Learning project ends, learning continues

My learning project has come to an end, but the learning will continue. This semester I stepped out of my comfort zone taking EC & I 831 with the motivation that I would learn more about the digital world and social media, while connecting education to it in a positive way. I believe that I have been successful. This project has come to an end, but my mind is still spinning with ways that I might integrate various technology and digital pedagogical approaches into future courses. I’m excited about that.

Image from: Quotes Gram

For about three months I have engaged in digital education for myself and with my students. Although very tech savvy when it comes to using social media for peer interactions, my students have had little exposure to digital/ networked learning and using social media tools as a way to engage with and learn from others. This project allowed me to engage with them about digital identities, digital citizenship, and how networked learning and open educational resources are changing the face of education.

My EC&  I project posts trace the steps that we went through, piloting this process for the first time. I exposed my students not only to the challenges we face in a digital world, but how to navigate forward using it as a learning interface. As I’ve said before, it is not just about the ephemeral and day-to-day social conversations (well that’s part of it) between friends and peers, but it is also about making schools and the learning that happens in our classrooms more engaging and applicable to our lives.

My students learned the basics of WordPress and how to blog. They also learned about PLE’s, organizational tools such as Symbaloo, and how to build a learning network where they can support one another. This was a challenging project for many as it is a different way to learn and often technical difficulties (dead laptop batteries, low bandwidth, filters) hampered our efforts. However, as we worked through those issues we gained momentum. Some students still have a long ways to go in their digital citizenship and writing, but this is an evolutionary process that takes time and comes with more exposure and understanding of the digital world.

As we wrapped up our final posts, I had all students from both classes record audio or video responses to some scripted questions. Although the questions were scripted, they were only given a few minutes to think about the questions to allow their answers to be as spontaneous and genuine as possible. Here is a sample audio recording of one group’s take on our learning project. The questions and recordings were done by a substitute teacher to encourage them to be frank in their responses to me:

Listening to the audio and video recordings, there were several different suggestions that I will consider for the future in adjusting digital learning with my students. Some students were polar opposite in their suggestions of what they liked, did not like or what they would change. However, there were some common themes and a few key suggestions that I found very helpful:

  • students liked ability to share with others to ask questions or find answers from others
  • learning new technology can be challenging- although you’re using a computer, sometimes it is helpful to close your screen and just watch the teacher so you do not get distracted (speaking to the choir here, right!)
  • some found WordPress easy to use, while others wondered if there was an easier program- something for me to consider for future student blogs
  • many felt it helped them improve their writing
  • many did not like having the topics so open ended- they wanted direction on a topic or choice of topics to write about
  • many saw potential in blogging in other areas including science labs, ELA writing, math problem-solving, and in sports or travel
  • digital citizenship and education is important
  • liked establishing a PLE and PLN

The responses helped me to gain insight into the challenges of the project from a student perspective, but also allowed the students to think through what they had learned or accomplished in such a short time. Their reflections have given me much to think about as I close this project and think about ways to engage in digital learning with future classes. I know that the PAA 8 Learning Project blog will serve me well as a starting point to introduce future students to. I have many resources and ideas through out the class posts that I will be able to modify or expand upon. I look forward to the next learning project, but also to using what I have learned to make digital learning just a natural component of my classroom and everyday learning as a professional and individual. Learning projects end, but learning networks continue.

Summary of Learning

It took me a while to sort out what I wanted to do for my summary of learning and  I soon discovered that it was not an easy task to condense everything into a short video. However, I did it! Digital learning is about continuous learning so even as I started to collect my thoughts about what I wanted to share, I found myself reading articles and watching videos on what tools would best meet my needs. I learned about the presentation concept of Pecha-Kucha, how I might use it with PowerPoint, and then found a useful video explaining all the nuts and bolts of editing my narration, converting files, and uploading the video to my YouTube channel. I knew some of these processes already, but a quick refresher was helpful. In this video, it also taught me about Audacity, which I’m excited to use in the future as a simple audio editing too.

