulous if we had a 1 to 1 ratio of technology in our classrooms – I know that would vastly change the way I teach and my students learn. However, that is not the case and likely won’t be for many more years to come. If accessibility is the concern then let’s start using the tools that we do have to enhance the learning for our students. If cell phones give us a better ratio of students on devices then let’s use this to our advantage. Cell phones are more commonplace than laptops, chances are more families will be willing to provide a cell phone for their child to bring to school rather than a laptop. Cell phones allow for more reliable access to the internet and likely should take up space in our classrooms.

Leona S goes on to outline that many students have easy access to cell phones and WIFI connections at schools and if they are learning remotely they are often willing to use their data plans to access the internet. With increased access to the internet via WIFI or Data students are easily able to access the APP versions of many teaching platforms such as google classroom and google docs. In agreement with Sam Kerry – He states on his YouTube Channel, until every family has access to universal free WIFi and we have 1 to 1 ratios of technology in our classrooms- let’s be wise and use smartphones to fill the gap of connection and enhance learning in our schools.

Cheers, 

Bret

Ding….Ding…Ding… EdTech Debates Rounds 3 & 4

Debate #3 –  Schools should no longer teach skills that can be easily carried out by technology (e.g., cursive writing, multiplication tables, spelling).

In a world where the progression of technology and its capabilities will continue to advance at an alarming rate, the many simple tasks that were once required of human beings will go the way of the dodo bird.  I do believe that there is still value in teaching certain tasks that are easily carried with technology.  Humans are still going to be required to read, write, work with numbers regardless of the tech advancements.  But, as technology becomes even more abundant, there will still be times where we may be without it, can’t afford it or have forgotten it and are expected to be able to carry out tasks whether at work, school or our everyday lives.  

Handwriting 

I was having a conversation around this debate topic with my Mom the other day.  For some more context, she and my Dad are heavily involved in running a lottery fundraiser for recreation facilities in Foam Lake.  This lotto is still old school and relies mostly on handwritten tickets, either mailed in directly from the buyer or taken over the phone.  They continually run into issues where they cannot read the information that is sent in to them directly from the buyer or the information that is written down by a volunteer via a phone order.  This creates headaches and more work for volunteers to try and decode what has been written down.  A simple task that is not done correctly turns into more work for others to correct; may as well do the task properly the first time than creating more work! I believe there is still significant value to teaching students to be able to print legibly.  I do not think that there is a purpose in teaching cursive writing, however, the value remains for being able to print and print where someone can read what you have written down!

According to Dana Goldstein, in her article Why Kids Can’t Write, poor writing is nothing new or earth shattering, nor is the concern about it.  She later goes on to outline that ¾ of both 8th and 12th grade students lacked writing proficiency according to an American national study.  These same students also struggled with reading and writing skills required to score well on college admissions tests.  Goldstein later goes on to outline that one of the major concerns over the lack of writing skills is the lack of training that is given to teachers.  This made me think of my undergraduate education classes and the lack of instruction we were given in terms of how to teach students to write properly.  

Math

Just like my thoughts on handwriting, I believe that value still remains in teaching students basic math concepts.  I understand that not all students learn the same or have the same capabilities, but I do believe that we need to try to help students comprehend and understand these basic tasks.  Some of these students will no-doubtedly become touted as “calculator kids”, but they should still be challenged with learning the task without tech.  There are going to be times in our lives where students are going to need these basic skills either in the workforce, school careers or their own professional lives.  There will be a time when they are in the grocery store with a specific budget in mind and wondering how much food they can buy or on the construction site needing a calculation without the ease of using their phones calculator or other tech.  Sure there will be times where they are going to need to use the technology, but sometimes, relying on tech may not be the most efficient, especially for basic calculations.  

