Posts Tagged 'Technology'

Technology These Days…

Multi Media Internet Laptop with ObjectsBy Aubrey Murtha — Lately, the global emphasis on modernization and the development of newer and faster technology has got me discouraged.

I have always been an advocate for the simple life, but easy-to-use technological advancements have people digitalizing their lives these days, and the temptation is there—even for me. Ask anyone, I am pretty much the opposite of that which is hip and trendy. For example, I am still without a Twitter, I am illiterate when it comes to pop culture, and I’d rather shop at Goodwill than waste money on anything that is name brand.

However, I love my iPhone, and it would be awfully preachy of me to tell you to cut down on your use of technology as I sit here and type an article for an online publication on my lap top while checking my Facebook every ten minutes.

My concern is not technology in general. Obviously, I do appreciate electricity, running water, and the vast breadth of information that is available for me when I need it. However, I am concerned with the way that modern conveniences are affecting my generation and those to come.

In my opinion, the two main negative results of the Digital Age are materialism and an overwhelming need for instant gratification. The alarming rate at which companies are producing new and fascinating technology leaves children longing for the latest and greatest piece of modern equipment. In addition, kids and teens are exhibiting signs of complete dependence on technology.

How many eighth graders do you know that do not have a cell phone for texting their friends? How many college students do you know that do not use a computer to complete essentially all of their homework assignments? This dependence perpetuates materialism, in my opinion, and I find it discouraging that so many of our relationships and many of our academic endeavors depend on computers and smart phones.

The way in which the Internet and sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter provide kids and teens with instant gratification is hotwiring us to expect immediacy in life. Amongst the U.S.’s younger generations, this urgency seems to dissolve our work ethics as we simply expect that we will be given what we want right away. Instead of taking our time with things, everything is rushed and accelerated.  There is no value in the search anymore, no honor in waiting, no love of the quest or respect for the chase.

Maybe I’m reading into things a bit when I say that, but I believe this to be true: Technology is often a detriment to the development and maturity of America’s youth because of the manner in which it destroys our patience.

As teachers, parents or students, I am encouraging you to challenge the youth in your life to unplug. You too! Yes you! Be an example for your student or child, and promise that you’ll be present to him or her whenever you can.

Let’s not get wrapped up in the cyber world.  Let’s live in the now!

Confessions of a Cell Phone Terrorist

The Monster in the Mirror

By Claudia Felske — Ever experience a disconnect between you and what you see in the mirror?

Ever run across an old photo of yourself, and seriously wonder Who IS that?!

I did. Just the other day. But it was a verbal photograph, handed to me by my husband.

He recalled (with great detail) a Claudia six years my younger, who at the time was seriously obsessed with acquiring a cell phone jammer to block her student’s cell phone use in class. She had just returned from scoring AP English essays exams in Louisville, where she had audaciously pledged, along with several of her AP Reader colleagues, to get a cell phone jammer in their classrooms in order to ensure the integrity of their profession.

She spending the better part of a week researching cell phone jammers: how they work, how much they cost, where to get them. (Note her intentional use of the third person, distancing herself from her former self). Though research quickly revealed that cell phone blockers were illegal in the Unites States (still are), that users were prosecuted for theft (of cell phone service) and endangerment (preventing life-pending communication), that fines of $11,000 were issued upon first violation, her determination remained unflapped.

The safety issue, however, did concern her: she’d have to find a blocker that would stay within the confines of her classroom, ensuring administrators and others could receive cell phone reception in the halls outside her room. It would be a tricky endeavor, but after dedicating 14 years of her life to her craft, she could hardly sit by idly while students used their cell phones to text each other answers, photograph her tests, and troll online while they were supposed to be learning.

Her professional integrity was endangered, and so the risk of using an illegal device to save her livelihood was an easy choice. Besides, if she got caught, the righteousness of her mission would be self-evident. Waving to the courthouse camera in a tailored suit with matching sensible heels, she’d become a media darling, representing the very founding principles of public education.

Umm, not quite…and enough third person already.

Long story short: I was never able to find a jammer precise enough to reliably stay within my classroom. And so, the digital age and I had a face off; happily, it won.

