Week 10: Making Learning More Accessible

This week, Nicole, Todd and I, had the privilege of sharing our research on Assistive Technologies. I have to thank my group members, as I really appreciated working with them, and we each learned a ton putting together our presentation.

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Our blog prompt this week, has us reflecting on our own experiences with assistive technology, and commenting on the challenges and limitations of using it. Personally, I was thrilled to get this topic for our presentation, as it is something that I have had a pretty high level of exposure to in my career.

Starting in my internship, I was involved with teaching and planning for a student that was partially blind. As I was thrust into learning to teach a grade 4/5 classroom, I was also beginning to learn braille and develop resources to benefit this student’s learning. The inclusion of sight words around the classroom with braille inscribed on them, large format printing, and using particularly coloured paper were all assistive technologies that we employed during my internship.

But it’s important to realize, as Todd mentioned, Assistive Technologies are more than the ‘high tech’ options such as speech to text or screen readers that most may think of when describing these technologies. Low and Mid Tech options can be just as effective to support all learners in various situations.

As I got my first contract, and moved further into my career (particularly into the Learning Support world,) I’ve been exposed to several types of assistive tech. I’ve been lucky enough to have access to things like:

  • A wireless micrphone that broadcast directly to a student’s hearing aids
  • iPad’s for numerous academic and social learning pieces
  • Translation software
  • Sensory Objects (Fidgets)
  • Specific colour/size/spaced paper or hand outs
  • Specific types of chairs (hooki stool, roller, exercise ball, recline)
  • Wheelchairs, motorized wheelchairs, mobility scooters, lifts, walkers, and assisted walkers
  • Kick/Bouncy Bands for desks
  • Calculators, online dictionary, and translation apps for phones and iPads
  • Text to Speech, Screen Readers, and Screen Magnifiers
  • Read&Write for Chrome and the accessibility features within Microsoft Office365 (Click on the table below to see several)
  • Personal computers to type rather than handwrite
  • Highlighters, sticky notes, agendas, and communication books
  • Larger pencils, and erasers
  • Smartboards

I’m sure there are some that I’m forgetting from this list. Some of these I have only used once in order to support one specific student, but many of them have been used throughout my career both to supports students with exceptionalities, and those that are part of my general classroom. The high majority of these resources worked well to support my students needs within the classroom, allowing that student to become more involved, engaged, and independent.

However, it’s important to recognize some of the limitations and challenges that arise when you are seeking to employ these technologies. As I mentioned during our presentation, assistive technology is not a perfect solution as it is often advertised to be. Many students require multiple assistive technologies and employing one does not guarantee complete or partial success. Many of these pieces of tech require training, for both the student and their adult supports. Employing these technologies without proper training, can cause frustration in both student and teacher. Furthermore, many of these technologies (particularly the high-tech variants,) are extremely costly, on top of often needing to be replaced, upgraded, or serviced often. Finally, students often fear being ‘singled out.’ These technologies may gain unwanted attention for the student, particularly when a student is not comfortable discussing a disability with others.

These technologies have great power to increase the independence, and engagement of all students. However, it does take proper time, planning, and training to ensure that these options are effective, and not destined to take residence in a dusty cupboard.

Assitive Tech – Week 10

My Experiences with Assistive Tech

When thinking about assistive technologies, my mind often goes immediately to electronic technologies that help students learn.  But, like in the early stages of this class, when we were asked to define technology which helped me change my personal definition from one that is electronic based, to one that is any piece of new technology that enables the user to complete a task easier.  This new understanding and definition of technology is crucial when it comes to understanding assistive technologies and ensuring we are thinking outside of the electronic technology box when it comes to assisting our students.   These can fall on a continuum of No Tech to High Tech as illustrated in the image to the left.  These technologies can range from pencil grips and post-it-notes to e-readers and text to speech capable electronics.  They are essentially anything that allows our students to be successful in their learning.

 

Personally, I did not require assistive technology during my schooling years, but one of my closest friends did.  When he was in grade 9 or 10 he began having a lot of issues with his vision out of the blue and there was no definitive answer or reason to why this was happening.  With that said his schooling experiences needed to be adapted.  This was an area of contention and embarrassment for him as he was now needing assistive technology to help him with his schooling. 

One thing that I can vividly recall is that he had this computer looking magnifying piece of tech that he had at his house to help with his schoolwork.  Essentially, you placed the material which needed to be read/magnified on a bottom platform and an enhanced image was displayed on the monitor.  This made it extremely difficult to complete work in an efficient and timely manner.  At the time, it was considered to be state of the art technology.

The picture to the left was the original piece of technology that he had set up in his house.  It was very big, bulky and took up a ton of desk space.  The pictures to the right are the same machine, but have received some upgrades over the years! This machine can be purchased through the CNIB for roughly $3500,which I am confident not all families would be able to afford!

I also recall him have to use a magnifying glass during classes to be able to read the information that was required of us to engage with which thinking back was a wild occurrence and can’t imagine recommending that tool to a current student in today’s age of technology.

Professionally, I have had students who I thought could use assistive technology in some manner, but have very rarely been successful in gaining access to it for them.  The main piece of technology that I see in my classrooms when students need assistance is their own personal Chromebook, to specifically use Google Read and Write.  This is an outstanding program, but a lot of the time requires constant adult intervention to use with students.  This does help the students but it is not the be all and end all for their needs. 

I have also experienced that many of these students who I have tried to get the technology do not fit the criteria that is set out by the division.  Another aspect that is extremely frustrating is the hoops that are needed to jump through to get these students the equipment they require.  I often hear the mantra “What’s best for students” thrown around the education world but all too often this is just lip service as very rarely do our students get what is best for their learning… a very frustrating and defeating mindset to have.

Challenges and Limitations

When thinking about the challenges and limitations to assistive technology and being able to get students the support they need, three areas come to my mind: cost & accessibility, lack of PD and cultural beliefs.  

