I am a Lucky Girl – Gender in EdTech

We had a guest visit with Audrey Watters on the topic of Gender in Educational Technology. Completing the pre-reading for the night left me with a new vocabulary word: “mansplaining”. I’ve experienced this in a variety of ways in my career but also personally. My husband is very adept at navigating this when a salesperson begins deferring to him when I am the potential customer.

I enjoyed Audrey’s visit with us and her passion for creating an inclusive community online. She is well-researched and has a great sense of humour. As Audrey spoke I reflected on my own journey as a female edtech dabbler.

I think that I have an unfortunate bit of a Pollyanna perspective on gender issues. This comes from a sincere place in my heart, though. I have been a lucky girl. I have also been a stubborn girl. I know that there are huge imbalances between the way women and men are treated. I know that this is true historically, and continues in our present day. I have witnessed and been subject to unfairness that seems to be based on my gender. But, I am a lucky girl. I was raised to believe that I could do anything that I want to do. Being told “no” (whatever the reason I was given) was an invitation to begin negotiations. My parents encouraged and supported my explorations, my curiosities and my passions. I came home muddy, bruised and exhilarated. I pushed boundaries and asked endless questions. And things did not always work out how I had hoped, and when disappointments ensued, my parents were there to answer my new questions, offer the insights that I missed, and to encourage me to dust off and try again.

While Audrey spoke, I actually took a moment to text a quick “Thank you” to my Mom. I’ve loved technology since before my parents brought home our first computer. We used to record audiotape letters to send to my Great Grandma. My parents shared a tape with me where the toddler me was demanding “Heidi do” to set up the taping that day. Dad kept insisting “Daddy do”, and had apparently already “done” setting up the taping, forever capturing my stubborn young self attempting to take charge with technology.

Our Vic 20 later upgraded to a Commodore 64. My parents encouraged my use of this technology and I remember sharing our discoveries about these tools as a family. Print Shop became one of my favourite obsessions, and I created endless streams of dot-matrix brilliance. Looking back now, I can’t believe that my parents didn’t shut me down about wasting printer ink, reams of paper (who needs another banner??!?), or even my time – maybe I should have been doing more homework? My parents ensured that I lived a balanced childhood, and I still carry my love of technology AND my love of the outdoors with me. I should be saying thank you more often. I am a lucky girl.

Audrey’s talk, and my sense of feeling blessed makes me wonder what my role is in supporting others. My road has not always been easy, I have had my ideas belittled, stolen, and claimed by others. I have been asked to feel shame because of my emotional nature. But, I storm on.

(I often cry first, but then I storm on)

How do I stand beside those who are being left out? How do I ask the right questions? Who do I ask? Where do I reach out my hand? I take my parents’ teachings and practice them with my students. I know that they can do anything. How do I extend this mindset beyond my classroom walls?

I am a lucky girl. And I should be doing more to help.

(Thank you, Mom and Dad)

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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!

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.

Research Update: January

It is thanks to Liane’s brave post about Clarity and Confusion that I feel brave enough to admit that I am still feeling murky about my Lit Review and project altogether.

This is my January Research update, such as it is:

What have I done?

  • My one pager based on Creswell: Topic, problem, rationale, possible questions, theoretical frameworks and search terms.
  • Read a few articles and wrote (yes, wrote – with pen and paper. This is how I think best, sketching, messy, page filled, satisfying crinkled notebook pages) notes.
  • Began planning an outline for the Lit Review
  • Read a few other sample Lit Reviews for ideas
  • Met with my new reading group: Keith, Jarod, and Bryan – I am loving our team name: #bryansbrainiacs
  • Stressed non-stop about my topic, resources, the process of writing and due dates

What needs to be done?

  • Firm up my topic – see my muddled thinking below
  • Ensure that I have adequately documented where I am finding my resources – I rushed a few.
  • Read up on theoretical frameworks so that I can settle on one or two – not keep trying to make ALL of them work.
  • Meet with the UVic research librarians – they have the experience, the clarity and I am sure that I am not the first with an unclear direction
  • Find out if we can use professional literature reviews as part of our own Lit Review, or if we need to seek out each document mentioned and write our own connections, summaries and understandings. The most helpful article I found is a literature review – unfortunately a few years older than I would prefer, but amazing insights.
  • Meet with my team more frequently.

