The possibilities of distance learning…

As we have seen through this week’s presentation on online learning tools, there are numerous tools available to educators to connect their learners online. With that, the question that often comes into play is how do we decide what to use? When to use it? Does it benefit my teaching? In this blog post I will go through some different tools I used in the past to support my blended learning environments that I offer to my students. 

In a previous blog post, I mentioned that being a new teacher, I often rely on online tools to support my teaching as I do not have all of the information needed to be able to lecture about certain curricular topics. As we have seen throughout the past weeks, this form of teaching is becoming popular and using technology in the classroom is helpful to support the learning of your students and support them in preparing for their future. I currently am teaching in a in-person classroom where my students have access to Chromebooks that we share with other classrooms, with that in mind we do not always have access to this technology and a lot of the tools that I use online are planned to be shared either through a projector, or in a small group scenario. Using LMS such as Google Classroom has allowed me to share my lessons easily with students, and the students also are able to complete assignments through this platform as well. I love this management system as everything my Grade 7 students need is right at their fingertips. They need a link to a video, I can post it as material. They need to create a slideshow for an inquiry project, they are able to connect it right with my assignment description and I can always see their progress. We need to meet on a Google Meet, the link is open and ready to be used. In the field of middle school education Google Classroom has been a great place to teach students different online tools and how they can represent their work in an organized and teacher guided way. The idea of Learning Management Systems (LMS) is supported by Tony Bates when they state that a “LMS provides an online teaching environment, where content can be organized, as well as providing ‘spaces’ for learning objectives, students activities, assignments, and discussion forums.” However, what would this look like if I was completely online? 

As mentioned above, I do not teach in an online/remote setting, thus, the way I use YouTube videos, websites and LMS tools may look very different than if I only taught online. I think that I would still stick with an LMS tool and keep it simple. Working with middle school students they do know a lot about technology, however, it would be important to keep it organized and simple to ensure they know where to access the information. I would continue using Google Classroom that is something I am comfortable with, allows my students to connect everything to, and is supported by our division. With that being said, the layout of my day I believe would look much different. For example; my in-person lessons usually all begin with a mini lesson with me at the front either going through some kind of slide show, examples on the board, and discussion with the class, we then fall into a practice formatting where the students have the opportunity to go and practice and apply either in small groups or individually depending on the task at hand. Most of my lessons fall under the gradual release of responsibility “I do, We do, You do” model. When thinking about what my instruction would look like in an online format, I would maybe have to rethink how the lessons would look. The approach I follow with in-person teaching allows for ample time for questions, conversation, and observation of my students to ensure they are understanding the concepts before I let them work on their own, however, if I were to do this same approach online I would be concerned that I may not get the same feedback as I do in the classroom as body language is a lot harder to read. Instead, I would maybe consider following a flipped classroom approach. The flipped classroom looks at the idea that the “lecture” is done at home, and the “homework” is done in class to provide students with the opportunity to ask questions, and work with the support of a teacher. Now this formatting doesn’t always have the best feedback with full in-person classes, however, I believe it would have some benefits in a full distance learning atmosphere. The flipped classroom online would have the students work through a video of the lesson (for example dividing decimals) and then when they would come to the Google Meet would be the students time to work. This would allow the students and teacher to work through examples together, students have a chance to ask questions and teachers to gain an idea of where their students are at with the learning at hand. It would take me some trial and error to ensure I was able to reach the students, but that is the same as all classrooms. 

When thinking about teaching completely online or through distance learning here are some apps/tools I believe I would utilize to ensure I was sufficiently teaching: 

So… Should I reconsider my productivity suite?

Starting my career amidst a global pandemic made me turn to productivity suites very fast. I needed a tool that I could easily access from different places, that my students could access from home, and something that was easy for parents to navigate. That is when I turned to Google Classroom to support students who were in the classroom and who were home sick. Through Google Classroom I was able to post my lesson slides, worksheets, interactive online activities, etc. I quickly fell in love with Google Classroom for its ease in use and that my students were able to access anything they needed in a one stop shop. However, after this week’s presentation, I think it may be time to be more critical and understand the implications of using these productivity tools. 

As seen in this week’s presentation, productivity suites have been around for awhile and continuously adapt and change to the digital age that we are in. This is supported in this article as they state that productivity suites have been around since 1988 when the first email server was created. From this, there have been more advancements occurring to these suites and as stated in this week’s presentation, the suites have hit the education field. 