Cost & Accessibility

These supports cost money…. Some more than others and in a sector that is already hit with funding cuts or lack of funding to enhance education for all students, getting your hands on some of these technologies poses to be quite a difficult task.  I can think of many occasions where I have worked with our LRT to get a solid application in place for a student who requires or would benefit from having their own personal tech only to have very few of these applications accepted.  When these applications are rejected or not successful, I often ask why, and the common answer is there isn’t enough funds available to be able to fulfill these applications which makes it difficult to access to help the student succeed – what’s best for students, right?!?

Lack of PD

My sister is in a student support teacher role and I asked her what were some of the challenges and limitations that she sees.  She too mentioned the lack of PD for teachers and staff.  She mentioned that she has made many of these different technologies to help her students, but she does not feel comfortable enough to educate the teachers that she supports in how to properly use these tools, citing that the PD needs to come from a specific specialists such as SLP, OT, etc. to properly display how these tools best help support students and how to properly use them.

Culture

This is another challenge that I feel many teachers now face is how these types of technologies are perceived within specific cultural beliefs.  I have had many conversations over my 8 years of teaching with newcomer families surrounding learning difficulties that their child has and some possible interventions that could help, specifically assistive technologies.  A lot of times, these interventions are met with resistance as they feel that their child does not require these supports and they will be able to overcome these hurdles with extra tutoring, homework or that they will eventually grow out of it. 

There is a significant amount of available technology out there for students to use who may need that little extra support to succeed in school, but there seems to be so many roadblocks that make accessing them seem almost impossible. 

 

Cheers, 

 

Bret

Quizizz – Week 9

First off, I am going to start with a disclaimer…. I am currently on Paternity Leave so I will have to wait until January 5 to be able to use this new assessment technology with my class.  

With that said, I am going to do a review of Quizziz as a possible assessment tool to incorporate when I am back in the classroom.  I choose this tool because of its similarities to Kahoot in the sense that students would be able to make the transition fairly seamlessly.  When doing research for our presentation last week, one thing that kept coming up when it came to technology integration was that teachers should try to meet the students where they are at.  They should be looking to use tools or programs that students have experience with and are familiar with how they operate.  

What is Quizziz?

Quizizz is a Learning platform that offers multiple tools to make a classroom fun, interactive and engaging.  Quizizz takes the excitement of a gameshow-style review game and puts the whole experience in the students’ hands. With a traditional Kahoot! game, everyone sees the question and possible answers on the projector and answer simultaneously. Quizizz is different because the questions and possible answers are displayed individually on student devices.  As a teacher, you can create lessons, conduct formative assessments, assign homework, and have other interactions with your students (for all grades) in a captivating way. 

Quiziz Features

  • Instructor paced Lessons/Quizzes: Teachers control the pace; the whole class goes through each question together.

  • Student paced Lessons/Quizzes: Students progress at their own pace and you see a leaderboard and live results for each question or lesson.

  • Bring Your Own Device (BYOD): Students always see the content on their own devices, be it  PCs, laptops, tablets, and smartphones.

  • Access to millions of Quizzes: Import any public quiz as-is, edit and customize them.

  • (Quiz + Lesson) Editor: Choose from 6 different question types to add images, video, and audio to teleporting questions from other quizzes and lessons.

  • Reports: Get detailed class-level and student-level insights for every quiz. Share with parents/guardians to monitor student progress.

  • Options to Customize: Options to customize your quiz sessions to toggle the level of competition and speed.

  • Sharing & Collaboration: Share your quiz with other instructors and/or ask them to be collaborators.

Unique Features

  • Memes – you are able to embed funny pictures as  treat for your students 
  • Homework Mode – students do not have to complete the game in person.  Teachers can assign to be completed by a deadline.
  • Media Add ins – Adding audio, images and math questions.
  • Power ups – where students can have advantages throughout the assigned activity.

Alternative Modes  of Play

  • Fast and Furious – using it as a teaching tool or  formative assessment  tool to see if reteaching needs to happen for a particular lesson and complete the Quizizz after the content is re-taught.

  • Student Created Quizizz – have students submit questions to be asked in a game using Google Forms survey.  You can import the data directly from the spreadsheet and into your Quizizz accounts.

Pros & Cons

Below are some of the pros to incorporating Quizizz into your classroom:

  • Answer explainers, 
  • Audio/video responses
  • Asynchronous assignments
  • Good reports for assessment
  • Student paced 
  • Student progress board for teachers

There are also some cons to Quizizz:

  • LMS integrations limited to district plans
  •  Challenging to sift through the library to find top-quality content
  • Loss of excitement with students working at different paces
  • Question isolation for further instruction

This tool has come a long way, adding handy customization options that allow teachers to create learning experiences that exceed other quiz platforms.

Classroom Purposes

This tool can be seen as a swiss army knife or a multi-tool for teachers.  There are numerous ways in which we can utilize Quizizz and other apps just like it in our classrooms.  Teachers are able to use in ways that are not limited to assessment.  Some ways that I plan to use Quizizz for in my classroom: 

  • Formative Assessment tool – create quizzes and games to test students knowledge of taught materials.  Teachers can use reports to analyze the performance of students to plan individualized interventions or notice any areas that may need to be retaught.
  • Use poll type activities to collect student feedback and engage them in decisions surrounding everyday learning.
  • Have students create Quizzes to be shared with the whole class as a way of review or formative assessment.
  • Quizzes act as a exit tickets to check understanding 
  • As a way to introduce new topics in fun, interactive and engaging ways. 

Challenges to Technology In Classrooms

As with any technology integration into our classrooms there are going to be challenges.  The major challenge that resonates with me is the student to computer/device ratio.  Many of these games’ best use is when each student has their own device.  For that to be accomplished, not using personal student devices, there needs to be a  1:1 ratio which depending on your school and access to tech can be a daunting task to accomplish.  Personally, I am grouped with the other grade 8 teachers to share 2 carts of 20 or so computers.  To ensure that each one of my students has a device that is not their cell phone, I have to book both of these carts as I have 30 students.  This affects other teachers’ ability to use the tech a the same time. 