Funny now to be reminded of my former self. While nothing else about me has radically changed in the past 6 years, the person hell-bent on installing a cell phone scrambler in her classroom and my current self could not stand in greater opposition.

My current students are encouraged to bring their phones to class. They can zap a QR code upon entry to my room to access my syllabus and today’s agenda. They can backchannel on their phones during class, adding to the class discussion by typing on a group chat without waiting to be called on, they can collaborate on each other’s google docs, collect running data on their progress, engage in research and extension activities—all on the device that I wanted to block.

Perhaps most interesting to me upon visiting my recent former self is realizing that I felt as serious and justified in my jammer acquisition as I do about my BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy today.

So why the change? How did I go from cell phone terrorist to BYOB enthusiast?

I think what happened is that I paid attention to the world around me. I go to conferences, I read journals, I discuss and collaborate on listserves and electronic discussion boards. I hear about what’s new, what’s working, what’s effective in the classroom, and I change, modify, and integrate accordingly.

When I started teaching, we didn’t have email or electronic gradebooks; Ten years ago, we didn’t have SMART Boards or smart phones; Five years ago, we didn’t have iPads or  netbooks, two years ago, we didn’t have MOOCs,  gamification, flipped classrooms and hardly a word  was spoken about “Personalized Learning.” Now we have  them all, and next year, more likely next month, they’ll be  more. And while none of these are the panacea for the  challenges faced in education today, none of them mark the  fall and decline of education as we know it.

We need to be a part of our students’ world, not apart from our students’ world.

My husband (science teacher) also reminded me that dinosaurs didn’t become extinct because of a great meteor strike, they became extinct because they couldn’t adapt to their changing environment.  So while I can laugh now at my anti-cell phone self of yesteryear, I can also be kind of proud to realize that unlike the dinosaurs, I’ve evolved.

How ’bout you?

Savoring the Holes as Well as the Cheese

swiss_cheese (1)By Peggy Wuenstel — A common modern malady, both in the classroom and out of it is “Too much to do and not enough time to do it”.

Modern technology keeps us plugged in, in touch, and on call. Time and labor saving devices enable us to do more in less time. We can meet up without even being there. These things are wonderful, unless they take over, and every year about this time, my crowded calendar, my lofty aspirations, my inflated sense of what I can accomplish in the time allotted catches up with me. My gentle husband always reminds me that this is a pattern I seem destined to repeat.  Part of the fault is definitely my own, in my unwillingness to move on, part ways, or let it go.

As a speech/language pathologist, many of my reinforcement activities are seasonal related. I am constantly amazed that students, who cannot remember anything we drill for an upcoming quiz, can remember exactly which version of the Thanksgiving turkey we constructed last year at the appropriate time. I have my favorite projects, stories, and methods of teaching, and it can be difficult to try something new. Unlike my fellow blogger Claudia Felske, technology does not come easily for me, and although I admire those who have these skills, my integration of these valuable tools is far exceeded by my desire to understand and use them.

Evidence based instruction and best practices are important initiatives, and working smarter as well as harder is truly important in the competitive educational world that we are immersed in. We adopt new curricula that align with Common Core Standards and will better prepare students to perform well on the Smarter Balanced Assessment System that is coming soon to classrooms near us. But we can’t seem to give up the old school spelling list, the dinosaur unit, the ways we’ve always done things. There may be valid reasons to continue, but not if it is unexamined, or a result of static rather than dynamic approaches to determining what our students need. Most of us have, buried at the bottom of a drawer, the yellowed lesson plans and their modern equivalents, the referenced links that no longer connect to any viable websites. And it is hard to admit we don’t need all of that any more.

Interior decorators speak of visual space for the eye, a place to rest between the aesthetic elements in a beautifully designed space.  Where I was once attracted to country clutter, I am now feeling drawn to a sleeker aesthetic. I have long been intrigued by the practice of Feng shui, but I’ve never been able to put it into personal practice because it must begin by clearing away, letting go, weeding out.  Maybe I should start with some of the several volumes I have purchased on the subject. In music we even call it a rest, a space between the notes to let us savor the melody, appreciate the harmony, close our eyes and feel the rhythms.