As I mentioned above, I have used Google Classroom a lot in my teaching, primarily in Grades 5-8. What I love about Google Classroom is I can create an assignment and create a Google Doc for each student that is ready to go. I can also track their work and how far they are with the assignment and then turn and mark it right on the same platform. This allows for ease for the students as they are not worrying about having to share it with me through email, and for sure keeps my email a lot less full! One thing I found missing with Google Classroom was that home to school connection. Sometimes students found it difficult to log in to their accounts on home computers using their school emails, and also there is no built in space to communicate with family members. When working in other grades I have also used the platform SeeSaw. This was not discussed much throughout the class, however, it was a great platform to communicate with families, and assign little activities that the students could complete both in the classroom and at home. I used SeeSaw when teaching grade 3 and younger as I found the activities more suitable for that age group. One aspect that was nice about SeeSaw is the younger students only have to scan a QR code and select their name to access their account instead of logging on with an email and password. The set up was also communicated and connected with their families as they also signed up for the class account. These two platforms have been my favorite to work with and I have had great response from both the students and families when using these platforms. A new platform that my division has been working with for the past two years is Edsby. Edsby is another platform that allows teachers to connect with home, post to their gradebook, and work on Report Cards. Teachers also have the opportunity to post information to their forum page that parents and students can see content. One thing I am still trying to figure out with Edsby is to easily teach my students how they can add their assignments to me to be marked. Edsby is still missing that LMS formatting to easily do this with younger students. Overall, I really enjoy using all of these different platforms and it depends which grade I am in to decide what platform I use year to year. 

However, like all forms of teaching, there are some problems I ran into with these platforms that have made it difficult. The biggest struggle I am facing specifically this year is students and households no longer have computers or laptops at their homes, but instead rely on their mobile devices. This makes sense for a lot of things like paying bills, sending emails, etc. Can all be done from your cell phone, however, these different platforms, specifically Google Classroom is not easily accessible through a small screen. This creates a barrier for some students to complete assignments at home as they do not have the same access to technology and again reinforces the digital divide. We still are also facing the students who do not have access to any technology at home, which again makes it challenging when all of the other students are able to access the extra practice for the test and that one student can not. I am still finding myself ensuring that I have paper copies of these assignments to ensure all students are able to complete the work in ways that best fit their situations.

As mentioned above, I use Google Classroom lots in my classroom, it allows students to work on assignments easily both in groups and individually, and keeps the tracking of assignments effortless for teachers. However, now that I am teaching grade 7 I am starting to see some impacts that this technology may be having on my students. I like to assign inquiry projects to support my students in learning different curricular content as it usually allows them to pinpoint areas of interest and show their learning and understanding in different ways. However, I am beginning to see that there may be an overreliance and decrease of critical thinking coming from these projects. Now don’t get me wrong, it could be the age because we all know what Middle Years can look like! But all too often I am answering questions like “the blurb that first popped up didn’t give me the answer, there must not be an answer” or “why would I do this if I can just google the answer” or “why do I have to make this project about ______ topic when someone online has already done it.” In the article “Decreasing Creativity in Elementary School Students During Online Learning Transition” the authors supplied the graphic you see here, and state that through the transition to online and blended learning, students are learning to rely on just copy and pasting their work instead of critically analyzing and ensuring they have understood the content they are learning. With that, I am becoming a little worried about my classroom maybe being over reliant on technology specifically, the online world and these different platforms as it may be too easy for students to not use their creativity skills or critical thinking skills as they are just given the answer right away. I find it difficult at times to have these conversations with students because when they just want to jump and get the answer right away, it doesn’t always teach them the overarching skill of problem-solving and communicating with their peers to find out the answer. They are having trouble making inferences and reading between the lines because they are so used to being able to just find the answer out. 

Retrieved from: ResearchGate

At the end of class this week, we began discussing the ethical implications that these productivity suites entail. This article then went further to state that through using Google as a young student, those students will eventually get older and need a platform when they hit higher education and more often just stick with Google programs because that is what they know. This consumerism idea takes over, and we as teachers are essentially reinforcing it through the resources we have available to use and the lessons and skills we are teaching our students. With that in mind, I am curious to hear some responses. How do we get away from these ethical and privacy red flags? Is there a platform out there that ensures our students’ data is secure?

Why do I still feel guilty about using YouTube in my lessons?

“Can you shut the door before the video plays?” This question often came out of my mouth before I started a YouTube video to support my lesson. My first contract was 4 years ago in a grade 5 classroom, the other grade 5 teacher and grade 4 teacher have been in their classrooms for 20 years and they had ample knowledge of the curriculum that was to be taught. Me on the other hand, was still reviewing the night before long division steps to ensure I taught these steps correctly! The use of AV technologies four years ago was nothing new, I had nothing to hide when I used a video or website to support my teaching, however, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit of shame everytime I leaned to one of these sources to support my lessons. That is until I noticed how my students were responding to my lessons, their eyes lit up when we reviewed a math lesson with Math with Mr. J, or were beyond engaged when I changed up my regular pen and paper morning work to completing a question using MentiMeter. These small changes made a world of a difference to the engagement and understanding my students gained. 

