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It has begun… January 31, 2009

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Yesterday in my Work Exploration class I introduced the world of blogging to my six students.  As I have made reference to before I am doing this to stay connected with them during their work placement.  In my talks with other previous W.E. teachers they sometimes feel disconnected from their students when they are out in the field.  He likewise asked them to reflect upon a series of questions to hand in the week after their placement.  However this was hit and miss with who would remember to stop on by and drop them off because they get so used to not going to “class” when they don’t have to.

One thing I have enjoyed during this Masters program is the self-reflection I have done.  I think this should be an integral part of the W.E. program and something I have espoused over the last two days to the students.  So taking what the previous teacher did I hope technology, through blogging, will help increase the odds of these students to self-reflect.  His return rate was about 33% so I hope I can increase that.  After each week they are to blog about some of the aspects of their learning/job to share with myself and each other.  These questions are pre-set and they were given to the on Friday.  I have subscribed to them via Google Reader and one student has already written a comment about herself blogging.  Woohoo!  Hopefully this catches on.

It was an interesting experience on Friday as I led them through the setup of Blogger for each and every one of them.  Most were cool with the idea but there was one that was reticent about using it.  I could not help but think was this what I was like when I started.  Cautious about change, fearful of the unknown, uncomfortableness with technology.  I gave him some kind words of support and offered to just try it out and see what happens.  Once completing the sign up and setting up the Blog they began to explore and have some fun with add-ons.  One thing I did notice is even in the student that was not embracing it right away, which is fine with me, how comfortable with technology they all were.  Quite a different perspective from my own experiences with more mature students…lol.

I find it ironic how the wheel comes full circle with me (yes me) teaching technology.  Reminds me of a quote from a favourite film.  “When I left you, I was but the learner, now I am the master.”

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Excitement… January 27, 2009

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As I sit here in my classroom I can feel the excitement building for term two of the 2008-2009 year.  Part of this excitement is this class, but also a couple of ideas that I have been kicking around in my head for technology use.  One of the subjects that I will be picking up this term is Work Experience.  Since I have not taught this before I naturally hit up some previous teachers for ideas/notes, heck anything I could get my hands on.  One of them mentioned that students did weekly journal reflections on their work placement.  He mentioned one of the problems with this was the students forgetting to drop off the blogs the week after their placement (when they came back to Carpenter for their other classes).

So with my mind racing I wonder if blogs could be an answer to this?  A good majority of students have access to computers at home (judging by my past term’s classes) or else have access here at school.  They are rather simple to use, easy to set up, and even on dial up they don’t take a lot of time to load.

The best that can happen is that it succeeds and the worst that can happen is it fails and I go back to the drawing board.  I do see some pluses though.  Firstly a lot of students are comfortable with computers and prefer to work on them instead of handing in a written assignment.  Secondly this could be a way to keep in contact with them when they are not in front of me during their work placement (sounds like 2.0 to me).  Thirdly I could monitor these journals weekly with Google Reader.  This would be a bonus as I can see and monitor when they post and if they are doing so weekly.

Will this work?  Who knows?  Regardless it should be a fun learning experience.

Is this an example of the future? January 26, 2009

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In viewing the video “The Networked Student” I stumbled upon these two videos from Abilene Christian University.  Though at times seeming like an ad for iPhones or for the university itself you have to wonder is this the future (though there are clear examples of the here and now).  Just to throw a quick warning though is that over the last week or so there has been increasing warnings of prolonged usage of cell phone technology.  How is this going to change this idea of being “Connected”?

Feel free to watch the videos below, but just a warning both videos together total about 18 minutes.

“Connected” (Part 1)

“Connected” (Part 2)

A Connected Student… January 26, 2009

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I just finished watching “A Connected Student” on You Tube and I found it very exciting and truthful as it captures what I think many students today encompass.  I was just yesterday saying to Johnny Mac on a drive down to Lloydminister how I found it interesting how people “communicate” via the social networking site Facebook.  A lot of youth seem to update their lives daily with pics, updates, movies, quizzes, etc.  The “older” generation seems to update it with less frequency.  Perhaps we like the more tried and true forms of communication more.  How many times have you heard colleagues and friends our age or older complain about the complexity of texting and how they would rather simply phone someone.