Another challenge that always seems to come up is the quality of the internet or having the internet not functioning properly when you need it to be.  This requires teachers to redirect on the spot and cna affect the quality of the lesson they may be getting.  Students’ technological savviness can also be a challenge when integrating technology.  Just like learning where every student learns specific ways and at different paces, they also have varying levels of technological abilities.  Even though our students can are known as ‘digital natives’ there are still some that are going to struggle using technology.  To help limit or rectify this problem, teachers need to ensure they are using trial runs with the program that they are asking their students to use.  This helps students be more comfortable and alleviate some user issues that may arise.

I personally like these types of game show apps as a formative assessment tool where I can get a significant amount of data in a relatively quick manner to help guide my teaching practices.  I find it difficult to use this as a way of summative assessment as I feel these  apps  do not lend themselves to assessing topics to a deeper understanding or application level.  Students love them so I think they do hold a value to incorporate in our classrooms, but maybe not as a summative assessment tool.

 

Cheers, 

Bret

Week 9: Assessment Technologies- Blooket Review!

This week we were treated to a great presentation from Brittney, Megan, and Bret on Assessment technologies. Being someone who’s always been interested in technology, I’ve sought to include technology within my assessment for the majority of my teaching career. I’ve gone through learning cycles of using these technologies, varying in type, frequency, and complexity.

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This week we were challenged to explore an assessment technology and employ it in our classroom. I took some time to further discover what’s possible with Blooket. Full disclaimer, I’ve certainly used Blooket in the past, but I know that I’ve only scratched the surface of it’s capabilities. I originally chose this tool as I was looking for a progression from the review games I had used with my grade 8 students in the past. I love the idea of using games as a form of formative assessment, and I have used three main tools over the years. I originally started with Plickers, moved onto Kahoot, and started using Blooket towards the end of last year.

Plickers: https://www.teq.com/formative-assessments-with-plickers/

Kahoot: https://kahoot.com/home/kahoot-plus/

Blooket: https://www.techlearning.com/how-to/what-is-blooket-and-how-does-it-work-tips-and-tricks

For those unfamiliar with Blooket, the basic principle is similar to Kahoot or Quizziz Teachers create question sets, and then create a live game in which the students answer multiple choice questions. The main difference with Blooket is the fact that a side ‘mini-game’ is being played at the same time. Each correct answer gives students power-ups or benefits within the mini-game. This may be in the form of additional points (double/triple points), but also may affect other players. For example, students may answer a questions, receive a powerup, and ‘take half of the points from the first place player.’ I love this for the simple reason that it keeps my lower achieving students engaged, as they still have a better chance to appear on the leaderboard than they do in a Kahoot or Quizziz. Those that are interested/new to Blooket should check out the video below from their official YouTube page. Please note, more features and mini games have been added since this video was recorded.

This year, I was excited about trying some of the other mini-game modes that I hadn’t yet dove into, as well as the ‘Homework’ feature. During my review period, I allowed the students to vote and select three different game modes to try. We played Gold Quest (correct answers allow you to open chests with random gold inside) Fishing Frenzy (correct answers allow you to catch a fish with a random weight), and Cyrpto Hack (correct answers give you hints towards ‘hacking’ one of your classmates premade passwords.) While all three focused on them answering the review questions I created, switching up the games kept them engaged throughout the class, even though I was using the same 30 questions set in each game. There is no way I would have had the same amount of engagement, replaying a Kahoot 3 times in a row. As there are 14 different game modes on the platform currently, I’m encouraged about the possibility of keep that same level of engagement when I use the platform for future reviews in upcoming units.

After we completed the review, I gauged my student’s opinion on the program, using a simple thumbs up, middle, or down system. The program was new to all but one of the students. Around 95% of the students indicated that they liked the program more than Kahoot, with all of the students wanting to play it again in the future. Opinion was nearly evenly split when asked which of the three mini-games was there favourite. By the noise level and sounds of excitement during the games, I wasn’t surprised with their positive feedback!

Although I used this as in informal way of reviewing our information, you could certainly use the site’s well kept stats to collect grades for a means of assessment. After each game is completed, a Leaderboard/Results page is displayed. Conveniently, these stats are also stored in a History tab on the website. A word of warning however- be wary of using the leaderboard alone, as ‘power-up luck’ may be a better indicator of leaderboard placement than amount of correct answers.

Results from a 5-minute game of Fishing Frenzy.

I also investigated another feature this week, realizing I could ‘assign homework’ within Blooket. This feature allows you to create a game code that can be provided to students to use on their own time. Some of the mini-games are built to be played individually, so you can assign them as homework, using your same question sets. It also tracks how many questions each student completes and gets correct. You can also look at overall results by question, to note for any problem areas.

Results from a Tower Defense game that was assigned as ‘Homework,’ but used as an optional studying tool.

While I certainly see the potential for this technology to work as an assessment tool, I believe that it will be most effective as a review tool or formative check for understanding. While it is highly engaging, all questions must be multiple choice which supports fairly superficial learning. When used sparingly, I find that Blooket is going to be a wonderful addition to my toolkit. If you have any questions about it, or suggestions on how to use it, feel free to let me know below!

Week 8: The Social (and Morale) Dilemma

As web and social media use grows exponentially, it’s important to take time to step back and reflect on how it affects our society. This week, we had the option to watch and discuss the recent Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, and comment on how Web 2.0 (the social web,) has influenced our lives, and what affects it may have on schools and society.

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Before diving into specific aspects of the film, I found it important to differentiate between Web 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0. One of our resources this week was a video by Ken Yarmosh. As Ken explains, Web 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0 aren’t literally different versions of the internet, but more a description of how the web was used during different time periods.

