Mini-Meditation Update

As our Masters term winds to a close and my assignment due dates crash towards me, I have tried turning to some of the skills I have learned through meditation. Some days (or moments) are more successful than others.

I am finding myself struggling with more frequent sleepless nights lately, and I find that turning my focus onto my breathing helps sometimes. The visualizations for stress are not working AT ALL for late night restlessness.

Earlier this term, Jarod and I were talking about our Learning Projects, and he told me about a book that was recommended to him by a colleague. It was called “10% Happier”. It is written by Dan Harris, a reporter for ABC who had the start of a panic attack live on air. Through his journey to calm the voice in his head (admit it, we all have one), he finally discovered the secret that worked for him… (spoiler alert)

Meditation.

He describes his process: Sit upright, feel your breath, when your mind wanders, simply return to your breath. This is EXACTLY what the first 30 sessions of the Headspace app teach! Mr. Harris backs it up with the same research that I found at the beginning: daily short meditation will grow the areas of your brain associated with self-awareness and compassion. It should shrink the areas associated with stress.

So, I am proud to tell you that I am not done my Learning Project. I have managed to meditate daily since I chose this project. I will continue to meditate long after this term concludes!

Photo Credit: hatalmas via Compfight cc

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A Visit with Dave Cormier

#tiegrad was lucky to have a late night chat with Dave Cormier. He was passionate about the ideas he shared and gave us a lot to think about. He began by sharing his thoughts on rhizomatic learning and equating it to invasive plant species. His explanation and his blog post helped me to have a better understanding of this. I have heard this term, and have had it explained a few times, but I didn’t have the connections needed to truly understand it until I looked at the ivy in my side yard. It is successful in taking over new places and popping up unexpectedly. It has no beginning or end, just like the learning process – as Dave states in his blogs.

What really stuck with a few of us is Dave’s explanation of his assessment practices. He speaks of an “open syllabus” in his blog post and shared a copy of his syllabus during our meeting. The importance of the open syllabus is that it allows learners to find their own paths and language of the learning process. To assess learners as they navigate these varied paths, Dave only assesses their effort. He asks his students to view the syllabus as a learning contract where they are required to participate in learning and reflection. Dave describes the lecturer as the “content expert”, but acknowledges that the learner is the one who decides what they would like to get out of participating in the course. The syllabus outlines what success looks like, and sets the tone for life-long, self-valued learning.

Negotiated assessment is an excellent goal. I try to use it in my own practice with my Middle School students. I give them a similar template to the report card that they will receive and ask them to provide feedback on whichever parts they would like. Some students assign letter grades, others reflect on their learning in words. Some provide feedback in all subject areas, others prefer to report only on areas of strength. I give them the same report card and ask for feedback on the same areas again, but this time with the focus on my teaching. Some students complete this form anonymously, others attach their names.

But, there are issues with self-assessment. I saw it with my own completion of the self-evaluation we were asked to do for our EDCI 569 course. I hesitated until the last possible minute to hand in the feedback. I struggled with the same things that some of my students do: self-doubt, honesty, humility, and comparison. Even when given a rubric (like the Masters level grading scale) it is difficult to assess your place on it without comparing yourself to other learners, past and present. And, comparing yourself to your best days and your worst times. Where do you fit in on that scale?

My highest achieving students regularly rate themselves lower than they should because they have become overly effective critical thinkers and as such, they over-think the reflective process. They would always like more time to polish their products, because they truly know learning is ongoing.

Self-evaluation is something that needs to be scaffolded for learners. There should be choice and dialogue built in and assigning numbers or grades should be optional. Maybe even the format of the self-assessment should be fluid, so that learners could customize the method of reporting? With tools such as Google Docs available, the teacher could list the outcomes of the project/unit of study/term and provide some structure for self-evaluation with the invitation to edit the evaluation as desired. If we are speaking of assessing effort, as Dave suggests, we need to also realize that the process a learner undergoes in reflecting upon their effort may vary. If you assess effort as part of your practice, please share your methods below.

I loved learning about Melody Watson’s assessment approach in her school, where the parents, teachers and students sit down together to complete the reporting process.

