Disrupting Class: A Reflection on Transforming Learning

VoiceThreadThis is a collaborative VoiceThread created in response to this article:
Disrupting Class: Student-Centric Education Is the Future
[I made my comments directly in the VoiceThread but wanted to put them here as well.]

This article has some very persuasive arguments, if not downright discouraging, about the state of our current educational landscape. As someone in this class mentioned in a previous discussion, and like many other similar articles, it uses scare tactics to make its point. It calls for a complete reform of learning, of education, of technology integration. I can’t debunk its persuasive arguments, and even agree with many of them. Yet, I wonder if there is a better way, something a little more balanced, a little more realistic. Or is that what vision is? More of a dream than reality?

I agree here when it says that the key to transforming technology is how it’s implemented, and here — that simply investing in expensive technology devices or software isn’t enough to move student learning forward. So what is the answer? I believe that while it’s complicated, it’s also possible — and it’s an effort we must continually support and fight for.

We need to use technology in strategic, measured, planned ways that allows students to learn the way they need to learn. We need to reach them on their terms and speak their language, which almost always involves some sort of social media format. We need to not be afraid to take risks, to try something new, to fail miserably and to try again. We need teachers that are willing to think outside the box, but to also be there for their students, both in a traditional sense and a digital one.

Maybe a complete transformation is needed, maybe not. Why don’t we start by doing a better job at the things we’re doing and continually looking for ways to bring our students along with us in this great world of learning.

Technology Outreach: Access Leadership Conference

Google presentation Link to presentation in Google Slides

What a week! Last weekend I was in Sydney presenting at and enjoying the Google Apps for Education Summit. I learned from edtech rock stars who are using Google Apps and other tools in brilliant and innovative ways to inspire teachers and students.

This weekend I find myself in Pokhara, Nepal, speaking at a leadership conference for 160 Nepali Youth. I was invited by NELTA to address these English Access Microscholarship Program students. My topic, “Creativity and Innovation: Leveraging Technology to Change YOUR World” was inspired by the three keynotes I heard at GAFE by Suan Yeo, Jim Sill, and Chris Bell. Thanks, guys!

I’ve worked with the Access students before, told countless stories of my experiences with them, presented in the Global Education Conference about them, and even had a feature article published about my efforts with them. They are dear to my heart, even though my time is limited and I’ve not been able to do as much as I would like.

These students have come for a 5-day conference from their various locations to be taught and inspired by educational leaders. For most of them, this is the first time they have left their home town/village, stayed in a hotel with friends, and met their counterparts. They are vibrant, happy, and having a great time, even though their days are long and packed full of activities.

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I brought my two oldest children along with me, and the students were so warm and accepting. I didn’t really see my 8-year-old daughter much, as she was adopted by several of the girls. These are such great kids, full of life, hope, and energy, despite coming from very limited circumstances. Through their efforts in learning not only English, but Western ideals and culture, and gaining the skills that come from true collaboration and hard work, they have an opportunity to change their lives and make a difference in their communities.

My goal of this presentation was to show how technology – when leveraged for good – can be a powerful tool to help them change their world. We may not be able to change the whole world, but we can change our own world. I showed several inspiring examples of people who have made a difference. I showed them some tools for learning (Khan Academy, YouTube EDU, MOOCs, Google Drive, Google art project, etc.) and encouraged them to use the Internet at their local cyber for learning. The Internet is an incredible leveler – anyone in the world has access to the same information as anyone else. True, not everyone has fancy tools or a personal computer or tablet. But anyone that can get online can tap into the wealth of knowledge out there. Knowledge is power – the question is, what will they (we) do with that power.

I wanted to open their minds  – to show that the Internet is for more than Facebook and YouTube, that social media can be a tremendous tool for good. They really don’t know what they’re missing.

I think my message got through. It’s truly a privelege to work with them and I am always the one who comes away humbled, honored, and inspired. I came away wanting to make a small difference in my own world. Hopefully, this weekend I have done that in some small way.

