Save the Best for Last?

So last blog entry, for now.

The debate topic around unplugging came at an interesting time for teachers: summer vacation has a connotation of “unplugging” around it. Unplugging from work stress, marking, emails, phone calls, and student nagging. I’ll assume it was genius to put this debate last on the part of Alec and Katia ūüėČ

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Photo Credit: The Daily Beast

I’ve noticed, in my current land on being inundated with emails, that sometimes I prefer to unplug and go find the colleague to actually ask them in person.¬†(This article provided by the agree team goes more in depth about why I would want to talk to someone in person.)¬†There’s a lot of subtext that cannot be explored within an email (namely, tone) that needs non-verbal cues in order to be understood.

During a bit of preliminary research for this topic, I discovered there’s actually a National Day of Unplugging¬†(we missed it by a couple months, though). It’s an interesting concept: connectiveness¬†has become such a ubiquitous thing that we need a day specifically set aside to justify unplugging.

There are all kinds of add-ins for tools like Chrome, that can limit your browsing and tech use. Getting my toddler to lock my phone for two hours has a similar effect.

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Photo Credit: LiveLongand Travel

Digital detoxes” are becoming a trend and creating business opportunities¬†that didn’t exist before, complete with¬†how to’s.¬†This concept didn’t exist five, ten years ago. It’s a new business and a new job. Maybe these are the jobs we’re training our kids for?

The idea that we need to unplug should give weight to the agree side’s argument, because clearly, if there wasn’t a need to unplug, we wouldn’t even consider it. Because it has become such a large topic, it deserves some credibility. Maybe we¬†do spend too much time in front of screens (as evidenced by the hours it takes me to write blog entries…) Maybe, if we really do need to be connected, we can do it outside?

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Snapchat proof.

Right now, it’s a glorious, sunny 20C outside. While I have to squint at my screen, I’m enjoying writing this outside. It’s summertime and with summer comes a renewed need to reconnect with nature rather than my email. Out of a staff of 100+ people, I’m the only one outside. To me, that’s a really sad reality.

I do believe that people need to unplug from their technology. But, I also understand we live in a world where connections via the internet are important to everyday life. I do need to access my email during the day. I’ve been really guilty of checking my email when I get home or on the weekends. I think I need to institute a new rule with myself that Katherine advocated: no email after 5pm. I think it’s really important to draw a balance between work and personal life.

As a teacher, I jealously guard my personal life. Because teaching is such a personal job, and it requires so much of my compassion, care, and connection with there are some parts of myself that I like to keep teacher-free. Unplugging from work allows me to do that. It prevents electronic intrusions into my time with my family.

Balance, I think, should be a watchword for the class: everything we’ve discussed is essentially a matter of balance, whether it is teacher training, parental control, access to technology, budgetary concerns, sharing over social media, and how much time we put into screens. It all comes down to yes, too much is no good. But too little is also just as bad. We need to find a middle road in order to properly use technology to its fullest potential.

So, with those final thoughts, excuse me while I go and read my (paper) book. It’s been a great semester!

 

 

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Summary of Learning!

Below is a link to my summary of learning. Please ignore the cat peanut gallery. He was entirely unimpressed he didn’t get to be in the video and voiced his disapproval vehemently.

Summary of Learning

Script:

My journey of learning this semester started somewhat trepidatiously. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from an online class, let alone a technology class. I’d never taken an online class before, so luckily I came in with no expectations about how it was going to be run.  

But, I wasn’t feeling any better after the first class.

I hadn’t participated in a debate since I was in high school. I had a vague idea of how one was supposed to be run, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to even start to delve into my topic of openness and sharing. I didn’t know what to think about my topic just yet either. Looking over the topics, I knew there were some that appealed to my knowledge base more than others, but this class is about expanding horizons, not staying within my known boundaries. So, I picked a topic I was completely ambivalent about. Something about which I had no fixed opinion. I felt like this would challenge me to learn about something I hadn’t previously even considered. To me, that’s the purpose of grad classes: to tackle subjects beyond our current knowledge and to learn to care about them.

After the second class, and the first debate, I was feeling a bit better, though that first debate really set the bar high. The debate centred around whether or not technology enhances learning in the classroom and what a debate to start with. It really helped give a preview of all of the forthcoming debates. It also previewed just how contentious and intertwined all of the debates actually are. It is hard to separate just one out as a singular topic.

