Sunday, January 30, 2011

Education in a Connected World

In our last class’ presentation, Dr. Glen Gatin ‘s "Education in a Connected World" many interesting ideas were brought up.  We discussed the following terms:
1)  Constructivism - building on what we already know with new knowledge to construct our new reality.  Scaffolding is the role of the teacher in this model.  Our goal here is to foster independent learning.
2)  Constructionism - learning occurs when you actually make something.  This can be as simple as writing notes, as long as the act has meaning and anchors the learning. Our blog posts are, therefore, artifacts of our learning.
3)  Connectivism - the learning doesn’t just happen in the constructions you make, but also in the connections you make: twitter, PLNs, etc.  You can get an answer from your network.
Connectivism is the idea I thought was really interesting, because today we have so much information available to us that it can become white noise.  It is also hard to know what sources you can trust.  And you know that if we are having difficulty with this then our students will be even more overwhelmed.  Then there is the issue of how that connectedness is a double edge sword and how we need to protect students and teach our students how to protect themselves from the dangers that exist from us all being so easily accessible online today.  
With that in mind the two most relevant skills of the moment are filtering (finding and evaluating online information) and figuring out how to connect to the right people.  Today information’s quality ranks somewhere behind how fast it is put out and how easily it is found.  Rumours get reported with no thought to their truthfulness, and once something is out there and people have consumed it, it takes on a life of its own.  
What we can do as teachers is gently lead them into the murky waters of the Internet and through scaffolding and modeling teacher critical skills and online etiquette.  Some ways we can do this is small online groups for the class where assignments can be posted and uploaded, as well as discussion boards to continue learning outside the class.  Another thing I picked up from the presentation was ‘asynchronous classes’ which are classes that happen at different times(not occurring at the same time).  His class happens online through wikis because many of the students live far out of town and cannot make it into a classroom regularly.  So there is no physical classroom, just the online classroom he and his students have created.  This would not work in a grade school setting, but elements of this could really enhance student learning if the boundaries of the classroom where extended in a similar way for the students.  In this way, students could follow their interests and share what they learn with the class in a way that is both novel for the students and easy for the teacher, especially since it wouldn’t take up any class time.
I also liked the analogy that the Internet is a fire hose, spraying information.  There is good, bad, and dangerous information coming out of it and it is our responsibility as teachers to pass on tools and skills so our students can navigate the Internet.  Glen mentioned that too much of what is put out today is, as he called it, FUD: Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt.  These are the marketing tools for everything from underarm deodorant to political candidates.   We don’t want our students to be led by those that produce fear, but rather to become thinking students with a critical eye.  

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Social Media in the Classroom

In today’s presentation we talked about social media in the classroom.  This is interesting because it seems like social media is everywhere today, but how can we, as teachers, take advantage of the benefits available with social media, without subjecting our classes to the evils of it.  The idea that we could use something like facebook or twitter to have a constant connection with our students, and them to each other, would be greatly beneficial.  Students would not only pool their resources by using these social medias, but also learn an important skill: collaboration.  I found a link that discusses how social media was used at a university in the US, with positive results:

While this is at the university level, I think the same results could easily be achieved in any high school.  Kids are online anyways, we might as well provide them with some productive outlets online there.
I liked the point our presenter made about how using twitter can help with writing, because with only 140 characters at their disposal, students will be forced to focus in on exactly what they want to say in order to express it in the most concise way possible.

An ancillary benefit of social media in the classroom could be teaching students online etiquette as I think we can all recognize the need for that in today’s online world.  As teachers we could patrol and give feedback to re-enforce good online behaviour and properly deal with bad online behaviour.

I realize that this was given in class(, but I thought I’d highlight a couple of the points I thought were the most interesting to me (as an aspiring English teacher):
#1 - Make literature real. Have students create a Facebook page for a character from literature you are studying
I really liked this idea because it allows students with a lot of license for creativity and is a fun option to typical essays and tests.

#6 - Connect with other classrooms. Collaborate with another classroom, no matter where they are in the world, to expand learning opportunities.
This could really open the class up to new ideas, and expand any lesson in a multitude of ways.

#18 - Tweet famous conversations. Have students tweet imagined conversations between famous literary figures such as Romeo and Juliet, Sherlock Holmes and Watson, or Dante and Beatrice.
Again, this breaks through the norm and gives students a fun alternative.

#26 - Use Twitter to teach journalism. Have students use Twitter to report news in 140 characters or less to practice communicating important information succinctly.
I mentioned this one near the top and I think it could really help student evolve as writers.

#27 - Answer questions. Be available for answering students’ questions via a Facebook page or Twitter feed.
This is a good option because you could have the whole class helping each other out.

