THINK before you leap

In a tiny corner of the Northwest United States their lives a creature so rare that few have ever come face to face with it. I refer, of course, to the Northwest Pacific Tree Octopus (Octopus Paxarbolis.) The reason for it being so endangered is due to pollution, destruction of its natural habitat, and the fact that it is a prized fashion accessory, adorning hats of the rich and famous. Thanks to the hard work of Kyle Zapato and his campaign to save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus there is a small chance that this creature may survive, that is if the remaining few are not devoured by their natural predators bald eagles and sasquatches. At least, this is what I tell my students before asking them to evaluate the website and check for reliability.

I love teaching this Brainpop lesson about website evaluation for two reasons. The first is that students get really excited when they realize that this is a hoax website and start compiling evidence that proves the information is not true. The second is that I find the conclusion to the lesson, the fact that there is misinformation online, really powerful and it’s always interesting to hear the students’ takeaways from this. They really start to question what they are seeing online.

Thinking prior to posting

The most widely used form of social media in China is WeChat. It’s used for everything from chatting with friends, paying for groceries, booking train tickets, and even dating. It perhaps comes as no surprise then that students cannot wait to get their own WeChat account and start hanging out with their friends online. One of the big ideas I try to push is that whatever you post online sticks around. We only need to look at celebrities who have had tweets come back to haunt them as to why students might want to avoid leaving this kind of smoking Gunn. Teaching the acronym T.H.I.N.K to students is an important part of digital literacy and something everyone needs to be aware of.

At this point, my question is how can I ensure students are THINKing before they post anything online? My students last year were an awesome group and I thought I had impressed upon the importance of using T.H.I.N.K before creating posts online. This year, however, temptation got the better of a few of them and they started “roasting” one of their peers online. Fortunately, the student who was being roasted did the right thing and let his teacher know and it was stopped before it could get any worse.

I don’t want to use scaremonger tactics and have them thinking that having an online presence is a terrible thing, but I also don’t want them to create posts that have a negative impact on others. Throughout this unit I am consistently coming back to the conclusion that students need to have more exposure to social media platforms as part of their digital literacy curriculum. Furthermore, I feel that the platforms they use in class should be the same platforms they are going to be using at home. By incorporating online realia into the classroom we can help students make good decisions online and help to keep them safe.

One way I am thinking of doing this came from reading Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture (John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.) In the article there is a mention of Byrd Middle school using a MySpace clone to create social media accounts for historical figures. I am already thinking of how this could be adapted next year to pair with our unit on biographies. This could potentially allow students to interact in character and let them role play different ways of responding online.

I think encouraging students to question what they see and hear is a start. Being able to evaluate sources for bias and going as far as to understand the differences between domain suffixes can help students gauge whether a source is reliable or not. We also need to allow students opportunity for experimentation, to make mistakes and be encouraged to learn from them. To me, I feel as though the classroom is the best place this can happen.

On a final note, as more schools are reopening what is everyone doing to continue to support students who are out of the country? I have three students who are unable to reenter China as they are not Chinese citizens. I am still setting work for them to complete with the rest of my team, however it feels a lot more like setting homework assignments rather than teaching. I talk to my students after school each day and try to give them feedback on their work as well as touch base with how they are doing. I have also been having students from my class call them and discuss work and strategies for solving maths questions. I am wondering if anyone else has had success with supporting students who cannot return to school for any reason after school has reopened?

Gone Phishing

Monty Python – Spam Song Lyrics

And now for something completely similar. After reading through all of the material this week and feeling rather self-congratulatory on how safe my personal data is, I got phished. On Friday morning I received an email that was posing as a co-worker asking for a “FAVOR.” Without thinking (or checking the email address) I responded straight away happy to help out this person in need. She then asked if I would send her some STEAM (online gaming platform) gift cards offering to reimburse me for my effort. I blame James Veitch for my response.

My remixed STEAM gift card
James Veitch TED talk on spamming the spammers

I quickly blocked the sender as I had more pressing things to get on with, however, it really made me realize just how easy it can be to fall for such an obvious scam. This is especially true when the email comes from, what appears to be, a coworker’s email account and even includes their email signature. My school’s tech director quickly sent out a message informing teachers of what SHOULD be done, including advice not to respond and to forward any emails to the technology department.

