From Print to Pixel: 2015 Annual Speak Up Report

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(Student flyer created by Speak Up, found at  http://www.tomorrow.org/speakup/pdfs/10things_students2015.pdf)

Project Tomorrow is an education nonprofit that conducts national research projects through their Speak Up  program. Reading through their 2015 Annual Report, From Print to Pixel: The role of videos, games, animations and simulations within K-12 educationyou get a really good sense of the digital future that education is already on the path towards. After surveying roughly 416,000 K-12 students, 40,000 teachers and librarians, 5,000 administrators, and 40,000 parents from over 7,600 schools and 2,600 districts from across the country, this report presents the major digital trends in education. I do not think that it is overly dramatic or empty rhetoric when they say that:

It is now time to understand that this move from a predominant print-based delivery system in education to new learning environments such as those where videos, games, animations and simulations are increasingly the norm for both teachers and students, is both evolutionary and advantageous.

How will this affect my teaching? It is invaluable to know what the norms and expectations are as set by both administrators and students. School principals were asked, “What are the primary benefits of using more digital content within instruction at your school? ” and they responded that it a) increases student engagement in school and learning (80 percent); b) extends learning beyond the school day (69 percent); c) provides a way for instruction to be personalized for each student (60 percent); d) increases the relevancy and quality of instructional materials (60 percent); and e) improves teachers’ skills with technology (51%). Overall, 84% of principals said that they believe effective use of technology is important for student success.

What’s more interesting, when asked what the barriers are to implementing effective technology in the classroom, 57% of principals cited lack of teacher training as their top barrier. Moreover, principals have really high expectations for new teachers, as 76% want new teachers to be fluent in using technology to differentiate instruction and 68% said that they want new teachers to be fluent in using technology to create authentic learning opportunities for students prior to being hired to teach at their school. That is a lot higher than I would have thought. And these opinions now represent the majority of school principals. So, being fluent in educational digital tools may not be 100% crucial to finding a job as a teacher next year, but I certainly cannot take the topic lightly. If I do find a job teaching, I think the value of staying up to date and trained on effective technology resources is obvious, as I certainly do not want my lack of training to ever be perceived as a barrier to student learning by my administration.

What’s even more interesting is that student norms and perceptions truly are changing. When asked to identify the reasons as to why they felt watching online videos is a good way to learn, students had this to say:

1. I can watch it as many times as I need to (61%)

2. Makes it easier to understand difficult concepts (55%)

3. Connects what I am learning to the real world (54%)

4. Fits my learning style (53%)

5. Easy to find videos to help with schoolwork and easy to access on mobile devices (53%)

6. More engaging and keeps my attention (48%)

The majority of students now perceive genuine benefits to online instruction. Beyond that, elementary students especially perceive playing a digital game as a normal way to learn (taken from page 7 of the report):

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If the writing on the wall about the future of technology in education was not clear before, it certainly is now. If this is how students want to learn and how they expect to learn, it would be a disservice to them to hold on to other ways of instruction simply because that is how I learned.

Ultimately, though, I think the challenge as a future teacher will be to find ways to effectively incorporate technology into the classroom. Moreover, I hope to never become complacent in any of my methods and strategies and to always want to search for new tools that will help me be a better teacher.

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Five Myths About Classroom Technology

After reading Rebecca Recco’s article, Five Myths About Classroom Technology (And What To Do, Instead), on EdSurge, I saw the article as a pretty good summarization of a lot of the ideas that we have been exploring and debating in ED 554. I think the myths that “Technology fixes all of your or your students’ problems” and “Technology leads to student success– just look at the data!” get back to the ideas we discussed a few weeks ago when debating how to bridge the digital divide, that technology in the classroom can only be effective when it is underpinned by sound educational objectives and appropriate guidance. I think her points about “Educational gaming improves student achievement” and “Technology is less meaningful than traditional learning” gets at the SAMR model and the article we read a few weeks ago regarding what the role of technology should be in a classroom versus that of a teacher. And, of course, the myth that “Technology is dangerous, so we have to limit access to everything” gets back to the point about teaching digital citizenship and Internet safety to students.

I generally agreed with her views, but, I also really agree with my classmate, Abbey, whose discussion on her class blog perfectly encapsulates my opinions about the need for students to nail down the thinking that happens on the lower end of Bloom’s cognitive taxonomy model before they can get to the higher order thinking and how effective the drill/kill, point-and-click online games that Recco disparages can be for that.