As mentioned in the debates last week, Saskatchewan is one of the few provinces whose mathematical scores are continually declining.  This, I believe, can be associated with the lack of basic understanding of math skills.  Alberta is another province whose math PISA scores are also declining.  In the article, Alberta Kids Must Learn Basic Math Skills, a concerned parent brought forward a petition to reinstate the teachings of basic math concepts and operations such as addition and subtraction with carrying and borrow, as well as long division and multiplication.  Nhung Tran-Davies, an Alberta physician brought forward her frustrations with the convoluted strategies that are not being taught in the math classrooms.  They go on further to outline the purpose of the petition, “ I am not asking for the complete removal of all these strategies, but merely a re-balance, a refocus, a re-emphasis on the importance of acquiring and mastering basic math skills.”  I can only assume that this frustration is also shared from many Saskatchewan parents!


Debate #4 – Educators have a responsibility to use technology and social media to promote social justice.

The Age of Slacktivism

Can online social media activism be meaningful and worthwhile?

I have a difficult time answering this question – I often find myself questioning the motives of those who are participating as an online activist.  I think social media activism can be somewhat meaningful and worthwhile, but it has lost a lot of its luster, due to the fact that everyone and their dog seems to consider themselves one.  While doing some research into online activism for this post, I came across an article entitled “When Everyone is an Activist Online, Is Anyone?” written by Ella Glover.  She outlines that “social media has once again turned something hopeful into something toxic and that activism is now seen as mandatory or expected.”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 6wSF7bG-iBTGQENoTJ2kVj_e8UBRb7xyF6aSmddk54X6IsEtwB61hfZlAHec08BDqayRTVtkMsEwHupmnpGY-5deVfAF4FtJwNYh-hSyTWyipJG4Ipj-DAJbbdUFN-2SKnP_sRFq=s1600

I felt I needed to actually understand what Social Media Activism encompasses to be able to properly answer this question.  I came across a blog of a former student of Alec’s – Catherine Ready who was able to shed light on her thoughts regarding Social Media Activism.  Through her blog, I was able to find a simple yet effective definition of exactly what social media activism is.  It is essentially using the platform of an online forum to lead or support a cause.  It’s essentially activism behind a screen.

In her article, “When Everyone is an Activist Online, Is Anyone?” Ella Glover’s message throughout the article resonated to be “if we aren’t publicly condemning something bad, or pushing for something positive on our social media platforms, we’re not doing anything at all — whether we are out in the streets or not”.  In all honesty, this is exactly how I feel in terms of social media activism.  I often wonder how much of an effect likes, retweets and hashtags actually carry  and whether people are engaging for the right or appropriate reasons. 

A lot of the time, I am finding myself wondering how TRUE people are when they engage in online/social media activism or whether they are just paying lip service to achieve a certain look or be seen in the appropriate light.  I often see meaningful posts, but hardly see any sort of follow through in person, in the community or away from the keyboard – AKA the keyboard warriors or armchair activists are everywhere!  This thought leads me to wonder, are they helping the cause by posting on social media!? To me, with social media activism, there is a lot of over-promising and under-delivering with boots on the ground.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is im-helping.jpg

Over the last two years, with the arrival of COVID-19, we have found ourselves online or engaging with our social media apps more frequently.  Speaking from experience, my time on these apps has increased, but I have also noticed something else – the content on these apps can be soul crushing, extremely negative, hard to handle and affecting my mental health.  I think social media activism has played a bit of a role in the increase in this type of information with jumping from cause to cause without any sort of action or resolution.  In her article, Ella Glovers reminds us that “we are not equipped to handle the constant barrage of information at once.  The pressure to juggle an infinite amount of injustices in our minds, while also worrying about our own lives is problematic.”  

Many people find themselves in a position where they refrain from posting on social media due to their occupation.  Some “activists” may not find it safe to be posting online in fear of losing their job or facing discipline for thoughts posted online.  This can be particularly true for those who work in civil service.  This is the driving force behind what and how I post on my social media platforms.  I am very rarely posting on any of my social media platforms out of fear of repercussions from offending someone, or how it may be interpreted.  When I do post, I leave personal opinions, biases and thoughts out, primarily based on the fact that I am a teacher.  I find that educators are often held to a different standard to the rest of the public and may be more susceptible to mistreatment based on their social media. 