Lessons learned

I would not share my response to this particular spam email with my students, however, I do think it is important to make students aware of the fact that they will receive emails that will be directly attempting to steal their data or worse. As educators, we need to be explicit in our instruction on how to deal with fraudulent emails. Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture (John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation) warns of how having a “laissez faire approach … assumes children, on their own, can develop the ethical norms needed to cope with a complex and diverse social environment online.” Without having some strategies that they can implement independently, students are at risk of handing out their personal information. This Blog post by Chris Zook spells out some teaching suggestions for keeping Middle School students safe online. I would argue that many, if not all of these, can also be taught to elementary students in order to increase awareness of online safety.

Sharing Online

My school does not allow access to many forms of social media from student computers. This ban can be lifted by our technology department depending on whether teachers need access to specific sites. Until this unit I hadn’t ever really questioned this. It seemed logical in order to keep students “safe” and focused on class. I am staring to question this though. In the video I posted last week Henry Jenkins asked, “Why students are safer encountering social media on their own outside of the classroom, rather than entering into a space where there are knowledgable adults who can talk to them about safe and ethical use of technology.” When “Omeagle gate” hit the fan a few years ago it became abundantly clear that those students did not know how to protect themselves online. I talk to my students about safe use of digital media and how to guard themselves against cyber-theft. Now I am asking myself though if I am depriving students of the opportunity of gaining experience with forms of social media in a safe environment where they can have questions answered and receive help as needed.

Another element I am reflecting on is sharing student work online. My school doesn’t really have any formal guidelines for this so I sometimes question whether I have the right to do so or not? I know I can post work anonymously but does this take away from students as creators? I enjoy getting ideas from my PLN about ideas to incorporate into lesson plans, and it is always useful to see exemplars/ finished products that help bring lesson plans to life. My hesitation still comes from a respect of and desire to protect privacy, am I taking this too seriously?

Where does spam come from? Python are to blame. At least according to Business Insider.

And now for something….

I had just started to read an article titled, “The Real Cost of Tweeting About My Kids” as it had an intriguing subheading, “When I’ve told you what my son said, it’s not “his data” anymore.” Suddenly a notice popped up asking me to log in to support independent journalism. I clicked “Sign in with Google” and, pretty much on auto-pilot, didn’t think about what I had done until a few minutes later. I went to my Gmail and, sure enough, there was a message confirming my subscription to The New York Times. The first page of my email contains messages from Duolingo, REI, Asus Web Storage, Twitter, Code Academy, TES, and Kate at Twinkl. One of my big takeaways from this week is that I need to start really thinking about who I am sharing my data with and why. I want to try and encourage my students to think like this too. While logging in with Facebook or Google is convenient it allows access to personal information and data. I want to try and facilitate more opportunities for students to encounter situations such as this. My hope is to help them analyze what they are sharing, who they are sharing with, and to think critically about why they are being asked to share their data. I feel that the classroom setting is the perfect place to expose students to questions like this. An environment where they can feel safe and know they will be supported.

School’s back for summer!

I’ve had students back in class for a week now and I have to admit it has been wonderful to see them all. There has been a lot of work reestablishing routines, reflecting on successes, venting frustrations, and rebuilding our community. I’ve also taken the opportunity for a change in role next year. I have been a fourth grade teacher for the last three years however, as of next year I will be the lower school student support specialist. I am really excited about the change in position and continuing to work with a number of students who are currently in my class.

I talked with a few students today about their use of social media. We still have a few students who are stuck outside China and unable to reenter the country. Because of this many of my students are still logging into Microsoft Teams to catch up with each other. They spend a lot of time sharing Gifs and messing around with different fonts. There are even times when they talk about work and ask each other for help accessing files and folders online. Another popular social media app with students is TikTok. I had heard of this app but I had to research what it actually is used for.

My students told me that they use TikTok to create and share videos dancing or lip syncing to songs with each other. It’s great to hear about them being creators and admit to geeking out over a social media platform. Thinking back to when I was in school, this all feels a long way from monochromatic text messages sent from my Nokia 3310 or meeting up with friends on MSN messenger.

Classroom application

During the Global Read Aloud my class connected with a few classes in the United States. Students shared their thoughts, reflections, and predictions through the social media app FlipGrid. While we had some successes in linking up with other classes it was difficult for students to fully engage with the application. Some found that they could not log onto the website at home due to issues with their VPN while others never received a reply after sending messages to other students. This has, distance learning aside, been our only foray into using social media inside the classroom. In some ways we are limited, being in China, to which applications we can ask students to use. I am curious to hear about alternative apps that teachers have had success with in promoting social media use amongst students. Stephen Mosley lists 16 Ways Teachers Can Use Social Media in the Classroom and I can see some applications we could use here, particularly when it comes to showcasing student work.