I imagine that this process would take a great deal of time, but having all voices present for this reflective time would provide a wealth of information. Parents would be able to provide more context for the discussions and time spent on informal learning beyond the classroom walls and the student would be given an opportunity to share their thoughts on their learning process. This dialogue can be extended through the use of digital portfolios – something that Melody already does with her learners. The portfolios allow all parties (parents, student and teachers) to comment on uploaded artifacts of learning. This would ensure that the meetings are focused and that nothing comes as a surprise to any of the participants.

Things are moving in a wonderful direction in education: honouring student interests, inquiry-based learning, and authentic assessment. It will be messy finding our way; but we are so lucky to be doing this in a time when sharing our practice, being transparent with our efforts (both the successes and the failures) are a part of the collective journey.

Making Meaning of Mendeley

This is a collaborative blog post written through the use of Google Docs by the #tiegrad Mendeley team including: JarodJason, Tanya, Melody, myself, Liane, Harprit, Angela, and Mardelle

Recently a group of us from #tiegrad logged into a Google Hangout session together (after a less than successful attempt to meet via Bluejeans) so that Jason Kemp could school us on Mendeley as a reference tool.  In the past, we had each used a variety of reference tools with success, including EasyBib, Refworks through UVIC, EndNote, and Zotero, but many people were recommending other tools this fall and exploring some of them seemed like a good idea. A number of us found ourselves overwhelmed when looking at each of the options, however, and similar requests for help and information began to surface.  Believing that Mendeley might be The One, a group of us emerged from the #tiegrad pool, all wanting to learn about this tool; we all boarded the collaboration train. If there is one thing we have learned about ourselves in this last year and a half, it’s the benefit of sharing the load and hashing things out together.

After posting a request out on Twitter from the group, Jason agreed to host a Mendeley sharing session. He admitted to being a bit nervous (as any of us would have been), as he had only recently made the switch to Mendeley himself. He explained that he was looking for a reference management software that was user-friendly and had obtained a copy of Endnote from a friend, but had difficulties using the program. Jason had used Mendeley briefly for another course, but this was only to create a bibliography.

We initially decided to meet up on Bluejeans for our Mendeley session, but soon after we logged on, we began experiencing major issues. As Jason was sharing his screen with the group, it became unresponsive. Unfortunately, Jason didn’t realize the participants could not see his screen and continued to proceed with the presentation while the audience, similarly, remained unaware for several minutes. This is a problem when presenting using a program such as Bluejeans to screenshare; it’s not always immediately apparent to either side that there is a problem. After several attempts to rectify the situation, we decided to switch over to Google Hangout (GHO). For many, it was their first time using GHO to present and we found it to be very slick and easy to use. After the presentation was finished, a few other members were able to share some of the features they had discovered (such as the chat window, screen captures, using accessories to dress each other up and other useful and entertaining tools). This was an awesome way to learn about GHO’s capabilities.

As many of us do when learning a new program, Jason had viewed a quick tutorial on YouTube and then began to play around and learn a few of the components of Mendeley. Jason noted that it was very intuitive and had an easy help option; these were features that many of us were looking for in a reference tool. Mendeley easily imports .pdfs, cites as you write in Microsoft Word, creates a bibliography for you, and allows sharing libraries between users. Check out the short, user friendly tutorials that can walk you through the basic functionality of Mendeley.  Mendeley Minutes cover such topics as: importing topics, organizing your library, and how to use the group feature.

It is easy to get started on Mendeley. Simply sign up for an account, download the appropriate software, and then download the tool bar plug-in for Word.  Mendeley trumps many other citation tools with its built-in Literature Search. As articles are curated, Mendeley suggests related articles based on key terms, authors, and tags. Mendeley will indicate whether the articles are available through its library, or directs you to where they can be found. Logging into your UVic Library account while searching makes it easy to copy and paste titles suggested by Mendeley into Google Scholar to acquire a found article. Your library builds quite quickly! Each article suggested by Mendeley comes with an additional list of suggested related articles to explore. The program then auto populated the information for referencing. There is also a Chrome extension tool that will allows for clipping articles directly into Mendeley which is very convenient.