Where do teacher’s responsibilities with Social Media Activism?

Responsibility the state or fact of having a duty to deal with something or of having control over someone.

I have a difficult time answering this question based upon how I currently see social media activism.  I honestly think that social media activism has the potential to continue to do great things, however, I think the field is very watered down, with so many activists jumping from movement to movement.  What I mean by that is that, it seems like there are a significant amount of social media activists, which is great, but they are dipping their feet into a significant number of causes and moving onto the next movement without any significant action.  How can one be able to give all they have for change when they are involved with so many different causes?  This segways into the major issue that I have with the whole social media activism is the fact that there seems to be a lot of liking, retweeting and reposting online with a significant lack of meaningful boots on the ground actions outside of the interweb.  When I come across these profiles on the platforms, I often overlook them as I find it difficult to engage with their messaging based upon this lack of action.  

In today’s day, when everything seems to be political, I personally think it is unfair to make teachers feel that they are responsible to be a social activist online.  With the political arenas that have developed over the last few years, and the amount of hate and threats that people can be subject to in terms of sharing their personal political beliefs, I do not think it is fair to put the duty onto a teacher that they must become a social media activist, because they are an educator.  I think this needs to be a personal choice.  If a person chooses to engage that is great, but I do not think that those who do not need to feel ashamed or pressured to do so.  I, for one, support the initiatives that social media activists are working with, but it is not in my character to discuss my political views online.  I am more than willing to have a face to face discussion where words are less likely to be taken out of context. 

As Madeline Will outlines in her article, Teachers, Politics and Social Media: A Volatile Mix, “In an increasingly divisive political climate, a teacher might think twice before tweeting or posting other social media takes on hot-button issues.”  She later outlines that teachers choose to shy away from posting in a political manner for numerous reasons.  Education is inherently political and for that reason many teachers choose to abstain from posting politically to preserve relationships with students, parents, and employers and to maintain their objectivity in a diverse field.  They are also concerned with work related repercussions that may arise from their posts; as many of us know, teachers seem to be held to a different standard outside of their professional lives.

Concluding Thoughts

I am not saying that it cannot be meaningful but in the current state,  I don’t find social media activism to be meaningful, purposeful or worthwhile.  I feel at this moment it falls on deaf ears due to the creation of a “topical activism”, outlined by Ella Glover as jumping from movement to movement before any results. I do not think it is the teacher’s responsibilty to take to Social Media in an activist role.

Online activism is in a state of slacktivism;  In her article “The Realities of Slacktivism” Siobhan Mullaly outlines that social media activism can often come across as lazy and fake when it is not followed by genuine action and as a result the term “Slacktivism” was coined.  This new term makes it hard to think of it as meaningful or purposeful.

Daze Aghaji, a 20 year old British climate activist summarizes online activism in Ella Glover’s article in a way that is hard to ignore.  She states that prioritizing online activism is acting in such a way as to be counterproductive to the boots on the ground style of activism work.  She goes on further to say “burning myself out, constantly commenting, and trying to get involved with loads of different social issues at the same time, is not actually going to help the issue.”   Francisa Rockey, another young British activist, outlines that if we really want to make a difference “ those who are interested and have the time should spend less time talking about what people are not doing and shaming people, and more time coming together and doing the work.” 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is thTXYzezEhutEUMM6_U9jfC4Ac66A4Qtfx7UOaTuXP24fZeLu_5uOpm5uMqeIhWVh16EFdvMMgm_INqP8K9kp5ktKvMgZb_PT7MFXTkqUccfyJCMPdZ0A6Xyvl_j8hGB1zC5aTBV=s1600

I think both of these quotes speak profoundly to the current state of social media activism and where it needs to go.  If we want this type of activism to again be meaningful, purposeful and carry more weight, we have to put our money where our mouth is, and get our boots on the ground to create meaningful action and change, giving up the keyboard warrior status and getting out from behind the screens.