EC & I 831 pushed me out of my comfort zone both technically and pedagogically as an educator. I hope this summary video captures some of my experiences and where I hope to go in the future. Thank you everyone for such a great learning environment to interact in.


Slacktivism: Good or Bad?

I recall the wave of French flags that Facebook users laid over their profile photos this year and my thought process around deciding not to follow suit although many of my FB pals had done so. When I first starting reading about the story my reaction was that this was a simple way to demonstrate support and compassion for a country and city suffering from a senseless attack. I was about to change my profile and follow suit, but then I start reading more posts (not from anyone I actually knew) and discovered that doing so was actually controversial.

What could be controversial at first glance? As I read on I found that those not changing their profile agreed that is was senseless tragedy as well, but did not feel this was the best way to address the tragedy. There were various reasons for and against, but the one post that stood out for me the most was by a person that wanted the whole event minimized in any form of media. Their argument was that the support was appreciated, yet they did not want a media outpouring to give the terrorists any extension of “fame”. For me, at this time, the argument made a great deal of sense. We’ve used a similar arguments before to avoid glorifying murderers and rapists. So I did not change by FB profile.

At the time I had no idea that this topic is part of the whole slacktivist debate. After reading though the articles from this past week and considering some of the activism projects in the digital world, I’m still a bit uncertain about whether slacktivism is a good or bad thing. This graph gives a quick overview of what would be considered slacktivism vs activism, but after reading more about this topic, I do not feel one is necessarily more effective or better than the other.

Graph from Weebly

Both Branstetter and Rosmarin talk about the common critiques of slacktivists being shallow and just appearing to be socially conscious when more could be done with real action. This could be in the form of donations or other active on the ground work. However, Branstetter argues that slacktivism is actually dead as millennial actually use the digital world to equip themselves to protest both digitally and by foot while Rosmarin points out that slacktivism does create awareness while cynics of slacktivists will actually encourage these better informed individuals to make better choices and at some point take action.

So when I consider slacktivism in this light, it is neither good or bad. It is important to consider what you share and like along with why you do so. It should not be about being appearing to be socially conscious or raising something contentious for the sake of shock value, but engaging in digital activity that has meaning to you. Groetzinger notes that slacktivism in larger networked numbers provides support to those actually on the ground and that those actively engaged in digital activism are more likely to become involved in real life. Therefore, slacktivism can be a mechanism for individuals to learn about and become better informed before making a conscious decision about their on foot involvement.

The key here though is actively engaged. Slacktivism cannot be about signing every petition that floats across your screen or shouting out comments for shock value. It must be a way to learn about injustices and challenges (both locally and globally) and find out how you could actively engage digitally and if you are compelled and able to do so on foot as well. Slacktivism, as many would argue creates much greater awareness than ever before so individuals and as a collective we can influence positive change. This video gives a simple overview of how such awareness through the digital world is actually a modern form of activism. We can make better choices and informed decisions by engaging online in meaningful ways and find ways to influence change without necessarily going to traditional activism methods (although there is still a place for that too).

This debate is far from over, but more than anything is has allowed me to think more consciously about what I post or engage in online. I was already doing it thinking back to the flag example, but now this whole concept of online activism has made me start to consider what I have maybe commented, liked or shared without considering the full message behind that story and what activist message I am sending. Digital activism is creating self-awareness and understanding what messages you support by sharing. I do not know that I will ever be as dedicated as Martha Payne, but her work is proof that digital campaigns such as hers can be very effective in informing and advocating for change, which is by definition activism.

Good bye sub plan and binder, hello class blog

Last week I was away for a few days and had a sub in for my classes. What I learned is that by having the directions for our learning project on the class blog virtually eliminated the traditional sub plan. I familiarized the sub with

Image from: smithscienceandlit.wordpress.com

how to access our class blog and she was with a few clicks able to scan through what we are working on and provide direction to the students. One more benefit to digital learning right! No need for class lists, explaining in detail the work we’ve been doing over the past weeks, providing expectations or rubrics as it can all be included on the class blog. If you have multiple classes with different content, you can have create a menu or categories by classes to keep everything organized. Visuals such as inforgraphics and videos along with links to various content can further support subs lacking in the content area and provide support to students in your absence.