Ken has great production value, particularly for an account with under 500 subscribers. I encourage you to go explore his videos further, as he discusses various topics around remote work, applications, and the future of technology.

The Social Dilemma, released in 2020, comments on this shift between versions of the web, particularly the gathering and selling of data from social media apps that became commonplace during Web 2.0. While social media and Web 2.0 has certainly affected our lives in positive ways (remaining connencted, sharing with others, instant access to information and news,) the film also portrays multiple negative aspects. Some of the major elements discussed in the film included the harvesting of data, online advertising (and the greed that surrounds it,) and the dangers of having newsfeeds tailored to only your interests.

The Dilemma: Never before have a handful of tech designers had such control over the way billions of us think, act, and live our lives.

The Dilemma, as stated on the film’s official website.

My girlfriend and I were particularly perturbed by the psychological descriptions. The film describes how social media apps are designed give us ‘positive intermittent reinforcement,’ that keeps us coming back. While this might seem obvious, understanding that algorithms change based on how they’ve best learned to keep human attention is a bit disturbing. Additionally, that fact technology and social media are often specifically designed to be as persuasive as possible, often with the goal of changing our wants or behaviour is something I hadn’t considered this deeply. If the positive reinforcement can (consciously or unconsciously,) persuade me to continue opening the app, the same principal can apply when it comes to advertisements. We had an interesting discussion about how tailored our ‘suggested ads’ have become, and how it’s almost impossible to forget about something that you’ve recently searched or considered buying. I guarantee these types of advertising tactics have led to me purchasing things I wouldn’t have otherwise. Clearly it works. But is it morale? Or ethical? That conversation seems to just be beginning.

Photo by Manuel Geissinger on Pexels.com

The other major theme that was concerning in the film, surrounded the control of information and news. As young adults turn to online platforms as their primary source of news, we must be cognizant of the potential effects. Online platforms are notoriously difficult to regulate, Fake News is a growing issue, and everyone, regardless of credential, can have a platform to share their version of ‘news’ with the world. We have to encourage those around us to be aware of the dangers of trapping ourselves in our own echo chambers, only hearing the news we want to hear.

I wanted to look for some data around what sources my students may be getting their news from. I came across a study titled Teens and the News: The Influencers, Celebrities, and Platforms They Say Matter Most (2020.)

I find it interesting to note how severe some of the levels changed in only three years. Of important note, we can also reasonably expect that the numbers will have continued to trend in the same direction in the last two years since this data was compiled. With students finding more and more of their news through online personalities and/or social media, I think teachers have to remain ever vigilant around teaching Digital Literacy and critical thinking skills.

Image taken from: https://edureach101.com/teaching-students-digital-literacy/

Being able to decipher quality and poor sources, fact check information, and interact responsibly online are skills that are going to be absolutely necessary in our student’s lives. Social media and technology aren’t going anywhere, but questions should continue to be asked about these company’s values, transparency, and motives.

The Social Dilemma – Week 8

overwhelmed, stressed out, burned out
Photo by fotomacher_ch on Pixabay

It has been sometime since I had originally watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix!  Before I set out to watch it again, I tried to remember any sort of specifics regarding the show.  I couldn’t remember many specifics, but I do recall how I felt after watching it…. OVERWHELMED, DEFEATED and GUILTY.  I felt overwhelmed with finally understanding how these social media apps work.  I felt defeated and guilty as I am a frequent user of these apps and find it extremely difficult to cut the cord with them. I do feel that the Web 2.0 has impacted our lives in some positive aspects, but I feel that it has affected us more in a negative manner.  

The Social Dilemma reinforced my thoughts on the negative aspects in which our lives have been affected.  My key takeaways are: 

Society’s Addiction to Social Media

tiktok, social, social media
Photo by geralt on Pixabay

In some capacity or another, society is connected and exposed to social media more than we like to admit, but have a hard time admitting that fact and as a result refrain from trying to find a solution to limit our exposure to social media.  I personally cannot remember a time when I’ve been able to go week, let alone a day without exposure to an obscene amount of social media time.  Most of us see how these apps can affect our physical and mental well be and we know that we should limit our time on these apps, but have an extremely difficult time doing this.  In the article 5 Key Takeaways From The Social Dilemma Documentary on Netflix which was written by Nnaemeka Ugochukwu, they outline that the more frequently we engage with social media apps the more likely we are to grapple with poor mental health, anxiety, and depression.  Stemming from the unrealistic comparisons that are created through these apps.

Social Media Designed to be ADDICTIVE

facebook, social media addiction, internet addiction
Photo by Mediamodifier on Pixabay

This was one aspect of the documentary that made me cringe the most.  These companies are designing apps that make it extremely difficult for its users to step away.  Human beings are constantly searching for that interaction that makes them feel alive.  In come the comparisons that the use of social media can release a hit of dopamine directly into our system, something some users are searching for and addicted to.  These hits come from watching post collect likes and shares.  I am guilty as charged.  I have made posts on these apps and have been addicted to checking to see how many likes I have gotten.  This has made me feel good for a very small amount of time, but it seems each time I post, I do the same thing.  Another aspect we need to consider when talking about social media addiction is FOMO! You do not want to be the last one to find out about something major, or completely miss a huge announcement, with that said we are constantly on our devices ensuring that does not happen. 

Governments are doing squats to help us. 

ottawa, parliament, canada
Photo by festivio on Pixabay

One major takeaway that I did remember from my first viewing of the documentary, was how frustrating it was to find out how little our governments are doing in protecting us against these big companies like FaceBook.  There are no limits to the amount of data that these companies are able to attain from its users, something that makes me feel very exploited! Not only is there no limit to the amount of data they can cultivate, but also, these companies seem to be able to do with this data whatever they wish.  Most of those government players who are in power to make these decisions to protect users likely do not understand enough to make decisions that are not political in nature.