As well, the second class really taught me how to successfully multitask for a couple of hours. It was overwhelming for the first half hour or so trying to keep up with who was talking on the screen — even after I mastered the speaker screen — trying to match names to blogs and then trying to keep on top of the chat to the side. It was a lot of information to work on at once. I hadn‚Äôt ever experienced this kind of overload before. Previously, i was able to tune one thing out or stop a task to focus on the others. This was a new experience for me. It took a bit of missing one thing or another, but I think I‚Äôve got it now.

That week also ushered in my first experience writing a real blog post. Sure I‚Äôd written an introduction one the week before, but this time there was a purpose and content to it. I navigated through wordpress with the help of the Google Plus community and the internet. I learned how to insert pictures, how to offset quotations, how to ‚Äúpingback‚ÄĚ to other blogs‚Ķ All of this was unknown to me prior to starting the class. I was already acquiring new skills!

It was also interesting to read others‚Äô thoughts about what they made of the debate, and not surprisingly, not everyone had the same opinion. Reading people‚Äôs blogs felt more natural and unforced rather than the ¬†alternative I hear so much about in other online classes: posting on forums. It allowed people to say what they wanted to say without worrying about making sure they were still on the same topic or someone had already written about that. ¬†I also liked seeing how people set up their blogs, ¬†and what neat little things they did to make their blogs unique…

I finally felt settled into the class and felt like I could do this.

The first debate really started me thinking about what my group and I were going to do for our own debate. The concept of openness and sharing in the classroom still daunted me, but I had an idea of perhaps where I would want to start researching. I had heard, recently, of so many issues of parents and oversharing that I knew I could draw some information from there. But I still had a few weeks! I could relax a bit and enjoy the upcoming debates.

The second and third debates were on the same nights. Again, though they were different topics, the same issues kept reappearing.

There was a definitive theme developing to the debates: teacher training and funding.

Most of the discussion in the debates centred around whether teachers have the knowledge, the understanding, or the will to carry out technology in a meaningful way in the classroom.

Tied to teacher knowledge is the idea of where exactly teachers are going to get that knowledge. From whom do they get the knowledge?  is it reputable knowledge?  is it timely knowledge and how will it enhance the classroom in which they teach? All of these things are variables when considering teachers and technology.

These ideas helped frame my group’s debate. We tackled the idea of openness in a classroom being a bad thing. We knew going in we faced an uphill battle, fighting against the integration of technology in classrooms in a class dedicated to just that. We fought valiantly, and we learned so much about how openness in the classroom can both benefit and detract from student learning through our own research and through opposition research. The most important thing we learned was about the lack of guidelines available to teachers and parents about how to successfully navigate the world of social media safely for their students and children.  It was an eyeopening experience to see both sides and to have to understand both sides in order to formulate a knowledgeable argument.

The guest speakers we had on the second to last class were incredible. Audrey Watters made so many salient points that spoke directly to my worldview, it was amazing I‚Äôd never come across her before. She spoke of corporate involvement in school, especially regarding standardized testing, which is a pet topic of mine. Her discussion really affirmed what I had thought about corporate involvement. Dean Shareski brought an expanded understanding to what I had previously known and I appreciated hearing an ‚Äúinsider‚ÄĚ opinion on what a corporation‚Äôs actual intentions, minus the liberal bias, may be. It was interesting that, during this class, the chat and people‚Äôs opinions seemed to be the most vehement and their blogs most prone to apologize for ranting, as though that‚Äôs not what blogs are for. The impact of corporations on teaching must impinge on some deeply held beliefs by teachers because of the extraordinarily strong, emotional response the debate and speakers elicited.

As this class closes, I am left with many more questions than when I started it, and for that I am incredibly grateful. It is wonderful to know that I still want to know more and more and more and that I will never have all the answers. It confirms that I truly do want to be a life-long learner and it is something I can model for my students. It is my job to lead by example and in this, I am a proud leader.

So thank you to Alec and Katia. This is has been a whirlwind of a class, but it has taught me so much about my boundaries and how many new things I am willing to try to be successful. I hope I have the chance to take one of your classes in the future!

Ranty McRanterson

Ok. I’m going to try and keep this as academic as possible without devolving into jumping up and down on my soap box, but it’s going to be hard.

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GIF Credit: Eselle1 via Photobucket
This past debate, I felt, was the most hard-hitting to teachers, as evidenced by the very active chat along the side. The mix of corporations and schools must hit a nerve in teachers. I go on about this a little more in my forthcoming summary of learning.

