Category Archives: M.Ed

Equality and Equity in the Digital World

This week in EC&I 830, two teams argued the statement:

Technology is a force for equity in society

The general consensus during our class discussion was that Team Disagree had a tough side to argue as nearly two thirds of the class sided with Team Agree.  That being said, Team Disagree raised some very valid and important points in their opening and closing statements and rebuttal.

The image below is the first thing I thought about when I read the debate statement. Equal distribution and use of technology will not work in our society – it can’t be a ‘one size fits all’ approach.  Instead, equitable distribution and access to technology is required to have positive and successful integration of technology.  Therefore I completely agree with the debate statement this week, provided there is equal opportunities for all.

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A classic illustration of equality vs equity

Although my ‘agree’ opinion did not change before or after the debate, my eyes were opened to some of the negative aspects of technology and equity in society.  One of the points Team Disagree focused part of their opening statement on is the issue of gender inequality in the technology world.  In one of the suggested articles, technology is considered another avenue for men to oppress women.  In fact, many women have come together to reveal the sexist culture in Silicon Valley tech and venture capital firms.

The article also expresses the idea that, “we have to challenge the presumption that it (the workplace) is neutral and allow women to reach their potential in workplaces where they feel safe and respected”. I have never really considered the idea that technology can be biased against women, but it does make sense.  I know I don’t question the fact that certain tools like Siri are set to a woman’s voice.  Although you can change this in the settings, it is interesting that the default is often a female voice. As the article describes, we need to have a neutral technological system for gender and social equality.

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Often a barrier for technology is limited access in some developing countries and poverty stricken areas. Facebook created Free Basics, a limited internet service for developing markets, (which) is neither serving local needs nor achieving its objective of bringing people online for the first time. Maybe the intention of this service was meant to be a great solution for developing areas that do not have internet access, but instead it narrows what users can access and search for online.  Ellery Biddle, the advocacy director of Global Voices says, “It’s building this little web that turn the user into a mostly passive consumer of mostly western corporate content. That’s digital colonialism.”

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Protesters against Facebook’s Free Basics service

The term “digital colonialism” showcases one way that our society is not making technology equitable across different socio-economic groups.  Instead of giving these groups “internet” (like Free Basics) that pushes certain messages or propaganda, Biddle explains that we need to fix, “the barriers to internet access (which) include signal availability, device ownership, education, digital literacy and electricity”.

Finally, bringing the technology access closer to home, a Huffington Post article explores access to internet in Canada.  The Canadian Internet Registration Authority’s 2014 Factbook (CIRA) states that while 95 percent of Canadians in the highest income bracket are connected to the internet only 62 percent in the lowest income bracket have internet access.  Some communities in Canada (like Nunavut) only have 27 percent of communities with internet access.  Unfortunately, the CIRA explains that Canada has no national strategy to improve access, speed and prices.

Team Disagree made some very good points in their rebuttal that for technology to be equitable in society, internet should not be a luxury. It needs to be affordable and accessible to everyone and we need to redesign systems that discriminate against social status, gender and race.  All this being said, technology is here to stay, so we need to find a way to make it equal and fair for everyone.  This issues raised in Team Disagree’s argument are a great starting point for how we can improve technology to be an even better force for equity in our society.

Team Agree opened their argument by suggesting that technology has achieved a lot in our society, like removing barriers (ex. helping people read) and connecting the world (ex. real time video chat).  Most importantly, they focused on the idea that technology is not the problem and neither is the “digital divide”.

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In my own experiences and those expressed by my classmates during our class discussion, we have seen how technology can help remove learning barriers for students in schools.  A big discussion took place on how one school division (my division) redistributed technology across all schools for equitable use among students.  During my short career so far, I have only taught in community and lower socio-economic background schools.  The equitable distribution plan has been crucial in my teaching and use of technology, because many of my students do not have access to reliable internet and technology at home.  It has also affected how I prepare lessons and assignments, as I have to assume that students will be able to complete assignments with technology at school, but not necessarily at home.