Kids are at risk

caution sign, banner, header
Photo by JanBaby on Pixabay

The users that are most at risk are the younger generations, the ones that have not developed proper decision making skills or digital citizenship skills yet.  Many of these younger generational users are digital natives who have been born into a time where they do not know any difference. As a result they see these apps with a different lens, usually seeing the obscene amount of time or the unrealistic comparisons of a normal part of life.  

With most negatives, comes some positives and I feel that this is the case with the Web 2.0 era.  Although currently, more of the negative sides of things are being discussed it has done some good things for our lives.  Some of the ways that this era has positively affected our daily lives that I have seen.

Connection

The power of these apps to build connections is unprecedented.  Not only are we able to stay connected with those that are important to us that may live afar, but they also enable us to connect to anyone in the world.   

Variety and Ease of Usage

There is a wide variety of apps out there for people to find one that they really like to use.  FaceBook, Twitter and Instagram are 3 of my go to apps, but that is going to be different for everyone.  I feel that I don’t know the magnitude of apps that are out there and when I listen to my students talk on a daily basis, there are usually 1 or 2 apps that they mention that I have never heard of.  Most of these apps are user friendly in the sense that they are easy to use.  Many are designed this way as their sole purpose is  to capture our attention and with an app that is difficult to use, many users will focus their attention elsewhere. 

Web 2.0 and Schools

Knowledge Building 

businessman, tablet, concept
Photo by geralt on Pixabay

With the power of Web 2.0, learners are now an active participant in their knowledge building.  They are able to connect with people all over the world, including experts in fields of study.  For example, Twitter has enabled many students in my school to reach out to experts to help with projects like Science Fair and Heritage Fair.  Many of these experts are very willing to meet virtually with groups of students to talk about their topics! Web 2.0 has also given learners access to so much knowledge.  Most of these students are carrying a device in their pockets that gives them immediate access to be able to research. 

Learning Communities

connections, communications, social
Photo by GDJ on Pixabay

Learning communities is another byproduct of the Web 2.0 era for both teachers and students.  Teachers are able to join through LMS like Google Classroom or Edsby professional development groups of like minded educators.  Students are able to collaborate through the use of Google Tools for Education and Google Classroom.  

Cyberbullying 

Of course the elephant in the room when it comes to Web 2.0 is the ease of cyberbullying.  This will always be the case when we are working in a digital age and when the technology booms shows no sign of slowing down.  Many

cyberbullying, internet, computer
Photo by Elf-Moondance on Pixabay

students think that the web is a safe place to mistreat others and that there won’t be any repercussions to their actions.  This issue makes it abundantly clear that a responsibility of educators is to expose their students to some sort of Digital or Media Literacy instruction as school may be the only place that these students are going to be exposed to this type of guidance.  

 

I apologize for the brief post, as this week has been a crazy one! 

 

Cheers, 

 

Bret

Week 7: Online Learning Tools: What’s Worth it?

In March of 2020, the world was turned on it’s head. The resulting Covid-19 Pandemic forever changed the way the world looked at health, employment, and education. Teachers all over the globe were forced into a panicked and rushed version of online teaching. This lead to numerous discussions about online learning, and it’s feasibility and effectiveness going forward. What’s important to remember however is that this discussion has to differentiate true online or blended classrooms, between the emergency Covid-19 response. Online and Distance Education can be an extremely effective form of education, and employing the right tools within these classrooms is a large part of that equation.

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When designing an online classroom, I find that there are some key areas that must be addressed, typically by some sort of software. I’ve broken down the following paragraphs into what I consider the most important of these areas, giving several examples for each.

Online Platform (or Learning Management System)

Each online school, class, or blended classroom must have some platform to house their information. Ideally these platforms give students and teachers the ability to organize lessons, link or embed other resources, upload/submit assignments and communicate, all in a clean, easy to navigate manner. There are numerous tools available to schools or classes looking for an online platform, and it’s big business in the Ed.Tech world. Some examples:

Screen Recording

Many teachers wish to prerecord lessons, directions, or explanations in an effort to aid in the flexibility that is common within online and blended classrooms. Having access to screen recording software that is powerful, yet efficient, is important for any online teacher. Many of these tools, also have editing features built into them, allowing teachers to ignore the annoyance of having to record in one software and edit in another. Additionally, some tools offer for the ability to directly upload to places like YouTube, Google Drive, etc. right within the software. The suggestions below are a mixture of free, fremium, and paid versions, each having highlights and drawbacks.

Additionally, many online meeting platforms (Microsoft Teams, Zoom, etc.) allow for screen recording within online meetings! This can be extremely helpful for those that wish to record meetings for students that miss.

Video Editing

While some of the tools above also have editing capabilities, having a dedicated video editing application that you are comfortable with often gives you more options, and allows for a higher quality finished product. Another thing to consider is the device you will be editing on. While some software is extremely efficient in your traditional desktop computer setup, there are other options that excel on mobile devices or tablets or

Tools for Collaboration

The motivation behind this section is simple- let’s include the collaboration in our online classrooms that is often touted as one of the major differences when comparing a face-to-face classroom with it’s online counterpart. Parents that are on the fence about having their children join online classrooms are often curious about the potential for seclusion. Teachers that are able to effectively employ tools such as those listed below offer students the potential to engage with their classmates and teachers, even from behind the screen. Some of the software below promotes collaboration by allowing real-time updates in the same document, while others allow for collaboration through projects, assignments, or games.

Please note, these are only some of many, many, tools available online. All of the tools listed above are one’s that I have or currently use in my day-to-day teaching. However, it’s easy for me to say this and a far stretch from employing it in reality. Our blog post asked those of us that do not currently teach online to consider how our current context would shift in an online/distance education format. Like I mentioned above, I was one of the many teachers who had never taught online a day in my life, and rapidly became an emergency online teacher in March of 2020. Although it was a tremendous shift, I found that I was in a better spot than lots of teachers, as I was familiar and embraced many aspects of technology prior to the pandemic. While there was certainly a great deal of planning that went into it, I was happy with my ability to employ recording, editing, and collaboration tools to offer education that was as effective as possible given the situation. Furthermore, as mentioned it is important to distinguish this emergency response to true online teaching. Given more time to plan and prepare, I believe my online teaching could have been dramatically more engaging and efficient than it was during this time.