I wonder if this idea of corporations and education is so distasteful to teachers because teachers are, essentially, lily-livered, pinkie, liberals? That teachers all contain some aspect of a hippie in them, somewhere (though don’t tell my husband that. He’d never admit it), of free love, and learning for all? And that, to teachers, corporations represent the complete antithesis of this?

I know it’s true for me. I do claim some socialist leaning tendencies, especially when it comes to education and children. I believe in education for all, regardless of age, race, SES, location, whatever the barriers may be. I believe it is a responsibility of the population, whether they have children or not, to fund education. After all, today’s children are tomorrow’s doctors, teachers, lawyers etc. Even if you don’t have children, you will one day require access to the medical world, to the legal world, to whatever world.

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Photo Credit: Zeitgeist Films

Corporations do not have to have a good will. In fact, corporations are¬†required¬†to put their bottom line before their good will. If you have a spare two hours, I would highly recommend this documentary:¬†The Corporation. (ELA A30 teachers: I use it as a documentary study! It’s Canadian [though it only discusses American law, a lot of the footage was shot in BC] and it’s really interesting to see how kids are able to critically view it. Easter Egg: watch for SaskTel at the beginning!)

Knowing this makes me very, very leery of trusting corporations with something that is supposed to be as altruistic as education.As was discussed in the debate, it seems to be self-perpetuating: companies, such as Pearson, put out a standardized test which seems to measure objectively what a reading or writing or mathematical skill level is at.Unfortunately, this test can only be scored or data collected from it if the correct tools from the company are used. And then, the follow up and teaching to the test is most effective when paired with textbooks from the company. And these textbooks then allow for better scores on those standardized tests. Which are measured through the company. And round and round it goes.

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Photo Credit: Pearson, defacing by me.

 

One of the most informative people I’ve come across about standardized testing is Alfie Kohn.¬†I think he was at the teachers’ convention a couple years ago (which I missed due to a maternity leave). He was my go-to person during my undergrad when I was trying to combat the never-ending testing I faced in my internship. He discusses the impact of corporations on the quality of schooling and what is available to be offered to kids and teachers.

Standardized testing is so fundamentally flawed that it cannot be successful. For just one further reading on this, I recommend this article.¬†It details just how flawed a “standardized” test can be in the latter pages of the article, especially when privileging one kind of knowledge over another in regards to immigrants. Cultural and gendered bias play such a large role in determining what should and shouldn’t be common knowledge or age-appropriate knowledge, it’s angering to see just how pervasive these tests are. As someone mentioned, it’s as if these tests were designed to fail kids. Audrey Watters¬†also brought up the idea of cultural and gendered bias within these types of tests from a historical perspective: women as teachers and men as knowledge-measure-ers.

The video by John Oliver, supplied by the agree side, is comprehensive and thorough. It is interesting to hear his take on it, because as this NPR article states, “At the age of 16, almost every child in England will take probably about 15 or 20 substantial examinations”. That’s a huge number of high-stakes tests! Furthermore, as the article explains, these tests determine whether or not a child may finish¬†high school. At 16-years-old, they may or may not be able to finish¬†high school. To me, that is bordering on ludicrous.

All of this being said, I understand the practicality of having corporations sponsor education. One thing that wasn’t mentioned in the debate is that corporate scholarships are commonplace and are frequently awarded. I also understand why corporations would want to sponsor schools: they are trying to create customers for life. Exposure to brands creates familiarity and therefore loyalty. It is in their best interest to create visibility in schools.

Budgetary concerns also make room for corporations in schools. As witnessed recently, budgets everywhere are tighter and tighter. I know Saskatchewan has it hard, but it is no different anywhere else (ask my mom, who just lost her permanent contract from the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario. Yes, it was supposed to be as permanent as a permanent contract here.) I foresee a future that involves corporations on a more fundamental level in schools. And, as Alec pointed out, more involvement equals less money from the public. Why do schools need more government money if they’re getting all their money from corporations, who have much deeper pockets than government? This kind of thinking is the philosophy of today’s government. It is a true fiscal¬†conservative way of thinking.

But, I promised no ranting and raving.

To end, I believe that public schools have not¬†yet sold their souls to corporations. As long as teachers are around to discuss and demand transparency and alternative (maybe even transformational?) choices, I don’t believe public schools will sell their souls just yet. However, I can see a future where this has occurred and to me, it is a scary one.