Effects of Social Media on Students

I am constantly amazed by the sheer number of ways students are able to communicate with their friends online. From chatting in games such as Fortnite and Minecraft to sharing videos on YouTube, my students have a vast array of tools at their disposal. In her article Video games level up life skills, Kathryn Hulick reports how “Researchers in Scotland found that playing video games in a group can improve young adults’ communication skills.” After speaking to my students, however, a number of them report experiencing some form of verbal abuse when playing games online both with strangers and with their friends. I teach students the importance of being a good digital citizen and how to have positive interactions online. It often seems though that students want to try and push the boundaries and experiment with sending messages they know to be inappropriate to their friends or classmates.

It was refreshing then to read the NPR article Teen Girls Flip The Negative Script On Social Media. Stella Lau’s report on how some teenagers in the US are trying to create a more positive place online for teenage girls was inspiring to read as it shows just how much power our students can have online. As teachers though I feel it is our place to help students see that, “With great power comes great responsibility.” I know, and I apologize for the cliché, but one way I can see of doing this is by exposing students to social media in class. In his video, Henry Jenkins talks about the importance of incorporating social media into the classroom and how many teachers, of whom I admit to being one, shy away from using it in class.

Copyrights and wrongs

A few years ago someone stole my photos. Full disclosure, it happened on Facebook. Nonetheless, a “friend” reposted a collection of my photographs as one of their albums. In some ways, I suppose my ego should feel a little inflated by this, however, I have no delusions of grandeur when it comes to my ability as a photographer. Instead, I felt a little hurt that I didn’t receive any credit for my original photographs or at least a message asking if he could repost them.

A little skewed but that adds to the charm, right?

I always share this anecdote with students during our (now revamped) digital media unit when we explore a creator’s rights and responsibilities. Common Sense Media has an excellent lesson plan on this subject that serves as a great introduction to plagiarism and giving attribution. In the past, I had relied heavily on photos for class as photographs from this site come with attribution embedded. Moving forward, however, I want to start teaching students how to use advanced Google Image searches to help them find photographs that they can use and give attribution to.

In all honesty, I had never really considered the importance of giving attribution to internet resources until I participated in professional development by Project GLAD. At the end of this training, I and the other members of staff who completed the course were given access to GLAD’s resource bank. We were encouraged to share any resources that we created and given free access to other teacher’s work with the proviso that we give credit to the creator. At the time I was still very new to teaching and I remember thinking that I didn’t mind if people used my resources and didn’t give me attribution. My feelings towards this have changed over time though, now I feel that when I share a resource and sign my name to it I feel as though I should receive credit for it. This is a feeling I want to instill in students too.

Times are a-changing

As mentioned in Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture (John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation) “57 percent of teens who use the Internet – could be considered media creators.” I am very curious to see, after a few months of distance learning, how this number will change. I would expect to see a huge increase as students adapt to online platforms and start messing around with the tools at their disposal. Equally interesting will be how students perceive themselves as media creators. This census by Common Sense Media in 2015 found that teens felt as though they spent far more time consuming, as opposed to creating, media.

THE COMMON SENSE CENSUS: MEDIA USE BY TWEENS AND TEENS

I wonder if more students would now see themselves as media creators or if they simply see themselves as students completing work for their teacher? Over the past few weeks, my Fourth Grade students have been creating and sharing stop motion videos about the rock cycle. Using a combination of Stop Motion Studio and iMovie, the students have been sharing their videos with their classmates and giving each other tips during our daily meetings. Many have been inspired to make their own videos on subjects ranging from penalty shootouts to the woes of having a slow internet connection.

I would like my students to know that they are creators, directors, writers, and editors. As such they are the owners of their intellectual property. Nobody has the right to simply take their work and claim it as their own. As an addition to my unit plan, I think it will be important to look at remixing work and how this affects copyright.