Cheers, 

Bret

The Great EdTech Debate – Round 1 & 2!

This has been an ongoing, internal issue I have been struggling with for the last few years… Does tech enhance learning in the classroom? Somedays I think it does, and some other days I want to SMAAAAAAASH every piece of technology in my sight! 


But to answer the question honestly, I think if technology is implemented properly and used effectively, with a distinct purpose (not just to say you use it) can enhance learning.  Technology is an entity that has a firm grip on society, with new gadgets and apps being introduced daily, with no signs of slowing down or going away. Being a teacher in the 21st Century, I find it difficult to imagine not having to use some sort of technology in our teaching practices.  With that said, you must know as an educator, well ahead of time, what sort of technology you will be using, what is the purpose of using it and how is it going to be properly utilized in your classrooms.

Both of these debate topics this week go hand in hand.  Technology does not enhance learning if students do not have equal access to it.   Does technology enhance learning for those who do not have access to a device or bandwidth outside of school? Or the means to afford a device in the first place?  Or the skills or capabilities to engage with the technology?  I have a hard time deciding which side of the fence I stand on.  In some instances it has created more equity and others it has created an even larger inequity gap.  With that said, I wish there was a “AGREE & DISAGREE” option to select during our pre/post votes! 

To ensure that technology enhances learning and that there is equitable access for all students in our classrooms, teachers need to do some significant planning and understand who is in their classroom.  Teachers must understand that technology must serve a purpose in their classroom.  This can be accomplished by working through the SAMR model identifying the validity of the technology they want to use.  Teachers also need to understand their student demographics, learning styles, and access to technology and all its components.

SAMR Model

During EC&I 834 last semester, we were tasked with reviewing an EdTech app – I chose Quizlet.  The article Online Tools for Teaching & Learning outlines how Quizlet fits into the SAMR model of technology integration in classrooms; although this article specifically outlines Quizlet, it is applicable to ALL technology and apps  integrated into our classrooms as an outline of what teachers must do before they bring new tech tools into their classrooms.  The main point that this article outlines is that before integration or implementation of new tech into the classroom, educators need to work through the SAMR model as a way of identifying the feasibility of implementing the new piece of tech.  SAMR stands for: Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition.  Technology must fit into this model prior to being implemented.

8 Examples of Transforming Lessons Through the SAMR Cycle | Emerging  Education Technologies

Student Demographics and Learning Styles

Not all students are the same, everyone has different learning styles, needs, adaptations, and already present tech savviness that will allow them to be successful in their own way. As teachers it is certainly a challenging job to ensure that all needs are being met. When designing a course it is difficult to plan for every consideration, however it is likely reasonable to plan for those that we are aware of will occur in our learning spaces. Before embarking on integrating technology into our classrooms, it is incredibly valuable to know more about the students that will be in your learning space. When you know what and who you are dealing with it is much easier to be more prepared. As Bates outlines in Chapter 9.2.1, student demographics, learning style and accessibility are crucial pieces of information that teachers need to understand to be able to know exactly who is in their classrooms. 

Demographic information is very valuable when designing a class and integrating technology, when you as a teacher are trying to decide what type of technology to use or not. For example if there are EAL, LRT, Hard of Hearing or Blind students in your class you would work towards making the technology fit all needs. In some scenarios you might need to make worksheets that are adjusted reading levels, you might need to ensure that you have access to google read and write, there might be a need to develop slides that are easily read by a reader. It would be best practice to develop these based on the needs of the students and not use an incredible amount of your time prepping for possible situations that may not occur. Through the use of student demographic sheets teachers should take a comprehensive inventory of any disabilities or learning needs that students might require. This will allow teachers to plan accordingly and support students in the best that they can. 

Student Accessibility

Along with the SAMR model, student demographics and understanding learning styles of students,  teachers must understand how much access their students have to technology, both in the classroom as well as when they are at home.  This is an important aspect to consider, especially if you are expecting students to be engaging with their school work outside the walls of the school.