Oh, and at the last minute I decided to give away a nearly new Dell Streak 7 that my dad donated. I didn’t want to draw random names out of a hat: I wanted it to go to someone who would really appreciate it and use it for good. So, I had anyone interested write an essay. Here are a few quotes from the 22 responses:

How I Can Use Social Media to be a Global Citizen

  • “Social media are those media which not only helps to connect with one individual, society, or country but it includes or connects to whole world”
  • “I can search or explore new inventions about science and technology”
  • “Today our world is becoming narrower as it is a village because of social media”
  • “We can use Facebook for making new friends from different sides and corners of the world”
  • “The coolest thing about social media is its global nature for me. It’s great to go to bed and know people are communicating, opinions are being debated, and news is being created and shared.”
  • “Knowing that the world is full of decent, intelligent, caring people and being able to tap into this, the biggest pool of all, gives positive outlook indeed. We are moving from consumption to communication and co-creation.”
  • “We can upload our problems”
  • “When we share about our idea that idea will reads one/two person then after it will pass one to another and another to another. So, it will be provide everywhere. Then everybody knows our idea.”
  • “Social media helps us to know the world’s culture. For e.g. we Nepali don’t know about the Christmas Day. But the use of social media we know about Christmas. And it’s wonderful when we develop a vision of globalization of the human race.”
  • “We know the world’s culture by the help of social media”
  • “Someone say that every things have good or bad things, so as well as social media have both things. We have to follow good things and recognize bad things. So I want to say always use good part of social media and never use that bad things.”
  • “Through social media we can give information to others who are away from us”
  • “Through the Internet we can learn others cultures, religions, and we can be together.”

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The winner was a very appreciative and humble young man from Ghorka. Read his full essay here.

So, yes, it’s been a spectrum of a week – but a great one!

Relative Advantage Chart

If it ain’t broke…don’t fix it

This adage applies well to teachers and the use of technology. If a teacher wants to implement a new technology tool in the classroom, he/she must first determine if the students really need it. Basically, if the students are already learning what they need to and are achieving the desired outcome, then there is no need to make a change. However, if there is a need and a particular technology tool can help meet that need with an expected outcome, then it is advantageous to use that tool. Such factors are often charted in a relative advantage chart.

I designed the chart below for the students I volunteer teach: teenagers who are learning English. I teach computer skills and expose them to various technology tools. I write my own goals and objectives, as there is no set curriculum. Hence, I developed these ten learning problems based on my observations of them in class and the expected outcomes if they use these technology tools.

Link directly to Google document

Vision Statement

While the Declaration of Independence does not list “digital equality” as a basic human right, it is widely accepted today that in order to excel in the 21st century, one must have a certain level of digital fluency. The corollary is also true, that if one does not maintain a certain degree of digital connectivity and skills, he or she is less advantaged than those who do. This advantage or disadvantage applies to both education and the workplace, to developed and developing countries throughout the world.

Schools have both the opportunity and responsibility to teach students not only curriculum but life skills that will prepare them for their futures. This knowledge goes far beyond basic reading, writing, and arithmetic that may have sufficed years ago. Schools must also teach technology life skills that expose students to multimedia, life management, organization, collaboration, research, and other digital academic tools that will enrich their education and make them more competitive in their respective careers.

Teachers must seamlessly integrate various technology tools in the classroom. This technology can be anything from computers, DVD’s, iPads, interactive white boards, smart phones, software, Internet, document scanners, electronic music devices, to digital film and movie cameras. Edutopia states that the use of such technology tools must be “routine and transparent. Technology integration is achieved when a child or a teacher doesn’t stop to think that he or she is using a computer or researching via the Internet.”

The 2010 National Education Technology Plan Executive Summary calls for a “revolutionary transformation” (pg. 7) and that no matter whether the subject is English language arts, math, science, social studies, history, art or music, 21st-century competencies such as complex problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and multimedia communication should be woven throughout. Such competencies are necessary if students are to become expert learners and be able to adapt to the rapidly changing world throughout their lives (pg. 9).