Some students have an assigned laptop (assistive technology) that follows them throughout their school career.  As a teacher, I know that I can design instruction that will allow these students to have the most success because they are guaranteed to use the assigned technology to help with their learning experience.  An example is the ‘Read&Write for Google Chrome‘ extension that is used throughout my division.  This tool has a variety of options including reading text to the student, dictation and simplifying text which has been extremely valuable with students who have reading difficulties.  A couple of years ago I taught in a school with a high EAL population, and ‘Read&Write’ helped my students (with a variety of English speaking and reading levels) to achieve their learning goals.

Another reason I agreed with the argument is the availability and affordability of online education.  A few great examples provided by Team Agree include Open Education Courses (OEC), Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), Open Education Resources (OER) and Virtual Classrooms.  The suggested article explores that a process that is helping share knowledge is, “the use of ‘open education resources’ (OER) – freely available, high-quality materials that can be downloaded, edited and shared to support teaching and learning.”  Team Agree explains that open education is based on fairness (among gender, socio-economic status and ethnic origin) and inclusion (a basic minimum standard of education should be available to everyone).

During my B.E.A.D. program (Bachelor of Education After Degree) at the University of Regina, I was able to complete my program in a shorter time period and maintain working nearly full time by taking courses through Athabasca University.  This was my first experience with online education, and I do admit that it was a challenge at first.  I found that by not having classmate interaction and only assignments to complete that I needed a lot of self-discipline to stay on track.  I eventually figured out the time management piece and overall felt that the experience was positive.

My first “blended learning” course was for Standard First Aid.  The course required completion of online modules and quizzes prior to attending a one-day in class session.  This is a great model as it allows for a deeper understanding of the information and can then be applied in person during the one-day course.  I enjoyed this experience as it did not take up my entire weekend and I could work on the modules at my own pace and schedule.  My husband is currently enrolled in professional development learning through his work.  The course started with a one-week intensive in person to dive into the course material with the instructors and other classmates.  He then has one year to complete a variety of modules and assignments through an online portal.  There is continuous contact with course instructors and motivation to complete the coursework with an online course community.

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And of course,  EC&I 830 is my first “blended learning” web based academic course.  I think one of the benefits of this being an educational technology course is that there is lots of engagement online through blog comments, Google Plus community, Twitter and of course, our weekly Zoom sessions.  This keeps the motivation for learning and completing course work in a timely fashion, something I struggled with in my Athabasca courses.

This brings me to the point raised by Team Agree that the concept of open education has revolutionized the learning classroom and allowed for digital inclusion.  Instead of referring to a digital divide, the term inclusion was used to reframe the divided in a more positive way.  This can be achieved with equal and equitable access, affordability and a mindset to embrace the digital world.

A Forbes article explains that many advocates believe that digital technology has the potential to expand access to education to underserved children around the world.  In 2015, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called technology the new platform for learning at the annual South by Southwest conference and said, “technological competency is a requirement for entry into the global economy”.   For this to happen, we need to increase equity for children and communities that are historically underserved, and one way is through digital technology.  This solution almost seems too easy – to help poverty stricken communities have better education, all we need to do is supply the students with technology!  An example is the “digital school in a box” provided by the Vodafone Foundation,  which supplies a laptop and 25 tablets pre-loaded with educational software to a refugee settlement in Kenya.  I think this is an awesome initiative and it is great to see organizations looking for ways to support education around the world.  But in reality, it is a band-aid fix – as it is only a temporary solution to a problem.  What happens when the technology is out of date? What about all the other underserved areas in that community? Or the underserved areas in our own country?

The increase of technology and the digital world has give many different groups around the world a chance for better education.  I completely agree that technology is a force for equity in society, but the complicated part is how technology is distributed and used.  I think this is still a learning process and we will continue to see many trial initiatives as possible solutions to the complicated issues of technology access.  By being aware of the issues raised by Team Disagree (like inequality among different gender, race and socio-economic groups), we can continue to improve distribution, access and affordability of technology to remove the digital divide.  Technology is here to stay and grow, so it is society’s responsibility to search for solutions that close the accessibility gap.  Both teams presented great arguments this week which served as a reminder that issues that existed before technology will continue to take place with technology use.  As educators, we must continue to focus on teaching digital citizenship to develop positive online identities.  As members of society, we need to rally for equal and equitable technology access in our communities.