Accessibility is an aspect that teachers must be aware of when they are designing their course work and use of technology in their classroom. This works very closely with student demographics and most often, teachers will be able to identify students’ access to technology, media or bandwidth by understanding their student demographic which makes up their classroom. Bates again outlines in Chapter 9.2.1 two sets of questions that teachers need to answer before finalizing a course. The first set of questions surrounds the teacher’s use of technology for the purpose of teaching.

The second set of questions outlined by Bates, surrounds the expectations if students are to supply their own devices.

Bates goes on to further outline that for both teachers and students to answer these questions, teachers must be clear with why and how they intend to use technology. There is no point in requiring students to provide their own technology if you are uncertain if you will in fact be utilizing it in your class. This requires some more foreplanning by the teacher to ensure that there is not an unwarranted expense to the student families. Teachers must answer the following when making concrete decisions surrounding technology or media in their class.

Technology Integration Capabilities

McKnight et al. outlines in the article Teaching in a Digital Age, the 5 ways in which technology can play a vital role in enhancing student learning.  There are 5 roles technology plays outlined: 

  1. Technology improves access  – Technology has the ability to increase the access to up to date and relevant learning resources for students and teachers.
  2. Technology improves feedback and communication – technology has the capabilities to streamline feedback and assessment with students and communication with parents.  Many classrooms enlist the aid of a communication app, where they are able to keep families informed of what is happening and upcoming at school
  3. Technology restructures teacher time –  implementation of technology has affected the daily normal tasks of teachers.  They are spending less time directly instructing students and more time facilitating tasks online.
  4. Technology extends purpose and audience for student work – students are able to extend the purpose and audience of their work through the use of technology.  They are able to actively find and guide their own learning that can be shared widely outside the classroom walls.
  5. Technology shifts teacher and student roles – with the increased exposure to multiple resources, technology has decreased the student reliance on the teacher where students can take more ownership into the direction of their learning.

The Digital Divide

With the continual advancements and increased prices of technology, the result has been an inequity gap that continues to widen.  There are and will continue to be individuals who will never be able to reap the benefits of the always advancing technological world, which falls out of their control.  The digital divide is nothing new and has been something that has been warned about since the 1980’s.  These gaps became abundantly clear during March of 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic began.  Ashleigh Weeden and Wayne Kelly outline in their article “The Digital Divide Has Become a Chasm: Here’s how to Bridge the Gap”, that despite the decades of warnings by communities and researchers, our societies were woefully under prepared for the pivot to online learning, working, socializing that was a result of the pandemic.  They go on further to outline that the best time to invest in the digital infrastructure required to bridge these gaps was a decade or two ago.  Weeden and Kelly dictate that the gap between policy makers and productive action improving digital framework is as deep as the urban/rural digital divide itself.  

“Canada will not realize its full potential until rural communities are fully included in the process of identifying and responding to our most pressing social and economic challenges, including digital policy”, outlined Weeden and Kelly.  They go on further to mention that the need to get digital policy right is of utmost importance – this includes not only broadband infrastructure, but also being able to have citizens improve their digital skills.  According to Weeden and Kelly, “Ensuring everyone has access to high-quality, affordable, high-speed broadband internet is a matter of equity.  It’s time to get this done!” The digital divide does not just affect one aspect of a person’s life – it affects their educational, social, and work lives immensely.  

As we continue to learn and develop our awareness of tech integration and where and how it fits in our classrooms, it becomes obvious that it is complicated. There are numerous aspects to consider and there is no real perfect method. One of the key concepts that we continue to think about is that technology integration requires teachers to be “flexible” in order to help students succeed. Although complicated, Bates outlines that teaching and learning with technology can provide more opportunities to learn while at the same time accommodating differences more easily. With that being said, it becomes abundantly clear  that the first step a teacher needs to take with incorporating technology is to know their students, the similarities, the differences, what digital skills they possess and what kind of access to technology is available to them. 

