My Tuesday Night Tour

I have already expressed my unease with my experience in Second Life.  The past two weeks have been a bit stressful and it seemed that no matter what I tried, I was always one step, okay, more like 20 steps, behind the rest of the class.  Considering my luck lately, it did not surprise me, yesterday at an in service session, when I went to my thaw space to open the  file I needed and my thaw space was empty… that is how it has been lately.

My Tuesday night tour in Second Life did not get off to a good start when I could not get my microphone working.  It would seem like my Second Life is a bit like my first sometimes.  Thankfully my professor in ECI 832,  Marnie McMillan, or in this case, Sunan Skytower, is extremely patient and encouraging.  She finally hooked me up with Garnett Gleim, G 3 Garfield,  and he helped me solve the rest of my technical problems.  I should mention that he is a very patient and helpful person as well.

Once I was able to communicate, I decided to try to make the best of the experience and we did see some very cool things.  I was lost  a few times and was teleported to the next destination.  It seemed funny to me, that I would get that same sense of panic, when lost in my digital world, that I would if I was lost in my real world in an unfamiliar place.  Maybe, even more so, because I was so far out of my comfort zone.

I think that one of the reasons that I struggled with Second Life, was because I am not a video game player at all.  As a matter of fact, I would never choose to play a video game.  I even have trouble managing  motion  in video games.  I had difficulty moving around, which would improve with practice, and I was not comfortable, unless I managed to stay with the group, which was not very often.

It is interesting to reflect on my difficulties, which were laughable, but frustrating.  I can relate to the “just for fun” video called “Second Life”  that Marnie posted in the ECI 832 Wiki space. It was funny, but  that  was my character, Reeve, running into things, awkwardly turning around and getting stuck behind objects.

The positive aspects of my Tuesday night tour were the things I did see, when I managed to get to my destinations or was teleported there. Wow!  My favorite place was the Globe Theatre.  I am a huge fan of Shakespeare and I taught high school English for a several years before moving to Saskatchewan.  I would have loved to take my students to the Globe Theatre when we were studying our Shakespeare units.  It sure would have added engagement and interest.

I think  the most interesting and useful part of the digital world, for me, would  be the ability to experience destinations around the world .  I would not even begin to think that I was capable of creating destinations, but I look forward to the never-ending field trips  my students and I can take  without ever having to leave the computer lab!

Do I have room for a second life?

I think that I just finished one of the most technologically frustrating weeks ever.  I thought that some of the things that I was asked to do last semester in ECI 831 were out of my element, but my introduction to Second Life was not a smooth one.  The one satisfying thing I learned was, perseverance pays off.  I finally did figure out where I was going wrong and was able to finally get my second life going.  It probably didn’t help to see my son jump right into the program and he was looking for buried treasure under the ocean, before I had my character developed.  Oh, the confidence of youth!  How foolish it is to not tap into that natural instinct and ease that our students have with technology.

I decided that I better try to improve my attitude and try to make some educational connections with Second Life. What was is that my professor for ECI 832, Marnie McMillan, was seeing, that I was not embracing? I was surprised to find myself warming up to the idea.  Was  I feeling a sense of excitement creeping in as I saw what was happening with virtual reality?

I was surprised by some of the projects that I came across and could not believe some of the things that students were doing.  I realized after watching the , “The Social Virtual World’s Tour”, at the Puritan’s Guide to Second Life, that my children have experimented with virtual reality for years… I just didn’t make the connection until now.  My daughters, who are now in high school, used to spend hours on the Neopets site, when they were little girls, feeding and caring for their digital pets and buying and selling digital merchandise.  Now my nieces and other little people  do the same things at Webkinz.

I really liked some of the projects that I came across that students had done on social issues and cultures, such as ones described at the SLED Blog-K-20 Education Using the Second Life World, and closer to home at Regina Public Schools, Examining Social Issues.   What a neat and engaging  way to learn about social studies and show learning.  I could see a lot of potential for visiting and exploring places that are not right at our finger tips which could open up our learning world even more.