Until next time,

@Catherine_Ready

Is social media ruining childhood?

This week in EC&I 830, the most anticipated debate (in my opinion) took place. The statement:

Social media is ruining childhood

A bold statement, but one I could easily agree with at first.  All I was thinking about was the hours that teens and pre-teens spend on their phones and devices. The hours that could be spent reading a book, playing outside or having a real life face-to-face conversation.  And then I thought about my role as a teacher and sometimes dealing with the negativity of social media use among students – exclusion, gossiping and hurt feelings.

How often do you sit back and think, “I’m glad social media wasn’t around when I was a kid!”

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A recent Instagram post by actress Lena Dunham

When I was in Grade 6, I signed up for my first e-mail account which then lead to using MSN Messenger fairly frequently.  MSN was the perfect breeding ground for cyberbullying – a phenomenon that we didn’t have a term for at the time. Cyberbullying is “deliberately using digital media to communicate false, embarrassing or hostile information about another person”.

Luckily we relied on dial-up Internet at the family desktop computer in the kitchen, so the ability to spend hours online was impossible, therefore somewhat limiting the damage that could be done.MSN-MessengerNowadays, pre-teens and teens (and even younger) have their own smartphones which allows for access to the Internet all the time. This can be managed by putting certain restrictions in place, like no phones after a certain time before bed, or no technology at school.  At my school, all the senior students hand in their phones at the beginning of the day, no questions asked. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone complain, instead it is just an expectation that has been established from the beginning and students are aware of the consequences if they use their devices during school time. There are exceptions, like using the device to listen to music during a work period, but this does not happen often.

jordan-tweet.png A unique cellphone bucket created by one of my colleagues.

One of the suggested articles looks at the ways pediatricians can help parents monitor their children for potential problems with social media and cyberbullying.  The suggestions by pediatricians are for parents, but are also applicable for teachers. These include:

-talking to your children about social media use

-participating in social media (maybe the parent has an Instagram account and follows their child)

-regular checks of privacy settings and online profiles

-supervising online activities in a more collaborative and communicative way instead of using third-party monitoring apps or programs

It is also important for parents and teachers to be aware of what it might look like if a child or student is being cyberbullied. Here is a very informative infographic from Rawhide.org.

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Before cellphones and other personal technology, bullying occurred in places like the playground.  Our society worked together to figure out ways to combat bullying, which they now have to do again with the rise of cyberbullying.  Cyberbullying.org places some ownership on the role of the parents to educate their kids about appropriate online behaviours, just as they have to complete appropriate offline behaviours.  It is also mentioned that parents are not able to monitor their children 24 hours a day, so they need to “cultivate and maintain an open, candid line of communication with their children, so that they are inclined to reach out when they experience something unpleasant or distressing online”.  

The article also explains that schools have the responsibility of the most important preventive step to focus on teaching digital citizenship responsibilities and educate the school community about responsible use of devices. It is also “critical for educators to develop and promote a safe and respectful school climate – one marked by shared feelings of connectedness, belongingness, peer respect, morale, safety and even school spirit”.

Team Agreepresented a very strong argument that the risks of social media far outweigh the benefits, like instead of strengthening relationships, they might hide behind their phones.  Kids are missing out on practicing real life communication skills and often avoid meaningful face to face interactions. There is also the added problem that by constantly being connected to social media, students are suffering from sleep deprivation and may even be addicted to their phones.  While I do agree that some teens in today’s world need their phones to entire them, I think we need to give young people more credit for what they are capable of doing with technology and social media.

By the end of the debate, Team Disagree convinced me that social media is not ruining childhood, but rather opening the door to create meaningful conversations through positive experiences.