Children and the Future

There is nothing more polarizing in any conversation than discussing how someone else is raising their children.

There are unending opinions on the correct methods for raising children and they are all correct and they are all wrong.

So, the question posed by Alec at the end of the debate on Tuesday really struck home: would I wanted my childhood relived without social media? Overwhelmingly, the class answers no, they would not want a childhood without social media. Hesitantly, knowing I am going against popular opinion, respectfully disagree, though it is mostly theoretical.

Photo Credit: CBC Punchline

ICQ¬†was in its infancy when I was in middle school. Most of my “childhood”, as I thought of it then, had passed. MSN Messenger¬†was my favourite, though. It seemed more private than wandering around the house with a cordless phone, hoping I wouldn’t run into one of my sisters while I was discussing my current crush.

Cell phones didn’t even exist in my sphere of reference in earlier elementary years (though Tamagotchis totally did).

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Photo Credit: Wikipedia

So the response I have is retconning what already happened.

But, though I believe social media has a large, detrimental impact on childhood, I do not consider those children’s childhoods ruined nor are the children themselves¬†ruined.

As someone mentioned, childhood is changing. Nostalgia plays a large part in the idea of “ruining” childhood, from television¬†to video games. Maybe in fifty years we’ll look back on the conflict arising from social media and have a nice, indulgent laugh at how backward and uninformed we were.

Currently, the research, as supplied by the agree side, indicates the harm both mentally and physically, social media can cause.

I do admit social media has its uses and place within our society today, only because we’ve made the room for it. If public opinion had been dead-set against social media in the first place, I’m not sure it would’ve caught on with the same fervor.

I see the harm as well as the good social media does on a daily basis in my classroom. And perhaps because teachers see children together in unguarded moments more than others in society we have a clearer understanding of both the good and the bad. I see the social events students put together on Facebook in order to celebrate their successes. I also see the Snapchat streaks that must be kept up, regardless of the cost to their academics.

So. Answer to the question: I believe social media has fundamentally changed the way childhood is and is viewed. I believe that childhood (as a recent construct, and a colonizing construct¬†— the link to the book is well worth a look) has always been shifting and changing in response to what adult society demands on “adult behaviour”. Childhood will undoubtedly look very different in 50 years than it does now. But all parts of society will look very different. We cannot expect children to remain in the past when they represent our future.

Finally, no, social media is not ruining childhood, but there are aspects of it that need to be taken seriously as there have been proven detrimental effects on children’s mental and physical health. Using social media is a skill and needs to be honed, like any other skills. As parents, teachers, and¬†in loco parentis it is our job to not romanticize the past, but to build up children to take on the future.

Technology and Bandaids.

The first of Tuesday’s debates was something that really struck home.

As an English Language Arts teacher, a lot of my curricula depends on access to technology, from completing 1500 word essays to engaging in inquiry projects to writing researched papers. I can’t guarantee that I will have access or even my students will have access to the technology they need. This presents a rather large barrier in completing my curriculum.

So then, would a massive influx of computers, laptops, or tablets solve my problem? Would this guarantee my students’ success? Several sources from the Disagree side say no.

The point on Tuesday that was the most forceful was not from the debate itself, but was a comment from Steve. His remark about the free dispersal of laptops to at-risk youth presents many more problems than it solves. Systemic poverty and denial of human rights is not corrected through the donation of a laptop.

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Photo Credit: MemeGenerator

Technology is a¬†tool. It does not solve problems by itself. It’s like expecting a hammer to build a house by itself and being dumbfounded when it does not. A hammer is only part of what is required to build a house. Many more tools are needed in order for the house to stand, being structurally sound, and safe.

I believe technology has a part in social equality, but it is not the only thing to promote equity.

As the agree team pointed out, open sourced education is widely available through many, many mediums. Applications such as iTunes U, Gale Courses through the Regina Libraries, and Harvard Online Courses¬†give access to otherwise inaccessible educational avenues.¬†However, because I’ve taken a whole gamut of online, free courses from Harvard, does that equal a Harvard degree? The idea of open education still carries with it a “less than” stigma. An open course on Harvard’s website is still less valued than a course that I would pay tuition for.

So then, how fair and equal are these courses from these illustrious places really? Perhaps in the future these courses will carry with it equal weight in the workplace, but I know if I tried to approach my employer with a printed off certificate from Harvard they would laugh at me.