Moreover, I think there is another dimension to all of this, the full spectrum of instructional purposes that technology should be able to serve in a classroom:

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This is a taken from page 11 of “Teachers Know Best,” a publication from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which surveyed teachers about what they want from classroom technology that was released back in 2014. I think Recco’s idea that the “best” learning experiences in a classroom “involve student-led creating, exploring, and sharing” is not always going to be true, and it is far too simplistic an approach. Should it be in the mix? Of course! No debate there. But have you ever seen a kid level up in one of those drill/kill online games because they finally mastered a really tough math concept? Please do not say that that is not a legitimate, authentic, solid learning experience or that that is not a legitimate, authentic, solid use of technology in a classroom.

Learning has to happen at all levels of Bloom’s cognitive taxonomy. A student will never be able to create anything online if they have not practiced and mastered their fine motor skills with point-and-click programs. Saying it should all be creative and one big game of Minecraft fails to address the full array of skills and instructional purposes and benefits that teachers and students need from digital tools.

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Role of the Teacher in the 21st Century

After reading the Atlantic article “The Deconstruction of the K-12 Teacher” by Michael Godsey from March 25, 2015, I was honestly confused as to what all of the fuss is about. I came from an educational system where a lot of my classroom learning, especially at the high school level, did look kind of like this, an image taken from Sugata Mitra’s TED Talk:

Untitled.pngExcept that we were all sat round books instead of computers. But book or computer, both are just carriers of information. My best teachers, whether they consciously knew it or not, acted as the facilitator to our learning rather than the imparter of the knowledge. My 10th grade art history teacher was a summa cum laude master’s graduate in art history from Harvard and even he did not stand up and lecture us on what the meaning of every piece of art was. Every class he showed us nothing but slides and demonstrated for us the way that art historians analyze art. He taught us how to ask good questions that would lead us to understanding. How to pull in history and philosophy and the context of an artist’s life to try to understand what they were expressing and why. He made us familiar with the language that art historians use in their discussions. At the end of the day, he was a facilitator, but I could not have learned anything without his guidance. Never in a million years could I have sat in front of an image and figure out on my own the process of inquiry or how to pull in concepts from other subjects that I was learning to make sense of what I was seeing. Someone had to help me unlock that capability.

So, when Michael Godsey says, “The relatively recent emergence of the Internet, and the ever-increasing ease of access to web, has unmistakably usurped the teacher from the former role as dictator of subject content,” I think he is a little off the mark and that the Internet is a bit of a red herring in this situation. Teachers should never have thought of themselves as the “dictator of subject content” in the first place. One of my favorite books is “How to Read a Book” by Mortimer J. Adler, which was first published in 1940 by Simon and Schuster. In 1940, Adler wrote on page 60:

The teacher is simply a better student, and he should regard himself as learning from the masters along with his young charges…He should not masquerade as one who knows and can teach by virtue of his original discoveries. The primary sources of his own knowledge should be the primary sources of learning for his students, and such a teacher functions honestly only if he does not aggrandize himself by coming between great books and their young readers. He should not “come between” as a nonconductor, but he should come between as a mediator- as one who helps the less competent make more effective contacts with the best minds.

So, replace “books” with “Internet” in the paragraph above. The Internet is a new piece of technology, but this role of a teacher as a facilitator that Godsey discusses is hardly new or frightening. Moreover, a lot of the technology is just a replacement for the old. I think the best way to master concepts in math is by practice. We used to do that on worksheets or by doing the problems at the end of each chapter. Why not sit students down in front of a computer and have them do practice problems at Khan Academy?  Worksheet or online, it is all still practice. And why shouldn’t students have access to more practice problems and more targeted, more thorough practice problems at Khan Academy?

Ultimately, I think computers can replace teachers in some regards. Why not use a resource on the Internet for direct instruction? Why not use the Internet for access to practice problems and for access to primary sources? But the learning that happens at the higher levels of Bloom’s cognitive taxonomy– I think we are far off from having technology replace a living human as a guide and model. Again, I reference Adler from page 50 in “How to Read a Book” :

With respect to all the knowledge we gain by discovery, a live teacher can perform only one function. He can obviously not teach us that knowledge, for then we would not gain it by discovery. He can only teach us the art of discovery, that is, tell us how to do research, how to observe and think in the process of finding things out.