I had an English teacher back in high school and later on as my supervisor for my teaching degree once tell me that teaching involved 5% knowledge and 95% communicator/entertainer.  He espoused trying to connect with his students on their level and this has always stuck with me.  I do try and communicate on their level (bridging the generational gap that seems to be inherent) with whatever tools I have at my advantage.  Yes I tell the students I have a Wii and an X-Box (old school one).  I do text, I have an mp3 player, and I have ripped music (legally) as well as DVDs.  This to me allows me to communicate on another level with them, making me seem less out of their loop.  However am I as well versed as they are?  No!  I am just a neophyte in their eyes but I believe in trying to communicate with them I am more “human”.  If you just take a moment see where technology has come into our culture; read this paragraph again and see how many words have emerged and taken a whole new context with the advent of computers.

Now how does this relate to the teacher? Are we obsolete with students being able to get information readily in this day and age?  No.  I think teachers are at an exciting time to be able to help students with technology.  I understand that many of us are not as readily comfortable with technology and how to use it, but that does not mean we cannot influence students’ use of it.  As the video points out, do students have the capacity to understand how best to use and evaluate technology?  Do they understand a “good” informational website from a “bad” one?  Do they know some of the legal issues with information?  Etc.  Teachers can pass these skills along to assist students in making smart choices with how best and evaluate emerging technologies.  Teachers will never become obsolete…we simply adapt to the information we teach and how we teach it.  However where do we get the time to adapt?  Within a teacher’s day do we have the time to do this in an ever-increasing workload?

A problem solved… January 25, 2009

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In my Law 30 class one of the main problems that has always dogged my major assignment (the Law Newspaper Project) within the class is the group work.  Specifically it has been in the writing component where two or more students are working together to get the assignment done.  Often times group members have a hard time transferring word documents to one another due to various reasons, blocked email accounts, lack of jump drives or something else similar, and in my copying and pasting from my account long and tedious.  As Alec showed us Google Docs I thought that maybe this might be the solution.  The idea of having students have the ability to work closer together and have the ability to share their thoughts and work together I hope reflects in a better product (please please please) and a better form of group management.  I can hardly wait for the next term and trying this suggestion of Google Docs to see if this might be a way that technology solves this problem.  I guess we will just have to wait and see.

Connectivism… January 24, 2009

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This past week was an interesting lesson in their ideas of connectivism.  I find in amazing since my foray into computers way back in 1995 (with the first computer in Sydney with Windows 95) and the Internet how far we have come.  I find it interesting how much new social network sites change how people network.  Back in 1995 these were hardly mentioned let alone thought of yet.  Now with network sites like Facebook its amazing how connectivism works.  Since joining Facebook about a year and a half ago I have reconnected with people I have not seen since 1985 or earlier.  As an Air Force brat this has been a blessing in connecting with those people from my childhood that I have a lost over time.

With Facebook comes a negative as well as I am swamped with requests from students left, right and centre.  This opens up concerns of professionalism.  However I see at times how something like Facebook, blogs, etc., could be used as a potential tool in order to connect to students on their level.  Perhaps in sharing their “world” with them I can connect in new and exciting ways that will take me further in communicating with them to succeed with learning.

Hopefully within this class I can find that balance in using technology to connect and communicate with students and their parents.  I have since started a blog that will update students/parents on the daily activities that occur in the classroom.  However I feel I could do more to harness this power to an even great extent.  I feel like the apes from the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Looking at the monolith wondering what it is and how it works.  Hopefully once I begin to understand Hal won’t toss me out the airlock.

