When we reflect back on the last few years, I suspect (for many of us) a great divide appears between our relationship with educational technology before the pandemic and everything after. That has certainly been the case in my journey from classroom teacher to Online Learning Support Services Teacher.
As a geriatric millennial, I’m already familiar with the pre and post-technological world. Playing outside came well before my Nintendo and Oregon-Trail memories, and it wouldn’t be until my last years of high school that I researched science essays using my family’s noisy dial-up internet. Still, I was young enough to quickly adapt to the arrival of MySpace, Facebook, Ipods, and then…..oohhhh, ahhhhhhh, the Iphone!
My pre-pandemic classroom existed inside four solid walls. I greeted students face-to-face, using a variety of handshakes, high-fives, and questionable TikTok dance recreations. My pedagogy thrived on personal connection, interwoven with the necessity to stay tech-savvy, and therefore, relevant to my students. We used old Chromebooks to create videos, podcasts, Prezis, and Powerpoints. “Using technology is a tool to prepare you for your future,” I recited daily to my classes (little did I know).
January 2020: I am 1 of 4 educators chosen by my division to attend the FETC – Future of Education Technology Conference– in Miami. We are to source all the best tech- VR, robotics, coding- to bring back to our school division and teach teachers. The words pandemic and Covid-19 are new, whispered, and distant. We don’t know yet…
The surrealness of March 2020 led to a whirlwind crash course in all things Edtech, from TikTok instructionals to Youtube Read-Alouds and daily Zoom chats. Like any literary nerd, I wrote questionable op-eds and poetry to fill the void. The oddest part (that I only dare whisper aloud) is that I found myself thriving in this new online world. The creativity and connection required to engage students online seemed like a worthy and interesting undertaking.
Fast-forward to September 2020, and I am 2 hours into pandemic classroom teaching. Mask-up, shield down, heart terrified but full, I am ready and out for supervision when…I receive a phone call.
“Kim, would you be interested in the division’s new Online Learning Support Services Teacher role?” My superintendent asks.
They have no clear outline of what this position entails. I have no idea about…anything!
“Count me in!” I respond.
What did my mom always say to me about looking before I leap?
The So-Called “New Normal”
More than two years later, 6-7 hours of my work-life is lived online. I still exist in my school’s four walls, but my office is shoved to a remote corner and my co-workers refer to me as “the happy hermit.” For better or worse, I see my face continually on a screen. Zoom and I are intimately acquainted. In my Division, I interact with every school, admin, teacher, and grade-level, connecting them all to our online students. Upon request, I create online content and curriculum resources for any and all grade levels. My job is to make the “new normal” in-school/online hybrid somehow easier. I try my best.
For the most part, I teach and connect using:
- Zoom – till death do us part (or so it seems).
- EDSBY – Just before the pandemic, my Division signed a contract with Edsby. It is now the main hub I use to communicate, share, and create.
- A total hodge-podge: TikTok, Flipgrid, Peardeck, Kahoot, Blooket, Miro, whatever means necessary….including a diverse range of truly strange (non-tech related) costumes.
As for what’s to become of me and my role next year…it’s truly anyone’s guess. As always, I’ll leap first and learn on the way down!
The transformative power of technology has touched all aspects of teaching, learning, and curriculum. Social media allows teachers to communicate with students in ways that would have seemed like science fiction 20 years ago.
I wouldn’t know. I have been hiding with my head under a metaphorical and literal blanket for the last 15 years.
That is of course an exaggeration, but within the lie there is a grain of truth. My day starts the same way it always has, fumbling to stop the screeching alarm emanating from an old Sony alarm clock my grandmother got me when I was 14 years old (hey, it still works so why get a new one?). This sets in motion a routine that has remained relatively stable for as long as I remember: get up (curse my sore joints), exercise (curse my sore joints), and get to school (curse my sore joints).