Instagram-1024x410.jpg FOMO (fear of missing out)

Yes, social media has negatives, like inappropriate uses (sexting), cyberbullying and the dread FOMO (fear of missing out). But CommonSenseMedia.org  suggests that adults can help kids “nurture the positive aspects by accepting how important social media is for kids and helping them find ways for it to add real value to their lives”.  For example, some benefits of social media listed in the article include:

-giving teens a voice on social issues

-helping teens make friends and keep them

-offering a sense of belong

-provide genuine support, and

-give kids an opportunity to express themselves with a wider audience

My niece Sarah opened my eyes to a unique experience she has cultivated with social media.  A few years ago, she went to a Taylor Swift that had a new Canadian artist as the opener: Shawn Mendes.  At the time, she followed a few different “fan accounts” on Instagram, and decided to create her own account to share her love of Taylor Swift and Shawn Mendes – @sparksflymendes

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Fast forward a few years later, and Sarah has over 19k followers who follow the account simply because my she posts a different picture of Shawn Mendes or Taylor Swift each day.  She connects with her followers with open and honest captions, usually expressing something about her life (“MORE SNOW? Why?!?!?!” or “I have math test today, wish me luck”). The captions usually have nothing to do with the photo, but she receives lots of comments and words of encouragement from her followers.

The whole thing seemed kind of weird at first.  Her parents were concerned about posting anything that could identify her location, so they both follow the account. In fact anyone in my family that uses Instagram follows her account, just as a way to see what is going on and engage with the community she has created.  We aren’t monitoring it in a negative way, rather just staying part of the conversation with the added bonus of knowing what she is posting online.

Sarah has made some real friends through this account – fellow #MendesArmy supporters.  She even met one of the girls at the last concert she attended. Something that her mom (my sister) felt a little unsure about. But it ended up being a great experience with both girls and their moms going to dinner before the concert and strengthening a relationship that will continue for years to come.

This experience is lucky, unique and has a positive outcome. I think it happened because my niece used social media in a positive way and her parents have had an active role in supporting and teaching her responsible digital citizenship.

From the experience of my niece, it is easy to understand that social media can help teens cope with anxiety, depression and self harm.  The suggested article from MediaSmarts.ca  lists examples of social media sites that provide supportive communities that offer healing, strength, friendship and love.  The site Tumblrhas built in safety messages if certain trigger keywords are searched (like #suicide, #cutting) and then the user has the option to be redirected to a specific organization that can be helpful in their situations.

One of the most exciting ways that young people are using social media is by focusing their passions and talent into social advocacy. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)discusses a new age of digital citizenship – “learners who use their technology-driven powers conscientiously – and with empathy – to help make the world a better place.

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Educators have an opportunity to help students turn fear and frustration into activism by having difficult conversations. “Fostering these types of discussions requires dynamic and careful teaching skills, says educator and advocate Katie Schellenberg. By establishing a normative surrounding argument, laying ground rules about when and how to present counterarguments, and enforcing “the necessity of evidence and rationality with a side of humor and flexibility,” teachers can impart valuable lessons about how to be a respectful advocate.”A great example of translating feelings into action took place at my school earlier this month.  With my middle years classes, we researched different social issues and created art pieces to raise awareness about their chosen cause. I spoke about the use of Twitter to connect with other schools in the division who were also participating in the project in my blog post class week. Students presented their art and research in a gallery opening, #YQRActivistArt and guests were blown away by the passion and creativity of the artists and messages they had to share.  Our hope is grow the project next year through social media to collaborate with students in different communities outside of Regina.

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#YQRActivistArt Gallery at my school

Students have the capability to use social media in positive ways, especially when they incorporate the “Digital Citizen Standard”, one component of the ISTE Standards for Students.  One of the suggested articles from Team Disagree explains that the Digital Citizen standard “expects students to do more than merely know the dangers and risks of technology tools; students are called on to understand the opportunities the digital world presents and to use these tools to do good in the world. It appears that many students have already accepted that challenge.”

I think Team Disagree made some good points that social media has the ability to strengthen relationships among youth and offer a sense of belonging by providing genuine support.  More importantly, Team Disagree stated that social media part of modern society and that we need to teach the elements of responsible digital citizenship. If proper use is explained at an early age, the possibilities for positive experiences are endless.  

A winning essay submitted by 17-year old Elena Quartararo to the New York Times urges adults to give teens a chance. While she understands the drawbacks to social media, “this connection to a diverse plethora of information has given us the opportunity to reach our own conclusions about the world…

 …and it has created a socially and politically aware, opinionated and unafraid youth, who are wholly prepared to change the world.”