If implemented properly and effectively utilized, technology can play a significant role in enhancing students’ learning and help correct the equity gaps in students’ lives. I believe that if technology is implemented with great care and preparation, it indeed enhances the learning of students.  I do also believe that this implementation process will come with headaches and hiccups while we navigate the trial and error in our classrooms.  Implementing technology cannot be effective if the teacher decides to implement for the sheer fact they can say they use it in their classroom – there must be a method to the madness!

Cheers, 

Bret

The Daily Tech Adventures!

When I sit back and think about my day in the life relating to technology, I begin to feel overwhelmed and somewhat embarrassed about how much I use technology in my personal and professional lives.  My days usually start and end the same way – in bed immediately reaching for my phone.  There really isn’t a good reason to do so, I am not doing anything productive, just a habit that I have developed.  I interact with most of the social media apps, and find myself aimlessly scrolling through videos, tweets and posts to start and end my day. 

In my personal life, I tend to gravitate towards Twitter, TSN and The Score as apps that I interact with the most on a daily basis.  These apps provide me with immediate access to news, sport scores, and any major sporting news.  I find myself on these apps more depending on what is happening in the sporting world.  During specific times like NHL/MLB/NBA playoffs or trade deadlines throughout the various professional sporting leagues, I find myself engaging with technology on a more frequent schedule, in fear of missing out on the latest breaking news and scores.  Since becoming a father in December 2021, there are new apps and technology that my wife and I use in our everyday lives – apps from building shared grocery lists to tracking our son’s sleep and feeding schedules to bluetooth connected bassinets and baby swings to help make our lives “easier”.  The funny thing is, we did not use these fancy pieces of technological baby equipment to their fullest potential, leaving us thinking, did we really need them? Did we need to spend the extra money on them?  If I were to go back 6 months when we were shopping for these, I would tell myself that they are not worth the extra money.

Throughout the school day, I am constantly engaging and using technology.  We are being pushed towards eliminating how much paper we use in our classrooms and that has sent us towards more tech being integrated into our classrooms.  I am all for this push, however, when you are in a school of 900+ students, devices are hard to come by for all of your students.  This can make the battle with tech somewhat challenging.  Most of our computer carts are stocked with 20 Chromebooks, which is 9 or 10 short to supply a computer for each of my students individually.  This poor ratio leads to some students trying to do their work on their phones, Ipads, laptops and other devices they sometimes bring from home, or utilizing small group work to ensure that students have access to a computer in some capacity.   With this push to go paperless also required us to utilize a Learning Management System (LMS).  My teaching partner and I have set up a Google Classroom for approximately 60 students between our classrooms.  Again, not having a 1:1 student to computer ratio makes using this LMS to the fullest throughout our day.  

LMS Software Solutions For Your Organization - eLearning Industry

We were also introduced to the new EDSBY system this year.  This is just another system that we have been required to learn how to use primarily on our own.  EBSBY seems to be effective as it has everything we need in one place, whereas previously, there were multiple programs being used for attendance, gradebook and communicating with parents.  As with any new system, there have been hiccups and kinks as we figure out how to use this system to its fullest potential.  I really appreciate how EBSBY houses the multiple facets we as teachers may need to use throughout the day under one roof.

I find that social media/technology has the capability to enable a whole new learning environment.  These apps allow its users potential access to experts by simply a follow, message, retweet, etc through the various apps!  I have used Twitter specifically to facilitate a significant amount of learning primarily since the onset of the pandemic.  I have used it to better my teaching practice, but also to improve my coaching capabilities.  I am an avid football coach and have been for many years and twitter allows me to access many different resources from individuals all over the planet.  This platform is a great space to connect and learn with others of the same interest areas!  This whole concept can be utilized in the classroom as well.  A colleague of mine at Harbour Landing School, frequently reaches out to experts in various fields via Twitter to set up classroom meetings and talks through Zoom! Many of these interactions are geared specifically to individual student projects!

Thanks for reading!