I just helped my grade 8 tutorial students study for a social studies test on the cultures unit.  When I was watching the following YouTube video posted by Regina Public School, describing their Grade 8 Cultures Project, I was really blown away by the amount of engaged learning that must have gone into that project.

I wondered, as I was searching around, if there was not an interesting application of virtual reality that could be used as a learning support teacher.  I spend quite a bit of time working with children of all ages on social skills, reading visual cues, etc. I was talking to one of my social skills candidates about virtual reality last week and there was obvious interest in that area.  Any suggestions about how this technology could be incorporated into my learning support world?

So once again, I am brought back to my familiar question…

How can I encourage teachers in my school to get involved with some of this technology that is readily available?

I already know that exposure and support are key, and in this case, I would not be much help to them, we would need major technology support.  With the right idea and the right approach, I think the school division tech staff could be talked into allowing a project to take place.

As always safety is an issue.  Exploration in the SL world and Teen SL would obviously require proper use and supervision, as the use of most social networking does.  I really liked the example of “why we need rules” illustrated in a post at skoolaborate.com in a post called “Why we need rules? Lord of the Flies Island.” The teacher describes a situation where a student wonders why there are rules that prevent them from building wherever they want in their virtual setting.  He found that limiting, and did not understand the reason for the rule.   The writer explains that previously, they had problems with students messing around with the projects being developed by other students.  He decided to open up a place, called “Lord of the Flies Island”, where students could build wherever they wanted.  The student  soon discovered that the new environment did not work so well and could see why the rule was in place.  What a good opportunity for teaching and discovering!

Embrace the virtual reality world?–I have not reached that point yet.  Can I see the educational possibilities and applications?-Absolutely!  Right now, though, I  have to be satisfied with my first life, because I am still not sure I have room for a second one.

Can we rewrite the educational song?

When I finished reading,  The Song Remains the Same: Looking Back to the Future of Educational Technology by Punya Mishra, Matthew J Koehler, Kristen Kereluik. TechTrends. Washington: Sep/Oct 2009. Vol. 53, Iss. 5; p. 48, for an assignment for my ECI 832 class, I couldn’t help but think  this was a conversation we have all been in many times before.  Why are we making little progress with technology infusion in some of our classrooms and schools?  Why do some teachers seem reluctant to use the fantastic tools and resources that are so readily available to us?

It really reminded me of Karl Fisch’s post at  The Fishbowl called ,”What if?” He provides a link to a google video by the same name that is worth taking a look at.

Although the article presented a concern that has been discussed for a while, it gave me a new direction of thinking as to the reason why.  “the power and potential of educational technology must be acknowledged to reside within educators and not within objects.” (p.52)  I couldn’t help but think that our focus my be in the wrong place.

We have this same discussion often in our school division related to new curriculum.  I have heard frustrations voiced many times as to how teachers continue to start their planning with classroom activities, rather than “unpacking” the learning outcomes and starting there.  It is impossible to see the journey, when we start from the end and work backwards.  What do we want these children to be able to do when the journey ends, rather than… here are some things to work on and hopefully while you are doing that we will stumble on some learning.

The last conversation I with my principal, on Friday, happened to be about the lack of technology use in our classrooms and why that might be.  She thinks it is a good idea when I take these courses, but it does add an extra element to her day when I am constantly wanting to share my thoughts and infuse my ideas.  The one thing we said was that our teachers are separating the parts of the whole learning experience,  rather than looking at it as a whole.  What I mean by that is, we look at curricular outcomes separate from indicators, separate from technology, separate from classroom management etc., rather than seeing that they should all work together in the classroom experience and not be seen as separate entities.

I feel this relates to the statement in the article, “…educational technologies exist in the interplay between pedagogical knowledge, content knowledge, and technology knowledge.”  Maybe this is part of our struggle…as long as things exist as separate parts, it is impossible for us to move toward an interplay of the whole learning experience.

The article describes 3 possible reasons for our lack of change. The first one being “using new technologies…requires specific knowledge of how the technology can be used for pedagogical purposes.”   I feel most teachers see the basic benefits to embracing educational technologies and may also have an underlying desire to be integrating them into the daily learning experiences in their classrooms.  I don’t think any teacher can deny the fact that our students today are technologically inclined and comfortable in their world.  In my school division and certainly within my school the problem does not lie with technologies being unavailable to teachers. For some, the idea of technologies changing so fast is overwhelming and creates a sense of defeat before integration even gets started.  The idea of learning so many new things is discouraging.