Additionally, as my role within the school has recently shifted to include much more Learning Support, I believe that my context would change greatly if we were to shift to online or distance education today. My belief is that Learning Support is highly conversation and relationship based. Forging these relationships and conversations online can be quite difficult, as I find that online discussions can lose some of the authenticity that face-to-face discussions have, particularly when discussing sensitive topics or with students who are not fully mature. Keeping students engaged and interested in these important discussions are also more difficult behind a screen. While there are certainly ways to combat these issues, I find that my current context would be much more difficult to do effectively online.

Finally, let me know what some of your favorite tech tools are! What things do you enjoy using in your classroom or planning? What get’s the greatest engagement from your students?

Have a great week!

Halfway Point – Week 7

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Photo by LokaDesigns on Pixabay

WHOOP WHOOP – we made it to the halfway point of our semester!

 

 

 

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Photo by greymatters on Pixabay

This also means that the end of the tunnel for my Masters of Ed – Curriculum and Instruction journey only has 1.5 classes left – crazy to think about!  Over the first half of the course, we have been exposed toa ton of information (some of it new and some of it old) surrounding Educational Technology.  It is always great learning from and alongside fellow educators and hearing how they use specific tech tools in their practices.

What tools for online and blended learning seem most useful/relevant to me?

I have mentioned numerous times before I find trying to incorporate tech, especially new tech, into my teaching to be extremely overwhelming.  Currently teaching in a school that is over 1000 students makes technology hard to come by when you are sharing 2 computer carts of 40ish laptops with over 100 students and multiple classrooms.  With that many students, we have to do our best to ensure that each classroom has equal opportunity to access computers.  This makes it extremely difficult to create a 1:1 student to computer ratio, but we try to supplement it with the use of smartphones and devices. I am also hesitant to really dive into new technology that I am not comfortable with due to the fact that there isn’t adequate time in a work day to try and train myself to a point I feel comfortable and confident enough to have my students use it.  Work-life balance is extremely important to me with a young family at home. I need to prioritize my time spent with them when I am at home, not on a computer learning about new prospective tools.

With that said, the tools I utilize the most in my current practice are Google Classroom and Google Tools for Education.  This is a program that I have become accustomed to over the last few years as I have moved into the Grade 7 and 8 world.  I really appreciate the compatibility and ease of being able to upload material for students through the integration of all the Google Tools; Docs, Slides, Forms, Meet, Jamboard, Classroom, YouTube etc. I find this to be a great way for students to track what they have missed when they are away.  I would like to utilize Google Forms to help streamline my assessment practices.  I have used it extensively throughout a current novel study, where I have given students listening quizzes at the end of chapter chunks – a great way to monitor comprehension!  Another component of Google Classroom that I really appreciate is that we are now seeing more integration from outside tools and sites.  These tools give you an option to add material directly to your Google Classroom.  This is an option that I have not yet taken advantage of, but it is something that I have noticed a few times. 

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Photo by KoLa on Pixabay

One of the drawbacks of Google Classroom that I have experienced over the course of the last few years is the inundation of messages, alerts, marking and space taken up in my Google Drive.  Throughout the course of the pandemic, I had many students decide they were going to start being not very nice people over the stream in Google Classroom. This led to many fires needing to be put out from a distance and many discussions on how to behave online (ugh…. Digital Citizenship at its finest)!  

How would you feel about teaching with these tools in an online or distance education class, and how would your current context be impacted if you were to shift to an online/distance format vs. face to face?

If I were to switch to online or distance education tomorrow (pleeeeeeeeease not again!) I would be leaning very hard on my friends at Google, specifically Google Classroom, Google Suites and Google Tools for Education.  During the times of online learning over the last few years, I was teaching Grade 4-5 and they were not very technologically savvy; something that my students most definitely are today.  Even with the younger students’ knowledge of how to use a computer and Google, I trudged forward.  For a little more backstory, I started online teaching using SeeSaw and found it to be extremely frustrating as it was not very compatible with Google and I was constantly troubleshooting.  I made the decision to switch to Google Classroom to save my sanity! 

Like any other educator, one of the most important things is developing a relationship with students and being online or distance makes that a little bit more difficult.  This is where utilizing Google Meets can try to replace that face to face aspect with students.  This function would also have to take the place of my live lessons in person and have some sort of live instructional component for students.  Being able to record lessons, upload to YouTube and easily integrate them into Google Classroom is another great way to give students instruction.  The Google Tools for education also provide seamless ways to assign, collect and assess student work, something I would depend highly on if we were to be online.  Not all families have printers/scanners at home and the ability to assign each student their own individual copy of material and assignments can really be a game changer for them to complete and submit their work.  

The part of being an educator that I really enjoy the most is getting to know students by developing respectful, authentic and meaningful relationships.  I take pride in my ability to develop these relationships and if I were to switch to online or distance education, this is where I feel my context would be impacted the most.  You can always teach students how to use tools, but I feel that we are still seeing some effects of the lost relationships from the circus of being online, to in person to back online fiasco of this pandemic.

 

Cheers, 

 

Bret

Week 6: Does Connectivity always lead to Productivity?

The internet has changed society in literally countless ways. As I’ve mentioned earlier, authors like Neil Postman have explained that for all the positives that come with technology, a list of negatives follow. Technology and the internet have created a world of multitaskers, that need only a few clicks or swipes to seamlessly hop between tasks. However, the ability to lose focus and distract yourself form your most pertinent task is a risk for students and adults alike.