And so begins my technologically rich teaching day with checking emails: the advanced features of Microsoft Outlook still elude me, but I managed to set up a digital signature a few months back so I am feeling pretty good about myself. Small victories such as these sustain me through the dark times. This is promptly followed by my first interactions with EDSBY, a “cloud-based software application that combines social networking with class and student management features” (according to Wikipedia). It is not quite the arch nemesis of my teaching day, instead it is more like a mid level boss. It’s design apes Facebook circa 2010 with the an incredible feature set that includes hiding useful functions like printing a class list behind 6 submenus and adding students to attendance rosters a full 24 hours after they first arrive in my room. It could be worse, at least I don’t have to send students messages via carrier pigeon.
As students arrive in the room I attempt to engage them in conversation. For most part they stare blankly into their smartphones, their faces illuminated by an eerie blue glow. I have made some headway recently and most respond with rudimentary grunts. My next interaction with technology is with my tablet computer. This is where I start to drag myself out of the early 20th century and firmly into the late 20th century. I have converted most of my notes to Microsoft Word documents which I project onto the whiteboard and edit using a stylus. The students love it because I draw too many cartoons when I should be teaching them how to solve quadratic equations, but the freedom it affords has been game changing allowing me to share notes with absent students and post them to a google classroom. My Google classroom is a repository of COVID era video lessons, notes, and YouTube links that served as my last bastion of teaching during the Pandemic. It is now relegated to helping students get caught up when they miss classes.
Speaking of YouTube it plays an integral role in explaining how mathematics gets used in the real world. Like all good teachers when I panic and can’t explain something myself I turn to smarter people who have done a better job of it.
My electronic interactions with students, parents and teachers is still mostly through the old fashioned medium of email. I don’t tweet, snap or use Instagram. Until I started this course I thought Discord was something that was sown amongst enemies in Arthurian legends. The instant messaging functions available through EDSBY have become increasingly popular amongst my students. They now have new electronic ways of asking me the same question that I answered 4 times during class. It’s neat.
My brain does not like shutting off, so my day begins with a search for my air pods which I used to play a podcast the night before.
I pick up on the podcast at whichever point I fell asleep as I hurry to get ready before my son wakes up. If I have time I do a quick check on Edsby to see if a student or parent messaged me through the night, if I don’t I’ll check at school. I also do a quick check of the messenger group chat for my staff. Staff will post supervision requests, the odd traffic update, or just general communication. At one point this chat was just for “Choir Practice,” actual work has pushed this aside for the most part.
Arriving at school I check my work email and Edsby, I then open any digital lessons I will need throughout the day. For example I typically have a smartboard lesson for math and often use a power point for science. As students arrive I use Edsby to submit attendance, doing so again after lunch.
As the day progresses I close tabs as assignments are written on the board. When I have prep these assignments are posted on Edsby for parents and students to reference. At this point I may respond to any messages sent during the day. If my marking isn’t too overwhelming I’ll use the remaining time for lesson prepping, typically typing out day plan notes and preparing any slideshows I need.
During downtime I check on the app my son’s daycare uses to see what he is up to or respond to any texts my wife may have sent. The middle year’s teachers on my floor also have a messenger group to pass along any information or informal messages, depending on the time dependency I will reply when I have time.
As the school day winds down I check my texts one more time, then head out for the day. Arriving home I’d like to say I take a break, but as I cook I put on Spotify or a Youtube video, only going off when my wife and son arrive.
This is where tech takes a break and for a few short hours we focus on each other….unless my son begs for a “show.” When my son goes to sleep, the computer comes out again to finish prep, work on assignments and input marks. We use Alexa to turn off the lights and I reach for my air pods to listen to a podcast and quiet my brain.
As I write how integrated technology is in every aspect of my career and life….maybe there is a reason my brain won’t stay quiet.
Let’s see if my categories work the way they are supposed to.
Just a quick test of the Word Press wizardry! More to follow soon.