My Confusion: I love the idea behind my topic, but I am realizing that the problem I am trying to solve is far larger and more systemic than I am currently addressing. My general idea for my research and resulting project is to look at the initial steps required to effectively leverage the use of student-owned devices as learning tools and what a “BYOD” program could look like for grade 6 students. My project is meant to be a part of larger scope and sequence with Jarod’s digital literacies for Grade 7/8 Middle School students.

Initially, I think that I was focusing with a very narrow view of teacher and student needs. Taking a step back and reading more literature – including teacher blogs – I am realizing that the problem that I need to address is much larger than creating a “program”. The shifts that need to occur for effective digital literacy development are HUGE! The two areas that I have identified as needing a seismic shift are school (or district) cultural and curricular. It is not enough to embed technology into pre-existing lessons or create a series of one-offs. The use of technology has to be seamless and personalized. As I stated above, I prefer to write my notes on paper, where other grad students enjoy a digital format.

So where am I now? Addressing these questions as part of my research has overwhelmed me. What cultural and curricular shifts need to occur in order to effectively leverage the learning potential of personally-owned devices?

Feeling slightly lost in the research and reading makes me feel like I am constantly starting over. But, I guess it is important to just keep going forward. The pieces that don’t fit with the final product can be cut out. Evolution happens.

#tiebc Chapter 8 Ambient Awareness

I am smiling as I write this post, with my Mom’s beautiful face clearly in my mind. You see, I know that my Mom is usually one of the first to read my blog posts. And, I believe that she reads them from beginning to end; truly wading through the mire of my digital diary, not just skimming for salient details and points of interest.

Clive Thompson’s Chapter 8 “Ambient Awareness” in his book Smarter Than You Think became one of my favourite chapters, as I was reminded repeatedly of the opportunities and connections that technology has brought into our lives. Clive is a strong proponent of our micro-blogged status updates, our shared dinner pictures and our endless chatter about the minutiae of our days. He describes the wonder of our culture of over-sharing; how it becomes like an ongoing conversation. He actually describes it as social proprioception – an awareness of where our digital community members are, and what they may be engaged in: a group’s sense of itself. What is appealing about these morsels of shared information is that they invite you to interact; they do not demand your attention. When a friend shares out that they are considering which movie to watch on a Friday evening, you can experience a moment of envy about their evening plans and move your attention to other things, or you can offer an opinion and begin a conversation.

I admire people who can blend their personal and professional selves seamlessly online. They can share tidbits about their day, as well as professional resources that their followers will appreciate. My Twitter timeline shares a lot of my celebrations as a learner and a teacher, but I rarely sneak in the occasional personal tweet. I might enthuse about the snow falling, or how my dogs are demanding my attention as I multi-task through my schoolwork on my front deck.

Thompson made me laugh out loud when he talked about how our ambient awareness allows other people know how truly weird you actually are! He describes how freeing text can be. When I reflect on the people who follow my Twitter account and how they read my thoughts about my Masters, my ideas about teaching or my conversations with other people; I regain my fear about posting my words so publicly. It is bizarre to have a clear understanding of and sense of closeness with someone you have never met. Twitter allows us a new social opportunity that breaks the standard conventions of conversations. We drop into conversations held between other people, we leave without polite goodbyes, and we share out random facts, pictures, ideas, and conversation starters to see if anyone wants to talk to us. Our recent history is filled with stories of the dreaded evenings at family or friends’ homes where we may have been forced to sit through endless photo albums, or worse, a slideshow. Yet, Instagram has been embraced as a window into the lives of those around us. This is another example of being invited in, as opposed to feeling trapped.

Ambient awareness extends to everyone. Although we may be intending to share our words or pictures with a few friends in our digital community, we must remain aware that our true audience is huge. Future employers, friends or spouses can see our interactions, or trace our histories with a simple search. Our current employers, friends and spouses have an ongoing geo-tagged window into our every digital utterance. A new mindset of how to behave when we know someone is watching should be taught at a younger age. In discussing my “audience awareness” with my students at the advent of blogging together, I have learned that most of my students do not think about what it means to be interacting publicly.