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I love being connected. Whether it’s my phone, laptop, or desktop, I truly enjoy being able to quickly and efficiently have access to the world’s information. This being said, I actually surprise myself with how easy I can slip into a pit of distraction. I’m the type of person that has 20 Chrome Tabs, a dozen Microsoft Programs, and numerous pieces of drafting software running all at the same time. And I wonder my laptop runs hot.

It’s no better on my phone. I’ve consciously cut my homescreen down to only the most necessary apps, yet I typically have 10-20 apps (with another 50-60 Chrome tabs) open at any given time. My girlfriend says it’s a problem. She might be right.

Personally, I think this behavior stems from a few places. My career requires attention to detail, keeping deadlines, and numerous meetings. As such, I often fear being disorganized or forgetful. It’s oddly comforting to know that I will see that window several times throughout the day, subconsciously giving myself several reminders of what needs to be done. There are certainly better ways to do this, but this seems to hit a sweet spot between time efficiency and effectiveness, which leads to the process’ continuation.

The other, and arguably greater factor, is how easily I let myself become distracted. Constantly being distracted, results in constant multitasking. This is partly due to my teaching load crossing disciplines, and age groups, while also needing to work closely with families, administration and outside agencies as part of my Learning Support role. These realities result in numerous notifications and requests, all of which compete for my attention. This makes me realize that, by far, my favorite feature on my phone is simply the ability to double tap the menu button that allows you to switch back and forth between applications nearly instantly. I’m able to hop between text messages, gradebooks, emails, learning applications, calendar invites, attendance reports etc. quite efficiently.

However, reflecting on all this also makes me concerned. How fully present am I in the moment? Just because I was able to quickly respond to a request doesn’t necessarily mean I gave it my full attention when doing so. Additionally, with the numerous grabs for my attention present (re: soooo many Chrome tabs,) I often end up slowing myself down from my most pressing task, with the numerous amount of distractions that are present.

So what can I do to improve? For the life of me, I cannot remember where I originally read this, but I came across an article discussing a CEO’s approach to dealing with his email inbox. (I thought it was in this class, but I couldn’t find it within the weekly plans, so it could have been within someone’s post or in one of my other classes. I apologize if it was from you!) Regardless, the advice has stuck with me. The article explains how Brad Smith, CEO of Inuit (TurboTax) approaches his emails. His goal is to ‘never touch something more than once’ or in other words, to deal with each email immediately rather than to leave it to deal with later. He decides between ‘Read, act, file or delete.’ This is a strategy that I feel I (and likely others,) could adopt regarding my own emails (and chrome tabs.) Giving my full attention to a task will make it easier to deal with it in the moment. This has the potential to reduce the amount of ongoing tasks within my day, leading to the opportunity of feeling more organized.

Tied into this discussion, is the group presentation from this week. Maddy, Raegyn, and Casey provided an extremely engaging presentation on Productivity Suites and Presentation Tools. While diving through their provided readings for the week, I found many similarities between the author’s findings and my own experiences. While discussing the effectiveness of interactive whiteboards, Miller, Glover, and Averis write “it is also clear that neither of these add to teaching effectiveness unless they are supported by teachers who understand the nature of interactivity as a teaching and learning process and who integrate the technology to ensure lessons that are both cohesive and conceptually stimulating.” Within my classrooms, I find that technology is such a regular part of students life, that is no longer engaging on it’s own. It takes teachers to properly design lessons in an effort to engage students, something technology can certainly aide, but can not do alone. When not designed properly technology has the potential to distract students from the lesson content, just as easily as it can engage them (and just as easily as it can distract me!)

Productive or Distracted – Week 6

When thinking about the internet, I often think I like what it has to offer, but the one thing that always gets me is how easily distracted or off task I tend to get! This results in longer than expected timeframe to complete tasks (if they get completed at all).  A lot of the time I just have a multitude of tasks started, but unfinished tasks litter  my Google Chrome browser.  With that said, I have often thought to myself when looking at my laptop screen…. “Why do I have sooo many tabs open? What are some of these tabs even for? What the heck was I doing with these tabs?” 

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Photo by 200degrees on Pixabay

I have a terrible habit of leaving my computer with multiple tabs open and when I return to work on my computer, I cannot for the life of me remember why these tabs were open! A lot of the time, I find myself not knowing where to start when I have so many tabs open on my computer and I usually end up doing something completely unrelated to any one tab that is currently open.  I sometimes feel this represents what is actually happening in my brain… scattered thoughts and to do lists!

I have started utilizing the function on Google Chrome where you can group your tabs under one umbrella tab, to make it look like there is only one tab there, until you decide to click and see there are 18 more tabs sitting there waiting for you to remember why they are open in the first place!  

I recently completed some more unit planning documents, otherwise there would be another 5-6 tabs under the Unit Planning tab.  I really should be creating a paper list of the tasks that I need to complete on my computer and knock things off of that rather than having 14 tabs open.  Perhaps James Hamblin is onto something with the Single-Tasking movement!!

 

Brain Configuration

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Photo by ElisaRiva on Pixabay

I wanted to do some more digging into what actually happens to our brains when we use technology and came across the article How the Internet Destroys Your Focus (and How to Get It Back) which was written by Thomas Frank.  He first outlines that over the last few decades, brain scientists have learned a lot about our neuroplasticity – which is essentially changes in our brain’s physical configuration in response to the stimulus that you expose it to and the response that is generated.  Frank goes on to outline that this can be accomplished by completing simple tasks like reading a clock to more complex tasks like playing video games or using the internet.  According to the article, there have been numerous studies to confirm and understand this development in our brains.  These experiments were done using authors, violinists and even cab drivers.  The broadness of these experiments really emphasizes that no matter the task, from writing to playing a musical instrument to navigating,  your brain will always adapt and change to the stimulus that it is exposed to. 