This is what a teacher should always be, first and foremost. This is what a teacher should have always been, regardless of any technological advances. And I do not believe that a live human will be replaced by a piece of technology in that role anytime soon. A teacher should be someone who points students to good sources of information. Who encourages students to practice that information. Who models metacognition and what thinking at the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy looks like. Children need help in turning the key to unlock their cognitive capabilities. Technology can certainly help, but it cannot wholly replace a good teacher in doing so.

 

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Technology and Equity

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(Image taken from: https://learning.mozilla.org/web-literacy/)

In 2011, the United Nations declared in Report A.HRC.17.27 access to the Internet as a human right:

85. Given that the Internet has become an indispensable tool for realizing a range of human rights, combating inequality, and accelerating development and human progress, ensuring universal access to the Internet should be a priority for all States. Each State should thus develop a concrete and effective policy, in consultation with individuals from all sections of society, including the private sector and relevant Government ministries, to make the Internet widely available, accessible and affordable to all segments of population.

I remember when they released this report, but I never realized until now that the report concludes with this point:

88. States should include Internet literacy skills in school curricula, and support similar learning modules outside of schools. In addition to basic skills training, modules should clarify the benefits of accessing information online, and of responsibly contributing information. Training can also help individuals learn how to protect themselves against harmful content, and explain the potential consequences of revealing private information on the Internet.

And I think these two points perfectly encapsulate what is at the heart of the “digital divide”: everyone needs access, but just giving everyone access is hardly enough (there are very few magic bullets in this world, especially in education). Once everyone has access, you then need to educate everyone on how to effectively and responsibly use the Internet and technology.

As a future teacher, I think there are concrete things we can actually do to help bridge the divide:

  1. Like Michael Mills mentions in his talk (above), if schools do not provide the technology, you let students bring their own technology into the classroom. This just seems like good common sense to me. Shutting students out from Internet access is like shutting out their access to books.
  2. Michael Mills also makes the point that access to technology in the classroom should be bound by instructional objectives, as that is how you get students to engage with the technology effectively and responsibly. I read over Doug Belshaw’s post on Web Literacy a few weeks ago for class and I saw the updated version created by a community on Mozilla here (and pictured at the top of this post). I like this model because I think it breaks this giant abstract concept into bite-size, more manageable, concrete pieces. And I think it does a good job in representing the many different kinds of skills that students will need to use the Internet effectively and responsibly.
  3. We should provide some direct instruction to our elementary school students on how to gain Internet skills, especially those that relate to the “Read” section in the Mozilla model. Someone had to teach me how to open up a card catalog and search for reference books. Someone then had to teach me how to open up those reference books to the table of contents and index and think of key words that would lead me to pertinent information. Shouldn’t we be doing the same thing for teaching students how to use Google? Isn’t Google, in a way, just one big card catalog?
  4. We have to try to recognize any bias, consciously fight any bias, and ultimately encourage all skills in whomever we see them. Like Kimberly Bryant of Black Girls Code mentions in her discussion here, we have to encourage those who are currently underrepresented in the fields of math and science to get into those fields, and we ought to start that encouragement as soon as possible. I grew up in a school system where my gender, my ethnicity, and any other personal characteristic was not perceived as a barrier to anything. I always took this for granted but realize now what a privilege that was. And this treatment should not be a privilege.

We of course have a long way to go in bridging the digital divide in education. But there are small steps that I think teachers can do that could truly make a difference.

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TED Talk: Digital Literacies

I recently watched a few TED talks for class– I finally saw Salman Khan himself give a discussion about Khan Academy and the impact of videos on student learning– but I also watched Doug Belshaw discuss digital literacy, that is to say, digital literacies. I chose this TED talk specifically because I think this idea is at the very heart of the many ideas and discussions in ED 554. What exactly does “digital literacy” even mean? How do you teach this sort of thing? Moreover, his TED talk spoke to an experience that I recently had while doing in-class observation hours for another course that I am currently taking.