Reflecting back… January 20, 2009

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Last week as I watched the “history of technology” I had to admit at first I was a little sceptical about the value of the lesson.  I appreciated it on my level as a history teacher, understanding and believing that to appreciate where one is know we have to understand past events and where they have led us.  This scepticism was quickly erased by the entertainment that quickly ensued within the lesson.  I think the lesson itself was entertaining and I could enjoy it on that level, but the nagging persisted as to why I needed to know this.  I think like two great magicians the lesson came to a climax with the last PowerPoint slide and the last line for me.  WOW!  Whatever technology we use, whether it seem archaic (like some may think) or not, if we take the time to plan it well, execute it to the best of our abilities it can be just as worthwhile as some of the newer technologies.  Technology may seem to go out of date but those are the perspectives of some people, not all.  Some of the technologies that were shown could have some great value still.  Talk about slight of hand.  I never saw that coming.  That last point, more than anything else up to then, really challenged some of my preconceived perspectives.

Teaching an old dog… January 13, 2009

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One of the largest changes I have seen in myself, since taking two undergraduate technology courses, is my willingness to try new things.  This week showcases two examples of this nicely.

  • Firstly this Blog.  I am familiar with blogging on many levels and have done a fair amount of blogging for various reasons (courses, general reflections, and school).  In this first assignment for this course we were asked to create a Blog that would be a running account of our experiences with technology.  I could have simply gone back to my standard (Blogger) account and recycle a previous Blog; however I chose to explore a new site (WordPress).  This simply act of trying something new is a large step for me as I tend to be a creature of habit.  However, where is the learning in that?  Just recycling thoughts is not new, it’s a way to remain stagnant.  This simple act exposes me to new challenges that will lead to growth.
  • The second event this week was trying out Windows Movie Maker.  Next week’s assignment is to create a movie about myself and post it online.  I have never ever opened this program before in my many years of using computers.  So I sat down Saturday morning, as Kevin and Sean were watching Power Rangers, and started tinkering around with it.  I can’t believe how much fun I had.  I explored inserting text, music, titles, etc.  It did not always work but it challenged me to problem solve why didn’t it.  Before I would have just given up and forgotten about it.  The video was cheesy but after showing it to my boys and playing around with the sound, making my voice slow and then fast (great for chipmunk voices), the boys were laughing hard.  This just encouraged me to play more.  I added in them singing after the credits.  What started off as a cheesy “this is a test” movie ended with a minute long song number from the boys that we have watched every day since.  Will this impact me as a teacher?  Yes.  I can see having fun with this relating to students on another level as ideas begin swimming around in my head.  I think more importantly I can have some fun with my boys and show them that not only can daddy learn, but maybe teach them some things too.

In the beginning… January 10, 2009

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So our first task within this blog is to describe where we are in our comfort level in technology use.  I was asked a very similar question back in 2004 when I enrolled in ECMP 355.  Then, I labelled myself as a novice with very little knowledge of computers and applications that I could use within my professional career.  Through ECMP 355 & [later] 455 I felt much more comfortable with using technology myself.  Both courses were instrumental in eliminating my [self-imposed] phobia regarding technology.

So it is 5 years later.  Where am I?  I would classify myself as an intermediate user of technology both personally and within the classroom.  However this might be a little bit of a misnomer.  I have great aspirations of incorporating more technology use within my classroom.  I see technology as a way to link myself to students who have readily adopted this form of communication.  Since my previous courses I have been much more comfortable in using technology to express myself, through assignments and communication with students/parents (such as a historical newspaper assignment, PowerPoints, & Blogs).  I have bridged distances between students and myself and feel much more comfortable in assisting students on computers or within the various types of software in which they might be playing/working.

Why do I say that this is a misnomer?  I have these visions of what I would like to see myself accomplish through technology.  Instead of simply just thinking here is what I would like to do, I have made steps toward researching if they can be done.  I would like to embed notes within my [communicative] blog to students/parents who might wish to catch up should they miss class, or to encourage parents to become an active participant in their child’s learning.  I would like to take clips from historical programming and merge them with notes/questions within a PowerPoint format (or something very similar) to bring history alive [this is a study from a previous Masters course that students wished to see happen].  What is holding these dreams back?  Time.  As a full-time teacher, part-time Masters student, plus SRC advisor [planning the 2010 SLC Conference] & drama director, my time is limited.

So in practical terms I am in an intermediate stage of technology use, however my dreams are for much more.  This reminds me of a quote I have always been very fond of.

  • “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp; else what’s a heaven for?”  (Robert Browning)