April 26, 2018
Does constant connectivity create unrealistic expectations on educators?
How old were you when you received your first cell phone? How old were you when you used a computer for the first time? Was it in school? Or was is at home?
I was fortunate enough to grow up during that time where technology was emerging and prominent, but not all consuming. As a kid I stayed out until it got dark, had to memorize all the important phone numbers, and grew up with a landline. Yet, as a teenager, I had a cell phone, a MySpace Page, FaceBook Page, and an iPod. Thinking back about my own childhood makes me realize how drastically different it is for my students today: they have smart watches and watch T.V. And movies from anywhere in the world!
I recently read an article that touches on this same topic titled, “Can There Be Too Much Connectivity Between Parents and Children?” In this article, the author discusses the different ways parents are connected to their child’s every move: They can access student grades and attendance at any point in the school year, contact teachers immediately if they have questions (via email), and track both their child and their child’s devices with GPS tracking systems. Towards the end of the article Julie Davis -the writer- posed a lot of different questions that come up in this age of connectivity. One particular question struck a chord with me: Does constant connectivity create unrealistic expectations on educators in terms of responding to emails and monitoring student behavior on devices?
Initially, I would answer this question yes. My school has a policy that teachers can take up to 24 hours to answer emails during the week and 48 hours during the weekend. Yet, parents still see email at text messages, and if I do not respond right away, they send another email asking why I didn’t respond to the previous email. Email not only heightens the communicational pressures, but also other pressures as well. Anytime there is a form or document that needs to be sent to parents, we are told to put it on our PowerLearning Page. Yet, I still get parents who, “cannot find it,” and ask me to email it to them. The creation of email has put a demand on teachers that did not previously exist.
While emails can add some communication stress, I do also believe they can add some benefit as well. I prefer communicating with parents- and actually anything work related- through email. With email, everything is documents and saved; there is no he said/she said conversations. As teachers, we live in a world where documentation is key. And yes while I can document other conversations in other ways, email makes it the easiest because it automatically documents the conversations for me. This is a life-saver that did not exist 30 years ago.
When it comes to monitoring student behavior with devices, this is a struggle I do not really deal with as a kindergarten teacher. Any exposure my students have with technology is usually guided by an adult; they are not old enough to complete research on their own or bring phones to class. This year, I do have students who wear smartwatches to school, and the minute they start to beep or become a distraction, the watches must be put away. Behavior with devices is a real issue for most teachers today, especially when students are getting phones and iPads at younger and younger ages. Combine that with Bring Your Own Device Programs and it becomes difficult to tell if a student is using her cell phone for a class assignment or to look at a Friend’ s instagram.
The bottom line is yes technology has created unrealistic expectations for teachers; but it has also done the same for parents and students. We expect parents to read all the online documents we send them, and then get frustrated when that ask for a hard copy in paper- but some people still like the hard copy! Students are expected to complete multiple online assignments and presentations, yet not get distracted by the other enticing activities that is social media. The truth is that the connectivity that has become second nature in our culture has put unrealistic expectations on everybody, in every profession. The world we live in is more instant and moving at a rapid pace, because it can.
As I got older, it didn’t matter how late I got home as long as I had my cell phone on me and texted my parents where I was. I stopped remembering people’s phone numbers, and I am pretty sure I have not had a landline in almost 10 years. So I end with one last question: What technology do you think our students will be reminiscing about 20 years from now?
April 21, 2018
How do you teach creators of technology as opposed to consumers?
Long ago, computers were a new gadget that only a few people had in their homes, and you would certainly not find one in a school. Then, as computers became more common- and affordable- schools started to purchase them for classrooms, allowing each classroom to have one, maybe two computers. Next, came computer labs. Nowadays schools have computer labs and iPad/Tablet carts, and some schools can even afford to provide each child with his/her own computer! The way computers have adapted into schools and curriculums has changed throughout the years, but truthfully the way they are used has not. Whether it was just one computer in the back of the class to an iPad cart roaming around the school, technology has consistently been used the same in schools: as a bonus activity where one can play games. Playing games or even watching videos is only one way children can interact with computers. More often than not, students are consumers of technology. So how do you teach creators of technology as opposed to consumers?