The second reason given in the article states, “the use of new technology often faces resistance from educators who believe that they perhaps do more harm than good.” The thing that immediately came to mind was the “dreaded” cell phone that I discussed in my last post.  It seems to me that we can get so caught up in all the things that students could possibly do wrong, that we forget or refuse to see the benefits.  I have previously stated my frustration about our need to police students, rather than create opportunities for learning.  If you do a search at YouTube, under cell phone use in the classroom, you will come up with countless parodies made by students showing teachers freaking out over cell phone use. The phone is only one example, but it illustrates how our fear can be our worst enemy.

The third reason does not really have anything to do with technology. “Teachers need knowledge of pedagogy-knowledge of how to teach-in order to accomplish these kind of activities.” So does that mean that our problem does not lie with the technologies surrounding us, but rather our insecurities with our basic pedagogy?

I was reading a post written by Brian Gatin yesterday and he mentioned the need for universities to change the expectations for teacher training.  The authors of the article also mention the need for pre-service teachers to not just see technology as a tool, but rather be empowered to experiment and create as they develop their own pedagogy.  We tend to think  younger teachers will be naturally good at technology infusion. While it may be fair to jump to the conclusion that these young teachers are comfortable using technology, is it also fair to take for granted that they will understand the interplay between content, pedagogy and technology?

This is where team work should come into play.  We need to learn to share and collaborate.  The article mentions, “once a project has been developed, other teachers can replicate it in their own classrooms.”  That is as it should be, especially when we have all the collaboration and sharing tools available to us.  I don’t think teachers are natural sharers, we can be hoarders. We need to stop trying to reinvent things in our own little worlds.  Let’s use the confidence level with technology that our students and younger colleagues have and combine that with the confidence  in pedagogy and content that comes from experience.

In seeing the interplay between pedagogy, technology and content can we help each other rewrite the educational song? I sure hope so!

Is It Really That Simple?

While trying to decide what blog(s) I was wanting to follow this term in ECI 832, I came across a post on the “Cool Cat Teacher” blog on making a case for cell phone use in class. This caught my attention immediately, because I am always expressing my wish for students to have access to cell phones and I-pods in the classroom.  School division and school policies prevent this from happening right now, and I am not expected that to change any time soon.

My first thought was… wait a minute… maybe if I was able to start giving other teachers in my school and school division some concrete ideas as to how they might use these tools in their classroom, then maybe… just maybe…more teachers would start to make requests and eventually we would be able to chip away at the policy mountain.

I believe that it is basic fear that keeps us from allowing the “evil” cell phone in our classrooms.  How would we ever control what they are doing?  How could we ever keep their attention?  How can we prevent them from texting when they should be listening?

The same goes for the i-pod.  What could they possibly do with the i-pod in the classroom besides plug in and tune me out?  Don’t get me wrong… I was one of these fearful teachers not so many years ago.  When cell phone use first started to become popular and we were not sure what to do about it, I was all over making policies with specific and controlling consequences for being caught with your cell phone.  I’ve come a long way baby!

Fear of giving up control can keep teachers from opening up to new and very exciting possibilities.

In her post Vicki Davis gives 10 reasons why we should use cell phones in school, many of them great reasons to use in conversations with school division policy makers.  What school division does not like an idea that could actually save them money and solve some IT problems as well?  She also has some suggestions as to how to “deal” with cell phones in the classroom.

The second reason I think we are reluctant just to give up our fight is because it opens up supervision and education issues that we are unsure of.  How can we make sure they are on task and doing what they are supposed to be doing?   So, does it come back to giving up control?

My search led me to blog site, “Technology for Teachers” by Sean Martinson.  He said … the cell phone (iPods, MP3 players, etc.) are simply the latest tools that we as educators are failing to embrace, failing to see the educational implications for their uses, and are thus failing to educate our students in the ethical uses of these tools for life long learning.  If we are going to ban said items… we are banning them because we as educators are failing to educate our students in the proper uses of these tools.” Sean give many great sources to check out in his post.