My role

I think that schools have a huge responsibility in teaching students about ownership of intellectual property. Educators need to serve as role models for students in order to reinforce the importance of copyright. Last week I was called out by one of my students for a PowerPoint I created as none of the images had attribution. On the one hand, I felt a little embarrassed as he was completely right, however, on the other hand, I took this as a sign that my students were beginning to take action and apply their learning to the world. We need to ensure that schools are also modeling copyright protection even if the country the school is located in does not have strict copyright laws. I think this is important in order to dissuade students from plagiarising work, even unknowingly, not because it is illegal but because we want students to think for themselves and concentrate on developing their own skills.

End of Unit 1 Project – An Inquiry into how responsible use of digital media can enhance connections with others.

I chose to revamp my How We Organize Ourselves unit of inquiry for my COETAIL unit 1 final project. I really wanted to review this unit as I felt it connected with so many of the elements from course 1 and, although I was proud of what we achieved, I felt I could have done more to integrate more tech into our unit. It was this paired with my recent experiences of teaching distance learning that inspired me to revisit this unit. On the one hand, it’s a shame that I won’t have the opportunity to teach it until August. With the current uncertainty of when we’ll get back into the classroom, however, I feel as though this will mean I am able to get the new school year off to a tech-filled start. My unit plan can be found below and here.

Standards

The planner I used does not really have a space to include the ISTE standards. Seeing as my school is moving towards using them I wanted to include the standards that I have tried to incorporate into this unit below. I chose these standards as I felt they best fit this unit of inquiry and would benefit students most at the beginning of the year.

1cStudents use technology to seek feedback that informs and improves their practice and to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways.

1dStudents understand the fundamental concepts of technology operations, demonstrate the ability to choose, use and troubleshoot current technologies and are able to transfer their knowledge to explore emerging technologies.

2aStudents cultivate and manage their digital identity and reputation and are aware of the permanence of their actions in the digital world.

2bStudents engage in positive, safe, legal and ethical behavior when using technology, including social interactions online or when using networked devices.

2cStudents demonstrate an understanding of and respect for the rights and obligations of using and sharing intellectual property.

2dStudents manage their personal data to maintain digital privacy and security and are aware of data-collection technology used to track their navigation online.

3bStudents evaluate the accuracy, perspective, credibility and relevance of information, media, data or other resources.

5bStudents collect data or identify relevant data sets, use digital tools to analyze them, and represent data in various ways to facilitate problem-solving and decision-making.

Photo by sylvie charron on Unsplash

Differences from other units

I suppose the biggest difference between this unit and others I have designed is that I intentionally reviewed this with the aim of including as much authentic technology integration as I could. I kept the central idea and lines of inquiry the same, however, I really questioned how I could add technology without making it feel tacked on. I believe that by adding more tech integration I will see students make stronger connections to the central idea but also see students starting to take action even more than they have done this year.

Revamping

While the inclusion of the Common Sense Media units remains the same I wanted to try and extend many of the tasks so that students could have more experience with using technology. Much of the tasks students did after completing the Common Sense Media units earlier this year were done on paper. I found the Google training inspirational and felt G suite integration would be highly beneficial for students. Through the use of Google forms, for example, I believe students would feel more comfortable answering questions about cyberbullying. The addition of a collaboration with the Mandarin department was an idea I discussed after the unit was over this year. I think that by adding this, however, I would be in a stronger position to support language learners with some of the technical vocabulary of filming.

As students have been completing many of their tasks digitally over the past two months of e-learning it has become apparent that students are in need of an online portfolio. One of my objectives is to have students create and maintain an online e-portfolio for the whole year. If introduced at the start of the year I am anticipating there will be much geeking out as students learn how to customize their site.

Relating to course 1

I think my biggest take away from course one comes from Living with New Media  (John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation) and that is the necessity for giving students the opportunity to geek out and mess around with tech. I want to give students ample time to experiment and try out new things in a safe environment. My hope is that this will build students’ resilience when facing issues with technology and equip them with strategies they can implement independently. Once they have some skills in their toolbox I plan on giving students search quests where they can further hone their computer literacy skills while being supported by their peers. I also want to help students feel empowered through technology and give them a sense of ownership over their creations. This is something I really hope comes through over the year as they build their e-portfolio.

Outcomes

My biggest aim in terms of outcomes is to help students feel as though they are equipped to show resilience. I want them to feel confident in solving problems independently and know where to look for answers. I also, rather selfishly, hope to instill a love of creating and editing video in each of my students. I have hyperlinked the rubric I plan to use here as an adapted Summative Evaluation Rubric. I feel as though this would give students plenty of opportunities to find success and also to start learning about the importance of collaboration.

