Don’t You Forget about Us

We’ve completed another #tiegrad term and grown even closer as a cohort of connected educators. We were lucky enough to be learning with Alec Couros this term and he brought with him an outstanding collection of guests. He concluded this term with a touching reconnection to the big ideas of connecting, sharing, learning and relationships. He reminded us that it is not about the tools, but instead about learning. However, we must always be mindful of the influence of our tools.

My big takeaways from this course are:

  • Be a part of the conversation. Hearing Dean Shareski speak to US brought the point emphatically home: there is a moral imperative to share our learning and teaching. You don’t need to judge yourself too harshly and censor yourself before you begin, you can grow and find your voice and your people.
  • Ask questions and reach out.
  • It is way more fun to work together. Get into the global staff room and have a coffee together. We do that in #tiegrad – we organize our own coffee chats and morning get-togethers. We pair up, group up, and work together well.
  • Identity matters. We need to consider our own online identity and help our students develop an identity for themselves.

Areas of strength for me as a connected educator are connecting behind the scenes, joining in on Twitter chats, collaborating and working with others, and contributing on backchannels. Most of my areas of weakness center around my insecurities about sharing my voice and opinion. I’m hesitant to disagree, to rock the “global” boat, and to share my simple ideas. I still hesitate to post every blog or tweet, I have piles of drafts on both sites. Sharing my blog publicly causes me anxiety, because I feel a little safer to be myself, have fun and be a little ridiculous here – believing that no one will read much past the first paragraph… right???

Two goals as I go forward are:

  1. Dean Shareski’s challenge: “Can I find your best work online?” You can find my students’ best work online. They proudly tweet from our class Twitter account and their individual blogs. I share my work and learning, but I don’t think that my best stuff is online yet. Sometimes I haven’t realized that there is value in my work until it gets a response on Twitter! I need to be a little more transparent, or at least celebrate some of my efforts in the classroom. There are things that I am proud of, and it might be worthwhile to share them out.
  2. Rethink my metaphor, a challenge by Alec Couros. I have always seen myself as an amplifier of some sort. I’ve called myself a megaphone, a soapbox, etc, with the vision of being a platform of some sort to raise my students’ voices/works/ideas/creations/energies/etc and help them to find their audience and people.

Inspired by Alec’s sweet goodbye “Don’t forget about me… I will always be your co-learner/collaborator” – sticking the Simple Minds lyrics in most of our minds… I’d like to end with:

We found out that each one of us is a learner, a fitbit all-star, a ukulele rockstar, and a tweeter, a blogger, and part of a family that will extend beyond our #tiegrad years together. We were glad to have you join us, don’t forget us!

Sincerely yours, the #tiegrad cohort (your co-learners, collaborators and co-conspirators)

(oh, we should remix this one for our cohort! Challenge extended…)

 

 

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Final Reflection on EDCI 569

Here is our final reflection on EDCI 569, completed as another collaborative project by Jardi – a mixed up mash-up of Jarod Fong and Heidi James. Although we have never met face-to-face, we enjoy working together and appreciate the opportunity to connect over shared work and interests. This is an example of the power technology has to facilitate those connections.

Our project is a video reflection on our term of learning. We began by creating a theme based around one of our Learning Projects: meditation. The rest fell into place: we co-authored the script through a Google Doc and then each did some individual filming. Through Voice Memos we added the audio track together. We checked the final project through BlueJeans, and posted it to YouTube. We called it “Meditating on our Learning”.

Thank you to Alec Couros, Dean Shareski, Alan Levine, Audrey Watters, Sylvia Martinez, Dave Cormier and all of #tiegrad for another amazing term.

Music Credit:

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!

Sharing Joy and Learning

Our #tiegrad cohort was honoured to welcome Dean Shareski to class last Thursday night. I have been orbiting Dean’s work on Twitter after being given his name a couple of years ago when I became a STAR Discovery Educator. When our cohort first learned that Dean would be joining us, he was identified by certain traits: “Oh, the pants guy”, “The Jumping guy?” and I said “The Joy guy”. He is recognized by the fun that he brings to the spaces he occupies. Besides the late night Twitter games, my favourite Dean lesson comes from his TEDX talk on Joy in Education.