The future is bright for our young leaders as long as we build in the supports to teach responsible digital citizenship and positive social media use.

Until next time,

@Catherine_Ready

Is openness and sharing in our schools a good thing?

This week during EC&I 830, two teams debated the statement

Openness and sharing in our schools is unfair to our kids

Initially, I fully disagreed with the statement because I think that it is openness and sharing that makes this era of education exciting and unique. Through Twitter, blogs and Youtube, I have been able to connect with parents and students and share what goes on in the classroom. As expressed by Team Disagree, sharing promotes connectivity and is the reality of today’s childhood experience. We have all this cool technology nowadays, so why wouldn’t we use it?

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This is the point when I begin to realize that maybe technology and sharing in the classroom is not always so great. Team Agree explained in their opening statement that sharing in schools is not always negative.  But then they asked the question, “Are we being ethically fair and responsible with the amount of sharing?”

This question gives educators a chance to reflect on how we ask for parent/guardian permission to post photos of their children on the Internet. One of the suggested articles states,

“The challenge for schools is to balance their (and parents’) desire to publicize the great things that are happening in their organizations with their responsibilities to protect children and satisfy parental concerts about student privacy and safety”.

At my school (and schools in my division), a ‘media release’ form goes home at the beginning of the year that asks parents/guardians for permission to distribute photos, video, use a variety of social media platforms, etc.  My school has created a culture of sharing and celebrating student successes through social media, and we are very aware of which students can or cannot be included. In my role, I teach every student in the entire school, so I very quickly figured out which students I can include in my photos and videos at the beginning of the year. In past years I have a tried to use a blog to share what is going on in the Arts Ed classroom, but I have found that Twitter is a lot easier for quick sharing AND has the bonus of engaging with families and other educators.

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But, Team Agree then made me realize that when I post images on Twitter of students and student work, I am basing my decision on whether or not a media release form has been signed by the parent/guardian.  I rarely ask the student if I can post their image on my Twitter account – a discussion of permission usually only takes place when an older student expresses that they do not want their photo taken or posted anywhere. Upon reflection, I feel like I am doing a disservice to my students by not explaining the rationale for a post or including the students in the decision. I didn’t even think about the fact that these students will inherit a digital footprint that they had no part in creating.

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When did the sharing culture shift to feeling like we have the right to post any picture on social media simply because it was a photo taken by the poster? In the early days of social media, I remember asking my sister if I could post certain images of my nieces and nephews, but now it isn’t even a conversation. A BBC poll showed that 70% of adults believe it is not okay to post photos of anyone else, including children, without permission, and 56% of parents avoid ever posting images online.  I think that if were to take this same poll, I would agree with these statements. But in reality, my practices do not reflect my opinion.

So, something needs to change. A good piece of advice by a spokeswoman for the NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) urges parents to consider the fact that “each time a photo or video is uploaded, it creates a digital footprint of a child which can follow them into adult life”. 

There is a lot of good advice in this suggested article  like parents should advocate digital consent and ownership so they can help teach their children to value it as well. Another campaign is the #talkb4sharing movement which asks parents to talk to their children before posting their images online. While this is directed towards parents, educators could use similar practices to encourage consent among their students.

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(As a side note, Team Agree really struck a nerve when they discussed the fact that any innocent photo could be used by Internet predators. In fact, 50% of images posted on child pedophile sites were sourced from parent social media profiles. Shudder)

Where do we go from here? The first step is to think before we share.

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Team Disagree helped calm my mind a bit and helped me to remember my original opinion that I think openness and sharing among our students is a good thing. In one of the suggested journal articles, the benefits of social media in education are explored and how it can be used to promote student engagement. Certain web-based applications can simplify the communication among students, between student and teacher and with parent and teacher. One could also note the negatives of this easy communication, especially with parent-teacher communication.  Boundaries are necessary so the ability to be in constant communication is not abused.

