Category Archives: access

Disconnect to Reconect

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It is surprising to think that the little devices we carry with us have such a hold on us.  We constantly check in on our Facebook accounts, take photos, post them and check for likes and shares.  Very few of us go without cell phones for more than a few minutes let alone a few days.  The concept of unplugging has become a bit of a buzz word these days and the concept has been explored by tech wizards and numerous blogs.  Unplugging or detoxing has been lauded for it’s merits as an activity to cleanse the mind and the soul.  But is it all it’s cracked up to be?  Is it necessary to unplug when everything we do is linked to tech and social media?  Life is about finding balance and it just seems as though in the fight between screen time and living in the moment, screens are winning by a long shot.

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The reality is that it’s actually healthy to take breaks from social media and technology from time to time.  Many studies have shown that cognitive function and memory are affected by constant social media checking and idle web surfing.  The brain is like a muscle.  Although it doesn’t move, it does require time to develop and grow after new information is added.  We could consider this processing time.  In fact, studies have shown that taking a break from screens and tech periodically can recharge the brain and improve memory.  Here are some other interesting stats…

  • 84% of cell phone users claim they could not go a single day without their device. (source)
  • 67% of cell phone owners check their phone for messages, alerts, or calls — even when they don’t notice their phone ringing or vibrating.(source)
  • Studies indicate some mobile device owners check their devices every 6.5 minutes. (source)
  • 88% of U.S. consumers use mobile devices as a second screen even while watching television. (source)
  • Almost half of cell owners have slept with their phone next to their bed because they wanted to make sure they didn’t miss any calls. (source)
  • Traditional TV viewing eats up over six days (144 hours, 54 minutes) worth of time per month. (source)
  • Some researchers have begun labeling “cell phone checking” as the new yawn because of its contagious nature. (source)

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I think we’ve all experienced situations such as the ones mentioned during the debate by Dean, Janelle, and Kyle.  I still find it incredibly rude when someone is in the middle of a conversation and the other person pulls out his/her phone.  As stated above, you may have even compulsively pulled out your phone when you saw someone else doing it (much like yawns being contagious).  Now I am not saying that I am without reproach in this regard.  I too carry my phone with me almost all of the time.  I do try to keep it in my pocket when in social situations and having kids has really opened my eyes to the dangers of not living in the moment.  I have been at countless swimming lessons, soccer games and play dates during which not a single parent was actually engaging with their kids or watching them at all.  What could distract these parents from watching their 3 year olds having a blast in the pool or scoring a goal?  As I look around the field or pool deck I consistently see moms and dads hunched over cell phones and tablets, unaware of what’s happening around them.  I am not in a place to judge at all.  Maybe these parents are responding to urgent emails.  Maybe they are preparing something for work the next day.  But, I can imagine that at least some of these parents are engaged in social media activities.  Here is another viewpoint on unplugging shared by a teenager named Lane Sutton, a tech and social media wonderkind.

So, I practice being in the moment.  I make a concerted effort to be in every story, joke or activity with my kids because they are such little sponges.  They notice what we may not always perceive.  My little girl said to me the other day, “Daddy put your phone away and come outside with me.”  She’s 2 and she is already realizing that with my phone in front of me she does not have my full attention.  I realize that we will never be able to denounce technology.  It is now too ingrained in our lives.  Social media has a stranglehold on the way in which we interact with the world.  Even my 87 year-old Grandmother checks her Facebook profile on her Ipad daily to see pictures of her grandchildren and great grandchildren.  The key has to be moderation.  Take some time this week to take a break from social media and screens and take part in an activity you love without posting the results or waiting for likes.  Enjoy the smiles on the faces of your family members without snapping a photo.  Get some exercise without posting your workout to social media or fitness apps.  You’ll find rejuvenation of mind, body and soul.

Here are some other great reasons to unplug:

1) Leave behind jealousy, envy, and loneliness

2) Combat FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)

3) Find solitude (there is value in having alone time)

4) Life is happening right in front of you (don’t miss out for FOMO)

5) Promote Creation over Consumption (take time to create something)

6) Once the device is gone the level of addiction can truly be understood (as we all know when we have forgotten our phones)

7) Life is about flesh, blood and eye contact

Everything in moderation, as someone once said.

-Almost everything will work again if you unplug for a few minutes….Including you!-  Anne Lamott

 

 

 

 

 


No Fair: Does Technology Support Equity?