Taking Stock

Spring break has been moved forward by a week so it seems as though this is a good opportunity to reflect on things that have and haven’t worked during e-learning. As the rest of the world starts it feels strange to have been on the front lines, trying out a number of different ideas to keep students motivated and engaged. Some have been more successful than others but I am proud of what my team and my students have accomplished. On Friday my class had a reflection meeting where we took stock of our accomplishments and reflected on how had felt things had gone so far. It was good to hear the students’ perspectives on how they felt they had done, activities they had enjoyed, and what they would like to see more of when we return from the break.

Well that went well…

I began the first week of e-learning by assigning the students a summative task for the end of our unit of inquiry. The students had planned a migration story before the Chinese New Year vacation and so I set them the task of drafting and revising their work. The idea was that this would be a week-long process allowing for teacher feedback and guidance with the final product due at the end of the week. The first thing I realized was that distance learning is not like learning in the classroom. Students saw that the deadline was Friday and so the majority did their work on Friday. Looking back I now see the students needed additional scaffolding with a more gradual release of responsibility. If I were to do this again, I would begin by modeling the writing process through videos shared with the students. I would have written a paragraph collaboratively using the meeting feature on Microsoft Teams and then assigned students partners in the same time zone to work on a paragraph together. All of this would have been done before asking them to work independently. By aligning this task with Vygotsky’s gradual release of responsibility model I could have reduced student anxiety in addition to helping all students find success.

Image from wikipremed.com CC license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/legalcode

Strict deadlines are another thing that I found do not work with e-learning. I had students in different counties around the world who were unable to access material posted online at the same time as their peers. Flexibility and a focus on communication helped alleviate some of the pressure many students were feeling at the start of e-learning. I have observed that more students have started to reach out for help as the weeks have progressed and the majority of students have settled into a daily routine.

Access has been a recurring area of difficulty during e-learning. After attending the ACAMIS technology conference in October I was incredibly grateful for the toolkit I had at my disposal. I quickly found, however, that many websites were having issues that meant students could not view content from their homes. I had to work closely with my team to come up with solutions that would allow students to be able to access the materials we had posted each day. We posted files to Google Drive for students outside China and Microsoft’s One Drive for those here at home. We found that by posting videos to YouKu we were able to support students in China whose internet was too slow to download large MP4 files. Additionally, I quickly learned that I needed to test all websites using an internet connection without a VPN before asking students to use them. During the first week of e-learning, I forgot to do this and found that many of the websites I had posted to had restricted use for students in China. Perhaps the biggest take away though was that e-learning is not the time to be attempting to introduce students to new websites. They need to have had previous exposure and feel confident in navigating platforms in order to make the most use of it.

Success Stories

Microsoft Teams has been incredibly useful in allowing students to stay connected to the rest of their class. I have been holding daily meetings in the mornings and afternoons to connect with my class. I feel that building a learning community is one of the most important and best parts of teaching. I’m looking to Vygotsky again here but his theory on social learning has heavily influenced my pedagogy. One of the big questions I faced was how do I let students know that they are still part of 4B when they’re out of the classroom? Consistent video conferencing has been extremely helpful in helping me meet my own expectations. These meetings have followed a familiar formula each day where I explain the day’s tasks and schedule, answer questions and clearing any misconceptions students may have, and finally sharing stories or work from the previous day. Students reported they found these motivating and enjoyed the opportunity to meet online with their peers. The more experience they gained with Teams the more they began experimenting and building their own communities. Different chat groups started to spring up and the students had a place where they could talk to one another and feel connected again.

For students with ESOL needs, I felt it important to try and talk over the phone every day in small groups so that they could maintain their conversational English. By doing this I have found that students quickly grew in confidence when speaking over video chat. After the third or fourth session, many of these students felt more comfortable in joining meetings with other members of our class and began asking me for help independently when they needed it.

One of the benefits of students being at home is that they had access to their personal devices. This allowed for a great deal of tech integration into every single day. Students regularly used PowerPoint to create presentations and share their understanding with others. A number of students have been creating videos and a few have started to edit them to add music or titles with iMovie. I had the students create a Leap Year detector in Scratch that they could use to test whether years from the past were or weren’t leap years which helped to round off a maths unit. My team also managed to have the students take part in a virtual field trip, exploring the galleries of an art museum. All of which has helped the students stay motivated and excited about learning.

