TECHnically speaking…

On reflection, I can look back on my time in university and say I probably took the wrong undergraduate courses. I studied English Language, Politics, and Drama and Theatre Arts at A-level so, naturally, when I applied to university I decided I wanted a BA in Media Production. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to be when I “grew up,” and Media Production seemed as good a choice as anything else. Much of the theory I found pretty dry, however, I loved using the tech to produce sound and edit film. My friends and I spent our free time messing around in the editing suite and this proved to be a formative learning experience. Now, as an educator, I love getting tech into the hands of students at every available opportunity and giving them the opportunity to become creators.

After working at a private ESOL school in Japan, I quickly fell in love with teaching and pursued a career in Education. Even when teaching adult language classes, I tried to incorporate technology whenever possible. One of my favorite lessons came from a book called Sprint 6 and involved making telephone conversations. I would have my students call a teacher from a neighboring school to practice making authentic phone calls. It was fun to set students up to roleplay conversations in a safe environment. It was an important step in building students’ confidence and developing skills that were relevant to their jobs and for travel. As Kim Cofino mentions in her blog post 3 Steps to Transforming Learning in Your Classroom “Once you know what you want students to know and be able to do, then you can start thinking about how students can demonstrate their understanding.” By taking this approach to teaching, we can help increase motivation and enthusiasm for learning.

Photo by Kushagra Kevat on Unsplash

Lights, Camera, Action!

My first job as a qualified teacher was working in a Special Education resource room. I mainly worked with students in Fifth and Sixth Grade who received pull out and push in services for reading support. Many of these students were aware that they found reading significantly more difficult than their peers and, as a result, developed many avoidance tactics. I was struggling to motivate my students to practice reading outside of school. That is until a student, I will refer to as “J,” hit upon an idea that would incorporate technology. J had a younger brother who lived in a different state, who he didn’t get to see that often. One day, J mentioned that his brother enjoyed reading, but he didn’t live near a library. I asked J how he felt about recording a video of him reading to his brother and sharing the video. There was an immediate change in his motivation and desire to practice. Suddenly reading was relevant to him and had a purpose other than being something he was told was important.

Soon after I started recording and editing J’s read alouds, I asked other students if they would be interested in creating videos too. For many of them, reading to an Ipad reduced much of their anxiety and increased their motivation to practice reading fluency skills. I also hadn’t anticipated the high level of student interest in video editing. They wanted to know how to add cutaways, titles, music and sound effects in Imovie. My school had just started to incorporate the ISTE standards and it was great to see kids who struggled with reading start to become creative communicators.

Going Viral

As we approach week six of E-learning here in China, it is hard not to think about various ways we are using technology to enrich the learning experiences we offer to students. After considering the 15 Questions To Ask About Tech Integration In Your Classroom, right now we are constantly asking ourselves, “Will all students be able to access and leverage this tech?” Access is a huge issue when we are sharing video lessons and resources, particularly within China. We are currently relying on Microsoft office 365 platforms for much of our resource sharing, however, we have students who are scattered all around the world. For those students in China, we post videos on the Chinese video-sharing platform YouKu. For students outside China, the download speeds from SharePoint and slow buffering of videos from YouKu become barriers of access for some students. To help assuage this, I have started also uploading files to Google Drive and this seems to be helping. This requires me to be more organized and persistent. I am constantly searching for new ways we can share materials with students.

The biggest frustration for me is still the nagging question: Am I meeting my students’ needs? After listening to Sal Khan’s TED Talk, I believe I am finding some success.

I am spending a long time producing videos that, I hope, students are finding interesting. I think it is incredibly beneficial for them to see demonstrations as I explain and hear my voice so that they know we are still connected. They are able to pause videos and rewind when they need to clarify what has been said. I am still working on ways to support all students. I am concerned that language learners are struggling and I would welcome any ideas of how best to support them. I am also trying to figure out how I can do checks for understanding before students attempt a task I have set.

I have been holding meetings with students throughout the day. These video conferences have proven to be very successful by not only allowing students to ask face-to-face questions, but also giving students the opportunity to talk to each other. I have been really impressed with how polite my class has been, taking turns to talk to one another and asking if it’s okay to speak to one person directly. I believe the most important thing about these meetings is that it reminds students that they are still part of a learning community with peers who care about them.

4 Replies to “TECHnically speaking…”

  1. Hi Simon,
    I really connected with your blog post this week, as here in Vietnam we have also just completed 5 weeks of home learning/virtual learning. This 6th week we are heading into our spring break, which I am very grateful to say they have honoured.

    Anyways, the video and tech pieces spoke to me. We have been trying to keep tech limited to what the students already have experience with… even these things they are having issued with in the beginning (not all started right away, so this “beginning” for some of them was week 4 or 5). We ended up using loom.com to make our screencasting tutorials. As you said, having their own teacher’s familiar voice (and face) increases engagement levels, and I have definitely heard this before. Loom also lets us track the number of views, and students can comment with questions, etc.

    The other thing we have been doing is creating daily welcome videos. Now, as a techie, I have loved making videos since my middle school days… for the first two weeks, I was the producer, editor, etc. By week 3 I made my team do it. haha. Not only did I feel “over” making a video that felt the same every day, but my team needed some practice. And now after 5 weeks they have all had a lot of practice and are pros at using Clips! Our videos are more varied, and my team is having fun (I really don’t know what I would do without them around my table every day!)

    Sorry – long-winded comment, but one more thing! We have an EAL teacher specifically for our year group, so that helps us, but what he does is takes longer 1:1 video calls with the EAL kids. He walks them through the activities and really tries to make sure they know what they are doing/maybe even complete part of it with them. If there is time in your schedule, you could possibly do that?

  2. Hi Simon! I appreciated your post because I am working in Vietnam and in week 6 of online learning. One way we are able to do checks for understanding before students attempt a task is through Kahoot. They are offering premium access, which allows the teachers to see what questions students get correct and which ones they miss. We did this before a math assessment to see if the students were ready or not. I am wondering if you could also use Google Forms to do a quick assessment of students’ understanding. It might be a quick way to do it.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and ideas!

  3. J’s story is not too dissimilar from Salman Khan’s, whom I believe started Khan Academy to help out a cousin!

    I am conflicted, actually. I have examples from my own teaching that resonate with J’s. Kids want to be creators, especially now, where they already look up to so many Youtubers in the interests they geek out on. However, during our synchronous, online lessons, students are very reluctant to turn on their cameras. This means I, and everyone in that class, is looking at a bunch of grey squares instead of at each other. Any insights?

    We are having quite a bit of success, outside of the blank squares, with synchronous sessions over Microsoft Teams, part of the Office365 suite. Those get recorded and automatically subtitled, too. Are you guys using that as well? How goes it?

    We finish our quarantine on Saturday. Can’t wait! Hope all is well on your end!

    1. Hi Luiz! That’s awesome news that you’re out! Things are starting to feel far more normal now. We have Spring Break this week so it’s a good time to take stock and look back over the past seven weeks.

      I’m almost having the opposite experience where my students want to have their cameras on, however, due to internet speeds we’re unable to do so due to it affecting the call quality. We’ve been using Microsoft Teams too, one thing I’ve found to be successful is to have students share videos with one another. They can also record meetings with themselves and other students and share on Teams through Microsoft Stream.

      We’re now hoping to hear that we’ll reopen soon, although with all of the restrictions required we may still be a good few weeks out. What are you planning to do with your new-found freedom? I hope you’re doing well and you’ve been able to get outside!

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