Another Mendeley advantage is the fact that there are apps available so you can access the program on other devices and it syncs easily. Once an article is added on your computer, you can see it from any of your devices. Annotating articles using an iPad, for example, will update the article in your library, making all changes visible from any platform you choose to use. One #tiegrad lit review team has been using the group feature in Mendeley to successfully share articles. This feature works well for small groups, as it automatically syncs the articles to each member but, unfortunately, the group limit is 3 participants; adding more members requires paying a substantial membership fee.

In the end, our fabulous Mendeley Guide, Mr. Jason Kemp had us comfortably navigating our way through the world of online resource curation and citation. Mendeley has proven to be an efficient and effective tool that allows us to search, read, make notes, curate and cite our sources. It organizes our sources however we need, offers collaboration amongst colleagues (three maximum),  and integrates beautifully into Microsoft Word making it easier to insert citations and create bibliographies as we progress through our lit reviews.

Our Google Hangout session was a success. It is nice to know that with so many of us using Mendeley, support and new ideas are only a tweet away. While the business end of our session was very productive, we also laughed and enjoyed our #tiegrad community. There is nothing better than dressing as a pirate or mixing and matching props and backgrounds online. The collaborative nature of Google Hangout offers a wonderful mix of business and play. Just remember, that only three microphones can be active at once. Perhaps this is something that Google can increase in the future. Are you listening Google?

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#openeducationwk

I virtually attended the Open Education Week session hosted by TIELab this afternoon. I felt lucky to have another opportunity to hear Alan Levine speak again! This was an introduction to Brian Lamb for me (love the identity of Re-Director of Innovation), and now I am a follower. I enjoyed their interplay and camaraderie; it was easy to see how they would challenge each other’s thinking to work some serious magic.

They cut right to the heart of the matter right away questioning why hundreds of thousands of dollars are not allocated for our students in educational technology. They shared how some view open web services as a frill and not something we can afford. Some platforms and providers shutter their services claiming concerns with privacy. There are some that see safety and increased security in more managed services (LMS). They shared a blog post by D’Arcy Norman that speaks to the False Binary of LMS vs. Open. What stood out for me in reading this post was that both Open and LMS tools could still be used, but they serve very different purposes. It does not have to be one or the other. There are clear challenges with jumping right into the open web. The biggest concern (privacy) seems even more pressing here in BC with FOIPPA.

But, being aware of the concerns and going forward with intention and purpose is possible. And should be better supported. Brian went on to share Alan’s blog, which is filled with ideas, process and information. Brian was not the first to celebrate Alan’s blog as an incredible resource, and Clint Lalonde quickly shared that he believes Alan to be the “best sharer/documenter of process in edtech”.

The first creation shared by Alan and Brian was something called SPLOT – an acronym with multiple meanings: Smallest/Simplest Possible/Probable Learning/Latest/Lucid Online/Opportunistic Tools/Techniques/Technology. What was amazing about this resource is that there were plenty of open tools that you can use without ever disclosing your identity or creating yet another account. This has become so routine – in order to continue reading a website, or engaging with/interacting with/creating content online, you must first register for your (*free*) account. I have wanted to create a Gmail account just for all of my random logins. It seems like it may save a lot of time/energy/mental health if that account would just quietly manage all of my notifications and random invitations from places requiring my log-in.

Alan knows his technology. He can build websites, write codes and build things of shiny brilliance. But, he also knows his people. He began excitedly talking about downloading a simple jQuery code to work one of his creations “Comparator” and knew immediately that as soon as he arrived at the word “jQuery” he would have lost some people. So, they created a simple web form with drag and drop features for people who are not comfortable with HTML/Javascript. Brilliant!

SPLOT is crafted as an inclusive learning space/community, for all levels and interests. Alan spoke of the importance to create a space where people can choose their level of identity disclosure. I love this and use this in my own class with our classroom Twitter feed, but it also makes me a little sad. The argument that I have used with stakeholders who are concerned about publishing student work with full attribution publically is that I believe that our students should be getting full credit for the works that they author.