Our neurology understands the need for this down time. Our brains move information to long term memory storage during sleep, when our internal file clerk is on duty and our active minds are at rest. Students who need help gleaning information for tests often are aided by strategies such as spaces between text, double spacing and two column notes that isolate and emphasize key terms. As we age, we are challenged by keeping all of the things we have accumulated in order, prioritized, and at the ready. I have always needed an editor and as I enter the age of senior discounts  (Where is that coupon, again?) I am learning that being organized is no substitute for being willing to let go.

This can also mean realigning relationships, with people, with lessons, with ways of doing things. Common Core standards and the curriculum alignment that goes with it mean that the butterfly or dinosaur units may have to go, or become the province of a colleague. While we may have to say goodbye to a treasured teaching tradition, what a wonderful opportunity to share with others. Just like the problems we encounter when the menu is too extensive, choosing one from column A and one from column B might just be too much to process. Comparison and contrast is an extraordinarily effective instructional practice that we tend to ignore in our daily lives.

There is a simplicity movement that seeks to live life with just 100 things. I have adapted this each year to find 100 things every year before the first day of spring that I can live without. Political discussions have led us to talk of austerity, but I am talking about editing, not austerity. It is easier to give things up when we know where they are going, such as to worthy programs like Dress for Success.

I still didn’t really like that tweed suit, but I did value how professional I felt wearing it to those first interviews.  Prom dresses for girls whose family budgets don’t allow for those kinds of dream dates, Half-Price Books’ half pint library, our local transitional housing charity Bethel House, which helps families get on their feet and into stable housing are all wonderful places for my stuff to get a new chance to make someone’s life easier. My deleted computer files, extraneous thoughts, and unplanned stops on the itinerary are also valued holes in the Swiss cheese that is this teacher’s life. And in the interest of leaving some space, I’ll close this post, and my eyes, for a little down time.


The Value of Paper

By Ashley McFadin — “You know,” a student exclaimed in the middle of class, “you’re one of the only teachers that still use a pencil and paper.”

I blushed and replied, “And….so?” thinking that she would start the typical teenage complaint cycle.

What she said next was surprising.  “It’s a good thing!  I am getting really tired of using the computer for everything.  Sometimes using paper is easier.”

This exchange has been happening more regularly among my students as of late.

With the “new-ness” of the computers wearing off, students are becoming increasingly aware of their teacher’s expectations before, during and after class in terms of assignment completion, quality, and deadlines.   For example, we have students write papers on Google Docs.  This has some pros and cons.

Some of the major pros are that we can see when they started the paper, each time they revised the paper, what they revised, and if they shared their assignment with anyone they were not supposed to.

There are two very large down sides to using technology for everything.  One is that they frequently forget they have an assignment at all so it is not completed.   This results in an email to the student and their parent to gently remind them to complete the assignment.  The second con is that it is now far simpler to plagiarize each other’s work.  On the flip side, it’s also easier to catch plagiarism with revision histories.  In terms of deadlines, we expect students to complete them more on time than ever due to the increasing amount of work time we give them because some students do not have internet at home.

Students still use paper in all of their classes for the most part.  I can only speak for my own class when I say that I think there is still value in paper.  It’s a lot simpler to pass out a piece of paper and ask students to solve problems.  I also explicitly teach organization as a life skill using their science binders.  The computers are great as a teaching tool, but I firmly believe it cannot replace good teaching, highly skilled teachers, and student perseverance.

It Takes Nerve: Presenting A Different Professional Perspective

By Mike Lampe —  Throughout my experiences in both undergraduate and graduate experiences, I had the opportunity to present on information both controversial and new.

In many cases, I challenged myself by presenting to my peers information in a different perspective, a perspective that may not have been part of the mainstream way of thinking. However, I did not feel as relaxed presenting material to my internship site when discussing utilizing online technological tools to emulate an orientation experience.

Why did I feel the uncomfortable feeling?