I then flashback to my school days, AV technologies as we know from this article, have been around since the 19th century, however our teachers still stated the use of online research, or Bill Nye the Science Guy as an extra time activity, instead of using it to support their lessons. As mentioned in the article “The Evolution of Audio-Visual Media” the writers state “audio-visual media has proven to be a powerful educational tool. In classrooms, audio-visual content helps to make learning more engaging and interactive” So why do we not use it to our benefit? Why do we as teachers not openly adapt and change to these AV technologies? Why does it take years to start seeing what they have to offer? That is where the quote from Postman comes into play: 

“…We know that Sesame Street encourages children to love school only if school is like “Sesame Street.” Which is to say, we now know that “Sesame Street” undermines what the traditional idea of schooling represents” 

I had to sit on this quote for a while prior to writing this blog post, mainly because I was trying to wrap my head around what Postman was saying, and how that applied to my own teaching. As I am writing this blog post today, I am still unsure if I have come to fully understand this quote, however, I am able to apply some ideas to it. A word that really sticks out to me in this quote is “undermines” after doing a quick Google search for a definition that undermines is “lessen the effectiveness, power, or ability” of something previously done. To go further, some synonyms they suggested for this word included: sabotage, threaten, weaken, etc. I have a hard time with this quote however, because Postman is essentially stating with their wording that Sesame Street is making the world of teaching obsolete. However, after the presentation this past week, along with my understanding of Audio-Visual Technology in the classroom I would challenge this quote and state maybe instead of “undermine,” we can see AV technologies as a way to “enhance,” “amplify,” or “strengthen” the traditional idea of schooling. Without a doubt, we live in a digital age, our students are immersed in technology and their futures in some shape or form will more than likely require them to be able to use the online world to support them, it may be time to redefine “traditional” schooling. 

This idea of using AV to support or strengthen the education system is supported by the article “Transform Education: The Role of AV Technology in Classrooms.” The article states “gone are the days of passive lectures and monotonous textbooks; with the integration of AV technology, educators can now deliver interactive, multimedia-rich lessons that captivate students’ attention and foster deeper understanding.” This article goes further to discuss many benefits of the use of AV technologies in the classroom including real-time feedback, enhanced engagement, visualizing abstract concepts, collaborative learning spaces, inclusivity and much more. With that, it is evident the many opportunities AV technology has to support the enhancement of the traditional classroom, and with the right tools and training teachers can begin implementing these into their classroom. 

When I talk about the use of technology in the classroom with my coworkers, I find there is a huge barrier for them to want to try. Whether that be out of fear, denial, or their personal beliefs around technology. I believe these emotions stem from years of teaching and becoming comfortable in the way things were always done. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m sure one day I will be the veteran teaching scared of change, however, with simple reminders that the overhead projector, the whiteboard, and the use of the radio are all forms of AV technologies that they use in their classrooms, they begin to see how even from when they began teaching much has evolved. 

In conclusion, exploring new AV technologies can be a daunting task to introduce into the classroom, especially when your students may at times know more about that technology then you do yourself. However, reminding yourself that through the use of audio and visual teaching forms reach diverse learners, I believe the benefits outweigh the risks. 

I look forward to hearing from all of you around your thoughts about AV technology and how it can “enhance” the traditional view of schooling. 

Putting Theory into Practice:

I was first introduced to the different learning theories in my undergraduate studies and since then continue to find these conversations so interesting. From first learning these theories over 5 years ago, to now exploring and diving deeper into understanding them, it is interesting to reflect on how I use these different theories in my classroom. 

Just to begin, I found this great visual, along with a quick blog to summarize these different theories. When reviewing this graphic, and reflecting on our class discussion, it becomes evident that in some shape or form, we as educators use all of these different learning theories throughout our teaching day whether that be consciously or unconsciously. However, as we explored further in class, we can see how some theories are becoming outdated, and maybe a new spin needs to happen to ensure we are providing our students with an authentic learning opportunity. 

So how do I use these different theories in my own practice? 