Another resource/collection tool on SPLOT was TRU Sounder and Collector. I liked how one biology teacher was uploading images for shared use on Collector, and I thought about how that would actually make a neat assignment: students create a small image collection to share on Collector. It would teach so much about licensing, sharing, authorship, and mindful sharing.

One of the last resources shared by Alan and Brian was The You Show where the hosts were “learning” publicly and encouraging others to push through their fears. Sharing vulnerability makes it easier for others to ask questions, to feel a part of the process, and to reach out.

An hour with these guys is simply not enough. Thank you for allowing me to attend!

Research Update – February

Better late than never, right?

I am feeling a little stalled with my Masters Research and upcoming Literature Review.

My activity:

  • I’ve downloaded about 15 articles
  • I’ve read a few articles and skimmed many others
  • I selected a citation tool! (That’s one for the “WIN” column!) Mendeley: free, easy, friendly, and shareable.

My inactivity:

  • I am not even sure which articles have any value for my project or my Literature Review
  • I have not been excited or inspired by any of the articles so far, except for a Lit Review from Great Britain from 2009. Too old.
  • I feel like I am reading FOR something, but I am not sure exactly what it is
  • Leftover from the summer sessions where I felt blindsided when I learned that the articles I had specifically selected from the University Library were not actually Peer Reviewed – although the Library had listed them as Peer Reviewed. I learned about this bizarre grey area where peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed articles cohabitate.
  • I struggle with formulaic writing. I know that I can do it, no one my age can make it through high school without learning how to slap together an essay, but I need a formula that works for me. I don’t know what I am doing or how to start.
  • My topic is still fuzzy. How can I start writing without a topic?

I’ve done everything to kick-start my process: web my ideas, journal informally, list ideas, re-list ideas, web my listed ideas, talk with people, read for more information, etc. I met with our professor earlier this month and she gave me great advice about telling my own story as part of this Masters project, and then looking for research to substantiate the actions or decisions that I made. Narrative writing makes me happy, and seems like a nice place to start. The most difficult thing about this is that I lost my “journals” about my process of initiating BYOD in my classroom last year when our blogs hosted at UVic were lost. Some of my most authentic reflections are gone. Those “in the moment” reflections are difficult to recreate.

I am excited about using Mendeley as a citation tool. A few of us got together to learn about it and will be blogging about it soon.

I’m not sure what to do next. Do I continue to read and hope something sparks? Do I continue to write sweet nothings on my so-called Lit Review? I know that I need to refine my keywords and pick a clear direction for selecting more articles to add to the pile. I also think that it is time to contact the UVic Research Librarian for help.

I also need to organize the articles I have printed. How much information do I need to keep with these articles? I believe that I need to have the location they were retrieved from and the search terms used. Anything else?

Taking some advice from Tracey Thorne means that my next step is to read, read, read and look for themes. It’s nice to have a plan.

 

My Stress Floats Away

I married an amazing man. He has supported every step of this Master’s journey, including my Learning Project about meditation. Shortly after my birthday in January he told me that he had a gift idea that went hand in hand with my Mindfulness project. He wouldn’t tell me what it was until I cleared a date in this crazy schedule.

My gift was a session at the Float House: a sensory deprivation and floatation center in downtown Victoria!

I had several friends reference the Simpsons episode prior to my visit to the Float House. The Simpsons did get one thing right: you will feel better after your floating session. I found far more helpful information online and from visiting the Float House websites. Essentially, floating involves just that: floating. You enter a private tank that has about 10 inches of water with about 800 pounds of dissolved Epsom salts in it! Your body is buoyant, and there are no pressure points. The tank is light proof and sound-dampening. The research indicates that there are benefits for both mind and body by participating in this practice.

I was excited to try floating. Most people worry about claustrophobia when floating for the first time. My worry was about being warm enough. I am always cold, and the water is only heated to body temperature. I followed a link through the Floathouse’s Twitter stream. It suggested to have a cool initial shower, dry your face and chest completely and not to move too much once you are in the water. All of those things worked for me!