As a Kindergarten teacher, I will admit that I am guilty of teaching consumers. I have always found it difficult to allow my students to explore and create; they are so young and do not understand how valuable and fragile iPads and computers are. They can barely recognize letters and write, let alone type on a keyboard. But just because they do not understand how computers and iPads work, it does not mean they are still not able to work and tinker with them. There is a TED Talk by Linda Liukas where she discusses how to teach kids about computers.
In her talk, Linda explain that instead of seeing computers as magical and mysterious, children should see them as items to explore and tinker with. We educate students on how the body functions, why would we not do the same for computers? In order to allow student to become creators, we have to give them a chance to understand how computers and programming work. When students ask, “How does it do that?” Do not respond with, “It’s magic.” In as simple as terms as possible, explain. If you are not able to explain, find a resource that can. There are all types of books and computers that can explain in a kid-friendly way how a computer knows what to do when you press the play button. She continues by talking about activities she does with kids; in one instance, she shows the kids 4 different items and asks them, “Which one is a computer?” Through a discussion, the kids learn that all items are computers because they each contain some type of technology or program. In order to teach creators and not consumers, we have to help students realize that they can be creators. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow but one day they can create some type of technology that will change the world. Planting the seed of belief is what will help them grow into creators.
Now, that is easier said than done. Everyday teachers get older, and everyday they become more and more unfamiliar with technology. So how are they suppose to help their students become comfortable and confident, if they themselves are not? There are options; providing students with the right resources is a good start. If you are not the expert on parts of a computer, find someone or something who is. The other option is being honest with students about not knowing. Kids need to learn that there is not always a right answer, or that there is not always one answer. By understanding this, they are developing the mind of a creator. Creators try and try again not because they know their is a correct answer, but because they believe they can find/create one. Sometimes, belief is stronger than knowledge.
Watch the full video of Linda Liukas’s TED Talk below:
April 11, 2018
What are the advantages to Online Portfolios?
In school, especially in Elementary school, it is common for teachers to keep student work and the progress they make throughout the year in a portfolio. Typically, this portfolio can be in any shape or form that the teacher desires- folder, binder, box, etc.- and is usually given to the parents or the student at the end of the year. Currently at my school, we are having the, “Paper Portfolio vs. Online Portfolio Debate.” Each grade level from K1 through 5th Grade has to keep a portfolio. Most grade levels do a hard copy of a portfolio, keeping all student work in a binder or folder. Only one grade- third grade- requires all teachers to keep an online portfolio. But another issue that has been arising at my school is vertical alignment and information on students from year-to-year as they progress through school. This conversation has a sparked a question for me: What Are the Advantages to Online Portfolios?
There are a lot of viable options for online portfolios (e-portfolios). At my school, the two most commonly used are Google Sites and SeeSaw. But there are many others including: WeLearnedIt, Weebly, Kidblog, and Edublogs. A benefit to most e-portfolios is that with the correct login information, the e-portfolio can be accessed by all (students, parents, and teachers). This makes all parties more accountable in regards to the work that is being done in school. Instead of wasting time through communication, parents can go straight to the source to see the work. Allowing parents and students to be able to access the online portfolio gives them a chance to ask specific question, creating a more productive meeting time. Another advantage of online portfolios is that they can be easily transferred. As a teacher at an international school, I have many students who join or leave during the middle of the year. If those students would come with an e-portfolio with all their previous school information, it would make the transition that much easier. Online portfolios allow for an easier transition between different school as well as between different grade levels. At my school, we have an issue of transferring information vertically. Everything is in hard copy and needs to be transferred through binders and heavy boxes. This transfer usually does not happen until after the new school year has started, and that information is not needed any more. By keeping all information electronically, the transfer is a lot “lighter” and can be done in less time and even before the school year starts!