Let’s start with behaviorism. As our discussion in class, and from the graphic above, we see the theory of behaviorism often through our classroom management strategies and repetition learning. In Chapter 2.3 Objectivism and Behaviorism, the text states “behaviorism, with its emphasis on rewards and punishment as drivers of learning, and on pre-defined and measurable outcomes” creates a structured learning environment where students are able to succeed and receive immediate praise for their actions. I think of my classroom management when I think about the positive and negative reinforcement. Something that has worked well this year in specifically teaching my own Physical Education classes is I do a countdown for the students to be in their spots for instructions. At the beginning of the year I started my countdown and while I counted down I also gave verbal instructions on my expectations, they also would no longer hear our music playing. If the students get to their assigned spots before I hit zero they are “home free” where as if they do not make it they often get a negative reinforcement in the turn of a workout move (burpees, pushups, situps, etc.) for however many extra seconds it took them.  As the year went on we continued to practice this procedure over and over with me giving verbal and hand cues to them. Now in January the students have associated with the music off what their job is to the point that I can countdown in a whisper voice. It works great in the gymnasium and also transfers well to the classroom. When reflecting on Skinner’s theory and approach, I still see these approaches as filling in the blanks and multiple choice questions in some of my exams, but specifically I see them in the CAT testing that my grade 7s do. I try not to turn to these forms of learning as much in my daily instruction as I often find the answers I receive to be vague and I do not get a good read on what the students actually understand. 

The next theory I want to dive into being Cognitivism. As outlined in Chapter 2.4, the cognitivism approach would focus on “teaching learners how to learn, on developing stronger or new mental processes for future learning, and on developing deeper and constantly changing understanding of concepts and ideas.”  This idea reflects well with Bloom’s Taxonomy and the understanding that we can gain knowledge in a variety of different ways. When I think of the cognitivist theory of learning, I think of the wording in our curriculum. In the chapter, the authors state cognitive approaches to learning have a focus on “comprehension, abstraction, analysis, synthesis, generalization, evaluation, decision-making, problem-solving, and creative thinking,” when viewing the curriculum, no matter the grade level these key words pop up many times. The goal, as outlined by our Saskatchewan Curriculum, is to teach and support students to comprehend, respond, interpret, understand, analyze, create, experiment, set and achieve goals. When comparing the language of this learning theory, and the outcomes teachers are mandated to teach, it becomes very clear the goal of education. Is to build students’ knowledge around certain topics, through different themes and subjects. So then is there a problem with the cognitivist approach? As mentioned above, I do think that there is a time and a place for these learning theories. When it comes to the cognitivist approach, we are looking at students as being on an assembly line, we teach them new content, they practice it, they put it in the back of their mind and it may stay there and maybe one day it will resurface. There is little room for interpretation and inquiry in this theory and often leaves the students conforming to the understandings of what the textbook taught them instead of having their own individual thoughts and conceptualizing and understanding those new topics. What becomes tricky with my classroom instruction in using this approach is I will have students fall through the cracks, whether it be because they are uninterested in the topic, or have difficulty in the way they have to complete certain tasks. With that, when referring back to our curriculum, I have yet to find a way to teach subjects such as mathematics, English Language Arts, and other subjects without relying on this theory. As our curriculum is layed out, a lot of what is deemed as “important” learning topics, often follow this approach which in turn sometimes make it difficult for teachers to branch past these rote memorization, lectures, and right and wrong answers. 

The last theory I want to look into on this blog is the constructivist theory. As outlined in Chapter 2.5 constructivists “believe that learning is a constant dynamic process” and that understanding becomes deeper throughout time. The chapter goes on further to state “constructivist teachers place a strong emphasis on learners developing personal meaning through reflection, analysis, and the gradual build of layers or depths of knowledge.” In my experience in both an early years setting and now a middle years classroom, the lessons and learning activities I plan that follow this theory through personal experience and exploration have been the most successful. My younger students were able to self explore and be comfortable with trying new things, whereas my middle years students were open to taking risks, picking something that engaged them in the learning and in the end created the best products to showcase their understanding. As I am just entering my fourth year of teaching, little by little I am trying to find new and engaging ways to apply this form of learning into the classroom and showcase myself as the facilitator instead of the teacher, however, as mentioned above it is sometimes harder than it should be to do this. I know as I become more confident in the grade level I am teaching, the more flexible I will become with having my students reach the different outcomes that they are supposed to. However, through giving students the opportunity to do genius hour projects, and doing inquiry projects related to big themes it is evident that this form of learning and then learning from their peers is beneficial. 