After reading this chapter, and experiencing my ever-present anxiety of living this public life, I also acquired a new calm. Thompson’s rebuttal to the many people who mourn the use of our social networks to post random updates is that these tools do not actually make us trivial: they just reveal how trivial we truly are. I, for one, am grateful for all of the opportunities that technology has brought into my life. I do feel more connected – to the people I know well, and also to people I have yet to meet in person.

So, post away. Tell me about the dessert you just ate. Connect with me through Fitbit so that I may know how many steps you took today. Post another cute picture of your dog napping. Tell me the funny thing that happened at work today. Capture the beauty outside your front door in a quick pic. Tag me into that conversation about popcorn, because you know I have an opinion about that. What unexpected plot twists filled your day today?

Enjoying the view with my dog Ash. One of my favourite hikes behind my house.

Enjoying the view with my dog Ash. One of my favourite hikes behind my house.

Because, I know that if I shared these things more often, my lovely Mom would feel even more up-to-date in my day. I know that she would be happy to see how my elaborate dinner turned out. She would be able to picture me on my hiking trails vividly if I shared a picture in real time. She would laugh at my stories, even if no one else did. Our connection would deepen because she would be able to see the blend of my personal life and my professional life and how all of the pieces fit together in the course of each day.

Status update: I’m off to tidy my house so that I may decorate for Christmas tomorrow. 🙂

#tiebc Chapter 3

What happens in an internet minute?

I was shocked by how much the data use has changed in a single year. I used a similar graphic last December that showed four times LESS Google searches per minute world wide, three times fewer hours of Youtube uploads, and three times fewer of the amount of Skype use. Now, it has been updated again! See below:

Clive Thompson’s book Smarter Than You Think Chapter 3: Public Thinking tells us that 3.6 trillion words pass through cyber space via emails and social media per day, equivalent to 36 million books. I was shocked to learn that the U. S. Library of Congress only holds 35 million books. In total! The author describes a controversy where some people claim that texting and our rampant use of quick Internet publishing tools is wasteful and producing “crap” (Sturgeon’s Law). People reminisce about poetic prose and reference flowery print in archived letters and diaries from golden ages long past, and then look upon the excess of “writing” online with sadness. Thompson’s note that our literacy in North America has focused primarily on reading (consumption) rather than writing (creation) is a profound observation. It reflects the current shift in education, where teachers are trying to move with their learners away from consuming content online, Googling for information; to content creation – publishing, reflecting, commenting, and participating in the Global community. By the very nature of the internet, our access to this wealth of writing is voluntary. New authors are emerging, and we can read and respond to their content, or navigate away. Previously, we had to deeply invest: we had to travel to the library or we had to purchase the book and that cost often meant sticking with something that we may not actually enjoy. Our very act of landing on an online page raises the site statistics for that piece of content.

One of the points that the author makes in this chapter is that we write online with the expectation that someone will read it. This terrifies me! Especially as I craft this into a blog post. I still hesitate to publish my posts, and I draft more posts than I publish. I found it reassuring to read on to discover that writing for an audience helps to clarify your thinking. Writing publicly, expressing your thoughts publicly, requires you to validate your arguments, to bolster your facts and to address your assumptions. This is all true, but it also feeds self-doubt. Thompson goes on to tell us that once we make our thinking public, connections take over. I guess that one of the hopes of most bloggers is to start a conversation. Sometimes these conversations can take an unexpected turn, as shown by one teacher who attempted to show her students the power of posting an image online, and it went viral and became a new meme. By thinking publicly, and sharing our stream of consciousness digitally as we evolve our ideas, we open a conversation with an unknown audience. We now have access to a connected world filled with willing discussion partners. In our face-to-face lives, we often surround ourselves with people who affirm our way of thinking, and by venturing into the digital realm we open ourselves to new perspectives, opposing opinions and possible pushback. A scary and exhilarating thought! (especially as I consider posting my thinking online, yet again…)

A new skill that Thompson calls “cognitive diversity”, is where a thinker must decide when to make an idea public, and when to let it slowly simmer privately. The risk in making your ideas public might be in the question of “ownership” of ideas. Many online thinkers are extremely polite and careful with tracing original authorship of ideas and giving proper credit. However, I watch my students every year use Google Images indiscriminately to gather resources for their work. But, often an image on a website might be there by permission of the photographer and the rights are located somewhere else. The free exchange of ideas and images on Twitter can make it difficult to give credit where it is due, but courtesy dictates that we must make the effort.