Technology is the promise of the future.  It is touted as the great equalizer.  The tools that will bring education to the underprivileged, those with disabilities and those on the margins of society.  It has the promise of breaking down barriers, of helping us all communicate better and of bringing equity to the world.  But, is technology living up to these promises?  What is the evidence that we have indeed begun bridging the digital divide?  In a recent Financial Post Study, evidence suggests that even in a developed country like Canada, disparity with regard to access and internet fluency not only still exist but are being exacerbated.  As is noted in the study, age and income both play significant roles in who accesses technology and also how it is used.

“People with some post-secondary education (and who were no longer students) had Internet-use rates nearly 10 per cent higher than people with just a high school diploma, and nearly 50 per cent higher than those without a diploma.” -Financial Post

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The question has to be asked, can technology really bridge gaps such as income disparity?  After-all, at the end of the day the technology has the potential to allow access to a myriad of learning opportunities.  People have access to apps like duolingo, coursera, MOOCs, online information hubs, and translations tools.  The problem is not necessarily the programs and software but the access to internet service and hardware.  How can these services be considered equitable learning opportunities if students do not all have access to the technology?  In addition, it has become clear that technology, even when applied across a range of different socio-economic classrooms, does not benefit all students in the same way.  Harvard Education has undertaken a study outlined in the video below that indicates that the use of a platform such as wiki as an example, is disproportionately benefiting those students who come from higher income brackets and have higher socio-economic status.

So what is the solution?  Clearly the teachers and innovators need to have a strong social justice focus as we engage in these questions.  As mentioned in the video, tools that are specifically designed and targeted at low income and marginalized youth can have a greater impact than simply applying the same broad technology strokes to the entire class and expect the technology to magically transform our students.  Technology in education is an amazing gift and I use it every day and am so thankful for it, however, it can not take the place of personalized learning.  Due to issues of access and socio-economic status, we are still not able to offer the same advantages to these students as the privileged already receive.

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Growing up in Africa meant I was able to experience a different world of education than what we are accustomed to here in Canada.  My friends went to school in which they had 1 pencil for every 10 students.  This meant that as the students sat in rows on the dirt floor, the first person in the line would copy down the notes, pass the pencil on to the next person and so on and so forth.  Is it equitable that these students do not have the opportunity to experience technology in their education?  Maybe not, but it may not be that far off.  Programs like Youth Learning, and the Text to Change project are being implemented in third world countries in order to engage youth in technology and give them a voice in a digital world in which they were not citizens.

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“Technology has the potential to be a huge force for good but it is not a silver bullet, a fix-all solution to how to fix the education and employment problems for young people in developing countries,” says Kenny. “Yet one thing is clear – it will undoubtedly play an increasingly important part of millions of young people’s lives across the world.”-Charles Kenny

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Technology has tremendous potential to affect positive change in the lives of millions of people who are not currently a part of the world you live in right now.  The ease with which we can access and share information across the world in this day and age is unprecedented.  In our own schools here in Saskatchewan, tech tools are allowing creativity to flourish in those that would not otherwise have an outlet.  They are giving hope to those can can’t access traditional learning environments, they are giving a voice to the voiceless.  But the work is not done.  As you are reading this, just remember that there are millions of others around the world right now, and probably in your city or town, who have no way to read this blog.  As educators, let us not be caught in the techno-colonial trap of presuming that as we bring technology to the poor and downtrodden of society, we will be the saviours once again.  Equity must mean more than simply providing the same tools to all.  Personalized learning is the key to success.  We must ask ourselves, what are the individual needs of this student, of this class, of this community?  For many students throughout the world, physiological needs will supersede a simple piece of technology.

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Then again for others…

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The More We Share, the More We Have

I’ve been thinking recently about openness, sharing, and their places in education.  As technology has made its way further and further into education systems across the globe, the ability to share information has been  made vastly more accessible in recent years.  With a powerful device in almost every student and teachers’ pocket, there are limitless possibilities to how information and learning can be shared.  Teachers are using sites like Twitter, Facebook, Edublogs and Wikispaces to document and share their learning with the wider world.  Open course sites like Coursera, and Massive Open Online Courses are changing the way that information is disseminated and online collaboration tools such as Google and Mindmeister have afforded people the opportunity for amazingly creative works.  This is truly the age of open source learning.  However, open source learning without sharing is moot.

So, is sharing all that it’s cracked up to be?  We now live in a world in which sharing every minute detail of each moment of our lives has become normal.  We share photos of what food we’re eating, the shoes we just bought or the thoughts that pop into our head.  With openness comes inherent dangers as this video demonstrates.