When Dean spoke with us, three themes resonated with me after our talk: Joy, Sharing, and Learning.

Joy

This link to an article about Joy in School by Steven Wolk was shared. One thing that stood out to me was the difference between Joy and Fun. He quotes Random House Dictionary with the definition of joy being “The emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something good or satisfying.” It’s easier than expected to find Joy in our schools, as simple as offering choice, freedom to explore, getting outside, and creating. I’ve learned that over time I have had to defend some of my choices as an educator: giving my students freedom to choose their own course of study in #geniushour, teaching outside, or engaging in 10 unstructured minutes of play with another class. My happiest days are the ones when I go home with a sore stomach from laughing too hard. You don’t get those moments when you stand at the front of the room reading aloud from the textbook for extended periods of time.

So, how can I make Joy a priority in my teaching? I think that it might be the same way I set every other goal: put it in writing and share it with my people. Get help on it. Commit and re-commit to doing it.

While trying to find evidence of Joy in my classroom, my one source of pride and hope is the fact that many former students return daily to my classroom. They come to share their stories, to laugh and to reconnect with old friends. In my daily practice I try to provide as much choice as I can. Choice in assignments, choice in working space, choice in topics to learn. I wish that I was given similar choices in how I assess my students’ learning.

Sharing

I struggle with this. I enjoy sharing great ideas that I come across, and I re-tweet on Twitter frequently, giving credit to the original sharer or author. However, when it comes to originality, I don’t feel like I have a lot to share. I am also sometimes a little put-off by some sharing that comes across as a little aggressive. When a blog link is shared out by the author 8-12 times targeting different hashtags or chat forums, it feels a bit much. Authoring and then sharing an idea repeatedly moves from generosity to commercialism quickly.

Where’s the balance? I prefer to look at Dean’s message about sharing to be more about connecting. He called the “moral imperative”. I agree with that, it is no longer about closing your doors and keeping the best ideas for yourself. It is about sharing the good and knowing that it will grow and return to you with even more layers of icing and awesome. I will continue to share where it feels right to do so. I do not keep my ideas to myself, and part of my current job is to share how my students use technology, so it is important that I curate great resources and ideas to bring to my colleagues. So, sharing is essential, even if your primary role is connecting other peoples’ brilliance with people who are looking for those particular ideas.

Learning

One series of questions posed by Dean that had me thinking was about learning. He asked us:

  • How did you learn from others?
  • What did you contribute?
  • What will your students say if I ask them how they think that you learn?

The first question was easily answered: everything! I learn from everyone I encounter: face to face, through Twitter, through my amazing cohort, and at conferences. I love speaking with people, hearing their ideas and feeling inspired by the great things happening. I wouldn’t be on the teaching and learning path that I am on today without the interactions and support I have had along the way.

The second question is harder. I try hard to share. I have a few colleagues that I feel like I do an “ok” job of sharing the right thing at the right time. I have had a few ideas land well on Twitter, but mostly I feel like I pass along the brilliance of others.

The final question is easily answered by my students. We talk about learning all of the time. I talk about how I learn (and how I don’t learn). I talk about my process and the resources that I need to feel successful. As part of building our community we had frank conversations about what worked for each person, and we built respect and understanding for the shared learning space. There is a sense of empathy in the room knowing that not everything is supposed to be easy, and that we are all in this together. I have shared openly when a Professional Development opportunity was disappointing (and why) and about what I do when I am “stuck” in my Masters work. I model crowd sourcing in my classroom by refusing to stay stuck by myself. I ask my students for help. I did not choose my learning project alone, my students offered direction and guidance. I also show my students how to reach out for help respectfully on Twitter. I discuss how I need to WRITE notes to learn material. I also discuss how my teaching is biased toward teaching in the style I learn best. I reflect on my learning and teaching with my students, and ask them to do the same. It’s an honest dialogue and a shared experience that opens the door to getting help that otherwise may not have happened. Truly learning together has provided all of my students the opportunity to be leaders in unexpected ways. By the end of the year, everyone is identified as an expert in some way – even me.

Thank you for the opportunity to reflect on the best parts of this profession, Dean. You left our cohort inspired, recharged, and seeking Joy.

IMG_0430As a completely unrelated aside, I wore orange pants while completing this blog, and spent the afternoon engaged in Joyful play with my students. I am trying, Dean.