#40 - Post homework. Teachers can post homework assignments through Facebook to provide easy access for students and to put the assignment and due date in writing.
With this there could never be any excuses over misunderstood or forgotten homework.

#41 - Classmate connections. No matter the size of your class, having all the students on a social media outlet brings them all together.
The benefit here is that students wouldn’t be tied to there regular clinics and could develop productive working relationships with classmates they aren’t usually eager to spend time with.

#51 - Share book reviews. Students can post their book reviews for the instructor to grade and other students to read on a class Facebook page, or try tweeting a 140-character book review on Twitter.
With this everyone could help improve students work by offering productive feedback.

#53 - Poll the class. Use polls as an interactive teaching tool in class using the Poll app for Facebook or PollDaddy for Twitter.
In an English class you could take the temperature of the class as to how interested they are in a particular novel, and in that way judge if it is something you want to continue teaching in the future.  And you could have fun with it, having students vote on scenarios from the novel or about characters.

#65 - Blog. Create a community blog and share it on Facebook to tell what your class is learning and doing.
Just as we are doing in this class, students could use blogs as journals to accompany the work they are doing in class.  We all love reflections!

I think it is pretty apparent that this is where classes are headed, and I say all the better.  Students will be more attentive, involved, and enthusiastic for our classes when we can incorporate social medias into the classroom.  Not only will this help them to learn, but it should make our jobs easier as well.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Web-Based Courses (WBCs)

Last class we had another speaker come in, this time to speak to us about Web-Based Courses (WBCs).  We learned that there is a variety of way a class can be conducted:
- face to face teaching (f2f)
- IITV or Web Conferencing - 2 way video and audio (modified f2f)
- Web-Based Course Option (WBC) - teacher guided - cannot see students
- Teacher Mediated Option
- Independent Study Option (ISO) - tutor marker - no teacher interaction
But the best models tend to use blended approaches (absolute best: f2f combined with online instruction - allows for both types of learning styles to happen)

The history about how these Web-Based Courses began in Manitoba is that smaller rural schools couldn’t always offer the classes that their students wanted to take, so to help fix this schools began what is called ‘seat sharing.’  Which is basically swapping students from one school to another, for a class that is not available at their regular school.  Add the technological advancements and the affordability of the technology and you have the birth WBCs.

Currently in Manitoba three learning options are supported: WBC, Teacher Mediated option, and ISO.  

We were asked to brainstorm on two questions:
Who needs web based courses? and How might they be used to support student learning?
Some of the answers for the first one, who needs WBC?, were:
- Athletes - missing a lot of school
- Advanced Placement students - courses not offered
- rural students - courses/teachers not available
- students with exceptionalities

For the second question, How might they be used to support student learning?, we got:
- students interested in alternative methods of learning and earning credits
- resolve timetabling issues/provide flexibility
- implementation of new curricula/courses
- students use WBCs to fill in some gaps  -> enrichment or remedial
- preparing students for lifelong learning
- teacher availability, especially in specialized areas

Overall, we learned a lot about how this is an ever evolving section of Manitoba’s educational plan.  These courses have come a long way, and still likely have a ways to go.  But they are here to stay and should be embraced by teachers as they will really help students to get the learning they require and help fill in the gaps that the ridged face-to-face classroom setting can’t always cover in a satisfying way.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


PLN's are personal learning networks that educators can use to develop resources and colleagues within their field to help them become better teachers and to stay up-to-date with all the current trends, both in education and technology.  So teachers can become a part of a network of teachers and share their ideas, lessons, units, strategies, etc, etc.

PLN's are important because it is otherwise too easy for teachers to stick their heads in the ground and not develop any new skills or changing with the times.  Which their students surely will.  I was very impressed with what I saw just searching around during this presentation and I can see how this can be a very helpful resource.  There are whole lesson and unit plans available and there really seems to be a sharing of teaching tools out there for us.  For these reasons PLN's are important as teaching can become a solo venture in some cases.  In a smaller school, you could be the only teacher of your subject.  Generating your own ideas can only take you so far, but pooling your ideas with others of a similar (or different) subject area can only make you a better teacher.  This falls into the theory of social constructionism, where consciousness develops in a social context.  Meaning the group is not only bigger (or in this case better) than any one individual, but it is also bigger (better) than the total sum of its parts.  Which is interesting to consider because that is how a classroom should ideally run.

There are numerous ways to get started on your own PLN.  The first step is joining some of the online tools available, such as blogs, Ning, social bookmarking (like delicious), WIKIS, or twitter.  Then start sharing your ideas, and seeking out those with ideas that interest you and adding them to your network and building on it from there.