My experience was great at the Float House. I was welcomed in, invited to have some tea or lemon water, and to chat with the other guests. They only host floats on the odd hours so that the pods can be filtered between guests. After everyone arrived, the experienced floaters were sent to their rooms. There was only one other person who had not floated before, so we were given a tour.

Once you are in your private room you are asked to shower and use their special unscented soap on your hair and body before entering the pod. The pod has a light inside that softly changes colours. The pod is quite large inside. You are given foam earplugs and the advice is to use them if you can, as they keep the salt water out of your ear canals. Once in the pod, you lower the dome and lie back. At first I found myself straining to keep my head up and then I remembered that I would float and relaxed back into the water. There are controls in the pod to keep the light on or off and to add music or not. I turned out the lights and kept the music off and prepared to relax.

My pod at the Float House. Picture taken with permission of staff.

My pod at the Float House. Picture taken with permission of staff.

At first I was totally aware of being in water. Every inhalation and exhalation had the water level changing on my body. I had a brief sensation of movement, as if I was travelling upwards (the direction my head was) and a little to the right. In reality it was the exact opposite, as eventually I drifted into the wall on the lower left part of the pod.

The time flew by. I attempted to follow some of the guided meditation techniques I had been learning. I don’t think that I actually meditated, but I never became lost in thoughts as I often do while trying to meditate. My only thoughts were about things immediately inside the pod. I was aware of my breathing, my increasing sense of calm, how comfortable I felt, the silky smoothness of the water and what it felt like to be buoyant. I was very calm and relaxed and felt quite soothed by the experience.

Music signals that the session is about to end. After the music plays for a bit, the lights in your pod are turned on to indicate that it is time to leave. When you leave the pod, you shower again to remove the salt from your body. There are different products to use post-float. You return to the lobby to enjoy some tea or water with the other guests.

My calm state and relaxed body lasted all day. I was tired early and went to bed for one of the best nights of sleep I have had all term!

I would highly recommend this experience to everyone. I intend to go back as soon as I can.

Breathing and Stress

I completed my foundation course in Meditation through the Headspace app. It was a series of 30 sessions that gradually increased in duration over time. The funny thing was that although I paid for a year-long subscription to the app, it does not unlock anything. You must still progress through all 30 sessions in sequence before you can unlock any other options for meditation.

Is it weird that I wanted a little more fanfare when I completed my first 30 days?

I am still meditating daily, and enjoying it. My sleeping has not yet improved (not at all) but I have noticed that my heart races less and I feel less anxious overall. (Unless I think about my Masters assignments. Then, I crumble)

About 5 days before completing the foundation pack, you are invited to pre-select your next pack for meditation and load it into the queue. There were 3 big themes to choose from: Health, Relationships, and Performance. I was drawn to Health immediately because of my goals for this year. I had difficulty deciding between Stress and Sleep as my next series. I decided on Stress because I think that it is the underlying cause of my poor sleep. After you select your pack, you must decide between 10, 15, or 20 minute sessions. Reflecting on my foundation series, 20 minutes worked well for me. It was a challenge, but it also gave me the greatest opportunity for practice.

I did some pre-reading on stress through the Headspace app. There is also a Soundcloud post from Andy about stress.

Photo Credit: Celestine Chua via Compfight cc

One thing that I learned through my journey in the foundation pack was that not being fully present is a learned habit. We get caught up in multi-tasking, juggling lots of thoughts and ideas that we forget to be fully immersed in the moment. We were presented with a challenge as a mindfulness activity, and I suggest you try it. Try to be fully mindful every time you move to stand up or sit down for a full day. It is one of the tasks that we offload onto our autopilot, we don’t have to cognitively engage in standing or sitting. So, the challenge is to actually BE present when you stand or sit – don’t change how you are doing it, or slow it down, just be aware that you are in the process of standing – why, where are you going; or sitting – why, where? Andy Puddicombe says that being fully aware 5 times during the course of a day of standing or sitting is outstanding! I dismissed this and decided that my goal would be to be aware of standing or sitting 12 times that day. I managed to be fully present 5 times of standing/sitting. Please try it, and let me know how you did.