After all, I did the right research on comparing how other institutions are approaching online orientations. I also asked my site supervisor to look at my materials I was going to present to which she thought everything looked great. The technology was not an issue due to my experience working on technological devices on a daily basis.

After doing some thinking, I starting thinking of other possible explanations if it was not the lack of content preparation. I started to realize how nerve racking it can be to present to professionals of the same field in another institution. It started to kick in that I will be a student affairs professional next year. It is also nerve racking to know that, after graduate school, professionals will not judge you based on the grades you got in class, but by the quality of work you do when presenting new ideas or doing the job right.

I also started to think about the ramifications of utilizing online tools to provide services to students enrolling at a higher education institution. This reminded me of a conversation I had with a faculty member at my old service learning coordinating position in Sheboygan discussing how technology may be hindering social skill development of college students. Although this was one conversation, I wondered how other people felt about the situation. Even though the intention of my online project was only to supplement students who could not attend any orientation sessions, I could see that some were concerned about the use of technology as a tool.

This brings me to my thoughts on utilizing technology in student services. I believe there will always be some form of professional-student interaction in the student affairs field. This is part of the best practices as described by the various professional associations. Considering technology will always be a part of society, there will be a social balance between practical and excessive usage in student affairs programming.

Although I do believe it may be somewhat excessive to replace the entire classroom experience online, I believe creating online orientation content may help improve retention rates for students who may have not taken the time to attend an on campus orientation.

How Many Times Do I Have To Tell You?

By Peggy Wuenstel — How many times do I have to tell you? This is a question usually spoken with exasperation and impatience. Somehow it always reminds me of Bill Cosby, an accomplished entertainer who also has an earned Doctorate in Education. His musings on the relationships between children and adults always rang true. Another comic, from a slightly earlier era, Sid Caesar, explained that all comedy must have a seed of truth to be effective. The same is true for teaching. That pursuit of learning, the quest for what is true and universal, is both what we do and what we seek. But the process is often complicated and the route unclear.

Perhaps more important than asking “How many times do I have to tell you?” is asking “How many ways to I have to ask you?” One of our most pressing and consuming tasks is the need to differentiate our instruction to meet the needs of diverse learners.  We consider ability, interests, motivation, learning style and background knowledge. We offer multi-modal presentations, alternative means of assessment, and a range of ways to demonstrate mastery.

It is not enough for today’s teacher to present material in the ways we personally learn best, or in the way that we were taught. We have to find multiple ways to both ask and answer the questions that our students bring to the classroom.

What makes our American Education system unique is its fundamental belief that all learners are capable of mastery, if we are effective in the way we teach. University of San Diego professor Anne Donnellan (1984) reminded us that “in the absence of conclusive data, educational decisions ought to be based on assumptions which, if incorrect, will have the least dangerous effect on the likelihood that students will be able to function independently as adults.” This is the educational equivalent of the physician’s oath, “First, Do No Harm”.

Dr. Donnellan goes on to hold us accountable as educators by saying “we should assume that poor performance is due to instructional inadequacy rather than to student deficits.” The need to change how we teach is a much less dangerous assumption than not teaching material that a student is capable of learning with alternative approaches. Differentiation needs to happen in process and product as well as content, which is more typically the way that it is been approached in the past. Where we teach, how we teach, how quickly we teach, and in what way we teach should have a much more wide-ranging scope than what we choose to teach or choose to leave behind.

There has been a lot of attention paid to the role of questioning in the learning process. When students can formulate good questions about the material they are learning they are more likely to understand and retain it. Our brains can often tune out statements, but the rising intonation and obligatory nature of questioning invites and compels us to answer, even if it is at an unconscious level. An instructor’s commands and directions often meet with resistance or apathy, while our invitations and requests for self-examination of both motives and methods lead to engagement and success. Teacher education programs are built upon the idea of reflective practice.

What did I want to accomplish?
How well did I meet those objectives?
What can I change next time to improve outcomes?

The focus shifts from what I did wrong, to what I can do better next time. The most important question is not what do I know? but, how do I know it? Even Oprah closes each issue of her monthly magazine with the things that she knows to be true.  This metacognitive looping, or thinking about our thinking is key to our success as teachers and our students’ progress as learners.