An exciting point about social media in education is that is fosters collaboration and allows students to work together to achieve a common goal. Recently, my students participated in an activist art project with students in both RPS and RCS school divisions. We connected on Twitter using the hashtag, #YQRActivistArt as an outlet to share our work. While it was not used by a lot of schools, the hope was that it would be used to engage our students and see what other groups in the city were doing to create socially aware art projects.  Collaborative learning is meaningful for students and social media is one way to let students share and express their ideas.

Finally, Team Disagree helped me realize that, yes we need to be aware of what we post about our students online, but we have an opportunity to help our students build and keep a positive digital identity 

The EdTek White Paper explains that educators are very important in building students’ understanding about how technology can impact personal and future professional lives. Educators have a responsibility to teach our students how to create habits that will lead to a positive online identity. The article uses ISTE standards to provide recommendations and questions to help students:

  1. What info am I sharing?
  2. How secure is it?**
  3. Whom am I sharing it with?
  4. What am I leaving behind?
  5. What are my rights?

**Security online is expressed using the STEP method:

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Our role as educators is to give students the skills they need to protect themselves online and create a positive digital footprint.

Let me reflect on the debate statement again:

Openness and sharing in our schools is unfair to our kids

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I feel like the debate this week took me on an emotional roller coaster. First I disagreed with the statement, then Team Agree made me fear and question my teaching practices. Am I bad educator for not asking my students their permission to post photos? And what about the gross idea that pedophiles could be taking these images? But then Team Disagree calmed my nerves a bit and reminded me that openness and sharing in our schools promotes engagement and collaboration.  As a responsible educator, it is my job to inform and teach students ways to create a positive digital footprint and to help students understand consent and permission to post photos and work online.  I can do this by modelling good online behaviour and discussing sharing online with my students. I still have a lot of work to do in these areas and intend to implement some of the good sharing practices shared by both teams.

 

Until next time,

@Catherine_Ready

Should we teach things that can be googled?

Last week, I teamed up with two colleagues, Shelby and Amanda to form Team Disagree for the debate statement:

Schools should not focus on teaching things that can be googled.

We created an opening statement video for the debate, and after a strong rebuttal with Team Agree and class discussion, I still strongly support our disagree stance.

Our opening statement video:

To support our argument, we focused on three main points:

  1. Google should be used as a tool to build foundational skills and understand how to verify factual information

  2. Memorization has an important place in developing student learning skills

  3. Google is hindering our ability to concentrate and focus

It is interesting that both Team Agree and Team Disagree mentioned the significance of critical thinking in education. Team Agree focused on the importance of learning to problem solve and develop critical thinking skills as knowledge is changing faster than ever and continues to grow. Furthermore, as stated in one of their suggested articles, students and educators teaching in the 21st century need to learn 21st century competencies. The emphasis should be on content creation instead of reproduction of information, as this will be most beneficial to learner development.

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Similarly, my team (disagree) also focused on the importance of critical thinking and teaching students how to use tools like Google to guide students through the information and think about what they are accessing. In short, teachers need to help guide our students to learn ways to use Google appropriately and develop critical thinking skills. As stated in our team’s suggested article, when students think critically, they actively engage in these processes:

  • Communication
  • Analysis
  • Synthesis
  • Problem-solving
  • Evaluation
  • Reflection

To help students reach these processes, teachers need to prepare a variety of hands-on activities that allow the students to be involved in their learning.  While both Team Agree and Disagree believe that critical thinking is important, we have to teach our students how to develop the skills without Google first. This goes along with the idea of “smart searching” as described in our suggested article.

IMG_0819Instead of just releasing our students into the world of Google, teachers should first model the process for searching online. Since Google is so open and accessible, a good tip is to teach students how to predict results they expect to see.  This way students can evaluate what they are typing in the search box and if they think it will produce the results they want.

In high school, I had a teacher briefly touch on the idea of “smart searching” on Google. Fast-forward a few years later in a university career session, an advisor expressed the importance of “googling yourself”, so you could see what future employers may find about you.

ProtectYourIdentityOnline-600x400.jpgWhen you search Catherine Ready, there is a wide range of results, from websites relevant to me, to articles that simply included the words “Catherine” and “ready” – ready being a very common term! Once I began using a few “smart searching” techniques, I was able to find articles and websites related specifically to me over the last decade. These searching tips are easily found on Google, but it was through the guidance of a teacher that showed me how to use Google in an efficient and effective way in my learning.