Cheers, 

Bret

The Final Piece – Coming Full Circle

In collaboration with my colleagues Leona and Brianne we have come to the end of designing our blended online course. The experience of collaboration, peer reflection and self evaluation has been a success. The final goal, a finished product that is usable in our teaching whether it be in a typical face to face classroom, a blended classroom or strictly an online version. Through the use of Google Classroom as our LMS we believe that we have developed a course that is simple to follow for both students and colleagues. Our course focuses on the outcomes and indicators in the Grade 8 Life Science Saskatchewan Curriculum – Cells, Tissues and Organ Systems. If you would like to join our classroom in the previous listed link you can login into google classroom with a gmail account and use this code (hyclltn) to become a student in our course.

Designing the Course – A Team Effort

Leona, Brianne and myself decided to collaborate on this course because as the saying goes “two heads are better than one” – so let’s just make it three. We selected the grade 8 science area because Leona and Brianne are currently teaching this in their classrooms and wanted to work on a project that could be implemented into their learning spaces. When designing a course together we had to be aware of our individual teaching styles, personal strengths and weaknesses and be willing to make accommodations. We believe that together as a team we have done a good job of creating an engaging course for students at Harbour Landing Elementary. Our first step in the whole process was to create the big picture and make the course profile. Next, we looked into the curriculum and divided up the outcomes so that each of our modules contained certain outcomes and indicators. We tried to make sure that our course had good flow within our modules so that students weren’t missing any key learning concepts. Lastly, we choose to keep a consistent theme for our slides so it would be less confusing for our students. However, we did decide that it would be okay to not worry about having identical teaching methods because the variation within our modules would provide engagement for all of our learners’ needs.

During this semester of class we had several informative conversations about creating online communities, the importance of making an online course accessible by all and explaining in our words the purpose of school. All of the conversations provided helpful insight into how we should continue to design our course shell to ensure that it became a valuable learning platform for everyone. At the halfway mark it was time to let others take a peek at our work and complete a peer review. What were they going to say? Would they think we were creating a useful course or would they think we were completely off track? Despite our nerves getting the best of us our reviewers provided us with some useful criticism and plenty of positive feedback.

Course Overview – Google Classroom

Together we developed a google classroom that allows students to be active participants in our course whether they be at home or in the classroom with us. In our google classroom we have set up an easy framework for our students to follow. Within the classwork section there are different categories the students can access. For example we have the general course information category – where they can find our contact information, a you-tube video on how to use google classroom, and a detailed outline of the course. There is also a section for each module that has been developed. Currently this course covers 3 of the 4 outcomes from the Saskatchewan Curriculum, if a teacher was planning to use the course they would likely need to complete a few more modules in order to fully complete the outcomes of the grade 8 science curriculum.

We have designed six modules that have a good flow of content knowledge from one to the next. In the first and second modules we focus on the history of the cell and its structures. In the third and fourth modules we move onto how the cell makes tissue and how tissues make organs. Finally in the fifth and sixth modules we make the connections between organs and organ systems and how they function to make a healthy human body. Throughout our modules we use a variety of different teaching methods, interactive digital tools and provide students with written and viewing learning opportunities. The modules all contain a summative or formative style of assessment where students complete a self reflection activity, a google form test, or an assignment with a provided rubric. We have attempted to find ways to ensure that there are relationship building opportunities between students and with their teacher by using a variety of digital tools and group activities to enhance the classroom community feel. 

In order to create a course that we believe could be accessible to all we designed the following course profile. In our course profile you will find a more comprehensive plan for the specifics of our course. In our course profile we go into greater detail about our target audience, the course LMS and digital tool box, our course communication options, assignments, materials and assessments to be used. Overall we were attempting to create a course that provided an education that is relevant and concurrent with the pace and needs of our digital world. We want to provide students with the opportunity to learn in a variety of ways, by learning through and with technology hopefully we can prepare them to be digitally literate.

A true pleasure to collaborate and work with great like minded professionals. Thanks Leona and Brianne. Until the next time we get to work together!

Cheers,

Bret