The Backchannel – my EdTech Fave

Our #tiegrad cohort shared out some tech tools last week during class. More importantly than the tools being shared were the conversations about how and why particular tools were chosen. I enjoyed hearing about great ideas grounded in strong pedagogy and purpose.

Some tools discussed included: Explain Everything (see tutorials created by Victoria Olson here), Padlet, Desmos, FreshGrade, and Wolfram Alpha.

I wasn’t sure which tools would be chosen by my other cohort members, so I prepared a list of my favourite resources. We quickly ran out of time, so I am taking this opportunity to share out my experiences with my favourite EdTech tool here.

For several years I have been experimenting with a variety of Backchannel tools to find the best resource for my students. My purpose in providing a backchannel in my classroom is to offer more opportunities for students to contribute their ideas, questions, insights and ponderings. A backchannel increases the potential for more participation. Backchannels allow for real time collaboration, even while a lesson unfolds.

I observed a massive increase in student participation in my lessons when I kept the backchannels open throughout the day. I “heard” from students who had not volunteered to speak in class previously – they would insightfully discuss topics through text, offer different ways to explain things, and answer questions posed in real time during lessons. Not every student is comfortable speaking in front of a crowd!

A few of the backchannel tools I have tried include:

  • Padlet: An online sticky note board – it allows you to upload videos, images links comments, almost anything. Works on every platform. It will also provide you with a quick QR code for your board – which is helpful if you project the “wall” and people can walk by and scan the QR to join.
  • Baiboard: an iOS app where you can create a private or public shared space. One feature that I loved about this app is the ability to create multiple “pages” to work on. For several lessons, I created prompts on a series of pages, and the students could reply to the ones that held meaning for them. Organizing the collaborative dialogue on multiple pages kept the conversations more synchronously aligned. This app would be amazing if you were able to open it up to other devices without requiring downloading an app.
  • Voicethread: a great tool for student conversation. You can use images and videos to organize and prompt deeper conversations.
  • A little dabbling with some of the tools listed by EdTech and Mobile Learning.
I post a quick QR code on several "Say Something" mini posters around my room for quick and easy access to our Backchannel for the week.

I post a quick QR code on several “Say Something” mini posters around my room for quick and easy access to our Backchannel for the week.

My absolute favourite backchannel tool is TodaysMeet. This web-based tool allows for hosting a conversation (like a group text) where you can create a “room” that can be open for up to a month. The chat or texting format is easily recognizable by our students. The reason that TodaysMeet has become my favourite backchannel tool is because the teacher presence feels light. Although I create the room and I am “present” and monitoring the discussion, I observe my students genuinely interacting WITH and FOR each other – not for me. When a student raises their hand to speak in class, quite often they are awaiting some form of feedback  (even in a discussion): a nod from the teacher, approval of their ideas, or praise. In classroom discussions, I notice that many students direct their input directly to me – even if they are replying to the last student speaker, their eyes go to me, or they wait for me to “call on” who gets to comment next. An effective backchannel works for the students, it becomes their own space. Sometimes the conversations would extend far beyond the classroom walls and hours.

Three years ago I asked my students to reflect on how texting to a backchannel in class helped them. Here are some of their thoughts:

texting let us stay in contact throughout the lesson. Even though she was teaching us, we could write a comment and people would see it. Not: ‘we ran out of time, so we can’t do all of the questions and comments’

Instead of raising my hand all of the time or calling out, it helped me because I could easily write what I wanted to write and it would get sent and other people could see what I had to say and Mrs. James could see what I had to say

it let me express more of what I wanted to say, to say more of what I think

Grade 6 reflections on how texting to a backchannel can be used in class.

Grade 6 reflections on how texting to a backchannel can be used in class.

Grade 6 reflections on using backchannels for participation in class.

Grade 6 reflections on using backchannels for participation in class.

Using a backchannel has allowed me to formatively assess in real time. I am given an opportunity to see leadership from students who may not otherwise stand out. It opens a window into a collaborative and reflective learning environment that is usually hidden from view.

It takes time to find the right backchannel tool, and what works with one group of students may not work with the next group. It is important to find a platform that fits in with your class’s community and culture.