There might be some confidential notes you want to leave on paper for a sub about specific students, but for the most part, the class blog can provide everything they need including a blog post that is tailored to the sub, but for the students to also read. Students also no longer can use the excuse that they do not have the materials leaving the sub scrounging for extra copies as it is all right there and the sub can check on each student’s work to see if they’re progressing by clicking on their name. Why did I not know about how blogging can assist my teaching and sub preparation sooner?

The students can easily work from home without carrying and losing papers, while teachers can do the same. I’m considering how I can continue using a class blog to provide daily or weekly instruction for students once this project wraps up. Do any of you do this, regardless of what content and medium the students are using? I’m thinking it will be a more effective way to provide direction and great visuals, learning tools, etc. for the students to access both in school and at home even if the focus is not always networked learning. OneTab might also be a useful tool in conjunction with a class blog to organize key resources for a sub that you may not want all students to have access to from the class blog. My students are using Symbaloo to organize their favourites and really like it because it is more visual and customizable, but either could prove to be useful. I currently use Symbaloo as well and wonder which of these would be best for a sub accessing my materials. Any suggestions?

Last week our focus was on reading other blogs and commenting so our posting efforts did slow down a bit. However, I’m anticipating that reading other blogs and commenting will garner some results in improving the content of the student blogs. Students are at various stages in their blog development, but considering this is the first time these grade 8’s have been exposed to digital networked learning via blogging I am very happy with the results.  Some have even started to reply to my comments and questions, which demonstrates they are thinking about how their blog content and how to grow.

This week we will continue blogging focusing on developing the quality of writing in our posts and comments. I will also be preparing the students to reflect on the learning process (via video or audio interviews) as this project comes to an end for this course, although I intend to continue blogging and hopefully introduce some video work or vlogging in the coming month to demonstrate their learning. I’m looking forward to hearing their perspectives on digital learning and blogging.

Troll and harass away- it’s not face to face so who cares?

I often wonder about the negativity presented about the digital age and social media and question if this stems from a lack of education or pure disregard for human decency. Those that choose to post such malicious attacks on others must know this is wrong and must know that it is in a very public forum that compounds the impact over traditional face to face right? Maybe they do, maybe they do not. I think some do get caught up in this negative hype, not fully understanding the impact of their actions, while others are intentional. But, what can we do to educate ourselves and others about online harassment and trolling so that we may take a more proactive approach?

Image from trolling article: http://www.trendhunter.com/trends/internet-troll

We have recognized that digital communication, access to information, and online sharing is only going to grow and is quickly becoming a part of our culture, our daily interactions, and learning. So, we cannot stick our heads in the sand, but instead figure out how to maximize positive discussions and online learning. We must educate ourselves and encourage others to do the same.

As I watched this week’s videos and went through the readings, I was saddened by the rampant rates at which women are outwardly attacked and harassed online, simply for being female and expressing their opinion or writing online. Although no one is immune to harassment and online trolling, the rate at which women are attacked is staggering and reveals how far we have yet to go to address things such as sexism and racism. John Oliver’s spoof on an AOL advertisement of the outrageous things individuals do and say on the internet look so ridiculous and unacceptable by larger society as we would never accept the same actions face to face.

It seems so ridiculous that by removing face to face and by creation of anonymity of online profiles, individuals feel they can act in ways that would not be tolerated in other settings. Matt Rozsa points out:

Online anonymity is only an asset when it’s used to comfort and protect individuals who wish to express opinions in a psychologically “safe” environment

Yet, online anonymity has become the refuge for trolls seeking to intimidate and harass among other things. For those finding themselves attached by both individuals that do identify themselves when they make such vicious posts and those that hide behind their sad fake profiles, there are laws to address their inappropriate actions. The Government of Canada’s website outlines the consequences of actions such as cyberbullying, revenge porn, threats, and harassment to name just a few. PREVNet explores the ramifications of criminal law on cyber crimes and what is being done in varying provinces to address this growing problem.