Due to these types of online sharing in which no filter is applied, I have often asked the following questions, how much sharing is too much?  Is sharing inherently dangerous?  What is the role of online sharing in education?  Do the benefits outweigh the costs?  In my teaching career thus far I have been what I would call a cautious sharer.  I have a very detailed form that goes home to parents on the first day of school explaining the different platforms we use and allowing parents to give permission for the use of student photos.  We have student blogs but they are viewable only by parents, teachers or other students.  We also have a class twitter account but tweets are composed by myself or in conjunction with students to share what we are learning in the classroom.  Often the tweets are focused not on students themselves but on the projects or learning happening in the classroom.  Is this true sharing?  I think it’s a start. However, it is limiting in many ways.  First of all, the students’ writing is seen only by classmates and a select few parents.  Opening the blogging platform to open comments would allow more readers and therefore, more feedback and engagement.  Studies have shown that as students perceive a larger readership, their writing improves.  The connections formed with other classrooms through Twitter could be strengthened by allowing more control to be passed to the students.  So why is it so hard for me to open up our learning environment and allow deeper and more meaningful connections?

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There are several factors that can tend to negate the full potential of connected and open online learning in classrooms.  Firstly, there are inherent risks involved with sharing information online regarding what students are doing.  Location services and GPS tracking in many apps can compromise the safety of students.  There are also many instances in which students need to be protected and anonymous do to court orders or protective custody.  Secondly, there must be an incredible amount of trust between teachers and students in order to allow students the control to share and connect openly and freely.  Obviously this looks different for various age groups.  High school students for example,  are often quite capable of deciding how to share their learning online.  However, this does necessitate some deeper conversations around what should be posted.  For younger students who lack the same discernment skills, this must be modelled and taught. Douglas Park School’s Aaron Warner is a great example of this mentality.  He routinely teaches and models the use of social media and online sharing with his Grade 7/8 class and eventually turns the reigns over to the students.  I believe this is one of the key components of open classrooms.

Education is not a secret, although aspects of good teaching practice can seem illusive at times.  It is a public and necessary part of our society.  I often cringe when parents express to me that they don’t know what is going on in their children’s classrooms.  With the tools we now have at our disposal, parents should have a clear and complete picture of their child’s experiences at school, even if the student themselves is vague on the details.  This was demonstrated during the debate with the short skit about what was being learned at school.  If there is something tangible and real to demonstrate, students will also be more engaged in the sharing process.  There is also a permanent record of what the learning goals are, steps taken to achieve them, and what the outcomes are.

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As is demonstrated by the above sets of data, teens and young adults are some of the most pervasive sharers of information online.  In addition, the reasons why people share online are telling according to the New York Times study.  Let’s look at some of the top reasons people share online and apply an educator’s lens shall we…

1.To share relevant Information…Teachers and students should both be in the habit of sharing information.  Information is wealth and whether it’s teachers sharing lessons and resources with one another, or students sharing their successes and failures (failures?..yes I said failures because this is when true learning occurs).  Application: Teachers need to model for students which information is relevant and useful to be shared as well as who to share it with (how public?).

2. To support causes or issues they care about… This seems like a no brainer.  What a great opportunity to engage students in meaningful conversations about what’s going on in the world around them.  Students can be surprisingly charismatic, caring and engaged when it comes to supporting causes in the community or around the world.  Many times the students are the first to take action, quickly suggesting a support video for Laloche students, or organizing a bake sale to raise money for Cerebral Palsy. This is how meaningful connections are made and global citizens are produced.

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Application: Let students share their passions and the things they care about.  Pick a list of causes that the class wants to connect with or support.  Discuss what it means to be a global citizen.  Challenge students to dream big and to change the world.

3. Connecting with others who share their interests… This is a great opportunity to network with other classes in your age category.  It also allows a chance to model who should be in our followers or friends lists as individuals.  Some of the best lessons I’ve used have come from connections with other classrooms in Saskatchewan and throughout the world.  As students share interests on blog sites or through Twitter, they build a wider audience and engage with the world outside the classroom.  Genius hour is a great example of this.  When we look at genius hour projects of other 7/8 classes the students up the anti.  Application: Let students explore passion projects.  Encourage students to share what they are learning or what they’ve created.  Model at first and compose Tweets or posts together as a class.

4. Expressing self identity and feeling of involvement in the world…This is an opportunity to model the permanency of our digital identity.  Students should build an awareness of how the class is perceived online and what our digital footprint will be.  Discuss with students which parts of our identity we wish to share with the world.  How involved should we be?  Application: Extend this thinking to students’ own personal sharing.  Engage them in discussions about how they should present themselves online.

Let’s take the time and get this one right.  Let’s show our students the power of positive sharing through meaningful connections.

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