My own experience

It’s incredible just how much extra work e-learning is compared to being in the classroom with the students. The thought that needs to be put into every assignment as to whether students will understand directions or they will know what to do if they’re stuck can feel overwhelming at times. My experiences with COETAIL have helped me see things from my student’s perspective. Many of them are taking extra online classes in addition to the work set by me and they are finding it hard to find balance. It’s something I have found difficult too but I am slowly finding it easier and getting back to feeling grounded. We still have some time with distance learning ahead of us, however, we have started to hear rumors that we may hear of updates regarding school reopenings soon. Things are starting to feel more like they are getting back to normal here so I think it’s good for all educators to know that there is an end to this. I asked if I was meeting the needs of my students in a previous blog post. I’m not sure I’m quite ready to answer that question yet but I am proud of all I have achieved over the last seven weeks and it’s amazing to read and hear the experiences of other teachers going through the same thing.

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.

King of the who?

When I told my girlfriend about the skill I want to work on for the next few weeks the eye roll I received was audible. As she walked away laughing I could have sworn she asked me why I had to be such a nerd. Now, I don’t mind this as I embrace my geeky side, as those of you who have read my blog posts have probably already guessed, however, it did make me second guess what my action plan was going to revolve around. I also started to think about what it would be like to receive this feedback if I were a student and how it would have affected my confidence.

As we move into our fifth week of e-learning Mimi Ito’s video really struck a chord with me. I received a message from a concerned parent last week that some students had started their own chat group on Microsoft Teams. Her worry was that this group would distract her daughter from her studies and prevent her from making progress. It was interesting to hear someone confirm my feelings that these online interactions were important, even more so currently as students have no other way of hanging out at the moment. Ito’s comment on how “kids are not really welcoming of adults in the friendship driven space” really rang true. A lot of students are having a tough time at home as they don’t have their regular friendship driven spaces where they can let of steam. Instead, they are sat in front of a screen all-day feeling, ironically, disconnected. They need to have a place to meet up with their friends and let off steam away from teachers and parents or, at the very least, a place where what they say isn’t being scrutinized.

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

Providing a space for geeking out

One of the benefits e-learning is having is that it is forcing my students to incorporate more tech into their daily routines. I was shocked when, during our unit of inquiry into online responsibilities, students completed a journal tracking their use of new media. Man7 of the students in my class informed me that they had strict limitations of what they used and how often. That seems fairly reasonable for a group of Fourth Grade students, however, what shocked me was the revelation of just how few students had regular access to a computer or even a tablet. This was eyeopening for me and it gave me the motivation to give students a crash course in how to use a few different pieces of software.

One of the applications I taught the students how to use was Microsoft Teams. As a provocation students had to work collaboratively with students from another class to create a PowerPoint. The catch was, however, they could only use Teams to communicate as our classrooms were on opposite sides of the school. The students are now using Teams every day to communicate with me and each other and I feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to give my students the time to get comfortable with some facets of online communication before it was forced upon them.

Connected Learning an agenda for research and design talks about the ” tremendous potential of new media for advancing learning.” In many ways, we are seeing this in action right now. It is not necessarily how I would prefer to be having the students experience new media, however, I have been impressed with their adaptability and willingness to give it their all. My hope, once we return to normality, is that my students, and their parents, start to take note of the benefits of their new media literacy skills. It will be interesting to hear their reflections once we get back into the classroom and I am looking forward to the opportunity to share some of my own.

Finding a balance

Despite many of the benefits I feel that e-learning is having one thing I am currently struggling with is finding an appropriate balance. I have students who come online throughout the day in a staggered fashion due to many still being outside China. This is tough because I want to make myself available for them to help answer questions they may have, however, the reality is that this means I am spending upwards of 12 hours a day in front of my computer. I am finding it difficult to hold meetings online, answer emails, provide feedback, plan, prep, and find time for myself. I would welcome any other educator’s approaches or advice they have about finding that balance. Talking to my teaching team it seems as though we are all in the same boat and, while we are working collaboratively to plan and prepare lessons, we are finding it difficult to maintain the appropriate balance. If you are teaching through e-learning, what are you doing to maintain a healthy balance for you and your students?

A sea of plastic

In the interest of maintaining my sanity during this time I recently chose to research hobbies that would give me a break from staring at a screen. I started talking to a friend of mine from the UK about hobbies we had as kids and we started geeking out over Games Workshop. I remembered the small plastic Eldar army that I collected and painted when I was younger. Sadly, however, I had the artistic talent of a damp towel so my miniatures looked pretty sad when they took up position on a tabletop. I am 25 years older though now and, after a few clicks on the internet, I discovered it would be very easy to jump back into the hobby. Would I do it though?