However, there are many criticisms of the current laws claiming that the digital age and the problems associated with it have moved faster than lawmakers and that current laws fall short of actually working. As Jake Kivanc’s article points out, Bill C-13, which addresses revenge porn and other criminal harassment laws are great, but fall short of addressing digital harassment. The courts have found it difficult to determine if cyberbullying is an actual threat, therefore fitting as a criminal offence under the harassment law. Critics argue that new legislation is needed in a timely manner to clearly define cyberbullying and that it can be done without infringing on freedom of speech.

However, Kivanc’s  notes that Bill C-13 and public school campaigns against cyberbullying have taken priority over any initiative to draft better laws for digital harassment and cyberbullying. So in the meantime, we should be as proactive in taking advantage of educating ourselves and those around us how to protect against such malicious acts. The RCMP, Government of Canada, PREVNet, and the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime all provide educational information to understanding our current laws, what the impact of cyberbullying and harassment are, and provide resources to avoid being a victim or how to support working through such challenges. Further, Matt Rozsa says:

we can start by creating a culture that shames individuals who cross the bounds of decency. We can start by stating the obvious: It is never appropriate to use slurs, metaphors, graphic negative imagery, or any other kind of language that plays on someone’s gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religion. Not only is such language inappropriate regardless of one’s passion on a given subject, but any valid arguments that existed independently of such rhetoric should have been initially presented without it. Once a poster crosses this line, they should lose all credibility. Similarly, it is never acceptable to dox, harass, post nude pictures, or in any other way violate someone’s privacy due to disagreement with their opinions. While most people would probably agree with this in theory, far too many are willing to access and distribute this humiliating (and often illegal) content. Instead of simply viewing stories of doxing, slut-shaming, and other forms of online intimidation as an unfortunate by-product of the digital age, we should boycott all sites that publish these materials.

While we wait for Canadian laws to catch up to the digital age of online bullying and harassment, we can educate ourselves and those around us, we can learn how to support victims of trolling, and we can minimize such foul work by not giving it any recognition or legitimacy. This perhaps is what rings most true for me as I consider many of the news forums online that I would love to participate in, but most of the discussions I find is derogatory and so off topic that I do not bother. Since when can we not discuss a news story without making it personal and attacking one another with such disregard for one another? Let’s start creating rich, challenging debate versus narrow and derogatory banter about nothing and ignore the trolls at work.

The Value of Comments

Over the past week we have spent time reading award-winning and nominated student blogs on EduBlogs. The idea was to expose my students to other student’s blogs as the first step to becoming a better blogger by reading and getting ideas from others. While we explored other blogs, I encouraged the students to think about their own posts and to try commenting on a post or two that they enjoyed reading or found of interest to them

This coming week we will be working on perfecting our commenting skills. Commenting is a great way to help build a learning network while engaging in more critical thinking and reflection. But, first we will turn back again to the LangWitches website for great tips on how to improve the skill of commenting.

Credit: Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano, LangWitches
Credit: Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano, LangWitches

LangWitches provides simple tips for commenting along with samples of good and poor commenting reminding us that blog comments are not the same as other social media messages. LangWitches provides the following tips on model commenting:

  • Read comments (…lots of comments) to learn to distinguish between poor, mediocre and quality comments.
  • Model commenting to your students by leaving QUALITY comments on their blogs
  • Avoid comments, such as “Great job”, “Way to go”, or “I really liked what your wrote”…
  • Commenting is about continuing a conversation started in a blog post.
  • Commenting is about helping to (potentially) push the author of the post in a new direction, give a new perspective or connect them to new resources.
  • Commenting is about relating the thoughts, ideas, experiences or resources of the blog author to your own. Sharing them will paint a better picture of the issue, perspectives, or research.
  • Ask yourself if your comment CONTRIBUTED to the conversation, the learning of the author or other readers?
  • 21st century skills include critical thinking, problem solving and QUESTIONING. The comment section of a blog is a great place to practices these skills in an authentic environment.