I listened to a conversation related to this issue in my school last week.  The French Club is raising money to attend the Festival du Voyageur in Winnipeg, Manitoba. One of the fundraising ideas they came up with was to have a cell phone or i-pod day and everyone who chooses to bring one has to pay $1.  Reaction from the staff was mixed.  I said, “Yes!”, perhaps we could get them to do something educational at the same time?? Unfortunately, most of the reactions were based on comments such as:”do we get to set our own rules as to when they can use them?” or “won’t they be fooling around with them instead of learning?”

I hated the fact that it was seen as a policing issue rather than an opportunity.  I have some work to do and educating teachers is how I think it needs to be done.  I could slide in ideas and they wouldn’t even know what I was up to. Please give my any ideas that you may have.

Some other excellent sources I came across, that  you may want to check out are:

http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/1422669

http://cellphonesinlearning.wikispaces.com/

I was watching my 11 year old son doing his homework the other night.  He was working on an assignment that went along with a story they were reading in ELA.  He needed to figure out what some of the vocabulary words meant.  I was just going to open my mouth to tell him to get a dictionary out of the office, but before I could, he picked up his i-pod and was at dictionary.com.

It really is that simple, isn’t it?

What are my current coordinates?

http://www.flickr.com/photos/27550931@N03/2569927379/

In my ECI 832 course we were asked to pin point our current coordinates on our technology compass.  It is difficult, but important, to face exactly where we are when it comes to technology.  It can be impossible to move forward if we do not know where we are starting and  this can cause us to spin around in the same place.  If there is one thing that I am learning about technology integration, it would have to be that the journey is slow for some.

When looking at the LoTi, Levels of Teacher Innovation Framework  by Dr. Chris Moersch, I seem to be hovering between level 3-infusion and level 4a-mechanical integration.  Now what does that really mean for me?

I feel like I am very focused on higher level thinking for my students and getting them engaged in learning.  Partly due to the new curriculum which is based upon student centered learning and partly due to my basic belief in the necessity for change and the enthusiasm to make that happen.

At the same time, I still don’t think that students are recognizing or perceiving that their learning is authentic in a lot of cases.  They still believe that they are just doing assignments and not really making connections to their lives or taking responsibility for their own learning.  My students are using digital resources and tools to carry out teacher directed tasks that  require higher level thinking, but these tasks are rarely driven by or generated by students.  Hopefully we are slowly moving toward integration of technology, but at this point we are not there yet.

I chose to look at the adminstration side of NETS-National Education Technology Standards to see where I stood as an administrator.  Right now I feel like I can have the most positive influence on my staff in my administrative role as opposed to my learning support role ,although the two do work closely together.

So how am I really doing?

I do not feel like I am doing  badly overall.  I would probably give myself a B- on a technology report card.  Trust me, there is always room for improvement.  My highest grade would be in excellence in professional practice.  I try not to just talk about technology, but actually get down and get involved with what I believe.  I think I try to stay on top of what is happening in technology and pass that on to my staff in a collaborative way.  Right now a group of a group of teachers in my school, including myself,  are participating in a TIP(Technology Integration Project). I put in a proposal to use FLIP video cameras and digital still cameras for assessment purposes in math. I am also blogging with groups of students and helping classroom teachers  with class blogs. I have some of my learning support students blogging and accessing internet resources as they work on their social skills and planning toward their futures. I try to act as a support system by getting involved in technology integration at the classroom level.

I think there is still room for improvement; personally, at the school level and at the division level.  We are not AT the stage where there is effective practice across the curriculum and although I encourage instructional innovation focused on continuous improvement, I do not feel like we have reached the point where we can ensure that this innovation is happening.  I am not even sure I know when that point might be.

In some cases, things seem to be out of our hands.  We do not always have control over who we are hiring to fill teaching positions ,so this makes it difficult to always recruit staff who are highly competent with technology.  We  do try to establish and maintain partnerships to support systemic improvement, but we are not always in control of all parts of the system.  Our division is going through a lot of growth, and the lack of trust that still exists, in some cases,  can work against systemic change .  I think that our school division does an excellent job of trying to maintain an up to date and solid infrastructure, but some division policies dealing with technology do not always promote it or make it easy to use.