Feet First

My order of tiny plastic components JUST arrived in time for this blog post. I am feeling slightly overwhelmed looking at all of the different components on the sprue so I have decided to create an action plan on learning how to paint this collection of Space Marines. I have done some prior research on what the steps are when I paint these but I haven’t tried any model painting since I was about 12 years old.

March 2nd – March 5th I will assemble the 20 odd assortment of “The Emperors Finest” and glue them together.

March 6th – March 8th I will start priming and undercoating my miniatures which, as I am lead to believe, is a very important step in making the models look their best.

March 9th – March 12th I will apply the base coat to the models.

March 13th – March 16th I will be applying oils and washes to the models to help build shadows and brings out detail in recesses.

March 17th – March 20th I will be adding highlights and drybrushing the models to brings out texture details.

Seeing dates and a timeline in front of me makes this endeavor feel very manageable. Kaufman talked about the 20-hour rule in his Ted-X speech The first 20 hours — how to learn anything and I feel that I definitely have the opportunity to learn some new skills as I wade through this box of diminutive Star Warriors (I love Chinese translations) and start trying to build my painting prowess. I will not be alone on this journey, however. I have already started to research “How to” guides on YouTube and I am starting to look up different hobbyists on Twitter with a plan to post some pictures and get some feedback. I will be posting updates as we move through the next few weeks and, hopefully, showing how some of my skills are developing.

Doing this has made me appreciate how students must feel when given a Summative assessment. Just breaking down the steps and seeing the timeline in front of me, however, made me feel immediately more relaxed and confident that this is something I can do. I sometimes feel that this blog is making me out to be King of the Nerds. I’m not sure I am quite there yet, however, I suppose it’s something to aspire to.

Still Searching…

Photo by Drew Graham on Unsplash

Kids are smart. They are also curious. This allows us, as educators, to tap into their imagination and present problems that they will enjoy solving. It also means that they will ask one another questions and learn from each other becoming some of the best resources that they will ever need. There are times, however, when that curiosity can get the better of a student and lead them down a dangerous path. I refer, of course, to Omeglegate 2016.

Omegle is an online chat service where the tagline is, “Chat with strangers online.” I think you can see where this is heading. Our students’ enthusiasm got the better of them and they were soon hanging out on this platform. Students researched, independently, how to clear their web browsing history, how to enter incognito mode, and how to use multi-touch gestures on their Mac Books. As it turns out they were hanging out on this platform during class times, sometimes with each other and sometimes with strangers. Things came to a head when a student approached our tech director and said that someone had been sending them “strange messages” meant for another student. It soon came to light that students had been sharing tips with one another on how to access this site, how to make sure teachers wouldn’t notice, and how to hang out virtually instead of doing work. To cut a long story short the students were all unharmed but this presented a serious problem to the faculty. How had this happened and what did we need to do to ensure it did not happen again?

What do I want my students to know?

I want my students to be able to access the internet safely and know how to get to what they are looking for. As Unicef’s Children in a Digital World notes we need to be aware of what students are able to access online.

“Even as ICT has made it easier to share
knowledge and collaborate, so, too, has it
made it easier to produce, distribute and
share sexually explicit material and other
illegal content that exploits and abuses
children. “

We had no idea that students were using the technology provided by the school to put themselves in a potentially dangerous situation. This was eyeopening to me that I needed to start my own research into what I wanted students to know. I couldn’t wait for research to just come to me, I needed to get out and find information for myself.

I am lucky, I am going to digress briefly, in that I have always been a nerd. From playing tabletop games of Warhammer 40,000 to hanging out in MMORPGs such as WOW (I was there when vanilla WOW was just WOW). I have needed to use the internet as a research tool. When I don’t know how to do something, I Google it. In the past week alone I have learned how to add a timer to an Imovie project, how to print selected pages from a PDF document, and how to compress video files using handbrake. I love having the opportunity to geek out as part of my job.

I couldn’t be passive about letting information come to me because I needed to start implementing changes immediately. One of the first websites my research led to was Common Sense Media and I have found their resources on digital citizenship to be invaluable. This was my second year using their resources to help build a unit of inquiry into how to be a responsible digital citizen. A huge part of this unit centers around how to stay safe online and how to evaluate web resources for reliability. Common sense media is also a great tool to recommend to parents as they can conduct their own research into the movies, games, and books that their children are interested in.