As the teacher, I must also keep these tips in mind and model when I reply to my students. It will be tempting to make comments that affirm their work in general like “great post“, but if I do that I need to make sure that my comments also go deeper by engaging with the content of their blog to add to their conversation and their learning. I feel that in the beginning my comments might be more technical and then will evolve into comments that are more engaging on their topic. I think I have to do both so they get the feedback they need on the technical stuff plus the engagement to push their thinking on their chosen post topic.

Keep things simple to start. This video from yourwonderfulteacher of elementary students  is helpful no matter what grade level you are learning how to blog and comment at.

Blog writing and comment writing are both important parts to improving the quality of our blogs and engaging with others. My goal for this week is to comment 2 times for each of my students keeping the model tips in mind. I`m excited to see how my students respond to my comments and from others as we practice this skill though-out the week.




Where’s the coin slot on my wireless?

It seems eons ago that when you wanted to make a call, you found a payphone and dropped in some change, when you needed a photocopy, you inserted a quarter, and if you wanted to used the hotel business centre you put in coins or swiped your credit card to access the internet. But, times have changed, I can do all of these things and more from my own portable device. But, is the coin or credit card reader soon to be installed again, but on our own devices to control who accesses what? Pay per use?

Graph: United Nations Global Development Goals Indicators

This week I have read about the digital divide and network neutrality, which paints a challenging picture for public policy makers, small internet start-ups, and individuals that are trying to ensure the internet and the digital world are equally accessible and secure for all users. Portable devices are so sophisticated that we can do everything we would do at home from a landline via WiFi or through our cellular data package while on the go. This has opened up the internet and the digital world to many that could not have otherwise afforded more expensive home devices and home hard-wired ISP fees. Portable devices can operate on a data package, but even these costs can be reduced by accessing free WiFi. Our digital world has become more accessible to many in developing countries and lower socio-economic classes while becoming portable for all.

There are a few issues that concern me as I read about the digital divide. With wireless and wired infrastructure being maxed out with our increased downloading and uploading, are mega corporations and a few monopolizing


Source: Wall Street Daily article on neutrality

ISPs going to limit what content is accessible and by whom while charging large fees to the consumer? Are changes to FCC rules favouring Facebook, Netflix, Google, and others that can afford the “fast lane” over smaller start-ups and educational institutions trying to provide open source education? Are we essentially installing the loathed coin or credit card reader on our own devices again so those who can afford can access the full network while others are limited to dial-up and basic cable (or peasant vision if you remember the analog TV towers of rural areas)?

It seems like we have come so far by developing sophisticated wireless devices that allow us to transport our work and communication needs wherever we go along with making such devices more affordable, which has translated into more equitable access to the internet. Wired connections have also improved over the years along with virtually being able to find a free WiFi connection wherever you go. Now that exponential access is being seen as a strain to the infrastructure, the FCC and corporations are posing pay per use solutions rather than improving and developing the infrastructure for all users. Sounds like another private solution to a public problem. Cade Metz is right, altruistic rhetoric of private corporations claims these changes are in the interest of pubic good, but are really profit driven.

Although published in 2000, this study by Statistics Canada provides Canadian data and some interesting graphics on the digital divide based on income. Further, PEW Research provides telling data on white, Hispanic, and black populations and the digital divide in the United States and smart phone and internet usage across the globe. This article makes correlations to income, age, and level of education.

The data makes it apparent that the digital divide is alive and well. In a democratic society that champions equitable opportunity for all, then we must consider how to maintain equitable access to the digital world of the internet. If networked learning and open education are the future, then putting limits via user fees on access only serve to defeat the original purpose of opening opportunities to all. As Sarah Wandy points out, we often take the internet and the work done to maintain neutrality and prevent digital divide. How can we as individuals continue to support these efforts and advocate against the negative controls of corporations that seek to line their pockets and narrow the open access of the digital world?