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Photo Credit: Memegenerator

Again, technology is a tool, but it is not the only tool. As well, it is in how it is applied and used and by who. Handing out technology with no long term plan other than high hopes of equality do nobody any good. Technology is not a bandaid (though being removed from it¬†is¬†a similar painful experience…). Technology is not the solution. It is¬†part¬†of the solution that we have not discovered yet.

Ouch.

That wasn’t even close.

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Photo Credit: Memegenerator

I do appreciate the idea of openness and sharing online, though I do, personally, have so many reservations, both as a teacher and as a person.

The website Seesaw was brought up a few times during the debate. It does seem like a really neat tool to use with students to document their learning.Their commitment to privacy is admirable, however, teachers using any online service must familiarize themselves with both the Terms of Service and the Privacy Policy (though, sometimes these are combined) before selecting the tool they wish to use.

One of Seesaw’s Terms of Use is:

We don‚Äôt own the content you provide ‚Äď students and their schools own all Student Data added to Seesaw.

However, in order to provide our Services, we need certain limited rights to your content. You grant Seesaw the right to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display, and distribute your content solely so that Seesaw can provide our services.  Seesaw may modify or adapt your content as necessary to meet any requirements or limitations of any networks or devices.

Being aware of what you’ve agreed to on the behalf of your students is incredibly important and can be taught as an introductory lesson to the use of the site.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying “do not use!”. I think it looks slick, well-organized, teacher and student friendly, and it looks like it has worked very hard to protect students. They are also very compliant with not only American law, but they work with international law as well in order to protect their users.

However, it is still a company which needs to make a profit and Terms of Use need to be taken very seriously.

Privacy Policies and Terms of Use are full of jargon and can be hard to decipher. Internet to the rescue!

This website can help you along with that.

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One of the greatest mistakes people on the internet make is not reading your Terms of Service. Everyone (including myself: Netflix just had an update this week — didn’t read it. Apple just updated my iOS — didn’t read it. Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Gmail all have long, dense Terms of Service — didn’t read them).

(For fun, this website¬†[though this one is a joke, it’s funny in “it’s funny because it’s true sort of way]¬†and this website¬†[though it is Cracked and it is a few years old, so take with a grain of salt]¬†go over some interesting information that was in Terms of Service.)

Students need to learn to make sense of what they’re agreeing to in order to become more cognizant of the information they’re giving away. In order for teachers to teach this, they need to be aware of it as well.

For a worst-case scenario of what I’m talking about, I’ll refer back to a debacle that occurred a couple months ago (again, worst-case scenario): LeapFrog¬†toys were discovered to have a vulnerability that could potentially expose children to all sorts of breaches of privacy.Being aware of technology tools capabilities is important for parents and educators. In this case, children would have been better off using a laptop rather than the supposedly “closed garden” LeapFrog.

To add to this worst-case scenario, now-owner of LeapFrog, Vtech dealt with its own large privacy breach late last year.

Ok. Enough doom and gloom.

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Photo Source: Memegenerator

Student online sharing is no longer becoming a nice addition or an alternative to an essay. Online sharing is becoming more and more important as classrooms become more open to the world.

As the article “The Benefits of Online Student Work in Online Space”¬†discusses, online sharing increases transparency in the classroom. As teachers, we are coming under closer and closer scrutiny of our job and what exactly we do in the classroom besides babysit for 6 hours a day.

Online sharing shows educational stakeholders exactly what students and teachers are capable of, for the good or bad.

The kind of accountability associated with online sharing is unprecedented in teaching, where before the internet, accountability occurred when your principal or superintendent strolled by your room.

Global citizenship (as overused as the phrase has become) means that students have to be prepared to enter a world where communication skills are paramount. Understanding how to navigate the world of LinkedIn, About.me, and online resumes (seriously. look at that last link.) as well as participate within it are important new world skills.

The issue, again, as it has been in the previous debates is buy-in and understanding from teachers.

Teachers are creatures of habit (probably because of the nature of our job). Getting teachers to try new, untested, unfamiliar things with untrustworthy technology is hard.

But this is necessary.

Finally, as an individual, I’m leery of the online world. I participate in as an anonymous way as I can get away with. I’m no Luddite. I¬†love technology. But, I also don’t trust the altruistic nature of online companies. As a teacher, I’m going to have to work on my hermit vs sharer self in order to better serve my students.

TL;DR: Go here. No, seriously. If nothing else, use this.