It seems like every conversation that I am in lately leads me back to the same question…

How do we move on from here?

At least I have my baseline now and know where  I am already doing well and where I still need to improve.

I Wonder?

I love  working on my learning curve again!  There is so much information out there and it is good to have a reason to allow myself the time to surf and learn.  One of the first assignments we were given in ECI 832 was to take a learning styles and multiple intelligences inventory and think about the implications our learning styles can have for us when working with our students and colleagues.

I thought it would be very easy, but I really had to think about some of my answers.  I was not at all surprised by the outcome.  I was right in the middle of being both an active and reflective learner.  I can absolutely see myself as being active, especially when it comes to technological things.  There is not better way to learn than to get your hands on it and do it yourself.  On the other hand there are other learning situations where I am very reflective, such as when planning lessons or trying to come up with solutions for my learning support students.

It was no surprise to me and would not be a surprise to any of my colleagues to find out I am a strong verbal learner and that I am a global thinker.  There is no better way for me to figure something out than to sit down a rewrite it in my own words and talk myself through it.

The next thing we  did was explore some of the ideas presented on Karl Fisch’s  blog “The Fischebowl”.  When I started looking through some of the blogs posted there, I started to feel that familiar feeling again, as I get wound up about learning or as my professor, Marnie McMillan,  would say, I was doing what “makes my learning curve go off the chart”.  When I was thinking about that idea of learning going off the chart I wondered…

Do things makes your learning curve go off the chart because they are difficult and take you far away from the familiar? Or do things make your learning curve go off the chart because we are learning something new and are enjoying that fact?

I have always been motivated by pushing myself into unfamiliar territory.  I love learning and I love proving to myself and others that I can do things that I could not do before.  That is what makes my learning curve go off the chart.

So how do these ideas affect those  around me?  Well, I am sure they do in a few ways.  Last semester I had the unbelievable good luck to take a course from Alec Couros. I was way out of my learning curve element when we started that course, but as the course progressed I was so motivated by the things that I was learning.  I was making connections daily and used the opportunity to take on an unexpected role at my school.  I wanted to share what I was learning and sometimes I would get very frustrated when other teachers  did not see the light bulbs that I was seeing.

Why were my colleagues not able to see  that we need to change our ways of teaching and our ideas about learning ?  What seemed so obvious to me, was not always received with joy from everyone that I worked with, but was that because I did not have to walk my talk on a daily basis like they did?

I can remember near the beginning of the year I presented the video,  “Shift Happens” to my staff at a staff meeting.  Everyone, along with myself, vowed to change the way we were thinking and doing things in our classroom to start meeting the needs of our students in this new learning  environment.  Even though we are continually reminded that our students are different and live in a different world then we did, it seems as if we continue to teach the same way we always have.   According to David Warlick at his blog site  2Cents Worth  “At some point, during 2010, knowledge will be doubling every 72 hours.” Yikes!  Are we ready for that?  Are our students ready for that?

I have my next video ready for my staff called “Pay Attention”.  I have included it because it emphasises the point we are discussing.

I can be frustrated and spend a lot of time thinking about  our lack of progress…

  • I wonder why we are doing things like memorizing trivial facts of information for a test, or practicing spelling words in isolation, or doing 25  repetitive math problems when 5 would have been enough.
  • I wonder why we are so worried that kids might do something wrong, so we spend more time policing them than teaching them.
  • I wonder why we want to ban them from things like Facebook, cell phones and i-pods when they could be such valuable learning tools if used correctly and are such an integral part of their world
  • I wonder why, when we never have enough time with our students, we spend so much of our time doing things that have little or no educational purpose
  • I also wonder what I need to do that would help my colleagues and I move to the next step

“If everyone taught in hopes of trying to make students think instead of telling them what to think, the world would be a better place.”

(Quote taken from a survey done by teachers and students at the end of the 1st year of staff technology development at Araphohoe High School in Centennial, Colorado)