Support Technology Integration in the Classroom:

Students
Real-world tools will create learning opportunities that allow students to grapple with real-world problems. This will give students opportunities that will prepare them to be more productive members of a globally competitive workforce (NETP, 2010, pg. 9). Students should take advantage of every opportunity to learn a new skill and gain exposure to various multimedia and digital tools available to them online and in the classroom.

Teachers
Technology-based assessments that combine cognitive skills with multimedia, interactivity, and connectivity will make it more feasible to directly assess these types of skills (NETP, 2010, pg. 9). While technology will (and should) never replace a great teacher, it will help teachers meet the individual needs of their students. Teachers should be given time, financial support, and professional development training to engage students by using current educational technology tools.

Parents
Parents should do everything within their power to make technology tools available to their children, realizing that by so doing they are greatly contributing to their child’s education. At the very least, this includes having a computer with Internet access in the home, or if financially unable, providing a way for students to use library, school, or other community resources. Parents should make every effort to learn basic technology skills themselves so as to be a resource and support for their children.

It will take an ongoing national team effort of administrators, policy makers, computer developers, corporations, districts, and local and federal governments to improve our children’s education. Using the best that technology has to offer in the classroom is a great start.

Success stories:

References:

Edutopia. (n.d.). What is technology integration? Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/technology-integration-guide-description

U.S. Department of Education. (2010) National Education Technology Plan 2010 Executive Summary. Retrieved from http://www.ed.gov/technology/netp-2010

Tech Use Plan Presentation

It’s extremely gratifying to reach the end of my first semester in the EdTech program. I have worked hard to successfully juggle three courses, and I am looking forward to a break. However, I must admit I’m rather sad to end EdTech 501. It has been such an enjoyable course with an excellent instructor and it’s made me excited for the remainder of the EdTech program.

Our final project is the presentation below. For the last few weeks I have been analyzing technology use planning and the components of a well crafted technology plan. For this final presentation, I worked with three group members to create a Google doc presentation that we narrated in Slideshare.

Two AECT standards were met during this assignment:
3.1 Media Utilization: the systematic use of resources for learning
For this assignment I used various resources for collaborative learning and sharing, including Google apps (docs, presentation, survey) and Slideshare.
5.4 Long-Range Planning: focuses on the organization as a whole is strategic planning….Long-range is usually defined as a future period of about three to five years or longer. During strategic planning, managers are trying to decide in the present what must be done to ensure organizational success in the future.
Long-range planning was a key component of this assignment. I was required to proactively think through the next 3-5 years and develop a plan accordingly. Technology committees are tasked with continually assessing the present and planning for the future. This is a crucial role in the overall success of the school or institution.

Horizon Report Tech Trend

Yesterday I was thrilled to discover that the ACCESS program I volunteer for is receiving a Kindle for their students. This is excellent news! They will be pre-loaded with U.S. based news, literature, and English-language instruction materials.  I’ve been asked to help train the students and teachers on how to effectively use this device. I was elated to volunteer my services and think the Kindle will be a wonderful tool for these students, most of whom have never owned a book of their own.

The funny thing is: I don’t own a Kindle. In fact, I’ve never even looked at one. I’m an iPad devotee, so I use it as an ebook reader. Now I have added incentive to purchase a Kindle, or at least become familiar with one. I have a hunch it won’t take me long to figure it out.

I’ve developed a lesson plan that will help me introduce this device to these students and their teachers. I’m not sure how to share a small handful of Kindles among a large class of students, but we’ll figure it out. One or two is better than none. These students come from underprivileged backgrounds and most have not used individual devices at all. The Kindle will open up a lot of doors for them, even if they can only use them while in class.

Since they are studying English, they will appreciate being able to look up definitions of words become familiar with American literature and newspapers.