One thing that really came out of Omeglegate was that I realized that students know a lot more about social media than I do. As I confessed in my last post I am somewhat of a lurker (soon to be reformed.) I now know that I need to keep up on the latest digital trends and apps so that I am aware of how students are using technology. As technology continues to evolve it feels as there is no end to the number of different methods of communication we have available to us. Many of my students enjoy hanging out on Roblox. I had never heard of this game until last year but there are 178 million accounts on it and I class myself as a “gamer.”

As the Living with New Media article points out “hanging out together in a game is important when friends are spread across time and space.” Right now there are many of my students who are waiting to come home to China due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Games are one place that allows them to stay in contact with one another especially if they do not have access to other forms of social media. In his Ted Talk, Herman Narula talks about video games and the power they have in connecting people.

Keeping it (Dis)organized

One area I need to work on now is keeping all of my research in one place. In the past, I sent myself emails. A lot of emails. When I found a resource online I would put the topic into the subject line and then send the link to myself. Then when I needed to find the materials I would search through my inbox and voila, they would appear. Sometimes though I’d like to play tricks on myself. I’d send emails to myself with subject lines such as, “Random Stuff.” I do this for the same reason I write “Misc” on every box when I move house, I think I’ll just remember what was in it when I see it. This is one area I need to work on, I had not thought of using Padlet as an organization tool so starting there seems like a good idea. I promise to try and give it a more inspiring name than “Research” though.

What we do in the shadows

I have a nickname in my family. It was given to me by my niece who, at the time, was 3 years old. My nickname is “Lurker.” The reason behind the nickname is simple. One summer day, my niece got back from Trader Joes, turned to her grandmother and said, “I’m going to go and find Simon. He’s usually lurking around here somewhere.” Lucky me, the nickname stuck. Now I’m not sure if she had my Twitter handle, or if she looked up my Reddit ID and realized I have made a grand total of zero posts since joining. She had me pegged though, my name is Simon Dobson and I am a lurker.

My excuse has always been one of caution, “I’ll just wait until I understand how to use this newfangled doohickey and then I, oh yes I will, be unstoppable in my posts. I shall become a posting machine churning out enthralling comments that shall make the masses laugh and weep in equal measure.” This reality is yet to materialize, perhaps if I stepped out of the shadows and actually became a contributor, or even a creator, I would stand a chance.

After reading, What does it mean to disconnect? (Utecht) I realized I currently spend all of my time online consuming media. I’ve always been proud to part of the 99% up until this moment. Now I am left questioning who I am online. If only 1% of people who view content on the internet are actually creating it then it stands to reason that we are incredibly limited in our digital consumption. I really appreciate what Utecht says about the importance of “Creating creators” in our students. It’s a principle I strongly believe in and a keystone of my personal pedagogy. This article, however, has made me think about how I need to lead my students by example. They all have the confidence to share their creations with me, their peers, and their families so why don’t I? I am quickly coming to the realization that it’s time to step out of the shadows and become part of the 1%.

The 80/20 rule or Pareto Principle mentioned by Utecht is an interesting concept. I had the chance to witness this first-hand in my computer programming class. The students were working with Microbits and Sam Labs tools. They began by following the directions given to them each week to learn the basics of coding. Quickly though there was a splinter group formed of roughly 20% of the students. They started to “Geek out” over what we were learning. They began to ask if they could spend more time working on their own creations and trying to figure out as a team how to create things such as a coffee machine. As the Living with New Media (John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation) article suggested these interactions were “highly social.” They did research online, asked teachers for help, and worked with one another to share their knowledge quickly becoming experts amongst their peers. These young creators could not wait to share their learning with others. I was reminded of Sugata Mitra’s TED talk on children teaching themselves.

Our students have the motivation to work with and teach one another skills they learn both digitally and offline. They are proud to demonstrate their learning and their creations with each other in ways that they can take charge of. It is time for me to do the same. I am looking forward to emerging from the shadows and sharing my creations with the COETAIL community and others. My first step came a few weeks ago with my first blog post shared on Twitter. This is my second step and my pledge, I promise to stop just lurking and to become a contributor and creator. I might need some help along the way but it seems as though I have already have some folks I can look to for guidance.