Thompson describes a history filled with missed connections: the development of penicillin, for example. Discovered in the mid 1890’s by a medical student after listening to the stable boys’ methods of healing saddle sores on horses. But, because the medical student (Duschesne) was young and unknown, his discovery was not accepted. In 1928, Alexander Fleming was working with the same mold used by the saddle boys and discussed in Duschesne’s work when it destroyed his own research with bacteria. He did not see the value in it, and it took ten years and two other scientists to uncover the healing possibilities of this mold. Who owns the credit?

Another idea that resonated with me from this chapter was how our “pauses” in a digital conversation are so different from talking face to face. This makes sense, it is rude to walk away in the middle of a sentence, but the nature of an online asynchronous conversation grants us the space to ruminate on how we wish to respond. It is not rude to step away from a digital conversation and rejoin at a later hour, a later day. We also juggle MANY conversations at once in our modern lives: several streams on Twitter, a few private DM conversations, some individual or group texts and a variety of other updates to keep our people informed. The privilege of taking time to pause in our public thinking might be the only thing helping us to keep our sanity!

In Awe of John Harris

Thank you Keith Rispin for organizing such an inspiring event

this week! Keith brought us together to learn from the incredible John Harris, a retired SD 35 educator about creating simulations and games with our learners.

The projects shared were astonishing! As John clicked from published site to published site, I would assume that the contents were “professionally” crafted. The simulations were engaging, student-focused and the learning was explicit. Students in grades 5 – 8 created them all! But, the most profound thing that I noticed as I listened and observed, was John’s focus on the learning and the opportunities – not the technology. I asked what was used to make some of these simulations, and the response came quickly from both Lorrie and John – Flash. But, as quickly as it was mentioned, we moved on. It was the least important detail!

I LOVED that. So often, my Professional Development as of late has centered around learning or teaching to the tool or app. We “train” or “orient” our students in computer labs or on devices. Yet, this gifted teacher knew that if I was genuinely interested in learning this tool, I could Google for more information if I chose. But, he also knew that I probably would not be training my students in Flash – the most authentic learning experience I could offer my students would be to present a real-world problem and suggest a tool that might help in student designs – maybe Flash. Our learners pick up these tools faster than we can teach them, they are more experimental and scientific in their discovery of how to make the tool work for them, and they are braver and more creative in their use of the tools we share with them. This was a great reminder to teach what is most important – the students, not the technology!

John Harris emphasized the importance of being a good generalist. He tells us that no teacher knows more than all of the students. Teachers must be astute analyzers of student potential, and help slot students into areas that they will be successful. He recommends that we leverage the power of parent knowledge and get them to help develop a component of a project. The skills that John suggests that teachers develop are:

  • Project development
  • Learn ways to divide project tasks among kids
  • Create incentives for students to learn the tools themselves
  • Draw on community resources

John describes 21st Century Learning as self-learning: the ability to define what you need to learn and engaging in learning by using various online tools.

Many of the projects that John shared with us were design challenges that were shared publically. This reminded me of Clive Thompson’s ideas about Public Thinking, where people post questions to crowd source information. I was thinking that some of the students could easily patent their ROV designs!

For two examples John shared with us, please check out:

Salmonids in Troubled Water: http://www2.sd35.bc.ca/uconnect/salmon/OpeningPage.html

Journey to the Cariboo Gold Rush:

http://www2.sd35.bc.ca/uconnect/goldrush/index.html

John’s students competed in a competition with some designs. He has had several winning teams of students over the years!

This session was very inspiring. I was excited by the ideas John shared, and how enthusiastic he is for student learning. Thank you Keith, John and Lorrie for your time, ideas, and energy.