Happily, technology makes this task significantly easier. It provides us with both tools and toys that engage learners. It provides us with options for visual, experiential, and participatory learning that are unprecedented. It gives us a myriad of ways to both ask and answer questions at speeds that can become dizzying. One of my favorite aspects of technology is how it keeps track of the data associated with student practice and skill advancement. In contrast, one of the most troubling aspects of the reliance or overreliance on technology is that it usually does not tell us what that data means, despite those that would like us to believe that it does. We are becoming a world in which we teach kids how to measure, but not often enough what to measure. We use technology to produce impressive products, to search for multiple sources, to polish our spelling, grammar and words choice. We must always pair that with instruction that does what technology does not, plants the original seeds, inspires the search, waters the desert areas of the educational landscape, and keeps asking the key questions.

What did you learn in school today?

I Want to Work Myself Out of a Job

Pink Slip

By Claudia Felske — I want to work myself out of a job.

I read a tweet the other day: “When is it going to stop being called ‘technology integration’ and start being called ‘teaching?’” I retweeted with gusto. Then, I thought about it a bit more.

Nice. Insensitive, arrogant, ignorant, but nice.

So, technology fully-integrated into teaching: what would it look like? Imagine this: students following their interests in self-initiated projects, leveraging technology to create original products for a global audience. Teachers as facilitators, partners, nudgers, clarifiers.

Good stuff. Great stuff. Dreamy stuff. But how do we get there?

Therein lies the hypocrisy of the tweet: “When will we stop calling it “technology integration” and just start calling it “teaching?”

AS IF teachers just have to make the decision to integrate technology, and all will be well. If only a critical mass of teachers, heaving all their weight, would throw a giant switch and voila: seamless technology integration: teachers and administrators and students and Apple and Google kumbayaing together in a circle of love.

The reality is that we have to have an honest look in the mirror and ask: what’s the discrepancy between the rosy-colored picture above and school-as-we-know-it?  What has to happen for effective technology integration to happen?

3 things:

1) Scrape the Plate: Teachers need time to learn and integrate technology in an authentic way. Teachers have more classes and more students and more responsibilities than ever. We have to make room on their plates for technology by first taking something off their plates.

2) Kill the Bugs: We need enough bandwidth, enough technical support, enough reliable devices. We must minimize technology glitches so we can ensure that technology is increasing student learning, not delaying or distracting from it.

3) Tech for All:  We need universal, reliable computer access for all. Teachers are smart, efficient professionals who value their scarcest commodity: time. They will make a full commitment to technology integration only when they know it will be time well spent, only when we can ensure that reliable technology will be available to themselves and their students, inside and outside of school, 24/7.

This is a seriously tall order. But this is a seriously tall moment. This is a Guttenberg moment; this is full-on transformational stuff; this is paradigm smashing, but it can’t happen overnight, and clever little quips won’t help, however cute they may be.

And while these are necessary conditions, they are not sufficient conditions. They won’t work unless educators are also willing to take the jump.

(Insert metaphor here: Friday’s staff inservice). Among my Introduction to Google Apps sessions was one slumped over teacher, unwilling to take the jump. She assumed the computer right next to the door. She didn’t look up once. She never signed into her Google Apps account. She paid no attention to me or anything going on around her. She had to be there contractually, but goshdarnit, we couldn’t make her learn anything.  Her one saving grace was that she provided me with a juicy metaphor.

dinosaur metaphor

Obstinately glaring at her monitor, oblivious to all, she is a metaphor for resistance to change. She is allowing the world to pass her by. She is denying this transformational moment in education.  She is curling up in the fetal position and embracing extinction. She is an excellent metaphor for professional and educational inertia, and for that I thank her.

So there it is: three conditions and the educators who are still standing:  all critical components of doing right by our students in learning and technology.  With that, I long for the day when I (and edtechers like me) am able to work myself out of a job: when “it’s no longer called ‘technology integration’ but ‘teaching.’”

Until then, we have work to do.

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