It is good to still be cautious and critical

One article this week made me think critically about my own teaching practice and how I am introducing these inquiry projects to my students. In the article Tales of the Undead…Learning Theories: The Learning Pyramid the author stated “a librarian might decide to implement a peer coaching activity because the pyramid says teaching others is the best way to remember something, but if the students don’t have the appropriate knowledge, they will probably just end up confusing each other.” This quote stuck out to me because I think that my students just know how to do inquiry projects, or use technology in the best way because they have grown up with it, however, when diving into these guided projects it is crucial we still give our students the tools for them to be successful. Throwing them into the deep end without the background knowledge will not support their understanding or their peers. With that being said, trailing back to the beginning of this blog post, there is a time and place for these learning theories, a time to discuss, to present, to ask questions, and to create. A good combination of them all I believe will support our students gaining a strong understanding of a variety of different learning objectives. 

Left with a question
In the chapter reading this week, as well as my first picture, they brought up the theory of Connectivism. After reading the chapter and reflecting on your teaching practice do you feel you bring in this theory? 

What is Educational Technology?

This week’s discussion around educational technology opened my eyes to what it used to look like and the overall definition of what educational technology is. I grew up in the digital age of the internet, computer labs, All The Right Type classes, and using computers as a form of research instead of relying solely on the books in the library. With that, it is tricky for me to think that educational technology can be much more than that. When thinking about our discussions and conversations we had in the class, we discussed how the evolution of the chalkboard and pen and paper work was a form of educational technology. The idea that textbooks and different ways to gather knowledge was also an evolution of how education was viewed. Tony Bates in his chapter “A short history of educational technology” dated all the way back to oral communication being the first form of teaching and learning. The idea that storytelling was the way information was shared and learned, and the learners needed to rely on memorization skills and their own oral communication to then continue passing this information along. As we all know education has changed largely from this form of teaching and learning, and every little new advancement that came after oral communication could in turn be considered “educational technology.” With that, when I try to put educational technology into a definition, one could look at it as a series of advancements that change and support teaching and learning. That is a quite broad definition, but educational technology in itself is quite broad.  

Now to reflect back to my own view of educational technology in the modern day, I really see the idea of technology having a large role when computers began to be used more and more for teaching. I specifically remember in school around grade 9 being introduced to research on the computers and typing up our first essays. Then moving up in the grades, seeing the use of Smartboards, and doing classes online through video recorded options with a camera pointing at the teacher while he taught the students in his class. Looking back on it, even these technology sources could be seen as quite outdated compared to what we have available to us now. In a previous ed tech class I have taken we looked at the SAMR model of educational technology, this model breaks down the ways a teacher uses technology within their practice. When I was in school a lot of the ways we used educational technology was in the stages of substitution or augmentation. It did not make a huge difference whether we typed our essay or wrote our essay using pen and paper, but we just replaced it. Or instead of using the textbooks, teachers may have pulled up a PDF version that we looked at all together. This refers closely to Clark’s arguments in stating that no matter what form of medium you use, it will not impact student learning. However, as technology continues to advance and the use of online learning environments and social media come into play, we begin seeing the idea that can modify or redefine the way we teach, learn, and complete tasks. When comparing how I used technology as a student, and now as a teacher the format of my classroom looks much different. The use of platforms such as Google Classroom, YouTube, Interactive learning games, etc. has allowed me to engage my students in ways that reflect their own interests and what is meaningful to them. With the availability of Chromebooks and iPads for the students to use, we are able to provide differentiation and support in ways that were never available to teachers in the past. The simple ideas like speech to text have dramatically changed the success my students can reach. 

In Neil Postman’s article “Five things we need to know about technological change, ” he provided some interesting points about the evolution of technology. At one point he discussed technology as being mythical, students having the understanding that technology is just here because they have always been surrounded by it. I found this idea very interesting in this day and age because the students we teach have never been without these high end forms of technology. They have grown up from infants watching television, playing with iPads and video games. To them, technology is just part of their world, part of their culture. However, when thinking about technology Postman made a good point in stating that “culture always pays a price with technology.” Throughout history, with every evolution of technology, we have seen a shift in our culture and way of life. The use of the printing press made information more accessible and in turn changed how education could be taught. Looking now, after teaching younger students, the evolution of tablets has changed the experiences young students have when it comes to coloring, using scissors and their fine motor skills. Postman stated “technology giveth and technology taketh away” with every new advantage technology gives, disadvantages may arise. I think that is a key piece for educators to understand when implementing technology into our classrooms is to think, what is the purpose of this form of technology? How will it enhance my students’ learning? Will this benefit or harm my students in some way? Growing up with educational technology at my fingertips, I easily can turn and only see the positive side and the doors these tools open up to us, however, now teaching grade 7, I find I am more aware of the harms these tools can also bring if not used correctly. So, as we move forward in this class it is crucial I continue to keep these questions in the back of my head to ensure I am using technology in a positive and not a negative way.