Earlier this summer, I had the opportunity to observe an amazing teacher over at T.C. Williams Minnie Howard Campus who works with students with various learning disabilities. I got the opportunity to work with one of her students on his biology project, writing a report about three different animals from three different classes. This student had a really hard time, though, figuring out how to pick animals from different classes. He kept picking three mammals. He got so frustrated, he walked out of the classroom. And I realized that his frustration stemmed partly from the fact that, in learning differently, he may have a hard time knowing how to attack his work. But then I realized that his struggle may also have stemmed from the fact that he did not know how to perform fundamental research on Wikipedia. And then I realized, had he known how to perform basic research functions on Wikipedia, he would inherently have had a better understanding of how to complete his project. Watching this teenager, who was on his Chromebook nonstop completing online homework assignments and finding music videos, I pegged him as “digitally literate.” But that did not mean he could breakdown a Wikipedia page or search for helpful information on Google.

And that is what Belshaw’s talk gets at: there is not one digital literacy that we are all aiming for. Belshaw argues that there are different kinds of digital literacies, and he gives this for a basic framework (image pulled directly from his TED Talk):

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How digitally literate someone is depends entirely on the context. He argues that digital literacy is a condition and not a threshold. Becoming digitally literate in different ways cannot be learned in a linear fashion. And the practices of the literacies are in constant flux because the technology itself is always changing. Moreover, he puts “remix” at the center of the literacies because he believes that personal engagement and the reworking  and sharing of what is out there in the digital world is what makes the digital world so amazing. He does effectively argue that engaging in the digital world “affects your identity.” As he explains, “every time you are given a new tool, it gives you a different way of impacting upon the world. The medium is always going to be part of the message.” I visited Belshaw’s website and he presents an updated version of web literacy that I thought was worth reading through.

I found Belshaw’s TED talk overall pulled together really well a lot of ideas we have been discussing in class. And I really like the updated web literacy map currently on Belshaw’s site because, in breaking these literacies down, I could begin to wrap my head around this massive concept. It makes the idea of teaching digital literacies less daunting.

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Exploring Podcasts

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When I first moved to DC, I used to metro every day from Dunn Loring to Dupont Circle. Listening to downloaded podcasts on my 5G iPod was the only way that I survived my commute. Until now, though, I had never taken time to consider podcasts for their value in the sphere of education or think about how they might contribute to my professional development as a teacher. However, I recently listened to several episodes of “An EdTech Minute” on the Bam! Radio Network and was pleasantly surprised by what this podcast offers.

What particularly attracted me to “An EdTech Minute” is the fact that it focuses on ways that technology can be incorporated into the classroom and that it delivers its content in bite-size pieces. What I found most helpful were the reviews that the hosts give for the many digital resources and teaching tools out there, which, as a novice to all of this (teaching, being more tech-savvy, and incorporating being more tech-savvy into teaching), I really appreciate. I listened to several episodes, like the one about “Kahoot,” a digital classroom response system that is a way to “gamify” your classroom quizzes or discussions. I appreciated the reviewer’s honest opinion about whether a teacher could (or could not) actually integrate using this site into a classroom and the best ways to do so. I also liked the fact that, when my professor actually mentioned Kahoot in class the other night, I, for practically the first time, knew what he was talking about.

Listening to this podcast made me peruse the podcast section in iTunes for other education related podcasts and have so far really enjoyed “The Educators” from BBC Radio 4. I also have the “Educate” podcast from APM Reports queued up and am looking forward to this episode in particular. Will I consider using podcasts for my professional development as a teacher? Yes, but that may be because I have always enjoyed listening to them and it seems like a natural progression for me to turn to this medium for learning more about topics in education. I think the main challenge is finding the podcasts that are out there among the countless that share information I personally find interesting and well produced (and therefore, I think, more engaging), that share information that can indeed meaningfully contribute towards my professional development.

Thinking about podcasts in education also had me thinking about using podcasts as a teaching tool. I think you have to be a little creative in incorporating them into your curriculum and you have to work with students who would not miss the visuals. But there is just so much useful info out there from Grammar Girl and RadioLab and Stuff You Missed in History Class and so many others that I think it would be worth trying. And maybe a creative high school kid in some class would like exploring storytelling through podcasting, maybe even younger kids. Overall, I think this medium still offers a lot of positives, you just have to be open to exploring them and making them meaningful to you in your own personal way.

 

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Exploring Infographics!

After the course PowerPoint on effective presentations and visual representation resources, I decided to try making my own infographic using a site called Vennage. This took a surprisingly large amount of time. The information shared below comes from one of my textbooks, the 8th edition of Effective Teaching Methods: Research-Based Practice by Gary Borich.

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