There are many benefits to creating an e-portfolio, but there are also many disadvantages. One setback is cost. For apps and sights such as SeeSaw and Weebly, you only receive limited access with the free version. For example, with SeeSaw, you only receive one year with the free subscription, and after that year is up, all the data is gone. The information cannot be saved or transferred without a paid subscription. In weebly, you do not have access to all of the edits and features with the free subscription, you can only access those under premium- which cost money. Paid subscriptions are not cheap; sometimes it is cheaper to by 22 binders for each student portfolio as opposed to buying an online subscription. And many times, subscriptions have to be paid yearly, and if not all progressed can be lost! A second disadvantage is accessibility. Easy transfer of an online portfolio was presented as an advantage, but it can also be a disadvantage. For most e-portfolios, WiFi access is required. If there is no WiFi access, no one can view the portfolio. Nine times out of ten, WiFi access is easily accessible, but there are still those occasions when it is not. What happens then? Should you carry a hard copy of the portfolio just in case? Then what is the point of having an e-portfolio is you have to carry around a hard copy as well? Accessibility is not only hindered by WiFi, but also compatibility. If you carry around a portfolio on a flash drive, you have to hope that whatever device you connect to will be able to read your portfolio, or that it has the appropriate software to read your portfolio. Basically, an e-portfolio relies on a lot of other factors that will either make or break it’s accessibility.
Online portfolios are the way of the future. They are better for the environment, can hold more information in a slimmer fashion, and just look cooler than hard copy portfolios. Currently, we are in a transition period. There are still those who believe the hard copy portfolios are the best choice, because the are reliable and known. While there are still some glitches to be worked out with e-portfolios, they are a great tool to have. The truth is, e-portfolios are just one technological tool that are the way of the future. But currently, not all students are able to live in that future. And while e-portfolios offer a lot of benefits, until all students have easy access to this electronic tool, it should not be the sole carrier of portfolios.
April 2, 2018
Journal Entry #7- Will Virtual Reality Provide Deeper Learning?
There is a recent article I found where the author discusses Virtual Reality in relation to meaningful learning. Virtual Reality (VR) is a new type of technology that allows students to experience another place without having to leave the classroom. VR simulations are offering students a new experience, that before technology they might not have been able to do. It allows them to see places from all over the world, or view things people could only dream about. But with all of its great advancements and interest, will virtual reality provide deeper learning?
In the article written by Holly Korby, she Immediately comments on concerns with using VR learning in school. One concern is that VR is just a replacement. It is a translational tool that is not actually adding any value to the learning. VR is constantly changing, but as of right now it is being used to show students experiences, in the same way educational movies do. VR simulations are being used to transport students to a new place without having to leave the classroom. This type of learning is replacing field trips and other hands-on learning experiences that can offer students deeper learning. Another concern is cost. In order to work with VR, there are typically many pieces: there are headsets and gloves that can cost hundreds of dollars. Korby (2017) states, “while cheaper versions exist—such as the $15 Google Cardboard, which attaches to a smartphone—these versions often don’t provide the same quality of experience.” Now grant it, this equipment is still more cost effective than transporting a whole class of students across the globe, and it comes with less concerns from parents and administration. But if the equipment is so expensive, how are students in lower-income school suppose get this experience. With the price tag, students who can afford to travel anyways are probably the ones who can afford the VR equipment.
But even with some cons, VR learning does provide students with a deeper understanding in new and meaningful ways. Virtual Reality learning is sparking a conversation and inquiries in students that videos and films do not. These inquiries are what drives inventors to change the way VR learning is being used in schools. In the article, Korby discusses different ways this type of learning is being used.
VR technology is being used in schools both for academic and social purposes. In science classes, students are working with 3D models of organs and cells that are actually functioning. Students are able to see human hearts and what they look like when they are pumping blood to the rest of the body. In other areas, students are able to take virtual college campus tours without leaving their bed. Websites such as CampusTours and YouVisit allow students to take full college tours right from their homes. This is a more cost and time effective ways that also helps students realize how many options they truly have when applying to colleges. Through other VR experiences, students are able to see what life is like for people in other situations. Global Nomads and Embodied Labs are two programs that allow people to experience what life is like for children living in other countries or for adults as they get older and are aging with certain diseases. Both of these experiences gives people perspectives and understandings that they would not otherwise get unless they were experiencing themselves.
Virtual Reality Learning, like other technologies, uses a screen. But just because it is access through a screen, does not mean it should be treated as just a screen. With the right experiences and programs, VR learning can provide experiences that cannot be taught through textbooks. Can VR learning completely replace hands-on learning experiences? I do not think so. But if hands-on experiences are not available as the first option, VR learning is an excellent 2nd option. Virtual Reality Learning needs to be given time to be explored and to grow so that is can continue provide deeper learning to students.
Korby, H. (2017, July 4). Will Virtual Reality Drive Deeper Learning? Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/virtual-reality-drive-deeper-learning-holly-korbey