In our EdTech 501 assignment forum this week, I made the following notes about ebook readers in general. I thought it would be useful to repost here:

1. E-books are significant in many ways and are becoming more widespread than ever. In 2010, they appeared on the mid-term horizon, but this year they were promoted to the One Year or Less horizon. This is in large part due, according to the Horizon Report 2011, to “the ready availability of both reading devices and digital content” that makes it “very easy to integrate electronic books into everyday portable computing” (HR 2011, pg. 8). In short, more people have devices that do more, thus making e-books more feasible and practical to incorporate into daily digital life. Tablets such as the iPad and Samsung Galaxy have blended the ability to browse the Web with electronic books, thus creating a “new class of tools” (HR 2011, pg. 8).

The Horizon Report 2011 points out that “the most interesting aspect of electronic books, however, is not the devices they are accessed with; it is not even the texts themselves. What makes electronic books a potentially transformative technology is the new kinds of reading experiences that they make possible. (HR 2011, pg. 8)” I found this so interesting, and it caused me to reflect on reading in general and how I interact with books. It also caused me to look at how my own children learn (by engaging with the material) and it is no surprise that electronic books can really make a difference in teaching and learning. They create a new world of possibility for everyone involved: students, teachers, and publishers. The sky is the limit with what can be accomplished. Reading is no longer a solitary, words-in-print experience. It can be a social, engaging, collaborative, and tactile adventure.

2. Electronic books are directly relevant to both teaching and learning. E-books are extremely practical. They are compact, lightweight, cost-efficient, don’t age or wear, and are continually current. Even still, in order to be fully integrated in the classroom, there are real challenges, especially in education. Scholarly texts, including textbooks, must be more readily available. The Horizon Report 2011 adds that digital rights management (DRM) issues and constraints need to be sorted out, and that e-books need to be made available on all platforms. (HR 2011, pg. 9)

Steven Johnson paints a fascinating picture in the New York Times about how reading has become, for better or worse, a social activity (NYT 18 June 2010). He uses the example of “popular highlights” found on e-reader devices that keep track of what others have highlighted and then highlight the same passage on your e-book as well. He says soon we’ll be able to message, see, and interact with those other readers too. This type of collaborative reading experience may not appeal to all readers, especially since reading is often about escaping in solitude. However, this approach in a classroom setting may just what students need to engage and interact with each other. Many kids who have been less inclined to enjoy reading, may find it a more stimulating activity.

I think it is an exciting direction, and it will be fun to see how electronic books evolve during the next few years.

References:

Johnson, L., Smith, R., Willis, H., Levine, A., and Haywood, K., (2011). The 2011 Horizon Report. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

Steven Johnson, The New York Times, 18 June 2010

Yet another benefit of technology

Last night we experienced an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal. It measured 6.9 at the epicenter about 150 miles away in Sikkam, India. While we were all ‘shaken up’ a bit, especially our four children, we suffered no bodily or property damage. I was reminded again of the positive and effective uses of technology in such scenarios. Of course, technology in the classroom is the main focus of the EdTech program, but technology in our daily lives is pretty great too. Here are a few examples:

  • Our earthquake alarm sounded about 15 seconds before we could feel the earth shake. Since our family had practiced drills recently, we knew to take cover.
  • Within minutes after the earthquake stopped, we were in radio communication with the embassy as accountability measures began and information relayed
  • Our Internet (which can barely survive a heavy monsoon rain) stayed functioning. Within minutes we notified our parents via email that we were OK. We updated our Facebook status. Ten minutes later, on the iPad we checked this amazing earthquake site for details on the quake so we could prepare for aftershocks (which thankfully didn’t reach us).
  • Since phones (land and mobile) were overloaded, we Skyped our neighbors to check on their status.
  • Today, the day after, we checked the newspaper headlines to learn any additional information and gain a better perspective of what happened.

Technology truly is a blessing that reaches into every aspect of our lives. I realize things would have been less functional in a more major disaster, but it was a reminder to me how many tools we have if we are able to utilize them.

At the end of the day, however, it’s having my husband and children safely sleeping next to me, that is the greatest blessing of all…