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The second point to support our argument is that memorization has a place in learning.  Interestingly, Team Agree spoke to the detrimental effects of rote learning, or simply memorizing through drilling and repetition.

In our research and suggested article, memorization is considered a tool in learning and involves a variety of methods to help students recall and remember information. Rote learning is only one way to commit things to memory and instead students can use techniques like visualization, imagery and mnemonics.

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Growing up, learning through memorization was (and still is) something I loved. I always felt that I had a really good handle on how to memorize, using songs, rhythms, imagery and mnemonics. I also heavily relied on rote memorizing through drilling and repetition of skills like multiplication tables, French vocabulary, science facts, etc. Additionally, I danced, figure skated and took music lessons – all areas that required memorization. My first undergraduate degree was in music with a concentration in piano  and part of the degree requirements included memorizing over an hour of music to be performed in recital.

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Excerpt from Liszt’s Consolation No. 3 (one of my favourites!)

I like to think I mastered the art of memory work and have experienced firsthand how memorization helps learners grow and move beyond the basic level of recall and remembering. Through my strong knowledge basic of facts (from math facts to music theory terms and rules) I have been able to “move up the ladder” of Bloom’s Taxonomy and go deeper into my learning to the more sophisticated levels of analyzing, evaluating and creating.

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But,

as an educator, it would be naive to think that every student would be able to learn and memorize exactly as I did as a student. Since memory work is something that I find simple and enjoyable, I could assume that all students would feel the same way. My job as an educator is to teach students how to memorize and build a knowledge base. One of the suggested articles by Team Agree states that:

“The objective of education is learning, not teaching”.

I agree with this point, but I also understand that we can teach our students how to memorize through hands on activities, especially with song, dance, rhythms, patterns and imagery.

As an arts educator, I am trained in the Orff Schulwerk Approach. This style of music education is a process that encourages students to explore and experience music through singing, movement and playing instruments.  But interestingly enough, all music and songs in the Orff Approach are taught to first be memorized through rote learning and then movement and instruments are added. This is a starting point in music education to develop the musical ear before we introduce music theory and learning to read music and rhythms.

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Students in my classroom learning guitar.

In higher grades, I teach guitar and I require students to memorize a few basic chords so that they can grow and improve their playing more quickly. Sure, they could google the chord every time, or they could commit the chord to memory through repetition, visualizing and practicing the finger placement on the fretboard – a very “hands on” activity. This is much more effective for a developing musician and allows students to eventually move to the creating and composing levels in music.

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Finally, there is research that every time you learn something new, a connection is formed between neurons in the brain. The more you repeat the learning – possibly through memorization – the stronger the connections.  The more you keep something in short term memory, it will eventually be pushed to long-term memory, so therefore practice makes perfect, and memorization is one way to do it.

Our last point to support our argument is that Google is hindering our ability to concentrate. Last week, I touched on how technology has played a distracting role throughout my education. One reason it is more difficult to concentrate is that when we are on the Internet for answers, we can be easily distracted by advertisements, videos, links and other information that is strategically targeted to the user, but unrelated to the topic we are searching. In our suggested article, there is concern that we are relying on skimming rather than deep-reading information.  If we want an answer quickly, all we have to do is “google it” instead of creating our own pathways to learn new information.  The article even goes on to suggest that our brains are changing to adapt to this new form of quick thinking. As educators, it is our responsibility to continue teaching and showing students how to learn and acquire new information. If we go back to our first point, it is important to practice critical thinking skills and teach our students how to use Google effectively.

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At the end of the day, the Internet has no limits to the amount and kind of information that can be accessed by our students. If we did not teach things that could be googled, there would not be anything left to teach! Educators have to find a way to balance a variety of learning techniques (include using Google) and how to incorporate these ideas into 21st century education. With so many ways to learn, access and explore information, we can rely on research to support our teaching methods so we can foster strong critical thinkers and flexible learners.

Until next time,

@Catherine_Ready