Frank also outlines that human beings are wired with bottom-up attention/thinking which basically means that we are able to pick up through our senses, changes in our environment and our attention will naturally drift to those observed and noticed changes.  This type of thinking/attention grabbing is great for identifying when we are in danger or when we are hungry, but not great for more complex and prolonged concentration activities which requires top down approach thinking.  The top down approach promotes the development of our neural pathways, and when we use the internet, it is not prompting the development of these neural pathways.  When we stop using these neural pathways, our brain reallocates its resources in the sense that new pathways are formed from our exposures and stimuli. 

 

Is the Internet really a productivity tool or merely an endless series of distractions?

With a little more background on the basics of how our brains work, we can shift focus to the interaction

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Photo by RobertCheaib on Pixabay

of the brain and the web.  I feel that the internet isn’t really a productivity tool but is more of an endless series of distractions.  The internet promotes a sense of distraction and multitasking which most of us can confirm!  Many of us have multiple devices in use at any given time and are jumping back and forth not really accomplishing much on any of these devices.  Frank outlines, like most of us already know, that when you are working on the internet, you can have 20 tabs open, playing Spotify or Podcast, while receiving messages from Discord, Facebook, or any of the plethora of messaging platforms that exist.

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Photo by WikimediaImages on Pixabay

The internet does provide us with something. It’s not an increase in productivity but it is a steady dose of quick and constant hits of dopamine which pushes humans back to their bottom up style of attention control, one that does not promote or enable us to think complexly or hold attention to a specific task for very long, according to Frank.  He also outlines that the more we allow the internet to promote the distracted, free for all style of digesting information on the internet, the less time you will be able to concentrate and focus on one single task.  Not only does this way of consuming information on the web discourage our ability to focus on a single task, it also makes it harder to draw on any previous information we were able to attain while we were utilizing our top down approach of attention and thinking.  

Like any new skill, regaining the way we think will take time.  We have to change our neural pathways and that is not something that is done overnight.  If we want to be less distracted online, we need to be engaging with activities that provide our brain with stimuli to practice holding our attention and promote a top down approach to our thinking and assigning our attention.  Personally, I really like the idea of being less distracted online as I feel my distractions provided when I am on the web, has spilled into my personal life where I am more distracted when I am interacting with my family and friends.  

There are ways in which we can increase our top-down approach to thinking and assigning our attention. Frank outlines his 10 suggestions to help with this!  He outlines that the key is not to stop using the web entirely, but rather to reduce activity that causes our brains to resort to the bottom-up approach.

  1. Read more books!

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    Photo by geralt on Pixabay
  2. Spend time working offline.
  3. Have more authentic and in-depth conversations.
  4. Watch more movies.
  5. Spend longer chunks of time on 1 task.
  6. Watch YouTube videos in Full-Screen Mode
  7. Use Reader mode on the web.
  8. Try limiting time on distracting websites.
  9. Make social media sites less distracting.
  10. Hide Visual Clutter in browser.

Has the Internet created a world of ‘multitaskers’ who don’t accomplish as much as they could have without it? 

In the article written by psychologist Larry Rosen and technologist Alexandra Samuel, Conquering Digital Distraction, published in the Harvard Business Review, they outline that digital overload is what is plaguing the workplace and our societies today.

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Photo by mohamed_hassan on Pixabay

They outline that we are always inundated with messages, alerts and time spent on devices that it is nearly impossible to focus, wasting time, attention and energy on relatively unimportant information and interactions leaving us staying busy but not productive.  Rosen and Samuel outline that those of us who are regularly juggling multiple streams of attention (multi-tasking) do not pay attention, memorize or manage our tasks as well as those who focus on one thing at a time.  This idea results in a significant decline in engagement both at work and at home.   They offer up two different strategies to combating this inundation – Samuel suggests that we fight fire with fire and become more efficient at using technology, where Rosen suggests we need to change our behaviors.  I see the merits of both sides, however, am more compelled to side with Rosen, which is where I focused my attention (pardon the pun).

Rosen suggests that the evidence supports the idea that multi-tasking can be done, however, doing two things at once is not always successful.  He later discusses further that for multitasking to be done successfully 1 of the 2 tasks must be automatic, like walking.   With that being said, Rosen outlines that we are able to walk and chew gum, because walking is an automatic skill, whereas checking social media and email at the same time proves to be more difficult as neither one of these tasks comes as automatic.  He also suggests that the mere presence of a smartphone decreases one’s ability to be productive.

Rosen outlines some answers as to why we allow ourselves to be so distracted by technology, because it

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Photo by khaase on Pixabay

is after all, a choice we make to engage with the tech.  Many people try to spin their dependence upon technology as an addiction.  He outlines that not most of us do not gain much pleasure (a defining characteristic of addiction) from technology.  It in turn becomes a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out), FOBO (fear of being offline) and nomophobia (fear of being away from phone or offline), all of which are closely related to anxiety and obsessive behaviors..  I feel this describes my relationship with technology.  I often feel lost when I forget my phone at home, or that it is a game to be the first to tell your friends about some information you saw on Twitter in hopes of gaining some sort of prize.  After reading both of these articles, I feel that the internet has created an abundance of people who like to think they’re being productive via multi-tasking, but in reality all we are is very distracted and unproductive.  

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Photo by geralt on Pixabay

There are some ways in which we can become more productive, which as many psychologists would do, Rosen feels these strategies should be centered around changing our behaviors.  The first strategy he outlines is weaning ourselves off of our devices.  This can be done by setting an allotted time you are allowed to use your devices and then all devices must be turned off and put away.  The second strategy he outlines is taking a “recharge” break every 90 minutes.  He outlines that our brains work on 90 min rest-activity cycles and giving ourselves these breaks will help increase productivity and recharge ourselves.  The final strategy he outlines is to keep our technology out of our bedrooms.  Our sleep time is a crucial time in our day where what we learned begins to be cemented into our memories and we should be limiting the amount of useless information and technological distractions we face before we sleep.    

 

Cheers,

 

Bret